Daily Archives: August 26, 2013

Conspiracies, Immersion, and the Secret Life of PLEX

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?