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.

Addendum

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.

Diablo3

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.