I Gave Cryptic Money

No surprise here, I think Neverwinter is a great game.  Many people don’t and that’s great too.  I comment a fair bit that it’s amazing that we’re in a time where there are more games for more flavors than just a few years ago and the WoW-clone-a-thon.

Neverwinter’s F2P model is slightly different in the MMO space as it was designed with two things in mind.  First, it’s a western MMO, where combat is an integral part of the game with a relatively small social toolset.  Second, it was designed as F2P from the start, based on a lot of experience from Champions Online and Star Trek Online.  The only knock I have against their model is the constant spam about people “winning” items from lockboxes.  Peer pressure and all that I guess.

You can play Neverwinter from start to finish without dropping a dime.  Your experience is not diminished in the least.  You can play the end-game content without money too.  The auction house works with Astral Diamonds, which are fairly simple to acquire.  Zen (the unified Cryptic currency for real cash) allows you to purchase player customizations, such as respec tokens, other companions and mounts.  Oh, you can also trade Astral Diamonds for Zen.

Respec tokens are useful but not something required to play.  Pick a spec and have fun.  You shouldn’t really be swapping between choices all that much, given the large “point padding” provided.  You can get most skills you would need pretty easily.  Plus, if there’s a patch with significant balance changes, free respec!

Companions are a bit different.  For leveling are the start of end game, they are relatively bland choices and have not much impact. If you want to do top-tier gaming, then a zen-cost companion does have some benefit.  Not much mind you, maybe a 5% difference, so only the min-maxers really care.

If you want to fool around with costumes, then Zen comes into play and that’s super.  Player customization is entirely optional.  Mounts too, since each zone is relatively compact and the difference between a basic 60% and a 90% mount is pretty negligible on the whole.

So what did I spend?  I put in $30 for 3,000 Zen.  It gave me a new character slot and some customization.  If this had been a sub game, I would have spent a lot more than $30.  This way, I can come and go and feel that I am the one deciding where to put my money and when I can play.  Would I have subscribed if that option was available?  If that would have unlocked everything and there was no store, most definitely.  However, even games with a hybrid model offer a store, which drastically reduces my enjoyment.  SWTORs non-sub hurdles are notoriously bad, as an example.

So yes, I support Cryptic’s F2P model for Neverwinter.  I think it’s one of the most “fair” implementations I have found in any online game.  Marvel Heroes follows a similar model, in terms of lack of real restrictions.  I’m kind of hoping that this style takes a hold across more games.

The Mobile Basement May Not Yet Be Found

Not making this up, but this post appeared in my feed. Video has profanity.

Related to my previous post, the video and post quite accurately highlights the problem with high profile F2P mobile games.  It’s really quite sad.

I would be highly curious as to who in their right mind would pay for the “value price” for gems/coins/mushrooms/whatever.  Are there really that many people who would pay money for that sort of thing?  Apparently the answer is yes as games like this get made.

The final quote is pretty solid.  You can either spend that money on a full price game, with no sales, say BioShock Infinite, or you can destroy 56 blocks in a mobile game.  Hell of a choice.

Syncaine Challenge

Why not, I’m game. Let’s argue what a successful F2P MMO brings to gamers that a subscription will not. 

Honestly, there’s just one answer. The actual game being available.  I think this echo’s Brian’s position.  Let’s break it down though, into chunks that are debateable.

One. There is a finite amount of players willing to spend $15 (or whatever amount) dollars a month on a game.  There are many more who will pay less and a few that will pay more. 

Two. That same finite group will, on average, stick to one sub game at a time. There are exceptions. 

Three. A game needs funding for production, marketing, launch and steady state. This is either through venture capital, crowdfunding, cash stops or subscriptions. The wall of finance to get a game out today is higher than 10 years ago.  Chris Roberts is an outlier.  There are dozens of MMOs on kickstarter that haven’t reached their goal.

Four. The compete with status quo, you have to be as good or better. To beat Wow you need the content and the systems and the social. The first and last are not likely possible with any existing budgets.  The middle one, system design, takes a level of talent that is rare, regardless of funding model.

Five. You need ways for players who want to pay more, to give more. Sub games have incentives/cash stops. F2P games are built on this model.

Six. Market share is never equal. There are 1-3 big guys that have 75% of the pie and everyone else gets a small piece. You cannot gain massive market share at launch, this takes time and word of mouth. 

Seven. You need in-game metrics to target your development to your baseline and revenue streams. If you sold your game as a PvP game and your stats say everyone plays PvE, then you have some serious design problems.  F2P metrics are much more obvious.

Eight. Players have a vested interest in their money. If they have spent $60 in a game and put in dozens of hours and have a social structure, they are extremely unlikely to leave that behind. The “grass is greener” until you’re on that lawn. 

Nine.  Players in all games cannot be entertained forever.  They will wander.  They will wander even more when there’s not price at the door.  If they like what they see, then maybe they’ll stick around. 

Ten. Commitment.  MMO gamers from 10 years ago grew up.  They have jobs and family and other commitments.  20 year olds today do not have the same mentality to gaming we had, since they have way more selection.  It isn’t that $15 is a lot, it’s that you’re vouching that you’re going to get bang for your buck.  F2P let’s you dictate when you’re going to pay and play.


I could probably list another 20 that are related but those cover the basics. The main point is that there are very few MMO players willing to give up what they have for new grounds, at a cost.  This means that the possible playerbase for any new game is significantly smaller than launch projections would suggest. So either you support a launch of 2 million people and know you can only keep 200K, or you find an alternative.  Plus, you need to manage the ghost town after launch – regardless of the business model.

For straight out benefits between F2P and subs, it’s all in the implementation. F2P gives me choice and makes me an empowered consumer. My wallet dictates game development. Are there crappy F2P models?  Heck yes.  Just like there are crappy subscriptions.  I didn’t want pet battles in WoW. I would have preferred something a lot different. But it’s not like they can test that idea. No one in EvE wanted monocles. Few wanted a lot of features from multiple patches. UO has had a long list of “what were they thinking?” moments.

A successful MMO keeps an active community engaged over long periods of time. It provides social economies. It provides content that the playerbase has a voice in. F2P gives MMOs a chance to make money and serve a non-niche target.  It provides a cash-positive experience on a wide range of games that would no longer be around today.  It allows developers to test ideas, sell them at low risk and see what works.

Fun is Measured in Time

There are a few posts going around lately that argue the financial around F2P and the concept of bypassing challenge – or rather quickening your way to reward.

The core concept here is the old addage that time equals money. The modification I would bring is the “fun” variable to time. If I did something I found a lot of fun I would pay extra for it.

If the value is intrinsic, that is the journey is the prize, then either money or time is a justifiable payment.  If the value is extrinsic, that is the prize at the end of said journey and that journey wasn’t fun, I’d be more likely to spend money.

The reason for this in my mind is that I make a lot (if not all) of my money working. I know exactly what an hour of my time is worth. It’s easy for me to figure out if doing something boring is worth 5$ for a month or not. The answer is quite often a no.  For example, the Sparkle Pony back in the day caused some uproar.  This was in the days where you didn’t share mounts and it was a hassle to get new ones.  Not in terms of gold so much as time.  Buying it gave a ground and flying mount for every character, on every server.  In effect, it allowed you to bypass a boring part of the game for a fee.  Hence the millions sold.  Whether you want to argue poor design in the first place to make that bypass worthwhile, is a different matter.

Where it gets complex is in the mix between intrinsic and extrinsic reward structures. You can only kill bosses for so long before they no longer have intrinsic value. If you’re also not socially driven – say a guild or friends – then there’s even less value after a few runs.  Using WoW again, you could run LFR for 2 weeks, see every boss, likely upgrade half your items and be done with it.

It really is a systematic problem with themeparks as a whole.  If you’re only concentrating on the end of the road, rather than the journey, then there’s no way that can keep you coming back.  If you enjoy the ride, then you can have fun so long as that lasts.  If you play the same content for hundreds of hours, it takes amazing design to keep that relatively fresh.

Where F2P shines is in setting up a smooth, repeatable game with items that provide intrinsic worth. The most common example is with consumable customization options – like dyes.  Another example is services for alts.  It’s a very complex balancing act to maintain and few developers do it well.  Too many people are copying successful games without properly understanding why they are successful.

It’s really simple.  Get a fresh player, have them play until they think an hour is up.  If they are below that when they finish, you have a problem.  If they are above it, then you have a damn good game.


Time is short and work is crazy busy making for nights that end quickly.  A few more detailed posts are being worked on but in the meantime I wanted to add a bit to the previous posts.

First though, I wanted to dwell a bit on D3 itemization.  That horse isn’t dead yet!

Diablo ItemizationThe above shows a fairly good roll against a fairly bad roll.  Look at the estimated DPS loss (character runs at 102K DPS) from a weapon.  That’s a 96% difference in damage from one item.  Take that horse!


Second item is the defense of subscription.  Gaffney posted some stuff defending WildStar’s decision while Jack Emmert will talk about the opposite in a few weeks.  These are both people with significant experience in the field.  Both have seen F2P on their games (Gaffney was with Turbine and NCSoft) and have seen subscriptions as well.

Perhaps we’re at a point in the hype cycle that subscriptions can become niche again and that the MMO tourist avoids it due to the massive F2P options out there but WildStar doesn’t seem to be aiming for niche.  TESO certainly isn’t.

In regards to the PLEX variant WildStar is aiming for, that only works in a closed and extremely well developed economic system.  It works in EvE because everything is player created, everything required sweat equity and everything is relevant, even at max level.  Taking a cue from any themepark, even the recent GW2, economies from start to max level-1 are completely irrelevant 1 month after launch.  I “beat” WoW’s auction house, making a few million along the way – PLEX would have failed hard in that market. This isn’t apples and oranges.  This is apples and nuclear missiles.


In Defense of Subscriptions

I like Gamasutra, there are some solid articles about the business side of the industry. Ramin and Isaac are on my reading list not so much because I agree with them but because they expose a side that we rarely see.

Ramin is more of an internal systems designer with strength in economic systems – auction house, crafting and so on. I am guessing he’s working on one of the two Big MMOS coming around the bend.  Isaac is a service guy, looking more to the economic systems outside the game – support models, client interactions and whatnot.  Both of their fields intertwine but I consider the above their specialties.

Isaac’s latest post attempts to support the subscription model along 3 main issues. First, subscriptions push people to get value for money by rushing content. Second, development of said content needs to follow and be of quality. Third, companies cannot price discriminate as everyone has the same fee.

While conceptually I think he has some strong arguments I think there are some flaws and realities that are unaccounted. Let’s say his baseline is accurate for playerbase – 30 to 40, kids, working, no huge time available. Yes they sink less time but they are hyper-aware of dollar per smile economics. Subscriptions drop when similar services are available for less cost, that’s why F2P works.  The math is simple enough.  I have X dollars to spend per month, where can I get value for that money?

Two, content delivery must meet player expectations in terms of volume and quality. Iceberg Blizzard has paid massively for their schedule. SWTOR’s 4th pillar destroyed their ability to quickly iterate and expand (voice acting).  This bleeds a bit into the first topic.  2 months after launch, the content that was there was consumed at a rate far exceeding expectations and what was left lacked value for money.

Three, price discrimination is a red herring. All games have internal metrics to see what is consumed and for how long. WoW saw that their moneysink – raids – were only hitting 1% of the userbase in Cataclysm. That brought us LFR, and now Flex Raids. DDO only offers what sells, same with NeverWinter. Companies know exactly how to nickle and dime. There is no other reason for lockboxes.

Are subscriptions bad? No, they provide a baseline income that investors can see and development can project. They are however, an easily accounted for expense for players to compare to other games. The argument simply becomes “can I spend 15$ or less in another game for the same or more fun?”. The answer, today, is a yes and that bodes extremely poorly for Wildstar and TESO.  They must “out content” all other MMOs (not really seeing this as possible), provide an iterative schedule faster than what is offered by competition (everyone is better than WoW, few are better than Rift) and somehow target their material/pricing to bring in the most dollars/effort possible – without existing metrics.  One heck of a tough road.

Holy Bangarade

10 weeks on parental leave and back to work now for 2. It’s annoying when you delegate work and nothing at all got done. Now I have 10 weeks of work to do in a few days. Quality!

Suffice it to say I need a mental breather some nights. Lack of time means minimal investment though, so I’ve been giving F2P games a hit.  No RIFT, GW2, WoW, or any game that I can’t simply drop within 2 minutes.

The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot

This one is in open beta and a lot like Dungeon Master and Diablo in that you can set a castle full of traps and run other people’s castles. It has upgrades with timer (where the F2P stuff comes in) which is fine I guess. The gameplay is horribly balanced though where the tanky class can run through anything without batting an eye, even 6-7 levels above them. The other classes have no chance. But it’s beta and the concept is solid. Maybe in a later patch.  The file size is rather small.

Infinite Crisis

I got into the beta, which is beta.  You’re comparing LoL to a game with an admittedly limited character roster.  You might have 4 flavors of Batman but it’s still Batman.  There are technical bugs, some serious balancing issues but overall the game is pretty solid.  Community management is going to be the real kicker here.  Current playerbase is nice enough, since it’s test.  But once you get the crud coming in, there needs to be a way to filter that out.  The learning curve is extremely high but that’s expected in beta.  Oh, and it needs way more maps.

Dragon’s Crown

I don’t play a lot of console games, only when I’m on the bike.  This one is pretty solid, with a link back to the arcade D&D games.  Is it worth 60$ though?  No.  Maybe once it hits 30$.

Marvel Heroes

A new patch (1.2) fixed the defensive skills, added a ton of itemization and huge balance changes. This is what the game should have launched with. It even has 3 difficulties making the trek from 25 to 60 different than running the same zone for 20 hours. The itemization and skills are the polar opposite of Diablo3, which is good.


Just a few days in, tried a new Monk build. Cost me about 25 million in gear to make it work due to the way itemization works in game. And this isn’t even for hard stuff, just regular Inferno. What’s the point of upgrading gear if you need to swap nearly all of it to change builds? Maybe 1-2 pieces but not 10.

And of course the AH is going away in 6 months – likely the launch date for the expansion. It annoys me that Loot 2.0, which is what the consoles got, has been getting great reviews but the gamer base has to wait so damn long for it. Anyways, the AH simply focused on Jay Wilson’s poor direction for multiple systems. A loot system that dropped inferior gear even at high difficulty, itemization that drove stats to absurd levels to even compete, the requirement for “perfect” rolls for the item to have any possible value and a difficulty setting that made no sense. All of those systems by the way, have been or will be removed.  The game today is wildly different than launch and the console version is yet another massive leap forward.

Listen, the AH was a good concept to avoid gold farming and scamming. If I knew I could get upgrades while playing (I have never once with my monk past 60), then the AH would just be a slight nudge. When I can see that a single item on the AH can raise my damage by 10% and costs 20 minutes of gold farming time, there is a massive problem in the loot system.  Shutting down the AH is one thing, shutting down the RMAH is another, as that thing certainly brought in a sizeable amount of income.  It takes some pretty large brass to through that away – baby and bathwater.

F2P – Baseline Forward

There’s enough hullabaloo (I don’t get to use that word often) about F2P in the blogs today.  I don’t necessarily get the fervor so much but I suppose with RIFT swapping and Neverwinter “officially” launching, we’ve got new competition.  Here’s a thought for the day.

The theory is that in an open market, the market itself self-regulates.  This has a dependence on there actually being an open market, so no collusion (banks and gas) and no monopolies (Windows, Internet Explorer).  Movies are an almost an open market in that the price of tickets from theater to theater is relatively the same.  Cars are similar, since you can do an apples to apples comparison of features and price match between dealers.  Games are close too, since the upper cap for any game is going to be $60 and anything below that seems to be seen as “budget” title.

The new variants to this are the mobile space, DLC and F2P games.  Mobile space has 3 price points – free, 99c and $4.99.  Anything outside of that is an outlier.  DLC is seen as $5 as a price point for any given package, regardless of quality.  This makes season passes effective in that you pay 20$ for the promise of 5 packages (or more).   These prices are set because of market saturation and competition.  Why spend $7 here when I can get the same item for $5 there.  Subscriptions above $15 have never worked.

F2P games are approaching a baseline price model for various features.  For a long time only the East had a model and everyone on this side of the pond basically stuck their thumb in the air and guessed at a price.  Allods is the poster child for how pricing structures can destroy a product.  Up until a few years ago, we basically had Zynga & friends telling us the price for F2P.  DDO swapped with a decent package, then LOTRO, STO, AoC, EQ 1&2 and now a few more.  The market is still somewhat fresh and expectations for pricing points are still somewhat in flux.  That being said, I think we’re hitting the point of what’s acceptable.

A mount at $10 is acceptable.  Costumes and customization at $5.  DLC expansions at $10-$20.  The market is going to decide what is acceptable if you give enough similar choice.  RIFT, Neverwinter, LOTRO, EQ and SWTOR all offer extremely similar services.  Any new gamer looking at the field is going to try to find value for their dollar and right now, RIFT and Neverwinter are setting a heck of an example.  EQ recently (a few months back) increased what was available to the masses.

At the end of the day, each developer needs to make money to pay for servers and staff.  It does not get any simpler than that.  In order to make money, they have to sell something.  Consumers are now in a better position to compare products and value, and invest where they see fit.  This is going to drive the market moving forward.  Voting with your wallet works and is the only true way to make sure something changes.

Marvel Heroes – First Impressions

This post is brought to you by Marvel Heroes and the illusion of depth.  (That’s a pretty good pitch.)

The whole jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none concept shows up when I played Marvel Heroes.  I paid the $20 for 2 day early access and a different character, Rocket Raccoon.  I’m not one for day 1 access, as I have yet to see a single game launch smoothly (GW2 and Rift come close though).  For sake of argument, day 1 was last Wednesday and it has been a “soft” launch of sorts readying for the 4th.

Marvel Heroes is an action RPG but more of the loot piñata variety, akin to Diablo and Torchlight.  In contrast, DCUO and Neverwinter are clearly RPG MMOs with action elements.  Given my play schedule, as much as I love the second type, I really only have the time for the first one.  Looking at Steam, I have way too many hours into Torchlight 2, which turned into my go-to game after the D3 shenanigans.  I like the concept of random dungeons, random loot and comparing gear for a slight advantage.  I had 3 Outlanders, just to try out different builds.  A glaive build might need a wholely different stat, talent and gear spec than a poison build.  I did the same in D2.  D3, well you didn’t need a new character what with the slotting and the way gear worked, you couldn’t swap anyways.

Back to Marvel.  You get a choice of 1 of 5 characters to start, and they give you another free one (random) after 15 minutes of play.  After that point, any character you want has to be either purchased with cash or found as a super-mega-rare drop.  And the drops are player bound, so no 3rd parties farming here.  From a cash-stop perspective, I get that.  You’re essentially given access to all the content, for free, with 2 character options.

Here’s what you get in the game right now.  You get a single Act with 8 chapters (+prologue), enough to get you to level 30.  Once you finish those 8 chapters, you run daily/group quests for the remainder at a massively reduced experience rate.  This is very similar to Diablo 2’s end game I suppose.  You get a form of gambling with the crafting system (which requires materials).  This is more or less Path of Exile’s crafting system – which I think is awesome.  You get 1 weapon slot and 3 gear slots.  These have traditional stats but also can boost your powers.  These are reasonable stats too, where an item 10 levels above isn’t necessarily better.  So the complete opposite of Diablo3.  You get costumes to change appears.  Medals that provide a passive boost (more damage, stuns, etc…) that drop from bosses and 2 artifact slots that provide passive boosts as well but scale with level.  I have one that increased ranged damage by 30% (which is crazy powerful if you think about it).  That content is good.  It’s free too, so that’s a great deal.  There’s no real “end-game” but there never really has been in ARPGs loot piñatas.  D3 and Torchlight 2 have tried (I rather like T2’s map works and replays).

You end up with a rather linear path of progression that is identical for every future character.  Gear upgrades become the way forward.

On to heroes.  There are currently 22 characters, each with 3 “talent trees”.  I’d love to say there was some depth in those trees but I’d be lying – 5 or 6 choices per tree.  I’d also be lying if I said there was some semblance of balance within a character or between them.  Some skills are drastically superior to others and some other skills seem to do nothing at all.  If I said you could deploy a turret to assist in fighting, the default answer is “cool, a bit more DPS”.  In actual fact, that turret is more like a tank since it fires once every 2 seconds, can’t track a moving target (everything is moving) and somehow manages to taunt enemies.  Captain America, for those who bought him earlier since he’s “sold out” now, is a one person wrecking ball AND tank.  It makes it less fun to be in an area or in a group and you realize that your character is drastically underpowered/overwhelmed while other characters are breezing through.  I thought we were all super heroes?

The irony of all this is that even with the shortcomings, the game is fun.  It might be immersion breaking to see 4 Hulks on screen but it sure as hell is fun to see them all jumping on Venom.  It’s fun turning a corner and going “12 guys there, what to do?  Charge!”  It’s fun comparing two pieces of gear, with completely different stats to see which style best fits me.  The designer in me is screaming “why did you make this system work this way” and the gamer in me is screaming “I love that you made this system this way”.

I think I’m screwed.

The Hiccup with F2P

If you follow MMOs, then you’ve likely noticed a trend in that F2P games are generally seen in poor light and a last recourse for subscription games.  People talk about the monetization of F2P games, while they only talk about the content of subscriptions.

Let’s get one thing straight off the bat, games need to make money.  It’s simple math.  A subscription model provides a stable income that you can project into the future with.  Generally, you don’t need to worry about your next week’s pay and as long as you don’t tick off the userbase, it’s pretty consistent.  F2P games, well, they require a continual investment to keep funding consistent.  Developers haven’t yet found the right balance of items to keep people pumping in money and have essentially devolved everything into lockboxes.

Would I play for free for 20 levels, then pay 10$ to get access to another 20?  Very likely if the game was good.  Would I do it for every character?  Maybe 2 or 3 of them, if the value/time equation made sense.  Once you have it though, you don’t need to buy it again.  Would I buy dungeon sets? Yup.   But again, that’s a 1 time purchase.  GW2 sort of worked this way, in that you buy the box, have access to everything.  B2P works when you have people coming and going.

Long-term though, this model doesn’t work as people have nothing to buy.  Paying 2$ to get a week’s pass to PvP makes sense if you PvP alot.  It doesn’t if you want to try 3 matches.  I think TOR did a pretty good job in this regard, where if you’re in the F2P version, you can buy passes for the high level content.  Since it’s consumable, it is a guaranteed money sink.  If I was planning on consuming a lot, the I’d go the subscription route.  Value for money and all that.

My personal thought is that all F2P games should have a subscription model for heavy consumers.  It should provide you with access to all the content with that subscription, including credits for the cash store.  If it means you wait 2 months to get the credits, then so be it, but it should be there.  All items that can be bought for cash, should be able to be sold on the AH.  Neverwinter and TOR do this decently.  All items that can be bought for cash and provide “power” should be 1-2 tiers below what can be acquired by in-game means.  Customization options should be consumed on use but allow you to save settings and try stuff out before you buy.

Personally, I think we’re on the breakpoint of a sustainable F2P market.  Lockboxes are not the future and are likely to be the proverbial straw on the camel’s back.  I am extremely curious to see Rift’s take on this, as they have always provided great value for money and understand the player’s perspective more than most.  It’s the reason I’ve kept subbed to them since launch, even if I don’t play as much as I’d like.  We, as a gaming community, have to move beyond the discussion of what payment models are good and which are bad and simply to the core of gaming – is this worth my time/money or not?