Problems with The Repopulation’s Business Model

The Repopulation is the latest MMO craze. It’s the upcoming “crowdfunded” sci-fi sandbox being heralded as a SWG-like. The sandbox nature and especially the crafting are being lauded as huge reasons to jump in and buy the game. Oh, you thought the game was free? It will be. Sort of. It’s another one of those early-access grabs where the game is already available for purchase and you can get early access and lots of “account perks” if you sign up now. Do I sound jaded? I am.

I’m not at all convinced that The Repopulations free-to-play model will work. It’s not the fact that they’ll have a cash shop. It’s the types of things they’re brushing off as no big deal. Below is the FAQ from the official website.

Will The Repopulation Require a Subscription?
No. It will be a Free To Play title with income being generated from an in-game cash shop and optional one-time membership fees.

What Will Be In the Cash Shop? Will It Be Pay To Win?
We will not be Pay To Win. It is our feeling that free players are an important part of the user base and they add to the community. We don’t want those players to feel that they are at an unfair disadvantage just because they haven’t paid. While there may be things like skill gain increase boosts, we’re looking at lower increases than the 100%+ than has become standard in modern MMOs. We also don’t plan on adding items of power, such as potent armor, weapons or fittings. We do feel that players should earn whatever they get. That having been said, we do have to generate revenue in some way.

So what does that leave?
Account perks for one. Things like extra bank, inventory or character slots. Cosmetic items such as different armor or weapon looks. Non-combat oriented cosmetic or convenience items such as new hairstyles or furniture may also be available. We’ll explore and adjust as necessary.

Here’s what comes with the early-access membership levels:

earlyaccess

Let’s first look at the surface level issues.

  • Skill Gain Increases – These go against the nature of a game where you are supposed to earn skills by PLAYING. Playing means you interact with other players. Interacting with other players means you build a community.
  • More Bank Access – This type of game is all about inventory control. This becomes a must-purchase for any serious player. Must-purchases in a F2P game are the first sign of a poorly designed business model and great indicator of a game destined to fail.
  • More Character Slots – Another huge fail. SWG restricted players to one character. One character means you developed a single character and had to choose how you would interact with the rest of the population. This created interdependencies. This was INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT to the game’s overall design.

Now let’s look at one of the biggest issues most people will miss completely: Selling Cosmetic Items.

Who here remembers SWG well? Remember how entire paths of playing revolved around creating cosmetic items? Clothing was everything. Clothing, for the most part, added no stats. It was a way to look cool. Entire player malls were set up to sell cosmetic items to give you that look you wanted. Whether you were a slave dancer who wanted something risque or a professional who wanted a tux, it was sought after by the players. Image Designers changed your look, hair color, etc. So much of SWG was cosmetic, and it was all tied to the real players spending their time to help other real players obtain this as a good or service. A game like The Repopulation needs control of character customization in the hands of the players.

Simply adding cosmetics to the cash shop in a game like The Repopulation isn’t simple at all; it’s game breaking. If this is their avenue for generating long-term revenue for the game then only a fool would think it’s as shortsighted as a few minor items.

The Repopulation needs to be a buy to play game. They need a box price. They need a pre-order bonus with items you can hang on the wall of your house to show you are special. This doesn’t have to be a subscription game to succeed, but it is already destined to fail if they follow this F2P model without the utmost care. Right now I see a recipe for a game destined to fizzle out in less than a year.

  • You are probably not wrong. Of course, I don’t know their budget and what they need to keep things moving. I just don’t see cosmetics selling well enough. On the other hand, the economy needs as many people as possible to flourish so getting a lot of people in will be good.

  • Selling must have items in the cash shop is one thing, but selling must haves that are TRADEABLE, is a pay 2 win disaster.Archeage, I’m looking at you.

  • I have not followed the development of this game so I may be a little off here. Where did the SWG comparison come from? Was it from the development team, media, or from fans? I think that you are comparing it directly to that game is the problem. The cash shop described is pretty comparable to some games out there right now. Character slots (kind of), bank space and cosmetics is exactly what Marvel Heroes sells and it works pretty well. I am not a fan of cash shops in general so I hardly spend any money in any of them but like it or not every game has them. If they are going to be there I would prefer it to be cosmetic stuff that does not affect gameplay.

  • I’ve read comments from the devs where they directly acknowledge that there are similarities to SWG. I wish I could find the comment; it was linked in a comment here on the blog from someone else.

    The cash shop is indeed similar to other cash shops. My issue isn’t that they have a cash shop or that they necessarily sell things. It’s that what they are planning to sell is a huge component of what made a similar game work very, very well by having the players be in charge of making and controlling that side of the game.

  • B2P doesn’t work as an MMO model, at all.

    Think about it; you are saying rather than collect $15 a month or hook whales, you expect the same amount of revenue to come in via a one-time box cost. Even if you put that price at $50 (which is high for an indie/niche product and would turn tons of people away), after 3 months B2P generates less income than the sub model per active player, and that assumes you KEEP the box price at $50.

    If your MMO is a throw-away 3 monther you don’t fully plan to support after go-live, you’re making an online game, not an MMO, and B2P might work.

    If you are making an MMO you expect to have a full dev team support, and a game you expect players to stick with longer than 3 months, B2P doesn’t work. It especially doesn’t work for a niche product, where the total pool of players is rather small, but you expect them to stick around since they don’t have a lot of other options.

    On topic, the model for The Repopulation sounds pretty bleh. Tell me you think your game is worthwhile and go sub model, don’t let me know its sub-standard already and go F2P.

  • B2P as a business model in general, yes. I agree completely. I worded that sentence poorly and meant to convey they should not be a no-entry-fee game relying on a cash shop and tiered access. Take the tiers and sum them all up into one entry fee of $60. Everyone is on the same playing field. That’s essentially what they have done on Steam at this very second. To play (“early access”) you pay $39.99 admission.

    Buy to play like GW2? No, you’re right. It won’t work past 3 months. Subscription model all the way, but I think for them it’s too late to drop a sub on their backers.

  • The SWG comparisons are absolutely appropriate since the devs are using it as one of their largest marketing strategies. Every time they talk about the game they talk about the crafting system being one that is as complex and deep as SWG was. If you are going to do that then it is only right people will look at the game in that light.

    Now that being said I have a few thoughts on the cash shop model. It should of course be mentioned that there is no cash shop in this build of the game, late alpha/early beta (whatever you call it), so it is difficult to judge how it will work. The character slots I really have no issue with. Having been playing the game for a while now I can not imagine why anyone would want to split their skill points up between different characters. There is no limit on how many skills you can level up so if you were to think after using Handguns for a few weeks you would like to try Blunt Weapons you just pick one up and start using it. You do not lose the skills points in Handguns, you just start earning them in Blunt. Also as you earn points in a skill you build up points to what are called SI Points. When you earn a SI Point you can then use that point to apply towards another skill so you do not technically have to use Mining to level it, you can slowly level it by spending SI Points, though it is slooooooooow that way. If you have two characters you are kind of depriving yourself of those SI Points. Also everything is about time. It takes a long time to level anything up so having two or three characters would just be a huge time sink. I don’t see the need but do not see how it would hurt other players. I like the idea of one character per account but not game breaking for me.

    The cosmetic gear is another issue… and one that is worrisome to some extent. What exactly they will be selling has not been shown and in the game there are different types of cosmetic items. Things like hair dye, armor dye or even casual clothes I think I can deal with. I do not see the game having the kind of social aspect to it SWG did because it does not have the weight of the lore that SWG brought. In that game it was great to hang out in the cantina and just be ‘in’ the Star Wars universe. Here, not really so much. I do not see players doing those kinds of things as much as it used to happen in SWG (and that is part of my concerns for the game). The other aspect of cosmetics though is that in TR armor and weapons are for the most part without stats. They will have some basic stats to them but then are altered by player crafted fittings. If they were to sell cool looking armor that is just that… a shell… that would seem ok on the surface. The problem is that the cool looking armor everyone wants should really be something craftable by players in a game where crafting is such a big deal. It just makes me a little uneasy.

    I do think that some sort of hybrid pricing is the only way for them to go and that is what they are trying to achieve… I just think it is a bit to confusing at the moment. To many different pledge levels…talk of cash shops and Repop Tokens. Make the game free to play for anyone, create an account and you can log in and play. No content should be restricted except for perhaps the number of items you can post on the market and yes… some inventory caps. Once a player decides they like it and pays what would be the equivalent of a box fee then those limits should cease to exist… end of story.

    My biggest issue though with this model is the inclusion of any sort of skill boosts. Skill points are EVERYTHING in this game and to even talk about being able to buy skill point boosts in the cash shop is bad. While they may not be talking about selling 100 skill points for $1.00 they are saying you can buy a boost to increase the rate at which you earn those points while crafting/gathering what not and to me that moves into the pay to win territory. The way skills work is you start at 0 and have to get to 40 to move from Poor Rating to Below Average. Each time you use that skill there is a chance it will move up 1. If you can buy an increase to that chance it is an advantage pure and simple. Two completely identical characters harvesting the same type of node should have the same chance of a skill increase.. yet the player that pays will have the boost and the edge and possibility to advance faster. I don’t like it one bit.

    I really have been a huge advocate of what they are trying to do in TR in regards to their crafting, it really is an amazing piece of work. My worries are two fold with it, the cash shop and the appeal of the lore. The fact is there is not much in the way of lore. It is science fiction game with giant bugs, monsters, alien races, speeder bikes, clones, lasers etc… but it just is not Star Wars 🙂 I know that is not a fair thing to say but that is my gut feeling at the moment. I also have only been playing the game from the point of view of someone really digging into the crafting and the mechanics and have not taken the time to really get involved in the missions and game world so perhaps that will change when I start playing it as an actual player.

  • I really want to jump in and play TR but I can’t bring myself to pay for early access anymore. I’m lazy and don’t want to hunt for the answer: Will there be a wipe before launch or is this being treated as a soft launch?

  • Definitely a wipe before launch. They are calling this early beta but it functions more like an alpha. Nothing is optimized and things can get weird. NPCs vanish. Abilities do not trigger… then trigger like two minutes later when you are doing something else. The only good thing about the release on Steam is that the client is much easier to download and patch now. The bad is the number of people that bought it expecting something refined.

    My suggestion is wait a bit longer. Some people are having limited technical issues and can enjoy it but I went for a period of three weeks without being able to play leading up to the Steam launch due to some weird issues with Windows 8. This is not my first rodeo with alpha builds so I just shrugged it off and played more Elite Dangerous.

    Also right now a big problem is the market (auction house) is not really functioning as well as it should and the player driven economy is barren. A lot of the ingredients used to craft items have to themselves be crafted by players and it is just not happening. Of course we are only about two weeks or so since the new build launched so I am sure that will sort itself out in time.

  • Selling cosmetic items doesn’t have to be a deal breaker in a crafting game; the items that are sold just shouldn’t be available to craft.

    Certainly seasonal items would work well in this model. Additionally the selling of items in a cash shop could actually foster player sales; for instance if you want to be the guy who sells the rare pink elf hat, your sales may be supported by the cash shop selling non-craftable pink elf boots as clearly no one wants to go out into public without a matching pink elf hat and boots ensemble.

  • Seasonal items = okay

    Items that look awesome and players desperately want = Should be crafted by other players. Creates a need. Again, it only matters in a game where professions like this matter in a sandbox world. It’s like WoW’s cash shop selling mounts. If mount making was a profession, and the coolest mounts were bought in the cash shop, who would be a mount maker? The opposing force doesn’t work.

  • Skill boosters are just… a thing that will sell. Probably sell well enough to keep the game alive. I tend to view them as a pseudo-subscription, to be honest. In most games, with my schedule, I can buy a few of them a month and use them the handful of days I actually get to game. It isn’t as efficient as buying a ton of them and grinding for a week, but as a casual I enjoy being able to pay a few bucks a month to make the most of my limited time.

    I’m not sure how I feel about the sale of cosmetic items, though. There was a bit of a rush in SW:G behind placing a custom order with a crafter for something made to the specs I wanted. I think I’d prefer an approach where instead of selling the shells/skins, they sold recipes/patterns to make them. Not single use recipes, mind, but one where a crafter could learn the limited release items and add them to their shops inventory. Perhaps tradeable, allowing such scenarios as one where you give the sparkly elf hat recipe to the habberdasher, in exchange for his first crafted sparkly elf hat.

    As far as your concern with mounts, though, a “mount” in the cash shop wouldn’t be all you needed. It’s almost equivalent to buying a car frame without any of the working parts. You still need the guys to make an engine and… other parts that go into cars. My guess is that a cash shop mount will be, out of the box, the slowest mount you can have. Then you go to the crafters who actually make it into something fast and useful. The same applies to weapons and armor from the cash shop. The real market for crafters is in the fittings, the parts that make your item powerful/special/customized, and are degradable .

  • You all are worried about how much money the game can make for it’s self? Other than the cash shop, they could add more content at a price(DLC). And I love the idea of buying recipes in the cash shop, that way you don’t just look special you can make something special.

    Why are people having a serious conversation about this here and not on the forums? I’ve already bought silver pack, but I never played SWG, but love the idea of it. I’m kinda worried about how long this game will last with just a cash shop and one time membership packages. That doesn’t sound sustainable.

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