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16

Breaking Down the Microtransaction Discussion Further

Yesterday’s blog about Battlefront 2 being pay to win started a good F2P / cash shop discussion that warranted further dialog. The main comment that prompted this post comes from Gankatron, a long-time reader and active participate in the comments. I appreciate the active participation, and hope you won’t mind me using your comments to prompt further discussion!

Here are two clips of the comment that I want to discuss.

Selling a fun game the devs purposefully broke that can be repaired with real money is a parasitic monetization scheme.

I can’t believe people will willing buy a box for $60/$80 and then continue to pay real money to remain competitive.

Treating your player base like bags of cash to be repeatedly harvested over time through “fun pain”, on top of a premium priced box purchase, is an extremely disrespectful and exploitative business model that I wish people would stop supporting.

And…

It is hypocritical to condemn F2P games while simultaneously supporting a game that incorporates a F2P P2W type of cash shop, but even worse, on top of a premium box price.

First, let me start by saying that I do not approve of microtransactions or cash shops in any form. Whether they be cosmetic (WoW/Overwatch/PUBG), Pay-to-Win (Battlefront 2), or even only in single-player type games (Shadow of War). I’m also not a fan of “crates” — the industry’s latest cash shop disguise.

Let’s try to separate our dislike for a system and proceed with analyzing this a little further. And please, don’t read two sentences of this and comment. Read the whole thing.

We must separate the idea of “F2P” from “cash shop” or “microtransactions.” They are not the same thing.

Free-to-play games are free to play, and typically (99.999% of the time) built/designed around their cash shop. The goal of the “game” (and they are rarely true games) is always to get you into the shop. This can happen when a game starts out F2P, or after a game becomes F2P. It matters not.

F2P games typically contain predatory pricing schemes. The cash shop comes first, and the gameplay comes second. This is why most F2P “games” are shallow. [Standard Disclaimer: There are exceptions, particularly those with cult followings.]

On the other side of this are the “premium” games that charge a box price (often called “buy-to-play” games) which offer cash shop incentives. These can be “pay-to-win” when they offer an advantage. Developers with a cash shop in their game are obviously drawn to the idea of enticing players into the shop. Blizzard markets the heck of out their cash shop. It’s on the launcher almost every time. Marketing your cash shop does not make you predatory.

Things get a lot more interesting when the cash shop offers an advantage to those who make a purchase.

This type of “pay-to-win” can be handled in so many different ways. Here are both extremes:

  1. You simply can’t play without paying. You have to drop dozens, maybe hundreds to even matter. You can’t simply play and ever achieve the success of paying players.
  2. You can completely enjoy the game without paying. The advantages provided offer a bonus, a boost ahead, and a lot of pizzazz to your gameplay, but can be skipped or achieved by playing the game without paying.

I don’t know where Star Wars Battlefront 2 falls on this list, but having seen what the star cards do, I have a hard time believing it will be closer to the first than the second.

Where would you place a game like Hearthstone on the scale? I would place it closer to #2. Is it pay-to-win? OMFG yes. The more you pay, the more cards you get. The more cards you get, the better your chance of getting better cards. The better your cards, the better your deck, and the better you’ll do.  Hint: people pay a lot more than a box price on card packs.

In the case of Battlefront 2, it has a box price. It has a cash shop. It has pay-to-win elements within that shop. Ouch, that is indeed a trifecta. HOWEVER…

It also has a fully-functional game behind it. It doesn’t feel designed to force anyone into the cash shop. You can obtain the same rewards by playing the game and purchasing as you can with spending real money (think Hearthstone here). And… there’s no season pass. There’s no paying for more maps or more content. They’re making that portion free, which is typically a very pricey and in my opinion much worse way to charge players. I also do not see a broken game needing to be fixed with a cash shop purchase.

Much remains to be seen with how EA/whoever is in charge over there handles this business model. Much, indeed. But please don’t obfuscate the separation between F2P games and games with stupid cash shops. There can be a very, very big difference. The main one being one being the core game behind the business model.

The “vote with your wallet and show EA who’s boss” mantra falls flat for me on games like this. I have too much fun to deprive myself of hours, and hours of enjoyment. I reserve the right to change my mind if EA screws things up worse.

And finally, we must realize the key factor in all of this is truly what is “fun.” If a cash shop offering any P2W at all is not fun for you, then I respect that. For me, there’s more ‘fun’ and game here in Battlefront 2 than many games recently, and I look past some P2W when I enjoy the core experience well enough.

7

Following up on Blizzcon

I’m slow on the followup this time around! I want to reflect on some of what we saw at Blizzcon as it pertains to my thoughts pre-con.

Legion

So I went with an April prediction just to be extreme and different, admitting in my predictions/wants post itself that I know full and well we won’t see it until August+ because of ‘Overhype’. That came true. No shock at all. Now… wtf to do in WoW until then? I have absolutely no idea. As I speak I’m in the queue for LFR Archimonde. Once I kill him that will mean I have seen everything in WoD. That was my goal. I’m done at this point. Believe it or not, some of the most fun I’ve had is managing my Garrison. I wish it was more like farmville/harvest moon.

Ten (10) months until new content in WoW — Okay, more like 8-9 but that is incredible. I’m pretty much riding out my last 20 days on this sub then calling it there. No reason to keep paying when I have seen EVERYTHING I want to in the game. ::cough:: I don’t really want to keep saying I told you so, but is this not the epitome of winding down WoW to ramp up / hype up their next wave of potentially more profitable/more revenue per player games? Of course it is.

Legion continues to look amazing. Yes, I’m going to buy it. Yes, I’m going to play all of the story and quit when I ultimately run into the same situation I have in WoD. That, ladies and gentlemen, is WoW.

Overwatch

The hype levels are dangerous here. We already call it ‘Overhype’ and people are already saying it’s dangling from the precipice of mediocrity and genericness. I have yet to play it myself, and I withhold the right to pass my own judgment. Overwatch LOOKS fun. I like shooters of this style and calibre. I can’t say this is hte kind of game I’ll play for years, though. Their release date is exactly as I would expect.

Starcraft

What shocked me here was the DLC. I don’t know why I let it come as a surprise that they would go from taking one game, and making three full games out of it, to making mission packs. I probably won’t buy them. To be quite honest, I simply don’t see the value. If I have absolutely NOTHING else to play… I might be tempted. Otherwise, I’m somehow not the market — which really makes no sense because I’m the guy who buys SC to play the single-player…

Hearthstone

Yep.

Heroes of the Storm

I was completely wrong here. HotS was a huge emphasis. Cho’gall seems awesome, albeit a little outrageous. That’s the HotS model, though. “No one else would or could, so we did.” That’s the HotS model. Arena mode reminds me of those gladiator maps from the glorious WC3 custom map days. Those were amazing.

Diablo

Womp womp.

Overall

Blizzard played it very safe. Nothing about bringing back the classic games, and no major surprises or announcements that truly shocked me. Yet, without fail, Blizzard remains stable and proving that they are going to be putting out a heck of a 2016.

12

WoW’s Continued Sunset Shines Bright For Blizzard’s Future

Blizzard's future isn't WoW

World of Warcraft has once again lost more “subscribers” in a few months than most (close to all) MMOs could ever dream of having. They dropped something like 3 million subscribers in a three month period, marking the sharpest decline in the history of the game. I think they remain at a lowly 7.1 million? All according to plan.

Over the years I have been saying that WoW’s slow decline is in Blizzard’s best interest, and a decline in WoW subscribers is ultimately beneficial for them financially, and realistically their goal. You’d think I was crazy back then given the responses I got in the comments, but look at the landscape of Blizzard’s revenue stream now.

Looking at Blizzard’s financials, over 40% of their revenue stream came from non-WoW games, and that’s estimated to exceed 50% this year. I bet that by the time Overwatch launches, their non-WoW revenue will be closing in on the 70% mark. Blizzard is diversifying, and the money isn’t in WoW anymore, or at least for much longer. They’ve said it themselves, “Strong recurring franchise diversification is in process inside the Blizzard portfolio, which sets us up for a bright 2016 and beyond.”

This diversification is not only a great business move for Blizzard, but a great outlook for us players. We get more games to enjoy in a variety of flavors, and we’ll start to see developers trying new things in order to appeal to the new ‘variety is the spice of life’. Soon, one day, there will no longer be just one giant behemoth of a game strangling the MMO industry. Mark my words, we are returning to an era where there are fewer players per game with more games available offering a variety of playstyles. This day is coming; it must come.

The sun never sets on Blizzard’s empire. So yes, WoW’s decline is good for Blizzard. Those players can now be transitioned into other titles where they will spend more money more often. All according to plan indeed.

7

Hearthstone for the iPhone

hearthstone-iphone

Hearthstone released for the iPhone just a couple of days ago, and I’ve already clocked 5+ hours…. all of which may or may not have been during the work day. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not great at Hearthstone. It’s not the deepest or most difficult to understand or even master card game out there, and like all card games you are only as good as the cards in your deck. Since I haven’t been into the idea of playing a lot of Hearthstone on my PC, as I’d rather play on the go, I’ve held off playing and thus haven’t earned cards. So take this review for what it’s worth — not that of a Hearthstone master, but rather an iPhone 6 Plus gaming enthusiast and still a fan of the game.

Hearthstone on my iPhone 6 Plus runs well enough. I have moment of slow-down, and loading times aren’t fantastic. These feel like something that I bet will be patched within a couple of weeks. This delay and often finicky nature of the touch controls has lead to more than one mistaken selection or card placement resulting in my utter defeat. The image above is actually of a match I was playing today. I mistakenly healed myself because the touch control let go when I was dragging it to my minion.

Blizzard’s implemented of the game on the iPhone does, overall, work. A few extra steps like having to click on my hand to bring it up, and touching to hold cards to see what they do adds to the time it takes me to execute my turn, but over time as I learn cards these will be less of an issue. The extra steps are a little annoying, but at the same time I’m willing to put up with them having Hearthstone in my pocket where I go.

What I love most about this whole thing is how integrated the Battle.net experience is, and the fact that I am playing on my phone with people on their computers, tablets, or phones. I have full access to my friends list and can chat, see what everyone is up to, and whatever I do on my iPhone is completely linked to my exact same Hearthstone account anywhere else. Wonderful integration that has, thus far, worked flawlessly.

Yeah, Hearthstone isn’t perfect. As a card game you can rip it apart. It’s pay-to-win, governed by incredible meta game, luck., etc… but it’s hard to beat free, and it’s hard to beat having it on my iPhone. The pay-to-win aspects are no different than the hundreds I’ve spent on MTG cards. I’m just trying to convince myself that a digital version is essentially the same thing when my brain is telling me it’s not. Bottom line, I have to spend money on cards for Hearthstone to realize its full potential.

18

Blizzard Rumors Once Again

Rumors are usually something best left alone, but when it comes to Blizzard rumors they might as well be true. The most recent rumors have made their way to Reddit and are worth a read if you enjoy Blizzard games as I generally do.

Hearthstone is doing incredibly well.  As I have often said, I think this is a great path for Blizzard and any company to take. I think Hearthstone is brilliant and I’m eager for it to come to iPhone. The fact that Blizzard is profiting so much from Hearthstone and outsourcing WoW art asset creation does lend credence to my insane notion that they are slowly phasing out WoW in favor of games like Hearthstone.

Gutting the Diablo 3 team is no shocker as the game itself has seen growing pains and failed to really gain the traction of other Blizzard titles. What’s surprising is that the staff are working on a Starcraft game with Left4Dead, Dayz, and Smite elements. I have no idea how that will all combine together into anything feasible… but I imagine how awesome it might be to play as a Marine in a FPS scenario against other players taking control of zergling and hydralisks.  That could be a blast!

The news that Heroes of the Storm might not be doing so hot, or at least expected to do so hot, saddens me. I like it a lot more than DOTA and definitely way more than LoL. It’s not even out of beta yet and if the rumor is true it might end up being scrapped before it ever begins — Blizzard has done it before (SC Ghost).

Lastly, Overwatch’s business model is being tossed around. I’m convinced it’ll be some sort of TF2 F2P meets B2P (hows that for acronyms?) which will make stupid amounts of cash. That will surprise absolutely no one.

I wouldn’t mind if the rumors all came true. I’ll be sad about HotS but otherwise seems like a direction I’d be happy to see Blizzard go.  Now, any news about Warcraft 4?

P.S. WoW expansions and all that yada yada.

 

5

Playing Hearthstone

Hearthstone TCGHeartstone is Blizzard’s digital card game and foray into the Free to Play market.

I was lucky enough to randomly receive a beta invite, and I’ve been playing for many hours over the last week or so.

Hearthstone has two great things going for it:

  1. Extremely high production quality
  2. Warcraft

In typical Blizzard fashion, Hearthstone runs flawlessly, looks great, and wins over the imagination with awe-inspiring attention to detail in everything from the cards to field of play.  Appealing to the WoW fanboys and live streamers doesn’t hurt, either.

The game itself is fun.  Although a somewhat watered down version of Magic the Gathering, there’s enough depth to develop a deck and deploy a strategy.  Games are very quick, and all strategies tend to revolve around overwhelming your opponent with creatures.

Selling booster packs will make Blizzard a gazillion dollars.  Blizzard definitely captured the feel of opening a pack and discovering the cards by having players place the booster pack on the table and turn over the 5 cards you get one at a time.  You read that right: 5 cards.

Paying for booster packs will give an enormous advantage, exactly like it does in every TCG.  Making Hearthstone your hobby will be expensive, but if you’re a TCG junkie this one is well worth the investment.

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