Tag: subscription

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.

Got my chocobo!

So i finally got my chicken to ride on. As said, it involved a few days/sessions of questing, gathering and crafting, which is ok, i guess, since i gained a few levels in everything. I’ve made it a policy that when i need, say, 10 items of something, i’ll go and collect 1 stack (99) +10 of it. This way, i’m levelling up continuously. Today i got my Botanist up to level 20, which is now quite close to the level of my highest adventuring class.

And here’s what i have got as reward.

My Chocobo
My Chocobo

Well, at least i’m lucky enough to already have spent lots of money for FF14 despite being utterly low-level, so i also have the Behemoth to mount.

My Behemoth
My Behemoth

Now that’s something totally different, isn’t it? Honestly, i don’t like either one of them. One is too cute, the other too badass, but i do like how comfortable my character looks on the Behemoth, so i guess i’ll go with that for now. One thing FF14 does really right: your character just looks great in almost every position and occasion.

Talking about looks

I also finished the barber questline, which took simply travelling to the capitals and talking to some of the crafter guild leaders. Once you unlock the barber, you can summon him by using your bell in your inn room.

Deidra before
Deidra before

This way, you’ll be able to gain access to new hairstyles and -colors which have been added to the portfolio or made usable by all races. I did a quick do-over and when i was ready, Deidra looked like this.

Deidra after
Deidra after

Going on

See, there was something i totally forgot: there are the hunting logs, as well. Hunting logs, to simplify, are lists of different kind of mobs you’ll have to go and fight (it’s not the same as the hunting jobs where you hunt named mobs). They exist for every adventuring class and do give considerable XP.

Also, as i mentioned, i hit level 20 with my Botanist, so there’ll be a new class quest waiting for me in Old Gridania.

Right now, my to-do list in FFXIV looks like this:

  • get and finish the Botanist class quest
  • continue the main storyline until it reaches the same level as my Arcanist is (yeah, still not there)
  • level up the Weaver, so that i can craft stuff that’s level-appropriate for the Arcanist
  • craft some gathering and crafting equipment- i feel my Botanist is underequipped at the moment
  • gain access to Halatali, which is a dungeon, and i learned that you’ll have to do a quest to gain access
  • finish the hunting log for the Arcanist
  • see what other classes have open/available class quest
  • get the quest for putting magic stuff into items (needs level 19 crafting profession)

…and that’s just to continue to “play the game”, it isn’t actually doing something, it’s getting the stars lined up so i can continue to play the game. This game is crazy, but i like it. In fact, the longer i play, the more i like it and the more i want to be somewhat “finished”, as in max-level in one profession and finished with the storyline. I like to play the game somewhat “focussed”, but it just offers such a breadth of activities, already in this early game, that i get distracted and try to progress in many areas at once.

There is so much endgame in sight for me it’s dazzling: crafting, gathering, playing the market, adventuring, getting other classes levelled, exploring dungeons and so on. I really feel “behind the curve” on this one- and it’s not only the level, but it’s also that i can’t seem to even grasp everything that’s in there- in that veign, it is quite similar to Everquest 2 (even more than it resembles WoW, i think).