Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Throwing in the Towel on F2P

With the news that WoW is looking at an expanded cash shop, I guess that's the last nail in the coffin for those of us who prefer pure subscription games.

I'm not too happy about this, but I'm resigned to it. I don't really see that it produces better games. If anything it just seems like a low-grade annoyance, making the game slightly worse.

Take yesterday's "event" in The Old Republic. It was the 10th anniversary of the release of Knights of the Old Republic. To celebrate, for 24 hours TOR allowed you purchase a title, "Revan's Heir", for the low, low price of 10 cartel coins.

10 cartel coins is very cheap, it's pretty much nothing. But it was so cheap that you have to ask yourself, why even bother selling it? If this had been a sub game, everybody logging in would have gotten the title.

It was to get people to use the cartel store. Like a drug dealer, the first hit is (almost) free. But now that people have used the cartel market, maybe they'll buy more stuff.

It's just so corrosive. Yesterday should have been a celebration. Instead, the entire thought process is "How can we monetize this?"

In the end, though, I blame gamers. Penny-wise, pound-foolish. It doesn't matter how bad our games get, so long as someone else pays for them. We'll just complain about it on the forums.

12 comments:

Kring said...

> It doesn't matter how bad our games get, so long as someone else pays for them.

This is not completely correct. In the case of WoW you have to blame the player that pay a monthly sub and in addition to that pay mounts and pets in the store or buy TCG cards or buy the live stream to get a murloc pet.

The problem is not that we don't care as long as someone else pays. The problem is that enough player showed that they want to pay a premium on top of the subscription.

F2P doesn't succeed because someone else pays. F2P succeeds because we want to pay.

Green Armadillo said...

I'm not convinced that getting other people to pay for the cost of games is the primary driver of non-subscription revenue models.

To turn Kring's comment around, there is no mechanism for the player who would rather not see the KOTOR title in the cash store to vote against having it there. Either you do nothing and then you're outvoted by the people who bought it by a score of 0 to 10 CC, or you quit the game in protest and then also cease to be a customer with a voice.

That aside, the fundamental flaw of the subscription fee is that it does not work in an era where there is real competition between multiple similar (arguably too similar) products. As long as people who want to grind mobs are playing Everquest and people who want to PVP are playing DAOC and people who want to solo are playing WoW, all of them are going to pay the monthly fee because none of them have anywhere else meaningful to go. Now that there are so many similar titles to choose from, continuing to pay a subscription to remain with the least fun, most grindy dregs of the content is always going to be less attractive than going to a whole new game.

The subscription ceases to work for financing MMO development if people aren't locked in for years at a time. Non-subscription models are indeed the obvious response - if people won't stick around forever then you have to move away from a flat monthly rate towards something that recoups your costs during the shorter time you have them around. The forum complaints you are seeing come from a new, large and highly vocal demographic who never would have paid at all, and from people (like myself) who aren't thrilled if you market your game as a non-subscription title but do everything you can to hobble non-subscription players. But really it's the existence of choice for the core MMO player that has killed the old financing model.

RJ said...

I'm not too happy about this, but I'm resigned to it. I don't really see that it produces better games. If anything it just seems like a low-grade annoyance, making the game slightly worse.

If it doesn't produce "better" games, it still produces games. And if you enjoy the game, it's certainly better then it being nothing at all.

I've always agreed with Cryptic's justification for the cash shop, even when it had a subscription; the team was very small, and even with subscriptions the budget wasn't all that large either. If they wanted to justify producing certain ships before they needed them for a story, they had to get an alternate revenue stream for them, in order to get the budget for that project.

On the other side of the coin, I really don't think that LotRO, as great of a game it is, could have managed to run for as long as it has with just a subscription. Even beyond it being just another fantasy MMO (something that the market is utterly flooded with), it was also based on a fairly niche property. Certainly it has a dedicated fanbase, but I don't think it would have been enough to support it just on subscriptions.

I just don't personally consider a cash shop to be inherently bad, or inherently drawing away from my subscription. It's what the offerings are that matter, not the existence of the shop at all. Selling XP boosters doesn't detract from my subscription because modern MMOs only have leveling as a matter of course; the real game is once you stop earning XP. Selling cosmetic gear doesn't detract from my subscription because it's simply a matter of looks, and it allows the gear artists to remain productive between content drives. Selling extra character or THING slots doesn't detract from my subscription because for the most part increasing these things involves one-time costs that are hard to project for, so why not have the burden born by those who actually want to have the added storage? Meanwhile, selling performance boosters or equipment does detract from my subscription, because these things either are things I would be getting from playing the game, or I can't and thus am "forced" to get them from the store in order to be competitive.

Game development is incredibly expensive these days, especially for new entrants, and yet people are paying ever smaller amounts for them, be it new boxes or subscriptions. With such a disconnect between costs and income, it's no wonder that developers are looking for alternate revenue streams.


I should also just mention this, but YoshiP has been pretty insistent about FF14: A Realm Reborn being just subs, because it's consistent income vice the fluctuating income that one would be willing to expect F2P to generate. Especially Western-style F2P titles, and their general hard caps on what players can purchase. And ARR is actually really good, unlike the 1.0 release, so I would recommend checking it out if you're pining for a "pure subscription" game. It's just unfortunate that it's yet another fantasy MMO.

Syl said...

"But really it's the existence of choice for the core MMO player that has killed the old financing model."

This.
payment models follow gaming culture / evolving playstyles. if we want to know why more and more games are going F2P or fail with exclusive sub-models, we must look at today's "grazing culture" and the fact that there's just way too many actually pretty good MMOs out therefor people to choose from. subs don't work in this competitive environment, especially since most people aren't willing to pay several at a time. you're almost forced to play more than one MMO these days if you want to stay in the loop and understand what your peers are talking about....

Balkoth said...

Exactly how is this addition to Wow functionally different to what was ALREADY being sold for real money in WoW?

http://balkothsword.blogspot.com/2013/07/enough-with-wow-p2w-hysteria.html

Until they start selling extra Elder Charms or Valor above the 1000 cap or something, it's still not P2W whatsoever - you can save a minor amount of time but there is no competitive advantage.

Nicholas Hooper said...

But what if my fun is transmog, now they have locked some very nice pieces behind a high pay wall......

What if next year you had to pay a small nominal fee to enter a raid or a dungeon. Not so fun is it?

Balkoth said...

High pay wall? It's about 2 hours of work at minimum wage. How much time would you be willing to spend grinding it?

"What if next year you had to pay a small nominal fee to enter a raid or a dungeon. Not so fun is it?"

Those have an impact on competitive rankings which determine guild survival. Last I checked no guilds were ranked according to cool transmog.

In short, there's a drastic difference between how good your character looks (and tastes vary, I know many hate the new helms) and how good your character actually is.

Joseph Skyrim said...

F2P is the Borg, everything will be assimilated. Resistance is futile! :P

Hagu said...

Just want to point that what matters to you varies by who you are. (E.g. to Balroth, some people care more about how their character looks than how it performs. So they would see cosmetic items as evil p2w and BiS raid gear as irrelevancies that would not matter if they were sold. Why would someone who has dozens of transmog outfits and never wants to raid care how some web site they will never visit rates guilds? YMMV) I.e., few people complain if things they don't care about are ca$h shop; the complication is different people care about different things.

Some Zygna/FB titles are way over the Evil line. But I don't really see a significant moral distinction with Trion & BW working on monetizing their store and Blizzard looking on how to increase monetization via subs by adding more rep grinds to delay progression to extend a patch cycle. I look at the JP, VP, and rep grind changes made in MoP to be just as monetary driven as any the F2P MMOs do; My tailor alt needed to get to 90, get GL revered and then get exalted with someone else in order to the recipe to make the bag. Even though a prior 90 may already have that rep and have SoH they can't craft with. I find the Blizzard way as just as money-grubbing, and less fun, than BW selling me a title for seven cents.

P.S. I think a lot of posters should complain about how democratic cash shops are. E.g., if the game were financed with the cash shop, then how much effort would designers spend on raids like BT & old Nax that 1% got to see? Luckily, most lack the business knowledge to complain.


Balkoth said...

"So they would see cosmetic items as evil p2w and BiS raid gear as irrelevancies that would not matter if they were sold."

There is not a single reward in the game for having "cool" or "good" transmog gear. The game does not ever care what your character looks like.

I get that people might care - but you can't call it "Pay to win" if the game doesn't recognize the winning in any shape of form.

Gear is recognized as providing increased performance in both PvP and PvE (in fact, a certain gear level is required in PvE for certain bosses and you need good PvP gear to compete at the high end). There's no such effect for transmog.

*Especially* since tastes wildly vary. Whether orange or green is better is a matter of taste. Whether one item is better than another is not, it's a mathematical determination.

Ngita said...

Personally i prefer games you pay for and dislike buying things in game to progress. To the point I never do. $1 or can't progress? Time to put the game away.

Wow is cheap, A week of coffees cheap.

Personally I would be happy to pay more if they want to raise their profit margin.

But as long as their is not the slightest trace of pay to win its just not something to get upset about.

Coreus said...

I still don't know what the 2 stands for.