Matching the payment model to the product

I briefly touched on this topic when writing up my post yesterday, and it was one of those mental moments of clarity. The time where a thousand light bulbs go off in your head to shine a line on a topic and idea, that seems so foolishly obvious that everyone should have realized it. I wouldn’t use the word epiphany, because moments after the realization, the full vision of all that the idea encompasses starts to fade, akin to a dream upon waking. In a desperate attempt to retain the idea, I’m typing this out on the same day as writing my last post – highly uncharacteristic of me.

The idea essentially goes like this: theme parks in real life charge you a ticket to get in. You then run around and go on all the rides and entertainment that you want. When I go to Islands of Adventure, I can spend all day riding on the Hulk, or I can hit the Doctor Doom after, and continue forth to the Jurrassic Park amusement. It won’t cost me any more as the day precedes. However, if I didn’t smuggle in food/drink, or buy a revolving day pass, I may be stuck spending money inside on other things: food, drink, trinkets, memorabilia. Some theme parks even let you purchase a “jump to the start of the line” that you can use a limited number of times.

You should see where I’m going here. If not, here’s an interesting glimpse at a full post about the topic of themepark revenue. The image of the annual pass at the bottom should look familiar to any MMO’er who’s glimpsed at a F2P tiered structure.

Theme parks, of both the real world variety and the gaming kind seem to follow a great pattern on the price point, and is why you see so many theme park MMOs of late moving into the F2P market. You bought the box, and now you can go on all the rides you want, but the cotton candy is extra, and that $7 burger is going to be $15 if you buy it at the park. These conveniently located extras, time-saving tools, and impulse buys are where a good chunk of the revenue comes for these parks. So, why have companies been trying to bill you for entrance, and then ding you again at intervals just for playing in the park you bought a ticket for? The traditional myth was operating costs and expansions (oh wait, I bought that separately…).

When I talked yesterday about GW2 being able to charge a monthly, and no one would be surprised, I meant it. We’ve all been conditioned to accept it in our traditional theme park MMO. But the more I think about it, the more it feels like the traditional square peg/round hole scenario. It feels like a carnival instead of a theme park, and no one walks away from a carnival thinking, “Yeah, that was money well spent.”.

Now, I need to think on how my outlook on sandboxes fit into this. Should they follow the same price point methodology and sell convenience items? In an (ideally) infinitely, horizontally expanded sandbox, what does convenience really mean in the long run? Are sandboxes, by nature, more likely to output more systems and less content. I argue that systems are more challenging to design, develop, and implement than content. It’s the difference between taking your kid to the gym for a game of H-O-R-S-E, and being the first person to invent the game, then build and install a basketball hoop in your driveway to play it. So, I’m not sure how I sit on that still. It’s something I still need to work through and think on.

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De-facto

I DID play GW2 this weekend.

Just. Like. Everyone. Else.

Overall, a pretty fun game. Launch had a few hiccups, but I’ve seen far, FAR worse. There was a bit of downtime (which I noticed when I took a break from Dust514), and the server I wanted on was full at first (which was not a problem the next day with instant server transfer). Otherwise, smooth sailing. I didn’t have any lag that other’s complained over, or performance issues in the slightest.

Overall, very solid gameplay so far, and the progression is the completionists wet-dream: listed counts of events and tasks to complete in each zone, and when done you get get a big reward! It’s a nice change to the quest-hub paradigm that has pervaded and perverted the MMO genre. For that alone, I give it my thanks. Also, beautiful map and world/UI interfacing. This is a game that could probably get away with charging a sub fee and noone would bat an eyelash at ArenaNet doing so, but I think it’s better in the long run for them if they don’t. Because even though the game diverts from the traditional MMO play structure, it still is a primarily themepark experience thus far, and the subscription model is not a good match to that type of game.

As for specifics…

I mentioned to Mr. Meh in one of my replies that GW2 felt more like WAR to me in the headstart than it did in the beta events. Which for me is a good thing, because it sucked me into the game. I started off the weekend playing an Asura Engineer. Loved the race, hated the class. I really didn’t care for having different “kits” to swap weapon types around in lieu of a more integral class mechanic or robust skill system. It felt very shallow to me. It didn’t hurt that the whole reason I wanted to play the Engineer was so I could dual-wield pistols, when the defining class system is something that overrides the main reason I was playing it, conflicts arise. So, after getting to level 12 on my Asura, I swapped over to a Norn Guardian. Far more my style, and I got him to around level 15 if memory serves me correctly.

Overall, I’m much happier with the game than I expected to be, but what’s even better is I found I can run both GW2 and EVE on my computer at the same time. One for each monitor. Of course, I’m not doing anything heavily attention-required in EVE, but low-risk alliance ops are doable. So, my gaming time got expanded by multi-tasking. Yay efficiency!

Last quick aside before I got: I got a headset for my PS3 to use in tandem with Dust514. The game is continuing to improve and so are my skills. Positive KDR is a nice change of pace for me, and I’m really looking forward to when the game goes live and I can keep my progress. Next build, I’m going to try a sniper in lieu of my love affair with assault.

Prime Incentives

I lightly participate in Prime’s forums, but I do lurk fairly extensively. One thread did entice me to respond, as it was a wide arching discussion on a subject that interests me: game incentives. Here is my post.

PvP incentivization is a very hard thing to get right. Hard core PvPers just want everyone to go out and fight, for the sheer thrill of pitting wits and talent against an opponent. That wish is a (pleasant) fantasy on the whole. Creating wide open fields, devoid of any compelling objectives will not entice conflict. What draws people into battle is a scarcity of resources required to complete an objective. The resources don’t need be tangibles, but they are usually the easiest to implement.

Examples help clarify.

EVE online is arguably the most succesful PvP MMO currently. Beyond just a sandbox game, its distribution of rewards and resources compels players to seek out dangerous and unsafe regions to get the greatest acquisition of goods, wealth, and control. WAR got players out to fight at first by placing vertical progression rewards in the world,but as expected, once the community achieved that goal, conflict dropped – the impetus for going out was gone. This shows us something else, whatever incentive is used as the driving factor, should need to be continually renewed/defended to encourage constant participation across all spectrums of the player base.

It’s important to recognise the motivational differentiatiors between PvP MMOs, and other PvP genres. FPS’s, MOBA’s, and RTS’s don’t have the persistance and long term progression to contend with. So the need to make a renewable motivator does not exist. Creating a PvP system that requires players to partake for no other reason than to fight won’t work in the MMO model long-term.

That was enlightening

Gamescon is going on, and a lot of the people I follow on Twitter over at Mythic were reminding me of the EA segment that was going on today. I figured that something interesting may be coming, but more importantly, I wanted to see the new info on Battlefield 3, which I had also been getting pelted with tweets about. So, I happily followed the link, and watched the proceeding panel on my palm-sized phone screen while a software install of Revit processed on my work computer. Good timing!

The small community I’m injected into, and spend the most time with, is probably those who play(ed) WAR, and who still keep tabs on it pretty heavily. So, it’s no surprise that the announcement of Wrath of Heroes is the one being most talked about amongst them. There’s rote reporting, excitement, justification, ambivalence, cautious non-committal speculation, and further disappointment. Suffice to say, the emotional gamut is being run. My thoughts on it are probably not as emotionally swayed as some others at this point, having stopped playing the game with any enthusiasm months ago, and only returning on the rare occasion when I get an itch. My last days in WAR were primarily spent in scenarios, and that craving is almost entirely satiated by LoL. So, while I may agree a bit in part with Rancid’s above-linked post on the de-evolution of ORvR, I also keep in mind, that way-back-when, probably before most of you remember this, WAR was a PvP game of SCs. Keeps, fortresses, and all that wonderful “openness” was not in the picture. The franchise has come full circle, sort-of. Lum said it right when he wrote The engine was just sitting there.

What I’m seeing of WoH, is that Mythic (BioWare, EA, whatever) is trying to dive into the MOBA market. Only in a different way. They seem to be blending TF2 style play with MOBAs. Pre-designed heroes, with a small set of powers, and an account-leveling system that any LoL fanatic will find just like home. Only, apparently you can swap out heroes in mid-match. Which means there’s not likely to be an in-game leveling system (Edit: According to Werit, in his comments section, there is leveling in each match), which means your skills are what they are from start to end. This also means there’s not likely to be any creeps, or item buying that helps make the MOBA style of game work. So, perhaps this is going to be just a fantasy version of TF2, with 3 sides. The three sides thing isn’t to be discounted though, as that is something pretty new to the genre of gaming, and sadly, still rare in PvP MMOs.

I’m curious to see how it will all turn out, but there is no fire lit under me to jump onto the game. I literally know next to nothing about it. It may just be WAR with a bunch of three-team scenarios. In which case, for players like Rancid, it symbolizes a disturbing trend. Players like Mykiel, it just gives them more areas to potentially play around in. For players like myself, WAR became antiquated with one announcement, as all of the notes WoH seems to be trying to sing at first blush, are being pleasantly rung elsewhere in my world.

Impressive

Best video I’ve seen to date for the Eve is Real campaign. This was insanely well done.

Hackers, Developers, and Forums. Oh my!

image

There has been a whole lot going on of late in the world surrounding everyone’s favorite sandbox, EVE. It seems like real life is imitating art; stretches of relative quiet followed by moments of intense activity and drama. And we all get a front.row seat.

By now, I’m sure you have heard of the DDoS attacks on EVE, by the same group that have allegedly hit (to date), sites like League of Legends, CIA, Sony, and Facebook. I see them as a worthless group of hoodlums, striving for attention. The world will be better off when they are eventually caught and prosecuted. I won’t go any further than that commentary.

On the brighter side, CCP is putting out the beta of their new-again forums. They claim to have made tweak to both its usability as well as its security. Both things were clambered for in the previous iteration. I hope they last this time, as I actually enjoyed their previous life, sans the safety holes. In large part, I just want the current awful mess called a forum to go the way of the buffalo.

Lastly, CCP has made an intriguing move on the market of third party app developers. A lot of games have these fans who create tools to help alleviate perceived defects in game or meta-game functionality. Different studios support them to various degrees, and also respect then to differing levels. CCP is going to allow developers a commercial distribution licence, that if they choose to do so, will allow then to charge users/make money (read: ads) from their creation. HOWEVER, before you and I get our panties in a twist, a free non-commercial licence will also be available. It’s something that I am torn all over the place about, and in the end, I don’t think we will really know how it plays out until the reality is tangible in front of us.

Either way, with all this, and Incarna coming to the table in a week, New Eden is seeing some major upheaval. Exciting times.

Something new every day

This one better fit.

Edit: You may notice a change in picture, the previous one resisted all attempts at editing, or formating, so I killed it.

I spent yesterday as an internet spaceship mover/liquidator. The null space area that my current corp resides in, is about 30 jumps away from the region I had been calling home before. The end of last week, and yesterday even more, saw me going about the grueling process of transporting my ships to my new home. The amount of stuff that you accumulate over time in EVE can be impressive, and I’m not the type who likes to horde – I stand over the garbage can when I go through my mail. Having a scroll bar on my assets list bugs my inherent sense of order, so last night I spent the beginning of my evening liquidating goods to cut down on transportation – going so far as to strip and sell one of my drakes. I’m sure I took a bit of a hit on my net worth – maybe 15-20% of the sold goods, but I got a Drake for free from the corps, so it’s a wash.

It’s taken me over a week to get this move wrapped up, because the travel aspect is torturous to me. 30 jumps isn’t a whole lot, but it’s still a good chunk of time just in going from point A to point B – at least 45 min, to an hour. Which is about half of a typical play session for me (one more reason I decided to sell the drake). However, my talking about this with my new corps, the clued me in on an aspect of the game I had no idea even existed: jump bridges.

The universe of New Eden is connected by stargates. Each solar system is connected by these technological wonders that were previously hauled there by explorers to connect different parts of space. Some regions, like Old Man Star, have interesting back-stories for the construction of the stargate. However, stargates are all NPC created and static objects. Which, on the whole, isn’t very interesting. Jump bridges are the player version of stargates – only better. From a pure function view, they jump longer distances, and the path to my corps home is one that would normally take about 40 jumps from the hi-sec access point, but with these jump bridges, it’s about ten. Additionally, it’s all player created content. They are created and placed by corporations. Their access is limited to those with the password, so usability is restricted. Having a network of jump bridges is tactically advantageous, as well as a huge relief to players making a long trip – for allowing them to avoid both the repetition of jump, warp, jump; but also because it makes them more safe by cutting down on total exposed time on a trip.

Travel in MMOs is a concept that, with the rest of the genre intricacies, been reduced to novel and simplistic tasks. Warping, flying, and recalls have all made most MMOs space a negligible issue. EVE, has some ways to relieve that (jump clones), but all of them are limited and restricted in some sort of significant manner (passwords, real-time limits). So, as much as I hate to do the travel myself, I appreciate it for what it means to the game, and what it creates as a by-product. A move should not be considered lightly, or something done on a whim – just as in real life, you set down roots and leaving a place you’ve become established in becomes more difficult as time goes on.

Shocker!

You mad bro?

A lot of people read Keen’s blog. Hell, I read it from time to time. I am not playing Rift, and had no real intention of playing it past the first month. I gave it the opportunity to rejuvenate the treadmill themepark MMO style too me, and it unsurprisingly failed. I’m reading a genuinely mixed post-release take on Rift throughout various blogs. Some are caressing its cheek in deep adoration, others are growing bored with it already.

In spite of whatever the current opinion of Rift by the masses, I found it humorous that Keen went to the trouble of picking apart an interview about the game. Some of the things he said, I found to be completely unmatched to my experiences – like the lag issue. In other areas, I think he has a base difference of opinion behind the message – like what the short-comings are in the themepark MMO genre. Furthermore, I think he doesn’t realize how fully static WoW is. Rift is static as well, but having continual events that can change the landscape of the world for everyone (read: not lol-phasing), even for a short amount of time, means the world is more mutable.

The game is in direct competition with WoW. It’s a fantasy-themed, quest-grind, PvE-centric MMO. Saying otherwise is disingenuous, or spin by marketing. However, all video-games are in some extent in competition to WoW, it’s a matter of degrees. Hell, the HexDefender app on my phone is in direct competition to my Words With Friends app, despite being completely different genres, and those apps are in competition to me finishing BioShock, despite also being different platforms.

So, while I may not be a fan of Rift, it’s not because they did now what WoW did in 2004. I give credit to Trion where credit is due. They did a bang-up job on creating a ridiculous stable, smooth game. They put in place tech that supported what it is they wanted to do. They took the parts they didn’t like from all the other MMOs, and made them better. Stamping my foot because the new shoes I wore for the neighborhood game of kick-the-can isn’t wow’ing (see what I did there?) my playmates like I had hoped won’t make the game of kickball they’re playing instead any less fun.

Still Alive

EVE Incurssion 1.4 patch notes in their full glory, or a condensed version. EVE dev-team Best Friends Forever (BFF), have really taken to heart the concept of polishing things up, and this patch can see a lot of those little things being rubbed to a shine, especially the UI portions which got lots of column space.

Still watching videos, up to about 5 pages of notes, on about four different videos, that are about an hour a piece. Yeesh, I took a bigger bite than I expected.

POS taken down

Shadow Control Tower - Medium

POS doesnt’ meant what you think it means. Unless you know I’m referencing EVE, in which case, maybe it does mean what you think it means. I don’t know, I’m not a freakin’ mind reader. Give me a break. For those who DON’T know what I’m referencing: a POS is a player-owned starbase. These are a big part of the world of eve, and is a part of what helps determine territory players are seeking to hold. Starbases fulfill a lot of functions, from launch points for fleets, to research and construction hubs, to giant moon-mining stations. Multiple people desire a sweet spot around a nice, lucrative moon, and that causes good-ol’ fashioned capitalistic conflict. My favorite kind.

Then you have corps like mine, who see those stations as ripe trees, hold very valuable fruit in the form of turrets, scramblers, hangers, arrays, and all sorts of other add-ons that can be stolen if you find the right situation to do so. A few nights back, a scout found the unshielded POS, and after tracking down the corps information of its owners, we war-deced them, so we could blow it up and take the yummies. To help encourage participation in what was expected to be a rather dull event, the CEO of our corp provided an incentive: each point of damage done = 10 isk, and the killing blow = 20 million isk. Well, I’m a lucky bastard, not because I had the most damage (in fact, I did about 5 million less than the top guy), but I got the killing blow, so I walked away from the endeavor about 58 million isk richer.

While throwing missiles at this starbase last night, I couldn’t but help to remember a conversation I had with my brother when walking around down-town D.C. a couple of years ago. He was telling me a bit about his time in the Ranger battalion, and how the rule of six-P’s (Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance) helps to reduce the excitement of combat. That this was a necessity, because remaining calm and working off your training kept you alive. In much the same way, leading up to our corps attack of this POS, we prepared ahead of time, and had done a fair amount of fleet drills before hand. So, while we didn’t need to use any of our talents – as the target never bothered to show up and defend, we were all prepared for the eventuality. This made the event a bit boring, but also created a sort of relaxed tension amongst us – calm, but prepared.