Have your views changed on F2P games?

With yesterday’s announcement that Rift is offering a F2P option from June 12th, it seems like a good time to reappraise the various F2P MMO models.

(Incidentally, the Trion dev team did an AMA on reddit this week about their plans for Rift.)

Lee Perry posts a considered defence of F2P games on Gamasutra, focussing on things that F2P games seem to do better than P2P. For example, for all the emphasis on metrics, they really do have a good idea of what their players enjoy doing. They do have to offer new content regularly to keep people interested. Compare this with the WoW “lets try something completely different next expansion” and “lets do patches at a glacial pace” approach. (I know they’re doing better in MoP, I know.)

As long as your goal is still to make a great game, and not to simply apply these techniques to shovel-ware garbage in the hopes of winning the mobile gaming lottery, I encourage developers to look at these concepts and pick at least a couple to embrace.  Get out there and use these forces for good.

But can these forces ever really be used for good?

World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy 11 (is 14 even live yet?) and Everquest are now (I think?) the only major AAA MMOs which still only offer subscription accounts. There are also probably lots of niche MMOs (such as Tale in the Desert, Darkfall and Wurm Online) which use this model, as well as P2P MUDs. Feel free to post about any of them in comments that I haven’t mentioned.

Guild Wars 2 has a B2P model where you buy the basic game and then there is no subscription, but they have a cash shop. EVE has a kind of hybrid subscription system where it is strictly speaking a subscription game but you can potentially pay for your sub using in game credits if you have them.

The majority of MMOs are now F2P where you can download the game for free and start playing without needing to subscribe. They make their money using a  mixture of cash shop items, paid DLC/ expansions, subscription options and selling in game gold for cash.

And then some games are totally free, such as traditional MUDs which are coded and run by volunteers. They welcome donations towards the costs of the server but there’s no reason to pay other than altruism.

One of the features of games that have transitioned from subsciption to F2P is that the player base tends to increase significantly in the short term (not surprising really) and also the number of subscribers increases in the short term. We’ve seen this most recently in SWTOR, which posted just under 500k subscriptions in the last EA earnings call. (They evidently have an effective “we will annoy you until you subscribe” F2P model going on.)

Green Armadillo compares a few different F2P models, dividing them into “Pay to Win” and “Pay for Others.” There are other ways to compare the different models, usually based on what perks/ virtual goods are being sold and how the game encourages people to become paying customers.

It isn’t even clear whether F2P does favour the casual player over the hardcore, as that also can depend on the business model. PvP games might lure in free players to act as cannon fodder for those who pay (World of Tanks), whereas other games make bank from selling cosmetic gear or lockboxes to casuals. It’s true though that if you do play casually, you can access a large number of MMOs without having to pay for any of them these days.

Liore describes the frustration that subscription players feel when a game goes F2P, the sense that the tight knit fabric of the game and certainties of the regular payments are being blown open, possibly to be replaced by an influx of rude casuals and a selection of annoying lockboxes (both of which have happened at pretty much every game which has transitioned). Without going that far, there is the potential for F2P to really divide up the player base and make existing players think hard about exactly how casual/ hardcore they want to be.

So – it’s a fast changing environment but the direction of the journey is very clear. Have your views changed at all on F2P games over the last months/ years?

[News] TSW drops subscription charges, Layoffs at Trion

Just a couple of links today because the news is rolling.

Rock Paper Shotgun have an interview with Funcom, AHEAD of the announcement that TSW is going to drop sub fees. I don’t really understand this whole concept of the pre-announcement announcement, but moving to non-subscription is going to make the game much more appealing to anyone who was on the fence because of the costs.

I’m certainly much more likely to take a longer look. We knew Funcom had issues with TSW sales from previous layoffs, hopefully this will help the game to find an audience. Alongside SWTOR, this is another nail in the coffin of the subscription MMO — not to mention another example of an MMO changing its payment model fairly shortly after launch.

And in other, sadder news, Trion is laying off a number of developers from the Rift team. (What is it about US firms that they like to have a round of layoffs just before Christmas?) We heard very little about the sub numbers for Rift recently, so I can only guess this means that expansion sales weren’t enough to keep the boat afloat. I have been curious about how well Trion is managing to cost all of it’s projects (Rift, End of Nations, and Defiance). 2012 is certainly turning out as an anno horribilis for the gaming industry,  in the West at least. Moorgard notes that he has friends who have spent the year moving from one layoff to the next; I can only feel for them and hope next year works out better.

Oh, and Darkfall put back their release until January to allow more time for testing. This will likely be interpreted by a lot of people as a failure, but I tend to view delaying launch to allow more testing time as a success that bodes well for the future.

Links for the weekend

 

  • Systemic Babble discusses the recently announced 3DS price drop, and the prices of games on mobile systems. What exactly happens to the industry if a new generation of gamers expects a good mobile game to cost approx $1?
  • How does it feel to be sidelined from a raid because (your raid feels that) your class just isn’t optimal for the encounter? Vixsin, who raids with a hardcore group, discusses her feelings about it. For many players, this comes close to experiencing discrimination in game. After enough other players think your class is more or less good, it gets treated that way regardless of the player. And on another note, Sacred Duty explains that protection paladins are overpowered in WoW at the moment. Again.
  • Another sale, another astounding humble indie bundle. These deals operate on a ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ basis, so it’s interesting on that link to see roughly how much people pay. Linux users on average pay a lot more than players on other o/s, intriguingly. Maybe they’re more generous souls.
  • How can devs turn a good character into an evil one or vice versa in game? John Wick discusses the heel turn with examples from professional wrestling.
  • I mentioned the crazy Street Fighter x Tekken SDCC panel this week. Here’s a more thoughtful look at another fighting game from a fan – Scott Juster writes about Mortal Kombat and why it was so special for him earlier in his life.
  • Serrain writes a wrapup for the Planes of Madness event at Rift, over at Rift Junkies. He asks whether it dragged on too long.
  • Stabs takes an educated guess at how the RMT Diablo 3 Auction House will play out. And Gus Matrapa in Pretension +1 offers some advice to D3 fans on how to freak out about a video game.
  • Werit discusses the revamp of fortresses in WAR. They will now “house artifacts/relics which can be seized by the opposing realm.”  That’s a direct import from DaoC. Is WAR slowly morphing into DaoC2?
  • Jeff Vogel asks when players should have to make decisions about progressing their character from a designer’s point of view. He suggests devs shouldn’t ask players to make choices until they have enough information on which to base a decision. I’ve never liked having to make irrevocable decisions involving gameplay (such as class, etc) before I really know how the game plays or what I’ll want to do later on.
  • MMO Melting Pot continues to curate (it’s my new word this week)  great articles around the gaming blogosphere and post links along with analysis. Here’s one highlighting a post on Level Capped about whether the majority of gamers really are foul mouthed teenagers.
  • John Walker at RPS writes an intelligent, impassioned rant against all those mainstream media outlets who rushed to assign some blame to computer games like CoD for the shootings in Norway.
  • Anyone missed Larissa’s regular posts? Course you have. The writer is now running a new blog about film called The Velvet Cafe. This is one of her posts about what the audience can add to a movie. I’ve been thinking about this, because going to see Captain America on opening night in San Diego during Comic Con was absolutely awesome, and not just because the film was good and they gave us free swag (OK, the free swag helped.)

Links and mini-posts for the weekend

I thought since I was away and these links will be at least a week out of date, I’d go back through my old bookmarks and see if I could find a few slightly older posts to mix in with ones that caught my eye recently.

RIFT’s Summer Update makes every other game’s producer letter seem slight and mean minded. They are going to do EVERYTHING. There is information about quality of life improvements, zone events, and how they try to balance putting effort into raids with other upcoming endgame activities. The guy knows his MMOs and knows his players, I defy anyone to read that post and not have even a minor yay moment.

I wrote about raid rifts in RIFT a couple of weeks ago, and apparently I’m not the only person who enjoys them.

The challenge there was to create an incentive for an activity that wasn’t burdened by lockouts, such that more people could help out more than once a day if they choose. Those have worked out amazingly well for pickup raids of 10 to 20. Just about all of the servers have multiple pickup raids engaging more people in the shared world than we had ever hoped, every single day.

There are issues that haven’t been explicitly addressed though. For example, PvP rifts sound fun, but what about issues around PvP gearing and how implacable it can be for newbies.

Having said that, their ideas about where to go with endgame and what sorts of activities different players might want to do are amongst the most interesting and exciting in the industry. I’m dipping into WoW at the moment again, but not likely to let my Rift sub drop any time soon. (Sorry to my guildies for not being around much.)

More links

  • I haven’t written much about Blizzard’s new game (codenamed Titan) because we don’t know much about it. But ‘back’ in June analysts were claiming that it was going to be a casual MMO. RPS reckon that means probably a FPS of some sort. Is MMOFPS the future of MMOs? If Blizzard does it, what does that mean for WoW? (and the many WoW players who may have been hoping for WoW #2.)
  • If you are good at a game and good at playing your class/ role, do you feel any responsibility to pass tips on to newer players? Nope? Only if they’re in your guild/ raid? Arthemystia argues here that experienced hunters in WoW should help newbie hunters. (Presumably they aren’t interested in helping non-hunters.)
  • I will miss Blacksen and I’ve enjoyed his blog a great deal, especially as it comes from a very different (and very hardcore) mindset. His goodbye post is well worth reading for anyone who wants to understand the inner workings of raid guilds. His comments on why the raiders names always rotate and how difficult it is to maintain a stable roster even as a competitive progression guild, ring very true. Anyhow, I wish him luck with the rest of his life :)
  • The SWTOR developer blog post last week was about crafting the opening videos for each class. You may think “yeah, yeah, introductory video – will take about 5 mins out of a game I may play for hundreds of hours,” but I defy anyone not to feel something when the screen goes dark, the star wars music starts to play, and text starts to scroll slowly up the screen a la A New Hope and it is about your character.
  • There was a press release that hit the games press last week discussing whether female gamers liked games better than sex. This is the only post I’ve found discussing that survey which makes the obvious point that maybe this is because quite a lot of women actually don’t enjoy sex all that much. They compare with a larger survey on US sexual activity in which 30% of female respondents said that their last experience of sex had been painful. Yup, Farmville is looking quite appealing in comparison to actual PAIN.
  • And lastly, one from my social work blog list, in which Social Jerk discusses how she’d sort out Hogwarts. (Yes, of course I went to see the Harry Potter film and it was great. I am however gutted that we got shown the trailer for Twilight and not The Dark Knight Rises.)

[Rift] Raid rifts and social raiding

So it turns out that being max level in Rift is quite fun after all, if you don’t mind working at it a bit.

Since the last time I wrote about the Rift endgame, I’ve gotten a new rank in PvP, tried some tier 1 (second level of difficulty) instances, run amok with guild, tried some crafting and expert rifts, maxed out two of my tradeskills (mining still eludes me), run several zone incursions and –- yes – hung out with some rift raids.

Rift raids are single rift encounters that are scaled to require a raid. These are open world uninstanced encounters but in order to start them you need a special item (raid lure) and a dynamically spawned raid rift. It would also help if you had a raid of players along with you but if you want to commit raid-suicide that part isn’t necessary.

So imagine that after some of the various PvP and instance shenanigans I had gotten some nicer looking gear for my mage. Some of it even had ‘focus’ – the radiance stat required for running raids if you are a mage. You can roughly compare this to +hit in WoW in that you can get into a raid without it, but you’ll be a waste of space because you won’t be able to hit anything.

Hanging out in Meridian, I saw someone calling for more players in the level 50 general channel to do a rift raid. So I whispered to them to check the gear requirements. They said 150+ focus. I checked my gear. Hurrah, 154 it said! I whispered them again and up popped the invite, someone in the raid said knowledgeably, “Port to Stillmoor” and then we were off.

I’d like to say that I remember the encounter in detail but it wouldn’t be true. It was in several stages and we had around 20 or so players in the raid. Some stages required raiders to spread out. Others had adds that needed to be killed in order. We wiped on our first try, apparently due to not enough healers, so I offered to switch to my Chloromancer spec for the next attempt. The next time was successful and some loot was doled out – an epic piece, some tokens, some blue loot. And then since we were in a raid anyway, we went off to done a zone incursion that had popped up in Shimmersand.

My take away points about rift raiding:

  • The level 50 general chat channel is awesome. On my server at least, people are actively using it to recruit for these types of PUG raid, they are also broadcasting info about zone incursions and some general chat. Global channels can be so awesome when muppets don’t fill them full of [dirge] spam and random racism.
  • I do find it pleasantly sociable to spend an hour or so running around in a virtual world with a bunch of other people killing mobs in a not-overly-challenging manner. It’s nice to be able to whisper a PUG raid leader politely to check whether your gear is appropriate and get a polite reply.
  • Cosmetic clothing means it’s always quite interesting to check out the other players in your raid.
  • Being able to switch role on the fly is great.
  • The other players were very chilled out about bringing newbies as long as they had reached the minimal gear levels. I’m figuring that most of the level 50s in Rift are fairly seasoned MMO players.
  • No one had a damage meter. This will change since Rift is allowing addons, but it definitely makes people more chilled out.
  • Rift is a very pretty game. I don’t think people really appreciate this enough.
I really do find that the rift raids hit the mark of offering a fun, social raiding experience which don’t require hours of commitment in advance. I hope to see them expand more on this type of content in future, it’s a much more interesting sell than regular raids IMO.

[Rift] The wonders of cosmetic clothing

“People always ask me how long it takes to do my hair. I don’t know, I’m never there.”

- Dolly Parton

riftloki

I thought I’d show off today a couple of my sets of cosmetic clothing on my mage in Rift. These are all made up of a mixture of drops which I thought looked cool, crafted gear, and PvP gear.

One thing you will also notice is how big a difference it makes to have access to dye because (da-da-DAH) you can make things match.

I like how the set with the red dress makes her look quite sweet and innocent, and the green set with the Loki-esque helm (yes that’s why it is all green) is rather more demonic. What a difference a hat makes!

I’m glad I decided to stick around with Rift after hitting 50. I know I’m not straight into expert dungeons like a more hardcore player would be, but I have hit rank 2 in PvP which gave access to some nicer gear, and been working on reps and the crafting (the horned hat is an epic one which I made myself.

PvP in this game is rather hit and miss, and there is a widespread belief that clerics are overpowered. I’ve been in warfronts where people explicitly said, “They have 5 clerics, we’re going to lose.” Valor, the PvP stat (think resiliance in WoW) seems to make a big difference to survivability as does going up in ranks which gives you access to more abilities from your PvP soul.

I find with my mage that I’m tending to pure CC in PvP because the healing just isn’t snappy enough, plus mages don’t have the inbuilt defences that clerics do. Although now I’m rank 2, I have better defences against being interrupted (interrupts are probably the most effective CC for mages because you can’t really do anything if you can’t cast, other classes have some melee soul options.)

But the main thing is that as long as I don’t try to run end to end warfronts, I quite enjoy them. I also like the general  level 50 channel which is very civilised and on which people do actively make groups for world content like rift raids as well as expert dungeons (of which I did one, since I somehow seem to have gathered enough focus on my gear from somewhere, but we didn’t finish it.)

My main reservation on raids and T2 instances is that I have no intention of switching my souls around, now that I have found a combination that I like. I actually don’t care if it’s way off the max dps, I don’t even know if it is anyway, and I don’t intend to run any content where that would ever be an issue. I’d experiment with better rotations on what I have but I’m not ditching the build completely.

And this in a nutshell is one place where hard tuned raids fail. If there is really only a small numbers of acceptable ways to play a character in them, what happens when a player says, “OK, I don’t fancy that, can I have some endgame content for MY build please?”

What is your nemesis fight?

Back in the ancient era of TBC, anyone who was raiding at the time may remember a little raid instance called Karazhan. When you raided back then, you had to accept that some fights would be fun for you and some …. less well designed for your class/ spec/ style. Karazhan contained both heaven and hell fights for melee classes.

Shade of Aran was a melee dream fight. There was a bit of running in and out so that you didn’t get bored, you could interrupt to your heart’s content, and most of the rest of the time, you could just hit him. Even better, the fight didn’t need a tank so your tanks got to let off some steam too (unfortunately dual specs didn’t exist at this point, so letting off steam meant dual wielding in your tanking spec – but it was the thought that counted!)

And then to make up for it, Prince Malchezaar was the fight where melee always died. (Apologies to anyone who didn’t, you are either a mutant, sleeping with ALL the healers, or very lucky.) You had to run in and out … but you also had to dodge random infernals and if the tank was unlucky they could end up in a position where melee literally could not get out in time safely.

And there was a kind of expectation that there would be some balance. For each horrid fight, maybe you’d get a melee friendly one. And similar for ranged, and healers, and tanks … and maybe now you see the design issues here.

But what happens when one fight is SO hellish that it puts people off the entire raid? One of my ex-WoW guildies hates healing Chimaeron, for example, and checks the goals of a raid before he signs up. In LOTRO, I hated one of the fights where I had to stand pointlessly on a distant  platform for about 80% of the time because it was so melee unfriendly and my class wasn’t that important anyway. (Nothing will make you hate a fight so much as feeling pointless … apart from guaranteed insta-death I guess.)

This is not so good for raid leaders, who really would like people to just sign regardless of which fights are on the menu. And back in the good old TBC days, that’s what we did. What else were you going to do? It was how things worked.

Now I suspect that players are more willing to just say “suck it” if they hate the fight that much, because there’s always another game, or waiting until the next tier to see if that’s more fun. I’ve wondered also if class/ soul design feeds into this, meaning that it’s easier to make fights that are just that darned unfun for some people. Or maybe the drive for devs to keep finding new and different mechanics to drop into a fight – maybe tank and spank with a few movement mechanics wasn’t so bad after all.

Do you have any hell (or heaven) fights? Have you ever considered only signing for a raid if they’re going somewhere you like? And as for me, I hate that LOTRO platform fight and never want to see it again, but it seemed rude to only sign up conditionally (eg. I can come but only if we don’t go to that wing) so I stopped signing up altogether. I wonder if that was better in the long run for everyone else.

[Rift] What next at level 50?

Note: fans of SWTOR will want to catch the new intro trailer which they released yesterday. It’s fairly awesome.

Note 2: For all the people searching for “Blizzard at E3,” you are wasting your time, they aren’t there. They only do Blizzcon.

rift_portscion1

Hurrah, my mage reached level 50 at least. I queued up immediately for the level 50-only warfront (Port Scion) which I hadn’t seen before. As you can see from the screenshot, it’s set in a city and the Defiants occasionally launch strike forces.

OK, I admit, I don’t have a clue what was going on in that warfront. There is a bridge that one side or the other can hold and there are quests that you can do and hand in but I was mostly just following people around and trying to figure the whole thing out. (We lost this one, incidentally but probably not coincidentally.)

rift_portscion2

Here is us riding through the streets on the way to … somewhere. As I say, I honestly do not have a clue what was going on in this warfront. But it seemed fun enough and city fighting is always cool.

Other than that, I’m trying to figure out what to do next. I’m saving up gold to pay for a faster horse, and there are various factions that you can earn rep with by doing daily quests. There are instances, which have expert and more expert difficulties (T1 and T2). Apparently my gear is good enough that the dungeon finder will allow me to queue for T1 but I don’t have the nerve to actually do it, I don’t know if the warlock spec that I like so much will live up to people’s dps expectations, and definitely not with my healing second spec in case people shout at me if I can’t keep them all alive.

(I think I may be being guided by experiences in WoW where it’s not fun to go into heroics as a newbie if you don’t know them.)

There are such things as expert rifts and crafting rifts, and a questgiver in Meridian gave me a lure for one of the expert ones (I think) so will be trying to follow that up with my guild later this week.

PvP is another option, and you can earn points which you can turn in for PvP gear — although most of it doesn’t seem to have specifically PvP stats other than a bit more endurance than usual. Or maybe I’m looking at the wrong vendor, there seem to be a lot.

I can’t really do much with crafting because the highest tier of materials are either rare drops or unavailable outside said expert instances and crafting rifts.

So unless this picks up or I somehow get up the nerve to try expert dungeons, I can see myself spending less time with this game. At least on this alt. I’d like to be keener because I do really like the game, but would it have killed them to make it possible to max out crafting without doing expert dungeons?

[Rift] And if you get bored with the fashion disasters, you can always go get dominated by a shagwolf

rifttown

I’m slowly making my way towards level 50 in Rift, and very much liking Stillmoor as a zone. It’s a classic “vampires and werewolves” style of fantasy zone, with several little towns/ cities to explore. I love urban environments in fantasy games, and I thought this was a nice example.

But Stillmoor is a zone with ISSUES. Or at least the NPCs have issues.

riftfunny1 In case you can’t read the text in that bottom picture, it shows me fighting a “dominating shagwolf.” Really, you can’t make this stuff up.

And because we haven’t had any screenies of Rift fashion disasters lately, I’ll make it up with some shots of an entire fashion disaster village that I came across.

riftfunny2 It’s not the skin I’m concerned about (although the gal on the end has suspiciously balloon-like boobs – maybe the defiants have invented plastic surgery) so much as how dreadful they look, especially the women. I mean semi naked men in long skirts is at least a LOOK, it screams ‘sorcerer from a Conan film’ but that’s ok.

Random thoughts on PvP, co-operative play, and fun

There is probably a word for the feeling you get on zoning into a battleground for the first time. Something that encompasses the existential angst of “Where am I?”, together with, “Where is everyone else?”, the panic of “What am I supposed to be doing?” and the frustration of “Argh, those bastards keep killing me! I’m really really bad at this.”

Amazingly, battleground-angst tends to clear up after you’ve run the battleground a few times. It’s amazing how learning your way around the zone and objectives will soon have you playing at a much higher level, even if you genuinely are rubbish at PvP/ duelling (which I am, incidentally). This is especially true in a well designed PvP zone where you’ll be able to use the terrain to your advantage.

Or in other words, the simple pleasure of being able to snipe at someone from cover.

I played a few rounds of PvP in Rift earlier this week with the delectable Hawley, and it was a very quick shift from, “Argh, I suck at this,” to “Let’s defend the flag. Hahaha, got them!” with achievements popping up all over the place. Part of this is due to being able to work together (everything is easier if you have a healer next to you in PvP) but mostly just getting more familiar with the goals and layout.

One of the reasons I like battlegrounds is that you can have fun and help your side win without ever actually having to be good at PvP. This works better if you are not playing against pre-made teams.

Portal 2 and Co-op

I was also able to play Portal 2 at a friend’s place the other week, and it looks great. Definitely on my list of games to buy when I have more time to play during the summer, along with LA Noir and (probably) Witcher 2.

One of the really fun things is that it works brilliantly as a console game. By that I mean when you have several people sitting on the sofa but only one person actually playing. It’s fun to watch people play Portal/2 and you can chime in with suggestions without ruining their fun.

The actual co-op mode involves two people with controllers, which we weren’t doing. But one of us with the controller and the other helping with ideas seemed to work really well as a fun social experience. I’m sure the co-op mode is good too, will look forwards to trying it sometime to see how that works as a social thing as well as a gameplay mechanic.