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

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)

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Allods Online, DDO, EVE Online, Guild Wars, Lord of the Rings Online, Mass Media, MMO design, Rant, RMT, SW:TOR, The Elder Scrolls Online, WildStar, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

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

  1. My work here is done.

  2. bhagpuss says:

    I wonder what Damion has to say about FFXIV, the new buy-the-box, pay-the-subscription MMO that today had to turn off digital download sales for the time being while they go buy a whole load of new servers because so many people want to pay to play it there isn’t room for them all?

    I’m not anti-F2P in the slightest, indeed I rather like it on the whole, but to suggest it’s the only possible way an MMO can be profitable is crazy talk. Horses for courses and all that.

  3. dsj says:

    Plex is such a great mechanic in Eve because the people that would normally have trouble with multiple (or even single) account subscriptions can trade their time in game to those with the money out of it.

    As someone with 4 accounts I can easily state that PLEX as a model is the only thing that makes that viable on a 3-4 year timeline. I love the game to pay more than for 1 account but not $60 a month.

    PLEX makes Eve a hybrid subscription/F2P title. It is possible through PLEX for any one individual to play for free — the genius is that there are enough people buying PLEX for CCP to still get money out of those players. It took CCP a long time to build toward PLEX which I suspect is a fact overlooked by those that our trying to copy it.

    • kalex716 says:

      EVE is the most sophisticated, and perfectly designed F2P game with optional subscription IMO.

      Instead of a database, that has lines of code that gives you x game time for y money (or cap pilot capable accounts, etc.), it enables actual participating members of the community to fill the order of x for y instead.

      through its design, its turned the user base itself into part of its business model. It has that strong of an identity and market in game to be able to pull it off.

      • Rammstein says:

        Why do so many people keep claiming that EVE is accomplishing a difficult task by making PLEX work? Where are the counterexamples? Where are the legions of games which tried such a model and had it fail horribly? In my opinion, the last 15 MMO’s I played would have done quite well with a PLEX-based model, but I don’t present that opinion as fact instead of opinion, because turning opinions into facts requires relevant observations. Relevant observations require something relevant to observe; in this case that relevant thing is 4-5 more big MMO’s implementing some kind of PLEX system.

        • Anonymous says:

          …… me 4-5 “big MMOs” that have a shadow of eves economy. It only works in EvE because of how the system is set up. If u had plex in wow it would be extremely expensive because no one in their right mind is going to pay real money for something that just falls out of an AH. I love how u seem to think that there has to be a failed system somewhere or the system in eve can’t be accomplishing anything. Basically plex works in eve because of the value of ISK.

        • Rammstein says:

          If you could rephrase your multitudinous arguments in the same language as those to which they purport to respond(English), I’d be much obliged.

  4. adammtl says:

    “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.”

    This is hilarious. What part of “our game was so uninteresting that we couldn’t convince notoriously un-stingy gamers to spend $15 a month on it” does not indicate failure?

    I love that “F2P completely reinvigorated the game” somehow counts as a success. Bro, I could release a game where you click on gifs of turds and if it were free, people would play it.

    People were willing to try playing a 200 million dollar game for free? I’m SHOCKED.

  5. Matt says:

    “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?”

    You’re saying if not for having multiple accounts be the only way to effectively have alts, people would still do it? I don’t see how this could possibly be the case. CCP has effectively taken advantage of price discrimination, to be sure, but they’ve done it via a wholly arbitrary limitation that smacks of F2Pness.

    • SynCaine says:

      No, what I’m saying is that EVE shows if you have a great product, people will pay more for it to get more out of it than the perceived “barrier” of $15 a month.

      In direct contrast, SW:TOR offered players so little that few found it worth even a single $15 fee, which is why they (and all other F2P games) go the free route; most people that are even interested in the product are not $15 interested. What does that tell you about the game?

      • carson63000 says:

        Exactly. EVE is in a very sweet spot with multiple accounts.

        One of the genuine advantages of F2P to a business is that it gives players who love your game and are happy to spend a lot of money on it an opportunity to do so. An opportunity that they don’t really have in a $15/month sub game.

        EVE, by expanding your horizons and options with multiple accounts, gives those players and opportunity to spend $30, $45 or more per month for an “even better” experience in the game they love. Without the accompanying problems of F2P. Very shrewd, and I have no doubt a significant contributor to its ongoing success.

        • Anonymous says:

          EvE is far from the first sub based game where multi accounts gives u an advantage. Im pretty sure this has been going on since at least UO

      • Rohan says:

        But this is the same logic F2P games use to justify targeting whales.

        There are many people in F2P games who spend more than $15/month. That’s how F2P games make money.

        To put it another way, Eve’s embrace of multiple accounts makes Eve more like a F2P game, and less like a traditional sub.

        • Rammstein says:

          “But this is the same logic F2P games use to justify targeting whales.”


          A. It’s not the same logic.
          B. This isn’t about justifying targeting whales; this isn’t a moral discussion. This is a practical discussion about what is and what works.

          If you make mistake B and don’t understand what the debate is about, then I can see how you’d also misunderstand point A.

          Since everything on the internet must be explained in terms of car analogies: Selling a car that is so great that people buy multiples of your car is not the same as offering a free car, intentionally crippled so that doing most of the things you want to do with it require huge injections of cash down the road. The fact that in both cases the people who pay more for cars, are the people who have both more desire for cars and more capability, is not a sign that these two plans are somehow the “same logic”. This is merely the completely obvious result of our economic system and the world as it is, and both plans allowing these people to do what they want to do, which is pay more for cars.

        • Matt says:

          No, EVE doesn’t intentionally cripple your entire account, just every character on it except for one. But hey, good news, you can pay your way out of that restriction! It is F2Pish, with PLEX mainly serving to mollify people that would otherwise strenuously object to being scammed in this manner.

          Sure, you can claim that this “works”, but other subscription MMOs (such as WoW, which we all know is the worst game ever) don’t need to do it so why does EVE?

        • SynCaine says:

          You sound like you only know a Tobold amount about EVE, therefore cannot comment on this aspect of the post. Sorry.

        • Anonymous says:

          @matt as i stated above PLEX wont work in WoW. It wouldnt even stand a chance. The game is too easy. F2P pry wont even work on WoW. Great logic WoW dont need to do it so it must be good. WoW is watered down mass media crap. Sorry. I was playing Lineage 2 when it came out so I only lasted about a week in WoW b4 i went back to a better MMO (thats saying alot for a NCsoft product.) You realize when u compare things to WoW you are comparing them to something that has pretty much set back MMO gaming 10+ years. But I’d guess u wish every MMO was a theme park and not the open ended game it should be. We all know that SW:TOR was a giant success as WoW in space……I am sure that if they made it more like SWG was when it came out they would still have ppl shelling out 15 a month no problem, but like you EA thinks WoW is the best thing ever because it had 10mil subs. So im sure the millions spent on voice acting and not gameplay really paid off

        • Matt says:

          You sound like you only know a Tobold amount about EVE

          Oh sorry, I was misinformed I guess. EVE doesn’t actually restrict skill learning to one character per account at a time. Let it be known.

        • Rammstein says:

          You were indeed misinformed. The undock button isn’t a shortcut to biomassing your precious skillqueue, but a means of accessing a multiplayer environment.

  6. Jack says:

    In Reamde: A Novel: Neal Stephenson creates a fictional MMO by the name of Tengia where the basic classes are all free to play. But if you wanted to play anything more powerful you’ve got pay a monthly subscription. The idea was to make the casual masses low powered but useful, and the serous gamer high powered but reliant upon the masses of F2P folks for a lot of functions. You can’t have a knight making his own horse shoes after all.

    This structure is similar to Lord->Knight->Self model of feudalism.

    • Anonymous says:

      Im not the only person out there that is happy to pay $15 a month just to play in a world where there are no ppl that think a video game cant be worth that much.

  7. Jenks says:

    It’s always “our miserable game went f2p and profits spiked 10 billion percent!” one month after the conversion. All these guys proselytizing for f2p can either show me some real numbers (a year or more out) or shove it.

  8. saucelah says:

    I prefer Purplesaurus Rex over grape any day.

  9. Mekhios says:

    If SWTOR is so successful now why did they shutter the Australian servers. The guy in that other blog is an idiot.

  10. Jonathan says:

    I’m curious… you consistently refer to GW2 as being a “3-week title”. I get the impression you classify it as a failure… but Xfire ( I know, not the most accurate measure by any means, but the only one we really have) is showing it as logging roughly 4 times the hours played of EVE. Obviously, this varies depending on what is happening in both games, but no worse that twice the population at any given time over the past year.

    Why do you consider EVE a success, and GW2 a failure? Or am I misreading you? Is this a “this is / isn’t art” thing? Or a “personal taste and style” thing? Or am I missing something here?

    I get where you are going with your rant, and I generally agree with you. But the choice of GW2 doesn’t seem to support your argument — GW2 seems to have made it through its first year without the population crashes that have hit WAR, AoC, SWTOR, RIFT, etc., and if anything seems to be gaining just a bit more steam. What is different here?

    • SynCaine says:

      The first difference being GW2 is not F2P, its B2P, along with a gem shop. Whenever F2P advocates bring it up, they are in fact providing a counter-example.

      Now, 3.5m boxes sold is great for any game, but if the correlation between EVE and GW2 on Xfire is correct (it is), that means on any given night GW2 has about 100k concurrent players (EVE averages 50k, which we know since CCP shows that number to everyone up front). Extract that out further, and we get about 1m ‘actives’ playing GW2 right now (EVE is at 500k).

      1m out of 3.5m a year later is not a horrible retention rate for a sub MMO. GW2 is not a sub MMO however; every single one of those 2.5m or so in-actives could log into GW2 right now, but they don’t, even for free.

      GW2 is not a failure, no. It’s not a huge success either (if it was NCSoft would be telling us about it, but they don’t for a reason). I suspect, based on my personal experience and that of my MMO circle, that many of those 2.5m left around the 3-6 week mark, hence ‘3-week title’.

      • rasli says:

        The only problem with your definition of “3-week title” is that even games like EVE and Darkfall can be count as 3-weeks since most likely a lot of people who tried it have decided it’s not the game for them within 1 month, hence why EVE only has 500k out of the 4 million potential market. Now I am not saying EVE is a short term game, just saying your way of define a “3-weeker” based on how many people who tried and left not very convincing.

        • Anonymous says:

          its a 3 week title because thats how it designed you moron……..NC made that game so u play it and buy expansions or quit. thats what makes it a 3 week title. its not just something syncane came up with. Eve isnt a short term game because its been going on 10 years and no one has capped skills. Good luck with that in GW where u will cap out in about 3 weeks……..huh 3 weeks go figure………..ppl get so defensive about their MMOs damn. It has nothing to do with ppl quitting it after 3 weeks……..eve would be considered a 2 hour MMO if it had anything to do with when ppl quit the game but no its about design, pry a lil over your head judging by your post

      • Jonathan says:

        I appreciate the clarification.

    • Anonymous says:

      And that is on XFire which has an annoying UI bug with GW2 that crashes the game if you want to get rid of the XFire clock and fps counter.

      If you go by Raptr it is around 3 times more hours, so around 150K players or 1.5 million active players.

      Of course one would think that a casual 3 weeks game like GW2 would be played less hours and less days per weeks per each individual player than a hardcore game like EVE.

      Lastly making something like $250M in a year (to put in perspective something like the first 5 or 6 years of EVE revenue) makes it a failure.

      • Anonymous says:

        making is a funny thing. you can make all u want how much is profit? NC is pretty good at making money tbh. GW isnt really their best series. Your point about the xfire numbers is kinda moot tho……no one is paying for those hours they already paid….so really if they keep playing for too long NC will end up losing money, but thats where the DLC will come in im sure. 250m(you know b4 development cost and the cost of putting it in a box and on the shelf, servers, etc etc) lol eve makes like 10mil euros a year……..I know that so pathetic how could anyone run a company on just 10mil a year….ne way if sales is what makes a good game shouldnt we all be playing WoW like 10million other sheep??? at any rate no matter what u argue it is a 3 week game thats how NC designed it. Look into it. I know ive never thought i game was good just because alot of ppl play it. God forbid i can think for myself.

    • Swoo says:

      That is going by XFire, that has an annoying UI bug with GW2, that causes the game to crash if you try to disable XFire clock or FPS counter.

      If you go by Raptr, GW2 has around 3x as many hours as EVE, which would put the numbers at around 150K and 1.5M.

      Also, GW2 is a 3 week casual game. One would expect players to play less hours and less hours per day than a harcore game as EVE.

      And $250M (around the first 5 or 6 years of EVE revenue) in 1 year is really poxy.

  11. Mekhios says:

    Even so GW2 is a great game to return to and the cyclic content updates give it an excellent boost. ArenaNet may not have developed the perfect MMO but it is a much better MMO than most of the current themepark crop.

  12. Rohirrim says:

    I was laughing the whole time reading this article :) Not because I don’t agree, all you say is true, but the sarcastic way you tell them is very funny.

    What can I say, is like you see an elephant and people try to convince you that is not elephant but a horse..this is how people trying to convince you that f2p model is on par with sub model look alike.

    • Anonymous says:

      everything should be free. why doesnt the US government give us MMOs like health care and welfare. we are ENTITLED damn it its ours give it to us. hell the comments from the gw2 fan boys that are all butt hurt cuz they are just figuring out they are playing a game most ppl beat in 3 weeks is worth the read lol. if GW2 was designed to be an MMO NC does that way different. look at aion or lineage 2 keep 2mil + subs for as long as u can and when it starts to fall off u go f2p and make the game alot more easy. lol go play lineage 2 for 3 weeks (even in its f2p form id be surprised if u made it to 62 in that time, even 50 in 3 weeks would be a stretch with no buffers)and then you will see why GW2 is called a 3 week game.

  13. brindle says:

    I can’t believe you didn’t mention is bad math skills. he seems so impressed that going FtP adds players….. But then goes on to say less than 20% actually pay anything. So let’s just say that going FtP tripled swtor’s player base from say 100,000 to 300,000 people. So by his logic 100,000 x $15 is worse than 60,000 x $15….

  14. Awesome post! I think the people who are complaining about lack of f2p for Wildstar or TESO are less worried about the game and more worried that they actually have to buy something.

    I still love TOR so I pay a monthly sub partially because I’m not sure what I can or can’t do as a free player. So I pay to avoid the hassle. I seem to remember that EQ2 and LOTRO both had strict f2p models at first and have relaxed some since, maybe TOR will do the same.

    I personally like The Secret World’s b2p model.

    • Anonymous says:

      Lots of MMO gamers would rather pay $15 then put up with all the f2p kids that flood a free game. At lest plex is a barrier to entry, if you are too dumb to make half a billion isk a month u pay.

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  16. Anti-Stupidity League says:

    “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?”

    You mean as successful as Warhammer and Rift, for example?

    Let’s check xfire game rankings, because we all know how accurate those are and so reliable to provide the ultimate answer to everything:

    1. LoL, a F2P abomination, but not really MMO so why did I even mention it here. Stupid f2p, never going to work.
    4. WoW, I’m not sure when this died according to Hardcore Casual but I’m sure it has died multiple times now already. But hey, a subscription based game, at least for now. Woo!
    5. GW2, 3-week title, and you don’t even play for free because you bought the game over a year and three weeks ago! So there! Not free!
    15. SW:TOR, yet another F2P abomination that absolutely no one plays. And even though over a million people bought the game when it first launched it’s totally different than GW2.
    22. EVE, the best thing since sliced bread that surely has a lot more players than F2P abominations like SW:TOR does even though every statistic tells differently but I’m sure it has more players if we just explain long enough why.
    48. Rift, TESO-like WoW-killer that will never go f2p, right?
    398. WAR, Another WoW-killer. Long live monthly subscriptions!
    2514. Darkfall, the current champion of all things not-f2p.

    So, yeah. The future for subscription-based TESO and Wildstar certainly looks rosy (well, if you consider Darkfall a success then I guess anything goes).

    • Rammstein says:

      You’d think someone with a name like anti-stupidity league would know that success is measured by the making of money, not by the making of sarcastic comments on internet blogs.

  17. Ephemeron says:

    I have seven EVE accounts and I don’t even particularly like it.

    • Rammstein says:

      That’s nothing, I have eight wives and I don’t even particularly like weddings.

      • Ephemeron says:

        To clarify: the PLEX/buddy invite system makes creating multiple accounts a no-brainer choice.

        If I have a PLEX, I can use it to add 30 days to my main’s playtime – or I can use it to add 30 days to my main’s playtime AND gain a free 51-day non-trial alt in process. Given that there are plenty of ways to earn a PLEX within 51 days of AFK background activity, you can see how that can snowball.

        • Rammstein says:

          Sorry, not to be intentionally offensive, but that sounds like an alcoholic explaining why he buys massive jugs of cheap vodka despite not ‘liking’ to drink. “But it’s so cheap, I save so much money!!!”

        • Ephemeron says:

          No offense taken, and that’s actually a very good comparison.

          An alcoholic in your example drinks lots of vodka because it’s cheap and addictive, not because he or she finds the taste particularly enjoyable. Likewise, I don’t have seven EVE accounts because I really enjoy the gameplay, but because it scratches a metaphorical itchy spot in my brains and has a payment scheme that rewards buying in bulk.

          That said, psychological addiction and the various mechanisms that enable it in both F2P and subscription-based games is a topic for a separate discussion of its own.

        • Rammstein says:

          I have multiple EVE accounts, but that’s just so I can get banned for impersonating myself, more often.

          “What needs to be kept in mind regarding impersonations is that all characters involved are seen as their own, independent entity, which effectively means it’s quite possible that a situation may appear where a player impersonates his trustworthy main character using an alt character located on the same account. As there is no in-game way to verify whether or not certain characters are located on the same account (the API needs the key and external tools to be read properly, so that one doesn’t count here), this case would be handled the very same way as the impersonator character being owned by another player.”–GM Karidon, EVE-O forums, today.

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