PLEX and its new Daughter, GRACE

I do not pay much attention to Anarchy Online.  Well, I don’t pay it any mind at all, really aside from the occasional industry lore aspects around things like rocky starts (“nearly unplayable” -GameSpy) and longevity. (It turned 13 just about a month back.)

AnarchyOnlineLogo

But some people do still pay attention to it.  There was a post up over at Massively announcing that the game had announced a new aspect to their subscription plan.

Called GRACE, for Grid Access Credit Extension, it is an in-game item that can be traded or sold between players that, once redeemed, turns into 30 days of game subscription time.  There is a FAQ.

Basically, this the AO version of EVE Online PLEX.

This is PLEX

No longer this cheap in Jita

PLEX itself has been live in EVE Online for just about five years at this point, where it has been a success thanks in large part to the in-game economy which is all pervasive in New Eden.  There are a lot of aspects of the game you can avoid, but if you want to play you are going to be part of the economy.

The economy is such a big deal in EVE that I was curious if MMOs with much more optional or fragmented economies could really make something like PLEX work.  World of Warcraft, with its large player base and need for gold sinks, seemed like it might be able to, even with the economy sliced up into three markets on hundreds of different servers.  And Blizzard dipped their toe in the water… sort of… with the kitten economy idea.  But they haven’t done much since.

It was left to Sony Online Entertainment to give the PLEX idea a try in the fantasy realm, introducing Krono to EverQuest II about two years back and then expanding it to their other games.

All About Krono

All About Krono

I really have no idea how Krono has worked out.  They still have Krono as an option, even after the big consolidation of game subscriptions into the new All Access plan back in April, but I have never seen more than a couple on the market when I have bothered to check, and the prices seemed wildly different on different servers, so I cannot tell if they just don’t get used or if they are so popular that they sell out quickly to the platinum barons of Norrath.  And the fact that the game is free to play complicates things.

Moving on, earlier this year we had two new MMOs announcing that they were all-in on monthly subscriptions.  First, The Elder Scrolls Online made its position clear, and then WildStar joined the subscription only parade as well.  But their business model also included something called CREDD, which is how they spell PLEX on Nexus I gather.  Because it was that PLEX model again, an in-game item worth game time, which Carbine seemed to be using as a loophole to claim some sort of free to play status since, technically, after you bought the game, you could find a way to play for free if you earned enough in-game money to buy CREDD.

In Carbine’s world, you can play for free so long as they get paid.  But to their credit, I don’t think they have overplayed their definition of free to play… yet.

My first thought when they announced their business model, including the CREDD bit, was whether or not it had worked for SOE by that point.  That seemed like a reasonable question.  Yes, a shiny new game sporting a subscription-only model with a brand new, out of the box in-game economy might not be the best parallel, what else was I going to compare it too?

The question is still unanswered at this point as far as I am concerned.  The idea works in EVE, but I couldn’t tell you if it was worthwhile elsewhere.

And now Funcom is throwing its hat in the ring with Anarchy Online, which doesn’t help my understanding at all, because I am not even sure what their business model is.  I think it is mostly subscriptions, but they have had this short-term “Free Play” option that shows you ads in game since… what… 2004?  So does that make it free to play?  And how many people even play?  The late Game Data site tracked them as peaking at 60K subscriptions just after launch, dropping down to 10K by 2006, but nothing after that.

So who is out there playing Anarchy Online?  What do you think GRACE going to do for the game, if anything?

Or, for that matter, how about CREDD in WildStar or Krono in SOE games?

Has the WildStar Team Looked Into How is Krono Working for SOE?

The big news so far this week… at least at the point when I started writing this post… seems to be the announcement about WildStar’s business model.

Wildstar_logoWildStar is going for the classic monthly fee subscription model, which means they had better have something new and different to offer.  Given what I have seen so far, I hope their secret weapon is still under wraps, because the MMO market is pretty harsh these days.  The masses have spoken, and they do not like monthly subscriptions and won’t tolerate them without good reason.

And Carbine, WildStar’s developer, is working for NCSOFT (Didn’t they used to write it NCsoft?), which means the gun will be to their head from day one to make this work and work well.  NCSOFT’s record of closing down games indicates that they either have no compunction about shutting them down or they have no clue about what works for MMOs and end up backing a lot of losers.  Neither paints a happy picture.

So, yea, no pressure there Carbine.  Hope you have your shit well and truly together.

The alleged mitigating factor in the WildStar plan appears to be a PLEX-like item which they are calling CREDD.  As they put it on their site, after you buy the box and use up your “30 days with purchase” time, you have two options:

Option 1: Monthly subscription

Option 2: C.R.E.D.D.

So, the buzz after that has been people sorting themselves out into the love/hate sides of the subscription model, attempting to decipher exactly how this is “hybrid,” and generating inapt parallels to EVE Online and its PLEX scheme.

You all remember PLEX right?

This is PLEX

No longer this cheap in Jita

PLEX has been around for about four years at this point.  It has added to the usual EVE drama.  You buy PLEX from CCP and get it as an item in-game, which you can then sell to other people for the in-game currency, ISK.  You do this if you really need some ISK.  If you buy PLEX, you can consume it for 30 days of game time or use it for various account services.

PLEX works in EVE.

It works for various reasons, the most important of which is that everybody who plays EVE with any level of seriousness has to be part of the in-game player economy.  EVE is not World of Warcraft where you can say, “screw the auction house” and go run through the quest chains that lead you through the game and which keep your level of equipment… well… I hate to say “competitive” in a game like WoW… but you can get the basic job done, the bar being set low and the equipment being handed out readily making keeping you sufficiently over powered.

There is no escaping the economy in EVE.  You need it for your ship, for your fittings, for your implants, for your skills.  And the fact that ships and fittings and implants… and if you screw up, even skills… are constantly being lost to player action means that you keep going back.  You keep a few ships fit and ready to go.  You buy better fittings.  You change up fits that just are not working.  You spend a lot of ISK.

Or maybe not a lot.  If you are new, losing a frigate seems expensive.  Later on you’ll throw frigates away and laugh… if you last long enough in the game.

But another aspect of EVE that makes PLEX work is that the in-game currency isn’t an “I win” button.  Sure, it helps.  But if you can only afford to fly frigates, you can still find something to do.  And if a battleship lumbers up to you, you can run away easily.  Or, even better, you can tackle him, orbiting faster than his guns can track, and call in some friends to kill him.  Or kill him yourself and laugh, if you are skilled enough.

Look at Gevlon.  He has, through an admirable level of persistence, become quite wealthy in EVE Online.  He has made billions of ISK.  But has he “won” EVE?  Was all that ISK able to save TEST?  Is he powerful in-game in relation to his wealth?

I would say no.

Anyway, all of that is old news and has been discussed and argued over for ages at this point.  The take away from that is that WildStar does not sound like EVE, so the success of PLEX is not, to my mind, a reliable predictor of success when it comes to CREDD.  Feel free to correct me if you feel I am wrong.  I am no expert on WildStar.  But the two do not feel parallel.

No, WildStar’s CREDD seems like it might be closer to SOE’s Krono.

Krono has been out for almost a year now and it sounds a lot like PLEX and CREDD.

All About Krono

All About Krono

You buy it from SOE for real money and can turn around and sell it in-game to other players for in-game currency.  The last I checked it was available in EverQuest and EverQuest II.  While PLEX sounded like a viable plan in EVE from day one, I was a bit dubious about Krono.  (I was dubious about WoW supporting such a thing in theory as well.  Certainly the Kitten economy did not take the world by storm.) It seems like a decent idea.  It ought to work.  But it depends so much on the in-game economy, which can vary greatly from server to server, and which does not have anywhere near the buy-in you get in EVE Online.

I checked into the market price for Krono a few times early on, but haven’t heard much about it since.  So it isn’t clear to me if Krono has been a big win, a modest success, or is another one for the list of SOE science experiments that will never be spoken of again.  Did it get any mention at SOE Live?

The one ace in the whole that Krono had was the price.

Krono Pricing

Krono Pricing

A single Krono is $17.99, or two dollars cheaper than a month of SOE All Access, which starts at $19.99.  I looked into this pricing scheme in a post a while back.  It seemed like the one thing that might guarantee some Krono sales, since Krono can extended you SOE All Access plan by 30 days, just like it does a single game plan, and there are some price points where Krono wins for that.

Anyway, Krono seems like a much closer parallel to WildStar’s CREDD, so if I knew that Krono was a success, I think I would have more confidence in CREDD.

Of course, there isn’t a perfect parallel between any SOE game and WildStar.

Wildstar will be shiny and new, will be monthly subscription based, will have its own take on things, will presumably be different enough to stand out, and so on.  Meanwhile, SOE games are all free to play at this point and the games closest to Wildstar in model are pretty old at this point, with EverQuest standing at 14 years of age and EverQuest II at nearly 9.

On the other hand, some of the differences work in Krono’s favor.  The fact that some of the SOE games are older and have mature economies means that there are players out there with the cash in hand to buy Krono at a price that makes it worth acquiring Krono from SOE.  That might be an early days weak spot for WildStar.  Will its economy have evolved and produced enough wealth to make selling CREDD a viable option just 30 days after launch?  And if it has, if there is enough money in the market so quickly, is that really a good thing, or a sign that inflation will grip the economy?

That is a whole pile of questions and speculation without much in the way of answers.  Such is my usual method I suppose.

What do you think?  Is it going to work?

And, in another parallel, I do wonder where Krono fits into the EverQuest Next scheme.

The Success of Krono? It Has Come to EverQuest

Krono, SOE’s version of PLEX, which they introduced back in October, seems to have taken root.  Back then they announced that they would keep an eye on it, and if things went well they would introduce it into other SOE games.

Well it has come to EverQuest, which I guess means things are, in fact, going well for Krono.

EverQuest Krono

EverQuest Krono

As with EverQuest II, there is a FAQ for Krono on the EverQuest site detailing its integration with the game, cost, and so on.

I took a peek at Krono prices yesterday on the three EverQuest II servers where I have characters, and the market price seems to have remained stable, though supply varied from server to server.  When I first looked at Freeport it was around 650p.  Yesterday I saw:

Freeport Server

  • 80 Krono for sale from 19 different sellers
  • Likely price you will pay – 600p

Guk Server

  • 31 Krono for sale from 15 different sellers
  • Likely price you will pay – 750p

Crushbone Server

  • 18 Krono for sale from 10 different sellers
  • Likely price you will pay – 750p

Those servers represent different population levels, with Freeport being the most active of the three.  So I suspect that if you visited the Antonia Bayle, pricing and availability would be closer to the Freeport range, while lower population servers would likely be in the range of the other two.

And, as I noted before, at that price Krono is cheaper than RMT currency prices for EverQuest II, when you can find them.  EverQuest II is not popular with RMT vendors, and has probably grown less so with the introduction of Krono.

But will that be the case for EverQuest?

The EverQuest market has been on a down slide for the last couple of years, with people willing to camp characters in the Bazaar 24/7 dwindling to a shadow of former days the last time I logged into Luclin.

However, in addition to raising the level cap to 100 and continued opportunities to kill off halflings, the Rain of Fear expansion also introduced offline selling in the Bazaar.  No longer do you have to log in a character to setup shop and sit there in order to peddle your wares.  That alone will probably revive the marketplace in EverQuest somewhat and help make Krono more viable.

The other question is the price of Krono.  EverQuest has seen nearly Weimar Republic levels of inflation over the years due to various issues.

Okay, maybe it hasn’t been that bad, but prices of things in later expansions seem to be adjusted for the decreased value of the platinum coin, making items you can vendor for a couple of copper feel like they are not worth the effort.

What will the price of Krono be on the EverQuest servers?  And how will that related to the RMT price?  I have not had a chance to check.

Of course, one of the things that might help Krono along is that for certain scenarios, buying Krono is cheaper than renewing your subscription.  At least if you are using it to renew your SOE All Access Pass.

Anyway, the Krono experiment presses onward as SOE attempts to bring a PLEX-like offering to its customers while killing off what remains of the RMT market servicing their games.  I expect we will see Krono in Vanguard by Summer.

Would you want to see something like PLEX/Krono put in place by other publishers?

Krono – Maybe It Will Work… Maybe It Won’t

I mentioned SOE’s new Krono item previously, though really only in reference to an oddity in its pricing.  It is SOE’s version of EVE Online’s PLEX, an item that can be redeemed for 30 days of game time (or premium game time, in the case of SOE’s free to play model) and which exists in-game and can be sold to other players for the in-game currency.

All About Krono

(Krono screen stolen from The EQ2 Wire because we love them.)

I had wondered previously if WoW could support something like this, back when they were indulging in their half-hearted, and I would say ultimately failed, kitten economy experiment.  But now that SOE is attempting to emulate the PLEX model directly, I am very interested to see how it works out.

Currently Krono is only in EverQuest II, though there are plans to bring it to EverQuest and Vanguard should things go well.

But will things go well?

I have been watching pricing of Krono on the broker on a couple of servers and it seems to be all over the map.

Now, there are a couple of problems that cause this.

To start with, unlike EVE, EQII has no buy order mechanism built into the broker.  In EVE, the ability to set a buy order sets an effective floor on the price of anything.  No matter what you have to sell in EVE, there is somebody somewhere who will think, “I’ll take n of those if it gets down to the right price.”

Sometime buy orders are really low.  There is always somebody who will do a region-wide buy order for light missiles at half an ISK each.  Reprocessing them or reselling them near a low level mission hub will allow the buyer to turn a profit.

But in trade hubs like Jita the buy orders and the sell orders begin to converge and you can determine the real market price of an item, minus the geographic convenience multipliers.

Since you cannot do that in EQ2, sellers are flying blind.  Let’s say you buy a Krono and put it on the market for 700 plat and it sells.  Is 700 plat the real market price?  Did you simply price the Krono too low?  Did you just find a fat cat in a hurry?  Were you simply the lowest price at that moment on the broker?

None of that tells you what the real price should be.  It is one of the flaws of the EQII broker.  I certainly hope buy orders are on the list of features for the tentatively sandbox-like EverQuest Next.

The second issue is that there simply were not that many Krono for sale on the broker.  People seem tentative, and rightly so, about diving into this latest SOE scheme.

So on one server I saw about a dozen Krono up for sale.  They were priced between 700 and 2500 platinum, and except for the couple at the bottom of the price list, who were clearly in a price war, there were pretty wide gaps between the listings.  Anything with a commonly accepted value should be clustered pretty closely for the most part, with a few outliers looking for suckers.

This says to me that most of the people selling Krono on the broker are trying to sell at what they feel should be the right price.  This is how much plat they think $17.99 should bring in.  This, again, goes back to the whole lack of a buy order mechanism thing, as there is nothing out there to help determine a real market value.  Without that a seller cannot make an informed pricing decision, so we get stuff all over the map.

Meanwhile, I saw several people on the trade channel at various times trying to sell Krono for between 500 and 600 plat.  This is an off-shoot of the fact that the broker in EQII, unlike the market in EVE, is a completely optional feature.  You can go through years of playing and never buy anything off the broker and never feel the worse for it.  After all, the best items in the game cannot be bought or sold.  You have to go slay some beastie or another, or complete some epic quest to get that.

And unless you have a gold account, you cannot even use the broker to its fullest.  That is how non-essential the broker is.

So the deck isn’t somewhat stacked against outright, unmitigated, obvious success.

And I am not even including the calculations from old hands like me who remember the days when selling something for a gold… 100 gold is 1 plat… seemed like a major economic victory.  Something selling for hundreds of plat seems crazy insane, because I do not thing all my characters, if they pooled all their coins, could come up with 200 plat.  But I am still playing in the mid-tiers of the game, in content from 2005, so have no real sense of how readily available plat is when you are in the 90-95 zone.  The price of Krono might be quite reasonable to somebody at that level.

But there appears to be at least one wild card in favor of the whole Krono scheme, and that has to do with the RMT gold selling sites.

I went to check some of those sites just to see if I could get a sense of the street value, such that it is, of plat coins in EverQuest II.

The basic response from most of the sites I visited was, to mix a reference, “Screw you and the crappy SOE game you rode in on!  We don’t serve their kind in here!”

Okay, maybe they were not quite so up front.  It was more like “We do not currently serve this community” or “We are currently out of stock and cannot foresee a time when we will resume sales” when it came to EverQuest II.

I went through six sites I found via Google before I was directed by one to a seventh site that actually had EQII plat for sale.  And they didn’t even have plat for all of the servers.  But on those that they did, it looked like $16.99, the cheapest price for a Krono, could get you about 300 plat coins.

Krono Pricing

Which, in the world of RMT versus PLEX, is mondo bizarre.  Go look at Nosy Gamer’s chart.  In EVE, you are paying nearly a 50% premium to get clean ISK via PLEX when compared to RMT.  In EQII at the moment, where I checked, you could be getting a 50% premium when buying clean plat via Krono.  Being legit pays, for the moment.

Of course, the problems I mentioned about the EQII market apply.  There is no saying if this will be the price range next week, or the week after, or the month after.  There is no way to get a sense of the demand, absent the buy order mechanism, so we are still flying blind when it comes to pricing on any given day.

Which is kind of a shame, because I would really like this to work.  And, I think in EverQuest, where inflation has led to people having huge stacks of plat coins around, it might be a viable way to spread out some of that wealth that is just sitting in banks doing nothing, to the betterment of the game.

Still, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

What do you think?  Is Krono, a good thing or not, and will it succeed?

The Interesting Thing About Krono and the All Access Pass…

Krono is a new item from SOE, currently available in EverQuest II.  The Krono page describes it as such:

When used, this magical krono adds 30 days membership time to the amount of the consuming character. This krono can be used only once.

  • Adds 30 days of game time to the account of the consuming character
  • Fully tradable and salable
  • No expiration date
  • Krono only redeemable in EverQuest II

So Krono is, essentially, the same thing as PLEX in EVE Online.

This is PLEX

I need to get a new stock PLEX screen shot.  That one is out of date.  PLEX is now just an object in game like any other and can be destroyed.

Anyway, Krono is an attempt by SOE to thwart RMT currency sales in EverQuest II by giving players a legitimate way to buy something that can be traded in-game for platinum.

And, on the flip side, if you are a player with lots of plat who wants to save some money on their subscription, you can fund your premium access with your game play.

As in EVE, generally a win-win, so long as the market can support such an item at a reasonable price.  In EVE the price of PLEX has been rising over time, hovering around 600 million ISK per these days, double what it was two years ago.

We will see how the EverQuest II broker handles it.  My own fear, if I were SOE, would be that of low demand and/or low or erratic price patterns.  PLEX works in EVE because everybody has to use the marketplace.  The same is not true in EQII.  In fact, free players are somewhat restricted in what they can access at the broker.  As I pointed out when I asked if WoW could support something like PLEX, market participation is a key factor.

I suppose we shall see how it works out.  I applaud SOE for diving right in with this.  According to the FAQ, if the response is favorable, Krono will be rolled out to EverQuest and Vanguard as well.

Also like PLEX, Krono are priced to be more expensive than a normal monthly subscription.  A standard game pass… what SOE calls a subscription these days… is $14.99 a month, while Krono is $17.99 per 30 day unit of time.

Krono Pricing

Clearly, nobody is going to simply buy and consume Krono just to keep their subscription going.

Unless you happen to subscribe via the SOE All Access Pass.

There is a long history to the All Access Pass, once known as Station Access, which was introduced just about the time EverQuest II launched.  In short though, it is a subscription plan where, for a few dollars more, you can have access to all SOE online games.

Pricing has varied over the years, peaking at $29.99 at one point.  But once SOE went all-in on free to play (and shed a few games), the price was dropped significantly.  Here is where the pricing stands today.

All Access Pricing

Nice, but what does that have to do with Krono?

Well, deep inside the Krono FAQ, there is a question about SOE All Access.

13. Do Krono work for game memberships as well as All Access memberships?

Yes. When a Krono is consumed, it will add 30 days of game membership time to the account associated with the character that consumed it. If that account has an existing All Access membership, the All Access membership will be extended by 30 days. If the account has a regular game membership, that membership will be extended by 30 days. If the account has no current membership, then 30 days of regular game membership time will be added to the account.

So using Krono will actually extended your All Access subscription.

And, in certain increments, it is cheaper than.  Basically, if you subscribe in increments of less than 6 months, Krono is the cheaper route.  At 6 months, they are essentially the same price.  Only if you buy your All Access subscription in year long increments is Krono more expensive.

Which makes me wonder if this was a deliberate action to help boost the sale of Krono, or if we are seeing yet another case of SOE not quite thinking things through, as happened with the $1.25 worth of Station Cash buying a 30 day subscription situation.

What do you think about that, or about Krono in general?