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SOE All Access Changes… yet again… And the Future January 7, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment.
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17 comments

Last Friday SOE announced changes for SOE All Access and Gold subscribers.  Come February SOE was going to take away the 500 Station Cash stipend for those accounts, replacing it with the ability to purchase a single Station Cash Store item with a value up to 2,000 SC per month.

Once known as Station Access...

Once known as Station Access…

This did not get a lot of positive response.  The loudest group of people appear to like to accrue Station Cash, not be given a single “use it or lose it” purchase.  And there was the usual concern that nobody would buy anything small with the 2,000 SC single buy because that would “waste” SC.

Smed went on Reddit and talked about why they did this and what else they might do.  The most interesting among the reasons for me was this:

Second – it helps us deal with some internal issues regarding accrual of balances of SC for people who aren’t playing or spending. There are a lot of people who play and have SC in their wallets and don’t spend it ever.. this accrues over time and it’s a problem.

Now, he said that was not the most important reason, but it was a driving factor for this move.  However, the fact that the first reason he gave, that people feel that 500 SC a month isn’t enough to buy anything, turned out to be largely incorrect based on feedback might be seen to move the second reason up to first place.

You might reasonably think that, especially since SOE has been working hard to dig themselves out of their Station Cash monetary problems.  They weren’t exactly Greece-like in scale, but SOE certainly wasn’t anywhere as sound as Germany either, to push a metaphor.

He also mentioned that they were thinking of making SOE All Access, formerly Station Access, available for just $14.99 a month.  At least the All Access Subscribers would be happy.

Then, late yesterday, the latest revision broke.  It is described as “not baked yet” but where SOE’s “head is at” on the subject.  Full details over at EQ2Wire, but the basics are:

  • SOE All Access is $14.99, gives you access to all SOE games.  All subscriptions will be converted to SOE All Access
  • The 500 SC monthly stipend is back, though you have to log in to collect
  • Something vague about European players and PS3/PS4 titles

So that is where we stand today.

This is one of those things where, if SOE had started with this deal, they would have been heroes.  But now, a couple of iterations in… and with things still not set in stone… I sort of want to say “SOE WTF?”  Being a responsive company is good… but tossing out plans that appear not to have been thought through fully and then changing your mind in public after your user base complains loudly?  That seems to be just a way to train players to complain early and often.  As we saw in EVE Online after Incarna, every dolt with a gripe against CCP now goes straight to “shoot the monument in Jita!” because that worked once.  Loudly complaining about SOE has worked… how many times now?  (Note the graphic Feldon chose to use for the EQ2 Wire post linked above.)

Clearly SOE’s stated primary premise for the change was wrong for at least the loudest portion of their audience.  I know I would rather accrue 500 SC a month than be given a “use it or lose it” monthly purchase, which came with its own set of terms and restrictions. (No Player Studio items at one point.)  This strikes me as the sort of option that seems like a good idea after a couple of hours in a conference room; what I call the “sensory deprivation chamber” decision.  Seems fine until you show it to the first person who wasn’t in the room, who should immediately point out the state of the emperor’s casual wear.

Their so-called secondary reason, that people accruing Station Cash is a problem for SOE, still strikes me as the only business reason for this move, and thus more important than Smed made out.  And I guess making people log in to collect once a month will slow down some people who just leave their accounts active but don’t play.  It won’t stop obsessives like me… I log into LOTRO once a month when not active just to get my 500 Turbine Points… but it will serve to punish a class of people who give SOE money for nothing.

And it is interesting to see where SOE All Access has landed in pricing.  It started out as Station Access, a $21.99 option, way back in 2004, jumping to $24.99 as time went on. Station Access peaked in price in 2007 when the price was jacked up to $29.99 a month.  That made it a penny more expensive than just having subscriptions to two SOE games on the face of it, and you could widen that gap considerably with the 3, 6, or 12 month subscription options, which were discounted for individual games but not for Station Access.  Complaints about the price change then didn’t seem to register with SOE.

Then, about two and a half years back, SOE renamed the package to SOE All Access and dropped the price to $19.99 a month, making it a good deal again for people who play multiple SOE games.  Of course, in the age of Free to Play, $30 a month was not a tenable position to hold.

And now here we are, about to say farewell to individual subscriptions to SOE games as SOE All Access drops in price to $14.99 a month.

In the end, I think this could be SOE stepping into the future of PC online gaming.  As Micosoft has their Xbox Live and PlayStation has… whatever it has… I own a PS3 and couldn’t tell you… so the PC online gaming market seems likely to move towards similar deals, where a monthly fee will give players access to bundles of games and benefits.

Actually, SOE lead on that, with Station Access back in 2004, then lost their way for a bit.

And I suspect we will see other companies that focus on online games follow suit.  Blizzard already offers benefits across games when you pre-order or go for the collector’s edition of one of their titles.  And one of my predictions for 2014 is that Blizz will give WoW subscribers some tangible benefit in Hearthstone.  That could lead the way to a Blizzard-wide subscription plan that gave you access and benefits across their Battle.net titles.

How about you?  SOE’s stumbles aside, do you think XBox-live like cross-catalog subscriptions are a coming thing in the PC online gaming world?

Addendum: This looks like it might be the topic of the day, so I’ll link out to others commenting on it.

The Interesting Thing About Krono and the All Access Pass… November 16, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment.
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2 comments

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?

SOE All Access – What Does $19.99 a Month Get You? June 28, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment.
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10 comments

As noted over at Massively, SOE has now put in writing what they announced at E3, a new version of the all-games-for-one-price plan, Station Access, priced at $19.99 a month down from $29.99 a month.

The plan, renamed to SOE All Access, is up on on the SOE web site.


And it has some nice new features, including a price break for subscribing in longer time increments, something previously denied Station Access subscribers.

There is even a spiffy new chart, and I love charts.

All Your SOE Subscription Options

You will note that Star Wars Galaxies is not listed.  That was expected.  You can still play, but it is in wind-down mode and won’t be accepting new subscribers soon.

And the chart itself is a bit odd in my opinion. They put free to play games in their own box, which I understand, but that does create a visual gulf between them and the All Access Pass.  And it is my experience that anything that can cause confusion will cause confusion and somebody is going to walk away from that chart convinced that All Access does not give them Gold access to EverQuest II Extended or member access to Free Realms.

At least they have removed the goofy Station Access Savings Calculator from the site.  Now they just need to make the URL redirect some place useful…

Addendum: Extra character slots are not part of SOE All Access.

If you are a current Station Access subscriber you get to keep you extra character slots as long as you remain subscriber, but anybody taking up All Access will no longer get this benefit.  Station Access used to give subscribers 2 extra EverQuest, 4 extra Vanguard, and 5 extra EverQuest II character slots.  Those will now have to be purchased with Station Cash.

SOE Station Access Returns to 2004… And Then Some June 10, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Gaming Industry Trends, Lord of the Rings Online, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard SOH.
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11 comments

I was going to wait until SOE posted something official on the SOE web site about the Station Access price reduction, but their community team seems to all be at E3 and unable to do anything besides post pictures to the SOE Facebook page.

I thought a bit of caution might be required, since the stories that announced this coming price reduction all seemed to lack an official original source to which they could link to, only linking to other similarly sparse reports on the subject.  Given how the press “misunderstood” and repeated certain stories during the Sony hacking fiasco, I thought a little care with SOE related stories would be a good thing.

Color me a cynic.  I want the deal in writing.

But I am also impatient, so let’s just treat this as if it is true, and that SOE is going to reduce the price of Station Access to $19.99 a month, down from its current $29.99 a month, at some date which we will refer to as “soon.”

I remember when Station Access was announced, way back in late 2004.  A mere $21.99 a month would cover your subscription fees for all of the Sony Online Entertainment MMOs. (I had to go back to my SOE billing history to get that number.)

For me, the fact that I could be subscribed to EverQuest II and still go tinker around in EverQuest was a decent draw at that price, but the clincher was the fact that, with Station Access you also got a couple more character slots in EQ2.

I will grouse to my dying day about SOE launching a game with 24 character classes that only allowed you to make four total characters.

The price went up to $24.99 later on, and then just a little over four years ago it jumped up to its current $29.99 a month.

The speculation at the time was that this was to help cover Vanguard being brought into the SOE family of MMOs, and there was worry that with each new game a future price increase would come.

Fortunately for those of us at the consumer end of things, the price did not rise any further with the addition of games like Pirates of the Burning Sea.  I would guess that the $29.99 price seemed to SOE to be perhaps the most the market would bear.

For those who are not familiar with Station Access, it is one of the SOE subscription plans.  It allows the subscriber to play any of SOE’s online games as though they have subscribed to that particular game.

In theory you must buy the game box before you can play any particular game.  In practice I was able to download and play Star Wars Galaxies, The Matrix Online, and Planet Side without paying for anything aside from my Station Access subscription.  And the games you play benefit, as your Station Access subscription is allocated out based on what game you play over the month.

At $21.99 it was a hell of a deal.

At $24.99 it was still a very good deal.

But at $29.99 the package deal lost some of its luster.

At that price it was a penny more expensive than simply having two month-to-month subscriptions for any given pair of SOE games.  Furthermore, with a standard subscription you can get a further discount by subscribing in 3, 6, or 12 month increments, something not available to Station Access subscribers who can only pay on a month-to-month basis.

This lead to a rather amusing, in my opinion, Station Access Savings Calculator that would tell you how you could “save” nearly $75 a month in subscription fees (if you otherwise subscribed individually to every SOE game), but could not explain why you should subscribe if you only played one or two SOE games.

So unless you were active in 3 or more SOE games on a regular basis (and there are some of you out there who have been at times… I’m looking at you Stargrace and Tipa… and speaking of Tipa, her comment on this post is worth noting just for context) or really needed one of the few other benefits that Station Access offered (like more character slots in EQ2… of that I am guilty), the value proposition for Station Access was not so hot.

But now, if the news is to be believed, Station Access is being reduced in price, back to a level below what seems like a good deal back in 2004.  At $19.99 a month I would subscribe to SOE games only via Station Access, if only to allow myself to peek into EverQuest now and again and keep myself going in both versions of EverQuest II.

Which leaves me with the usual question, “What does it mean?”

Certainly SOE has been a leader in subscription options.  Just looking at EverQuest II, does any other competing game offer as many ways to subscribe and play?  We have free (EQ2X only, granted), $10 forever (ibid), a 3 day a month plan (EQ2 Passport), a standard monthly subscription, and Station Access.  If there was a lifetime plan and an option to buy your subscription time with in-game currency I think they would have almost all the current options in the MMO sphere covered.

But with all of that, why upset things with a radical change in the price of Station Access?

My speculation, and that is all it is, is that the market has changed, both inside and outside of SOE.

Back when EQ2 launched, $15 a month was the defacto standard subscription fee.  (Remember how we scoffed, well I did, when Mark Jacobs suggested that Warhammer Online might charge more, positioning it as a premium game? And now the first 10 levels are free.)  $15 was the line, and the MMO companies held to that, because there were not a lot of options for your western fantasy MMO dollar.

But with the market now flooded with choices, price has become one of the points of competition.  With Lord of the Rings Online, for example, even before it went free to play if you couldn’t find a way to subscribe at $10 a month (basically a $5 discount off the list price) you were not trying hard enough.  And after going free to play, $10 a month became the standard monthly VIP price.

$15 a month has gone from being the standard to being something of the cap on MMO subscription pricing.  How can you charge MORE than WoW, the bestest MMO ever if we use subscribers as our sole metric like so many people do?

So for something like Station Access to “feel” like a deal, pricing it at double WoW is no longer really viable.

And SOE has changed as well.  When Station Access came out… and even when it went up to $30 a month… SOE games were all monthly subscription that, with the exception of Planet Side, were at the standard $15 a month.

Now, however, we have FreeRealms which is nominally free, as are EverQuest II Extended, Pirates of the Burning Sea, and Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures.  If that does not necessarily break the Station Access model, it certainly adds a new dynamic to it.

And you have Station Cash, which has been around for a while now and which was not met with enthusiasm. (And it still has the purists screaming. See race change potion on Fippy Darkpaw.)  Station Cash has become, over the last two and a half years, an increasingly bigger piece of SOE’s revenue pie.  And this, I am going to guess, is probably the key item.

While market changes certainly had no small influence, I am going to bet that somebody did the math, went through and figured out how much revenue there was in attracting each free to play player and how much that revenue changed… went up… when a free to play player converted to a subscription.

Those would be very interesting numbers to see, but I would guess that Station Cash purchases for a player that commits to a subscription are higher than for a free player.  And, I would additionally be willing to bet that somebody willing to spend Station Cash in one game is more likely to spend it in other SOE games.

And if that is the case, getting somebody to commit to all of your games probably nets out better in the long run if Station Access is less expensive because more people are likely to commit over all.

Or so goes my theory, which I will summarize as “market change and the increasing importance of Station Cash purchases to the SOE bottom line.”

Syp took a look at the value proposition of the change, which for a consumer can simply be said to be “better,” but I haven’t see much on the “Why” front.

What do you think is really driving this change?

Addendum: They posted the webcast to YouTube and mentioned the Station Access pricing change in their post on the Station Blog, so we now have something in writing.  Still no details… like an actual date.

Station Access Savings Calculator! October 22, 2007

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard SOH.
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File under “silly.”

As part of the revamp of the SOE website, they have now added a savings calculator to illustrate the advantages of Station Access. 

They are apparently worried that the current target audience for Station Access has problems multiplying $14.99 by the first seven positive integers.  

I supposed it is good to know that I would save nearly $75 a month over normal fees if I played all seven of SOE’s subscription based games.

soesavings.jpg

Just for the record, those seven games are, currently, EverQuest, EverQuest II, EverQuest Online Adventures, Vanguard, Star Wars Galaxies, The Matrix Online, and Planetside.

The calculator is a little less helpful about my savings if I only play one or two games. 

soenosavings.jpg 

Sure, there would be zero savings… and an additional cost of $15.00 or $0.01 for one or two games.

If you choose one game, you are encouraged to play more games.

soesixmore.jpg

While at the two game level, you are told that you can have access to more games for just pennies.

soepennies.jpg

Technically, that should be “a penny more a month.”  2 times $14.99 is $29.98, or one penny less than the monthly cost of Station Access.

Maybe they were right to worry about people having problems with multiplication.

I have no doubt this was approved by the same person who thought banner ads all over the site (though not on the Station Access pages) were also a good idea.  More cow dung!

How Your Station Access Money Is Allocated March 2, 2007

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard SOH.
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8 comments

Naturally, with the announcement of a price increase, the hot light of public inquiry has been shone onto the subject of SOE Station Access.  Outrage and rash pronouncements have been the order of the day.  Forums are aflame.  Blogs appear to united in the message “Nuts to you, SOE!”

So I thought this was the perfect atmosphere to wander onto the SOE Station forums and ask a question with a different tack: How does Station Access money get distributed?

I have been curious about this since Station Access came into being a couple years back.  I wanted to know which games were getting my money and if the amount of time I played a specific game figured into how much of my money said game got.

And, honestly, I wanted to make sure that if I added a game to my account, then did not like it, that my not playing that game would ensure that not a nickel of my money would go to support it.  I am not in that situation, but I like to be prepared.

In just over two hours after posting my question I got an answer from Mr. Community Relations himself, Alan “Brenlo” Crosby, who said,

Without going into too much detail, yes the games you play while on Station Access and the amount of time you play them determine any financial benefit for a game.

A short answer, but sufficient for my needs, and quite prompt.  He was probably happy to see a question that didn’t ask how he slept at night or used the term “blood sucking.”

So my playing a game allows cash to flow to that game, while withholding play withholds cash, the very life’s blood of commerce, from a game that has earned my displeasure… or that I am just bored with at the moment.

So as I tally up the pros and cons of Station Access when deciding whether or not to renew, I can add “inflated sense of power” to the pros column.  I am not sure that is worth five dollars a month, but it is worth something.