Tag Archives: Business Model

Quote of the Day – Let’s Not Talk About Money

I am tired of having my conversations with players be about the money. I want it to be 100% about the game.

John Smedley, Twitter

I can buy that… so to speak.  I’m tired of games constantly reminding me that I need to buy things.  And a lot of people seem to be jumping on Smed’s post about not going with the F2P model after being such a proponent of the business model.  SynCaine, Keen, and Massively OP all went there pretty quickly, each with their own take. (Oh, and I missed Jewel somehow.)

Not that Smed has ceased to be a fan of the model.

I still think F2P is a great model, but for the reasons I stated we’re going in a different direction.

John Smedley, Twitter

Sure.  Certainly some companies have made it work very well.  It is hard to argue with success.  But I am not sure where to go with this next quote.

too many people not related to development end up having a lot to say about the monetization part of games and that sucks shit.

John Smedley, Twitter

My gut response to that is, “Good.”  Part of me is glad that making the decision to bring real-world money transactions into a game so that they are pretty much a constant and intrusive part of the experience doesn’t come without cost to the developer.  I don’t know if he is more concerned about marketing, accounting, senior management, investors, or the customers, or all of the above, but when playing the game is about revenue, as opposed to just buying the game or subscribing to the game, then of course it becomes a focus all around.

Another strike against anybody arguing that business model is somehow separate and distinct from the game itself.  It ain’t, not for the customer, not for the company, and, as we now see, not for the developer either.

And some day Smed will actually have a game to talk about, now that we’ve beat business model to death… though if it ends up not being $20, expect more NGE-level rage! Hah!

WildStar Goes Free to Play

Two years ago I was wondering if The Elder Scrolls Online and WildStar were throwing themselves under the bus by declaring for a monthly subscription model in an era when only a select few games seem able to hold enough customers to make that model work for their vision.


Back then the team doing TESO said that a subscription model was essential to deliver the experience they wanted while the WildStar team felt they could offer a PLEX-like option and declare themselves free to play already.

The subscription business model champions of 2013 have come around to free to play in 2015.

TESO went first, going free back in January, while WildStar, after a precipitous drop in revenue, reflected in the NCsoft quarterly results… I believe somebody said that WildStar might end up bringing in less revenue that City of Heroes when NCsoft shut that down… announced that they were going free to play back in May.  This staved off closure by the trigger happy team at NCsoft for the time being.

And today is the day.  WildStar is now officially free to play, another such title in a veritable forest of free to play MMORPGs.  I cannot name a single factor that would set it out from the crowd of other options.  We shall see if free is sufficient inducement for players to keep the game going.

The WildStar site has been updated and there is a FAQ spelling out what free to play means for the game.  As with the game itself, nothing in the FAQ stands out as new and different enough to separate it from the pack.

Quote of the Day – F2P Insight

…acting like some sort of free-to-play evangelist who’s trying his best to convert the unwashed masses is exactly the sort of smarmy, duplicitous behavior that has earned free-to-play the bad reputation that it carries today and that it will carry into the future.

-Jef Reahard, The fallacy of ‘F2P insight’ in the MMO market

To a certain extent, the F2P ship has sailed.  You have to be special snowflake, premium, and deemed worthy by a big enough following or you have to be free.   That is the dividing line in the MMORPG space, with scant few left on the monthly subscription side of the fence.  The market is too crowded in our favored niche, so for many games it is go to the cash shop or go home.  So it is a necessary evil, if evil it be.

Which isn’t to say that F2P doesn’t deserve some of the reputation it has acquired.  As “Facebook game” has come to mean “spammy piece of shit” to a lot of people, “F2P MMORPG” ends up sounding a lot like, “Cash shop focused, lockbox hyping, hucksterism.”  So I get when Jef looks at the MMORPG world and comes up with gems like:

Cash shop “convenience” items are the equivalent of buying a mop and some Ajax from the guy who purposefully crapped on your kitchen floor so you’d need to buy the mop and the Ajax.

I can see where he is coming from.

And yes, you can make a parallel argument about subscription based MMOs.

The point is that, as much as some people want to insist that the business model is a separate and distinct thing from the game, in the MMORPG sphere it seems clear to me that the business model drives the game.  If you have a subscription model, you come up with things to keep people subscribed.  They may be horrible, grindy, ill-conceived things, but you can see the hand of the business model in the design.

And if you have a cash shop driven business model, you need to get people to use the cash shop if you want to get paid… and then you offer up a subscription in order to bypass some of the more onerous hurdles designed to send you to the online store while continuing to wave lock boxes in your newly subscribed customer’s face.

The Elder Scrolls Online – No Subscription Required

I mentioned a while back that The Elder Scrolls Online was ditching their subscription required business model and heading down one of the various paths to free game access.  Well, that date arrived this week, overshadowed a bit by St. Patrick’s day I suppose.  I got a note via email pitching the new tagline for the game, Tamriel Unlimited.


And so it was that the reality of the current MMO market overcame some of their initial guiding principles, such as:

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

Things will now be “monetized” in Tamriel, the world in which The Elder Scrolls Online is played.  The newly added Crown Store will sell cosmetic and convenience items and additional content added to the game will need to be purchased unless you choose to maintain the optional subscription.  And, of course, you still need to buy the box in order to play, something that will no doubt stay in place at least until sales of the upcoming PlayStation and Xbox versions of the game taper off.

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

No “separate but equal” message in this picture…

All of which isn’t to say that this is not the right decision for the game.  There was certainly some skepticism about TESO going with the subscription model back when they announced it in late 2013.  They seemed to be bucking the trend, heading in a direction that proved false for so many games before it.  And, as it turns out, they didn’t even last a year, having dropped the subscription model just shy of the April 4th launch anniversary.

And now we shall see what happens.  The market is still crowded with competitors and dropping the subscription model is not a guaranteed key to success.  In just the last month or so we have had a look into the turmoil at Turbine, we have seen the newly minted Daybreak Gaming Company shed a lot of staff because its games could not support their financial weight, and just yesterday there were headlines about Perfect World Entertainment cutting staff as well due to financial issues.

Free won’t wash away your sins.

Anyway, TESO still has a few cards in its hand.  It can still get revenue from box sales and it has the two console versions headed to market this June.  It may not have to monetize every nook and cranny with a button to buy something, as happened in LOTRO.

All that said, I still remain convinced that the best case scenario for Bethesda was to create a four (or more) player co-op successor to Skyrim so that people could roam the wide world with a few friends… Tamriel always struck me as a large and lonely place… maybe even with a Minecraft-style private server option where you could control the setting and apply mods.  That, to me, was the winning hand.

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.

Thinking on Free

The word “free” comes with quite a bit of baggage.  Just sticking to money, as opposed to freedom, rights, and so forth, the baggage is not always flattering.  I see things being offered as “free” all the time, usually falling into one of these categories (straight from my spam folder):

  • Buy one, get one free
  • Free with purchase
  • Free gift with paid subscription
  • Free if you order now
  • Free consultation
  • Free resort vacation

The first four are not free.  Nothing is “free” if you have to buy something to get it.  And of the latter two, a free consultation is likely nothing more than an extended sales pitch, while the final one on the list is free if you don’t count the time you need to spend at the hard sell presentation to get you to buy a time share condo.  The purpose of the exercise is to get you to buy, not to give you a vacation.

Basically, the word “free” is pretty much a red flag to me.  I am either not getting anything for free or it is just a lure to try and sell me something.

Sometimes it is okay.  At the grocery store, if something on the shopping list is “Buy X, Get Y Free,” then that amounts to a price break, so long as it isn’t something perishable that will likely go bad before we use it.

So, despite the fact that, at an intellectual level, I can accept the MMO free to play business model for what it is and can see that it is beneficial in some ways ( it has probably kept LOTRO alive a couple of years longer than it might have otherwise lasted) at another more emotional level, it still sits on the same plane as somebody trying to sell me a timeshare in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Cue rant about EverQuest II popping up the “upgrade to GOLD” dialog in the middle of combat.)

Does anybody use “free” as their prime marketing message and not suffer from this?  Can free be a business model without the intent to hit people up early and often for some money?

Free, Free, everywhere!

Free, Free, everywhere!

I like the Rift ad especially.  That they felt the need to add “No Trials. No Tricks. No Traps.” speaks volumes.  And I think, of F2P models, they do offer more for free than most.  Probably too much, truth be told.  But it is clear that they understand the stigma, while perpetuating it at the same time.

Of course, this might just be me.  There is a very strong “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” theme in my world view.

I started writing this post a couple of weeks back after reading a particularly asinine “how dare you expect to play for free” comment in some thread somewhere.  “Devs gotta eat, who are you to question them?” sort of stuff.  I should have saved that link… or maybe it was better that I did not.  Anyway, I started in but my head of steam dissipated quickly, as it tends to on this topic these days.

And then the European Commission announced that they were looking into the use of the word “free” when used with games that have in-app purchases, with an eye to it being misleading.  And while their focus seems to be more on mobile apps, if “free” becomes bad for in-app purchases on one platform, it is pretty easy to then extend it to others.

I thought this would lead to another round of free to play blog posts, but not much has come along.  Azuriel posits that basically nothing can ever be called free if the European Commission’s potential ruling comes to pass, at least in the EU.  Meanwhile, Green Armadillo seems to be more on my own wave length, that using the word “free” when you fully expect somebody to pay is misleading at some level.

I was also interested to learn in that post that League of Legends has apparently stopped marketing with the word “free.”  Good for them.  (Though I had to quickly update my collage of free, as I had an old “Play for Free” LoL image in it.)

I can be a cynic, the world having thus shaped me, and talk about money tends to bring out the worst in people… you can mess with a lot of things, but as soon as cash is involved, the lid tends to come right off… but I also have mixed feelings on this.  Who decides what the litmus test is to determine how “free” something has to be in order to claim to be “free?”  And there is something to be said for personal responsibility.

What do you think?  To be “free” or not to be “free?”

Quote of the Day – Innovation?

With Planetside 2, the innovation is in how you buy it. For a massively multiplayer online game like this, you’d expect to pay a monthly fee like millions of people do to play World of Warcraft. Instead, Planetside 2 is free to play. Sony makes money when you purchase new weapons, add-ons for tanks, and other items, though you can also earn these upgrades by successfully completing objectives as you level up. Plenty of smaller games found on Facebook or on smartphones use this freemium model; now the model has entered the MMO world.

We do piss and moan about the poor state of the video game press.

Often it is our closeness to the subject and our own motivation and bias (journalists are not allowed to have that unless, of course, we agree with it, in which case it is just telling the gospel truth) that leads us to jump on comment threads (here is the cesspit that fertilizes the whole thing) or blogs (:blush:) to decry an article as totally biased or invalid because the writer in question was paid off, did not spend enough time with the game, included something that was clearly a matter of taste or option, or used “your” when they meant “you’re” in paragraph twenty-seven.

It is really our own little culture war, where if you do not agree with me about game X, then you must be the enemy.

Part of me is annoyed by this.  When I foolishly look at comment threads on gaming sites, I become depressed at the state of humanity.

And part of me sees video games as an entertainment medium and, thus, deserving of the same sort of coverage as any similar medium.  How does the journalistic integrity meter rate TMZ or Entertainment Tonight or any of that ilk?  Do we get out the torches and pitchforks when somebody gives a bad review to a movie we love? (If you don’t think we do, then you aren’t reading the right comment threads.)

But in the midst of that, nothing can rally gamers together like a non-gamer journalist covering games.

And so we have that quote at the top, retweeted by SOE in what I have to imagine was a moment of mixed emotion, where PlanetSide 2 is lauded as innovative because… if I read that right… they ripped off the business plan being used so successfully by Facebook and iPhone developers.  As they said, “…the model has entered the MMO world!”

Zynga should sue!

PlanetSide 2 does merit some praise.  How about getting a shooter to work in a huge sprawling environment where thousands of players face off?  That seems to be a pretty decent accomplishment.

But to call it out because of its business model… which is pretty much the same as all of SOE’s other games at this point… plus all of the other free to play MMO titles out there… seems like calling out Heath Ledger‘s performance in The Dark Knight because of the cool clown makeup.

Not to mention that in the current online market, a subscription model MMO is about as common as a silent movie in the age of talkies.  But here is somebody for which MMOs are World of Warcraft.

And so we must put the hapless noob in the pillory for his transgression.  Point and laugh, people, point and laugh.

And rightly so, I would say.

But is this banding together against the ignorant outsider, the gamer Gaijin, a tribal thing?  Is so-called professional video game journalism the worst… except when compared with the alternatives?

Or is this just the hubris of journalists… or the hubris of people in general… that we feel we can rush into anything, clearly ill informed on the subject at hand, and add something of value?

Oh, and that Popular Mechanic’s article was probably right on target with Journey…. and perhaps the rest of its list.

I don’t know.  I didn’t actually play any of them besides PlanetSide 2.  I am only indignant about the part of which I have first hand knowledge.

Which sort of describes my relationship with the daily newspaper.  I believe whatever they write, except when it comes to articles about which I have first hand knowledge.  Those are always riddled with errors and are as often as no flat-out wrong.

There is probably a lesson in that.