[Pirates] The lure of a real world setting

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As you can see, my Naval Officer character in Pirates of the Burning Sea is going up in the world. This was taken approximately two coats ago – I’m measuring my levels in coats because every so often you get a career quest which is rewarded with a new title and piece of cosmetic clothing. PotBS also allows you to change how your character looks or dresses whenever you like without penalty. And of course you can pick all the colours from a palette. I just like ‘blood and custard’ as a colour scheme.

As a naval officer your cosmetic rewards are miilitary style coats. This is one of the first rewards and I think it looks hot.

It is also a tribute to the game and players that I was wondering aloud on one of the global channels whether the navy really had a uniform in this era … and at least two other players knew the answer. (Which was no :) ).

What’s so special about the real world?

For me, a setting which is based on a true story or real historical places and events has a special resonance that I don’t get with pure fantasy or scifi.

This weekend, I saw The King’s Speech (awesome film, btw). I had a shiver up my spine when he gives his big speech in the climactic scene, not just because the acting was superb, but because I knew that all of my grandparents would very probably have been hanging on every word at the time. For a moment, it wasn’t just a story on the screen. It got personal.

Real life is personal in a way that game worlds can rarely be. Real places and people have a significance that Orgrimmar or Bree never can … as long as the developers and writers get them right.

The level of detail and research in Pirates for its real world historical setting is one of the reasons I’m so enthralled with the game at the moment. And the prospect of a well implemented real world setting is one of the reasons I’m looking forwards to hearing more about The Secret World and World of Darkness (still no announcement on CCP’s site) games.

And in which I back off from complicated things

I was feeling sufficiently guilty about enjoying PotBS for free and gratis that I subbed up for a month. It was that or a pet chicken!

The way the accounts work is similar to LOTRO, except that you can do a lot more on a F2P account here, with full access to all the content except for one high level epic questline. Once you are subscribed you get more character slots, dockyard slots, and economy slots on your account, and those extra slots stay with you even after you unsubscribe. You also get 10% bonuses for experience, faction rep, and chances to get loot while subscribed.

So subbing for a month and then returning to F2P is a totally valid choice which lets me support a game I really like, adds some useful but non-vital account enhancements that will help when exploring the economy in more depth, and get an xp boost for the duration as well.

I had been wondering how well the very generous F2P setup had been working for the development team here. But given that a large part of the endgame is down to player generated PvP, I can see that a constant boost of players to PvP will do a lot to keep existing subscribers in the game. Just by being there and playing, the F2P people are contributing in a fairly major way.

I have only barely scratched the surface of how PvP and the economy works in this game. Planning to investigate those both in more detail, but since I’m nowhere near level 50 yet, there’s plenty of time. What I do know is that the global channels have been very active with encouraging people to help take ports or get involved during prime time, so it feels as though there is plenty going on.

Delayed F2P — LotRO Europe

LotRO Europe was supposed to go to Turbine’s Free to Play model on 10th September. It’s been delayed. And delayed again. We’ve had some welcome back weekend promotions, some free travel, some GM-run events, some community competitions, all to make up for it.

I’m sure it’s all appreciated. But… I’m disappointed.

Not really in the delay of the Free to Play model. I’m a lifetime subscriber and I honestly don’t care too much for the item store or the move. I do, however, want the new content of Enedwaith. I want to play with the Captain changes, I’d mentally got myself prepared for them and they’re still not here. I want the newly scaled instances of The Great Barrows, the Annuminas instances and Helegrod as a revamped raid experience. We prepared for them, we looked forward to them, we read about how everyone in the US is finding them, and now I’m starting to lose interest again.

Yes, that’s probably me being a fickle consumer. I’ve been playing LotRO since beta and bought in on the lifetime sub before launch even, I was so enthused about the game. But I’ve been milling around the endgame for what seems like forever. I have more medallions than I can spend, my gear is all there is (since there’s no real variation), and I’m only really logging on to provide a Capt body for kin raid efforts in Barad Guldur. I do have alts, I’m not the world’s greatest alt-er though and I simply don’t enjoy churning through content an additional time for no real reason. So I play a semi-static group with a set of friends as and when we can all be on together, but what I really really want is my Captain changes and the new content.

Codemasters have been patchy on information. In fact, they were pretty terrible at the start of the delay, but they have learned from this and now provide more regular, if just as un-informative, updates. Ok, we trust there’s a good reason they can’t tell us exact details. It’s obvious they don’t want to provide a guesstimate of when the update will hit, and funnily enough, I respect that. They don’t want to set themselves up for a big failure again with a fixed date. I suspect we may never entirely know why the delay has gone on this long.

The forums depress me. If anyone complains about the delay, they’re met with the ‘omg, how dare you complain’ crowd – the crux of their argument appears to be ‘we trust Codemasters, there MUST be a really good reason for the delay’. Everyone has a right to complain, it’s HOW some people complain that is an issue. No-one should resort to personal attacks, Codemasters’ employees are individually obviously not to blame. Of course, there’s any number of conspiracy theories that cover Codemasters caring more about other game releases, to Turbine wanting to take over European players as they did with DDO eventually – and probably some really wacky ones relating to the Illuminati. Who knows? But that’s what lack of information does to us in an age where we’re used to knowing things, and quickly.

I’m not fuming angry about the delay. It’s not like the new content brings all that much to me or to my friends – especially with no new levels. But, it’s diverting and would have kept me in LotRO for a while, instead of seeing me drift off to check out so many other games instead. I do find it hard to concentrate on my Captain… I was genuinely kind of excited about the changes to the class, and I feel their denial more sharply than the loss of anything else. But I feel I can’t complain on the official forums, I don’t even feel like complaining. I just feel that something is up, we’re not being told, we will get the update when we get it, but in the meantime, I’ll be drifting ever further away from LotRO and Codemasters.

Free-to-Play Hardcore

As the countdown to LotRO going free-to-play starts, I’ve found myself pondering all sorts of random elements about games going free-to-play. Possibly the most bizarre of these, is the concept of hardcore and how it relates to the micro-payment structure.

Will the new hardcore be those who reach the level cap without paying a penny? I like the idea of this one, and I’d give it a go if I wasn’t already a lifer on LotRO – it’s a little like Ysharros’ non-quest quest, but with additional difficulty of not buying adventure packs.

I actually hope someone does give it a go, so we can cheerlead them along, in whatever game they choose to do it in.

Thought of the Day: How do you decide when to pay in a F2P game?

I think that the amount people decide to pay in a F2P game is highly dependent on what their friends are paying.

If you have friends in the game and they are mostly playing for free, you’ll feel like an idiot if you pay. If your friends are mostly buying a few things, you’ll be encouraged to do the same. If you don’t know anyone else who plays, or haven’t made any in game friends then chances are that you will only be playing until the next game catches your eye anyway. (Unless it offers a stellar single player experience which is not usually the case.)

So one goal for a F2P developer might be to nudge new players to engage socially with the more hardcore who are already paying.

The LOTRO F2P strategy of having both F2P and subscriber players on the same server might prove to be very smart indeed.

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Everquest 2 goes Free to Play (sort of), and keeps the rabble out

Following in the footsteps of LOTRO, Sony Online Entertainment announced yesterday that they are unveiling a new type of server for EQ2. They call it EQ2 Extra (EQ2X) and it includes a free to play option with a cut down choice of classes and races, no access to send mail or use the auctions, restricted bag space and gold cap, but full access to all of the content.

EQ2X players can also choose to subscribe to pick up an ongoing bundle of extra options for their characters (access to all of the races, etc etc). Now while I would expect to see a special item shop which allows EQ2X players to unlock bits and pieces for their character (such as an extra class or race or lifting the gold cap, for example) there’s no sign of any intent to go this way. You either take the free option with its limitations or upgrade to one of the EQ2X subscription options which each give a bundle of extra options … but are subscriptions (and work out slightly more expensive than a subscription on the regular subscription server).

I think they really should go with the item shop approach, personally. You need to nickle and dime F2P customers so they feel in control of what they spend, not offer strange subscription models. But what do I know?

And for anyone curious, the free options include:

  • Human, Erudite, Barbarian, Half-Elf races
  • Swashbuckler, Brigand, Wizard, Warlock, Guardian, Berserker, Templar, Inquisitor (ie. rogue, caster, tank, healer for either good or the evil faction.)

There have been a lot of posts about this, spurred on partly by SOEs dogged insistence as recent as last month that EQ2 would never go free to play. Ardwulf has checked out the alpha test and returned with a positive outlook.

However stripped down and restrictive the options, this still amounts to a LOT of free content. They’re going into beta with this in mid-August so anyone bored of WoW and looking for something to do before Cataclysm might want to take a look.

Appeasing the subscribing masses

One of the interesting sides to this scheme is that SOE will keep the current subscriber base completely separate from the F2P players. There will be new and separate servers for EQ2X. There won’t be any more 14 day free trial on the subscription servers (I can see the logic in this one, no sense confusing new players with too many different types of free options).

It will be possible for regular subscribers to pay to transfer a character to the EQ2X server but there’s no indication that transfers will be possible the other way.

This means that regular subscribers won’t be greatly affected by the new scheme. Except that they won’t get very many new players at all unless they go out and recruit them. On the other hand, they may end up stuck in a slowly diminishing bubble as natural player turnover favours the EQ2X servers, which may be more inviting to players who just want to try the game before they buy.

But on the other hand, newbies won’t be swamped with hardcore players who have been playing the game for years. It will be interesting to see how this goes. If the EQ2X servers really take off, then SOE win because any EQ2X subscribers will be paying more than the regular ones.

Or maybe new players will use the free time to check the game out, decide if they want to subscribe, and then reroll on the sub server if they do. I feel that regular sub players are likely to lose out – they won’t get the majority of the new players on their servers and unlike LOTRO, if they decide to take a break from the game, they won’t be able to keep logging in, playing lightly, and chatting to their friends.

I am mightily curious to see how this works out, but it’s certainly a cheap way to see the game. I just wonder if the classes they have chosen to give out for free will really give the best impression.

10 cool posts to read over the weekend

I haven’t done a good links post for awhile. But not for the lack of material!

  1. Flaim at The Cognisance Council has some thoughts for tanks, from someone who doesn’t tank. Big Bear Butt Blogger has some more thoughts about the tank’s role in a group, from someone who does.
  2. I’ve often seen bloggers wish that MMOs were based more on skill than on grind. But here’s the other side of the picture, MMO Designer discusses why it may be better to reward players for time spent, rather than for challenge.
  3. Dwism writes a timely post on some of the easter eggs in WoW. The little details that bring the world to life (a bit) which people might miss if they just dash through following questhelper like dogs on leashes.
  4. Leigh Alexander discusses an indie game that lets you take your virtual revenge on guys who make catcalls in the street. (Warning: if it bothers you that some women may not like being accosted in the street, don’t read this.)
  5. A couple of great posts from The Psychology of Games. One on how people pick their guildies, and how players pick their guilds. And another on whether people behave better online if they pick an avatar that looks more like themselves.
  6. Back in March, Keen swore that he’d never touch another F2P game. It’s something that he still feels very strongly about, and he describes why he thinks F2P is going to ruin LOTRO.
  7. Jeff Vogel at The Bottom Feeder discusses anti piracy solutions. And explains why he thinks the options that players hate might be the ones which work best.
  8. Back in February, Larisa was already asking how WoW players were going to keep their enthusiasm going until November. We still don’t really know the answer to that.
  9. Kava is a Wow player and musician who writes a druid blog at Evil Tree. She’s recently been sharing her passion for gaming music, comparing classical music and opera with the Warcraft soundtrack.
  10. Syncaine talks about the lure of grindy gameplay in MMOs. Why do we enjoy spending hours killing mobs or doing dailies to chase that extra 0.1% damage?

Lord of the Rings Online offers a budget a la carte.

buffet (kawanet@flickr)

What is it with MMO payment plans and food metaphors?

Subscription games are often described as all you can eat buffets, and now Turbine is describing their plans for LOTRO as offering an a la carte option (if you don’t eat out much, ‘a la carte’ just means you get to order what you want from the menu). I guess we all just relate to food. Can’t wait to see the menu fixe, catch of the day, and pre-theatre quick dinner offers.

In any case, Lord of the Rings Online is about to become more accessible to new players – at least from a financial point of view. When the switchover happens (sometime in the Autumn, so probably Oct/Nov) the starting content/ zones will be available for free. And Codemasters also dropped a press release stating that the EU version of the game is going the same way.

Free players get a cut down version of the game, but as much time as they like to play around with it. And then if you want more, you can select which options you want and pay for those as you wish. Want another character slot? Buy one. Want more bank bags? Buy some. Want access to another zone? Buy that too. Plus the obligatory cosmetic gear. And as soon as you give Turbine any money at all for anything, you are classified as a Premium User and get a few extra perks for free. So there is a good incentive to make that first purchase, however small. You can tell that Turbine have some experience under their belt with F2P games and what western customers might want to buy.

Here’s the big (UK) list as to which types of subscriber get what. The ‘quest packs’ are zones, and since LOTRO zones do pack a lot of content, that’s going to be an interesting model to watch.

We won’t know for sure what is on offer until they finalise the cash shop. And yes, the F2P (free to play) players do get a limited subset. Only one character slot, a low gold cap, few bags, limited traits, self-service customer service (err, maybe that means access to web based help). But it’s enough to play the game and decide if you want to buy more.

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My gut feeling: feels like a smart conversion to me. LOTRO is a quality game – much heavier on the exploring and immersiveness than WoW. The quest design will increasingly feel old fashioned as newer games are released, so this is probably the right time to open it up, while people still remember and are nostalgic for earlier times.

Current players have mixed reactions. Turbine is evidently trying to give decent value to those who already have lifetime subscriptions – they still get pretty much unlimited access to the buffet plus a package of cash shop points every month. Whether monthly sub payers will also still feel that they are getting good value isn’t so clear. But at least they will have more choices on how to pay and if they decide to stop paying for a few months, they can still access their characters. The player base in general is also wary of an influx of F2P players. The LOTRO community has a good reputation, and for good reason.

But at the end of the day, an injection of new players should improve the game for everyone. The game is slower paced than WoW and casual friendly, and the type of people who will get into it enough to want to pay Turbine/ Codies are likely to be the same type who currently pay.

As for the lifetime sub, I noted when I picked mine up at half price that I was wondering what the future held for LOTRO. I don’t really feel burned that the game is going F2P. I still get about 6 months worth of subs out of it, plus the equivalent of lots of free stuff when they switch. I probably wouldn’t have bought it if I had known what they planned to announce and this doesn’t particularly endear me to Turbine/ Codies (a bonus for people who bought lifetimes recently would have done this), but I knew the risks.

And the chance of being able to get my husband and friends to try the game out in a regular group is something I look forwards to greatly. Maybe we can get even an EU blog/ reader guild going!

If you are curious then you could sign up for Turbine’s F2P beta. LOTRO is one of my favourite MMOs, and I’m happy that more people will get a chance to try it.

So what does this mean for current endgame players?

No expansion announcement. There is to be a new endgame zone, with quests and a new book in the epic story, which will all be released when the game goes F2P. It’s been about a year since the endgame players last got a new raid. Think about how WoW players start climbing the walls if they have to wait 6 months and you’ll get an inkling for how things have been.

Does F2P mean that the emphasis in LOTRO is going to be much more on casual or lower level players? We’ll have to see.

Massively have a great interview with Turbine, which picks up on many of these questions.