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Conspiracies, Immersion, and the Secret Life of PLEX August 26, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, The Elder Scrolls Online, WildStar.
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In which I attempt to set a record for insulting the most gaming industry professionals in a single post as I meander towards a conclusion you probably saw coming a mile away.

The business model announcements last week for WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online have gotten a lot of people writing about subscriptions and free to play.  The subscription-only model, declared dead and buried after SWTOR got through with it, is now generally cast as a proposition that is all downside.  Any perceived benefits of subscriptions are illusory, or so says the man who failed to make it work.  So he ought to know I guess.  Just don’t disagree with him, he gets upset.

But then WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online inexplicably threw in with the model.  And the question of the day became “What the hell are they thinking?” as people declared en masse that they would never play a subscription only game.

My completely uninformed opinion is that the TESO team is just hopelessly naive, though in an endearing sort of way.  Down there at the Hunt Valley end of the MTA light rail line, life is good, the air is clean, and the atmosphere just fills you with hope that it is still 2001 and you can launch an MMO that is simply better than the original EverQuest and have a winner.

Cynics… whose outlooks have no doubt been shaped by the industry… have opined that the ZeniMax Online team has an evil plan to launch as subscription, cashing in to the maximum amount possible, only to be ready to swap to a F2P model as soon as the sheep realize they are being shorn.  Then it will be flying pig mounts, pinwheel hats, and hotbars for sale all day every day, with regular in-game pop-ups to remind you of the latest currency specials.  Because fuck immersion… as far as I can tell only about 6 people on the internet believe there is such a thing… and these are just video games, so why not turn them all into a carnival midway?  Just crank the crap volume to 11 already and be done with it.

In my world view… and really, the only thing driving my world view in the regard is the TESO team’s seeming lack of understanding as to what drives the popularity of Elder Scrolls games… hint: It isn’t the availability of something like Barrens Chat… the team at ZeniMax is planning a picnic on a nice green median strip in the midst Interstate 83 and are going to get hit by a semi-truck while crossing the blacktop.

Irony demands that it be THIS truck

Irony demands that it be THIS truck

(Picture stolen from the EVE Online Facebook page, where they were encouraging people to suicide gank this truck, and then cropped and edited.  Don’t view the full-size version. Like people my age, it only looks good at a distance, if at all.)

And then all the subsequent drama will be the result of an emergency team trying to stitch things back together while the aforementioned cynics nod their heads and point out that it was all a setup.

We shall see how that works out.

And then there is the WildStar team at Carbine.  What the hell are they thinking?

You could easily assume that they, too, were just another start up in a self-contained reality distortion bubble where “we can make a better WoW” seems like a reasonable proposition.  They have the experience, the talent, and they have thrown in with the monthly subscription model.  Easy to dismiss as either misguided or, again, hatching an evil plot to bilk players out of money for boxes before jumping to a F2P model.

But then there is the whole CREDD thing.  The PLEX comparison is obvious, but just as easily dismissed due to the nature of EVE Online.

These guys aren’t dumb though.  Right?  This isn’t SOE with its seeming blind spot as to the obvious next question the moment they announce something.  Maybe they have a plan, maybe they feel they can build a player driven market with EVE Online-like participation levels.

And maybe, just maybe, they have their own model where running multiple accounts gives you a serious, tangible advantage in-game.

Because it is that, plus the advent of PLEX, that could be driving growth in EVE Online.

Think about this.

In EVE Online I think we can all agree that playing multiple accounts gives you an advantage.

And that has been the case for quite some time.  Even when I started playing the game, way back in 2006, you were only really serious about your internet spaceships if you has an extra pilot in space.  Multi-boxing was common.  And hey, if you enjoyed the game, then one or two additional accounts wasn’t a huge stretch.

But then along came PLEX back in 2009.

EVE Online was growing before PLEX.  It continued growing after PLEX.  But I do wonder what impact PLEX had on growth.

Because after the introduction of PLEX, it was suddenly viable to run more accounts, so long as you could use them to create enough ISK to buy PLEX to pay their subscription.  Having two or three accounts gave way to having five or six or ten or a dozen.  Seeing formations of mining ships clearly controlled by a single person became more common.

Pretty blue lasers

One fleet, one guy

In fact, CCP has expressed concern about the rising price of PLEX at times.  A single PLEX was selling for over 600 million ISK earlier this summer.  That concern has always been couched in terms of being concerned with the in-game economy.  And it is hard to deny that CCP takes the in-game economy seriously.  But I have to wonder if there isn’t also some concern around the out-of-game economy; specifically the bit that pays the bills that keeps payroll going and servers humming.  Because, while some players play for “free” by buying PLEX, every active account is still paid for by somebody, and nothing says “winning” more than an always increasing subscriber base.  Grow or die, as they might say on Wall Street.

Is that what the WildStar team is hoping to achieve with CREDD?  Because if it is, they aren’t convincing me.

I have been through this before, but I would be hard pressed to name another MMORPG where the player base is as invested in the in-game economy as in EVE Online.  And the in-game is what drives PLEX and enables it to succeed to the point that it likely contributes noticeably to the subscriber base totals.  And WildStar hasn’t said a thing that makes me think that they can manage that.

So I am throwing in with the conspiracy group on this one.  Carbine must be making a cynical cash grab with this “buy the box and subscribe” plan up front, while readying the transition to F2P once the sheep are well and truly shorn.

Did I use that metaphor already?  I can’t help it.  I have seen sheep shorn, and they always come out looking pathetic, cold, and pissed off, in the same way certain MMO players do when their game makes that F2P transition.

Anyway, there is no other logical explanation for Carbine’s plan aside from a complete loss of grip on reality.  And the TESO team will probably claim they own that and sue.

But it sure has given us all a lot to talk about.

Oh, and Brian Green’s hair continues its complete and total migration towards his chin.

I felt I needed just one more insult to secure the record.  Did I make it, or do I need to bring up the NGE?

Comments»

1. sean - August 26, 2013

and before I even finish reading this post: can I say ‘THANK YOU’ for pointing me to Damion Schubert’s new site? For some reason, after the original Zen of Design went down, I assumed he’d stopped blogging – I figured the pressure of being SW:TOR’s face meant he’d gone dark. I’ve actually been using the Wayback Machine to find old posts of his…

But no, he’d just moved hosts ><. So thanks… and now I'll get back to reading your substantive argument!

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2. sean - August 26, 2013

and back now, having read the post and Mr. Schubert’s opinions.

So: a: I saw Wildstar at Gamescom over the weekend, and good god, if that’s a game people want to play, I’m a fucking moron. Because browser games look better: the new browser version of Might and Magic (it’s big in Germany…) has a higher polygon count than Wildstar. Some of the gameplay looked unique – but my immediate reaction was ‘how is that going to work in a raid environment?’ – because if you’ve got a melee class (with a tail) that jumps on things to kill them, it’s going to be either so OP that everyone plays it, or so gimp that no-one does. End game is hard, and designing outside the Holy Trinity for end game is really hard, so yeah: just like the best plans, the best classes don’t survive first contact with the end game (see Rift and: Purifiers, Shamans, Stormcallers, Nightblades, Warlords, etc…). So the likelihood of the interesting gameplay surviving more than six months? Zero. But the likelihood of the trully terrible polygon count surviving? 100%, because re-doing graphics is ever harder than getting end-game correct.

On the other hand, that whole CREDD thing (including the name) points to a clued-in marketing department – and although Lum calls the Wildstar devs noobs, I still suspect the marketing department knows how it’s going to make ends meet – which means, yes, subscription is the new whale-exploitation mode. Expect a super-expensive Collector’s Edition for launch, and a rapid F2P conversion after the initial 6 month subscription wave elapses. In fact, expect that fastest *and* smoothest F2P conversion of a MMO ever: if it’s smooth, you know they had it prepared.

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3. HarbingerZero - August 26, 2013

Someone had to say it. You might actually have the “credd” to make them listen though, because they clearly aren’t listening to the rest of us.

I keep hoping any day now they are going to pull a Microsoft XBox One and say “oops.” Not just on subs, but most especially on the carnival volume BS.

Which leads me to this – that’s why I hate the faeries in EQ2 so much – that was the volume at 3, and nobody blinked. Now we get volume 11 as a result.

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4. Brian 'Psychochild' Green - August 26, 2013

Hah! Is that the best you can do old man? I used to run a PvP game, comments about my hair are weaksauce compared to the insults I used to get on a regular basis after someone lost a guild war.

Anyway, I just followed this advice before it was cool: http://www.collegehumor.com/video/6902998/bald-to-badass-in-two-easy-steps

Okay, more seriously, here’s my take on it. I think that TESO and Wildstar are both hoping to be the heir apparent to the WoW throne. I think both of them think they can swoop in and get some of the millions of players that WoW has shed in the last few years.

TESO has brand recognition that is probably on par with Warcraft. The sales of Skyrim are impressive, and just like WoW, TESO will probably see a huge number of sales from people who are fans of the single-player series. Given that I think a large part of WoW’s success was the strength of the Warcraft and Blizzard names, I think TESO has a shot at taking the crown.

Wildstar is probably going for the more direct “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” route. The game looks and feels much more WoW-like. The stylized art is probably an attempt to have lower system requirements, which means it’ll run on more machines like WoW did. They’re going with more standard MMO type gameplay, but with a new setting. It feels like they’re going after WoW players who want familiar gameplay but a different land and setting to explore. (It’s also been speculated that this game has been in the works for at least 6 years, so the original design was probably subscription-based, and they’re sticking with it given the enormous amount of work poured into it.)

It’ll be interesting to watch. My money is on at least one of them transitioning to a different business model later. Given that Wildstar is NCSoft’s game, I suspect we’ll see them transition to a buy-to-play model like GW2 if/when a transition does happen.

My thoughts.

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5. Tesh - August 26, 2013

“TESO will probably see a huge number of sales from people who are fans of the single-player series.”

I actually doubt this. Or if it does get the brand loyalty bump, it’s not going to stick. MMO play and Elder Scrolls play are vastly different animals. The IP isn’t what keeps people hooked on the Elder Scrolls series.

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6. bhagpuss - August 26, 2013

I find it hard enough to imagine there will ever be a game that’s better than the original Everquest. Imagining it might be one of these… pardon me, the top of my head just flipped off.

I think you have, as is your wont, hit the nail on the head with the idea that subscribers are the new whales. The escalating cost of “Collectors Editions” and the (to me) disturbing and bizarre glee which greets every new insane price-hike for what is, in the end, a cardboard box full of worthless tat, suggests that harpoons are being sharpened all round.

TESO I don’t want to play in the first place and WildStar can wait til it goes F2P. All I’m buying is popcorn.

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7. Tesh - August 26, 2013

@bhagpuss Tangentially, I’d note that I love concept art books and game soundtracks, which are the only reason I’ve bought a couple of CEs over the years… but I get them either on deep discount or second-hand, and only when I have surplus gaming budget funds with nowhere to go.

…so in fact, some parts of the CE aren’t worthless to me, but they are worth *more* than the game itself, since things like books and soundtracks don’t require a subscription to use and reuse.

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8. Syl (@Gypsy_Syl) - August 26, 2013

“All I’m buying is popcorn.”

LOL!

@”Given that Wildstar is NCSoft’s game, I suspect we’ll see them transition to a buy-to-play model like GW2 if/when a transition does happen.” – that reminds me, now my bets are definitely on TESO. while it should’ve gone B2P right away considering ES audience, having an NC Soft-run shop is absolutely horrible. just see GW2′s and AION’s shops… /shudder

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9. bhagpuss - August 26, 2013

@Tesh I was being somewhat tongue-in-cheek with the “worthless tat” jibe – lord knows our house is stuffed to the rafters with “worthless tat”. Like you, though, I buy mine after the fact and at a heavy discount.

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10. Mekhios - August 26, 2013

I am a huge fan of the TES series and have no intention of buying into the TESO hype. Everything I have seen of this game to date has been mediocre.

I’ve been more excited about the dripfeeds of information from the Everquest Next team.

As for Wildstar the monthly sub is a turnoff. I don’t see anything in this game that justifies a monthly sub.

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11. Wilhelm Arcturus - August 26, 2013

As a side note, this post started off as “I wonder how much PLEX influences EVE subscription numbers?” and then got wildly out of hand.

@Brian – You say “weaksauce” and yet I got you here and got a thoughtful (certainly compared to my own post) response out of you. Chalk one up for the old man.

Somewhere along the line I had a post which basically said, “Blizzard is successful because Blizzard is successful.” When you ship a few dazzling successes, it becomes easy to sell your next project. Their major problem today is that they appear to have run out of other people’s straw to spin into gold.

Certainly The Elder Scrolls series seems to fit that model, to the point that there is an almost tangible desire to play with friends when you talk about the game with people. (Could say the same for Final Fantasy as well.) There are some red flags though. Different studio, different team, and perhaps not exactly what people are looking for in an Elder Scrolls game.

And, leaving aside the well worn “why not co-op?” question, I remain skeptical that the clock can be turned back to the last subscription MMO success. When was that? 2004 and WoW? Ouch.

So as much as I long for a return to immersion and the feeling I got stepping into places like West Karana or Ungoro Crater for the first time, F2P and its attendant cash shop of conveniences, crazy hats, sparkle ponies, and unlockable UI elements seems to be the way the world is heading. And I don’t think the people running ZeniMax love money any less than the people at EA or SOE. (Or NCsoft.) Thus I have low expectations.

And then there is TESO‘s console ambitions… PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. I am not sure how that colors the picture.

As for Carbine, they have been around as a studio since 2005. Given some time for coming up with a plan, I could see WildStar six years in the making. And I could imagine a “just ship something we’ll fix it later” state of mind taking hold. I’ve been on teams like that before. Sometimes it even works out.

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12. Jenks - August 27, 2013

Someone recognized that the six of us exist!!! We’ve been forced into hiding over the last 10 years, but we’re still here, waiting for another true meritocracy wherein you see a warrior with the Sword of Blabbintoth and you know he killed the Ghoul of Blatherskite for it. The thought that some god in another universe controlling his every action simply bestowed it upon him because he wanted to blow some money is 100% an immersion destroyer.

If everyone isn’t paying the same amount of money and starting with the same rules as everyone else, it’s a waste of my time. Paid cheat codes in multiplayer games are just no.

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13. bhagpuss - August 27, 2013

@Jenks That’s an attractive argument, but long before anyone ever heard of F2P there was still no way of knowing whether said warrior had, himself, killed the Ghoul of Blatherskite, whether his Imaginary Big Brother killed it and gave it to him, whether his Gang killed it while he hid safely in a corner then let him have it, whether Shady Joe killed it, teleported him over and took a couple of sacks full of Platinum pieces for his trouble. And all the myriad other ways even No Drop, No Trade, Soulbound On Pickup items used to (and still do) end up in the imaginary hands of someone other than the imaginary person who actually did the dirty deed.

Back in the day the virulent debates that raged over Twinking, Power Leveling and generally Having Something Someone Didn’t Think You Should Have made these little spats over payment models and immersion sound like polite small talk with the vicar. If anything, having the whole thing out in the open has lanced the boil a little.

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14. SynCaine - August 27, 2013

I would throw out that anytime anyone associated with SW:TOR says you are doing something wrong, you should keep doing more of that. GW2-based feedback I’d just tap on the head, hand them a manifesto, and smile.

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15. Wilhelm Arcturus - August 27, 2013

@Bhagpuss – The issue for me is that every change to the genre has solved a problem, removed some wart, smoothed over some horrible process, or otherwise eased somebody’s burden somewhere. You may recall my quote about polishing WoW until the patterns that made it interesting were rubbed completely smooth. I am not sure where the turning point is for that sort of thing. Where is the line between polished and ruined?

In theory, NeverWinter should be my ideal game. Forgotten Realms. Limited skills. Level gaps not a huge barrier to grouping. Beautiful environments. A nearly endless supply of small group content, most of it instanced so we can do our dungeon crawls in peace. All available with no money down… ever! Haven’t paid a cent.

Yet I remain tepid at best about the game. If I want to play a game, it is about 7th on the list.

And then there are the problems that get… unsolved?

Twinking is a favorite tale of mine because SOE spent a ton of energy to fight twinking in EQII at launch. Remember when you couldn’t even buff somebody not in your group, and buffs had laughably short durations? And then SOE spent even more effort with things like mercenaries and experience boosts and special content and player dungeons that essentially act as a substitute for twinking.

I like the idea of TESO, that a team thinks that a cash shop might not always be appropriate, that immersion might be important, that a subscription only model might be the right way to present the game so that it can be experienced as the devs intended. But in 2014, with so many “free” options, it seems unlikely to survive in that mode. Video games are not art, but a business.

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16. Jenks - August 27, 2013

“That’s an attractive argument, but long before anyone ever heard of F2P there was still no way of knowing whether said warrior had, himself, killed the Ghoul of Blatherskite, whether his Imaginary Big Brother killed it and gave it to him, whether his Gang killed it while he hid safely in a corner then let him have it, whether Shady Joe killed it, teleported him over and took a couple of sacks full of Platinum pieces for his trouble”.

All of those are in game actions. The item was earned in the virtual world. Zero immersion breaking. Whether the warrior earned it himself, or his friend earned it and gave it to him, or he earned platinum in game and then purchased it, are all fine. The ability to generate the item in the game world by actions outside the game world is not fine.

“And all the myriad other ways even No Drop, No Trade, Soulbound On Pickup items used to (and still do) end up in the imaginary hands of someone other than the imaginary person who actually did the dirty deed.”

No Drop, No Trade, and Soulbound item tags are all incredibly immersion breaking. Trading between inhabitants within the virtual world is not.

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17. Brian 'Psychochild' Green - August 27, 2013

Tesh wrote:
MMO play and Elder Scrolls play are vastly different animals. The IP isn’t what keeps people hooked on the Elder Scrolls series.

And Warcraft 3 was an RTS. The IP gets people to sign up, and the gameplay needs to be good to get people to stay. I’m not saying that TESO just needs the “ES” part of their name to get the powerup and win the game, I’m saying that TESO will attract a larger initial audience than TGRO (The Generic RPG Online). I think it’s entirely possible that a well-executed MMO game with some Skyrim trappings will be a huge hit on the scale of WoW. But, obviously, that’s hardly guaranteed.

Consider this: how many people pre-ordered Diablo 3 based on the strength of Blizzard’s other titles? Even though D3 is widely accepted to be an inferior game to the previous titles.

Wilhelm Arcturus wrote:
You say “weaksauce” and yet I got you here and got a thoughtful (certainly compared to my own post) response out of you. Chalk one up for the old man.

Bah, I have your blog in my RSS reader and I comment on here on an occasional basis. It wasn’t your insults that got me here. :P

And then there is TESO‘s console ambitions… PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. I am not sure how that colors the picture.

My prediction is that this will see no benefit at all. FFXI only had 500k peak concurrent according to what I’ve read, and that’s less than EQ1 had at peak. Console players generally dislike extra subscription fees, too. This could surprise me as there could be a huge showing given the popularity of Skyrim on consoles, but my prediction is that this will not be a huge influence.

bhagpuss wrote:
Back in the day the virulent debates that raged over Twinking, Power Leveling and generally Having Something Someone Didn’t Think You Should Have made these little spats over payment models and immersion sound like polite small talk with the vicar.

Someone remembers some history. ;) And, bhagpuss is exactly right here.

As for business model, subscriptions are over. As I said, TESO might get away with it given the large fanbase which might give them incredible numbers. But, even WoW would at least double their revenues within a month if they went free-to-play. How many people here who don’t subscribe would go back if they did? I know I would, and I’m a lot more likely to spend money on the game if I’m there compared to if I’m not. The income from returning players would vastly outweigh the subscribers quitting in disgust.

Perhaps we’ll see if that bears out if WoW does go free-to-play as they keep inching toward that goal.

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18. Wilhelm Arcturus - August 27, 2013

@Brian – Bah, I have your blog in my RSS reader and I comment on here on an occasional basis. It wasn’t your insults that got me here. :P

Don’t break my immersion!

As for the console thing, I was actually thinking more on the negative impact front. This will divert resources and influence design. And PC gamers have not been overly fond of console style interfaces popping up in their games in the past.

But, even WoW would at least double their revenues within a month if they went free-to-play.

That, on the other hand, is a pretty bold statement to make. We always put WoW in its own category due to the sheer scale of the game. It is the exception. So assuming it will fit the pattern of a game a tenth or less its size makes me uneasy. That also leaves out the amount of work it would take to get there. And then there is the question about how long that lasts. Everybody reports a huge boost their first month. But then the company has to keep coming up with things to sell.

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19. Jenks - August 27, 2013

“But, even WoW would at least double their revenues within a month if they went free-to-play. How many people here who don’t subscribe would go back if they did? I know I would”

The game being too expensive doesn’t crack my top 100 reasons for not playing WoW anymore, but I’m clearly not the target market for it in its current state.

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20. Toldain - August 28, 2013

My personal takeaway was that, as usual, CCP “gets it” in a way that nobody else does. Even when people try to imitate them, they fail. The weird thing is, it doesn’t seem that hard to replicate what they do.

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21. Wilhelm Arcturus - August 28, 2013

@Toldain – I will say that, at the moment, CCP “gets it” and has a solidity of purpose when it comes to their economy.

I am not sure you could say they were truly serious about the economy until they got rid of the last bits of things that NPCs sold which could be reprocessed into minerals. Remember when shuttles set the cap on Veldspar pricing, because at a certain point you could just buy infinite cheap shuttles and reprocess them? And I think it took the repercussions of Incarna to steel their resolve on which direction the game ought to go.

I am just waiting for somebody, amidst all this discussion, to suggest that EVE Online go free to play.

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22. SynCaine - August 28, 2013

“I am just waiting for somebody, amidst all this discussion, to suggest that EVE Online go free to play.”

But it would double their revenue…

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23. motstandet - August 28, 2013

Make Eve Online free to play. Use PLEX to allow skill training.

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24. Wilhelm Arcturus - August 28, 2013

@motstandet – You’re not selling it. You have to tell me about the upside. Tell me how it would improve this “economic-spreadsheet driven libertarian paradise.”

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25. motstandet - August 28, 2013

The upside is that everyone can have a Falcon alt, a link alt, a jf alt, a market alt, 3 indy alts, an Incursion alt, and a FW alt! Easily make throw-away scam and suicide-gank characters–all those new F2P players aren’t going to grief themselves.

3x-5x the concurrent user count; 2x the revenue. It’s a win-win.

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26. Tesh - August 28, 2013

@Brian “And Warcraft 3 was an RTS.”

Point conceded, but we’re also dealing with a very different market these days. I think you’re right, the IP will pull people in. I’m just not convinced that they will stay. If I’m wrong and they have a hit on their hands, though, good on ‘em. :)

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27. Today’s Kool-Aid flavor is grape. Grape and failure | Hardcore Casual - August 28, 2013

[…] lot of funny stuff is happening in this post over at TAGN, please go check it out. My only major complaint is that Wilhelm was light on the actual insults. […]

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28. carson63000 - August 29, 2013

How exactly would WoW “at least double their revenues within a month if they went free-to-play”?

Are you looking at double the number of players spending an average of $15 a month each?

Quadruple the number of players spending half as much each on average?

Ten times the number of players spending 20% as much each?

Genuinely curious. I can’t think of any scenario which would add up to “double the revenue” which isn’t completely implausible or either the player increase or average revenue per player (or both).

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29. Coppertopper - August 30, 2013

Well I for one will never play EvE even if they went FTP or DL’d the client to my pc while I slept. This is no remark on the quality of the game, just the pace and structure. Now a stat heavy fantasy version – yes count me in.

And WoW FTP – don’t see it happening. Btp maybe. And yes – immediate huge spike in players, but only by tourists like me to peruse the panda content. WoW is the future LOTRO. Can’t wait until something blindsides WoW like WoW did EQ/DAoC.

All I can say about SWTOR is thank you for the great single player content for free. Might toss $5 for my extra action bars, but otherwise just blown away by the 38 studios-like waste of money/talent.

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30. Brian 'Psychochild' Green - August 30, 2013

WoW would double revenues primarily from nostalgic people logging back on. They’d meet old friends and stick around and spend money.

I’d be one of those people. :)

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31. Teer - August 30, 2013

Off topic.

Eve, CCP gets it. I keep being baffled by 500,000 subs and only 50,000 people actually playing at any time on the western servers? Has Eve actually convinced 450,000 people to pay for the game and not play? They must really get it!! How can other MMO’s get this to happen?

http://eve-offline.net/?server=tranquility

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32. Wilhelm Arcturus - August 30, 2013

@Brian – I think the objection is the absolute nature of your statement that WoW would at least double their revenue in the first month when the only tales we have to compare it to are early reports from games like DDO, LOTRO, and SWTOR, all of which were sinking fast.

So far, going free to play has been a “save the game” level of move that works early on because you do get the returning players. But the long term prospects seem less sure. I mean, I am not hearing about how fat Turbine is any more, SOE went all-in on free to play and just laid a slew of people off, and it didn’t save City of Heroes in the end.

WoW on the other hand is still hugely profitable. It dropped more subscriptions than any game I mentioned above ever had total and still has more than anybody dares dream of ever getting at this point. The scale of the comparison alone make me, as I said, uneasy about blithely stating that model is completely linear and it will double revenues whether you have 20K subscribers or 7.7 million.

And then there is the whole “revenue is nice, but what does the bottom line look like?” aspect of things. I have worked for a number of companies that generated lots of revenue, but still lost money. Does it net out better in the end?

@Teer – That sounds totally in line with what I have heard about other subscription MMOs and concurrency. Are you operating under the assumption that all 7.7 million WoW players are online at the same time? So every other MMO is getting it to happen as far as I can tell, and when you get to free to play, accounts over logons are hugely out of alignment.

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33. Teer - September 3, 2013

@Wilhelm – If we look at Wow’s subscribers (US data reported in 2010 by Raptr, not Asian data) we see that upwards of 30% are active in a given week.at a moderate level, while 10% are active at a very high level. There are others playing infrequently, but it is hard to get a number for them. Thats old data, but perhaps illustrative.

If we look at Warcraftrealms, we see that there were 2.5 million active players in the last reporting period in the US and Europe. If half of the 7.7 subs are US and Europe, lets call it 4 million US/Euro subscribers (its likely less than that as Asian subscribers have been shown to far, far outnumber US subscribers.), we have a feel for people actually playing the game. That calculates out to 62% of subscribers playing every month. I find that believable.

For the sake of discussion lets call it 40% rather than 62% of the people with active subs in WOW play in a given month.

Eve is telling us about 10% of their self-reported subscribers play in a given month. If we presume that EVE has a very high percent of alt accounts, the numbers are even more oddly skewed. So fewer than 10% of Eve subscribers play the game in a given month while WOW averaged 40% to 62% of active subs playing in a given month. I find that disparity very odd.

To return to topic, suffice it to say that I believe subscription games will be successful again as illustrated by EVE and WOW. I’m not sure those games are upon us yet.

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34. Wilhelm Arcturus - September 3, 2013

@Teer – Except that EVE is telling us no such thing. EVE Online shows you the immediate number of people online at any given moment, but gives no numbers on how many of the active accounts logged on in a given month.

Somewhere between 25K and 60K people are in game 23.5 hours of the day, pretty much every day, and they aren’t the same people logged in all the time. It goes through the various time zones, since there is only the one server for everybody in the world, except China. If you got the number of accounts that logged in over the course of a month… or even over the course of a 24 hour period, we would be a lot closer to the total subscriber number.

Warcraft Realms on the other hand… where to even begin.

Basically, you are looking at data regarding the number of characters they saw online over the course of a given month. And total characters… that population is a lot bigger than 7.7 million. I have 10 characters on Eldre’Thalas alone, and all I have to do is be on when somebody runs the collection with each one over the course of the month… which can clearly happen… and we have a very big number. So there is no way to establish a relationship between Warcraft Realms and total WoW subscribers.

Not to mention how spotty the collection on Warcraft Realms is, as it depends on people running their census addon. (I know, I used to run it regularly for them on several servers.) It says only 45 characters were spotted on the Auchindoun in the last month. Holy crap, shut it down!

You seem to have built quite a structure, but it has no foundation.

But I am with you on the last point. Some games will lend themselves to the monthly subscription model. I say that if only because I implicitly distrust anybody who says there is only one right answer for this sort of thing.

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35. Teer - September 3, 2013

We’ll agree to disagree then.

You propose that EVE players are rotating on and off per time zone which is perfectly logical and reasonable. You further suggest hat if we look across time zones we’ll see that a much higher percent of EVE accounts are active than the raw number of 10%. Perhaps. Will it get to 30% of the 500,000 subscriptions? Again perhaps, I’m very doubtful that it will approach 40-60% of of the 500,000 subs ,no matter how generous we are with time zone math.

I also agree with your point that Warcraft Realms data is suspect and that people MIGHT just be logging dozens of characters on per day/week/month. I’d suggest that probably is not happening, but again perhaps.

All that said even if the numbers are off by as much as 2x in both directions (more Eve players play and far fewer Wow players play) we’ve got quite a big gap. Makes me wonder.

My foundation is indeed shaky! But lets not blindly believe what we are told by gaming companies, either.

Fun conversation, thanks.

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36. motstandet - September 3, 2013

Teer, you are comparing apples to oranges. Concurrent user data is not the same as total monthly character logins.

Last time I bothered to check (~2007), my high-populated server had 2000-3000 characters returned from a server-wide character search(1). That 2500 figure is the figure you need to compare against Eve’s 50,000. But it still isn’t correct, because you must extrapolate 2500 to WoW’s 200+ servers. Thus you are looking at somewhere near the magnitude of 500,000 concurrent WoW players.

So only 500,000 characters are logged in to WoW even though it has 8 million active subscribers. That’s 6.25%.

(1) This seems comparable to FFXI’s concurrent logins also, which ranged from 2000-4500 per server.

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