The Perils of PlanetSide and Payment Models

The game is really struggling, and it isn’t just on PS4 to be honest, and we are actively looking at things that can try and help change that in the short term. I hope everyone will be open minded that in order for the game to have a bright future and be supported it needs to not only retain people but find ways to generate revenue to support the team’s efforts.

-Jens Andersen, Daybreak Executive Creative Director, Reddit AMA

The big news item that came out of the Reddit AMA with Jens Andersen was that PlanetSide 2 is “really struggling.”  That is MMO press headline material and fodder for blog posts. and not great news for a game that is just turning three and purportedly had plans for other platforms.

Mental image of my expectations...

Mental image of my PS2 expectations way back when…

That wasn’t really shocking news.  PlanetSide 2 has always had its share of problems, not least the one it shared with its predecessor, the proliferation or aim bots and other hacks in the game, some exacerbated by the F2P business model.  Banned for hacks?  Download an update to the aim bot and make a new account!

Add in the fact that it is a mediocre shooter at best… is anybody throwing over Call of Duty to go play PlanetSide 2… that smacks of pay to win, that also doesn’t really scratch the persistent world MMORPG itch for people either, and so sort of sits between genres, neither fish nor fowl nor good red meat.  All the dubious records in the world won’t fix that.

Clearly I am not a big fan, but my FPS days tapered off back with the Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942 more than a decade back, so you’ll have to allow for my bias.

Still, not really news at this point.  H1Z1 seems to be the money maker in the FPS MMORPG, selling early access boxes with a cash shop already selling power and lock boxes, and, more importantly, giving people a decent, co-op survival experience.

The interesting bit for me was another quote, which Bhagpuss pulled out and used in his post, which had to do with getting people to subscribe:

You know what is funny? No matter how many things we heap into membership on all of our games, it makes no difference in the appeal of membership to non members. This is something we saw on DCUO for sure. The amount of benefits to DCUO membership is staggering, but people don’t take advantage of it. It’s just not a really good strategy for us to keep trying to lead horses to water that do not want to drink. And the fact is, current members already get huge benefits from the monthly fee they already pay.

Basically, there are some people who will simply never opt-in for your subscription model, no matter how cheap you make it nor how many benefits you heap on.  And, likewise, there are some people who will subscribe so long as some minimum threshold of benefits are given… just “let me just play and not worry about having to buy or unlock anything” in my case… after which diminishing returns kick in pretty quickly.

I recently… on Tuesday if I recall right… cancelled my Daybreak All Access subscription.  As part of that they sent me an exit survey which I filled out.  One of the questions asked me to stack rank the importance of five subscriber benefits.

My top choice was the rather open ended “Game Specific Benefits,” which to me is the whole “just let me play” aspect I mentioned above.  That is why I subscribe.

I did choose “Monthly 500 Daybreak Cash Reward” as the second in the stack, because I am at least aware of that.  I still barely buy anything from the cash shop… I think I bought a character rename potion this last time around… so the Daybreak Cash tends to accumulate.  But I know it is there and my approximate balance (12K).

The remaining three I ranked as follows:

  • 10% off Marketplace Items
  • Special Member Only Promotions
  • Membership Forum Badge

I vaguely recall that you get a discount as a subscriber, but since I so rarely ever buy anything from the cash shop, that doesn’t really play into anything.  Member only promotions… I cannot recall one off hand.   Maybe some special discount on The Rum Cellar at some point?  And the forum badge… well, I don’t post to the forums, and when I go read them, the special snowflake badges kind of annoy me.

And I suspect that my stack ranking of things is not totally out of line when it comes to how most subscribers feel.  Maybe I lack the insight, but I cannot imagine anything ranking ahead of the “Game Specific Benefits,” at least when it comes to the core games like EverQuest and EverQuest II.

Which doesn’t mean Daybreak could take anything away easily.  They tried to take away those 500 store credits at one point and people blew up because that was actually a tangible item and because they now felt entitled to it, having gotten it for several years up to that point.  So the compromise was that you have to log in and claim those credits every month.  People grumbled about that as well, though at least that had some precedent.  Turbine only gives you your VIP stipend if your account has been active recently.

So where does that leave Daybreak?

Here is where I chuckle a bit at people who were so happy that they were going to be an “indie” studio now, able to do whatever they wanted.  In fact, they are owned by an investment firm that wants their cut every month, so they have to keep Columbus Nova Prime happy in ways that they probably never had to under the semi-benign neglect of Sony’s bureaucracy.

So the emphasis, starting in the latter half of 2015 and likely to continue in that direction for some time to come, will be to make more money.  And it looks like everything can’t be about the cash shop.

As we saw with EverQuest and EverQuest II, expansions are back.  This is most likely because you can get away with charging $140 for a “Premuim” edition loaded up with virtual items, the production of which is probably covered after the first five copies are sold.

Prices

Premium prices for virtual goods

That will likely continue, though I suspect that they will still try to slip in a spring DLC pack as well, bringing us back to the old “one good expansion, one half-assed rush job” that some will remember from the good old days of EverQuest.  This time the rush job will be appropriately priced though.

I imagine that nobody thinks selling early access is going to go away.  Landmark did okay on that front, and by all accounts H1Z1 has been a rousing success selling those on Steam.  Expect more of the same when it comes to any new titles.

The change I do expect is an end to “Free to Play, Your Way” for future games and a return to selling boxes.  Virtual boxes, to be sure, but boxes all the same.  If a million people will pay $20 for a half-finished version of H1Z1, why would you start giving it away for free?  You don’t have to make it $60 at launch.  $20 is fine.  You can work with that price and what a value it is, and that gives account bans some bite… but not so much bite that some people won’t just buy another copy.

Expect the same for EverQuest Next, whenever that should be, and whatever the secret new title is.

Meanwhile, on the classic Norrath front, it feels like reality has set in and the team has finally admitted that the cost of attracting new customers far outweighs the economic benefit they bring.  They won’t say “no” to new players, but  we have seen a renewed focus on the installed base with new nostalgia servers and bringing back old favorites like the Isle of Refuge as both a prestige home and the starting zone on the Stormhold and Deathtoll servers.  I expect that to continue to be the theme going forward.

Despite an unfounded rumor earlier this month, I do not expect Daybreak will attempt to revive any old games.  No Vanguard revival, no reskinned SWG, and no adults only FreeRealms.   What is dead cannot die… it just remains dead.  I also expect that once Dragon’s Prophet is finally shut down, that there will be no more half-assed Asian imports.  You can find an audience for any game, but finding a big enough audience to make these ventures profitable has clearly eluded SOE/Daybreak.

Finally, with Smed gone, I suspect that the original PlanetSide will be shut down and, barring any new revenue stream discovery, support for PlanetSide 2 will dwindle over time.  It is tough to go back and sell access when you’ve been giving it away for free.  And it certainly does not seem like a candidate for conversion to XBox if it isn’t a money spinner on the current platforms.

With no Daybreak equivalent of SOE Live in the offing, I don’t know when we’ll see announcement about the various project going on at Daybreak.  The nice thing about a regular convention is that it does put some pressure on the company to come up with some actual news and details about things.  But that is where my gut says things may be headed.  Subscriptions are good, cash shop sales are okay, but boxes are back.  Get some money up front.

4 thoughts on “The Perils of PlanetSide and Payment Models

  1. bhagpuss

    And all of that is good news in my book. I like buying expansions. Okay, I’d prefer to go to the store and buy them in an actual box with a manual but even I accept those days are over. I’ll take an imaginary box over an endless drip-feed of “free” updates a la GW2’s Living Story any day.

    Since all I actually want is the new leveling/character progression content I have never bought anything above the basic “you can play” level so the price is good for me. That 10% All Access discount works on the expansions, too. As for the Cash Shop, I don’t buy a lot in it but at least the Station Store does have stuff in it I am interested in now and again, unlike, oh, every other MO cash shop I have ever seen. I have bought a few Prestige Houses and I regularly buy the tracking scrolls.

    I actually liked it when I was on a Silver Account and had to buy unlockers to make Legendary and Fabled armor and Master spells useable. It made me think very carefully about what I needed and I got positive added emotional value from the act of unlocking them. I was sorry when they got rid of that mechanic.

    All in all I am still firmly of the view that the change of ownership has been very good for the players and the games. The combination of benign neglect and bipolar frenzy that characterized Smed’s Era is definitely not a model I’d wish to go back to.

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  2. SynCaine

    The whole F2P push was destined to fail for SOE, I think most of us knew that, and just now it seems they are also realizing it. “F2P, ALL THE WAY…. To being fired/sold!” So progress there.

    Unfortunately for them, now the second part of being successful is making a good game, which since 1999 hasn’t been what SOE is about. Its actually surprising PS2 is still online honestly, as its easily one of the worst games out, for all the reasons you mentioned (bad shooter, bad MMO, bad business model), and while I can’t imagine they lost a lot of money bringing over those terrible Asian MMOs, they had to have lost some, right? So yea, they are alive because of EQ1, as they have been since 1999, with a bunch of extra dead weight floating around (and some H1Z1 copies being sold).

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  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – Indeed, I think we are seeing the last sputtering of the Smed era here. I think even his idea that being able to put titles out for XBox was going to is falling by the wayside. Maybe they might do DCUO, but clearly putting work into PS2 so it can under perform on yet another platform isn’t in the cards.

    @SynCaine – PS2 just doesn’t do anything well enough for it to stand out for me. The times I have played it I inevitably start thinking, “Didn’t Tribes do this all much better back in the 90s?” Not that that is a fair comparison, but you’d think the advancement in tech would allow it to excel in some aspect.

    I have no idea how these Asian imports have turned out for them, but the fact that they shut them down seems to indicate that, at best, even if they did make some money, it wasn’t enough to justify pulling somebody off of EQ/EQ2.

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  4. Pingback: Link Dead Radio: Death, Difficulty, and Dreams of a bright future - Healing the masses

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