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.




Well, at least I didn’t waste my time

Want to know where I stopped reading this interview?

RPS: You dedicated a lot of the presentation to discussing how solo quests can affect the world – for instance, by putting a horde of restless ghost baddies to rest. Is the goal of Elder Scrolls Online to more or less make the player feel like the hero of a single-player RPG?

Paul Sage: Absolutely.

Right there. The end. Crossed off my list of even-giving-a-thought. It is amazing how a single player game that does SO many things right, can fail on such a big level in the transition. This shit ain’t easy, not going to say it is. But its not that difficult to see the giant flashing light bulbs that are warning of a fail-cascade up ahead either.

Three things SW:TOR has done well

The First Thing

The rail shooter. I have a soft place in the cockles of my heart for rail shooters, and having this as a mini-game in SW:TOR is just good fun. They are quick missions, usually around the 5 minute mark, that you can get dailies off. They have a primary mission, and usually at least one obvious bonus mission. In every one, I’ve found secret bonus missions as well. Your ship is upgradable, albeit in a very simple and shallow manner, but there is that nod to progression still. I do these every single time I play as one of the first things I do. Maybe I just crave a return to X-wing, but it makes me happy when I play these, and that’s at least half the reason to play a game.

The Second Thing

Storyline. I was dismissive of this before playing, thinking story was a joke when it comes to MMOs. Sure, I’ve always had a tertiary interest in the plot behind what I play, and having heard someone go in-depth on the lore of EQ/EQ2 have been entertaining moments in my past, but never have I honestly cared about it. The story has me immersed more than any previous MMO I’ve played. Without giving away any spoilers, I have one companion I never use because of poor compatibility as well as being annoying as hell to me personally, however I had the chance to see this companion get axed but did not take it, because I didn’t feel as if my character would go that route. I made a decision based on the personality and outlook of my character. That’s a pretty hefty jump from skipping quest text, and BioWare should be lauded for that.

The Third Thing

Nostalgia. Probably not intentional, but I have been having some major nostalgia pangs for SWG of late when I play in SW:TOR. It’s most noticeable when I’m on Tatooine which has been all of my last two or three sessions. Speeding around Anchorhead with all the visual consistency you expect of the planet brings back old, deep memories of my time in the sandbox *rimshot*. It’s not something that will keep me playing the game, but it brings a whimsical smile to face. If I have to go to Dantooine or Naboo later, it may really be hard on me.

There are a lot of things in the game that don’t work for me in the long run, as I have little expectation of me making it past three characters at most, one storyline for each side, and MAYBE a second for one of the factions. That’s a topic for a different post that I’ll get into some other day.

Accelerated Time-table

With the release of news of SW:TOR having an 85% retention rate going into month 2 (hat-tip), with “most” of them paying at this point. So, I decided to go ahead and look around to see what kind of bargain I could get on a boxed copy of the game. Happily, I found a listed brand new copy on E-bay for ~$35 US after shipping. With a friendly WAR-blogger-fellow rerolling to Republic, I bit the bullet and just decided to accelerate the deal. That was Friday I believe, and I got the game last night. Fast shipping FTW. So, I’m in the game now. Playing a Light-side Jedi Guardian, just like I did in the beta. Happily mashing my space-bar through all the conversations because they are identical to what I did before. I stayed up way past my bed time, finishing up Tython and getting my light-saber.

Things that encouraged me to go ahead and dive in earlier:

  1. MMO boredom: I’m not plugged in to EVE with any corp, and don’t have the time for the highly fun, but time-consuming socio-political machinations that make the game great.
  2. An impressive quote: “As a result of greater than expected earnings in Q3, EA will increase the marketing budget for Star Wars: The Old Republic in Q4.”
  3. The Rahk-ghoul thing: BioWare is hitting the game hard with content updates right out the gate. Keep it up like Trion is with Rift, and you’ll make customer’s very happy.
  4. DotA2 and LoL are methadone: These two games are amazing fun. But if you require a sense of persistence & progression, that’s just not what these games do, and I crave some of that.
  5. HeroEngine: I was curious to see how well it actually played out, and I won’t get another chance until Dominus launchers.
  6. Lum likes it. That’s worth at least giving it a try for $35.

So yeah, let loose the slings and arrows, and all that jazz.

Drawing a line in the sand(box)

The defining factor that differentiates a sandbox from a themepark is an end goal. Wait, Fallout games are considered sandboxes aren’t they? Okay, so the defining factor that differentiates a sandbox from a themepark MMO is and end goal. Different rules for different genres, I am on board with that, and it makes sense to apply them as such. So, if we proceed with that being the line upon which genre-specific titles fall, then we have a clear definition and understanding of what to expect.

Except things are never that simple.

In the typical sandbox, you set out with a decision of “what do I want to DO?”. Pick a vocation of sorts, or just a type of gameplay, and you can go have at it. Want to be a space tailor? Have at it! Want to be a bar-room dancer? You can still do it, but not as well as you used to. Build ships and sail the open seas, braving the ocean depths with each league? I think you can do that, in a limited fashion at least.  You can play a pirate (space or sea), a trader, a craftsman, a bar owner, an entertainer, a warrior, an assassin, a leader, a manager, an economist, or even a farmer in some games. The goal behind the sandbox is to provide you options of how to play in the world. In themeparks your options are more limited, or sometimes it’s the world that’s limited. What happens when a themepark becomes astoundingly huge, and your options of what you want to play are exhaustive?

This is the question I’ve been bouncing around in my skull for the past couple weeks, and I haven’t really come up with a clear answer.

Read more of this post


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.

It’s just dull

I’ve given Rift what I think is a fair attempt at grabbing me, but it has failed to do so. Unlike some bloggers, I am completely burned out on the themepark design. Whereas long ago I talked about how I was done with PvE games, I think now it has evolved into just being done with themeparks (no, really?). I could maybe play a PvE game in a sandbox, but would probably find it more difficult without the freedom of attacking another player – because at this point the artificial restriction would feel jarring in what should be an open world. I’m not in any way regretting my purchase, because I feel like the money I gave to Trion helped to reinforce what they did right, and what the entire genre should emulate – functionality and stability. It’s not the studio’s fault that I find their design choice to be less entertaining than a presentation on the various methods of mixing paint.

Really, I just find the paradigm, well, dull. So much so, that at this point, I’m having a hard time remembering what it is I like about the set-up to begin with.

Read more of this post

I can whore with the best of them

Any opportunity to get a dig in at Favre...

It’s the “official” launch day for Rift. Everyone is talking about it. Everyone. Which means that I’m talking about it too, as I fall into the category of “everyone”. Mostly, the hub-ub is whether the game is “successful” or “evolutionary” or “next-gen”. Some are throwing around flashy phrases like “3.0”, or writing things with a lot of “quotations” to make them seem “edgy”.

I’m still not blown away by the game myself though. It’s fun, and easy. Really easy. And maybe that’s the appeal. Avoiding the literal term of the words given the queue situation, it’s very easy to get in and out of so far. The quintessential theme park so far, where every step is guided, I know exactly where I’m supposed to go at any moment. Along those predetermined routes, I’m usually able to find more than ample supplies for any of the crafting professions I’ve chosen to pursue, and then just do a mass-combine when I’m done. The only limitations to outings from a hub have been the moderate ones generated by bag space – and that has been minor at best.

For me, the most engaging aspect of the game, hasn’t been the game itself. It’s been the meta. Experimenting with builds, reviewing and judging the various souls for synergy and complementing abilities. It’s good fun, and the rest of the game is exactly what I, and I think others, want out of PvE themepark game if they are going to play it. If you’re looking for the “new dynamic” you wont’ find it in Rift. Nothing has struck me as revolutionary or astounding in innovation (which you’ve read elsewhere a thousand times).

That said, I don’t necessarily believe that the “next gen” of MMOs are required to include a new gameplay experience, or some new system. If that was the case, WAR would be a much stronger case for being declared part of the next generation crowd than Rift. I sincerely believe that being part of the new breed of MMOs could be just releasing polished, finished games on day 1. With previous games, when buggy launches occurred, or problems arose, we still had people believe that it was just the way the genre was. The nature of the beast, so to speak. I was one of those people as well. So, if Rift alone can convince people such as myself, and the entire genre, into stronger releases, and better implementations, then I say – that’s worthy of declaring the new generation in effect. It sets the bar for its contemporaries, and I think that Rift did that. I know that I’ll be judging all future MMOs on launch day to Rift. Won’t you?

Knowing the basics

Tobold fails to understand how EVE works. He played tried halfheartedly logged into it, so he knows all the implications of the recent devblog.

EVE is FULL of PvE. It’s rife with it. You can’t take a jump without running into it. Everywhere you go in EVE you are surrounded by potential PvE interactions. Even in the lowest of low-sec space, PvE is all around you. The kicker is: it’s completely interwoven with PvP, yes even in high-sec empire space.

“Dungeons” already exist in EVE. Every mission (quest) you get from an agent (NPC) spawns a dungeon. Until you start that quest, it did not have en existence. Out in some random far off place that no one would ever go to, objectives, NPC enemies, and intractable objects are generated, except, now anyone with a sensor can track it down too. In EVE “Dungeons” aren’t instanced, the whole world can find them if they’re looking. That’s what makes PvE in EVE both relatively safe, and also potentially dangerous. There’s also no rule to how many people you HAVE to take to these “dungeons”. Some level missions can be easily done solo, others can be done in seconds if you bring a friend. The decision on how to best achieve completion is left to the player.

But hey, I can’t blame a guy for wanting to try to tweak the noses of people who vehemently disagree with him. I can blame him for being completely un-knowledgeable about what he’s speaking, when he should know better.