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.


LotRO: You’ll never see Mordor

January 22, 2015

Let’s talk about LotRO!

Actually let’s not talk about the content of LotRO, because why make everyone suffer, but instead let’s talk about how things have gone for the game overall, and specifically under F2P.

Spoiler alert: LotRO is a third-tier (at best) MMO right now, and F2P is in part to blame.

In 2007, prior to release, LotRO looked like a serious ‘WoW-killer’, and that term wasn’t a joke back then. The pre-release advertising for LotRO said you should join “the millions of other players”, which shows you what Turbine expected out of the title. Also back in 2007, Turbine wasn’t yet in the SOE/Trion bin of developers we love to watch fall on their face; they were respected thanks to Asherons Call and even DDO (while DDO wasn’t a breakout hit, it did well-enough, and not being a huge failure is actually a compliment in the MMO genre).

Plus yea, it had the freaking LotR IP, easily one of the hottest IPs in gaming back then. License to print money really, just like the Sims or Star Wars! :rimshot:

LotRO at launch was solid. No, it wasn’t a WoW-killer, not even close, but it wasn’t a bad MMO. Unlike WoW, it took its lore very seriously, had solid storytelling, and back then did a bunch of stuff different-enough to hold its own, at least for a bit, and the numbers reflected that.

Then for a bunch of reasons, it got worse. Major mistakes were made, people left, and overall Turbine was slipping towards the Turbine we know and laugh at today.

The game went F2P, and, much like with DDO, Turbine released a big “congrats to us!” press release about how awesome F2P was for the game. F2P fans STILL link to that thing (can’t get to it now, someone link it for me please?) as evidence of F2P working, and more than a few people still hold that time as if it were a reflection of today or even the last few years.

Only it didn’t work, because between that press release and today things are very different. There was never a follow-up “F2P is still awesome!” press release. Turbine had a bunch of layoffs. They started to get desperate with the game, to the point of basically selling you The One Ring in the cash shop, among other typical F2P model garbage cash grabs like ad spam and immersion-destroying fluff. LotRO no longer has expansions, and the big outstanding question now for the game is whether the story wraps up before the game goes offline. (Easy money is on offline)

Saying that F2P ‘saved’ LotRO is wrong beyond the fact that the game is still online, and we don’t know if LotRO would still be online if Turbine had kept it as a sub MMO. Most likely not (and of course no one still with Turbine would admit to it anyway), especially given what Turbine became, but unless your ultimate goal with a game is to scrap by for a bit after gutting your studio of employees, LotRO isn’t an example of success; it’s just another example of the F2P price; you get a short-term bump at the cost of any long-term hope.

The real problem is that when talking F2P MMOs, there are no examples of success. The current “hey it worked!” example from some is SW:TOR, a game that originally EA hoped would have 1m subs, then later cut that to 500k, and despite having by far the largest MMO budget and a ‘can’t miss’ IP, still didn’t produce a game good enough to even get that. F2P hasn’t ‘saved’ SW:TOR, as the game still isn’t close to meeting expectations, nor has it risen above mediocrity (I believe it has 1m ‘active accounts’, which is a joke when you consider all of the above). Again, unless ‘success’ in F2P land is “the game is still online”, SW:TOR isn’t a success. It’s not (yet?) at LotRO-levels of failure, sure, but being better than that is still a long way away from success.

And SW:TOR is the BEST example of F2P non-failure that I can think of. If we use EQ2 as the example here, it’s not even a conversation, to say nothing of what effect F2P had on ArcheAge, or the AA-before-AA example, Allods (which as far as I know, is the only MMO to partly move from F2P to a full sub option, which was well-received).

This conversation would be far more interesting if we had even one FFXIV-level example of F2P MMO success (asking for EVE longevity or just WoW overall success is asking way too much), but we don’t. We never have, yet some still tout the model as the new or current formula for success. The ‘formula’ hasn’t yielded a single positive result people. Not. A. One. In what other industry is something that has never provided successful given so much credit? Literally banana land going on here, but that is the MMO genre.


Pay to play, pay to spawn item

January 16, 2015

One item I want to address today in light of Smed being Smed: Since the beginning of time, you have been able to pay another player real money to get something in a game.

In UO I could buy a fully maxed character, a huge house, a powerful item, or a ‘fluff’ thing like a broken water tile with real money. The same is true for basically every single MMO. If you want to spend money instead of time to get something, you could always and still can do it. In some games this requires more effort, or the ban risk is higher, but its an option in EVERY SINGLE MMO.

And because the above is 100% true, this also means that every single item and account in an MMO has a real-world money value. That you may not be aware of what the value is, or that it even has a value, doesn’t change the fact that it does. That’s just you with your head in the sand, and pretending everyone else is also right there in the sand with you is beyond silly.

Now, the new-ish trend in games, and in MMOs in particular, isn’t the ‘money for items’ exchange, its the ‘money to dev to spawn item’ exchange. That is new, and that is how you go down the Pay-4-Power trail.

The only thing I can give CCP money for in EVE is account time (and cosmetics via Aurum), be it direct (pay my sub) or indirect (PLEX). I can’t give CCP money and have them spawn me a ship, ammo, skill points, or anything else that has direct power. I can give SOE/Smed money and he will spawn guns and ammo for me. That is the critical difference. That’s why people are pissed off, and rightfully so.

Especially because it’s one thing to make a Pay-4-Power game, which itself isn’t the end of the world. Plenty of games are exactly that, and can still be fun games whether you do pay and go all wallet-warrior, or don’t pay and see how far up the hill you can climb. But the worst thing a P4P game dev can do is lie and pretend the game isn’t P4P.

If you embrace what you are and are honest about it, players can make an informed decision, and don’t feel that they are supporting liars who think the players are too stupid to know what they are playing.

Smed taking a piss on every H1Z1 player and tell them its just raining is probably not how SOE wants to be represented, is it?*

* Answer: 50/50, because SOE.


Hearthstone: This kiddie pool sure has a lot of leaks

November 18, 2014

More observations as I roll my face across the iPad ‘playing’ Hearthstone:

Just like MtG (or basically most card games of this type), Hearthstone is a major Pay-4-Power game. Epic and Legendary cards are silly strong, and as soon as you see someone drop a few on you in a game, you might as well take your participation trophy and move on (unless of course you also have a stacked deck). The fact that you can’t trade cards further pushed Hearthstone into a wallet-warrior game, because smart trading can’t help you catch up; only grinding or cash.

Speaking of participation trophies, Hearthstone has a few major design flaws in its setup. For one, having a bot automate conceding ranked games for you is amazingly effective. You still get XP for your ‘effort’, and you don’t lose anything. Plus, should you run across another concede bot who goes first (roughly 1 in 5-6 games for me currently), you get a free win to grind towards the gold card/character rewards and the 3-win 10 gold reward.

The whole ranked setup is also a bit of a joke. The only reward is at rank 20, and you can’t drop below rank 20 once you get to it. Also you can’t lose progress while working towards rank 20, so that auto-concede bot will eventually (surprisingly quickly) get you to rank 20. At rank 20 things are an expected mess. Concede bot farmers aside, you will also run into a whole bunch of ‘smurf’ decks just looking to smash people, again because Blizzard designed the system to not only allow, but actually made it incredibly easy for them to sit at that level. Safe to say a solid 50% or so of ranked games aren’t competitive (generously calling any relatively even deck game of Hearthstone competition here).

The game is perfect for ‘playing’ while you do something more interesting, because during your opponents turn whether you are looking at the screen or not doesn’t matter; you can’t do anything anyway. On the surface this is just boring while you wait with nothing to do, but go a bit below the surface and this is actually a major, major removal of interesting decisions and strategy.

In MtG you had to always be aware of the status of your opponent. How many cards they have, how much untapped land they have, how much land could they potentially need to use during your attack phase based on the creatures they have out, etc. None of this exists in Hearthstone.

If it’s your turn, whether someone ends their turn with 10 crystals or 0 doesn’t matter. Whether someone has 10 cards in hand or 0 doesn’t matter (overdrawing aside). They can’t have tapped or untapped creatures. There is no regen they need to pay for. No creature abilities they need to pay for. So many tactical player decisions are gone. Not your turn in Hearthstone? Nap time!

Regeneration is one creature ability completely missing currently, as is its counter bury. Flying is another, as is landwalk (landwalk would be impossible since Hearthstone only has one type, not five like in MtG), so is first strike. So are any player-active abilities beyond on-summon stuff. The game does have a whole bunch of dice roll abilities; such as one creature who randomly deals 3 damage to anyone; friend or foe. Sure you can attempt to limit the randomness by having fewer potential targets, but that critical creature you need killed who has one hitpoint might still be standing if Hearthstone randomizes the card not in your favor and decides the damage is all going to go to heroes rather than that card. Super fun when that happens, and a silly amount of cards are designed with such randomization.

Then there are just more general problems. For instance, there are a TON of board-clear cards/combos. A ridiculous amount honestly. On top of this there are even more single-removal cards, and of course none of this can really be countered since when it’s not your turn, you just sit and spin until it is. Imagine if every deck in MtG had 10 copies of Swords to Plowshares (but without the healing aspect, and the card destroying everything) and you get a decent idea of what I mean.

This leads to basically only playing enough cards to gain board advantage, but not ‘too many’ to lose card advantage when the inevitable board-clear happens. Game after game this is the pattern, and because Hearthstone has so few real patterns, it’s just boring. Arena is again a bit better, but only slightly so, and Arena is (or should be, anyway) like the ARAM to the real meat of ranked/SR, to bring this into LoL terms. Imagine if ARAM was the only interesting/balanced version of LoL? That’s Hearthstone in a nutshell, except if you removed 99% of the needed ability from actually playing ARAM and gave every hero a 1m damage Karth ult on a 30sec cooldown.

It really is not only a shockingly shallow game, but a basically flawed game as well, not just by Old Blizzard standards, but just general game design standards. If this was an SOE or EA product, it would still be a sub-par effort from those studios. For Old Blizzard? This is Ghost/Warcraft Adventures, only released instead of rightly aborted.

 


AA: Trion does its best to ruin a good thing

September 29, 2014

ArcheAge makes for some rather interesting blogging fodder, and hopefully I can get through the major points and get my point across in a way that makes sense, but no promises, as this might get rambly.

Let’s start with the business model. Flat out, AA has one of the worst versions of F2P in the genre. For starters playing for free is basically a non-option due to the limits of labor point generation, among other crippling restrictions. What’s really awesome about this is that it encourages free players to stay logged in even when not playing to generate labor points. Such brilliant design was no doubt a major factor in the terrible queue situation that AA had (has?) at launch.

Then there is the pay-to-win (P2W) factor, which really should be renamed pay-for-power (P4P) overall, because that’s really what it is. In almost no game can you outright buy wins, but in many you certainly can buy power so that if all other factors are equal, the guy who spent more wins (or gets ahead, has an advantage, etc, as you can’t always ‘win’ in an MMO).

I don’t mind the P4P model if its honest and upfront (gold ammo in WoT before it was removed, for instance), because then I can decide if I want to get involved in something like that. What I hate is the “oh no we don’t sell power in the shop, just convenience” bullshit developers try to shill you, and Trion has plenty of this in AA. From labor points (buy a potion to get more!), to pet/mount levels (buy a potion to level them up!), to lottery item chests; if there is a scummy F2P itemization strategy for the cash shop, Trion has included it in AA.

The multiple currencies situation really brings this home, as AA has three. The first is in-game gold like all MMOs have. Then you have ‘loyalty’ points, which you earn 5 of each day if you sub and log in. This buys you a few things in the item shop, but not much, which leaves it as little more than an insult from Trion. “Thanks for your $15 a month, feel free to buy some table crumbs from our store”. The third is the cash-only currency, which buys everything else.

The double dipping ($15 for the basically required sub, plus a fully stocked, P4P item shop) is bad. Really bad. The fact that you have to run the game through Trion’s feeble little Steam-clone Glyph sucks as well. Trion has 2.5 games released (Rift, AA, Trove/Defiance), and the Glyph shop has an embarrassingly small selection of other titles to purchase (Not that you would want to anyway, though I would LOVE to meet someone who has, must be a fascinating creature). Glyph is just bloat garbage that delays getting into AA, so thanks for that Trion. Also thank you for your anti-hack program that installs itself without asking. I’m sure there will never be an issue with that, plus who doesn’t love random stuff installing itself on your PC, right? Also that program delaying getting into AA is another plus of you being the publisher!

The MMO that XL Games (the developer) made seems pretty great so far. It really does, and I’ll cover that in future posts. The trash Trion stacked on top of said game brings the experience down sadly. The translation that took Trion so, so long to do is at Google translate-level, and even some of the voice work in the game isn’t in English. The whole “Join us in beta” email campaign that was really a “buy into beta” message was insulting. The launch was a borderline disaster thanks to multiple Trion missteps. Plus given Trion’s history with Rift, I’m not exactly confident that they won’t find a way to (further) screw with AA.

AA the game is great. What Trion the publisher has done with it is terrible. Seems that even when we get nice things in this genre, they come with something that reminds us we aren’t allowed to just fully enjoy ourselves. So a big ‘Thank you’ to Trion, for going above and beyond in attempting to take a fun MMO and trying to ruin it, what you have done really is next-level incompetence and scumbaggery.

PS: While its possible XL Games forced Trion into all of the F2P-based crap (there is no doubt who caused the Glyph garbage), and they are just a helpless unthinking drone in all of this, until this is made clear, they get full blame.


Why we all need AA to be successful

September 24, 2014

I should have a “specific to me” post about my ArcheAge experience when I’m around level 30 (currently 23), but today I want to talk more ‘big picture’ about the game and the genre, because I think a lot of interesting things are happening.

Trion hinted that they have well over 2 million active players right now, which is double the number they had signed up for beta. As both beta and release are ‘free’, that’s pretty interesting. What caused a million+ people to get into AA now rather than show interest when it was in beta? Positive word-of-mouth, just general release hype, or something else?

The 2 million number is also interesting, as that’s also the number of subscribed accounts FFXIV has last we heard. With WoW down to 5 million or so and dropping, are we really that far away from the day WoW is no longer the biggest MMO out in the West (I think MMOs in the East have already surpassed it, but the East isn’t a place I keep an eye on for such things.)? One can only hope, as it will mean the genre is out of the shadow of that once-great, now-bleh title.

Another funny bit about AA and FFXIV; they both beat WoW, but in different ways. FFXIV is vanilla WoW done right for 2014; its focused, and what it focuses on it does very, very well. AA is a 2014 version of what WoW could/should be; it has a bit of EVERYTHING, but that everything fits together to form a virtual world rather than a collection of lobby activities, all without insulting the ability of the player.

Moving to AA specifically, what does this mean for the genre if the game is able to retain players like FFXIV has? What if AA has 2 million+ subs after 6 months? For one I think it would drive home the fact that launching the game as F2P was a mistake by Trion, especially because of how poorly the F2P crap has been layered over the otherwise solid foundation of the game (remember AA was developed and launched as a sub MMO initially). That said, if AA is successful, might it become the first MMO to move OUT of the F2P minor leagues? One can hope.

And if AA is successful, along with some of the other upcoming virtual world titles, does this mean the genre has finally turned the corner and will return to what it should be? That part still seems a little too good to be true, but at least there is some hope, unlike what we had in prior years. Cautious optimism everyone!


Candyman, candyman, candyman

August 18, 2014

Trollbold is back it seems, and in classic style.

Let me just cut that post down completely with one question before moving into the details: What day-one F2P MMO has been more successful than recently launched sub MMOs?

Because if the sub model is dead, surely some new F2P mega-hit must have replaced it, right? That’s what everyone must be playing now? The new F2P hotness called… what was its name again? You know, that F2P from day one MMO that is doing so well. Never can remember its name, or all those other really successful F2P MMOs before it…

I do find it hilarious that Tobold is linking to Superdata as well. Just trolls linking trolls and dancing around in a fantasyland circle together.

But let’s put aside fairyland numbers and look at something solid shall we? That recent NCSoft financial report for instance, that showed WildStar bringing in more money than GW2. Now GW2 isn’t F2P, but it’s also not good enough to be a sub MMO either, and NCSoft’s numbers back that up. An MMO made for the “1%” pulled in more than the MMO who’s manifesto told us was changing everything for everyone; funny how that works. And yes, WildStar will drop because its box sales drive the numbers up, but isn’t it cute that the “1%” consists of about 450k people initially? One would think you could sustain an MMO off such a population if you did it right, huh?

Of course the most glaring omission from the two troll sources is FFXIV, but it’s hard to call something dead when a 2m+ account behemoth is standing right in front of you, more than a year after launch. And while you’re at it, you should probably also ignore its previous iteration, FFXI, because that also isn’t helping your case.

The problem here is the same one we have had since day one; in order to remain a subscription-based game, an MMO has to be good-enough for its core audience to keep them. There are some MMOs at that level, and then there is a near-endless landfill of F2P titles below them trying to sell you a hotbar or the One Ring, because if you aren’t a quality game, you might as well try to dupe suckers out of a few bucks before they catch on. But just like with FFXIV, whenever someone has something they know is better than average, they go with the business model that best supports good games, and unless the genre just up and decides to stop making worthwhile games, the sub model will remain.


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