Category Archives: Marketing

Unhealthy reasons to spend money

I have recently been looking for a new game to sink my teeth a little further into, and as a part of this endeavour I found myself running into a game called Eldevin for the first time since it’s release in late 2013. That means the game is still new – only a year old – and from my experience, games tend to be at their best when they’re still fresh.

As I delved into finding more information about the game, I was reminded of why I originally put the game off my radar of potentially playable games. When I first played the game in beta right before release, it wasn’t the gameplay that put me off – no, while I didn’t get very far, I thought the gameplay looked quite promising. What put me off was the business model, which I considered P4P (pay for power – note that here it is being used synonymously with the term P2W).

To explain the business model of the game, it is as follows: just about all the game features, items, skills and whatnot are available to all players. Practically speaking, all the content the game has to offer is open. The client and accounts are free as well. However, there is a subscription option. What does that give? The answer is, subbing increases all experience and money gained by a percentage and periodically rewards the subscriber with potions that may be used in combat.

The first time I heard of the business model, I knew I had a problem with it. But when I would call the model P4P, I would often get objections from fans of the game. They would claim that since all of the game’s content was available to the free player, the game could not be P4P. Even Hunted Cow Studios, the creators behind the game, say the following on their site:

Eldevin is a free to play game. As gamers ourselves we are definitely opposed to “pay to win” games, so when we say free to play, we mean that our players can enjoy the entire game – all realms, all quests, all levels – without spending a penny.

So I had to go back to thinking, what exactly was it about Eldevin’s model that made me feel it was P4P. You know those moments when you intuitively understand something, but find it difficult to put the thought into words in such a manner other people can see a reasonable argument behind what you’re saying? That’s the sort of feeling I had.

The end result of thinking it through is as follows. The fact a free player can see all of a game’s content is not what constitutes a non-P4P game. In fact, this has nothing to do with it. Content, you see, does not equal power. This is something even the developers of the game seem to (purposefully?) misunderstand, judging by the quote above.

The simple reason I regard Eldevin P4P is that paying customers are not paying for content (or cosmetics) – they are paying to progress faster than free players. A subscription boosts progression rates and money gain instead of providing the paying customer with new content.

This model is inherently different from that of another medieval fantasy browser game, RuneScape, to the model of which Eldevin’s has been compared to a couple of times by some people. In RuneScape, subscribing unlocks all of the player’s skills and the full map along with all the quests, items and what ever may come with that. In addition, subscriber-only servers become available.

The difference between the two models is that in the other, the dedicated customer pays for content, where as in the other they pay to merely progress faster than others. The conclusion becomes easy to draw. RuneScape’s free portion is a form of an extended trial period of a subscription game – you like the game, subscribe to it for more content. In Eldevin, you subscribe because you want to be stronger than others. In one you pay for content, in one you pay for power.

Now, whether or not one likes either of the models is down to opinion. But personally, I strongly dislike the P4P (or pay-to-grind-less, which is a form of P4P) model of Eldevin. When I pay for a game, I expect to pay for content, for stuff to do. I don’t expect to be spending real money to make my character stronger than others – one of the reasons we play RPGs is precisely to get out of that situation, for in games we all (usually) start at in equal beginnings.

Frankly, I view Eldevin’s model as unhealthy – not necessarily from a business perspective but from a psychological one. Especially considering browser based games tend to attract a lot of younger players. What exactly does it teach our children when even in virtual worlds they are expected to embrace and exploit our inequal beginnings in life?

MMORPGs to look out for in 2015

I try not to go too much into talking specific games on this blog, but as the year 2014 draws to a close, I think it may be appropriate to list the upcoming MMORPGs that interest me personally and will hopefully also interest the reader. Along with the game’s name, I will try to give a brief description of it – what makes it interesting, what negatives may come with it and why.

Pathfinder Online (link)

Based on the popular tabletop RPG franchise, PFO is a high fantasy title being developed by Goblinworks who, by all accounts, don’t seem like the most experienced developers in the industry.

The key features of the game as I take them are the massive open world, EVE Online -like territory control in the form of environmental hexes, emphasis on roleplaying, and freedom in character progression.

It is easy to conclude Goblinworks is taking a very sandbox approach, which is something the company has not been keeping a secret. CEO Ryan Dancey has in a couple of speeches made points as to why this approach was chosen. One of the reasons, according to him, was that a sandbox world where the mechanisms matter more than the content would be cheaper to develop for a small team in comparison a full-fledged themepark.

I do hold some skepticism towards this project. What worries me are a couple of things. The first thing is the release model: the game just went through it’s alpha period, after which there will not be a beta phase, but instead a phase Goblinworks refers to as early enrollment, a stage of development where the game is not nearly finished yet and that will last for a couple of years, but after the beginning of which characters will no longer be wiped.

What this seems like is an evolution of the paid beta model that has in the past years become very popular, if not the norm – you know, the model where the beta is only regarded as a marketing phase rather than a testing one. However, in Pathfinder Online’s case, the game doesn’t even have most of it’s core features like movement or combat in their final stages yet as the game enters the early enrollment phase.

Talking about unfinished, having played the alpha, I am worried the developers may be focusing slightly too much on complex systems and forgetting about the fun. The character progression system and the crafting system for example seem complex yet dull in their current, hopefully far-from-finished implementations. The same goes for combat, which has interesting concepts such as separate main and offhand attacks, but which currently feels extremely boring.

Now, one probably shouldn’t judge a game by it’s alpha (except in cases where the alpha is just a marketing period, ArcheAge acting as an example), so I will try to not draw complete conclusions here. I will say however that the designers probably need some redirection in terms of what players actually find fun. That being said, I will be keeping my eyes on the game.

Shards Online (link)

Here’s a pretty unique concept – a player run MMORPG. What makes Citadel Studios’ Shards Online intriguing is that they will be selling the server side software, promising each player run server to be capable of supporting at least 64 players at a time. Now, 64 players isn’t much, but it is only the minimum number the developer is currently sure player-run servers are going to be able to support. And more importantly, servers or shards may be connected together to form a cluster, allowing for much larger realms to exist.

While player run servers are interesting by themselves, the game doesn’t look bad on it’s own either – it reminds one of a slightly modernized Ultima Online, a game on which some of the developers have in fact worked in the past. Unsurprisingly, official servers with a monthly fee will also be available. What is surprising however is that not all servers will have the same theme – the plan, according to the developer, is to create multiple art sets for players to be able to play and create not only high fantasy but also steampunk, sci-fi, and other worlds.

Camelot Unchained (link)

For the players who fondly look back to the Realm vs. Realm battles of Dark Age of Camelot, Camelot Unchained probably seems like the most interesting thing on the horizon. The game is being developed by familiar faces from both, DAOC and Warhammer: Age of Reckoning. I will not lie, personally I never was a big RVR person. But it will be interesting to see how a game with such a strong name and development team will do – whether it will find and be able to keep it’s own niche of RVR players or not.

Albion Online (link)

Another title strongly in the sandbox train, but this time with a focus on more open world PVP and bite-sized gaming – an unconventional combination. So far I have personally not been keeping up with Albion Online too tightly, mainly because of the fishy-seeming paid beta testing and the fact the game has been stated to be utilizing a F2P monetization model which I fear may not suit a PVP focused game very well.

Whether or not the F2P model will work out or not remains to be seen. With stylized graphics and gameplay that has had a pretty polished feel to it even during testing, as well as cross-platform support (which is very important to me personally, being a Linux gamer), the game will still be worth following – and in the best of scenarios, even playing. It has already grown a pretty strong following for itself.

Corecraft (link)

After a little bit of thinking I decided to include this one here. Corecraft isn’t a new game – it is an emulated World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade server.

While there are a lot of private WoW servers out there, Corecraft is unique in the amount of attention it has spawned. While it utilizes the open source MaNGOS emulator, the developers have rewritten a lot of previously existing systems themselves to get them functioning better. This is an exception from the norm in the emulation community where it is common for server owners to only be capable of creating simple scripted events but not much else.

The biggest selling point of the server is that it will be releasing the content of WoW’s first expansion in an unnerfed state and in the correct order, with all the attunements intact, albeit classes will be balanced for the later months of the expansion due to the 2.4.3 client.

I’ve personally witnessed a couple of popular emulation projects crash and burn so some level of scepticism is only appropriate. But if everything goes as planned, I believe many people will be able to squeeze a nice amount of nostalgia-filled gameplay out of the server.

Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen (link)

After the business failure that was Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, Brad McQuaid has for whatever reason appeared as a pretty hated figure in the MMORPG community. Having been one of the original idea guys behind EverQuest, he still has his fans however, and those fans are surely waiting for his next game, Pantheon.

Similarily to Vanguard, the main selling points of Pantheon: ROTF are uninstanced dungeons and group-focused gameplay. The target audience is quite obviously the same: older EverQuest players.

While the game has suffered from difficulties with funding and malicious rumours being spread on various forums, some concerning Brad’s personal life, some how the employees of the developing company are being paid, a modern open world themepark is a thing a lot of people are sure to be interested in. And unlike a year ago, it does seem like the game is actually going forward, for update videos are being made on a monthly basis now. It remains to be seen what comes out of this project.

Project Gorgon (link)

While currently at a very early phase in development, Project Gorgon is already showing quite a bit of promise. It’s goal is to be the sandbox for the PVE player, and despite the team’s (currently) very limited resources, the pre-alpha version of the game, available for testing purposes free of charge, feels surprisingly solid and thought out. It shouldn’t be very surprising to hear, then, that the small team behind the game consists of veteran developers who have worked on such past titles as Asheron’s Call one and  two.

Early into development or not, a sandbox without open PVP is something a lot of players have for a long time been asking for – Project Gorgon might just one day be able to offer that, but we shall see. There is at least one obstacle on the way to mainstream success however, and that is that mechanically the game probably feels rather dated to the younger audience.

Shroud of the Avatar (link)

What would this list be if it didn’t include the game of two very familiar faces of the MMORPG world: Richard Garriott and Starr Long?

Shroud of the Avatar is to be another medieval fantasy sandbox title, which in itself probably isn’t very surprising considering who’s behind it. There are a couple of reasons to keep an eye out for this game. The combat system for one, which is to deviate from basic tab targeting and apparently will be having something to do with cards. There’s also the fact the developers are desperately looking for ways to not segregate PVP and PVE players, but allow for the playstyles to co-exist. It remains to be seen how this is handled. Lastly, its worth noting that like a couple of other titles on this list, SOA also uses the Unity3D engine – rather surprising from Garriott, but then again we live in another decade now.

The Repopulation (link)

The mandatory sci-fi game on the list, The Repopulation is another title claiming to aim for a very open sandbox experience, this time in the spirit of (and I am quoting here) Star Wars: Galaxies and Ultima Online.

Personally I am not into the theme of the game, which is non-space sci-fi. Hence, I have not been keeping up with news on development. However, the game is planning on going with a free-to-play model, which is worrying considering it will feature open world PVP. The sci-fi crowd has less games to play than us in the fantasy field however, so I will be following how development progresses. It is currently at an alpha stage.

Play2Crush (link)

The last object on the list could well be a hoax, but when a developer associated with the creation of Shadowbane along with another name about just as familiar from Ultima Online promise to be publishing news about their upcoming project in the near future, its probably worth the effort to keep one’s eyes and ears open.

Conclusions

That’s quite a nice amount of games coming up. Reading it, two things come to mind. The first is, a lot of new small developers have started up recently, many of them going for crowds one can with good conscience refer to as niche.

The second thing to take home is that the use of Unity3D is a rising phenomena. I have yet to see a finished MMORPG created with the engine that was a success, but it looks like we’re heading towards something new in the MMORPG industry: a standard. This has the potential of speeding up MMO development and making the market more varied. It will remain to be seen, however, whether or not any of the MMORPGs made with the engine make it big.

Paying not to grind is paying to win

Often when discussing online game payment models, one runs into a situation where one side considers a free-to-play title to be of the pay-to-win variety where as the other side disagrees. So what exactly can be considered paying to win? While people have differing levels of tolerance to P2W features, I don’t think the answer to the question is down to opinion alone. In fact, I feel denying certain features being pay-to-win is just being intentionally misleading. This is the issue I want to tackle today.

Winning in a virtual world

An argument sometimes brought up by either F2P advocates or fans of specific games is that there are no winners in MMORPGs – hence there can be no paying to win. And they’ve got a point there, to some extent: there are winners of situations within a game of this type, for example a player may win in a duel against another, but there is no definitive point where you’ve won the game.

Because of the unclear definition of winning, I feel it is appropriate to steal a term from Syncaine: pay-for-power (P4P). Essentially, all features we’re used to calling P2W in MMORPGs can be called P4P instead. From now on, I will try to use this term.

Paying not to grind

The most glaring P4P features are of course the type where real money buys the player levels, skills, equipment or another form of power not available through other means. These types of cash shop options are, surprisingly(?), fairly rare in today’s games, at least here in the West. Few people would argue against this sort of thing being P4P.

Opinions get more divided when the power being sold is also available through other means. Sometimes people will argue that if a cash shop item can be attained by just playing the game as well, it cannot be considered P4P. I would disagree here.

Character power in online RPGs tends to be a reflection of how much time the player has spent on a character. In fact, time tends to be he greatest factor when it comes to it. When one uses real money to buy powerful items or levels, even if those things can also be attained through purely in-game means, one is paying money to not have to spend as much effort for the item in-game.

A situation of this kind would be called by some a case of paying not to grind, which to them isn’t the same as paying for power. You also often hear these people saying grinding is something anybody can do, and because of this paying not to grind features should not be considered P4P.

I completely disagree. In a skillcheck situation, you either have the skill to get to an objective or you don’t (example: beating a difficult dungeon to get a powerful item). Similarly, you either have the time and determination to grind for an objective or you don’t. There is no difference. If you can skip either and claim the rewards by paying money, you are paying for power.

So what isn’t P4P?

There are some situations where it is difficult to say if a feature is P4P or not. Take for example RuneScape’s model. I have heard the model has lately changed dramatically though, so I’ll explain what I mean:

  • – As a F2P player, you are allowed a certain set of skills, all of which you can train to their maximum potential. You are also allowed access to servers that have most of the world in an accessible state.
  • – Subscribers can play on subscriber-only servers where there is more landmass to explore and more skills to train. Skills available in F2P are also given more variation through subscriber-only items. Subscriber-only items cannot be transferred to free-to-play realms.

The difficulty of defining this model as either P4P or non-P4P comes from the fact being a subscriber does sort of grant more power by giving the player access to more efficient leveling areas as well as a larger variety skills and more ways of making money.

Personally I would not consider this P4P. The F2P portion I would instead consider an extended free trial, and buying a subscription only buys you content. That content might or might not be more efficient for gaining character power, but nevertheless the player is not directly buying character power – they’re still going to have to work for it. The fact most subscriber-world-only items don’t work on free servers also helps to make the system less P4P.

World of Warcraft’s expansions are a pretty similar case to the above. One could argue they are P4P because the potential power level of characters rises as they can train to a higher level, but in the end what the expansion really buys is content, not direct increases in character power. Besides, practically everybody ends up buying the expansion anyway, and the game is sort of designed around this idea. As for the game’s instant level 90 thing though, that’s a completely different case: in it, the player is literally buying character power in the form of levels, and I don’t think there’s arguing this isn’t clearly P4P.

To give one more example, this time for a model I would consider P4P, I want to mention Eldevin, a recent browser-based MMORPG. It was looking to capitalize on RuneScape players by it’s design, but the payment model, F2P with optional subscription, was inherently different: instead of buying new areas to explore or new skills to advance, subscription increased experience gains in existing skills alongside with granting access to free potions the subscriber could use in combat. Unlike the above two examples, I would argue the system is in fact a form of paying-not-to-grind, and hence should be considered P4P.

The point

The point of all the above is not to bash F2P or or even P4P, nor to take a stance on which payment model is the best. The only thing I want to do here is to make the reader see the hypocrisy in claiming certain features offered by some games should not be considered P4P when that is clearly what they are.