Marketing monkeys making noise

Entertaining read from Jef Reahard over at Massively about F2P, from the mouths of some of the industries ‘best’ in that area. Not sure where SOE, NCSoft, Perfect World, and GamersFirst rank on your all-time list, but that is who was talking.

First the entertainment portion:

“German gamers like to think a lot, whereas American gamers like explosions,” Merel said.

“Chinese players are willing to grind it out, and work for it,” Young agreed. “American players won’t put up with that.”

“American players need a context, or a story, or a reason to go in [a dungeon],” Levy interjected, before going on to say that the only real context is loot and rewards. “In an MMO, the reason is the loot. The reason is that I’m getting something cool.”

“That is what MMOs have devolved into,” Georgeson laughed.

The above would be insulting if it was not true. I mean we are talking about the same playerbase who bought a million boxes of SW:TOR to play an MMO remember. Farmville was a big deal. Germans love wargames. And Asians are STILL playing Lineage in huge numbers. He should have also included that all South Americans play to troll (huehuehue BR Mord es #1 right?).

Joking aside, the last line is more tragic than it is funny. Mass market MMOs ‘work’ because they are heavily dumbed down versions of what the genre originated as. And really, to reach the mass market in ANYTHING, it has to be ‘accessible’, which means the average dummy has to get it enough that you get his money. It’s why millions shop at Walmart, summer blockbusters work, pop music is what it is, and it’s why WoW is trying to recover by adding pokemon and pandas.

But like any pop fad, the masses will (have?) move on, and when they do, the people left are the ones who enjoyed the genre to begin with, and likely DON’T enjoy what was produced during the ‘mass marketing’ phase. Boy bands that get manufactured a week after that fad ends become laughable rather than successful. Movies that cash in a few months late on whatever was ‘trending’ fail. And mass-market MMOs will be no different.

Well, one difference. MMOs take year to produce, so if you are working on a WoW-clone right now, you missed the boat by about two years. SW:TOR would likely have worked in 2007. LotRO did after all. But not so much in 2012.

Getting back to the F2P aspect, is that model itself a fad, or is it really the evolution of payment? A bit of both I believe. I think the predatory F2P models, the ones designed like casino games are a fad. They are the ‘new shiny’ to lure in the mass market dummies, and until the dummies really catch on, they will keep falling for the tricks. Margins on fooling dummies are high, as Zynga has show (bonus profits if you can exploit people before rules/laws change to make that illegal).

What I don’t believe is a fad is the ‘good’ F2P model, as used in a game like League of Legends. Rather than relying on trickery or feeding into peoples weaknesses (buy this item to get stronger, so you suck less!), Riot sells fluff. But the fluff is of high-enough quality to sell. Combine the quality of the store items to the fact that LoL itself is one of the best games out, and it’s not hard to see why LoL is printing money.

Of course LoL would have been successful as a $50 box game too (it’s a good game, those sell), but not nearly to the level it has achieved under F2P. THAT is the true value of the model; if you produce something really good, you can earn WAY more than what you could under the old model. In many ways it’s the same thing as games going from the flat box price to a box+subscription model. If you create a game people are going to play for months/years, only getting $50 up front is leaving a lot of money on the table. And really, as a gamer, while it would be great to pay less, realistically if I’m enjoying something for months/years, I SHOULD be paying more for that, if for no other reason than to cast my vote for “more of this”.

What most MMO devs have not figured out, or are ignoring to chase short-term Zynga-bucks, is how to add or implement the ‘good’ F2P model into MMOs. Or perhaps they do know how, but also know that the quality of their game is such that the only choice is Zynga-bucks. I mean look at a game like EQ2; clearly the quality is lacking overall, so SOE feeds into the small subset of ‘gotta catch em all’ players and feeds them mount after mount after mount, to the tune of 80% sales (which makes SOE’s Dave Georgeson’s comments about the dungeon creator and beast master class items pretty comical).

Assuming (big assumption) that the Zynga-bucks phase ends, what we will be left with is a market that highly rewards great games, but offers little to generic titles that don’t offer a solid reason to stick around over a competitor (under the old model, if PR could fool you into buying the $50 box, the devs get paid even if you end up hating the game 5 minutes in. Under F2P this is no longer the case). This means that niche games still have their place (the niche can over-pay and/or budgets adjust), while the few ‘top end’ titles will print money like WoW did back in the day. I’m more than OK with that.

Now if only that Zynga-bucks phase would end already…

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in EQ2, League of Legends, Mass Media, MMO design, Rant, RMT, SW:TOR, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Marketing monkeys making noise

  1. turnbullr says:

    Anther great post.

  2. bhagpuss says:

    Your boy band analogy works for individual boy bands but not for the concept of boy bands. We’ve had an unbroken line of them since the 1950s. The masses DO move on from each fad, but only to the next fad.

    The problem with MMOs compared to music or movies is the cost and development time. You can write and record a song in an hour or two and digitally distribute it the same day for virtually nothing. You can make a movie in month for a few thousand dollars, show it at festivals and get a distribution deal. MMOs take comparatively forever and cost a fortune.

    Even so, there’s plenty of room for smaller studios and collectives to make niche MMOs. They just need to be clear what niche they are making them for. Even at the smallest level most of them still seem to think they can appeal to pretty much everyone, which they can’t.

    The megacorps have to make product for the mass market. There’s no reason that product should interest a specialist. Once you get up even to an investment like Trion’s $50m, which is pretty modest for a modern triple-A MMO, there’s no real possibility the result will be aimed a specialist audience.

    Hope for better, cheaper, faster development tools so small studios or even individuals can produce something worth playing in a reasonable timescale. Then hope some of those people have a clear idea of what they want to make and who they want to make it for. And don’t expect anything that isn’t populist from the big boys.

    • Hong WeiLoh says:

      “Even so, there’s plenty of room for smaller studios and collectives to make niche MMOs. They just need to be clear what niche they are making them for.”
      Yeah I thought EVE and by extension CCP were ^^ this. Then they took a dollar sign to the eyeballs and apparently haven’t looked back since.

  3. Rammstein says:

    As a german-american, am I supposed to think about explosions or enjoy exploding the thoughts of others?

    Seriously, though, I think a perfectly designed game would look pretty similar to any of these, or other groups. The different cultures have greater and lesser tolerances for imbalance along a different axis for each culture, but I think any game that hits the sweet spot everywhere will be a hit in all areas.

    The Anna Karenina postulate as applied to gaming, with an additional hypothesis that different populations will forgive a different flaw in unique areas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Karenina_principle

  4. Mara Rinn says:

    The Zynga-bucks model will end at about the same time as people give up on gambling, horse races and prostitutes.

  5. Kelindia says:

    The LoL model of f2p could rather easily be applied to a new themepark. First design the classes around a certain number of weapon slots. Have the roles cross over and fill those slots to provide you with your overall class design.

    Then you simply don’t make weapon skins drop reliably but sell new models of the current weapon style.

  6. Bernard says:

    “to reach the mass market in ANYTHING, it has to be ‘accessible’, which means the average dummy has to get it enough that you get his money”

    Bad games are successful! Damn it!

    “Of course LoL would have been successful as a $50 box game too (it’s a good game, those sell),”

    But… good games also sell?
    I guess that spells the end for using sales as a measure of worth.

    • SynCaine says:

      LoL is a dummy version of DoTA. Riot removed a lot of the layers to make jumping into the game easier. Since it’s a PvP game, unless they stripped it down to Tic-Tac-Toe, strategic depth still develops, but not to the level it did in DoTA.

      (Ignoring the fact you took a sentance talking about MMOs and tried to apply it outside the MMO genre)

      • Bernard says:

        Sorry Syn, I thought “ANYTHING” meant anything.

        But trolling aside, I liked this blog post.
        It was the first time I’ve seen you embrace the idea that there could be a diverse market of mainstream and niche titles to cater for different audiences.

  7. Dà Chéng says:

    “If you create a game people are going to play for months/years, only getting $50 up front is leaving a lot of money on the table.”

    Hehe, I’ve been playing “Shogun: Total War” (original edition, not Shogun II) and “Age of Empires II:Age of Kings” for years. I love those games! I think I paid about 9.99 for each of them.

  8. bonedead says:

    Hey, I don’t only like explosions.

  9. Feliz says:

    A game also has to be usable: A non-gamer friend once told me, “Oh, you are playing Everquest? I tried that once, but it was way to complicated”. And that goes beyond the UI, it includes abilities, classes, talent and overall mechanics. For a comparison see Farmville and Plants vs Zombies.

    Regarding Zynga bucks and predatory F2P games. “There’s a sucker born every minute”. Predatory F2P games can only be drowned out in the noise of all the good F2P games. If there aren’t enough good F2P models around, people will stick to the bad models. The problem with Zynga is, they certainly have the predatory energy and are very big already. You need a lot of good companies to overcome that.

    @Rammstein: I am thinking there was an explosion, too. I am also thinking I have to explore the “Anna Karenina Principle” some more.

  10. Pingback: Shocking news; F2P is dead | Hardcore Casual

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