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H1Z1 Early Access Commentary

SOE was building up to yesterday’s H1Z1 announcement with a modest level of hype. Lots of “It’s coming!” and “Soon®©™” and “Be sure to tune in for our live stream and reddit stuff!” I’m looking forward to H1Z1 as much as the next person… I thought. Some people are flipping tables and spitting as they scream about the “six week delay” before the early access begins. Once again we are faced with an early access situation that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

From the mouth of Smed:

“Is it going to be a finished game? Absolutely not. If that’s what you’re expecting, DO NOT BUY EARLY ACCESS. The goal here is to let you in early and help us mold it into a game you want to be a part of for quite a long time.” [Source]

Before I jump into a devil’s advocate discussion here, let me preface this by saying I get exactly what they are doing. Deep down you do too. This is marketing. This is business. The sooner everyone realizes this, accepts it, and moves on, the better. Most of us interested in H1Z1 will buy early access or wait until it is free. I certainly will. It sounds like a ton of fun. Okay, now that the grownup version is out there, let’s chat.

I find it fascinating (from the perspective of a player and a human being and not a demon from the business realm) that this idea of selling early access to a game is done with such a hot potato style. This is how I read it all: “Get excited about our unfinished game, but don’t buy it okay? But maybe you should…. but just know it’s not done… but please pay $19.99 now isntead of waiting for it to be free. Oh and if you want more game modes we’ll charge you more. BUT DON’T BUY IT! Seriously, don’t buy it (but please do).”

Here’s another interesting spin from Smed:

“Is H1Z1 going to be better than Day Z day 1? No it won’t. We’ll get asked that question a lot and I wanted to be up front about it. We’re not as feature rich and they have a lot of really cool stuff we just don’t have yet. That being said, we’re also a different game. We’re an MMO and our goals are to create a large scale world that gives you the incredible feeling of being a survivor in a zombie apocalypse.”

Downplay downplay downplay PLAY IT UP PLAY IT UP PLAY IT UP! We’re back to the hot potato. “We’re probably not going to be as good so don’t buy us on Steam for $19.99 January 15, 2015 Click here for more info to get you excited!” Huh.

Another angle begging for commentary here is this idea that you charge more money to let people test more game modes. On one side of the coin it makes sense to charge more for more features. I can sorta accept that. On the other side we have reality where this is an alpha or a beta and people are being given a pay wall to participate in what is being publicized as an opportunity to work alongside the devs. … Incomplete game…. with pay walls… to help test the most incomplete parts of the game where the goal is to let you in to help mold it into a game you want to be apart of for a long time. I’m sure it makes way more sense if you don’t think about it.

H1Z1 … hmm

h1z1-teaser

SOE just officially revealed (sort of) H1Z1, the game John Smedley hinted at 2 months ago when he said:

 “SWG PLAYERS – OUR NEXT GAME (not announced yet) IS DEDICATED TO YOU. Once we launch it… you can come home now.”

As a former / current SWG super-fan, I think I’m qualified to address how I feel after learning a bit about the game, as well as some of my initial thoughts and ramblings on why SOE is making H1Z1.

H1Z1 & SWG

I don’t get it.  I see DayZ meets Rust in a massively multiplayer persistent world.  Don’t get me wrong… that’s sounds like it can be a fantastic game, but that’s not SWG.  SWG was about building a community and living your life in a galaxy far, far away. H1Z1 is about surviving, hiding in the shadows, and being afraid.  I think, perhaps, the only trait the two will share is a sandbox nature and an involved crafting system.

Why a zombie survival game?

Simple. SOE is targeingt a completely different market.  They were live streaming about Landmark at the exact same time they did this first-look at H1Z1 on someone’s live stream show.  This isn’t for the fans who are hyped up about Landmark, EQ Next, or heck even Planetside.  This isn’t for the people who go to fanfare (SOE Live) or post on message boards.  H1Z1 from the moment they came out of the gate has been aimed directly that that L337 crowd of DayZ gamers – the “bros” of gaming.

I get why they are trying new things.  SOE went for the kiddie market for a while, the F2P Eastern model for a bit, the shooter market, then heavily back to the Fantasy RPG crowd (their roots), and now they want a taste of the growing zombie survival scene.

There’s no accounting for taste

Personally, I’m not a big fan of post-apocalyptic settings.  I’m also not big on zombies.  I prefer elves, magic, swords, etc. I’m not interested in games where the aforementioned ‘bros’ run around circle strafing and looting your backpack.  I’m not a big fan of FFA PvP, so I would probably play on a PvE server or a ruleset where I have to opt-in when I’m ready.  I’m not big of dark and scary, and I really hate how most post-apoc games are all brown and gross terrain.

H1Z1 may not be the game for me, but I am intrigued by the scope of a game where Smedley claims people can build anything, burn anything, and drive or fly vehicles all over the place.  Put that on a console (like they plan) and maybe this will be a great ‘sit back on the couch for a few hours’ kind of game.

I like the New SOE

Sony Online Entertainment deserves enormous praise for what they’ve done recently.  I’m not even talking about any of their games.  Let’s set the games themselves aside completely and just talk about the way in which I feel like they are taking the MMORPG (and gaming) industry to an entirely new level of communication, customer service, marketing, and just… this crazy sense of being real people working on games they love.

Every single day I can go on Twitter and see a dozen or more SOE staff tweeting about everything from what they are working on to being candid about problems they’ve encountered with a patch during downtime.  When you tweet them, chances are they tweet you back.  Even John Smedley, President of SOE, is on there actively engaging with the players, answering questions, and being helpful.  Their forums are full of staff assisting players and communicating the processes they are going through.  Seriously, Dave Georgeson tweeted at 2am that the devs finally left the building.

SOE is being really transparent.  They bring down servers for an update and if something goes wrong they don’t just give the “sorry we’re working on it.” They say, “Turns out we screwed up something in the database that handles X and Y because of Z.”  Heck, they recently decided to make a bold move and state EQN and EQN Landmark will be 64 bit only, and PS2 will be making the transition.  Alpha testing Landmark has been one of the best real game testing experiences I’ve ever had.

They are doing outside of their games, in the real world, what I love doing IN their games: creating a community.  They put on big events like the Year of EverQuest to create a bond between players and these properties.  Yes, that’s marketing, but that’s okay.  That’s the type of marketing I want.  I want a company focused on delighting fans and creating memorable experiences they can share over a company trying to figure out how they can make a game look good in a CGI trailer.

SOE, thank you for reminding why I’ve been a loyal SOE customer since 1997, why I chose to be a founder for Landmark, and why I will be first in line to buy just about any product you announce in the future.  You are setting the bar high, even for yourselves, but that’s what it takes to be great.  I like the new SOE.  Keep it up!

One Subscription. All Games.

SoE (or I guess Smed) took to Reddit and Twitter yesterday to test the waters with a new idea they are kicking around for the Station Pass.  Basically, you pay $14.99 and become a “subscriber” to all of SoE’s games.  The Station Pass has existed for like a decade — it’s nothing new.  The lower price, however, is nice.  The idea of feeling like I subscribe to lots of SoE titles is also something that will inevitable persuade me to more freely play other SoE games.

Despite the argument that “subscribing” to F2P games is a little goofy, there’s another more pressing issue.  Originally, the new offering included the ability to buy any one item each month up to 2000 station cash (their F2P currency) but removed the 500 sc monthly stipend.   On one hand this was awesome — I could choose any one item up to a $20 value and buy what would normally take me 4 months to save for — AND I could do that in EVERY SoE game each month!  There were some restrictions like no bundles or something but it was an AWESOME value for everyone but that Planetside 2 players who raised a hellstorm on Reddit.

The absolute tantrum thrown by the Planetside 2 community caused Smed to remove the 2000 sc item offer and put back the 500 sc monthly stipend.  Congrats.  You get a $5 discount.

Some people were throwing around statements like the 2000 sc offer reduced buying power to which I counter by saying they could have spent $5 on the store, brought their price back up to $20/m for the sub, and had a 2k free item every month in every game netting a minimum $15 virtual gain.

I’d be tempted to vote with my wallet and not buy a subscription, just play EQN, and never spend more than $10/m in the cash shop if I thought it would do anything.   Alas, the SoE community at large loses because the PS2 community wants to buy pistol ammo on sale.  C’est la vie.

Thanks Planetside 2 players — all 200 of you.  Here’s hoping Smed and his team won’t use your vocal minority for all their decisions in the future.

(Despite the poor handling of the SC stuff I do like the $14.99 all games offer.  Thanks for that.)

EQ Next Landmark Founder’s Pack

EQN-Landmark-Founders-PackI was genuinely shocked yesterday when I came home to a bunch of people shouting “DID YOU GO TRAILBLAZER?!”  I had absolutely no idea that SOE was planning a Founder’s Pack program.  I shouldn’t have been surprised at all, though, because this form of  early cash generation has become almost a norm in the digital video game industry.

Usually this type of program is done by smaller studios kickstarting or looking to help fund their project.  Since SOE is neither, I can’t help but salute the marketing genius of it all.  They’re making a MMORPG set to launch god knows how many years from now.  Somewhere along the way they decided to launch a dev tool turned “game” (Landmark) that they are using as (1) a source of revenue, (2) a hype machine, and (3) a way for players to actually help build the game.

Of course Landmark will be monetized naturally from a F2P model, which would bring in additional revenue, but why stop there?  Sell access to the Alpha and Beta versions of the game!  I just wish I came up with the idea myself.  It’s like quadruple dipping the revenue stream.

EQN-Landmark-Founders-Pack-Items

Knowing exactly what they’re doing didn’t stop me.  I bought the Trailblazer pack with little thought.  I get to play on or before February 28th, get a ton of stuff it would take weeks to earn, get some neat exclusives, and somehow feel like I’m apart of an imaginary elite club.  Again, I wish I came up with the idea. I really don’t even feel bad at all about buying my way into alpha.  Maybe I should?

Maybe I should feel ashamed that as a professional marketer I’m susceptible to such tactics, but it all boils down to value.  I find value in the Trailblazer pack, and apparently so do a lot of other people.  According to a tweet from Smed, Trailblazer pack is outselling the others 10-1.

I’ll be there day one with bells on ready to strike out once again in Norrath — this time to claim part of the world as my own.  Which pack did you buy?