My post about the 1% in F2P games did not finish my thoughts on that topic completely, and hopefully in this post I can bring all of this around and wrap it up (not likely). The predatory nature of the model, and how it influences developer focus, are very important aspects, but equally important are the options players have, and how their voice might be heard.
Compare the LotRO cash armor incident with EVE’s monocle fiasco.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that selling items of power (be they BiS or not) has a little more impact on a game than selling an overpriced fluff piece, right? And long-time LotRO fans have every right to suggest that their game is heading (plummeting) down a slippery slope. This is especially true in a game like LotRO, where supposedly the integrity of the IP is so important. WoW has always had its fair share of silly crap, so sparkleponies almost make sense, but LotRO was a pretty serious game in terms of respecting the IP.
Yet it’s CCP and EVE that changed course and listened to player demands, while Turbine further insulted their players with some weak-ass explanation of why selling The One Ring is not that big a deal.
EVE, because it’s a sub-based MMO, is ruled by the majority (more on this in a bit), while LotRO is ruled by the 1%. The only way Turbine is going to pull the cash gear out of the shop/game is if the 1% not only refuses to buy it, but also stops buying everything else. And like I stated previously, sadly the 1% are not exactly die-hard MMO purists or hyper-invested in the future prospects of that MMO. They show up, grab all the candy, and leave when they overdose on sugar, only to be replaced by the next ‘child’ with too much money.
About EVE, and sub MMOs in general: While CCP’s goal is ultimately to get as many subscribers as possible, this is by no means accomplished by catering to the casual majority at the expense of the die-hard minority. Again, one SynCaine is worth 30 Casual-Calvins (formerly known as Casual Billy). And not only that, but one SynCaine keeps those 30 Casual-Calvins playing for months/years, where if left to their own devices the Calvins would “run out of content” in a month, while also failing to attract a single friend. If you want to see what happens to an MMO when you drive away the hardcore to cater to the casuals, take a look at current-day WoW, and Blizzard scrambling to replace the churn rather than attempting to retain players. If you are a current-day WoW player, what does that stance by Blizzard tell you?
The Jita riots in EVE were not organized by the Calvins, but in order to be effective the casuals were herded over and told to shoot the pretty structure. And then when the content-drivers started to unsub, it did not take long for their flock to follow.
CCP’s hand was forced because of the sheer number of lost accounts, but those losses were not driven by a lack of catering to the casuals. Hell, Incarna was the most direct attempt from CCP to do exactly that, to ‘break EVE out of its niche’, and while certainly not perfect, it did somewhat accomplish its goal (casuals love dresses after all). But casuals don’t make EVE an 8 year old MMO that is still growing. They never have, and they never will.
Consider the CSM. If there was ever a “let’s listen to the super-hardcore minority” program, it’s the CSM. It’s a collection of players that not only know the ins and outs of a very complicated game, but have been around said game for years. They have no doubt poured THOUSANDS of hours into it, and are willing and able to take large chunks of time out of their lives to fly to another country and talk about it for DAYS straight with the devs. And yet upsetting the CSM to the point of protest is/was the single biggest mistake CCP ever made, and all it took was selling a fluff item. Not gold ammo, not even lower-tier ‘noob help’ items or catch-up potions. Nope. Fluff. Dumb, zero-impact fluff (yes, this oversimplifies the whole issue, but this post is already too long).
It’s also disingenuous, and IMO outright silly, to suggest that when the devs cater to the die-hard minority, they must do so at the expense of the casual majority. Back when I played WoW, all you would hear from ‘casuals’ is how Blizzard needs to stop making more raids that ‘no one’ will ever see, and focus more on the ‘fun fluff’ that casuals can’t get enough of. That since ‘only 1%’ all of players defeated a boss, that content was ‘wasted’ and did nothing for the vast majority of the players.
Of course all of this was happening while WoW was growing at an astronomical rate, and pushing what an MMO could do in terms of a subscriber base further and further. It was also during this time that the die-hards created the UI for WoW, created its first PvP system (town invasions, NPC leader raids), and created all the guides/websites/podcasts that further expanded the popularity and growth of WoW. This was long, long before Mr. T or Chuck stepped in.
EVE in many ways is very similar. Non-EVE players love to point out that most pilots live in Empire as some sort of evidence that PvP does not matter, or that EVE is successful DESPITE its neg-sum PvP. And those who play EVE or at least are able to comprehend a bit of it understand why this is laughable. Why the minority that fights over 0.0 space drive the game. Why people like The Mittani ‘matter’ a whole hell of a lot more than Casual-Calvin ever will. And most importantly, why listening to the CSM (in moderation of course, and still doing their jobs as game designers) is not catering to the minority, but doing what’s best for the game, which in turn is what’s best for everyone playing.
To bring this all the way back around, compare how that mentality, of doing what’s best for the game leading to success, compares to doing what will get the 1% to spend again. Is it any surprise that CCP is motivated and rewarded for putting out something like Crucible, while SOE is pouring resources into coming up with the next ‘wings’ mount? That Turbine is willing to upset a large section of their playerbase just to get a few to buy mid-level gear?
Now both models work. Zynga after all was worth something at some point, right? But pure business model aside, as a player, which game would you rather play? The one getting updated in order to make it better, or the one with an ‘addictive’ shop that is able to lure in the 1% ‘kids’?