The three flavors of F2P

March 5, 2014

Another post about the F2P business model, yay! (I blame TAGN for this one)

One development that has happened somewhat recently is the split definitions of what ‘F2P’ really is. It’s a different take on the “what is an MMO” question, only I don’t think the lines are as blurred here. Below is an attempt to identify the different models, and pass some thoughts on each.

The most basic IMO is the demo model. The MMO in question is free until a certain point, and in order to pass that point (be it a level cap, content cap, or power cap) you have to pay. If paying means buying a box or subbing and getting basically everything, the demo aspect is even more clear. If paying means getting pushed into a cash shop, that’s a bit murky and likely falls into the third model described below.

The next category is one that so far has only workout OUTSIDE of the MMO genre, and I think is the best F2P model; the fluff and extra convenience model. The base game is free, and spending money gets you fluff like champion skins or extra convenience like character slots. The base game, that is free, isn’t affected negatively by the shop, nor are game systems designed around reminding you of the shop or pointing out what you don’t have access to because you haven’t bought it yet.

The third is the ‘classic’ F2P model, where the free part is basically an infomercial to get you into the shop, and only through spending money in the shop do you get the ‘real’ game, be that full access to content or the removal of barriers put up by the devs.

The first model I don’t have issue with if the after-demo part is a box or a sub. In those cases using the term “F2P” is more about using the current buzz word (instead of saying demo) for PR than really using that model.

The second model is the hardest to pull off, because you’re game has to be so good that people WANT to give you money for it. Riot is able to do this with LoL because the base, free game is amazing, so spending money on skins, which are also usually of amazing quality, feels more like supporting something you like rather than being pushed to hand out some cash. Path of Exile also uses this model successfully, again because PoE the base game is pretty great at what it is (a better version of Diablo than current Diablo), and the stuff in the shop is fun/cute for the price.

WoW also somewhat falls into this category because of stuff like the sparkle pony, though of course the sub fee muddles the waters. I do think WoW would still be profitable if it was fully free and Blizzard emulated LoL and sold lots of different skins for mounts, weapons, armor, etc, but I suspect they make more money double-dipping, at least for now.

The third, ‘classic’ F2P model has been discussed to death. It’s the minor leagues, the math-tax scam show from developers who can’t make a good-enough product to stand on its own merits. As I’ve said many times before, this is the model that is the ticking time bomb, and eventually (already?) most people will smarten up and the money will stop trickling in.


ESO: Prediction forming is at 85%

February 14, 2014

This article over at Massively by Larry Everett mirrors a lot of my most recent experience with the ESO beta, in that the first area is 100% linear, the second feels like a typical themepark zone, and the third feels like a comfortable cross between a full open world and an MMO themepark. I would love if someone could confirm that going forward, the rest of the game’s PvE is like the third area, if not even more ‘open’. Anyone?

Now to nitpick, I think it’s a bit silly to complain about the first, very short, 100% linear area as not being very Elder Scrolls. Load up Skyrim with a new character and no mods, and tell me what you experience for the first half hour or so? Oh right, a 100% linear experience that is mostly to setup the story. Load up Oblivion and it’s the same thing. If anything, the linear part in ESO is shorter than the single player game bits.

The traditional themepark zone is also a bit of an extended tutorial, in that it introduces you to some of the new stuff ESO does (skyshards, finding runes, stuff like that). I could do without it, but I also see why it will be helpful for new-to-MMO players, which I think will be a significant portion of ESO’s playerbase.

I feel like I need one more weekend with ESO to put down a solid “ESO is themepark 4.0” prediction post. I’m getting there, and I don’t think Zenimax is going to bork ESO just before launch like Trion did with Rift, and hopefully they don’t do a Rift 1.2 ‘accessibility’ patch to kill it, but who knows.

I will say this however, the comparisons to SW:TOR with ESO are ridiculous. SW:TOR wasn’t predicted to be the Tortanic because it was ‘boring’, or ‘more of the same’. It was easy to spot the Tortanic because on day one the devs told us the 4th pillar was the path to greatness, and some of us (or just me) called the game DOA on that day back in 2010. There is no 4th pillar for ESO, at least not that I’ve found yet.

Pre-ordered the digital collectors edition, in part because I think the game will be a good time, and also in part because the genre blows outside of spaceships.

 


EVE: CCP you are the worst, besides everyone else

February 7, 2014

Jester has, as always, a great post up about the reaction to the real life EVE monument CCP recently unveiled, which as his post shows, has largely been negative. EVE is famous for having lots of bitter vets, and as the only MMO to still be growing after more than a decade, many of those players truly are vets, and truly are bitter.

His post however reminded me how good EVE players have it compared to everyone else. For example take this complaint:

I think this boring and featureless statue symbolize EVE expansions.

EVE receives two free expansions every year, plus point releases between those expansions that do more for the game than what some MMOs call expansions they charge you for. Oh how I wish DF:UW got such ‘boring and featureless’ expansions. Hell, I’d take just one, or even half.

Doom and gloom fills every MMO forum. It’s what players do. The happy ones are playing, the unhappy are posting, regardless if your game is a dumpster like SW:TOR or the blueprint like EVE. That said, EVE players should take a step back once in a while and look around the genre. You really wouldn’t trade CCP for anyone else. Not the interns who gave us space goats and pandas. Not the wing factory of monthly embarrassments and flip-flopping. Not someone who burns $300m on a pillar of trash and sells you hotbars. Not the authors of the manifesto of lies. Not the ad-spam One-Ring sellers. Not the fools in white shades, or the ones to put a bullet in the head of an MMO shortly after release.

Be glad CCP runs EVE. It could be a lot, lot worse.


Pathfinder Online: What 1.9m gets you

February 6, 2014

The latest dev blog from Goblinworks, makers of the upcoming Pathfinder Online (currently holder of the very distinguished “Next sandbox MMO least likely to suck” award) talks money, specifically that they spent 1.9m in 2013.

Numbers are fun, especially once this game is released and we see just what 1.9m in a year really gets you. We know what 300m+ from EA gets us (Tortanic), we know 38 Studios wasn’t able to create much of anything with a giant pile of (Rhode Island’s) money, we know the relative cost of WAR, and now we will see what happens here and with the slew of other Kickstarter MMOs.

Side note: The screenshots in the dev blog look refreshing, in that the world won’t be a neon crapland of ‘magic’. The closer someone comes to making a game that looks and feels like a Mount and Blade Online game, the better.

 


Closing out 2013. 2014 predictions

December 30, 2013

2013 ends much like it began for the MMO genre, with a collective ‘meh’, and this blog overall has reflected that both in post volume and the number of posts about MMOs vs other games.

My most played MMO this year was Darkfall: Unholy Wars, and while I had a lot of fun with the title for a good number of months, right now it feels far too much like an oversized arena PvP game than a sandbox MMO. Character progression is short, top gear is trivial to horde, and if you don’t PvP for the sake of PvP, you don’t have much else to really do. I’ll see what AV does with the title in 2014, but right now I have little reason to log in.

I played some EVE online, but wormhole life is not something you can’t do without serious dedication, and I just couldn’t find the will to do that consistently. I’m currently out in low-sec with the alliance, and looking forward to jumping into some fleets there. Ultimately however I need to figure out a big-picture goal, either for myself or the corp. We’ll see if that happens in 2014.

I started 2013 playing UO:Forever with Keen and crew, and while that only lasted a few months, it was fun going back to early-days UO. Some aspects aged very well (PvE, housing, the worldly feel), others not so much (combat, PvP), and ultimately I drifted away because I had accomplished what I wanted, in large part thanks to the server setting character progression to Panda-WoW speed. A lesson that sadly the genre is still learning and trying to come to terms with.

So yea, 3 MMOs in 2013, one a sequel to a title announced in 2003, one a title launched in 2003, and one a title launched in 1997. Sums up the genre pretty accurately IMO.

Let’s look back at my 2013 predictions, shall we?

“I do believe 2013 will be the year the MMO genre figures itself out, and a clear distinction is made between games that are ‘real’ MMOs, and titles with MMO-lite qualities that we consume.”

Nope.

Might as well make the same prediction for 2014. It’s going to happen eventually… right?

“EVE will reach and retain 500k subs in 2013.”

Didn’t hit 500k, but did increase to just under 400k. Edit: Yes it did. Got this one correct without even knowing it…

“SW:TOR will shut down or go skeleton crew by 2014.”

Didn’t shut down. Does sell you hotbars. Recently released a Starfox mode as the big update. 50/50?

“LotRO will directly sell you The One Ring and a chance to play Sauron.”

Skeleton crew didn’t get around to Sauron, but you can pay Turbine to skip half the game, so… 50/50?

“DF:UW will actually release and exceed the first year of DF1.”

Yes and no. Yes because it launched, the launch was solid, and the game fixed a lot of the core issues DF1 had. No because the fixed issues from DF1 exposed more core issues with the game, and those remain as 2013 draws to a close.

“GW2 will have 9 tiers of gear by the end of 2013.”

I honestly care so little about GW2 and even reading about it is terribly boring so I can’t comment on this. Has it happened? I know you can pay for high tiers of harvesting tools, but what else?

“A bunch of MMOs will have kickstarter campaigns. Few will actually make it, almost all will be meh.”

No kickstarter MMOs launched, did they? I know some got funded, others failed to reach their goal, and nothing that I saw made me go “yes, that is brilliant, take my money and do that”, so I’ll call this one a win.

On to the 2014 predictions:

EQNL will have everyone loving it the first month of release. Shortly after just about everyone will be asking “now what?” and drift away.

EQN will continue to attempt to copy/paste from my design docs, and will continue to SOE them into failure.

ESO will have a big launch, followed by a quick death (F2P). I’d like to pretend that THIS massive themepark failure will teach the industry to stop, but if SW:TOR didn’t, nothing will.

WildStar won’t suck. Just throwing a dart here, as WildStar doesn’t interest me personally, but what little I know about the dev team, I like. If they stick to their ideas/goals post-release, I can see WildStar being a solid ‘niche’ MMO. We might even be calling it “themepark done right”.

The GW2 train will continue to roll, although with less steam and more heavy-handedness towards the cash shop. Such is F2P life.

LotRO will continue to provide us with amusing stories, perhaps selling you a character 3/4th of the way into the game, or something equally dumb. 50/50 on being able to play Sauron. 75% chance you will be able to buy the One Ring in the shop.

CCP will go bankru… haha just kidding. Best MMO out will continue to play chess while the genre learns checkers. 450k subs in 2014. Edit: Since we are at 500K already and this isn’t WoW, raising this to 600k.

WoW will bounce back with the next expansion and have a strong 2014. Now that the interns are back to being interns, and the real devs are back from failing to make anything with Titan, WoW will prosper. It will also help that 2014 won’t offer it much real competition (Unless WildStar draws away a significant portion of the raiding crowd, which is a possibility). WoW will end with more subs in 2014.

Did I miss anything?


MMO Future: Suits and timebombs

October 24, 2013

A lot of good back and forth dialog happened yesterday, which you should go read if you haven’t. Thanks go out to Brian (Psychochild) Green for putting up more of a fight than the hotbar salesmen from SW:TOR. I’d like to follow up on a few items today and hopefully keep the conversation going.

On suits only funding F2P MMOs right now: I don’t doubt that is the environment Brian has to deal with today (ignoring the next big MMO coming out, TESO, being a sub game). But since when do the suits know best? Remember, suits thought SW:TOR’s 4th pillar sales pitch was so hot they threw $300m+ at it. Suits also didn’t think Ultima Online would work. Suit after suit thought if you just copy/paste WoW, you too will easily reach millions of subs. Suits, by definition, are CHASING the latest trend, not setting it, and when that trend is a timebomb like F2P (more on that later), jumping on that train isn’t going to end well for anyone other than the suits (who usually include an out clause).

You know what the suits have missed? Things like Star Citizen, which right now has raised $25m+. That’s not 25m in sales of a completed game, that’s 25m in “I like your vision, hopefully it works out, take my money” wallet-voting. I wonder how much money suits would have thrown at Chris Roberts, and what their demands would have included? Hard to imagine which title is ultimately going to turn out to be more entertaining…

Or to look at it from a different angle, if what SOE showed at the EQN reveal (a tired cartoon look, parkour, and move out of the boss’s red box ‘gameplay’, yo) was put out as a crowdfunding initiative, would it even sniff 1m? “Oh the one-hit wonder factory SOE is making another F2P themepark with crap I don’t need/want, please take my money” – said by no one, ever. I’m sure they will have a wonderful selection of wings in the cash shop though, just don’t forget to pay your epic items upkeep license fee.

Brian took offense at comparing the stereotypical Walmart shopper to the stereotypical F2P MMO player, yet who really is the ideal F2P MMO player the suits are hoping to attract?

Is it the educated MMO player who has put time into titles like UO, DAoC, EVE, early WoW? Is that the kind of player who is going to become a whale in your cash shop? Is that the player who benefits from the zero-entry barrier of your amazing F2P MMO? Is that the type of player who NEEDS that zero-entry barrier when they find something worthwhile? Are they going to keep you in business through repeat fluff purchases? Are they the audience who is going to look at a P2W setup and jump in?

Or is the target someone less educated? Is the target someone who would be lured in by a shiny exterior with a clearly hollow center? (h/t Supplantor for the link) Someone who is into buying power without realizing what that ultimately means (a cheapened gaming experience for everyone)? Is it someone who can get hooked on the cash shop, buying just one more set of wings, a hat, or a pretty dress? Is it someone who hasn’t caught on to the fact that buying an XP booster is nothing more than just paying to play something you (should be) enjoying less?

If everyone in the MMO genre was an educated MMO player well-versed in both sub MMOs and F2P offerings, would F2P still be around? Are whales anything but simple, weak-willed individuals? The same people you shake your head at as you pass them in the casino, hopelessly addicted to a slot machine? Or the last few still standing off in a corner during their cigarette break, killing themselves slowly but unable to stop?

Now granted, stupid has existed since the beginning of time and will continue to exist in one form or another, and finding a way to cater to stupid can be a successful business strategy. As the saying goes, a sucker is born every day. But the key to catering to stupid is you have to keep evolving the tricks as the populace catches on to the last batch.

The F2P MMO model was a nice trick when Zynga first pulled it off, and they made a killing. It’s a timebomb because at some point (and that point is basically now or very soon), too many former dummies/whales will have caught on to your trick, and they won’t be shelling out the hundreds and thousands you depend on for just another gem pack, or one more set of wings.

Solid design and content is worth paying for, and will continue to be worthwhile. The tricks of a hotbar salesmen are temporary, and that clock is about to hit midnight.

And now a little challenge to the F2P supporters; imagine you just launched the most successful MMO ever (2005/6 WoW level success). Millions of people not only showed up day one, but millions are still around years later, and for them your game is the absolute main focus and they can’t get enough.

Is that game better served by being a F2P MMO, or as a subscription title, for both your players and the developers?

I would love, love for some pro-F2P person to take the above and break down why a successful MMO is better under F2P. What benefits do I get as a player, and under those benefits, how are the developers better off? How have you maintained year-after-year success and prosperity under the F2P model?

We know, because we have seen it (WoW before the talent drain) and continue to see it (EVE after the correction of theF2P-error that was Incarna), that when an MMO is great, the sub model works for both players and devs. So unless the ultimate goal is mediocrity and a quick cash grab, I need someone to blog/comment on the above. What is the best-case scenario for a great F2P MMO?

(And it has to be an MMO, you can’t mention something like LoL, GTA, or CoD. LoL is not an MMO, nor is its F2P model ANYTHING like a cash shop-driven F2P MMO. Same for GTA/CoD, or any other title that is not an MMO.)


Rift closing in China, Death accountability.

September 18, 2013

Things are not looking so hot over in Rift-land, including the upcoming closing of Rift China. The mighty MMO 3.0 seems to be falling, and falling fast. I can’t do a real comprehensive “why” analysis because I’ve not played the game since the 1.2 (‘accessibility’) patch, but even from an outside perspective it’s an interesting story. Is Rift a bad themepark? Is it mismanaged? Or is it a reflection of the changing genre?

I have a hard time believing Rift is bad, even today. The game was solid in beta, got a bit worse for release, and 1.2 happened, but even after that there was a lot of room between Rift and ‘bad’. TAGN has had a few posts about it and from those it sounds like the game is still basically the same, just with more stuff now, so I’m going to assume ‘bad’ is not the reason.

Is it mismanaged? Maybe, and I only say that because lots of other blah MMOs are still up and running, so why can’t Rift seem to keep it together? In a world where EQ2 and LotRO are still alive, let alone the countless nameless straight-to-F2P trash heaps, Rift should be able to keep the servers up.

A reflection of the changing genre? Man I hope so.

The genre’s roots are in part based on taking a single-player game experience (Ultima) and removing the single-player limiters and just letting players live in that world (Ultima Online). EQ1 started the ‘shared single player experience’, but it was so rough and extended that it worked (and compared to themeparks today, it was a ‘sandbox’, as ridiculous as that actually is). WoW cleaned things up a bit, but still had enough ‘world’ to keep going for a few years. At some point the interns at Blizzard took over and we got WotLK, phasing, and the full-forced introduction of the sRPG on a server.

As game development operates under a delay, even after WoW started to falter we still say WoW-clone after WoW-clone, with many cloning the now failing version. WoW made this harder to see for some due to its monstrous size and pop-culture snowball effect. For a bit, even as the churn was extreme, the number of players coming in was able to keep up with the flood of players going out. It was a uniquely WoW situation, like many are/were.

Rift, especially post-release and with 1.2, was cloning the failed version of WoW. More focus on the sRPG aspects, and a heavy limiting of ‘world’ aspects. Again, I don’t think it’s purely a ‘bad game’ issue, but it’s not doing itself any favors either. What I think is a bigger factor is players, even themepark fans, are growing tired of the online sRPG.

Let me clarify that actually; I think the average MMO fan is finally, FINALLY figuring the themepark formula out, and while they still enjoy the quick burst of Online sRPG content, they are not sticking around for long after the best parts are consumed. At the same time, those best parts (heavy story-based solo content) are non-repeatable and too time-consuming for devs to produce more of at a reasonable pace.

The end result; a lot of dev time/money spent to produce something expected to last, and all of it consumed in a month or three, with the devs left holding a rather large bill and no further revenue coming in. The death march is sometimes delayed by F2P-switch trickery, but as we are seeing, that fad is nothing more than a simple delay of the inevitable, and much like the Online sRPG itself, its being figured out faster and faster with each title.

There are a few important things to understand here. One is that the MMO market is indeed a niche, and not only that, but each title should be a niche within that niche. There are groups of players looking for certain games, and they will play them for long-enough to justify a reasonable investment. Just don’t expect WoW, or even EQ1 numbers, and you will be fine so long as you deliver what the niche is looking for.

Along with that, if your model relies on keeping people around for months and months, your content, and far more importantly, your content delivery plan should reflect that. Unless you have a magic voice-over production factory that costs you nothing, it’s not too smart to base your game around that extremely costly gimmick, now is it?

So while the news is bad for Rift, I think the underlying story is positive for the genre.

In totally unrelated news (ha), I’ve joined up with Sinister in Darkfall after the post-Proxy plan did not really work out. Our alliance (Death), has recently won a war against NOX, and an excellent video recap of the war can be found here. Worth watching IMO.


Today’s Kool-Aid flavor is grape. Grape and failure

August 28, 2013

A lot of funny stuff is happening in this post over at TAGN, please go check it out. My only major complaint is that Wilhelm was light on the actual insults. I’m going to try and correct that here.

I think the biggest gain from that post is my discovery of a new blog: Zen of Design. The title is a bit misleading though; I think it would be far more accurate to call the blog “Tales from a hotbar salesmen”. That aside, its great reading, in much the same way the comments section on Massively is ‘great reading’. Just quotes on top of quotes of goodness.

But before we get to that, a few quick points from the TAGN piece; has anyone ever considered that while you benefit from having multiple accounts in EVE, the real reason so many do it is because they really, really like the game? We talk all the time about what a huge insurmountable barrier $15 a month is, so what are EVE players telling you about their game when they happily pay $30, $45, or more per month, for months if not YEARS at a time? (I really only want replies to this from people who have an above-Tobold understanding of EVE, thanks).

On the chances of TESO or WildStar being successful; in a genre with F2P abominations like SW:TOR, B2P 3-week titles like GW2, and “I have nothing in common with my 2004 version” WoW, is it really that unimaginable that there are hundreds of thousands of players just looking to play/pay for 2005/6 WoW in 2014? I don’t mean an exact copy/paste job, but I’m not buying this notion that all gamers have evolved into something unrecognizable from 2005. Not saying that either TESO or WildStar will become that game, but if/when someone does, my bet is they will be successful (just not perfect-storm WoW successful)

Those points aside, let’s get back to my new favorite blog, shall we?

I’ll state this up front; the below is a little unfair. The writer is working for EA and SW:TOR, so perhaps a lot of this is just singing the company line rather than personal belief. That said, no one (I think) is forcing the guy to write this, so it’s fair game.

“It probably comes as no surprise that I have discovered religion about Free 2 Play in a big way. It’s very clearly the way that the future of the genre is going, and any new competitor that enters the space is going to face immense competition from the rest of us that now provide a pretty substantial amount of gameplay for free. Right now, WoW is the only successful subscription-only MMO in the west, and even they seem to be sticking their toe in the pool.”

Let’s do a real quick recap of SW:TOR and its initial aim:

1) It had a built-in audience thanks to its IP (Star Wars), the devs (BioWare), and prior games (KOTOR)

2) It had the biggest budget of any MMO, with the marketing power of EA

3) Its goal initially was to challenge WoW, a title that retained millions of subscribers year after year (until everyone with talent left the company, and the interns started doing updates/working on Diablo 3)

What actually happened:

1) The launch was a disaster, with ridiculous bugs (invuln dancing), high-res textures being held out, and countless PR embarrassments

2) Players were jumping ship at an amazing rate, thanks to the game being a shallow, sub-par sRPG on a tragically terrible engine that couldn’t handle more than 5 players in one area

3) The game was forced into the F2P minor leagues

4) The F2P model itself might be the biggest joke amongst all offerings, including the beyond-ridiculous option to buy hotbars. It’s so bad that when Massively put up a “it’s not that bad guys!” piece about it, readers were not sure if it was satire or not.

5) EA has been trying to distance themselves from the title ever since, downplaying its impact during financial calls and trying to redirect attention to its successful properties

6) The heads of BioWare threw in the towel shortly after SW:TOR crashed.

So, that is the basis of Damion’s new ‘religion’. Whelp.

(Talking about NVN and Marvel Superheroes) “It also means they get to avoid the stigma of ‘failure’ that comes from a hasty conversion. Perhaps the most painful part of transitioning SWTOR from subscription to Free-to-play was reading all of the commentary describing us as a failed game, when all of the internal numbers we had showed that F2P completely reinvigorated the game.

So wait, SW:TOR isn’t a failed game that was forced into F2P, but yet was reinvigorated by F2P? I was not aware something already successful can get reinvigorated. Usually we call that “more of the same”.

Which again brings up the question seemingly no one has an answer to; why is it that only failed MMOs go F2P? Why is it that failed F2P games don’t go subscription? Why is it that when a F2P game does really well (Allods, somehow…), it goes from F2P to subscription? Why is it that successful MMOs (EVE, WoW for now) stay subscription? If F2P is so awesome, so amazing, so “the future”, why is it only used when you either have a subpar MMO out of the gate, or you fail as a sub? Anyone?

Free-to-play is all about making the game accessible – getting more people into the front door. SWTOR’s success here is no fluke – DDO reported that their concurrent players increased 5x. For LOTRO, the number was 3x. If anyone wants to see the effects of Free to Play on logins, check this chart

Again, that “SW:TOR success” part cracks me up, as does including a link to DDO from 2009 (at the time of the F2P conversion) and LotRO from 2010. Damion, why have you not provided more recent links to DDO and LotRO success stories? It can’t possibly be because going F2P from subs is a one-time boost for a failing game that fades and you return to just being a failed game, can it? Based on those 2009 and 2010 stories, Turbine must be straight killing it today right? What’s that, Turbine has been in financial trouble for a while now? But F2P really saved those games, didn’t it? Just like it’s going to save SW:TOR, won’t it?

Whether or not the billing model of Eve’s economic-spreadsheet driven libertarian paradise is right for a fledgling mass market MMO remains to be seen. But I doubt it.

As I’ve mentioned before, if someone associated with SOE or SW:TOR tells you something is bad, put the house on that something working out. Easy money.

One of my mantras about being a free-to-play game is that, in order to call yourself that, your evangelists have to feel good about telling their casual friends, “Yeah, you can totally play for free!”

You sell hotbars. Your fluff piece about your F2P model over at Massively was ridiculed. YOU MIGHT HAVE THE WORST F2P MODEL IN THE GENRE. Dude…

And all of those delicious quotes off just one post. So, so much more to dig into in the days to come.

Edit: F2P ALL THE WAAAAYYY (out the door)


The cure for F2P disease is quality

August 22, 2013

In the comments section from yesterday’s post, Rohirrim raised the issue that with so many failed MMOs being demoted to the F2P minor leagues, gamers today might be weary of jumping on a new game that is sub-based for fear of the F2P switch. I think the issue has two parts, one being overall recent market conditioning (which includes things like Steam sales rewarding waiting rather than buying on day one), and the other being the somewhat recent sub-to-F2P trend.

Both problems are solved by having a quality game, but making a good game is hard.

When a new game is released on Steam, I only pay full price if I want the game right away, and the only games I want right away are the best ones (for me, of course) or if my friends are playing it and I want to join in. Civ V and its expansions were full-price purchases, and I consider those money well spent. Same for XCOM and Skyrim. How many people paid $30+ for ARMA II because their friends were playing Day Z and they just had to jump in? But that is a high bar to reach, and again, most devs can’t reach it.

The same goes for MMOs; if you have a good MMO with good retention, you stay with the subscription model. If you launch an MMO that can be ‘finished’ in 3 weeks/months, or one that doesn’t have the social hooks to keep guilds going, you switch to F2P and milk suckers with the F2P math tax for as long as you can get away with it.

Will WildStar or TESO be good-enough to stay as subscription games? We’ll find out ‘soon’. At the very least, they are not throwing in the F2P towel on day one, so they have that going for them.

But let’s not kid ourselves, no successful MMO has ever switched to F2P, because if you have a successful title, the subscription model is where the money is in NA/EU (Asia is completely different for countless reasons). You don’t go F2P because you will make MORE money with a successful title, you go to F2P because you are failing and a cash shop might hook enough suckers to keep you afloat, especially early on as you have not yet destroyed your overall game with the kind of additions you will eventually add to the shop (gear, lockboxes, etc).

And the F2P “sell the future for the present” design destruction will only accelerate as the dummies catch on. You (usually) can only fool someone a few times before they realize buying lockbox keys is stupid, or that they are paying way more than $15 just to come close to getting what they had before with a subscription. Zynga made a lot of money when it beat everyone else to those tricks, but it caught up to them (as did the laws) and the company is worth a fraction of what it once was (that they are still in business is a miracle actually).

By the time EQN is finally released, how many uneducated F2P dummies will be left? By that time, how many actual MMO gamers will be fed up with the cash shop trash and looking for a straight-up deal? Even at a site like Massively we are already starting to see such comments, and if there was ever a bastion for F2P dummies, its Massively.

Side-note; I think the next evolution of the sub model will be to increase the monthly cost. The sub ‘barrier’ of $15 is nothing to something who actually wants to play an MMO, and the only people you are going to lose are the people who were already flaky. If you have a solid title, I don’t think increasing the cost to $20 or even $30 a month is going to matter to fans (again, people paid $30 for ARMA, an older title, just to play a mod), while it would allow a developer to continue operating at a certain level with a smaller total population.

Even at $30 a month, an MMO you play as your primary source of gaming would still be ridiculously cheap entertainment compared to anything else, but it would more than double the income a studio would get per player, lowering the ‘make or break’ threshold and allowing for more target-focused titles, rather than the ‘try to cater to everyone, deliver to no one’ junk we have been seeing over the last few years.

 


Shocking news; F2P is dead

August 21, 2013

Well that didn’t last long, huh? Wish someone had called F2P a fad, that would have been pretty insightful of them.

Am I happy that the F2P plague is dying? Of course.

Will F2P still exist in some capacity? Yes. Games like LoL that do F2P right will continue being successful, and lesser MMOs that have no choice like SW:TOR will continue to sell you hotbars until shutdown, but finally the genre is returning to the model that makes sense for players AND dev of good MMOs.

Now does this make WildStar, FF 14, or TESO good MMOs automatically? Of course not, but it helps in that at least the devs don’t have to carry the design burden of F2P.

And let’s not kid ourselves; F2P is indeed a dev burden. Do you think the devs behind SW:TOR think their game is better thanks to hotbar limits, or XP gain rates that have been drastically reduced? Is LotRO a better game now that it spams you to buy something every 5 seconds? Is there ‘design brilliance’ for creating yet another gaudy set of wings in EQ2? Of course not; but the F2P model drives what you create, and in order to sell crap in the store, the game has to ‘nudge’ you towards it. Great content without a hook into the cash shop is a ‘wasted opportunity’.

F2P fans have commented that a sub-model has built-in grind to keep you subbed. No shit. Oh the horror, a game I enjoy is designed to keep me playing. Because what happens when ‘the grind’ is no longer fun? You quit, and the sub model doesn’t work if you quit, so simply going SW:TOR on your MMO and gimping everyone’s XP gains is not a successful way to run your sub-based MMO.

The only semi-legit knock on the sub model is that it doesn’t allow you to play a dozen MMOs at the same time, and I’m 100% fine with all of those people not playing my MMO. There is nothing worse than a once-a-week playing in your guild, and your game doesn’t develop the kind of community that makes an MMO special with those people.

If that means you ‘only’ have 500k subscribers, so be it. It’s not like anyone has reach WoW peak numbers with F2P or the sub model, so one is not more ‘mainstream’ or successful than the other. A million free accounts are worth less than one paying account, as I’m sure some devs are learning the hard way.

Who knows, maybe in a year or two some devs will start talking about the importance of retention again, or how they have a plan longer than three months for players. The more things change…


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