Daily Archives: January 21, 2015

Quote of the Day – Is H1Z1 an MMO or Not?

I look at H1Z1 not as an MMO at all. It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with MMOs. It’s a session based persistent online game.

John Smedley, Twitter

So H1Z1 has been a thing… at least an early access thing… for almost a week now and, as I have noted, it has gotten a variety of reactions.  Whether you believe early access is a good thing or not, H1Z1 is out there, the latest MMO from SOE.

The night is dark, I think I'll go to bed

And, of course, will IT survive?

Only there is that Smed quote from Twitter.  This was in reaction to a story posted over at Massively, More Boredom than Terror, that describes Syp’s venture into H1Z1 on a PvE server.

Putting together the full series of tweets from Smed, they read out:

Watching [Massively’s] story about how H1Z1 is boring and seeing other commentary along the same lines from people playing PVE.  Makes me realize just how stratified the online gaming industry is. Not a bad thing at all. just interesting. Basically the review is from the perspective of an MMO vet coming into it. The comments are identical to stuff we heard from our own company.

My perspective is different – new kinds of experiences with comparisons to current MMO experiences mean people are looking at it through a different lens then we made it. All still valid points of view though and can’t disagree with them.

I look at H1Z1 not as an MMO at all. It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with MMOs. It’s a session based persistent online game.  session based because lots of people play until they die. It’s an easy stopping point.  anyways… just a bit of rambling about it, but I find the experience an MMO vet has coming in to H1Z1 (or Day Z for that matter)

I will say that at least Smed didn’t go for the cheap “It’s a PvP game” shot like so many comments over at Massively did.  SOE provides PvE servers and the team has, in Smed’s words, “…really have gone out of our way to make sure PVE players will be happy” so the idea of “not playing it right” can be discounted.

But how about the idea of not looking at it right?

That does bring us back to the age old question of “what’s an MMO anyway?”  I know what I mean when I use the term… when I write it, it is almost always short hand for persistent world, progression based, multiplayer, online, servers and shards, role playing game.  I also usually mean “fantasy” as well, but there is EVE Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic out there, so maybe I should stop thinking that automatically.

But what I mean when I say it clearly carries little weight, as the term gets used for games like War Thunder and World of Tanks and League of Legends, and probably quite a few more games that would not, in any way, meet my own personal definition.

On the flip side, H1Z1 does seem to press most of my MMO buttons.  You have a character, a persistent world, the whole shards concept with many parallel realms, a form of progression… it is equipment based progression, but that is hardly a new thing… and there is the whole multiplayer aspect.  Common mechanics we find in MMOs, quests and raids and auction houses, are missing, but so what?  Common isn’t the same as required, while the hardcore nature… gotta eat and drink or you’re gonna die… doesn’t disqualify it.

In the “quacks like a duck” view of the world, H1Z1 seems like an MMO to me.  Also, SOE calls it an MMO right there on the SOE main page, thus planting the seed rather firmly.

H1Z1 is a zombie survival MMO set in a post-apocalyptic world where thousands of players must strategically align with friends and against enemies in order to survive the worldwide infection.

And then there is the description on the H1Z1 site itself:

Tell me about H1Z1 please...

Tell me about H1Z1 please…

And “sandbox” is a common subset of MMOs, at least for purposes of argument most days.

Of course, you might say that marketing needed to call it something, and they call everything else at SOE an MMO… except of course, they do not.

They manage to avoid the term, at least on the SOE main page, with Landmark and with H1Z1’s antecedent, PlanetSide 2…. and also with EverQuest and EverQuest II, which are clearly examples of the MMO genre.  Maybe marketing was just lazy.  After all, they also say that EverQuest is the “online game that started it all!”  Though, to be fair, they don’t really define “all.”  However, you get the possible implication swimming in that vagueness, don’t you Ultima Online and Meridian 59 vets?

But I digress.

The usage of the shorthand term MMO could also just be the lens through which we… me, Syp, SOE marketing… are seeing things as well.  The human brain loves to categorize things.  It was a key survival instinct out on the African savannah and remains so in many modern situations, like crossing a busy street in a big city. (Hint: Cabs are predators.)  But it doesn’t always help in situations that are more nuanced… or even when recognizing which situations might be more nuanced.

I know the idea of an MMO is more nuanced than the industry treats it.  A lot of things seem to get that label more because of marketing than any deep thinking on genres and classifications.

But even with that, H1Z1 still feels more like an MMO than any other option.

Is H1Z1 an MMO?  Is it something else?

Are we too fixated on MMOs to be able to tell?  Is Smed to close to be able to see beyond the details?

The Elder Scrolls Online Ditching Mandatory Subscriptions

The fact that the word “monetized” exists points to the heart of the issue for us: We don’t want the player to worry about which parts of the game to pay for – with our system, they get it all.

-Matt Firor, General Manager of ZeniMax Online, on the original subscription model choice

In anticipation of the console versions of the game, planned for launch this June 9th, playing The Edler Scrolls Online will soon no longer require a subscription… there will still be an “optional” subscription available that will provide specific benefits… changing the business model to… what do we call it now… buy to play with optional subscription that will likely be seen as mandatory for anybody serious about playing the game?

According to the FAQ on the help page, the big change will happen on March 17, 2015.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you too!

No "separate but equal" message in this picture...

No “separate but equal” message in this picture…

Whatever it is, the game will now fall in the free to play side of the chart in the “subscription vs. free” wars, leaving just World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and Final Fantasy XIV as major titles that require you to buy the box and pay a monthly subscription.  (Oh, and WildStar, because the F2P announcement for that isn’t just around the corner or anything.)  I suspect ZeniMax would do away with the price of the box for TESO if it were not for the console versions coming out, where they will want to get their $59.99 up front.  But look for the Windows version to get cheaper.

All of this has gotten the game a name change.  It is now, officially, The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited.  Because… marketing!

Now the question is, what is the real plan here?  At some point in the past the people at ZeniMax made the conscious decision that, in order to support, maintain, and enhance TESO, while providing player the experience they wanted to deliver, they needed to charge players a monthly subscription.  Right?  They talked about this back when they made the announcement that the game would be subscription only.

Since I am going to take a wild guess and assume that dropping those plans is not in the cards, they have to make it up one way or another.  The FAQ is, unsurprisingly, a bit vague on that issue.

The first way would to be to use the SOE method (at least in EverQuest II) and just make the game really annoying to play without a subscription.  The FAQ however, says:

What restrictions are being placed on the game and players now that subscriptions are no longer required to play?

None. The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited is the full version of the game, with all previous updates and content additions, including the new Champion and Justice systems.

Taking that at face value, it seems that ZeniMax won’t be restricting equipment or auction house access or similar measures.  No mention of popping up “subscribe now!” alerts in the middle of combat, but let’s assume they won’t go that route.

Another way would be to give subscribers benefits that people would really want… and pay for.  So what does a subscriber get?  Again, the FAQ says that for a 30 day subscription a player gets:

1500 crowns at the start of each 30-day membership period

  • Access to all downloadable content for the duration of membership
  • Exclusive character progression bonuses for the duration of membership
    • 10% bonus to experience point gain
    • 10% bonus to crafting research
    • 10% bonus to crafting inspiration gain
    • 10% bonus to gold acquisition

Longer subscription periods, 90 and 180 days, scale on the crowns front, the new RMT currency to be used in the new Crown Store.  So what is the real bennie from subscribing?  Will that be $15 worth of cash shop Crowns plus a minor boost to various player advancements.  10% isn’t all that much in the grand scheme of things, at least to my mind.  I am not sure I would bother, though I do not know what “access to downloadable content” means.  I am going to guess that while all previous updates will be available, all future ones will cost.   But without a look at what may be coming, and how much it will cost ala carte, I cannot really assess the merit of subscribing for that, so we’ll call it a wash for the moment.

Which leaves the cash shop, the soon to be available Crown Store, as the main revenue scheme I guess.  What will they be selling in the Crown Store?  The FAQ says;

Crowns allow you to purchase convenience and customization items (such as pets and mounts) and to access content offered in the in-game Crown Store.

So there will be expansions to the game in the form of downloadable content, the usual player advancement bonus items, experience boost and the like, will be there to tempt both free and subscribing players alike, along with some pets and mounts.

But what else will they offer?

I ask because experience shows that those choices will not be enough.  The Lord of the Rings Online “go free and triple revenue” story has demonstrated that, over time, people will become sated with those sorts of things and you will have to add more ways to spend the RMT currency, because if mounts alone could keep a game going, LOTRO would be set.

Even SOE, which hasn’t gone full Turbine and added a second RMT currency (that you need to buy with the first RMT currency) or stuck “buy now” options on nearly every dialog window in the game (though they do show up in a lot of them now), has shown that you have to have new stuff regularly and that some items need to be exclusive to the cash shop.  Mounts.  Cosmetic items.  Housing.  Subscriber services.  Subscriptions… wait, no… SOE screwed that last one up.

So where do you think The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited will head with its cash shop?  Do you think they will offer a PLEX-like item or insta-level character boosts or lock boxes, all of which are en vogue in MMO circles right now?

And, probably most important of all, will this get people back and playing the game?

Of course, this will likely be the topic of the day many places.  I will link them here as they pop up.