Tag: business model

A word on crown crates

First: my own opinion, put shortly: I don’t like lockboxes, I don’t buy them and I wish nobody would. As we know by now, Elder Scrolls Online is going to begin selling what they call “Crown Crates” in their cash shop- turning one of my most liked business models/ingame shops into one of many.

Personally, I feel buy-/free-to-play brought a few niceties to us. However, I’m starting to realize there’s more to it than that and I’m starting to get fed up with cash shops, because they take away from the games we play. I’ll probably go over this discussion at another time, but the reason for this post is that I’d like to share the most recent episode of “Tales of Tamriel“. I was happy to see Isaari joining for this topic, particularly because of points he made before in regards to playing WoW and his will to grind for mounts, pets and hats. I can’t find it anymore, probably because it was a tweet- but I knew him to be very opinionated on mmonetization as he’s written about it a couple of times.

Now, this is a podcast dedicated to Elder Scrolls Online, but the discussion points are valid throughout the genre- it’s very interesting to listen to and if you’d like some insight/differing opinions or agreement on stuff like “it’s just cosmetic”, “but they have to earn money” and so on, I’d suggest watching this. It’s also very from the beginning that these fans of Elder Scrolls Online- themselves content creators in regards to this game for a long while and in all kinds of manners- are really upset about the introduction of lockboxes into their game and would like to talk about that topic from the first second.

The monetization stuff begins around minute 30, have fun.

Being supportive 2

Interesting. On my old blog, i had this post about being supportive of the few (and getting even rarer) companies who bring MMORPGs to us- at that time, it was about Trion’s up-to-then unknown imported game. Today, i’ll return to this topic in regards to Rift’s new expansion Starfall Prophecy- this post started its life as a comment on Psychochild’s blog, but i felt like it was getting too long. TLDR would be: “don’t hold a grudge”.

Trion once was that highly respected company- everyone cheered when the news broke that they’d be publishing ArcheAge. Then something bad happened and now they’re struggling – reputation wise.

Here’s the thing, though: what big MMO devs/publishers do you know? Blizzard? Cancelled their latest MMO in favour of a lobby shooter. Daybreak? Ha, well, they seem to be downgrading lately. Turbine? Already on their way out. Funcom? Is struggling and needs to do something other than MMOs to actually earn some money.

Now, we can have all the business model talks or how exactly each and every company developing MMORPGs went wrong, but i’d like to state something else:

I feel Trion is on the right way.

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The sub strikes back – now what?

Woe is me, i’m falling into a trap again! I was really enjoying the first six months of this year when i played Elder Scrolls Online exclusively. Of course, MMO wanderlust was still a thing, but i kept it under check- until the summer break, that is. Interestingly, actually having even less time to play made me ponder my options more than before. Elder Scrolls Online is a great game, but to be honest, it’s not something you log into for half an hour or so to dabble a bit in and log out after a short time. The story-and-lore-heavy quests take time, which is a good thing. But it also means that you have to devote that time and i’ve found it quite difficult to do in the bright season. I don’t know about your place, but summer in Germany means daylight from about 5 am to 10.30 pm- i know it’s very different in China, where it’s dark at 8/9 pm in the evening (Shanghai area). It’s more “difficult” to lose yourself into a game.

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Fixing SWTOR’s business model

The big announcement

Last week, Bioware teased a big announcement for yesterday. Yesterday, the announcement happened and, judging by the comments over on Massively Overpowered, most people found it lacking. The announcement was about being able to recruit the popular HK-55 as a companion and getting to play the droid in an “exclusive Episode”. The thing is, to qualify for that exclusive episode, you’ll have to be subscribed to SWTOR from now until august 2016.

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As i’ve mentioned more than once, SWTOR- to me- is still a subscription game. Bioware put too many restrictions on free players, even if you’re a “preferred” player (e.g. those who bought the box). I think in itself, this subscriber reward feels….ok-ish. I don’t care much about HK-55. But i agree with one point made several times by players: this doesn’t really qualify as a “big announcement”. And when i thought about the trouble Bioware seems to be having with its subscriber rewards, one thing came to mind: SWTOR isn’t sure what business model it’s using.

Business Model confusion

It’s free-to-play

You can start playing Star Wars: the old republic now. Well, after a lengthy download. After that, though, you can log in and play up to…well, i’m not so sure about that. Is it the base game? Or are some of the released expansions free, as well? I don’t know. Also, you’ll suffer some of the most annoying restrictions for free users in the industry. Use of 2 hotbars only, for instance. No running (is it still in?), no “hide helmet” option, ingame gold and dungeon-running as well as pvp match limits and so on. There are so many of them that i can’t even remember all of them.

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Of course, some of these restrictions get less annoying if you are a preferred status player (by buying the base game).

It’s a subscription game

If you choose to sub up, you’ll not only get all those restrictions lifted, but also access to all the available content in the game. And a monthly cartel coin (funny money) alotment. There are no restrictions whatsoever, but one thing that annoys me very much is that SWTOR basically sells the best cosmetic outfits, pets, stronghold items and what-would-i-know in lockbox-style “packs”. To make matters worse, there are many different packs to buy. For me, it is actually hard to search them for items i’d like to buy. Sure, Dulfy has it covered, but the ingame shop not so much.

It’s buy-to-play

The funny thing is- the content you unlock by being subscribed? You’ll be able to access that after you let your subscription run out, as well. If you sub now, you’ll get access to all expansions, chapters 1 to 9 of the latest story-centric expansion and you’ll still be able to play that content if you don’t sub next month. You’ll suffer f2p-restrictions, though (of course, there’s the possibility to unlock those with ingame-credits, as well). So this is the part where SWTOR is following the buy-to-play-route.

It’s not a hybrid, it’s a mess

Now, since this post isn’t a guide to SWTOR’s business model i haven’t done much research on restrictions, what you’ll get in the different states of the customer-producer-relationship. A quick Google Search didn’t show any interesting entries. My guess is…it’s too complicated. Even Bioware doesn’t bother with bringing their f2p matrix up-to-date. What’s stated there concerns the base game only.

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Fixing this

So, with Bioware’s intentions kept in mind (they want us to sub)- how would i go in and improve what they have? I’d make it a hybrid with an emphasis on being buy-to-play.

I’d give the base game out for free. Also, i’d only put restrictions on stuff bots and gold sellers use to do their work- ingame-mail and -chat, auction house, currency cap, no rest xp. You would also be able to lift all these restrictions by spending the 5$ needed to get “preferred status”.

Then, sell all expansions and chapters of the Fallen Empire storyline seperately through the cartel market(!). This would allow for a real subscriber reward: being able to let the sub lapse and simply buy the content with saved up funny money.

Screenshot_2015-09-17_22_51_00_340910

Subscribers would get some bonus xp (think 12XP buff; subscribers would be able to go from 1 to 55 with class story missions only, but make it optional) and access to all “DLC”, of course. For the time their sub is up. Let it lapse and you’ll lose access. But of course, you could go on and simply buy the expansions in the cartel market.

Obviously, Bioware can’t do that anymore, because they’d take something away from people. Everybody who subscribed and directly cancelled the sub has access to the expansions now. So Bioware need the hefty restrictions on free players to get those people to keep their sub going. Without taking something away, they’d have to give access out to all of those customers and i really don’t know if that would be viable.

Still…i think this would be the way to go, but that’s just me. Maybe they like the complicated setup they have, because for me, i can tell you how i decide how to play SWTOR: don’t play, don’t pay. Want to play, sub up.

Dual Wielding: is SWTOR a universe to live in?

Dual Wielding: A series featuring two bloggers writing on one topic and answering the question, “If the pen is mightier than the sword, what happens when you dual wield?”

Don’t miss out on Ironweakness’ take on the subject.

Review

The last edition of Dual Wielding was all about the “one or many MMOs” topic- as said, it’s a big topic for me as i don’t have much time to play and also divide that time by too many MMOs i play or i’d like to play. I think it was an interesting experiment and i really enjoyed what Ironweakness wrote on the topic at hand. Basically, both of us don’t think there is a “right” or “wrong” answer, but that the key lies in choosing one style or the other. Both come with distinct advantages and caveats.

Based on what we wrote and my own experience, i chose to have a 3 MMO approach- one being my main MMO that hopefully serves as MMO home, two other MMOs with their main focus being on casual and varied gameplay depending on mood. I’ll allow myself to change the two side-MMOs on a monthly basis, the main MMO on a three-monthly basis that, again, hopefully doesn’t come into fruition. The main MMO also needs to become a side MMO for a month after it had its time in the spotline and the new main MMO needs to have been promoted from the side MMOs.

And then i started thinking which MMOs could serve as a main/home MMO and was surprised to not find many candidates. Meanwhile, Ironweakness and i decided on our next Dual Wielding topic- looking at Star Wars: the old republic as possible MMO home.

alderaan-screenshot-001

What makes an MMO sticky?

I hinted at what i’d call an engaging endgame yesterday – basically, it comes down to the use of credits or ingame gold in a broad measure and different ways to gain said gold/credits. This means that there should be as many different systems in place as possible- a bajillion different dungeons and raids don’t serve as engaging endgame for me. There should be credit- but not so many timesinks to accomodate different moods and session lengths. This is not the same; after all, i could make some credits in a very short session by flipping items on the GTN; if, say, one has to finish a main story questline to access game features, the smallest measurable progress in a session would be finishing a step in a quest. Sometimes, that takes a longer time.

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Also, an MMO home can’t be of the “play-to-finish” type- quite a popular style of MMO to be developed in the last years- SWTOR began as one, i’d consider The Secret World, Guild Wars 2 and Lord of the Rings Online among them, as well. Maybe even Elder Scrolls Online. Play-to-finish MMOs, to me, are games where you are provided very few ways to play once you finished all the zones. They’re still big- the amount of content available in Lotro, for instance, could keep me busy for years. In Guild Wars 2, this is debatable, as well, since you can do world completion, exploring, pvp, wvw among others. And doing dailies is always rewarded. So it’s not an exact science; different people will view different MMORPGs as being of the “play-to-finish” type.

Another thing that’s important is replay value- if done correctly, you could level different characters without having much overlap in content- World of Warcraft is great in this regard. Star Wars: the old republic isn’t, and that’s why they’re going to activate 12XP again on may, 4th.

Anyways, Star Wars: the old republic came a long way since its release and i wouldn’t put it into the “play-to-finish” corner anymore. I’m no expert on the game by any means, so i might be wrong on some points i’m going to make, but it is my impression for now that SWTOR is one of the best MMORPGs to call a home nowadays.

Can you live in a galaxy far, far away?

SWTOR still is a story-heavy MMO that funnels its players through quite linear paths of worlds, quests and- for the expansions- story. Once the story is finished, there are still reasons to continue playing for players like me, though.

Credits matter

With many MMOs and their wildly used different currencies, one has to wonder why they bother to give players ingame gold at all. I know there’s RMT, botting, exploiting and other things to be considered and alternative currencies are an easy way out, but if i don’t have anything to spend ingame gold on, it defeats its purpose.

In SWTOR, there are huge credit sinks in place now. From strongholds, decorations, the outfit designer and/or even buying things offered in the cartel market (the real-money ingame shop) on the GTN, there are many possibilities to spend hard-earned credits. I don’t know how many credits are considered “much” at endgame, but a fully unlocked stronghold costing 6 million credits and craftable decorations with their materials coming in at 100k credits each on the GTN sounds much to me. There are also some threads of players complaining about them on the official forums- in my opinion that’s a great indicator of some mechanism being in place that is actually healthy.

SWTOR: Taris

I know, i know, one shouldn’t talk bad about other players- but let’s face one thing that’s quite obvious when you look at the development of the genre in recent years; players hate it when stuff doesn’t come to them easily and they hate it when their progress is halted by something. For instance, despite open pvp being a thing you can avoid in ArcheAge, its existence was a hindrance to many. In EVE, high-sec life is entirely possible and i, personally, have never been killed, even when moving and mining through low-sec systems- players still don’t like it. Rift’s Rifts used to have a big influence on the zones they happened in- they were nerfed into the ground on the basis of “player feedback”. Rift was also much more difficult in the beta compared to release. Players generally like that things are being gated, but their tolerance ends when they feel they can’t play a game in the way they want and be rewarded in the ways they want anymore. All these things have in common that they are obstacles instead of rewards coming at a certain point.

So i’ll leave some links here that- in my opinion- show that gaining and spending credits is implemented in many different ways in the game.

I don’t know how crafting ties into this- crafting in SWTOR seems to be functional if a bit disconnected from your character- it’s the companions that do the work, after all. But you can get good gear upgrades if you keep it on-level; a thing that will become even more important when 12XP for story missions comes.

So there is an economy

With 12XP, i’d expect many players to start a new character or returning to the game. One major problem these players will encounter will be their gear- sure, you’ll get upgrades from the story missions, but it might not be enough, even when they’ll give out more commendations with the story missions coming may 4th. Some players might use the market to buy gear or crafting materials. So if i were to guess- gathering and crafting now and putting all that stuff on the GTN after may, 4th, will be a good way to make some credits.

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SWTORs economy isn’t a big thing in the game – the GTN is global, so there are no differences in prizes depending on regions. It’s still ok, though- i’ve read multiple times that inflation is being kept in check in this game. And if a game can make me (a casual newbie) think stuff like in the paragraph above, there has to be an economy of some kind. Combine that with the ability to spend earned credits, credit sinks that are far beyond my reach for now and you have what i’d call an endgame.

More than just story

SWTOR offers a great variety of content- if i’d like to relax, i’ll go with questing or stronghold decoration/planning, if i’m in the mood to play with others, there are enough Flashpoints. Then there is the on-rails-space-fighting-minigame for shorter sessions, and pvp both in battlegrounds and space. Not that i’m playing that type of content, but it’s there. You can also do achievements, search for datacrons and/or ways to unlock codex entries for the lore. You can raise the affection of your companions, equip your starship and so on. There’s a lot to do at level 60.

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It ties very nicely into different moods, session lengths, general involvement and different group sizes – SWTOR was mentioned quite often when Massively Overpowered asked for the best MMO to be played in a duo. The flashpoints are interesting group experiences not only with their content difficulty, but also in story-telling. The conversation options tend to be quite predictable if you play by yourself, but in a group, when rolls decide what kind of story your character experiences, it’s very interesting to see.

Alt-friendliness

Despite the fact that the levelling experience is a pretty linear affair, SWTOR still is one of the most alt-friendly games out there, even more so when 12XP hits, since you can just go for the class storylines without much overlap in content with your other characters. You only have to look at the numbers of characters veteran SWTOR players throw around when they have the opportunity to do so: double-digit numbers aren’t a rare thing, the legacy perks even give some “account progression” system to make it worthwhile and interesting to level more than one character. Roleplaying would be one reason to do so, but it seems alting is quite interesting for longterm SWTOR players.

The legacy sytem

The legacy system is a way to progress your “account” on a server. It’s slow; i’m still level 1 (well, i’m only level 25, after all) with level 2 coming closer. After you levelled up your legacy, you can unlock abilities for convenience, faster progress, faster travelling, unlock new races and so on. There’s a lot of stuff to be unlocked in the legacy system. I think you can unlock almost everything at any time you’d want if you were to spend cartel coins, but you can also progress through the legacy system and spend credits for these perks. There really is so much to explore here; i haven’t grasped the whole thing yet.

Strongholds

SWTORs version of housing puts you in appartements on a few selected planets. You can get decorations in a few different ways; from the ingame shop, by doing quests, certain achievements, crafting and so on. Dulfy has a great overview of decorational items and ways to get them.  I like that you can make your stronghold functional, as well: you can put in crafting resources (i tried it yesterday- you can collect from every node, even if you don’t have the crew skill needed, but there’s some kind of cooldown on the use, which is good), mailboxes, legacy storage and so on. If i’d look for a downside here, i’d say it’s a pity that the decorative objects aren’t really interactive. Sitting in a chair still is a rare sight in SWTOR; i’d like to water my plants, lie on my bed and so on- all of this has no use, but i think it would add a lot to the game.

Outfit designer

The outfit designer is SWTORs way of doing a wardrobe cosmetic gear system. I’m glad they dropped the restrictions on what you’d be able to wear (or is it only because my trooper can wear everything anyway?) for looks. It’s also a big, big credit sink if you’re going to make use of it extensively. Although i found out yesterday that the prize of placement isn’t fixed on 14k per item (it asked me to pay 1k for placing one item into one outfit), it’s still huge if you’re going to open and maintain all 16 slots.

 

What’s interesting is the monetization- SWTOR seems to go its own route in these things- in other games, you’re charged shop currency to unlock another outfit; in SWTOR, it’s optional- you can pay in credits or cartel coins. I think this is valid for pretty much everything since you can buy/sell everything from the cartel market on the GTN.

So, in the long term, the outfit designer is a thing to work on. Unlocking outfits, putting items in slots- it all has a credit cost attached to it.

The business model

It has to be said- SWTOR’s free-to-play model is often criticized for being more of a trial than a real option- i think that SWTOR’s revenue- i think it’s the second most profitable MMO out there- speaks for the game, in fact. After all, earning money is the goal of these games and they have to do so to provide content in a constant pace, quality and quantity. That BW wouldn’t be able to put out 8 class stories was obvious (to me, at least; that was one of the biggest reasons i saw for the game going f2p shortly after release- there was no way they could add storylines for 8 classes quick enough to retain their subscriber count).

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I think SWTOR is entirely playable for free (up until the expansions, of course). It is slower, much slower, in fact, and there are restrictions in place that make you cringe. But you can unlock it all (except for expansions) with credits and buying from the GTN. I’d go the “preferred player” route, though, by spending a few bucks, and then buy all i’d need to enjoy the game either with credits or cartel coins. What to buy, though, isn’t very obvious; in fact, it’s a pain just to find out what the best unlocks would be.

Fortunately, there is a great overview of account types and a list of suggestions on what to buy from the cartel market on reddit. If you want my opinion, i think SWTOR is pretty much a subscription game. But it is possible to play SWTOR as a non-sub game, as well.

The verdict

I have to say, Star Wars: the old republic is one of the best MMORPGs to call a home these days- the developers seem to make an effort in building up the universe and keeping it healthy, as well. The credit sinks, general prizing both ingame and in the shop, are indicative of this. As are the latest additions to the game from Galactic Strongholds to the outfit designer. Star Wars: the old republic is a great place to be at the moment, with the coming 12XP and whatever the next content updates are going to be possibly adding more story, variety and quality-of-life improvements to the game.

It also speaks for the game that, despite huge credit sinks and not knowing what the endgame really holds, it doesn’t seem very grindy. Sure, after your tenth character levelling alone might feel grindy because of the linear nature, but SWTOR doesn’t gate content (that i know of) behind the main storyline, reputation grind or something of this nature.

This has gotten very long- on a personal note; i plan on having SWTOR in the rotation at least until the end of may, and even then, i’m strongly considering to put it into “main MMO” spot after Final Fantasy XIV in august, maybe, if one of the downsides of FF14 (grind, content gating by MSQ) prove to be too much for me.

Looking good, Tamriel Unlimited

I just took a few minutes to patch up and launch Elder Scrolls Unlimited to take a look at the “Crown Store” / ingame story as well as the actual prizing of “Crowns”.

Prizing

Concerning the prizing- there will be some people that’ll tell you a subscription is the way to go, the main reason being that you’ll get:

  • 30 days of membership (DLC available)
  • 1500 crowns
  • +10% bonus on progression-relevant stuff

for the same prize as 1500 crowns are going to cost you, so if you’re comparing 30 days of subscription with the purchase of 1500 crowns (which would buy you about one horse and one set of cosmetic armor), the sub is the better deal.

Of course, Elder Scrolls Online offers discounts when you buy more than one month of subscription and more than 1500 crowns.

Crowns USD Euro GBP
750 7.99 6.99 4.79
1,500 14.99 12.99 8.99
3,000 24.99 20.99 14.99
5,500 39.99 34.99 23.99

So, if we’re to use the dollar pricing as base, if you buy 5500 crowns, it’ll cost you 40$, which means a dollar’s going to buy 137.5 crowns- this is a hefty discount. You’ll get 120 crowns a dollar when you buy 3000 crowns. Let’s compare this to the 1, 3 and 6 month subscription option (wait, the 6 month sub is back- i thought nobody bought those and that’s why they were removed?!?).

30-day

USD: $14.99 / Euro: 12,99€ / GBP: £8.99

Crowns: 1500

Crowns per Dollar: 100

90-day

USD: $13.99 / 30 days / Euro: 11,99€ / 30 days / GBP: £7.99 / 30 days

USD: 42$ / Euro: 36€ / GBP: 24

Crowns: 4500

Crowns per dollar: 107

180-day

USD: $12.99 / 30 days / Euro: 10,99€ / 30 days / GBP: £6.99 / 30 days

USD: 78$ / Euro: 66€ / GBP: 42

Crowns: 9000

Crowns per dollar: 115

Conclusion

As you can see, it’s not really that easy. Consider, as well, that with the ESO plus membership, you’ll only “rent” DLC- if you drop your sub, you won’t have access to DLC anymore. I don’t know if DLC will be purchaseable without using the ingame shop, but even if that was possible, it would be additional cost on top of the sub prize.

Actually, i think this is a pretty smart prizing strategy that’s also quite beneficial for the customers- if you are a “ESO only” player who loves to log in and play pretty much every day and care for the +10% benefit in experience, gold, crafting research and crafting inspiration gain, a subscription might be the way to go. I’d advise against subbing for longer periods for the crowns, though, because the discount is somewhat marginal when compared to buying crowns directly.

Of course, they kind of sweeten the deal by giving you your subscription crowns all at once in the beginning of your sub period. So if you sub up for 6 months, you’ll get 9000 crowns immediately.

If you’re more casual, i’d go with buying crowns, i think. Sure, you’ll take a little bit longer to level and gain gold (ESO is a game that’s quite frugal in giving you coin, at least in my experience), but it might not matter that much to a casual player.

In the end, it’s a matter of personal choice- do you care for the +10% bonuses the membership grants you? Would you like to own or rent the DLC?

For me, this is a great move- Elder Scrolls Online has some interesting concepts; i count not having global auction houses as one of them, although i think there should be another way of doing things than to join multiple guilds for trading. So being able to explore Tamriel on my own terms without paying a mandatory sub is a huge boon.

The store

I gave the store a quick look, and we know it will be expanded upon by selling xp potions and the like, but what i saw looked great- i might even buy a pet or something. It looks both “high-quality” and “fitting into the world”. There are no flying carpets or giant squirrels to ride on. There could be more choice in cosmetic gear, but i’m sure this will also come. The prizing is reasonable- about 700 crowns for a mount or a cosmetic armor.

In my opinion, if they don’t go overboard with the crown store, this business model is great for both the developers and the customers, because it provides options. Options are good.

On a side note: i wonder if b2p is the “new f2p” in terms of business model conversions. Granted, many MMOs just launch free-to-play now, but if this is a trend, i have to say i like it. Selling a box and later content (DLCs), while also maintaining an ingame store and a (truly) optional subscription service puts the dev under less pressure to “trick” or “force” their players into paying for something. It seems more honest and fair than pure f2p, while maintaining the advantage of not having to sub up to play for a night/a week.

Elder Scrolls b2p, take two

So Elder Scrolls Online will go buy-to-play come march. Yesterday i wrote that this is the business model the game should have launched with, so you can guess i’m in favor of this change. It’s not so much about the game, in fact, i think the negativity it gets, for instance in the comments over at Massively, is surprising and totally undeserved. Yes, features one is expecting in games nowadays are missing, but personally, i feel that this makes the game more interesting.

The game

No Dungeon Finder? Great! No global auction houses? Also great, although i’d still like to see easier ways for individual players to sell their stuff. Why not have local auction houses, at least? I like the class-building skill system- basically, you can make every class do what you want- some will do it better, some will do it worse, but a plate-armor-wearing, two-hander-wielding sorceror is entirely possible. Of course, if you want to min-max your character, you’d say that this-and-that isn’t possible/viable, but who cares about that, anyway?

Arriving in Vulkhel Guard...again
Arriving in Vulkhel Guard…again

In light of last month’s discussion about how to get players to socialize more, Elder Scrolls Online has it’s own take on the matter- there are merchant guilds, guilds can own a shop somewhere, somehow in the regions of Tamriel (haven’t looked into how they work yet) and you can join 5 guilds at a time. You have to talk to other people to get into a dungeon, knowing crafters helps, having a “crafter buddy” is also kind of recommended if you want to improve your crafting more quickly. So ESO has an opinion and at least tries to do something that makes the players communicate more and it blows in their face, since the public impression is that of “missing features” instead of “wow, finally a game where we get to know each others again”.

This goes as an example that players don’t necessarily want what they think they want. In an upcoming post about an old multigaming guild and the Repopulation, i’ll take a closer look at that. For now, let’s just say that when players say they want more of x, y, z, this is not entirely true, as Wildstar also proved.

Elder Scrolls Online is immersive, it has interesting writing/quests/areas, some unique mechanics and a lot of content, even if you wanted to treat it as a singleplayer experience. Come march, i think it is great value for money, and it really isn’t a bad game and/or MMORPG.

The business model

So they’ll sell mounts, pets, costumes and potions in their ingame cash shop in addition to DLCs and an optional subscription. The subscription comes with bonuses one would expect- a monthly stipend of cash shop currency and 10% more experience, inspiration, gold and analyzing crafting stuff and also provides access to all future DLCs (of course, if you cancel your sub you’ll lose this access).

It is a starter island, but at least it isn't instanced away- the tutorial is, however.
It is a starter island, but at least it isn’t instanced away- the tutorial is, however.

Interestingly, the DLCs will scale in level- you won’t have to be at the top to play the DLC. I like that very much, since i’m always way behind the curve (and if you scroll through this blog, you’ll know one reason for this to be the case) and i think it is a good move for them since more people will end up buying the DLCs or paying a sub to get access.

In my opinion, this is the way to go- on PC, but especially on consoles. If these DLC’s can even be played by mixed-level groups of players, even better. I think this is going to be good for the game- and also, housing DLC please!

Guess what

Yes, the announcement made me go back, which is a bummer for Wildstar, since i planned on going back to one of these games the moment they announce the business model change. I liked my experience with it good enough, although at the time i played it, it was still plagued by some issues (bots) and also i had even fewer time than i have now, so all i really did in the last days of my ESO subscription was inventory management. But for now, i think this games’ future looks good indeed.

In a surprising turn of events…

Elder Scrolls Online goes buy-to-play on march, 17th for PC users. It will be selling “optional DLC” as well as “convenience and customization items” in an ingame store while “Regular updates and new gameplay will be offered to all players to enjoy free of additional charges”. There’ll also be an optional subscription that grants ingame-bonuses, cash shop currency and access to all of the games’ DLC.

It sounds reasonable enough and it is a smart move, i think. This is the business model the game should have launched with- but then again, they got a lot of players paying subs for quite some time, so i guess it worked out for them.

Also great, ESO will be back on my radar soon. Read more on the official site.

Being a subscription game

Whenever a game announces a switch to a free-to-play or buy-to-play model, there’s talk about how the game design goals change from delivering a fun experience and good gameplay to adding grinds and developing stuff for the ingame cash shop. Often, the line of thinking is that a subscription game offers the best possible experience for the players to keep them playing, while a game with a cash shop only serves as a medium to get players to buy something from the shop.

I’ll have to disagree there. Subscription games have their own ways of making you pay- namely, timesinks. I write this after trying to get the story quests of Final Fantasy XIV up to par- so the proposed level of the story quest is the same as my adventuring level. I did this, neglecting all other quests with the exception of those which i know to offer gameplay mechanics (yesterday i learned how to dye my gear). I have to say, it is a tiresome affair- you travel a lot- going from the grand company you chose to the Scions’ headquarters there’s a lot of ping-ponging around. This is done to a degree that the last two playsessions i had were devoted to doing just that- and the proposed level of the story quest went from level 19 to 20 in this time.

Now, if i could ignore that quest line, everything would be fine. But i can’t- Final Fantasy XIV gates game mechanics with the help of the main story questline. For instance, your character doesn’t have a bank or access to the market until you clear the three introductory dungeons for the main story questline. Which is also forced grouping. As a father- i mentioned this in other posts- it is sometimes quite difficult to know when i’m able to dedicate a chunk of time – the dungeons don’t take long, but if you have to use the duty finder and play a damage dealing class you could wait some time to get a party going- so that these three dungeons pose an obstacle big enough so that i won’t consider rolling an alt anytime soon. Not that you have to, though, because one character can do it all.

Final Fantasy XIV isn’t the only offender, of course. World of Warcraft is also a very time-intensive game, in EVE skill gain is time gated and the coming Pathfinder Online also has this mechanic. In Elder Scrolls Online the inventory- on character and the available bank slots- is so limited that you spend a considerable amount of time managing your inventory, especially if you are like me and want to keep all the crafting stuff to level crafting disciplines later.

Maybe this is one reason sub games don’t work out that way anymore- if you have limited time- and we all know the MMORPG population to be aging (i think the average age is 37)- these timesinks and content gates, including forced grouping, are really some kind of quit wall. If i couldn’t manage to do these three introductory dungeons in FF14, limiting my access to bank and retainer/markets stops me from, for instance, crafting- because a bank inventory and access to the market help a lot with that, that would be a huge disadvantage for the game and i’d maybe consider whether keeping the sub up was worth it. Luckily, i’m with a free company who finished those dungeons with me.

On the other hand i know that Final Fantasy XIV has content to keep me happy and occupied for a long time- if the fun lasts as long. There are a few adventuring classes i’d like to play and come the expansion, the astrologist and the machinist also look very interesting and sooner or later i’ll want to level every crafting job. Add this to the fact that i’ll probably never really reach “endgame”, and i could play Final Fantasy XIV for quite a few years. But that’s another topic.

Subscription games time-gate content to get you to pay for another month, and another month. Free-to-play games try to get you to buy stuff from their cash shop. I’m not entirely convinced that f2p works in the long term- i don’t think there’s still more players playing Lotro or DDO, for instance, now than there were when they were subscription based, and both models surely have their downsides. But both- or all three, if you count buy-to-play- have to balance the opening-your-wallet-part with the game-being-fun-part. So while there might be a change in design philosophy, i think it’s a minor one.

As for my preferences, i don’t really care if a game is b2p, f2p or p2p. I like how i’m able to hop into a game for an evening to see if i like to play it some more / return to playing it for free in b2p/f2p models, but i’ll also pay 12€ to do that in sub games i know i’ll like to play for at least a few days. Wildstar and TESO, though, they won’t get a sub from me while they are still in p2p-mode. For p2p/subscription, i’d really like one studio to try and do this with ingame-time- i’d really love to buy, for instance, 100 hours in game for 15€ or something- they can still include the monthly subscription as a flat-fee-option (and maybe even raise the price point), but for me, paying by the hour would work out better.

Oh, and btw., i think studios profit from players subbing up for 6 months and maybe forgetting to cancel it in time or maybe not playing a lot, so i continue to think removing such an option is likely done to avoid doing refunds after a business model change.

2015 predictions – Elder Scrolls Online won’t go f2p

There’s a little bit of drama going on in the ESO community- Zenimax pulled the 6-month-sub-option and now only offers subs in 1- or 3- month intervals. Of course, the rumour mill is going on and there are suggestions that ESO will go f2p (possible, but unlikely) or shut down entirely (not going to happen). Zenimax stated that the 1 and 3-month options are more popular with players and therefore they removed the 6-month-option…..yeah, that’s right, i also call BS.

Look ahead

But it’s not going f2p, guys. I also believe there’s something coming up, i also believe it’s difficult to get a sub game sold to console players who already have to pay Sony/Microsoft to even be able to play online. But there’s something very few people suggested yet.

I think it’s going buy-to-play. ESO can possibly sell quite well on consoles, given that the ES games used to be hits on consoles, so why would ZOS reject that money? Console players are used to paying for their games once, so that’s not a barrier. They’ll just remove the one barrier there is- the sub.

Now i don’t know what they are going to sell- DLCs? Would be the least-intrusive style of cash shop, and i think they do care for immersion, since that’s a strong point in the single player games, as well. We’ll see, i guess….or not.

But anyway, that’s my guess: ESO’s going b2p with console launch and console launch will happen in the first half of 2015.