Quote of the Day – The Paywall Cometh

Ultimately this is a business decision, to best support RIFT moving forward into the future. We’re on the cusp right now of RIFT’s 5th Anniversary, and we’ve got great stuff planned for 2016. But that stuff takes engineers and designers and CS and QA and a whole lot of other folks.

-Trion Worlds, on their voidstone plan

Free to play must really be an incredible pain in the ass as a developer because, if nothing else, players will literally assume you mean “free” when you say “free.”

And, seriously, if you’re going to start in with, “Well, “free” doesn’t really mean “free” because…” just stop right there.  The idea was to provide content that players would feel was worth paying for.  If enough people aren’t paying, maybe it isn’t your player base that is the issue.

Or, maybe it is.

As we saw last year with the PlanetSide 2really struggling” post, some players are just never going to spend a dime on your game, no matter the incentives, if you are giving it away for free.  Some are poor.  Some are cheap.  Some just like the challenge of the limited free mode.  And some, I am sure, just want to take advantage.

You can get angry about this, spit nails, and use words like “entitled” all you want, but it was the company which made the game that set the payment terms, not the player.  If you are going to blame the customer for taking you up on your offer, looking in the mirror for the real guilty party is all I can suggest.

As noted in that “really struggling” post, no amount of incentives will induce some players to pay.  And if you cannot induce people with the carrot, well, there is always the stick.  And so Trion is making a change and removing the ability to unlock new equipment slots introduced with the last expansion through a long but free grind, thus forcing players who want to get the unlock from the cash store or by subscribing.  Sounds like a paywall.

Yes, there is a work around still.  Trion’s statement goes on to make the claim that you could earn the in-game cash to buy a REX, the sort-of Rift version of EVE Online’s PLEX, wherein you can use in-game currency to subscribe, more quickly than you could grind out voidstones in order to unlock those  same slots, all of which makes you wonder why they would bother.

Oh, right, somebody had to pay real world money for a REX for it to get on the market, and creating demand for REX will increase its value in-game, which makes it more likely that paying players will buy more.

So the slot unlocks remain free for some, so long as somebody out there is paying.  A somewhat porous paywall, but a wall all the same, and possibly a harbinger of things to come.

I’m really neither here nor there on whether this change is an outrage or a reasonable adjustment.  Even World of Warcraft has their WoW Token offer which they push vigorously enough. So is the old Rift motto getting more or less true as time goes by?

No, not Azeroth!

No, not Azeroth!

Posting this is more a matter of noting how the F2P MMO market is continuing to evolve as the difference between competing games seems to diminish.  The trend will no doubt continue.

But still, it isn’t like Trion is doing anything really outrageous like, say, putting lock boxes inside of other lock boxes.  That requires a whole different level of “customer focus.”

Addendum: And it looks like Trion is on the same track with Trove.

9 thoughts on “Quote of the Day – The Paywall Cometh

  1. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    Free-to-play isn’t a silver bullet. Should be news to nobody, even people who like the business model like me. However, the business model should be able to handle a lot of “freeloaders”; the people paying should pay enough on average to keep the lights for everyone, even the people not paying a dime.

    You also must have something compelling for people to pay for. I think all the people crying about “pay to win” have done more harm than good, because some companies seem hesitant to offer what people will actually pay for. At some point even selling a wide variety of funny hats is going to run thin and/or upset someone out there where the beer hard hat is going to “ruin their immersion”.

    Hopefully fortunes turn around. But, sometimes a game just doesn’t find its audience no matter what the business model.

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  2. Shintar

    I liked how one of the commenters on MOP put it: “When you give away the entire game (basically) for free, something has to give. There is little incentive to sub with Rift. They are having to force the freeloaders to pay for something. Bills gotta be paid.”

    If you think about it, a generous F2P model is basically like a starving artist. “Look at this beautiful thing I made, doesn’t it make you want to give me money?” But there’s a reason art doesn’t have a reputation as a great get-rich-quick-scheme. People would much rather spend money on something they (think they) need. Just making a fun game / painting a prettier picture doesn’t do the trick in most cases.

    The SWTOR story is funny because it’s a complete misrepresentation of what’s actually happening. As someone in the comments also pointed out, there are neither locked boxes nor keys in SWTOR, you just buy packs of random stuff from the in-game store. Now those packs also have a chance to contain things like a boxed-up armour set. You can argue about how that may affect drop rates of other items within the pack, but there’s nothing sinister going on in terms of access to the contents.

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  3. SynCaine

    “Posting this is more a matter of noting how the F2P MMO market is continuing to evolve as the difference between competing games seems to diminish”

    Is this really an evolution though, because to me this is pretty standard F2P. The model is based around extracting more and more cash out of your players as time goes on, because even those who once paid need to keep paying, and a lot of cash shop purchases are one-and-done, so you gotta keep cranking out more and pushing people more and more to buy them (because those who don’t keep paying need to be replaced by others paying MORE).

    Making better (‘free’) content makes your game better, but doesn’t make you more money. Making the cash shop more important/needed makes your game worse, but makes you more money. That’s been the F2P model since day one really.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Shintar – I think I wrote back when the Rift F2P plan was announced that it was so generous that I could see no reason I would ever feel I had to give them any money ever again. I guess we see how that worked out.

    I really have no clue on the SWTOR thing. I just thought it was amusing to see a second outrage post on the same day and, honestly, with EA in charge, putting lockboxes inside of lockboxes seemed completely believable.

    @Xannziee – AA put Trion on my “no fly” list, not because of the game, the business model, or even the community, but because they felt they could install stuff that was arguably malware on my computer and only tell me after it was installed… and then make me uninstall it manually since their installer wouldn’t clean it up. That was the “Trion just doesn’t give a shit” moment for me.

    @SynCaine – Yes, a bunch of posts I put up don’t have a lot of immediate sting. But I like to be able to reference them later to be able to say, “Remember when we thought this was bad?” when some even worse F2P tactic comes along. I like to invest for the long term. I mean, you don’t like Smed, but I have posts with a wide selection of choice Smed quotes ready for all occasions.

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  5. Toldain

    It continues to astonish me how nobody else has adopted the DDO model – pay for content. Yeah, there’s a few things you can play for free, and you can hang out in the city for free, too. But if you want dungeons to explore, you pay for them. Nothing about that feels like a gouge or unfair.

    But I haven’t seen anyone else doing that.

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  6. Mazer

    DDO, LotRO and TSW all have a somewhat similar content pack based system (dungeon sets, zones, and mission packs respectively). Works great for me at least, I spend about what I would on a subscription but if I wander off I don’t have to worry about stopping and starting subs, or feeling guilty for subbing a month and then not logging in as often as I’d planned. Plus they’re all account unlocks, so you can roll alts without suffering too much. (Not saying Turbine is perfect or anything, they have a few irritating character specific unlocks too but I don’t get the general disdain from some people.)

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  7. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Mazer – There is no pleasing some people. I recall there being outrage on some fronts because LOTRO was “free to play” yet had content which you had to PAY for. How dare they!

    I don’t know about general disdain for Turbine… though their most current live game is from 2007, so some skepticism about their abilities might be in order… but the fact that they have managed to put a financial transaction related button in nearly every dialog in LOTRO is at least worth a tired sigh.

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  8. kiantremayne

    This is a non-story for me, mostly because I’ve long since tired of the extreme absolutist view that says “the game is supposed to be FREE to play! There shouldn’t be anything to pay for, EVER!” when it’s painfully obvious that someone’s going to have to pay for the game to keep running. Purely optional stuff for sale (e.g. cosmetics) is like an honesty box for coffee in the office kitchen – not everyone pays up, even when you’re in a relatively tight-knit community where people can SEE if you’re dropping coins in the box. On the Internet? There’s got to be a financial equivalent of Penny Arcade’s G.I.F.T…

    So RIFT has gone from having the most generous F2P model I’m aware of in an MMO to… having the most generous F2P model I’m aware of in an MMO. I really doubt anyone would find not having these item unlocks is going to affect their gameplay experience much until they get to level cap and top tier raiding. If you’ve got THAT far without spending a dime on the game, you deserve to have the tin rattled under your nose.

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