SW:TOR – Good enough to be a sub MMO again?

June 17, 2015

Two observations about the ‘big’ SW:TOR expansion announcement (based only on reading Rohan mostly, since lulz actually playing SW:TOR):

Bit early to call SW:TOR trying to save itself here as it going the FFXIV route. FFXIV isn’t special in so much that SquareEnix made major changes, but that it’s by far the most successful MMO released in recent years, and that it may already be the largest MMO out in terms of total subscribers. Lots of MMOs have released large updates or overhauls; but few saw significant improvement/gains. Given the overall history of SW:TOR (hotbars! Get your hotbars!), let’s see what this really brings. Emphasis is still being placed on the 4th pillar from what I can tell, and we all know how well that worked out the first time.

The more significant bit IMO is the heavy leaning back towards the subscription model. SW:TOR launched as a sub game, it wasn’t very good, and as all not-very-good MMOs, it went F2P. The other side of that coin, the one rarely seen, is that when an MMO gets ‘good enough’, it has the option to come back to the major leagues and return to the sub model (Allods). Let’s assume this update is a major positive step for SW:TOR, can it get ‘good enough’ to be a sub MMO again? That would be something.


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.


Looking back at 2014, looking forward into 2015

December 15, 2014

Time to review 2014 and make some 2015 predictions (I don’t get as fancy as some people and do two posts!)

Here are 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.

Anyone want to comment this isn’t 100% accurate, other than the whole “release but its beta” scam?

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

Nope, but only because literally NOTHING happened with EQN, because SOE, so 50/50?

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.

Big launch; check. Quick death; nope. Game isn’t F2P (yet?), and I wouldn’t be totally surprised to hear it has more subs than we expect (not a ‘huge success’ amount, but not skeleton-crew numbers).

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”.

Mostly wrong here, other than I think WildStar clearly is a niche MMO, although I don’t think the plan was for it to be SO niche.

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

I guess? So little gets posted about GW2 its really hard to follow, but I’m assuming Anet is doing something with the game?

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.

Guess 3/4th of the way into the game was giving Turbine too much credit. My mistake.

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.

600k didn’t happen, so nope. On the other hand so far CCP is showing what they can do with quicker releases, which is basically more than anyone else, and I think they are in a good spot going forward to once again return to growth after a stagnant 2014.

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.

Other than the WildStar bit, rather accurate.

2015 predictions:

DF:UW will shut down. The population is at an all-time low, AV is completely lost with the title, and Forumfall continues to stick daggers into the one game even trying to give that crowd something to do. I don’t see how the game survives 2015 short of a miracle turnaround or wipe/DF3 plan.

WoW will lose subs. Yea, going for easy points here. I think the WoD bounce will fade, and I’m not sure New Blizzard is capable of really fixing the game to return it to growth.

FFXIV will gain subs. More easy points. With an expansion coming, a solid foundation, and a studio not called SOE or Trion supporting it, I think 2015 will be an even better year than 2014 was for this gem.

EVE will gain subs. Again more ‘in the right direction’ thinking here, although less confident in this predication than I am in FFXIV, especially if Star Citizen launches (it won’t) and isn’t completely horrible.

LoL will continue to sit atop the gaming world. I don’t see Riot slipping in 2015, I don’t see any game challenging its popularity, and the MOBA genre has a long-established history of longevity. The eSport side of the game will also continue to grow and dominate that segment.

CoC isn’t budging either. Similar story to LoL; solid developer, solid foundation, no serious challengers, CoC will finish 2015 as the top mobile game, just like it finished 2014.

Hearthstone will continue as Blizzard’s least-successful title. A weak foundation, core design flaws, and a complete lack of long-term hook will continue to see the title float between unknown mobile titles on the revenue list, while occasionally getting a jump when new cards are released and the whale famewhores dive in, only to drop back down shortly after. Won’t be much of a factor in the 2015 eSports scene either.

ArcheAge will continue to be comically mismanaged by Trion, giving us as least half a dozen “Trion being Trion” moments in 2015.

EQN won’t release. Nor will Landmark move out from under it’s ‘beta’ tag.

The rest of the ‘that’s still online huh’ F2P junk titles like LotRO, SW:TOR, EQ2, etc will float on in who-cares-land. None will be put out of their misery, but none will move up either.

I think game funding via Kickstarter will see an uptick as more Kickstarter-funded games launch and are well received. Pillars of Eternity is the one that has my eye (and money), and the continued positive development of MMOs like Camelot Unchained will show people that the platform, when used correctly, does work.

I honestly don’t see any MMO in 2015 shocking us and restoring faith in the genre. It will be more of the same, with some good (FFXIV), some bad (pick a F2P MMO), and most being meh.


SW:TOR – Hotbars sales not so hot

November 9, 2014

And the good news just keeps on flowing.

Isn’t it strange that this wasn’t reflected on fictional table generator Superdata’s info? I wonder why that is, those guys seem so well informed about everything else…

SW:TOR getting put out of its misery in 2015 is looking like a solid bet at this point, though I think the real question now is which will go offline first, this giant disaster or LotRO?

 


What happened to all those WoW-babies?

August 4, 2014

TAGN, in a post about the closing of Vanguard, brings back a theory that was pretty popular around the 2006(ish) timeframe; mainly that those who played WoW would ‘grow up’ to eventually play a ‘real MMO’. Let’s revisit that theory today.

As I mentioned in the comments section over there, I think a good number of WoW players did ‘grow up’ and went looking for something better/deeper. How many is the impossible question, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that if WoW never happened, the MMO genre wouldn’t be the size it is today, supporting all of the different MMOs we have out. To that extend, WoW did bring in a lot of new players, and those players did ‘grow up’ to look for something else.

The problem today is ‘something else’ is either EVE, meh at best, or minor-league garbage. Now let’s be very clear here; no MMO was ever or will ever be a ‘WoW-killer’, but that is mostly due to the fact that WoW was a pop-culture phenomenon. Yes, prior to WotLK it was also a very good MMO, but it wasn’t 12m+ players good.

The same can be said today about League of Legends, the ‘real’ WoW killer; it’s a very good game, yes, but it’s not 40-60m or however many active accounts Riot has. LoL right now is benefitting from similar pop-culture status that WoW did, though arguable to a lesser extent because ‘vidyagames’ are more common and accepted today than even in 2006, so playing something popular isn’t front-page news-worthy.

I think a similar story can be written about the current massive success of Clash of Clans (the #1 grossing app still). Farmville laid the groundwork, and without doubt some of those players ‘graduated’ to a ‘real game’ in CoC. Because much like WoW and LoL, CoC is a great game, but is its design really “highest-grossing app out for over a year” great? Or did the pop-culture snowball effect kick in at some point and millions upon millions of people started playing because everyone else was, or because TV told them to?

Let’s get back to MMOs, or more accurately, the lack of either a great one or few with proper aspirations. I think the market size for a great MMO ala EVE is around the 500k-2m range. EVE is the king for virtual world design, but even by its own admission is somewhat niche. It might be the perfect version of Excel in Space, but at the end of the day it’s still Excel in Space. But I think a more mass-market, well-done MMO can get and retain around 2m players. Problem is every title that has tried has been horribly flawed and failed. LotRO, WAR, Rift, SW:TOR, ESO (I miss anyone?); all aimed at millions and fell well short, as each just isn’t great (or even good).

Then we had the problem of niche titles not defining their niche correctly. I think (hope) we are somewhat past this as indicated by titles like Pathfinder Online, Shroud of the Avatar, and Camelot Unchained. None of those titles have promised to be a WoW killer, or to be the next big thing. All, from what I have seen, are embracing their niche, and I hope that embracing extends to the business plan and surviving on 50k players or so. The only big whale I see crashing is Star Citizen, and even that has already kinda made its money (which is insane, but a totally different topic).

So yes, the WoW babies grew up. Not all 12m however, which confused not just readers but also the industry as a whole for a number of years. Seems like people are finally figuring it out, and now we just have to wait for the results when the next wave is released.


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.

 


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