Marvel Heroes – What Early Access?

You may or may not have heard that Marvel Heroes is coming out soon.  June 4th is the launch date.  Live.  Similar to what Neverwinter did, there are founder’s packs available.  $200 gets you every character, a few bucks in game and access 7 days early.  More on that in a bit.  $60 gives you 5 characters, less bucks and 4 days head start.  $20 gets you 1 character, pennies and 2 days head start.

A lot of people harp on Neverwinter since it’s in open beta and not truly “launched”, even though it’s taking in money.  The advantage to this model is that you can take down the servers daily to patch things up – which they are still doing.  The first few days were a mess but now, the game is quite playable.

Marvel Heroes on the other hand…they’ve been up a total of maybe 20 hours out of 72?  They are down right now and have been extending the downtime since 6AM this morning. When you promise access to a “launched” game on a specific date and are unable to deliver, this causes problems.  People, for some weird reason, take time off work and other duties on launch day to play the game like maniacs.  It’s pretty textbook OCD if you ask me but hey, to each their own.  When you say you’ll do something for money and then YOU DON’T, then there are going to be issues.

This reminds me of when UO launched and the servers were horrible to start.  There was plenty of downtime and for a few years, daily maintenance.  The box the game came in said 24 hours available, so out came the lawsuits.  EULA’s since then prevent that from happening.  That being said, today word of mouth is much more deadly than a lawsuit.  If the vibe out of the gate is negative, the game is going to tank hard.  RIFT has a positive beta and (ok) launch, did great for a long time. DCUO did not and tanked.  TOR isn’t much different here.

Maybe from this point forward there is no early access.  Maybe it follows Diablo 3’s concept of staggered entries (which itself had bad PR due to length).  Maybe you just soft launch and if people want to buy founder’s pack, sell them non time-sensitive features.  It’s obviously harder from a buy-to-play perspective, but in the F2P model, soft launch the crap out of a service to make sure there’s quality.

Launch day can break a company.  It’s impressive that companies are still repeating the same mistakes from 15 years ago today.

Free to Play Foibles

Since Rift is going F2P in June, quite a few people have voiced some concerns over the business model and the long term ramifications.  I think Wilhelm has the most sober approach to it all.  There are quite a few items I would like to discuss here that I think many people have either overlooked or simply not really thought much about.

A subscription game has a relatively assured income model.  You have X players you get X money.  As long as the playerbase is happy, you’re going to bring in money.  This part I don’t really get about RIFT since the quality has always been there but without Hartman at the helm, we all pretty much figured this was going to happen.  WoW makes about $50 million a month and can amortize/invest into future content development.  The thing about themeparks is that the developers determine the content and the players consume it.  Given WoW’s development cycle, you’re paying about $60-$100 per patch and then another $60 per expansion pack.  Take any other themepark F2P game and you can pay much, much less for content – sometimes nothing.  Sandboxes do not have this problem (hence UO still be subscription) and PvP games are pretty close to this.  This is rather clear if you take a step back from the actual game.

Where people tend to trip up a bit is two-fold.  First, a company needs to make money and people have to spend money.  I know, simple.  The thing about making money is that you have to consistently make it.  If you’re selling unlocks for an account, things that last forever, then after a while, people won’t be buying them if they’ve been there for a long time.  You need new players to buy that sort of stuff.  In order to make cash, you need to sell consumables.  In a level-based, gear-based system, what is consumable?  New content is one, but the price tag to develop it is high and you’re not sure to get the money back.  Character customizations work but again, unless you’re overwriting what was there before, you’re not going to have long term success.  Devs have yet to figure out this problem, instead they all rely on lockboxes, which is more or less gambling.

This is where it gets tricky.  As a general rule, people are stupid.  A person is smart, certainly.  Groups of people, in small enough quantities can show smarts – hence guilds.  Large groups, as is evident in any political circle, are as dumb as bricks – if not simply lemmings.  Neverwinter’s spam of who is successfully unlocking mounts in their gambling boxes invariably makes other people think “I can win too”.  Even the lottery is a tax on the stupid as you have a better chance to be hit by lightning twice before winning the lottery once.  People still buy dozens of tickets a week.

So you end up in the situation where developers have yet to find a consumable item that doesn’t make players feel like they are getting gouged (which is why we pay subscriptions right?) and resort to the lowest common denominator.  Which the public happily provides.

A third point that I need to bring up is the comparison to F2P in the Asian market.  The majority of those games are P2W, clearly.  And the majority only stay on the market for 12-18 months.  This is the polar opposite of the western F2P market.  For some reason I can’t yet figure out, our side of the ocean wants free games for years and years and years.  If you’re too cheap to pay 10$ a month for a F2P game, you shouldn’t complain that they are offering items to people who will.  If you’re unable to find things to buy at that price point, which I personally find issue with, then there’s simply a problem with the financial model of the game (*cough* SWTOR *cough*).

While I might think that RIFT could have continued for another 10 years with a subscription model, apparently they were getting enough feedback that F2P games were eating into their profits.  WoW is no different I’m sure.  Someone will have to make the tough decision of either guaranteed income and to weather the F2P storm while the market evolves or to jump into a pool of cannibalistic fish who will do everything to destroy their competition.

Is Free to Play here to stay?  Yes.  Is the current market deployment sustainable? No.  Did the exact same thing happen to subscriptions over the past 5 years?  Hell yes.

ADD is Good

Let’s say it’s taking me about 5-6 hours per level in Rift and that’s if I concentrate.  I find it extremely difficult to set myself up on a goal and continue to completion before something else catches my eye.  The eye catches are the following:

  • harvesting nodes:  I get to one, see another, see another, etc…
  • carnage quests: these are kill X quests that start when you kill the first enemy type.  There are 20-40 per zone from what I’ve seen
  • main quests: there are only 3-4 active at any given time, sometimes only 1.  It’s the driver to move through the zone often
  • rifts: these pop up (or I summon them) for a 5 minute battle.
  • random quests: these come from drops or items on the ground, they make you move around the map.
  • protect from invasions: at specific spots on the map are hubs that you use to defend against invasions.  sort of like rifts but without the quest mechanics.
  • artifacts: the shiny white spots that you collect to fill out, uh, collections
  • achievements: sometimes you just see a weird spot and know there’s an achievement, like jumping from waterfalls
  • exploration: the vistas look amazing. I like to find the highest point around and look around

All of these are happening all the time.  It makes it hard to just do one thing and then get to the next, as most themeparks do.  WoW and TOR are these types of games.  I remember doing 85 to 90 recently and I think there were a dozen choices total that I had to make.  I make more than a dozen choices per hour in Rift.

Though the content isn’t necessarily innovative, it makes it continually fresh because it’s given out in various types and amounts.  It sure does make the time much more fun than it could be and let’s Trion make leveling take as long as it does.  Now to go smash some giant bone golems.

Now That's New

Leveling in Rift takes a while.  I think there were more 90s after day 1 than there are level 60s after nearly a week, in terms of proportion.  I’m 51 and 3/4 or so, after about 2 hours.

I started in Cape Jule and moving to the next zone everything is level 53.  So I hoped by into my magic gate and tried the second zone.  I modified my soul (for what seems like the 20th time in 4 days) to something that allows me to do some AE killing more effectively and you know, survive those darn attacks.  Working out pretty well.

I mentioned in an earlier post about the quest breakdown in SL.  Everything that isn’t a story quest seems to reward either cash or a new type of currency.  This currency is used to buy Adventurer gear.  This stuff is upgradeable with tokens you buy with more of that currency.  I’ve been a fan of interlinked systems for some time, especially when you have multiple paths to achieve a given goal.  You can get these currencies from pretty much any PvE activity, outside of crafting.  It fits solo players, group players, rift hunters or guilds.

At this pace, I don’t think I’ll be hitting 60 for another few weeks, maybe not until the 1 month mark.  Think about that for a second.  When is the last time you played an MMO where you didn’t hit max level before your first month was over?

Hats off Trion.

Rift Take 2

Yesterday was working against me for some MMO time.  I got home exhausted, took care of the squirts and when I finally had a chance to get into Rift, I got a message that the servers were coming down for some maintenance.  Argh.  I was able to log back in near midnight while the youngest one needed a drink.

A few important notes though.  There are two new continents that are each as big, or bigger, than the original world.  The original world had a good pace of content from 1-50, with no real “dead” zones.  Compare this to WoW and quite a few useless zones (Blasted Lands, Azshara, Thousand Needles, Desolace and quite a few more), Rift seems to have a knack of putting in relevant content for their zones.  I would say the time to get to 50 back then was decent – a couple weeks of effort.  TOR took me under 24 hours of play time.  My WoW monk did 1-90 in under 2 days played (albeit with heirlooms).

I’m a few hours in now, less than 50% into the first level (of 10) and have just had piles of experience from different sources jump in.  Let’s count the ways of getting experience:

  • Complete a quest-giver quest
  • Complete an item pick up quest
  • Complete a loot pick up quest
  • Complete a “wild” quest based on kills
  • Complete a Rift
  • Complete an Invasion
  • Complete an Instant Adventure
  • Complete a dungeon
  • Complete world PvP
  • Complete a battleground
  • Kill something

All of these items assume from the start that you’re in a cooperative game.  Where Wilhelm talks about the problems of questing in EQ2, they pretty much do not exist in Rift.  I’ve rarely seen a time where I was not grouped and didn’t have the “join group” button above the screen.  Doing so has tremendous advantages.

Most enemies are of the Ember Isle difficulty, meaning that if you have a fresh 50, you’re going to have trouble here.  Grouping makes that easy.  Some quests need you to kill 20 or more enemies.  Grouping cuts that number down really fast and you’re getting experience for those kills even if you aren’t swinging the club.  Invasions are all over the place and are likely to kill you alone, groups help.  Groups aren’t silent either – there always seems to be some chat going on in a relatively friendly place.

I missed this place.

It's a Storm Alright

A few gigs of download and Storm Legion is up and running.

Rift Storm Legion

Now, you might not like the art style of Rift and that’s cool but you have to admit that being able to see a vista and actually visit  the places you can see is cool.

As with all expansion launches, there are service issues.  What there isn’t is server queues, which is awesome.  What there is, is lag, which is sad.

I tried dimensions quickly and I think I’m going to be spending a lot of time tweaking mine.  It’s nice that you have a selection of dimensions rather than a single setting for everyone.  Good call.  The toolset is solid as well.

The third nicest part is the auto-looting of cash.  Drops are typically garbage and unless you want to harvest a creature (skin, herbs, whatever) there isn’t much need to loot.  What is awesome is killing and getting the cash deposited directly into your bags.  Great!

The second nicest part, for me, is the organic questing.   You still see ! around but you only get 1-2 quests at a time.  Otherwise, you need to actually go out in the world and pick up the quests naturally.  Either by killing an enemy and unlocking the quest or picking up a specific item.  This is such a different model than WoW/EQ that I’m quite taken aback.

The nicest is the open tagging system.  Now, imagine your typical tagging system where the first person gets the loot.  Imagine that being the only thing the first attacker gets.  Everyone else gets exp and quest credit, even if not grouped.  You need to kill 20 beasts?  Kill anything that you see, along with the random people around you.  Even better, press the auto-group button on the top of your screen to keep moving along.

I’m only a couple hours in but dang if I’m not having a blast.