Tag: f2p

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.

(more…)

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.

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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: 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.

This week in /saved

Here are some articles published this week that i found worth a read.

This week, there are a lot of posts. Many of them cover the topic of Massively’s closure, but there were many other interesting posts, as well. So many, in fact, that i had to leave some out. I don’t even touch the subject of SOE becoming Daybreak, but that’s mostly because i didn’t read (but /saved some) posts concerning this topic and i…don’t have an opinion, yet.

General

J3w3l from Healing the Masses takes a dive into why and how permadeath mechanics influence her enjoyment of games.

While short, Belghast gives a quick view on Albion. I haven’t read anything about it that didn’t come from the official website, so i found it interesting to read, even if it’s just two paragraphs.

The discussions

There was one discussion going on about…..payment models! It’s great to see new topics coming up all the time, isn’t it? But i found this one to be quite interesting.

Payment models

I don’t really know who started this round; the first post that i noticed and /saved was from the lovely Free-to-play Fuckery series from J3w3l, in this case concerning Trion and lockboxes. It wasn’t all said and done on her site, though, as Murf continued the series on her blog with The mobile Menace. In the meantime, Tobold also had his say, beginning with a post about how “it’s your fault” that games close when you don’t spend money and goes on to say that Grind2win isn’t particularly better than pay2win. He then continues and picks up on J3w3ls lovingly titled series by arguing that f2p games, in his opinion, aren’t subsidized by people who have no money, but spend it anyway but instead by people who do have enough money to burn. Which, brought up another post by J3w3l in response, arguing, well, that it aren’t really the highly educated wealthy people funding f2p.

All in all, very entertaining, especially J3w3l’s rants. But others chimed in, as well. I can’t say who posted her’s first (i think both are female, pls. correct me if i’m wrong), but i’m with Syl on this topic– i don’t care, just make a good game and i’m fine (although i won’t spend money for lockboxes). I’ll have to close this chapter with Liore‘s short post, however. Very concise!

Time vs. Money

Off of this discussion, something branched out- the topic being whether it’s fair to value time spent higher than money spent (or vice versa) in MMORPGs. Azuriel was first, declaring time as a fair measure for progression since everybody gets 24 hours a day. Syl, again, makes the point that, first, addiction is a bad thing, whether you spend way too much time or money on something- and it isn’t depending on payment models.

To put down my own opinion, and be quick about it, i’ll say that there is no fair payment model and neither a fair progression model. That’s coming from someone who doesn’t have the time to play as much as most others, even if i’m concentrating on one MMO. I’ve seen people burn through an MMOs content in two weeks, barely sleeping. They bought the box, played 200 hours and were done with the game. In the meantime i bought the box and 3 months of sub, played maybe 150 hours in that time, but spent twice the amount of money.

Replacing Massively

Scree thought about the possibility of bloggers taking the spot of Massively– in my reply i tried to think about that, as well, and concluded it wouldn’t be easy. Aywren wrote a better post on the subject, with clearer implications on why it might not work. And then there was Liore, asking an important question- even if we were able, would we want to do it?

Massively’s shutdown

Of course, there were many posts about Massively shutting down. Some of them were mentioned in the last post on Massively, but really, this post went on longer than i thought and Wilhelm Arcturus has an excellent overview of blogs covering the topic.

Lord of the rings Online – producer’s letter 2015

So Lotro has a producer’s letter sharing their plans for the first half of this year. I really don’t have much more to say about that than Wilhelm Arcturus and Roger Edwards already shared and would add my voice in saying that this producer’s letter seems, well, uninspired and not promising. It’s not exactly what it announces, which seem to be changes one would expect to happen to that game. Bug fixes, easier server transfers/closure of low-population servers, legendary items going to 100 and stuff like that seem to be logical additions to the game, and the same goes for growing the world Lotro takes place in and the addition of more small group content.

The surprising elements, for me, are the possibility of adding a new PvMP map and the “episodic content” stuff. I don’t know if there really is a big PvMP population in Lotro- i know there are some people who really care, but i was always under the impression that the PvP in Lotro is not exactly its strong point.

The episodic content seems interesting enough that i’d almost liked to see it. Story is one of Lotro’s strong parts, i think, and the world is another one. But still, there’s that huge dwarven cave in my way- i really can’t see myself playing my minstrel through Moria- maybe another, more solo-friendly class with a much lower time-to-kill, but i guess we’ll never know.

Or will we? I don’t know, but the producer’s letter really leaves me with these impressions:

  • earnings don’t seem to go that well (or they’d sell/plan an expansion like they did in 2013)
  • it’s the second year (maybe) coming without an expansion- but while last year’s updates were quite huge the “vision” for the first half of 2015 seems to be….humble
  • i get the feeling we are hurrying towards Mordor now

All in all, i don’t think Lotro will be with us much longer. I’m not saying it’s closing down, mind you, but to me, that letter doesn’t sound too confident. DDO’s producer’s letter seems more ambitious in comparison, so i don’t think this is a Turbine-was-hit-with-massive-layoffs-thing, but specific to Lotro.

So i guess i’ll close like the other two: if you like the game, live in the moment and play the game now.

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.

FF XIV ARR early access anticipation rambling

Clash of business models

This week was all about payment models- again. There have been numerous blog postings regarding that topic as well as discussions in the corresponding news articles of Wildstar’s and The Elder Scrolls‘ announcements of going with a sub at launch.

To highlight a few:

These three entries actually represent very well what i’m thinking about this topic- i mean, first of all- i’m wondering why we are still discussing this topic with such a temper. It should have been proven by now that it’s not one of these models that is “right” or “wrong”, this comes down to one simple thing- is a game worth the monetary investment it asks for or not? And how much time do i want to invest in the title?

If there is one title that i’d play exclusively, without feeling like missing out on the fun of all the other MMORPGs- and each one of them has its strengths and weaknesses, i’d have no problem paying for a subscription. Now, when i play 5 different MMORPGs, i won’t pay a sub in each of them. I don’t think we- as customers- should take a stand for one business model over the other, we should make a point by paying for games we like. Take the Repopulation, for example. It’s a title i could see me paying a sub for judging by all that i know about it- but it’s a f2p game. Should i not play it now, although it seems to be an incredibly deep experience, because i don’t believe f2p and Sandboxes mix too well? Should i just assume it’s going to inhabit some bad business like lockboxes or “pay-to-win” items? I don’t think so.

On the other hand- should i not buy TESO or Wildstar just because they’re pay-to-play? If i thought they’d be longterm candidates, i should buy them- but there’s something else to take into account with these two: how confident am i that they’ll stick to subscriptions? For me, i’d say: not confident at all- we already know TESO will have an ingame-shop on top of the subscription- which rises another question: one strong advantage of subscription games, usually mentioned by proponents of this model is that you don’t have a cash shop intruding into your game experience. When they have one, this advantage is gone. Of course, the pay-to-play faction now says something the free-to-play-faction used to say when they were in the minority: the badness of the ingame shop depends on the items sold. No it doesn’t. Sure, when there are only account services in there, that would be fine. But these things get handled by customer support traditionally. Setting up an entire system (ingame shop) for these doesn’t make sense- so there’ll either be some different items in there, as well, or this is Step 1 of going something-to-play later on.

From a business standpoint, i can understand the decision of Carbine and Zenimax, but from a player’s perspective starting p2p and going f2p/b2p after a year is not fair play. It would be different if they just lowered the box price and give the client out for free after a year while still charging the sub.

I’m still waiting for a business model that lets players pay less when they play less.

Regarding quality being the “cure”, i’ll say this: if you are the kind of player missing the deeper and more longterm-oriented games from the early generation- like UO or EQ, for example, i’d agree- if/when a game wants to be “deep” and cater to a loyal customer base, pay-to-play would be the way to go. If you want to dabble in many MMORPGs at the same time, there’s no “cure” for b2p/f2p, as these models themselves are the “cure” for subscriptions. This is not a question of quality, but about design philosophy and targetted audience. No one could sensibly argue that GW2 is not a quality game- it is, it’s just not what i’d consider a MMORPG- and even if pressed, i couldn’t answer why that is. It is a quality game by all standards. 

 Anyhow, enough of that.

Preparing for FF14 ARR

Regarding Final Fantasy XIV ARR i get more excited with each passing day. Although i learned that somehow i wouldn’t have had to purchase the new version, because i bought FF14 1.0 – it’s really no big deal, i paid about 8€ for that one, but still. I’m hoping to be able to gain more included game time- as i learned from neoGAF (via asianinaction, thanks very much), somehow i could be eligible for quite some sub-free time. 30 Days included in the client, free play until September 9th for owning 1.0 (if they know i own it- somehow Square Enix’s account management system doesn’t make much sense to me), 30 days for registering ARR…maybe. Well, if it comes with only 30 days, i might try to get some more, but i wouldn’t be terribly mad, since i guess it’s my own fault.

So, i’m making plans. It seems to me, after reading some guides for the Paladin, White Mage and Scholar on ffxivguild.com that i’ll be going for Scholar first- which means i’ll set my first ingame goals as follows:

  • continue to play my Conjurer until i finished the level 15 Story Quest and gain access to airships
  • Level up my Botanic skill to 15, as well
  • travel to Ul’dah to start with Weaver crafting
  • travel to Limsa Lominsa to begin levelling Arcanist

As for my choice of starting with Scholar as second-tier job; i don’t like to be the main-something in groups. Tanking is not for me in every case, healing is fine and i tend to not totally suck at it, but it still comes with responsibility that i don’t really want. When something doesn’t work out good i’ll have feelings of guilt that don’t really mix well with enjoyment of MMORPGs in general and group content in particular.

But i think others feel quite the same way, and that’s the reason why i enjoy being the back-up plan very much. From what i read, the Paladin is going to be some kind of Tank, while the White Mage is a good Tank Healer. So, with the Scholar being good in group heals, i’m going to start with that.

Of course, my level of anxiety lowers significantly when i’m in a Dungeon with guildmates, but i’ll be entering FF14 solo. I hope to find a good guild (linkshell and/or free company) with time, though.

Regarding servers, i chose Balmung. It’s a northamerican legacy server which has been selected as unofficial RP server earlier. I read a lot of good stuff about the community and somehow i expect to find the FF14 equivalent to Lotro’s Landroval. I just hope there are other europeans over there, as well.

So, tomorrow is the big day. The early access begins at 2 a.m. PDT (which is 11 am Berlin time) and i’ll be ingame as soon as i can. To all those who are waiting for early access / release as well: have fun in the game!

Is the subscription coming back?

The sub is dead

This is what we keep hearing for quite some time by now. MMORPGs released with a subscription but went free-to-play faster with every year- when we look at the games that made the transition, we have

  • City of heroes (88 months as a sub game, 13 months as free-to-play)
    • Release: April 2004
    • F2P: September 2011
    • Closure: November 2012
  • Everquest 2 (68/84 months as a sub game)
    • Release: November 2004
    • F2P: July 2010 (EQ2X), November 2011 (free-to-play)
  • Dungeons & Dragons Online (42 months as a sub game)
    • Release: February 2006
    • F2P: September 2009
  • Vanguard (67 months as a sub game)
    • Release: January 2007
    • F2P: August 2012
  • Lord of the Rings Online (40 months as a sub game)
    • Release: April 2007
    • F2P: September 2010
  • Age of Conan (37 months as a sub game)
    • Release: May 2008
    • F2P: June 2011
  • Champions Online (15 months as a sub game)
    • Release: September 2009
    • F2P: January 2011
  • Aion (16/18 months as a sub game)
    • Release: September 2009
    • F2P: February 2011 (Europe), April 2011 (North America)
  • Star Trek Online (23 months as a sub game)
    • Release: February 2010
    • F2P: January 2012
  • Rift (27 months as a sub game)
    • Release: March 2011
    • F2P: June 2013
  • Star Wars: the old republic (11 months as a sub game)
    • Release: December 2011
    • F2P: November 2012
  • The Secret World (5 months as a sub game)
    • Release: July 2012
    • B2P: December 2012

The trend is obvious. But we should not forget that this is incomplete data- these are only the games that transitioned from pay-to-play to free-to-play or buy-to-play. There’s no EVE, Final Fantasy XI, FF XIV 1.0, World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online etc. And furthermore, these are only the games i consider- one could add games like APB, Hellgate and Fallen Earth, as well.

Still, it looks like subscription games transition to free- or buy-to-play quickly these days. When you consider ArcheAge – released in January 2013, free-to-play in July 2013 in Korea, there’s another game that didn’t even make 6 months as a subscription game.

Players being cautious of buying subscription games in my opinion is about as much a result of this as it is the unwillingness to pay a sub. If you bought TSW on release and subscribed those 5 months until it went buy-to-play, you spent 125€ (167$) up to that point- and then it went buy-to-play for 30€ (40$). When you did the same in SWTOR, you’d have paid about 190€ (250$) until it went free-to-play, although with SWTOR, the free-to-play option is so bad that a subscription is basically still the best way to play if you do so regularly.

So when you hear “i’ll wait for f2p”, that’s really just a result of past experience, because players don’t question if a game goes free-to-play anymore, they ask themselves when it’s going to happen. And whether it’s more viable just to wait for it to happen. I think it’s unfair to judge these players- maybe they feel betrayed with one of the last transitions.

Now, while i don’t feel betrayed- i made a choice, fully aware about the risk, my own gaming habits and so on- but i spent 250€ (335$ or was it 300€/402$?) on The Secret World- i bought the game and a Grand Master Pack. I do think Funcom made it still worth somehow, but the main reason for me buying the Grand Master Pack was so that i’ll have access to a sub-based game when i wanted to have access- instead of asking myself whether it’s worth to spend 15$ when i’d like to play TSW one evening/weekend. But the access is not restricted anymore, so….yeah.

Long live the sub

I’d really like to see the sub return- for one, i think it’s very good if players really have a choice- devs and “media” alike spin the free-to-play-phase of online gaming as being full of options, but in reality, when i don’t want to see an ingame store in my themepark MMO i’m out of options- except for Warhammer Online. Soon we’ll be able to add FF14 ARR to that list, and considering that the main market for this game is in Japan and free-to-play is not really big there, we can assume FF14 is going to stay sub based.

Then there’ll come Wildstar and TESO (probably), maybe ArcheAge. And it could work- it could even work well, if the devs and publishers finally stopped chasing World of Warcraft. When the devs stop pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the development of one game and stop expecting and/or trying to get millions of subscribers. When they know there’ll be a dip in player population and aren’t afraid to go and build up from there. And when they stick to their business model. Nobody’s waiting for EVE to go free-to-play, and that’s because it’s not likely to happen.

The rise and fall of free-to-play

It’s been predicted elsewhere, the impending doom for this payment model- and i tend to agree somehow. Going free-to-play used to be some kind of second chance and the numbers reported from the games that underwent the transition early after going f2p are always quite high- they double the subscriptions, quadruple the logins, triple revenue. But after some time, there’s always silence. I don’t think this is because the games are losing money 6 months after the transition, i think it might be because the numbers are getting more complicated- maybe the player counts are the same as before the transition, but the average of money spent in game has gone up. Or maybe it’s because player numbers and revenue went down compared to when the game in question was a sub game.

It’s odd, i can remember Daglar (from Rift) being in a podcast shortly after Rift went f2p. He said the numbers are way higher than they expected but he didn’t want to share those because the marketing departement was preparing an announcement regarding numbers and he didn’t want to spoil it. Funny enough, we still didn’t hear those numbers, the news of yesterday coming closest- and this is literally one sentence, without numbers.

I think we’ll see that free-to-play is not the saviour of MMORPGs in this or the coming year, when closures will begin to happen. Free-to-play used to be an USP, but now that everyone is f2p, it’s not anymore. One could argue that p2p is becoming a new USP, but those who use it that way should be aware that this is a pro-argument only for a minority nowadays.

Time to play

Funny enough, i think players like me are the problem here- and that’s one reason why i’d like to change my behaviour- when you look at the daily grind from massively where they asked how much time people spend daily on MMORPGs, i was surprised to see that many answered along the lines of “not as much as i used to” and “about 1-3 hours a day”. In the announcement article of Wildstars business model (many comments there), some commentors expressed their dislike for the sub model by saying that they played too many games to justify a sub for one game.

Combine these two statements- less total time spent in more games- and there’s the answer for MMORPG design these days. It’s not the devs, it’s us. Now, if we are happy with that, there’s no need to change anything. If we’d like to see the design philosophy of MMORPGs shift again, and many of us are looking for that one game that grabs their attention for years, we need to make a conscious decision that we want that kind of game- and stop worrying for the others.

We shouldn’t complain if MMORPGs are getting shallower with time, are experienced quicker, stop adding “meaningful” content (whatever this is to you) when we hop around in games like bunnies- when we make schedules regarding what game to play on what weekday. Of course developers will adapt to our behaviour, and some will even put it to good use, just like Arenanet does with Guild Wars 2. With their biweekly-living-story update, their game is in the news all the timePlayers like me read those news and begin thinking that they’ll miss something when they don’t log in and get the impression that there’s something going on all the time. GW2 has a good chance to get those casuals to log in at least on a biweekly basis. And the game’s perfect for that, there’s no sub fee, there’s only one toolbar and almost no text in the game. There’s no need to “catch up” to what you were doing last time, you can just go ahead.

I think, this shift in design might have opened up a niche: the game for players that only want to play one game- if the game in question can be that, the players won’t have any problem paying for a subscription again. And sub games have one advantage: nowadays it’s really refreshing to enter a game where you can unlock bank space without seeing any sign of being able to do so with a real money investment.

Conclusion

The subscription could be coming back- when the game in question is designed in a way to encourage a dedicated, longterm stay and the developer is aware that many will buy their game, some will try and “defeat” the game in 30 days, some will sub for one or three months after the initial 30 days of game time, many subs will be lost after 6 months and they are willing to build up from there instead of the number of sales and if they target their market well and stick to their design philosophy, there’s a good chance the subscription system can work.

And, i think it would help a sub game greatly if they remove the upfront cost of buying the game. EVE is 20€ when you start playing- that’s 5€ for the client/account and 15€ for a one-month sub. I think this is a good way to go- charge a sub, but give the client out for (almost) nothing.

If Wildstar or TESO will mark the return of the sub into MMORP gaming remains to be seen, though.