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Landmark’s Business Model

Dave “Smokejumper” Georgeson posted a sneak peak at Landmark’s Business Model yesterday evening. If you’re going to play Landmark you really should give it a read.  The plan follows a typical F2P convenience model:  You can essentially buy shortcuts and cosmetics.  There’s really only one item on there causing a ruckus: Resources will be sold on the cash shop.

I left my spiel in the thread, but it has already been buried where it will never be seen again.  Thankfully I have a more visible outlet.

My reaction to hearing about resource purchasing was initially (might still be) negative, but fine, I get it. Resources aren’t supposed to be progression.  Great. Then what is? This entire discussion relies on having more information, and we simply haven’t been told enough.

Let me start by pointing out the obvious:

  • If resources are in the cash shop then they can’t be the only thing used to craft items. Otherwise crafting is worthless and the items themselves should have been sold in the cash shop.
  • The in-game economy, if there is to be one, will not be based around resources.  There will be some other form of currency of meaningful use.  Hint: There are no NPCs.
  • Players (like me) who enjoy going out and gathering rare things (like resources) to sell or make things with will still need a means of pursuing that style of play or we get screwed.

I’m crossing my fingers and rolling the dice that SOE thought of those things.

There’s this whole “you define how you “win” a sandbox game like Landmark” trend among some circles of players.  That’s fine.  I agree to an extent.  If building a tower is all you care about then buy resources.  Yay, you win.  But that’s a little narrow-minded.   I don’t believe in victory scenarios for MMOs.  I believe the entire experience, especially in a sandbox, to be defined by how and why I interact with others (or don’t) to accomplish goals.  That’s deep, right?

Let’s look to a previous SOE title as an example: Star Wars Galaxies.  In SWG resources were used to craft everything.  Resources had scarcity and quality factors. Those resources were used to make items which were then in turn used by players — everything from blasters to skimpy dancing outfits.

The quality of the material determined the quality of the item.  The quality of the item determined what the end-user would could do with the item as it pertained to their particular play-style of choice.  Better blaster= slay harder monster = get better resource components = in turn get better weapon by going back to the crafter for an upgrade.   If resources were removed from the question, the link would be severed. That’s circle of life stuff, folks.  I want to hear how SOE plans to address the gap they’ve created in the circle, or if they plan to skip the entire player interaction game.

Some of my questions:

Are ALL resources available for purchase or will some be withheld to make gathering meaningful?

Will players (like me) who enjoy going out and gathering rare things (like resources) to sell or use have other mediums for pursuing that style of play?

What activities (other than building) rely on resources?

Is crafting meant to make items used by other players with other play-styles?

Given the impending excess supply of resources, does the act of crafting even make sense? Why not just sell every item instead?

What plan is in place to avoid making the gathering part of the game feel completely worthless? Personally, I hope it’s not “Mine 5,000 Marble to unlock X.”

What forms of progression will exist that will not be touched by or influenced by players who buy resources?

Bottom line, if Landmark is to stand a snowball’s chance in a very hot hell then SOE already has answers and something planned.  It’s not until then that anyone can give real feedback on the game.  All we can do now is watch the knee-jerk reactions (positive and negative) to a business model without context.  When you give me context, I can do more than ask questions.

Marvel Heroes Early Impressions

Marvel Heroes Video Memory Fix

Crashes make GRAEV SMASH!

After only a few hours in Marvel Heroes, I find myself experiencing mixed emotions. On one hand I like how well Marvel fits the action rpg genre, similar to the Marvel Ultimate Alliance style.  On the other hand, Marvel Heroes is really unoptimized, and suffers from a ton of performance issues;  Graev is experiencing a ton of crashes, and we’re both getting a lot of lag when there are lots of players on the screen at once.

I’m also torn by the ‘MMO’ aspect of Marvel Heroes.  Imagine playing Diablo without joining different games.  Instead, the entire game is simply lobbied.  In fact, think about the way SWTOR handles their world, make it an isometric action rpg, and you have Marvel Heroes.  It works from a ‘hey cool I have people to play with’ point of view, and there’s a certain comfort I get from having other people playing around me, but I also hate seeing 30 Hawkeyes running around, or watching as it takes 50 heroes to take on Venom.  I think I would have preferred a traditional action RPG where I make a room and people can join.

Gameplay is fun.  I like the talent trees, unlocking abilities, and smashing tons of street thugs who explode with loot has always satisfied me.  We’re still so early in the game that it’s hard to comment much further.  I think I’ve played enough to know that there’s enough fun to keep exploring if any only if Graev can overcome these issues he’s having with the game running out of video memory. If anyone finds a Marvel Heroes video memory fix please let us know.

Rift F2P

Rift is going free-to-play on June 12th.  To me this was never a question of if Rift would go F2P, but when.  Rift’s numbers are declining as all games do over time.  To be honest, they made it quite a long time for never quite being a true blockbuster success; much longer than most.  EQ lasted forever because it initiated a paradigm shift.  WoW is still doing relatively well for the same reason.  Rift is/was just another good game.

Trion’s big marketing strategy with this F2P transition is to clearly state that players are getting complete AAA MMO experience for free.  You only have to pay for certain things like boosts, mounts, gear, and expansion souls.  All story, all level, all raids — all content is free.

That’s a great strategy, and really the only one I believe can possibly work for a true “AAA F2P” MMO (if such an oxymoron exists).  Let’s look at their execution.

rift free to play

All content in Rift will be completely free.

Subscriptions

Having a sub to Rift gets you boosts.  Whether they’re slowing everything else down like SWTOR, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised.  As a Patron (their name for a subscriber) you can get bonus mount speed, more reputation, more tokens, more currency, loyalty rewards, and those types of things. It’s the whole “you want to pay money to not be at a disadvantage” trope. Will it be enough to get people to subscribe?  Personally, I don’t see the real benefit.  I’d rather buy these as I want them individually.

Selling Gear

Here’s the big one.

“We will also have gear for sale. Our guidelines for gear on the store are generally as follows: The best gear in the game must be earned and high-level items on the store must also be available to be earned in-game.”

That is vague; I can interpret that to mean you can buy the best gear in the game.  All X are Y but not all Y are X type of logic.  Regardless, it’s pay-to-win unless your definition of winning is to only have the best stuff instantly.  If I can buy the second best stuff right when hit max level, then jump in the next day with the second best gear and start earning the best, that’s winning to me.

This whole conversion is going to do really well for Rift.  I’m absolutely positive that they will see more people playing, and more revenue as a result.  However, F2P is a short-term strategy for MMOs.  Trion forfeits Rift’s credibility and sense of being a genuine AAA game.  Transitioning to F2P will do very well early for the game, but it will expedite the end even if it only makes people consider there being an end, thus that in and of itself diminishing their future possibilities.  Rift’s love group is being served with the realization of the game’s mortality, and I’m confident that the long-run will suffer as a result as those love-group-players lose their desire to stay and start looking for a game without a future dictated by altering design to earn the most money.

I’ll give the game a shot now (I was going to anyway since Raptr gave me 30 days free AND the expansion free…) and maybe give the game a bit of coverage from a ‘how does it play free’ perspective.  That’s precisely what Trion is hoping thousands of people will do.

Conglomoblog: Minecraft, SWTOR, Job Hunting

Life has been crazy lately.  I spend more time working on campus to finish up the last of my finals (graduating in a week!) in one day than I do sleeping and playing games.  I apologize for the lack of updates around here, but it will improve in just a matter of days.  After that, until I can find a job (Which I am actively looking for — anyone want a marketing guru?) I’ll have plenty of free time.

I’m also bound by a few NDAs right now.  If not for forced silence, I’d have quite a bit to share about a few games.  I want to talk about Marvel Heroes, for example, which is an action RPG set in the Marvel universe, but I can’t just yet.

To kill what very little free time I have, which has mostly been extremely late at night (read: after 10pm), I’ve been playing Minecraft again.  Our community has another server set up, and we’re playing a mod compilation called ‘Feed the Beast’.  It’s neat, challenging compared to Tekkit, and a lot of fun to hop in and build.  There’s something about building, tinkering, and letting my creative (or lack thereof) manifest itself in a game.  Why can’t more games be a blank canvas like Minecraft? So simple, so fun.

Let’s see, what else am I up to lately?  I played a 30 minutes of SWTOR tonight. A friend of mine is playing again just to kill some time and play some battlegrounds.  I had fun playing the single-player game 1-50.  The game is quite charming looking once you get past the low level armor that looks like it’s painted on.  Animations are extremely smooth.  I love what they did with the interface changes.  I hate the F2P crap, but it’s free. As I continue to play, I’ll refine my thoughts and keep you posted.

That’s all for now! Things will pick up again very soon.

Another Developer with MMO Price Myopia

Scott Hartsman, former Executive Producer at Trion Worlds, expounded today in a Forbes article on where he believes the MMO industry is going.  Yeah, it’s another one of those interview — you know, the kind where someone who should know what he or she is talking about, but instead appears to be appealing to some ulterior motive.  I’m going to break down what Scott says in the interview, and tell you why I believe he’s twisting reality in favor of what is likely his future in some F2P endeavor.

“There are huge cost barriers that go into making a MMORPG and the market is crowded”

He’s right, the market is crowded with plenty of games made by developers operating under the impression that it takes 100+ million to make a good game.

“Can companies keep up with the expectations and each generation of MMOs costing more and more? It’s an arms race that no one can win, it’s not sustainable in its current direction.”

These expectations do not come from the players.  I don’t believe there’s ANY proof out there that says players are demanding these games to cost more and more.  Why would there be?  Every huge budget McMMO releases and each one is one big disappointment after the other.  If there’s an arms race then it’s a race to the bottom.

“The subscription model was a great way to keep everything paid when MMOs were a lifestyle choice, a hobby.  MMORPGS had more in common then with a game like golf.[...] “Now players simply aren’t willing to commit to the subscription model as large audiences.   Subscription models aren’t going away, but the fact is we’ve hit the cap on players looking to embrace the subscription model and free-to-play models have really opened up doors to a new audience.  Users don’t stay as long as they used to.”

The 10,000,000 people subscribing to World of WarCraft every month disagree.  Add in the number of people paying subscriptions in freemium games + the random games that require subs, and that number is easily 11M or more.  Then add in people like me who currently aren’t subscribed to any MMO at all but would happily subscribe to a game worth our money, and you suddenly have a number I can’t even begin to estimate, but I know it’s a substantial number.  And let’s not forget that a game doesn’t need a million subscribers to be a success.

The only cap we’ve hit are the number of people who want to play WoW, and the number of people willing to pay for the current offerings.  If you keep making more of the same, then sure we’ve reached the cap of people willing to pay for this service.

“Think about how easy it is to create a League of Legends account.  Look how friction-free that is. Look at these different factors coming together and it’s not difficult to see where the industry is going and how things are changing.”

LoL is not a MMO.  Different industry, Scott.  Mobas are inherently more shallow than a MMO, less costly, and attract a very different audience for very different reasons.  I have a feeling about what kinds of games Scott will be involved with next.

Scott also blames cell phone bills and the economy.  Bunch of nonsense.  Fact: MMOs cost $15 a month 10 years ago.  Fact: MMOs still cost the same.  Fact: $15 today is cheaper than it was 10 years ago, not more expensive.  Buying power on that $15 has gone down.

Yet another developer who tunnel visions on price.  Throughout this entire interview I saw nothing about design, nothing about targeting the right players, nothing about introducing new players to the industry by creating something new or innovative.  All I see from Scott is price, price price.  No wonder the market is crowded with a bunch of developers locked in an arms race that no one can win.