Tag: business models

Dual Wielding: let’s talk business models

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.

Now this is a topic you probably haven’t heard of in a while: business models. Is free-to-play a bad thing to happen to MMORPGs? Should they all be subs? What about buy-to-play? What is a fair business model? Let’s take a look at that, shall we?

The curious case of Wildstar

No surprise there

Since Wildstar’s announcement that the game will go free-to-play, there seems to be a discussion going on- you know, like every time an MMORPG makes the transition. And it still is viewed as a failure of the game in question. Before i get to my opinion, i want to express something first: a transition to free-to-play is in the plans of every newly released Triple-A MMORPG. The “suits” already know that their game will change business models, i’m pretty sure about that. Maybe the devs don’t know, but those responsible for giving the green light to a shift do. Since the Turbine leaks we also know that subscriber numbers are being kept somewhat secret even within the companies.

If we continue to be “surprised”, think that there are ways to avoid that transition or think of an MMO as “failed”, because it switches its business model, i think we’re playing those people into their cards who have no real interest in the games. We “punish” the devs by saying something along those lines- and you know what? The devs are the ones who are enthusiastic about what they do. So i think we should stop pretending that “we knew from the beginning” or “why haven’t they launched the game as b2p/f2p to begin with?”. The answer to the latter is: because it makes them more money faster.

What went wrong?

However, i do agree that the switch wasn’t expected to come quite so fast- we know Wildstar isn’t doing well because of the NC quarterly reports. I think the reason might be something else than the obvious. Of course, i’m dangerously close to extrapolate my experience/opinion on others, but for me, the main reason i didn’t like to play Wildstar is that i couldn’t relax while playing it. The housing spot might make a difference, but out in the wilds, mob count was too high, spawn time too quick and the game was constantly shouting things to do at me. All of this won’t change when Wildstar goes f2p, but the difference is that i can just log in without financial commitment when i feel like playing.

It’s not about “playing for free”, it is about “logging in for free”.

Business models

Let me begin by describing my personal situation: i’m a husband, father and i have a job. I also have the desire to do something else in my free time than playing an MMORPG. This leads to a wide range of play time during any given month. Sometimes, there are months when i play 20 hours- in another month, i might come close to 70. That’s about the range we’re talking about here. I’d be fine to pay a monthly sub in either case, if i were happy with one game only. Alas, i’m not. I play different games at different times, even if i expressed my will to stop doing that several times on this blog already. There’s no ideal game and there are almost no (commonly known) MMORPGs that i really dislike.

The subscription

Many pro-subscription arguments revolve around the fact that it is a “fair” business model and the only one that guarantees content updates. I think it is neither.

When a new subscription game releases, there will be the launch hype crowd- the servers will be full, everybody’s rushing in to get started and everybody is excited. I’ve seen people plan their holidays around game releases – they’ll play 2 weeks straight, finish all the available content, cancel their subscription and wait for new content to arrive. They paid 50 bucks to see everything. Meanwhile, i need a lot of real time. The only case i can make really fair comparisons is when Rift released. I played this game exclusively for three months. I needed 3 months to reach the max level. I paid about 90€, to see the same content all those who cancelled earlier saw for 50. Now tell me this is fair.

When you buy a book, the author gives you all the time you need to complete it- you don’t pay him 0.50$ a day to have his or her permission to read it if you’d like.

As for content – well, there are three subscription MMORPGs i know of: World of Warcraft, EVE Online and Final Fantasy XIV. EVE and FF14 do provide a steady flow of content- WoW doesn’t, and it is even charging extra for expansions, mounts and whatnot. On the other hand, f2p MMORPGs also evolve- SWTOR added many systems to the game since going f2p. The Secret World expands, as well. Maybe it is slower, but the company isn’t asking for any money in the meantime.

And don’t get me started on the deadly EX’es – PLEX, REX, APEX, CREDD, whatever they’re called- they are a way to monetize newbies in favour of loyal players- you could view this as a just reward for the veterans, but i see it as the squeezing of newbies.

Free-to-play

Free-to-play isn’t quite fair, either. Usually, in this system, you’ll need to pay more if you are more deeply involved. That isn’t so good, either. Usually, there will be some kind of mechanic that involves the cash shop, some kind of convenience veterans find useful.

Also, it’s exploitive- by using lockboxes, for instance, allowing people to spend hundreds of dollars on virtual goods.

Buy-to-play

Let’s come to the fairer models of buy-to-play. Sure, usually, there’s also a cash shop involved, but basically, these games sell content. Everybody pays the same for the same content- discounts aside. Ideally, these games would sell content only, but of course they rarely do. I still find TSW’s business model to be the best around, followed by ESO and Guild Wars 2.

See, content really should be what studios charge for- of course, this wouldn’t be the most profitable route for them, but it would be the fair business model for us, the customers. There may be some concerns regarding the separation of the community, though, but as far as i know, that’s not really a concern for The Secret World and Guild Wars 2.

The minute sub

Another way of making everybody pay the same would be to charge by the minute- or, more general, ingame time. They could even charge a “monthly” sub (30 days ingame) and charge that time everytime i log in. So i’d have 30 days, and when i log in, no matter if it is for 5 minutes or 5 hours, i’ll have 29 days left when i log out.

Conclusion

In the end, i’m fine with all the business models out there. One might be better suited to me than the other, but if a game is good, i’ll pay a subscription, as well. But then again, i have to say that i overspent only in subscription games- by paying for subs i didn’t need in the end, for instance. The other options allow me to spend some money on my time- and they also allow me to log in everytime i like to, without charging a subscription. So in the end, it is more likely that i play a f2p or b2p game.

Funcom – the new good guys?

I don’t know about you, but for me, i’ll always support the “good guys” in the genre. Last year, i thought SOE might shape up to be the new good guy on the block, but since SOE went Daybreak, the news we got were more in line with what happened to Trion after Scott Hartsman returned to the company as CEO. Remember Trion? They are the company behind Rift, and they were- i think- the most popular developer of MMOs up until Rift went free-to-play, although Defiance had put a stain on their white vest already. When it was announced that Trion would be publishing ArcheAge, it was met with great positivity.

Nowadays, Trion isn’t so popular anymore. And even pressed hard, i don’t think i could come up with any studio that’s regarded in a similar way. City state entertainment (Camelot Unchained) seems to be quite popular, but in reality, this is easy for people who haven’t released a game yet.

If we’re looking for a good guy in MMORPG development space, for me, there’d need to be some qualities i’d like to see:

  • quite open communication
  • an honest, straight-forward business model in their game(s)
  • a noticeable will to do what’s best for their games and players
  • not outright abandoning any games that don’t perform so well

With all that in mind, my current favourite would be Funcom. Yes, they messed up launches in the past- Age of Conan and Anarchy Online are famous for that. And maybe there were “misunderstandings” when you played through Tortage and realized that the game was quite different later on. Also, they seem to be unable to create a compelling crafting system/economy. But i have the feeling, they’re doing the best they can.

Doing what’s best for their games and players

We know their financials aren’t looking too good, and it seems The Secret World is carrying the weight of the other games in Funcoms portfolio- so it is understandable that their main focus in development would be in TSW. But they haven’t forgotten Age of Conan. New content has been released, the achievement system, while not content in a strict sense, is a system where you can play around even if you are a dedicated long-time veteran of the game.

Still don't like Tortage, though
Still don’t like Tortage, though

With the focus of the guild project turning to AoC, i also found that the atmosphere in AoC is interesting, very unique (i thought about another MMORPG with that kind of mood, but i don’t know any) and very well done. Funcom were able to deliver on that even before TSW.

Also, their games feel different. The Secret World moreso than Age of Conan, but to call any of them a “WoW clone” would be quite wrong. You won’t find a game similar to TSW (yet), with the huge focus on story, a brave attempt at cutting down on quest log entries which in effect makes quests more noticeable and important as well as easier to follow and pick up again after some absence.

For instance, in TSW i relogged into my character in the Blue Mountains and it was an easy return- she only had one quest open (two if you count the main story quest) and only one hotbar with abilities- getting reacquainted was an easy task. I also found out how their EPE update made life better- the current quest took me to fight Ah’kabs…lots of them. See, i’m pretty sure they were the reason why i logged out the last time i tried to play TSW and haven’t really returned since. This time, they were still annoying, still not easy to fight mobs, especially when you pull more than one of them, but fighting them was enjoyable.

So they also do what’s in the best interest of their games and players- i’m including the current sales which seem to have brought a lot of new players to the game. In game, it almost feels like a relaunch similar to what happens after a business model change.

Business models in Funcom games

I find The Secret World and Age of Conan to be honest in their business models, as well. They are different- TSW is buy-to-play, Age of Conan basically is free-to-play for levelling and a subscription game at level cap. Both heavily rely on dedicated players to pay the bills which is a nice change to all those PLEX/REX/CREDD/WoW token games that monetize new players. With TSW’s sales, you can get all the currently available content (with the exception of the side-stories, maybe) for 50$.

In the laundry
In the laundry

 

In Age of Conan, i looked for a reason to subscribe, but there’s really no reason to if you aren’t at level cap. My main reason for looking is the ability to unlock a character with a level above 20, so i could create a guild for the guild project- the perks i’d have for subscribing would be menial, though. A little Alternate Advancement that only really starts at level-cap, anyway, more bag space and…that’s it, i think. Well, some Funcom points.

I can’t talk about Anarchy Online because i don’t know the game and business model, but these two, i find to be quite easy to understand, fair to the players and sensible in what they do.

Yes, it seems there is a little bit of complaining around as somehow deals for new players to join are seen as “screwing” their loyal customer base. I don’t agree- games always go into discount some time after release and, especially in MMOs, free-to-play, item shops and digital sales have stabilized prizes somewhat. I mean, Elder Scrolls Online, for instance, was sold for 20$ in january, when they announced the change to buy-to-play. Nowadays, it’s 60$ again, and still one of the best-selling games on Steam and Amazon.

Open communication

I don’t really know how it is nowadays, after Joel Bylos went to his new project, but when he was around, he communicated very open and honest in the official game forums.

So, for now, i declare Funcom my current favourite developer. I feel like they’re doing their best within their financial abilities, they treat their customers like adults and they aren’t afraid to try new things in their games or change their games in ways that ultimately benefit all their customers.