We’re Willing to Pay for Value

Why are MMO gamers perceived as inherently stupid? Before you say, “Because they ARE stupid…” let me explain. MMO gamers are consumers just like everyone else. Consumers want value. The word value is often mistaken for “cheap”.  Value propositions come in all sorts of varieties: more for less, more for more, less for more, etc.

You can charge money for good products. People are willing to pay for something awesome. There’s a reason why Apple is able to charge $600+ for a PHONE and people are lining up and hurting each other just to get their hands on one. They’ve identified what people want, they make it, then they sell it for a premium. Due to their product actually being pretty good, Apple turns their customers into brand champions who then recruit more people to buy Apple products. This isn’t unique to Apple or to any company or industry.

Why do we have to pretend games are free or better yet that they have to be free in order for people to want to play them? MMO gamers are capable of identifying whether a product is worth being paid for or not. A good product will sell. A poor one will not.

When I see a “free” game I immediately wonder what they are trying to hide or what they are trying to accomplish. Are they hiding the fact that they aren’t a good game? Are they trying to hide something nefarious like a pay-to-win cash shop? Are they focusing on simply hooking whales and not on making good game design choices? There’s a reason why that product doesn’t have a price tag. Find it, and you’ll find the flaw.

People are happy to offer money to pay for beta testing a game or getting “Early Access” on Steam. Crowdfunding raised millions for games in 2014.

My lesson for today is that games do not have to be free. Charging for a game is absolutely acceptable, and it won’t dissuade people from playing. What dissuades people from playing is a failure to provide or convey value.

Seabeard App


Take elements of Animal Crossing, Rune Factory, Harvest Moon, and everything annoying about In-App Purchases (IAP) and you have a “free” game called Seabeard. Seabeard is all about restoring your island to its former glory. You do so by clearing out overgrowth, restoring ruins, building new houses, and bringing commerce back to your empty corner of the map.

Gameplay is simple: You tap the screen to move and interact. You can decorate buildings, obtain pets, harvest farmable items, explore dungeons, craft recipes, do quests, go fishing, play mini-games, and the typical stuff you’d expect from a game of this type. Watch the video below from the creators of the game for a visual presentation of what you’ll find.

I really enjoy Seabeard’s use of islands. Your have your own island home that you are trying to build up, but you can travel via ship to other islands. Traveling between islands provides an opportunity to play sea-based mini-games where you can earn prizes ranging from gold to rare crafting materials. If you choose not to play a mini-game, you are lifted up by a zeppelin and carried to the next island.

seabeard-islandsOne of my favorite features is the ability to set up vendor stalls on your island to sell your goods to the game itself or to other players. I don’t mind the concept of having to put items up for sale and waiting 5 minutes to an hour for them to sell. I also don’t mind having to earn additional slots. I think this system works well for Seabeard, and it’s something I can see working well in other games. Selling your items to other players is also a novel feature for devices like this, and allows people like me to get my friends and family playing so that we can help each other build up faster.

Seabeard is one of the best graphical presentations I’ve seen on the iOS. The stylized visuals are captivating, the game runs flawlessly on my iPhone 6 Plus, and I’m once again challenging my previously held belief that phone games have no chance of providing a full-featured gaming experience. Seabeard is capable of providing the exact same experience found in games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing. The key word here is capable.


In-App PurchasesWhere Seabeard falls short is in its use of IAPs. The game starts out decently accommodating. Wait 10 minutes here, 5 hours there, spend a few hours earning coins to afford the next building, etc. Then suddenly you hit this wall where it’ll take several hours of doing the same repetitive tasks before earning enough gold to move on. Conveniently you can purchase Pearls or Gold from their cash shop, but the rates are so ludicrous that you’d quickly spend hundreds of dollars before even putting in a decent amount of time into the game. IAPs take what could be one of the best games ever made for phones and warp it into a cash grabbing annoyance. My heart was crushed when this realization came crashing down on me right in the middle of enjoying the game.

If Seabeard was available for $20 I would be telling everyone I know to get out there and buy the game. Totally worth that price. But now I’m stuck in this weird position of telling people they may as well avoid playing it because they’ll only be disappointed after about 3-4 hours of play.

Despite its enormous and unavoidable flaw, I really do hope people try this out and realize the potential for creating a fully-realized game of this calibre on mobile devices. I like having this type of game with me on my phone — a device I carry with me everywhere — and I like knowing I can pick up and play for 30 seconds or 10 minutes then slide it back into my pocket.

In-App Purchases

In-App Purchases

I’m playing a lot of mobile games these days now that I have an iPhone 6 Plus. Playing on the iPhone 6 Plus screen is way more fun than the iPhone 4. I can actually see stuff and my fingers aren’t blocking 40% of the screen. I’m not really a “mobile gamer” though, so I’m not inclined to spend more than $0.99 on an app, and even then I won’t buy ones that aren’t on a huge sale and critically acclaimed – Terraria for $0.99 today, for example.

The apps I tend to play are “freemium” which means they have In-App purchases (IAP). The IAP are generally the same type of thing you’d expect from a F2P game like League of Legends, or something a little more insidious like the type of model found in a F2P MMO. The worst of the lot are the IAPs tied to the “waiting game.” Freemium apps are notorious for being timer games where the main gameplay element is actually just waiting for time to pass. Token, Pearls, Doodads, or whatever the in-game currency for that particular app can be earned in-game at a tauntingly slow pace (only there to make put you in pain) or bought from the store. Spend the premium currency and the timers speed up.

Mobile games, the games meant to be ‘on the go and quick’ end up being slow and tedious upkeep games. It’s this weird juxtaposition of time and convenience, and that’s what makes mobile gamers the perfect prey for this type of business model. In order to keep a game that should be quick and convenient actually quick and convenient, money has to be spent.

IAPs have become a license to make bad design decisions or in many games entirely bad games. Games that would be AMAZING — even better than so many PC/Console games — are destroyed by IAPs having to dictate design direction. It’s sad because had the game simply been sold for $5 or $10 or heck even $20 I would have happily bought the game rather than feel like I have to be nickeled and dimed (many times to extreme sums of $$$) just to find the level of enjoyment I could have by paying the initial cost.

I truly believe we are entering an era where mobile devices are capable of providing as-good or better gaming experiences. For that to happen these games can not continue to exist predominantly as IAP waiting games.

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.