Shocker, a successful MMO is going to the sub model

March 19, 2015

Lineage 1, which I’ve actually played a good amount of and must say the game is very solid (in a very Asian, hyper-grindy way), is opening up a sub-only server in China. In freaking China!

Really weird how if a game is successful, it stays or goes to sub, while if an MMO sucks, it launches/stays F2P. Almost like each model represents something. Someone should blog about that a time or two…

FFXIV: Sub model isn’t just about higher quality, its also about safety

March 10, 2015

Full interview can be found here.

So, just because ESO moved into a free-to-play subscription model, it doesn’t necessarily mean for us to move into that direction as well. Also, for use we have taken player surveys and took a look at what our customer satisfaction level is and we actually garnered data that shows that over 80% of our players are satisfied with the subscription model and they feel very assured that it is a constant. You are safe to be in that environment, and you know that you can expect a decent amount of updates and content. So, we don’t believe that FFXIV needs to shift in that direction and not everything that other competitors or titles do will necessarily apply to our title.

Bold section for emphasis as its something I’ve always felt is true about the sub model vs other models, and it’s nice to have a senior dev from the most recent successful MMO state it as well.

As I’ve written before, each update from a sub MMO is usually a celebration of getting something new or improved, while each update under non-subs is a potential “give us more money” cash-shop power update or ‘addition’. In short, you cheer sub updates, and grow to fear non-sub updates, which itself has a pretty significant impact on overall enjoyment.

PS: If/when they add the snowboarding game from FFVII, that’s going to be a massive time sink for me. God I loved that game back in the day.


The Turbine info has been right here for years

March 4, 2015

Link to the first of many Aylwen posts.

If the general gist, and even some of the exact details were news to you, you haven’t been reading this blog long have you?

Still, it’s nice to have someone ‘officially’ confirm what I’ve been saying about not just LotRO itself, but F2P when it comes to Turbine for years now. Bonus points to Aylwen for the line about the poster with the “millions of others” tag line; still stands as such a great example of Turbine’s goals vs reality.

Maybe I’ll go look through my LotRO-tagged posts and see who was doubting me and what they had to say. Guessing I’ll find at least a few gems.

Troll day continues, hotbar salesman is back!

March 4, 2015

So so good!

Embracing the Paradigm Shift: Converting a Premium Team to an (Enthusiastic!) Freemium Team

First of all, how great is that title for that talk? Reminds me of “Up in the Air” (awesome movie btw) when they talk about how best to phrase “you’re fired” to people. That’s the hotbar salesman here, expect rather than everyone being directly fired, some of them get the ‘opportunity’ to work on a Freemium Team.

Schubert advocates for a terminology shift from the word “whale” to the word “patron.”

“These people are very important, and we can start by treating them with some fucking respect,” Schubert told his audience.

The fun one could have in suggesting terminology shifts around the F2P model in the MMO space…

Talking about respect to customers when it comes to F2P is hilarious though. Is the hotbar salesman aware that the model he is talking about only works when you trick enough dummies to overpay for crap? This is the same guy not only selling you hotbars, but multiple forms of lottery lockboxes, right? The guy who’s former game is getting ready to bombard the cash shop with cheap movie tie-in crap? This is like a black hole calling the pot a little dark.

But really this is what F2P does to people. You can’t be a normal, decent human being and make F2P work in the MMO space. You have to become the hotbar salesmen, always attempting to dupe the next dummy for a buck. And when that dummy figures it out, you move on to the next, or dig even deeper into the slime bucket to again attempt to get a little money off someone. And most of all, when you do hook a whale, you do everything in your power to fully gut them. You don’t care if some weak-willed fool can or can’t afford the thousands he is spending; all you care about is that once he is hooked, you continue to provide bigger and bigger ‘deals’ or ‘opportunities’ to them to keep that money rolling.

That’s the ‘game’ you are designing when working on a F2P MMO. It’s just a vehicle for what in most industries would be called a scam, and the scam artist behind it talking about ‘respect’ is amazingly crazy.

Hearthstone is Blizzard’s first non-hit, that’s important

February 11, 2015

Let’s keep talking about Hearthstone, if only because talking about it is way, way more fun than playing the game, and because HS is IMO a perfect example of New Blizzard in a nutshell and perhaps a good indicator of things to come.

Latest post from Az can be found here, where he admits that HS made $5m or so in revenue. Respect for that. Also if a game has an interface designed for one gaming platform, and said interface is constrained for other platforms, that’s a port Az. HS being as awkward with its UI on the PC is because the game was designed as a mobile app, as Blizzard continues to remind us. That it’s mostly failed as a mobile app (unless we consider a AAA developer hanging out in the 50s in revenue as success now, but more on that later) and instead somehow has a decent monkey following on PC doesn’t suddenly make the game a for-PC designed title, sorry.

“But Syn, HS is like really, really popular on twitch, with some people even getting like, a few thousand views! It must be making a truckload!”

Yes, because twitch views = money, as we can clearly see by WoW being a fraction of HS on Twitch. Guess that drop in subs must be like a 99% drop if the oracle that is twitch is to be believed. Who needs dodgy financial reports; the famewhores and their sheep can’t be wrong!

(Since calling them famewhores seems to confuse people; the term is a play on the more common term ‘instawhores’, the ‘models’ who will do basically anything for a ‘like’ or ‘follow’ on Instagram or beg for attention on other social media platforms. If you don’t know what I’m talking about with that, how new to the Internet are you? Anyway, some (not all, relax) of these streamers are little different, taking every opportunity and basically doing anything for attention, no matter how much personal respect and dignity has to be sacrificed for said ‘like’. If you are entertained by that in a non-mocking way, we likely wouldn’t be friends in RL.)

Jokes and stupidity aside, and now that we have confirmed that, while profitable, HS is a little footnote amongst such giants as WoW, Destiny, CoD, Skylanders, and… well basically everything not called HS over at Activision, let’s talk why someone like Az and others still sees this as a major victory for Blizzard.

Blizzard, at least prior to HS, wasn’t a studio known for making ‘me-too’ products. They weren’t the studio putting out flawed, poorly designed titles that were barely a blip on the gaming radar. When Blizzard made an RTS (Warcraft, StarCraft), those games defined that genre and became the standard. When Blizzard made an action-RPG (Diablo), that series become the standard, with everyone else making Diablo-clones. When Blizzard made an MMO, well we all know that to many the MMO genre is WoW.

So why, just given the above, is a Blizzard release that has failed in its intended market (mobile) basically given a pass or even seen as a great thing? Why is it crazy to say a Blizzard mobile game SHOULD be competing with other top mobile games? Let’s look at this this way; bigger barrier of entry and harder hill to climb, the MMO genre back in 2002 with EQ1 being the top title, or 2015 with CoC? It’s not even close, and remember back in 2002 everyone though the 500k subs mark was THE top a title could achieve in the ‘niche’ market that was the MMO genre, so don’t bring up how dominant and mainstream CoC is today; for all we know in 2020, 2014 CoC will look just as dominant as EQ1 did back in its prime. The point being, a major AAA developer like Blizzard not only can, but absolutely SHOULD be making a top-tier mobile game (imagine how great it would have been to get a real Blizzard-quality mobile game? I’d love to play that!), not something lost amongst the dregs of the app store.

Again, prior to HS, every other Blizzard release not only competed with the top titles in those genres, they generally dominated and set a new standard. HS is the ONLY title released by Blizzard to not only fail to live up to that standard, but not even come remotely close.

That high Blizzard standard and track record of delivery has value too, a great deal in fact. How many people bought the originally flawed Diablo 3 because it was a Blizzard game? How many people might not insta-buy the next Blizzard title after that experience? How many people played HS and had the perception of “everything Blizzard makes is awesome” shattered? So yes, HS itself is profitable (mostly based on the likely fact it cost next-to-nothing to produce and had free advertising due to being on, but hey, details), but how much brand damage has the title caused by being a below-average-at-best title?

Moving past HS itself, what does the delivery of HS hint at for Blizzard’s next title, Heroes of the Storm, which is already not exactly blowing down doors as the next big thing? Is HotS going to be called a success by some if it has to fight tooth and nail with some random minor game for the coveted 4th or 5th spot in the MOBA genre, accomplishing a tiny fraction of the success LoL see’s, much like HS is today compared to CoC? Is that what New Blizzard is now, just another Ubisoft or any other second/third tier studio putting out something we maybe pick up for a few weeks before moving on and forgetting them entirely? If so, that’s a huge, huge drop from what Blizzard was in the past, and sooner rather than later Blizzard titles won’t automatically attract attention based on the studios previous track record.

And that, ultimately, is the real story of interest related to HS. The game itself, other than getting a chuckle at some of its sillier aspects (famewhores, world championship of dice rolls), isn’t all that important. It’s a footnote. But the low expectations for the game (at least from the outside by people like Az, as I’m not sure Blizzard is thrilled to have launched a mobile game that isn’t moving the needle in the mobile space, and is just a marginal success overall) and being the first non-hit title for Blizzard, is in my opinion a significant event and worth discussing.

State of the MMO genre, 2015 edition

February 4, 2015

First things first, it’s now 2015, and just like in 2014, 2013, and really since the beginning of time, we still haven’t seen an as-successful F2P MMO as we have sub MMOs (WoW/FFXIV/EVE). Until we do, this isn’t a debate. It’s a simple yes/no situation: Is your MMO really good? It’s using the sub model. Is your MMO not that good? It’s F2P, sub, ‘B2P’, or… who cares your MMO isn’t really good. Maybe by 2016 we will have a single example of a really good, as-successful-as-sub F2P MMO. I wouldn’t hold your breath on it though.

Now, moving past that still-dead horse, let’s take a broader view of the MMO genre as we head deeper into 2015. In my view the MMO genre has gone through four major phases. Note that these phases don’t have a definitive “it started on this day” date, but rather are more of a general ‘around this time’ deal.

Phase one (1997-2002ish) was UO/EQ1/AC; the birth of the genre, when we weren’t sure if this whole ‘virtual worlds’ thing could even work, and being online with thousands of others in one world was something new and awesome. Amazingly all three of the original MMOs (sorry M59, but you weren’t big enough to really count here) were solid and brought something really unique and special to the table. UO had an amazing virtual world and sandbox gameplay, EQ1 was the original themepark (I thought I had written a post about what the genre would be if EQ1 had never been made, but can’t find it now, so maybe I never wrote it…), and AC had weird, interesting systems and character growth, along with the awesome patron ‘guild’ system.

Phase two is WoW and EVE (2003-2007ish). WoW blew up what everyone thought a successful MMO could be, and refined the clunky themepark that was EQ1 into a game a lot of people could actually get into, while (in vanilla/TBC anyway) still retaining the core qualities of an MMO to keep people playing/paying. EVE started very small and very rough, but would go on to show that despite aiming to be super-niche, super-niche done better than anyone else can eventually, and naturally, grow into a mini-monster in the genre. It also showed that, if you do it right, there is no timetable on when your MMO should fade or go into maintenance mode. A good MMO really should be able to go on ‘forever’. This is also the time when a great many MMOs failed for countless reasons; the main one being ‘Making an MMO is really, really f’n hard’.

Phase three is the WoW-clone era, or the dark ages (2007-2011?). Post-WoW blowing up, everyone and their dog started cranking out WoW-clones, each thinking they could either be a ‘WoW killer’ or just casually pick up a few million players because ‘hey, WoW did it so it must not be that hard!’. LotRO, AoC, WAR, Aion, Rift, etc. In addition to getting a bunch of ‘bad’ games, the real crime here is that developers who might have been able to give us something interesting instead wasted time trying to be WoW. The genre (EVE-related stuff aside) didn’t advance forward much, and in terms of new offering things mostly sucked.

Phase four is the ‘F2P, ALL THE WAY’ era (2011-2014, hopefully). After failing to clone WoW, ‘bad’ devs all jumped aboard the good-ship F2P. MMOs that were struggling/dying as sub MMOs (because they were bad games made by bad devs) converted and saw ‘amazing’ revenue immediately after the conversion. We got a lot of press releases stating it, so it must be truth forever and ever! We also saw a bunch of F2P-based MMOs released, because the sub model was outdated and ‘everyone’ was going with the ‘new standard’ of F2P. Then the too-predictable reality kicked in, the one-time boost that was a F2P conversion not only faded, but in many cases faded below even what sub was bringing in, and F2P after F2P MMO was shut down or skeleton crewed. SOE being sent to the slaughter house is, one can only hope, the crowning jewel and definitive statement on just how much of a failure the standard F2P model is for MMOs.

Which brings us to today and the original question; where is the MMO genre? It’s not at the high it was in 2005/6, where everyone was making an MMO because it was perceived as a gold mine. At the same time, we are out of the dark age of cloning WoW blindly. We are also hopefully beyond the state of believing that F2P works, but I suspect there are still more Smeds out there who will put junk out and wonder why it’s not working financially after getting a billion accounts or whatever foolish metric they get mislead by.

In some ways we are in a spot similar to 1999/2000ish times, with three big successful MMOs (WoW, FFXIV, EVE), and a new crop of MMOs on the horizon that has our interest (Camelot Unchained, Star Citizen, Life is Feudal, Pathfinder, to just name a few). But that interest isn’t tainted in believing any of those titles will be ‘WoW Killers’ or dominate the market, nor are the people behind those titles setting such expectations. For perhaps the first time in far too long, devs have a plan to make a game work with 50k subs, which sounds so stupidly simple yet really is a giant leap forward for the genre.

Will some if any of those games work out? Hopefully. They at least have a much better (more than zero) chance than ‘WoW killers’ and F2P MMOs, so that’s a plus. But as always, making an MMO is hard, and even if you get 80% of it right, that 20% wrong can sink you.

Personally I feel better about the genre today than I have in a long, long time, perhaps even as far back as the early 2000s, in large part because I think more than enough devs have finally figured out that the MMO genre is a niche market, and not the mass-market illusion that WoW’s success tricked people into believing. I also don’t think ‘AAA’ levels of spending are needed to make a great MMO. I’m more than fine with playing something that I expect to grow over time, so long as that initial baseline is solid, and again I think at least some devs are finally catching on to this as well. Not only is gameplay king, but sub-AAA production values don’t mean crude sprites and homemade sound effects anymore, it just means I won’t have to hear someone ‘famous’ during a cutscene, or have a CGI intro movie that’s 20 minutes long that I skip every time after the first.

So while the future of the genre isn’t all rainbows, it’s also not as hopeless as it looked in years past. Baby steps are good, and hopefully at least a few of the upcoming games deliver, while the success’ we have today continue to get better (or in WoW’s case, don’t go full ‘accessibility’ on us again and shed almost half the population).

ESO: We are teaching console players what now?

January 22, 2015

Quick note, because I’ve seen a few blogs state that ESO is dropping the required sub price in part because console players ‘don’t get how that works’.

Quick, name the most successful console MMO to date (notably not a really high bar, but still).

If you said FFXIV, you are paying attention. And what model does FFXIV follow? The sub model. Funny how that big nasty barrier of entry hasn’t resulted in disaster for a worthwhile game, almost like players, console or otherwise, are able and willing to pay money for something that doesn’t suck. Crazy world we live in indeed.


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