[Thought of the Day] The own goal of cash shops, in bullet points

  • So: bizarro news story on the F2P cash shop front this week was LOTRO trialling a $50 Hobby Horse on the test server. I know, right? What’s the point in putting a price tag on something that no one would want? Unsurprisingly the feedback was negative and it went away again.
  • There’s some magical thinking with cash shop games that goes along the lines of “Mysterious ‘whale’ spenders will throw money ay anything!  Put anything in the shop with a big pricetag and someone, somewhere is bound to buy it.” It’s not clear if there’s any actual demand from players for a rideable Hobby Horse (maybe there is!), or whether someone thought ‘meh, someone will buy it.’
  • This isn’t about jealousy of people who are willing to spend more money on their favourite F2P game. It’s about wondering what happened to the laws of supply and demand. Do F2P devs measure demand?
  • Kids games are especially susceptible to the ‘put up bizarro crap for ludicrous prices’ because they know their players don’t know the value of stuff. Thank goodness for bronies (ie. adult gamers who do understand value)  intervening for players of My Little Pony.
  • There is another side to this. When I play a game, I am using a service. When I am presented with a shop, I go into Super Saiyan Shopping Mode! I want good bargains! I want value for money! If I buy luxury goods, I still want value for money (like: it has to be cool, trendy, make me feel great, well made, anything else you might want from a luxury good).
  • So if a F2P game wants to make money from me via a cash shop then the shop needs to be stocked with shoppers in mind, not gamers. Regular sales work well for this.
  • But the thing I actually value from my game is playing the game.
  • Michael Pachter comments that CoD is a failure for not pushing subscriptions for the multiplayer game. (Like, you pay for your game and then get 12 months of multiplayer gaming thrown in at the moment, he thinks they could charge more for that.)
  • He’s wrong, obviously the game isn’t a failure in any sense at all.
  • But maybe some of the F2P games are failures for not asking players to pay the price of a single player game for their annual gaming. A cheap annual sub would open up players who simply cannot justify to themselves paying for overpriced virtual tat which they don’t want, but would still happily contribute to the game.
  • Actually Arb and I did check out the LOTRO cash shop last time we played, just to see if they had anything else weird. We both bought mounts for our characters that had been reduced in the sale (and both thought they were decent value). So maybe, just maybe, the community has been trolled in a rather successful PR stunt. Food for thought.

[SWTOR] 4 things you need to know about F2P SWTOR

“.. in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes AND F2P MMO conversions.”

So, the big MMO news today is that Bioware announced that SWTOR will transition to a full free to play game before the end of 2012. It doesn’t come as a great surprise following a couple of rounds of layoffs in response to falling subscriptions, and departures of senior developers. Clearly EA were looking for some quick fixes for the expensive MMO which is starting to look like an albatross around their necks.

I thought I’d distill the answers to the four main questions I had.

1. When is the game switching to F2P.

November 2012.

2. How much can you get without subscribing?

Quite a lot. Many players (including me) would say that the real jewel in the crown of this game is the levelling content, and that’s largely what you’ll get for free. The game will be F2P to level 50, with restricted access to flashpoints and warzones (ie. a restricted number per week) among other things such as number of auctions. You will have to subscribe to gain access to raids/Operations and there are some other restrictions which are lifted for subscribers.

The current plan is that you’ll still have to buy the core game, but the price is being reduced (a lot) to $14.99 in August and who knows what will happen by November.

If you like the idea of this style of Bioware/classic MMO gameplay, then I’d say it’s a pretty darn good deal. EA never expected to have to give this away and spent way more than they would have done otherwise so you’re getting a very polished Old Republic RPG with some MMO elements attached. It’s also one of the best games I’ve ever played for duoing.

3. I’m a subscriber now. Should I drop my sub and go F2P in November?

Well, if your main interest is levelling alts, you don’t care about Ops, and you aren’t too bothered about grinding flashpoints or warzones, it looks at the moment as though F2P would be the way to go. This is the problem with introducing a F2P mechanism that offers only free or subscription options. Suddenly the subscription option becomes a worse proposition because you pay the same sub as today, but get relatively less for it.

But who knows what they’ll plan to do with this in the future. Ideally they’d look at letting people buy things piecemeal.

3a. I’m not a subscriber now. Should I play this game when it goes F2P in November?

That rather depends on why you’re not playing at the moment.

If you liked the idea of the game but were put off by the cost, then come play and enjoy it. I do rate it highly, it’s a good quality game of its type. I think the levelling game is way better than WoW, for comparison. If you played SWTOR for awhile and then left because you were bored, you might want to check out changes such as LFG, or reconnect with other friends who are playing, it’ll be much easier to set up the occasional flashpoint/PvP night when people don’t have to all subscribe.

If you hated the idea of the game and are burned out on this type of MMO anyway, then it’s not going to change your mind when it is free.

If you are a current or ex-subscriber, you’ll be given an allotment of ‘cartel coins’ (ie. cash shop tokens) when the conversion happens, although the only things we currently know to be on sale are a pet, a cosmetic hat, and a chair (I’m not sure where the chair goes, would be cool if it was on your ship though.)

4. So what new content is planned for this year, seriously?

Currently the stated plans involve a new Op, new warzone, new companion (HK-51) and new space combat missions. What they notably don’t involve is new story content, which is unfortunate since that’s the main draw (fourth pillar et al) of this game.

A new planet had been mentioned previously but isn’t listed on the new content page for this year.

Various commentary stuff

SWTOR subscriptions were noted  as being below a million during yesterday’s EA earnings call (link is to the pdf of the transcription):

Although it launched well, subscriptions have been on a declining trajectory and have now slipped below one million. Last year we announced that the breakeven point was roughly 500,000 subscribers. And while we are well above that today, that’s not good enough.

- (Frank Gibeau)

So the question is whether they can get enough players in for F2P to work its magic, compared to the number of paying subscribers they have today. And how many of those new players (assuming they come, which I hope they do since it’s basically a good game) will want to take out subs or buy items from the cash shop. On the fleet last night, reactions ranged from looking forwards to a new influx of players, people wondering whether they will drop their sub and just play F2P, the usual concerns about the unwashed masses who might pick up a F2P game, and more specific concerns about the future of the game – will they ever make enough money to plan future story chapters?

This looks to me like a swiftly implemented F2P conversion. I have no idea how long Bioware had been considering it as an idea (my guess is from fairly soon after launch) but this isn’t a carefully thought out plan so much as a “give lots of free stuff away to get players in and … err… then charge a subscription for hardcore endgame type players.”

Scott Jennings at Broken Toys is, like me, a fan of the game. He notes that subscriptions for MMOs are looking more and more like an initial markup, which devolves quickly to F2P. That implies that a F2P conversion is in TSW’s future also, and that anyone who said ‘I’ll wait until it goes F2P’ about a new subscription game is likely going to be right in their assumptions. (Note: WoW currently is obviously an outlier to this model, although I suppose who knows what the future holds?)

Green Armadillo has a typically thoughtful analysis, noting that:

While I personally will most likely pay less for SWTOR under the new model, I’m not celebrating.  SWTOR is a quality product, albeit one that may have been especially ill-suited for the subscription model.  The quality and direction of the game’s future development, with the reduced staff and revised business model, are likely to suffer.

So what’s going to be in the GW2 cash shop?

Short post today: Here are some screenshots of the GW2 cash shop, courtesy of QQ Reporter.

There’s plenty of cosmetic stuff, as expected. And also loot bags and mystic keys (which can be used to open mystic chests that will be dropped randomly from mobs in the game.)

I’m not surprised that they’re going with the lottery route (ie. buy loot boxes to get random items), they want to raise money and some people love throwing money at loot boxes. And the money making possibilities of having locked boxes drop in the game that need some cash shop item (or quest item, or NPC purchased item) to unlock has been well established in other F2P games.

But I am still glad I play games that don’t do that.

[News Bits] DA2 DLC, How much do popcap want for that zombie?, CoH goes F2P, Diablo 3 followers for normal mode only, more on EVE

Apologies for a bits and pieces posts, there’s a lot of news out this week that I thought was interesting but not really enough to write a whole blog post about.

First DLC announced for Dragon Age 2

Arb and I are keeping a weather eye out for announcements about Comic Con 2011 since we’re going to be there (have I mentioned this enough times yet? :) It’s less than a month away now.)

Bioware chipped in this week with the announcement that they’ll be offering demos of Mass Effect 3, SWTOR, and Dragon Age 2 Legacy – the first DLC for that game. The SWTOR announcement is in a different link but I’m sure that was a no brainer anyway. We’ll be aiming to check those out, if only in the hope of picking up freebies such as the inflatable swords which have been on offer the last couple of years.

We don’t know much about Legacy apart from the title, but already starting to wonder whose legacy we’re talking about here, exactly. I would be quite curious to find out what happened to Kirkwall after I left in a blaze of glory skulked out in the night with my batshit insane blond boyfriend of doom. Surely the world can’t keep on turning without Hawke to set it straight/break it horribly??!

ArenaNet will also be demoing Guild Wars 2 at Comic Con this year, so hopefully we’ll be able to report on that as well. As well as snag freebies, obviously.

Is Zynga going to buy Popcap?

Venturebeat reports rumours that Popcap (makers of Bejewelled and Plants vs Zombies, amongst many others) is in talks to be acquired. It’s not known yet if it is true, but they naughtily bander Zynga’s name around as a prospective suitor.

I think the most depressing sentence in the article is:

PopCap is an appealing target for almost any game company because it has several extremely popular games that can be turned into franchises.

I suspect that a lot of us would rather have new games than Bejewelled 17: the slightly sparklier version.

City of Heroes (finally) goes free to play

This is good news! City of Heroes announces that later this year, they’re switching to a model which will allow players to play for free or go with a subscription model. It sounds as though they’re going with a LOTRO-type of approach where subscribers get some free currency to spend in the game shop (which has plenty of fun cosmetic costumes) as part of their monthly deal.

Here’s the side-by-side comparison of what subscribers get in comparison to F2P players. And again like LOTRO, if you have ever paid a sub for CoH previously you get some perks when the game switches over compared to a new F2P player (Note: F2P players are limited to 2 alts unless they buy more slots, it’s not clear to me if older players will be able to keep all their alts if they come back except for directly purchased slots.)

I’m happy about this news partly because it’s a fun game which I think will lend itself very well to this model, and also because I have friends who play and now it’ll be way easier for me to join them occasionally.

Followers in Diablo 3 are for noobs only

Anyone who thought Blizzard had caught the companion bug from Bioware and were planning to amp up the importance of  followers in Diablo 3 can think again. Apparently the main use for followers is to help new players in normal mode in single player (and get them used to playing in a group – although this may backfire once they find how annoying real people are compared to their faithful NPCs). They will become less useful in hard mode, pointless in nightmare, and not available at all in multiplayer.

They’re there to make the single-player, normal difficulty experience feel more cooperative and to aid in enhancing the story. These factors lose some importance in multiplayer and in the higher difficulty settings of the game, and as such, the followers won’t be as relevant there.

EVE and Microtransactions

The latest on EVE is that someone has leaked an internal memo about plans for microtransactions in CCP’s games. Eve News 24 discusses the cosmetic cash shop prices and the data in the memo.

One of the main reasons that I think long term players get concerned about some of these microtransaction plans is that there’s a point where you wonder how far game devs are putting profit above making fun games. And if your main concern as a consumer is to buy (and pay for) fun games, you’d probably like THAT to be their main focus.

Clearly it’s great if companies that make good products do well. But at what cost?

The other main issue – probably mostly for old dinos like me – is that we like virtual worlds because they’re separate from the rat race of the real world. It’s because the real world doesn’t have much effect on the game world that the game world can be relaxed and fun, and being relaxed and fun is important for being able to play. The more the game favours real world tilts, the less ‘fun’ it gets. It’s like the way people always seem to have more fun in betas, because they know there’s no major consequence for failure or not optimising.  Maybe fun is a minority interest.

[EVE] Vanity costs, and here’s where you start paying!

The latest EVE patch introduced the ‘Noble Exchange Cash Shop’ where players can spend real money on cosmetic gear for their prettified new toons (which are very pretty, I think I wrote about the new character generator a while back). Here’s their dev blog about the vanity store.

Jester at Jester’s Trek sums up what a lot of other people are thinking about CCPs pricing strategy.

I love plain grey just as much as I know all of you do, and CCP is being good enough to cater to my need for bland grey clothing by charging me 3600 AUR for a plain grey shirt.  This is about $20 U.S., which coincidentally, is how mucha real plain grey shirt costs in the EVE Online store.

But when he let out some snark about a monacle that costs the equivalent of $68 I thought “no way, he’s joking,” but apparently not. (There’s a 21 page thread on the EVE forums already.)

Now cash transactions in EVE are fundamentally different from cash shops in games like WoW or LOTRO because it is possible to convert game money into other forms (the dev blog above tries to show this graphically), so the price level may be something that experienced players will laugh off as the EVE equivalent of a WoW motorbike (ie. luxury goods designed to take some moolah out of the market). But judging from the tone of that bboard thread, I’m guessing it’s high even for that crowd.

Would you consider spending as much on a virtual piece of gear for a character as for a real life piece of clothing for yourself?

Gaming News: E3 Hype, Blizzard ditches Cataclysm features, Fallen Earth joins the cash shop crowd, Sony pimps 3D

I love the World Cup in the same way that I love Christmas. Neither of them is my religion, but I enjoy the general festivities. Given that the World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world, I’m mildly surprised that so few MMOs have come up with any football related features or trophies to celebrate. WoW had a special PvP pet for the Chinese Olympics, after all.

Only Free Realms chose to celebrate, with special team jerseys and banners. So well done them.

Lots of Gaming Companies announce what they plan to show at E3

E3 is next week. I’m trying to avoid the sort of news cycle where people announce what they’re going to say, then they say it, and then they announce what they just said. So there will be lots of entries in next week’s news about what actually did catch my eye at E3.

Kotaku lists out their picks for big RPGs of the show. It’s hard to really get worked up about a bunch of sequels, but MMOs also promise a strong showing with the likes of APB, Final Fantasy 14, and the ubiquitous SWTOR all exhibiting. Fable III promises to be Natal infused – people without a huge living room may see this as a disadvantage. Intriguingly, The Escapist had a line on some information that Pokemon Black/White may also feature some kind of massive multiplayer worldwide online play mode.

It is likely that the Playstation Move and XBOX Natal controllers will feature strongly in demos. Analyst Michael Pachter wrote a widely linked piece for Edge Online in which he compares the two technologies, and explains why neither will beat the Wii. In an interview with PS3center, he also explains why he thinks Natal will sell more than the Move. Soon, we’ll all be able to make up our own minds.

Valve admitted that Portal 2 will not in fact be out until 2011, and added (probably with a sigh) that next week’s surprise is actually Portal 2 related. Which I think I guessed last week because it was obvious! This did not stop loads of gaming blogs from wasting column inches on guesses about Halflife 3.

Cataclysm News

Blizzard will of course not be at E3 because they have Blizzcon instead later this year. But still, lots more news this week about Cataclysm. Blizzard revealed that the new expansion will bring region-wide battlegrounds. So instead of only ever matching up with servers in your battlegroup, you could end up in a match with anyone in your region. We don’t yet know whether Blizzard also plan to extend this to PvE/ LFD.

And they also held a press event, releasing the news that some of the previously discussed Cataclysm features will not make it into the live expansion. In particular, guild talents have hit the chopping block (and good riddance, that system would never have worked. No one wants to be arguing with the rest of their guild about which talents to take) and so has the path of the titans alternate advancement scheme (which is more of a shame because that sounded fun.)

Inscription also gets an overhaul so that players only need to buy glyphs once to learn them, after which they can switch glyphs without needing to buy more scrolls. Plus a new type of glyph for cosmetic changes.

I’ll discuss this more in a post next week but basically it’s all good news and means that the Blizzard behemoth is lumbering towards the release of the new WoW expansion at a decent pace. Apparently Cataclysm is also going to have three times as many new quests as Wrath – but this does also include the low level ones that will have been reworked.

Ghostcrawler also had an exclusive interview with wowhead this week and they talk about professions, balancing PvP with PvE, and so on. Definitely worth a read.

APB gets open beta, but not down under

All Points Bulletin, the action-y MMO is into open public beta (lots of keys being given away via RPS). But the game will not be released in Australia. Apparently this is because the developers has no plans to host any servers in Oz.

Fallen Earth sells pets for cash

This week yet another MMO which had been subscription only sells pets for cash. Dickie discusses the cash for pets dilemma – and again, as with EQ2, this pet does confer some game advantages for the buyer.

Given that Icarus Studios had to lay off staff earlier this year, Fallen Earth players may feel that this is a chance to actively support a studio with a product they like which has had a financial rough patch. I’m just not sure how I feel about cash shop purchases as charity.

Everything goes 3D

Sony held a big presentation this week to share their vision for 3D TV and gaming. As well as showing off some new 3D TVs, the PS3 is about to receive a firmware patch which will allow players to use them.

Anyone planning on shelling out for a 3D TV to try some of this out? If they can produce experiences that are as immersive as Avatar (for example) then maybe Sony are right about 3D being the future of gaming.

More MMO News

Also in the MMO news this week, Darren@Common  Sense Gamer finds out why the Jumpgate Evolution team have been so quiet lately. We should see more announcements and demos from them next week (this makes me happy.)

Mortal Online, a Darkfall type sandbox PvP game was released this week.

Final Fantasy 14 (now in alpha testing) shows off some character customisation, and we learn more about Guild Leves.

Guild Wars 2 releases information about the warrior class, with wallpapers, videos, and the works. And also about their trait system, which I totally fail to understand.

My game provides a useful service at a reasonable fee, your game gouges gamers with RMT shenanigans

SC_Mounts_Body

These are the new Everquest 2 mounts which went on sale this week at the innovative and market testing price of $25 (aka same as the WoW sparkle pony). (I hope openedge1 is going to keep up his campaign for people to give the money to charity instead.)

Reaction has been predictable. Some players love the idea and rushed out to buy them. Others worried that EQ2 is spending too much time copying WoW and not enough in more innovative ventures. Arkenor even dubbed the new mount Copykat. Both bloggers (and developers, evidently) realise that for better or worse, Blizzard has the power to set prices in the MMO sector so $25 is now the going rate for mounts.

Sera@Massively is big enough to own up that while she hated and despised the idea of the sparkle pony, when it turns up on a game that she plays and enjoys, she wants one too. I thought that was a very honest article to write, so props to her. And I think it encapsulates how a lot of gamers feel about RMT –  if a dev produces something we want at a price we’re willing to pay, we’ll buy. But not until then.

Also, watch how they have restricted which buffs each mount can give. Unlike in WoW where you buy one sparkle pony and all your alts can have one, in EQ2 you’ll have to get one for your melee and one for your casters. In fact, their site doesn’t make it clear whether you have to buy one for each alt anyway. Honestly? Sparkle pony is starting to look like good value, and that scares me.

The bought mount provides more advantages to the player in EQ2. Unlike in WoW (where the riding skill is the expensive part of owning a mount), buying the mount itself is the primary cost of owning one. And these particular EQ2 mounts also provide in-combat buffs for owners. The leads me to another facet of EQ2 which frankly boggles me, which is that you can ride mounts into combat … and use a switch on the UI to decide whether or not you can view it. So if I get this right, mounted combat is exactly the same as non-mounted (you could sneak up and backstab someone, for example) and there’s a toggle to decide if you see the mount or not. (Hence the combat buff from these ones.)

Surely mounted combat ought to be rather different from ground combat? Colour me confused that people don’t complain about this, and in fact they actually complained when the devs agreed that it was dumb and wanted to take it out.

Oddly enough, I don’t care about being able to turn off hat graphics. That’s the sort of thing you’d see in films or plays where a director makes that decision for better dramatic effect. But turning off the mount? I find that very bizarre.