Category Archives: FTP/RMT

SOE and the All-you-can-eat MMO Buffet. Are we afraid yet?

It’s almost old news now, SOE and their single-subscription plans for all players. You can head over to Wilhelm’s for a roundup of what that means and why they’re doing it and check the other, related blogger links there. I am of course with Bhagpuss when it comes to feeling rather outraged about the whole Pro7Sat-deal for European players. If you’ve sorta grown up with those TV channels, it fills you with all kinds of dread thinking of them as MMO publishers, all other issues of this arrangement aside. I’ve been bewildered about this for a while now. First time I heard about it, I thought they were pulling my leg.

Syp explained today how the single-sub is really a “big win-win situation for both the studio and its customers” and a move towards rewarding brand loyalty. I can see how cross-financing more and less struggling products makes sense and why friends of SOE games might feel this way. After all, what’s cooler than getting more games for a single subscription, right?

For now. I just can’t help but puzzle over all the included implications for this genre that’s made for longterm, dedicated play. A genre that’s not the most suitable for switching games constantly – a thing that gets incentivized by the way sub bonuses will affect all of SOE’s involved products at the same time.

Don’t get me wrong; this is essentially not much different from free-to-play MMO gaming. You could say that you’re paying a sub for one game and get the rest for free. A single-sub MMO buffet doesn’t “destroy” player commitment any more than free-to-play does, any more than any payment model can. I have never believed in subs being great or in fact genuine tools of facilitating player commitment. I don’t believe they decide over how, when and why MMO players leave a title. Great games keep players. Great games create great communities that keep players. It’s all connected in one direction for me.


Another thing this frontrunner of all-access MMO deals is doing, is inspiring wild industry speculations on what we can expect from here. It’s a no-brainer that other companies will follow suit; certainly other giants such as Blizzard or NCSoft have their own, big enough game palettes to offer. There will be a point in time where business analysts with a very large clip-board will have proven beyond doubt that, in these times of plentiful micro transactions, the pros of single-sub buffets outweigh the cons (such as losing multi-subbers) by far. Once you have access to more games and are actively encouraged to play them in combination, that opens up all types of new avenues of getting hooked and spending money with that one sub payed on top of everything else. As Tesh rightly pointed out on Twitter, it’s opening the floodgates to MMO meta-gaming and cross-overs, too – and we haven’t even properly begun to explore those. Frankly, I am scared to explore them. I do not appreciate those Steam trading cards at all.

But one can almost feel it now: a ripple in the fabric of the MMO market as we knew it. I can’t shake the gloomy feeling that SOE has just rung the bell for an entirely new era of MMO development – or opened a particularly disgusting cans of worms, depending on your viewpoint. One sub to rule them all and in the darkness bind them?

At this time and considering existing games, there may be clear upsides to this model. However, what it may cause in the long run and what types of new games it might inspire to be developed….especially for the traditionalists among us…..

I am afraid to even consider.

NextGen Sub model or B2P launch? A Desperate Thought Experiment

The blogosphere is abuzz with next gen subscription analyzis. MMOGC reminds us that subscriptions aren’t in fact back and she’s not alone in her suspicions. While some MMOs in the past were forced to revert to f2p, by now we have reason to believe such moves may be calculation. Tobold calls this new generation payment model “The bait & switch business model” and apparently it’s what any smart (and ruthless) business person would do given the current market. Others have chimed in on twitter how there really is no disadvantage here profitwise – subs must win by a landslide. Meanwhile, Tesh is full of eyeroll over the TESO sub and declares personal boycott. While I have a soft spot where Tamriel is concerned, I agree with every last word in his article; I would sign up for that MMO utopia yesterday.

May I raise a question here though? How superior is this route really, compared to the buy-to-play (and cash shop) alternative many expected? Especially given the crazy competition 2014’s AAAs will be facing, somehow I have my doubts this is such a clear winner. If anything, re-introducing a subscription-barrier in this particular scenario seems weird? LET’S THINK OUT LOUD HERE:

Let’s assume for a moment both Wildstar and TESO are going live sometime during Q1 2014, with Everquest Next on their heels in Q2 – and let’s completely ignore that Blizzard too may have a big expac up their sleeve around that same time. For the first time in years, the MMO mainstream is bewildered by too many AAA-choices and as we know, hardly anyone cares to pay for two subscriptions at a time. For the two sub-MMOs that essentially means a guaranteed loss of the usual potential playerbase. Alright, TESO have come up with a 1-month freebie but there are still box prices to pay too and it’s already bad enough these games launch so closely together. I don’t know anyone who appreciates that.

I doubt the mutual exclusivity of this situation is beneficial to either Carbine nor Zenimax. It’s the nature of MMOs that communities will form during the first few months into a game and that after a given time, players don’t care to join games that are already advanced in progress. They might dip a toe in but they’re less likely to settle and therefore less likely to purchase any virtual goods. We’re itchy to make decisions early when committing to new MMOs.

It’s also not very realistic to assume either game may go free-to-play after the first 3 months. The Secret World was special in its swift conversion for various reasons. Assuming a switch is already planned for both Wildstar and TESO, there’s no reason to believe either would switch after 3 months, given the much bigger hype around these titles and risk of bad PR (switches so soon after a launch are generally regarded as failures). Personally, I think a switch is way more likely to happen after 1 year – just like ArenaNet announced the first ever trial weekend for Guild Wars 2 only this August 2013.

12+ months are a lot of water under any virtual world’s bridge. It’s very likely players will test the other game as soon as it goes free – yet, that means they never payed subscriptions on the competition and they’re less likely to have spent a dime yet on virtual goods anywhere. For those switching from one sub to the other halfway through, both titles basically share player base. However: how many players were lost completely to one title due to community, or to both due to box+subscription model fatigue? How would GW2’s buy-to-play model truly compare to this assumed “early gold digging” scenario, considering a heavily contested launch?

An entirely hypothetical, simplified and sadly flawed calculation

Let’s assume 4 million players are ready to jump into either TESO or WS early 2014 and that neither turns out to be a clear “winner” (as I am not interested in that particular outcome). Why 4 million you ask? Given what Rift has managed in the past (pre-switch), that seems a very generous assumption.

2 million subscriptions each during the first 3 months, before players start dwindling. After that, let’s assume 50% of said players remain, while another 50% move on; 25% leaving for the other sub for another 3 months, 25% leaving for a f2p game for good. Between months 7-12, only 50% of overall players are retained while the game is still on a subscription. In this hypothetical scenario, box sales (60$) and subs (15$) for TESO/WS would yield the following for each:


Variables not accounted for: double subbers and/or box buyers, shop items. The first group adds marginally towards outcome and shop items are less eagerly bought in MMOs with subs. In any case, I am ignoring them for simplicity’s sake but you can add your own number if you like.

From here, it only gets more complicated when attempting to simulate a comparable B2P/shop scenario after GW2 fashion with a (better) shop like Rift’s. Unfortunately developers hardly ever make numbers public when it comes to cash shop habits and revenue – just like we don’t hear about active account fluctuations for subscription games. But since I am feeling lucky punk today, I’ll give it a go anyway and assume two different and hopefully somewhat realistic B2P/shop scenarios.


(Already I regret this whole idea!)

This time, we will assume 5 million players are ready to jump into either or both TESO or WS early 2014. Why 5 million this time? Because I am generously assuming that B2P games attract a wider target audience than sub MMOs. One reason why GW2 has sold 3mio copies by now is the one-time cost. Some players always stay the hell away from sub games. There is also a second difference, as I will assume 50% of the entire potential player base are “cross-buyers”. It’s rather likely that over the course of a year, a big part of that community will buy both WS and TESO, given it’s a 120$ in total and no more than that (in comparison one game with 12 months of subs would cost 240$). Means, 3.75mio boxes/account sold each. After that, we venture deep into hypothetical morass…but I’m already 11 paragraphs in and it’s too late to stop now!

Cash shop scenario 1) is more even-spread; it assumes that over the course of one year, the total of players per game will spend the following on micro-transactions: 30% spend 50$, 40% spend 20$, 30% spend nothing.


Cash shop scenario 2) is more radical; it assumes that over the course of one year, the total of players per game will spend the following on micro-transactions: 10% spend 100$, 30% spend 20$, 60% spend nothing.


As you can see, even with a lot of goodwill and no small amount of simplification, the subscription-model seems superior – by some. We still haven’t accounted for several more factors though where B2P is concerned. Variables not accounted for: whales, cross-shop purchases and box sales after year one. Especially that last part is worth taking note; B2P MMOs have the tendency to keep being sold longer than sub MMOs. Of course that argument is redundant if the sub games also turn B2P after one year, duh.

So that was a lot of effort for nothing?!

What was the point of all this? Well, it looks like especially in the short term, subs are more profitable. Still, the difference between the two models isn’t as drastic, considering there is a huge margin of error in all of my calculations. And this is in fact good news! Why is it good news? Because from here, one could think of ways to tip the scenario either way.

So, help me refine this: was I too generous on cash shop sales or not nearly generous enough? Would a B2P maybe attract twice as many box sales than usual? Under which circumstances could we still see the B2P model win the upper hand? Where did I go wrong the most (real data would be awesome)? I guess that’s where a proper business analyst would come handy, for once.

Free-to-Play vs. Gambling

The Kleps kicked the never quite dead F2p-debate back to life this last Monday, and another interesting series of posts (Rohan, Tobold, Rowan, Telwyn) emerged as a result. With Rift now also F2P and upcoming titles like Wildstar or TESO having not yet disclosed payment options, many gamers are wondering who will ever be bold enough again to dare the subscription. Personally, I seem to care more for debating principles than the answers to these questions. If Zenimax Online want me to pay a sub for TESO, I will. If not – well, either way I’ll raid the shop.


Blogging buddy Liore and I go way back when it comes to discussing F2P back and forth on our blogs, so it was only a matter of time until we’d put on our boxing gloves and get into the ring together. No really, it was my great pleasure to finally have a personal chat this past week as guest on the delightful Cat Context Podcast (our exchange starting around 31 mins), with both Liore and co-host Ellyndrial speaking for the F2P skeptics. We tackled many of the core issues and realized that we disagree mostly on details rather than what matters most to us in MMOs. No surprises there.

That’s not where the discussion ended though – no, this is a persistent one. Belghast went forth and shared this interesting follow-up on his F2P “conversion”, sharing his past experiences with EQ2 going free to play (which then also spawned another reply from Liore here). I am always looking for personal recaps like this; what’s changing for you when an MMO switches to F2P? What tangible consequences does it have that possibly impact on you negatively?

Random drops vs. gambling

In an exchange with Ellyndrial on the podcast, I mentioned that I do not believe random lockboxes (for which keys can be bought via ingame shops like in GW2) or lottery tickets can be compared to real world gambling, the way it happens in casinos for example. The basic assumption being that cash shops may cause players to lose control of their spending, getting addicted to a luck-based system looking to relieve them of their money. To be clear, I absolutely feel casino gambling needs to be regulated – I do however not believe that lockboxes dropping in MMOs follow the same psychological pattern or harbor the same potential for addiction. Not claiming professional expertise on the subject (and those who do may come forth please), I see some distinct differences between the two activities.

Interestingly enough I happened to watch a documentary recently on David Choe, graffiti artist and facebook millionaire, also pathological gambler, which added to my inner monologue. Choe made his first million gambling in Las Vegas before turning 30 years old. That first milestone was preceded by years of a vagabond lifestyle, being notoriously broke and loosing vast amounts of money at the gambling table. Self-proclaimed gambling addict, Choe had this to say about his “fever” (paraphrased): I always felt I was winning, even when I lost everything. I won most of my games, only to go and lose everything on the last one.

There’s a devious quality to gambling in the sense that it continuously conveys feelings of both success and control to its victims. Gambling is a game of many stages, there is a progression to the gambler’s journey in which he feels that he is learning, improving and even winning. Winning is a big part in that quest for more, raising the stakes and then “gambling it all away” in one fatal loss (endorphins and adrenaline = powerful drugs). All of these elements are essential to developing addiction (biological dispositions aside) – the sense of control/strategizing (poker pros will tell you that the game is 90% nerves), reassuring mini-successes, progression of risk and potential winnings.

Virtual lockboxes do not share any of these psychological hooks. They’re completely random, there is usually no influencing outcome, improving one’s own performance or “getting closer” involved. It is therefore not nearly as motivating to spend endless cash on keys because there is no “game” aspect. Which doesn’t mean somebody might not spend ludicrous amounts of cash on the off chance of epic pixel – but to speak of addiction or danger to a wider audience feels off in this scenario. That person is likely after a very specific drop and generally there’s nothing wrong with spending money (or time) on something luck-based in games. We do this all the time?

There’s more to this though, even if we assumed a way simpler analogy such as a slot machine with very random outcome (I do not know how many people get ruined by this rather than card games). A big difference between gambling and pixel-hunting is that gambler’s play for money. The Faculty of Economics at the University of Zurich, Switzerland (ya, I live here so that’s my resource), recently revealed intriguing study results on the development of “altruism” in children. Test results were based on children’s social sharing behavior between ages 3-6. The perplexing part: while children, especially older ones and therefore already more socialized, were happy to share candy equally with peers, results changed dramatically once money was substituted. Children would either change the ratio in which money was shared or share none of it. This lead the leading researcher to assume that children learn the social and economical significance of money early on. He then elaborated on why humans react differently to money than to any other type of resource: money is a tricky currency because money is abstract. Money isn’t so much goods as it is potential; to give money away is to give away opportunities and power that we cannot control or estimate. We can imagine few things anyone could do with candy – but money, money holds as many plans as there are people.

Gamblers gamble for money and when they gamble for money, they gamble for plans and dreams. For one person it might just be a dream of winning or wealth, for another the resolution to very imminent and dire life circumstances. Not only that – gamblers gamble with money for money. When I spend coin on the slot machine, there’s a very clear, calculated ratio/equation between input and output. I’ll make a mental note à la “if I put in 10$ and win 100$, that is ten times more” or “if I lose, that’s still only 10% of my potential winnings”. That makes it seem alright and in some cases probably adds fuel to a perilous journey.


Again, lock boxes / lottery tickets hold neither abstract appeal nor absolute value in MMOs. Usually players hope to get a very specific drop, most likely an epic item or rare pet or similar. How much that reward is truly “worth” is impossible to measure (unless sellable – but this is not the chosen avenue of gold farmers) and therefore also cannot be equated to how much money was spent in order to get it. Sparkle ponies may be worth 10 keys to one player and 50 to another. Add to this considerations of “what other mounts are there in the game I could go for instead?” and meta-currency systems that also allow ingame currency to be converted in some cases, and you’ll see how much that differs from casino gambling or even real life lottery.

Wrapping up

To return to the topic of F2P, I believe it is very important to continuously question and observe the practices developers and publishers engage in to make systems more profitable. I’m very critical of pay-to-win in MMOs and shy away from games mentioning their cash shop at every occasion. I also agree with Liore that F2P only works because of micro-transactions and therefore needs to try draw players in. To me, that is a legitimate cause – without anyone spending money in a F2P game, there is no game. I have faith in players managing their own money and knowing what they want though. What matters to me is how cash shops are implemented, what kind of wares they offer and how their presence impacts on gameplay and overall immersion. We’ve recently experienced just how much of a difference the audience can make in this business and it remains our job to keep both an open mind but also open eyes to changes in this industry and how they may affect us.

At the present stage where F2P is still being adopted and shaped into a better model for western MMOs, I’m personally not seeing signs of a pay-to-win culture developing the way we know it from East-Asia (Gamasutra has an interesting clarification on this, check it out!), nor do I find items for sale that would significantly impact on player economy or endgame (just to name two examples of what’s popularly deemed unacceptable) in the F2Ps I am personally playing. Cash shop items remain optional and practices transparent – if not without inherent advantages, triggers and temptation, especially where cosmetics are concerned. If that’s where we’ll stay with upcoming MMO titles, hopefully offering more hybrid models à la LOTRO, I am completely okay with F2P.

Happy weekend everybody, with or without virtual shinies.

Off the Chest: E3 console wars, more GW2 events and Rift going F2P


Summer has finally found its way to my place which is why this week was generally dedicated to sudden-heat-lethargy and watching E3 streams until late, late into the night. Morning really. And how much fun that was when my entire twitterverse was watching the big Sony reveal this last Tuesday “together” – booing (who cares about the PS Vita?), cheering and mostly snickering for good reason.

E3: Revival of the Console Wars

It wasn’t hard to leverage on Microsoft’s recent lapses in regard to their Xbox ONE policies and general marketing angle, but Sony literally crushed their direct competitor at this year’s E3 in the notable absence of a Nintendo conference, leaving out nothing and taking shameless stabs at what the vocal public conceived as MS’ greatest transgressions. Sharing and always-online DRM issues aside, MS seemed to try appeal to a surprisingly limited demography and didn’t blow anyone away hoping for at least some diversity in terms of game leads in upcoming launch titles – an oversight that led Spinks to coin the term “XBrone”. E3 female protagonist spotlights: MS: zero / Sony: two.


Transistor, feat. Squalla Leonheart

Sony started their two-hour press conference stating how their target audience were video gamers first and foremost. From there, everything was a well-orchestrated and calculated effort of showing why the PS4 was the more appealing (and affordable) product for a wider gaming audience – men, women, casuals, hardcores, offliners, onliners, indie game lovers. And that last point makes a lot of sense; who in their right mind would leave the rising indie game market to platforms like Steam without a fight?

Sony delivered a political masterpiece at this E3, quick and not so subtle. Yet, as pointed out in this interesting article on buzzfeed, some of the fanboyism stirred by the console staredown feels gravely out of proportion. It bears reading the fine-print in Sony’s press conference. The PS4 isn’t marketed the way it is because they’re trying to win the BFF contest. In the end, we’re dealing with companies looking to maximize profits or as the article states “Sony versus Microsoft is not good versus evil. It’s money versus money”. To believe the XBox ONE is “done” at this point would be naive as we’re only standing at the beginning of a years-to-come battle for market shares. All the while, Nintendo is smiling because they’re likely going to “win” again anyway.

All that said, if I was to buy a next-generation console, it would most definitely be the PS4. As a commenter at buzzfeed observed, the PS4 is positioning itself as a diverse platform with a spirit for art and smaller projects (need I say Journey?) while being more inclusive to mature titles. Also: Square-Enix and Last Guardian hoping!

GW2 goes Dragon Bash

ArenaNet continue their ludicrous speed of releasing new mini-content and sadly also their penchant for inconsistent quality. Between wacky Halloween and a rather sobering Lost Shores event, the great Living Story and back-to-more-Karkas Darksun Cove update, I find myself presented with a lot more of the same at Dragon Bash and horribly mislead by what sounded like such an exciting new addition to the game. More mighty dragons to shoot down from the sky  – more massive outdoor content? YES please! No?

This leads me to formulate the following GW2 events formula: a ton of achievements which can be finished in one or two days, more slightly frustrating arena-based minigames, random drops of something in a box, oh and back items and weapon skins! I can barely restrain myself. Also, dragon piñatas – now where have I heard that before?


Yeah, maybe not!

Rift entering the F2P scene

Trion have officially given their free-to-play debut this June 12th and much will yet be discussed about how well they’ve made the switch, implemented ingame shops and most importantly, just how much (or how) that changes the general direction of the game – because that was going so well before. Positive as I remain on this matter, I’d like to think that not all that much will change for Telara as we’ve also seen with other MMOs going F2P half-way through in the past (as opposed to MMOs actually designed around the concept).

Belghast is one of the first to comment on his “new” Rift experiences and a rather enthusiastic early adopter by the looks. No doubt there are right and wrong ways to realize F2P in MMOs and as someone who wants to see games like Rift survive rather than disappear from the face of the market, I hope more people will follow in his general footsteps.

…But F2P creates Subscribers too?

With the recent hubbub around Microsoft’s inane approach to copyright / sharing games on the XBOX One, a title that fills the greatest fanboys with dismay, there’s also been another revival of the “how free-to-play MMOs destroyeth the genre”-discussion in the blogosphere, thanks to Trion’s recent announcement. That one seems to return on a regular basis, like “casual vs. hardcore” or gamification.

And I just realized how these two topics share a connection, or rather a blind spot among their most fervent critics. When it comes to the big copyright debate for digital media in this age of global sharing, the market has been divided for a while now between those who realize that piracy isn’t actually this “big deal” and that free distribution or “pay-what-you-like” models can be used to your advantage – and those who wax hysterical about hypothetically lost revenue. Usually they do so with little proof, a bit like the guys still claiming that sex sells in video games and we totally can’t have interesting female leads in games (also, female gamers are still in the stark minority!….).

So, it takes the voices of smart and insightful non-sales people with some first-hand experience, people like international best-selling author Neil Gaiman, to state the obvious: that copying and sharing does not happen at any conceivable loss to the artist / production company. And that on the contrary, it seems to drive sales up rather than down. I’ve been sharing his video for a while now as it never seems to lose significance and I heartily recommend watching it –

Gaiman’s description applies 100% to my personal experiences. An early napsterer myself (when it was still a shiny beacon of an incoming new age), all this access to free media did for me is let me discover a ton of new artists that I then went to research and order music from. For a while, it was heaven unleashed. Of course I did also download some titles that I never bought later – and never would’ve known about or bought anyway. There was never a minus, only a potential for plus – as in money going into the creative or entertainment industry. I don’t download free stuff with the intention to “steal”, although anyone is free to call it that; what I like is getting sneak peeks, demos and first impressions. Want to make me a fan that buys all your stuff? Give some of it away. I can’t help that I live in an age where I am bombarded with so many offers and choices that I don’t open my wallet right away any longer. It’s the smart companies who react to changing times.

I keep reading about how F2P games are somehow a seal for lesser quality or an admission of failure whenever MMOs go F2P or decide to be from the get-go. Yet, not once have I actually read a conclusive,objective article on why that should be. Why does Rift go from awesome game to disappointment just because it changed payment model? Will its community struggle because of the introduction of F2P – or did it not much rather struggle already and hence the new direction? What does it say about us as players if we make payment models the deciding factor?

Which inevitably brings me to GW2’s continued growth and another article I read on about becoming an involuntary “F2P-convert”. Chris makes the important distinction between F2P and B2P MMOs and points out rightfully that for games like LOTRO or SWTOR, which were not designed to be free, reverting to F2P was/is a life saver. And hence also and especially for their faithful communities. I think this cannot be stressed enough, along with the fact that there are cash shops and cash shops. There are in fact very few popular MMOs out there offering anything close to a pay-to-win experience. I don’t know what games people are talking about in context with “just buy all your raid gear in the store”? I’ve yet to play such a game (and see how much it truly affects me…). In GW2 the gemstore is such a laughable matter, it might as well not exist.

What the article fails to cover in my opinion is that F2P, much like free sharing does in the piracy debate, creates easier access and therefore more opportunities for games like SWTOR or LOTRO (and certainly also new titles) to sell more subscriptions. That was the original argument pro F2P models: see what you get before you pay for it. Was that really such a bad idea? To me it seems many MMOs simply fail to implement hybrid models where both a limited F2P experience and the usual premium or sub-experience is worthwhile.

I find LOTRO a prime example of this business model. Chris mentions LOTRO in context of F2Ps forcing you to buy individual content; that’s not how I see it. What I see is a rather successful approach to compromising, establishing different ways of playing while strongly suggesting free players may subscribe sometime. That’s what happened to me exactly: I have just renewed my LOTRO sub once more. I would never have considered playing it, had it not been F2P however. Turbine has won me over by letting me play their game and then convincing me that it’s worth paying for. Just as if I had napstered LOTRO, I went to buy it later. Yeah, that surprised me too.

I really wish this aspect was highlighted more in the F2P context, that it’s not a zero-sum game. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find data on account split for active LOTRO accounts, or more importantly on how many players have been shifting between payment models. I’m however convinced that there are many players like myself who only started to pay for (another) sub because they were able to access the MMO for free. And that to me seems wasted potential (of plus when there’s no financial minus involved) for those titles stubbornly clinging to subs only, unless they’re called World of Warcraft and can afford not to care. While I still watch Wildstar from a distance, it makes me hopeful hearing about the hybrid payment model they’re aiming for, although details remain to be seen. And why not, after all? It may convince me to subscribe to their game more than anything else would.

That one month into GW2 "Sub Question"

While many bloggers are posting their one-month reviews and conclusions on GW2, there’s one particularly hot question being asked all over various forums, news and community websites: “If you bought GW2, would you have still done it if there had been a subscription?”

In the light of GW2’s successful start and over 2mio copies sold already, there is no bigger elephant in the room – of course everyone is wondering how well ANet would’ve done this exact moment in time, had GW2 come with a subscription! It’s an intriguing topic (at a first glance, anyway) and no doubt this MMO’s launch date was smartly set sometime ahead of its other, direct competitors expansions. Unlike with sub games many players will surrender to curiosity and consider “just a box price” tolerable while maybe waiting on other titles (or already paying subs for them).

So, how are GW2 players and visitors feeling about the sub question, one month into launch? I asked the same thing last night on twitter, on a very spontaneous note. Here’s the range of reactions I got:

    • “Maybe” (Rowan)
    • “Yup. I bought two sets of gems already.” (Pitrelli)
    • “Only while it held my interest” (MantleCraft)
    • “Yes. I enjoy the game. I have passed on other games that have a sub because I didn’t enjoy them enough to justify the cost.” (Jazz)
    • “I would have, though i would prob cancel my other subs to justify” (Psynster)
    • “Definitely. The game has been fun enough that I would pay a subscription to it without thinking twice.” (Rakuno)
    • “Yes, I would have bought the game & then paid a sub based on how much I like it” (Heather)
    • “No. I would not.” (Eivind Johansen)

Now, I don’t know how representative the quantitative outcome of the answers I received really is, as it’s mostly familiar bloggers who sent me a reply (I did ask in general GW2 channels though). Retrospective inquiries like that are also generally difficult to interpret because once you are enjoying the game a lot, hypothetical choice may be affected by your current, positive experiences. The same bias exists for negative experiences though – and to draw conclusions on success and potential sub failure, it’s the nay-sayers one must focus on. Of course, I followed up that “No. I would not” -reply with a second question: “Are you currently paying for any sub MMO?” The answer was “nope”.

Well, shoot. I did hope for a different answer, maybe related to how bad this person’s gameplay experiences were with GW2, potentially compared to other MMOs! While you could probably argue that GW2 didn’t fully convince this customer to pay a hypothetical sub, there are players who will simply never pay subs and only ever try B2P/F2P games. That’s that and convincing them otherwise isn’t a realistic undertaking.

Still, it’s the “noes” that make this question interesting. The above example shows how difficult or virtually impossible interpreting negative reactions to any MMO truly are without much further investigation. In fact, a person leaving a negative reply may represent any of the following rough, five groups:

    1. The Economist: currently paying for another MMO and never intending to pay for two. Will consider playing both though.
    2. The Bored & Curious: waiting on MoP / anything else, only bought GW2 because it was B2P and launched earlier. Will drop GW2 until the favored MMO becomes boring.
    3. The Penny-Pincher: never pays subs period, or doesn’t play often enough to justify them for himself.
    4. The Lucky: didn’t actually pay for GW2 but got it as a gift.
    5. The Disappointed: genuinely disappointed/frustrated by GW2 due to “insert reasons here”.

    Of all these potential nay-sayers, the only one that comes with genuine motivation and therefore also a more meaningful reaction and potentially productive feedback, is the last category. Somebody who was open to pay anything at the beginning but got utterly turned off by some aspect of the game while playing. All the other groups would distort any kind of simple poll ran on the sub question. The outcome would be hard to read for anyone looking for more concrete criticism and potential game improvements. Which must not mean that useful criticism is absent in the other groups – but if you’re presented with an audience that never meant to pay a sub in the first place, you might wanna prioritize feedback of those that would have done so readily.

    Once you get feedback from the disappointed players, things naturally don’t get easier. As a developer you can now try and sort all various issues into those you can change, those you cannot reasonably change and those you do not want to change. What all of this tells me is that dealing with customer feedback is an enormous challenge and that the big “GW2 sub question” really is senseless and dissatisfactory in the light of our vastly different contexts and backgrounds. ANet have launched GW2 in 2012 and must therefore deal with an MMO audience of 2012, including all baggage this brings. Right now all things considered, they’re dealing rather (!) successfully.

    My answer is YES – but not without concerns

    There is no question I would pay for a GW2 sub. This I base on my personal positive experiences with the game, the individual and subjective fun and enjoyment I’m finding in this fresh MMO – just like everybody else does. I’m generally not focused on payment models; whether I pay a sub or not is irrelevant when an MMO manages to inspire me. So, when I refer to “getting my money’s worth” there is a more figurative meaning for me than may be for players that truly (have to) look at costs and put a value on every feature on their pros&cons list. I would certainly question paying for two subs at the same time though, for time management reasons.

    I would pay a GW2 sub too because there’s long-term appeal in Tyria. Having only just hit level 60 with my Elementalist, there is so much more content ahead I haven’t even touched yet and more world and story depth surfacing by the day, as I am progressing through higher levels. All MMO worlds take their time in introducing you to aspects like lore; to me GW2 has only started to bloom in this regard. When I fought in the Battle of Claw Island today, I felt real excitement and sadness over the course of the story. I don’t remember the last time an MMO questchain has inspired that reaction in me, actually I only recall Skyrim more recently.

    That said, my one-month GW2 recap comes not without concerns. While ANet did deliver on my biggest selling points, there are several more pressing and serious concerns I’m sharing with other GW2 players out there:

    • Bad/random dungeon/chest loot and the token grind; there is a particularly scary calculation on exotic sets currently found over at Hunter’s Insight. If ANet don’t look into this matter fairly soon, they can certainly never again claim that GW2 presents no grind of any sort!
    • Izari from Talk Tyria is majorly disappointed by ANet’s shift of stance concerning endgame gear and prestige armor, away from GW’s old philosophy that gear differences should be cosmetic rather than in stats. I was saddened to read this as I’ve greatly looked forward to GW2 taking some of the stats obsession away that I’ve come to loathe in WoW, due to all its technical and social backlash.
    • Now that I’m playing in more high-level zones, I detect a slight two-fold change about leveling up and questing: there are a lot more bugged events – and – as the Brave Elementalist points out leveling speed in low pop areas decreases significantly. That isn’t necessarily a horrible thing given the overall fast leveling experience in GW2, but bugged events need fixing and some of the less well-paced areas need looking into, especially in regard to heart quests (in absence of people to do events with).
    • Like so many others, I agree the WvW queues need fixing a.s.a.p. on individual and group level. While I fondly think back to a time where Alterac Valley queues took half a day, it should come as no surprise to ANet that this prized feature is a big focus, with many players queuing up already at lower levels. While I’m personally not affected too much by the queues yet, this should be one of their top priorities.

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed that all of these graver issues will be reviewed and addressed swiftly – for everyone out there currently waiting on WvW and also on behalf of GW2’s dungeon appeal and the very significant long-term motivator that is gear/collection in MMOs!

    P.S. I’d still like FP view and market place preview!

    [Allods] Would you like to….divorce me?

    So I picked Allods Online up again the other night because that’s what we do, me and Allods have this steamy on-and-off latenight relationship. The game has changed much since last I played it – there’s been the Game of Gods expansion this February 2012 and the look of the game has improved in every aspect. Allods has always had great characters and customization, but now there are more choices and oh my god the bard class! That’s right, you can now play a BARD in Allods! I haven’t had much time to level one yet but apparently the class mechanics are somewhat similar to the bard class in Rift.

    Personally, it makes me happy to see that Allods is still alive and kicking and that Astrum Nival were able to launch a full expansion stuffed with shiny new content. The game has always been described as shameless WoW clone, mostly due to its similar cartoony graphics, and no matter for how long dedicated Allods players and fans have been working on dispelling that notion, the comparison stuck to this much younger Russian MMO like duct tape from hell.

    Let’s look at this just briefly. Yes, Allods looks like WoW at first glance. Yes, it also pretty much adopted the questing system and the talent tree isn’t all that different. The zones are a little empty here and there despite looking nice. Combat works different from WoW in certain aspects, for example there are pre-charged attacks and no auto-attack. Experience gain used to be fairly slow but over the years the developers improved the system several times to make both combat and progression feel smoother. Also, Allods is a free-to-play which means RMT is part of the deal and a very stylish item shop is an integrated part of the game – which doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy this game without spending money. I do.

    Other than that? Allods is awesome. The overall graphics are much sparklier than WoW’s. The polish, music and performance have always been top notch, especially for an FTP. Races like the Arisen or Gibberlings are legendary. There is quirkiness, humor and atmosphere in the world. There’s also the rather refreshing Russian flair which shows in some of the NPCs or cities. In short: Allods doesn’t feel one bit like WoW and from what I know about endgame, it is a different game entirely (there be lots of war ship PvP up in astral spheres!). If you’ve got any spare time to dabble at some free games, don’t skip Allods.

    Amazing armor! …Wait what, divorce papers?

    One thing I’ve not mentioned yet is Allods’ armor and how that too has taken a massive step up since I played it last. Now, if you’ve got any love for the eye candy, customization and gear in MMOs, you will love this game. If anyone’s going to emulate WoW’s graphics, they should at least do better than WoW in the armor department – and Astrum Nival have. You want wicked armor? Allods has it! I browsed tons of high-level gear and tier sets and was dazzled by a flamboyant carnival of colors, fabrics and quite possibly the greatest cloaks ever! If you’re going to pose in your shiny epics, it better look like this:

    Too sexy for my shirt!

    Like to see more? Fear not, I finally added an Allods gallery. I need to highlight my favorite piece here though because….whoa – this gotta be like the greatest, badass look ever:

    He’s got a raven!

    I named this guy the Scarecrow and if you’re still wondering what he’s got on his back, that’s a wooden box (I bet full of torture tools). And there’s a black raven perching on his shoulder! Amagad! *worship*


    Thus hunting down irritated high-level players for screenshots, I came across a chapel the other night and found this:

    I’ve certainly heard about MMO marriage before, wedding bands and ceremonies and whatnot, but divorce papers? Now that’s new. I started digging a bit and it turns out Allods Online has possibly the most intricate and complex marriage and divorce system of them all. And unlike so many other games where the union of two players is merely symbolic, marrying in Allods comes with a list of special, spouse-related spells and abilities to give the relationship more meaning. Getting married isn’t quick and neither is getting rid of a spouse – so hedge therefore, who join forever!

    For those of you who prefer a TL;DR version of the above link, I’m going to highlight the few most remarkable points about Allods’ marriage system:

    • You are eligible to marry a person of the same faction, minimum level 15. There is no restriction for enlisting same-sex relationships.
    • Every faction has dedicated wedding manager NPCs who will offer a quest to the person properly equipped with a wedding ring. Both players will have to take vows and actively consent to the union….and pay a tax.
    • Once legally declared married, you will receive special wedding gifts along with several “spousal spells”. These are unlocked for both characters and draw on a resource called heart affection.
    • The spousal abilities can be leveled while both players draw on the same pool of heart affection. Just to give one example of such an ability: “Enheartening: Your spouse’s health is increased by a certain percentage if you are within 50 yards from each other.” (aww)
    • In case of a divorce, players lose access to their spousal abilities. Both partners will have to be present for a particularly sad quest and have one minute each to consent to the divorce prompt.
    • Astrum Nival have announced an upcoming shop item, a bottle of champagne, that will be required in special cases of a forced divorce where one spouse has been offline for a very long time.

    One must wonder what exactly that champagne bottle is for! I think we can agree they do take their weddings seriously in Allods (is there any MMO that comes close?). And a system that comes with bonuses like this may well appeal to a wider audience than just a roleplay corner. To me personally it’s a fascinating approach and illustrates the many depths of MMO dynamics that still haven’t been explored fully, by a wider range of titles.

    GW2 shop: Panic much?

    So there’s been information or rather a few sneak-peeks of GW2 in-game shop items swarming the internet lately and not surprisingly this has stirred some controversy on webforums and blogs antsy for the game. Which is interesting to remark at this point: just how fast players sometimes go from oh yay to oh nay! Considering the fifty or so features that excite me about this MMO, it would hardly be good perspective (or proportion) to get all doomsday about the cash shop revelations. GW2 is free-to-play and everyone knew there was going to be RMT of some sort. Turns out ArenaNet are actually trying to put their own twist on this, too.

    But first things first. Which items can we actually see on those screenshots? How do they potentially affect gameplay?

    I) Cosmetic items:
    To no surprise you’ll be able to purchase special outfits, hats, dyes and more in the shop.
    So far, so good. 

    II) Convenience / commodity items:
    Things like instant repair tools, portals, resurrection stones, bigger bags or EXP boosts.
    They exist in pretty much every FTP MMO I have ever played, from Allods to Age of Conan. I’ve tried very hard to find indication of any seriously significant and game-changing items here and failed.

    Convenience items are usually that: convenience items, not exclusive items. You can usually get the same deal by grinding or professions. Or then, if you are actually a very good or frequent player, you won’t need them. Look at experience or reputation boosts for example, these are hardly news in any MMO – when I re-subbed to Rift I got my fair share and so do WoW players these days. Blizzard does almost everything to make leveling up faster (or instant…ahem). Also: how significant are experience boosts in an MMO that features side-kicking, anyway?

    So if anything, all these items offer choice: to level the usual way or a tad faster, to visit an NPC or not, to travel or take a short-cut (which are there in abundance, anyway). They cater to different play-styles. They are nowhere near pay-to-win.

    III) Lottery items
    Loot bags and special keys to chests that can be dropped by mobs or found elsewhere on the world.

    The first is the type of random chance “carneval ticket” that only a group of players usually fall for. It’s a way to burn real coin for sure, but the randomness of it guarantees that you’ll likely end up with many duplicates or silly, trade items (in my case with nothing). We don’t know that anything of significance can drop here (I find it unlikely) or if the items will be soul-bound. I could imagine it to be similar to archeology rewards in WoW maybe.

    The keys might present a bigger attraction, depending again on how rare the boxes are and what they potentially contain (anything exclusive?). There’s again the randomness factor. It reminds me of lockboxes in WoW that only the rogues could open; to tell you the truth, I vendored mine most of the time without even checking. I put them up on the AH a few times for little gold, but nobody wanted them. Whether the mystic boxes in GW2 will be the same type of gimmick or more serious business is complete speculation at this point. However, the mark of all lottery systems is actually that REALLY good and useful items are also REALLY rare! A lottery doesn’t look for winners.

    “Bad and good items”; The cooperative lookout

    A while ago I wrote a lengthy article on why I don’t consider RMT systems in FTP MMOs any more or less fair than traditional subscriptions and I hold to that opinion. As long as in-game shops deal in items of no greater consequence, I do not consider them a deal-breaker.

    A “bad” cash-shop item needs to severely impact on the balance of gameplay; it needs to affect the outcome or success of end-game, be it in PVE or PvP, in a way that makes purchase an almost mandatory feature in order for groups and players to stay competitive. Items are however not bad just because they prevent l33t players from feeling special, as is often an underlying issue in such debates (not all, but often enough). Besides, I imagine a “true dungeon drop” would still be told apart from a cash-shop item and offer a degree of satisfaction or “fame” to a player who might desire it.

    So yes, just to pursue hypothetical thought, I wouldn’t even mind if the GW2 cash-shop offered equal (not better) or almost equal weapons / gear to a dungeon drop! Too extreme for you? As GW veterans know and are happy to point out, gear progression is not the same deal in Guild Wars as it is in WoW for example. Once you’ve obtained your dungeon tier items, there won’t be an endless curve of upgrades but only similar gear with different stat weighting. In PvP, gear even gets leveled to focus on performance and not gear differences between teams.

    I love this focus on performance and how the overall theme of GW2 seems to be cooperation, rather than segments and segments of “players with better stats” at endgame. There are numerous ways in which ArenaNet push player cooperation rather than disparity or “distance” –

    • The side-kicking feature and dynamic leveling / quests, events
    • The missing role restrictions / enforced holy trinity
    • The connected home cities / starting areas

    If a player bought his gear with real money for whatever reason, time or other, how would it harm cooperation or competitive outcome in GW2? I can’t think of any good reason to be worried. Even less so for stuff like convenience items or lottery boxes – and these are what we’re talking about for the moment! Not only are they not mandatory, but they really do not affect me as someone uninterested in most. Besides, items are not accomplishments in themselves, even if they usually go with reward (but they’re not in fact what makes a reward).

    Seems to me the entire concept behind GW2 makes pay-to-win a very unlikely scenario. As long as there is no more and different information on the RMT items, it’s a little early to tell the color of the cash-shop’s underpants.

    F2Ps are more social?

    Related topics: Tesh, Nils, Tobold, Syp.

    Many of the current free-to-play arguments are based on assumptions; on certain player mindsets, on certain items up for sale that then can, will, could, should,might affect somebody somehow sometime. Or not. I’ve a bit of a problem with that in general because I believe MMO players are grown-ups and if they are not, they shouldn’t be handling credit cards. Either way, it’s not for me to tell somebody how to live his life, real or virtual or how to spend his own money, in “right” or “wrong” ways. Down that road there are only double standards wherever you turn.

    That aside, common misconceptions about the F2P payment model are “players will buy items because they have to” or “if a player buys nothing, it’s clearly because he couldn’t afford it”. My favorite is the classist fallacy where really poor players are apparently excluded from F2P, but not from sub-games. I hope you perceive just how many hypothetical assumptions are needed for this to be true.

    Instead, let me elaborate on why I actually believe that F2Ps might be the more “social” games like that, social in the sense of caring for more people than yourself. For argument’s sake, let’s assume too that there is such a thing as a poor MMO player in desperate, existential need to optimize his money, rather than players who are simply unwilling to shift around priorities (for whatever reason):

    1) F2Ps are open to everybody. Unlike a sub-based game that already pre-selects the player base from the beginning and excludes players who might not be able to afford subs, F2Ps actually let everybody partake. In some MMOs this means almost a full access, few extras excluded (such as endgame relevant boosts) that a more casual player might not even care for. In other MMOs, the item shop matters more but either way everyone gets to play the game first and a casual player can still hang out with his more dedicated friends. No money doesn’t mean not your party!

    2) In F2Ps, some players pay for others. Realistically the percentage of players spending any or much money is (currently still) low, compared to the mass of “freeloaders”. Since the game can be played for free by definition, some players will finance a system others benefit from without same contribution. Now that might vex you, if you belong to the big spenders. OR you could look at it this way: Those who have more and/or want to spend more, fund those who will not and/or cannot afford the same. This would be called the principle of solidarity in a social state. You can’t afford to play an MMO? Well, I can and I’m happy to take you along! (This is very European!)

    3) By offering you to buy that backpack rather than to grind for it, F2Ps make it easier to include players with less time. Time is a currency; in fact it is the currency in MMOs; if you have more time to play, you have more time to progress and more time/opportunity to make money – potentially. The player who works a lot more or simply has more on his plate of real-life “duties”, is at a disadvantage. The item shop allows him (if he so chooses) to turn some of his real money into a time gain, by buying a useful item straight away, avoiding a grind someone else might enjoy. While I’m no fan of short-cuts in MMOs, there are “grinds and grinds” and there are good and bad types of short-cuts. Here, it’s an added choice that caters to different players and makes for happier co-existence.

    Still think sub-games are fairer in handling players, when our circumstances are not equal by nature and never can be?

    Three popular counter arguments

    A) One popular counter-argument in this context is the question of meritocracy; players should earn their achievements without any “assistance from real money” in the game.
    This type of reasoning is based on the assumption that MMO players aren’t already affected by real money or time to begin with. I’m not sure how I “earned” that access to the sub-based game other than with real money. I’d also argue that purchased items like backpacks or cosmetics don’t equal a heroic reward or actual ingame accomplishment. Items are not the same as achievements, although that is a common mistake as they usually correlate in MMOs (certainly do in WoW). You can rest assured nobody will confuse them so easily in a game where everyone knows which items are shop exclusive (if this exists) and which are raid epics for example. Anyway, meritocracy is no social concept to begin with.

    B) There is a particularly cynical argument, that goes something like “an item shop is disingenuous to the players who can’t afford it”. – So much more generous to exclude the person right away, assuming subscriptions are the alternative? If we assume a “poor player” like that, we should assume he can either afford a sub OR some ingame items. There’s no reason to suggest an F2P is forcing players to spend any or more money than that, in fact I wonder if you’d even get up to those 140 Euros / year which are roughly what you would pay for 12 months of WoW subs plus half an expansion. If you do, it’s likely that you were “tempted” by extra shinies in which case you don’t qualify as a poor player. Case dismissed.

    C)F2P will disadvantage the less liquid player at later stages / endgame”. Still assuming this was a pro-subscription argument: if an F2P is designed to require (and that in itself remains questionable) micro-transactions in order to be competitive in endgame, we might as well assume the same player would never get to see end-game in a sub-based MMO to begin with. We established that he was already turned down at the door. If however we agree this awfully poor player doesn’t exist, B) applies once more: the player would only be excluded at endgame if the item costs greatly surpass what he’d otherwise pay for subscriptions. For such an F2P we could actually say a player gets everything for free but endgame, whereas in WoW he gets everything for free, full stop. Only that in WoW’s case there is no choice to skip paying for an endgame he might not care for.

    Now, Nils would tell me how this last line is faulty; while you might pay for everything by default in WoW, it actually means you get everything. I’ll explain:

    The F2P player might choose what he wants to pay for more consciously – but that also means he has to pay for it. If you skip endgame, you will spend that money elsewhere because the game offers the best RP items in the shop too, or the best PvP items. The WoW player on the other hand can play just as selectively, but he never gets asked to pay more or less anywhere. If he wants to have it all, it costs the same as if he only chose to RP. From this point of view, paying a sub wins IF

    • the player gravitates towards many play styles and has generally lots of time for the game
    • the player plays in that same way consistently
    • the total costs of required or interesting items for his purposes are higher than the subs

    In this case, a subscription is the best deal for you. If you’re however part of a wider player base who has restricted time, exclusive interests, changing schedules, then F2P might suit you better. Not surprisingly, this gets more popular with an aging audience. It can create choices where a subscription cannot. Which is why both models have their up and downside, or rather their target audience.

    Oh noes, I used the item shop!

    In my last post I mentioned that I have picked up Age of Conan again to test the new PVP server – there’s not an awful lot to play for me at the moment, and I must admit that Hyboria’s setting holds a special place in my heart. Already, the horribly flawed UI, quest or AH functionality frustrate me again (how hard is it to fix these?), but the world in general has that feeling of “home” that I’d otherwise only get in Azeroth.

    PVP starts early on and I’m having a great laugh with it; I soloed quests in the starter dungeons and got my ass kicked around every corner until I finally learned how to make proper use of my hiding skill, questing in sneaky mode, what a thrill! Once you’ve lost enough items to some rogue lurking in the shadows (I promptly lost my first blue item that way too), you begin to play a lot differently, making use of walls and corners, always minding the nearest exit. The look of the outside towns and quest hubs is hilarious too: entirely deserted, not a soul around. You think! In fact, they’re all around you, as you realize when a player suddenly drops out of stealth next to you or two start dueling in the middle of town, with more and more players popping out of nowhere and joining the battle. I love it!

    That’s not the only novelty in AoC for me though – there is now the item store and yes, the vanity window. Sigh. A fatal combination for somebody such as myself! I had to do it of course, I had to browse what social armor is up for sale. To my defense, the standard armor in the game is very lackluster and looks hardly ever change until you reach max level and go for instances. Who wants to wear an orange plate mail and cow-hide skirt forever?? Just give me one nice set that I can keep wearing the next weeks and months, mkay.

    Now, the item shop is pretty sneaky and I blame Funcom for everything that happened from there. I meant to buy ONE set with real money and maybe a bag for more item storage. But of course, the armor is displayed so badly in the shop (and there’s no wardrobe feature) that you basically need to buy in order to check what it really looks like. I didn’t do that of course, I was smart (muaha!) and browsed the net for previews. After 10 minutes I had still found zero screenshots and that was when I really lost my temper. “10 Euros, who cares?? Let’s do it!”

    So, I did it. And again, and again. The first set was shockingly bad and then I bought a wrong one by mistake (it was called Transcendence, what can I say). So I bought one more that I finally liked. And since I have 2 characters I play on different servers, I bought another for my high-level priest, too. This is my story on how I spent 40 Euros on virtual wardrobe until I was out of cash to even buy that bag. Had I not read Syncaine’s story on his micro-transactions bill for League of Legends just this morning, I would still feel a little guilty…..but, I don’t! Not really. Lalalala…!

    Real-money transfer is coming, friends. Like to learning how to manage an allowance, it takes some self-discipline at first, yet I’m really starting to endorse all the pros of this business model. The times of paying for a pig in a poke are over; here’s your chance to play MMOs first before agreeing on just how much you actually intend to spend on them long-term.

    …if you can handle it, that is. Honestly though, can you really blame me?

    How I spent 40 Euros in Age of Conan

    A good weekend to all of you, the well-dressed and those still running around in cow-hide!