Tag Archives: Free-To-Play

H1Z2 or The Daybreak “Divide and Something” Plan

SOE, in cleaning up its act in order to get sold off and become Daybreak, cleared its decks of a number of titles.  The list of titles Daybreak has today is substantially shorter than what SOE had on offer just few years back.  Since 2012 it seems like they’ve shut down a lot more titles than they have launched.

It follows you as you move about the room!

The eye seems angry today…

I’m not sure how many people really miss Wizardry Online or Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures or a few of the other titles that have fallen by the wayside.  But Free Realms had a following and I have to think, with the current emphasis on nostalgia in Norrath, that closing down the EverQuest Macintosh Edition server rather than making that the basis of a classic server usable by a Windows client must be wistfully regretted in some corner of their office.

Anyway, once the company became Daybreak it had rid itself of a lot of baggage, but also had less to sell… and then proceeded to get rid of Dragon’s Prophet.

Meanwhile, new titles are few and far between.  EverQuest Next, more than five years since it was announced, seems no more likely to ship than it did two years back.  Landmark continues is desultory existence.  Planetside 2 remains dubious.  DC Universe Online, which just passed its fifth birthday, is getting ported to XBox One.  That was the big liberating factor in becoming Daybreak, that Smed would no longer be limited to the Playstation, but I am still dubious as to whether or not this will be a huge win.

The only bright points over the first year of Daybreak’s existence (we heard about the merger just about a year ago) have be the super awesome legacy Norrath team, which runs EverQuest and EverQuest II, and which has worked hard to give players some things they have been asking for, and H1Z1, which managed to sell a million units in early access.

So I guess the email note I received while in Hawaii shouldn’t have come as a great surprise.

CUSTOMER SERVICE NOTIFICATION
Notice Regarding Your H1Z1 Account!
Hi
On Wednesday, February 17, 2016, H1Z1 will be branching off into two separate games: H1Z1: Just Survive and H1Z1: King of the Kill. Since you previously purchased an Early Access copy of H1Z1, your account will be upgraded to include both H1Z1: Just Survive and H1Z1: King of the Kill.
Your existing keys, crates, and items will be also duplicated and available in both games.

H1Z1 is splitting into two games, H1Z1: Just Survive, which is the zombie horror survival game, and H1Z1: King of the Kill, which is an arena cash cow that Daybreak has convinced itself is going to be some sort of esport.

On the bright side, at least you get a copy of each if you already purchased H1Z1 via early access.  Of course, there is one more unplayed game in my Steam library because, while the base H1Z1 had some comedic co-op survival charm to it, Daybreak’s whole “pay to compete” battle royale thing had no appeal to me whatsoever.

I think we can safely predict Daybreak will have to change the name of one of these games in a month or two once the whole brand confusion thing finally dawns on them.  My own pick would be H1Z1 and H1Z2, but even those two might be too close in name to avoid the inevitable confusion.

Was this split a surprise?  I suppose so.  It certainly wasn’t without a bit or irony, at least when compared to this motivational quote from the Daybreak web site.

Was this a left turn then?

Was this a left turn or a risk then?

But in hindsight, I guess trying to package the different needs of the two modes of play together might have become an obstacle to one branch of the game or the other.  I doubt, however, that this split means that there will be any more people working on the combined projects, despite the statement about two development teams, so one branch will likely languish as the other gets attention.  My bet is that Just Survive will see its advance towards release… whatever that means to Daybreak these days, since they put our a press release indicating that H1Z1 had already been launched a year back.

But the act of splitting titles in order to beef up their catalog isn’t exactly a new thing at Daybreak.  We of course had the EverQuest Next and Landmark split, where Landmark was just going to be a dev tool for people to use to make things for EverQuest Next, but which got turned into an early access project as well as all we’ve ever really seen of the EQN code.

And H1Z1 itself started life as a branch from the PlanetSide 2 code base, a way to use work already done to make a new game… though I am not sure if the time that has gone by says more about the state of H1Z1 or PlanetSide 2.

I might even argue that DC Universe Online being ported to XBox One at this late date is something of a split, since it will be its own code base by necessity, will draw of resources from the other branches, and won’t be able to play cross-platform.

Finally, we are seeing this sort of thing in what I would consider the core Daybreak, the legacy Norrath team, which has gone from something of a tepid relationship with special rules servers to embracing them fully.  There is now a pretty clear divide between the free to play servers and the subscribers only, special rules servers, splitting up the audiences for both EverQuest and EverQuest II.

That sort of split was something SOE decided was a bad thing back during the EverQuest II Extended experiment.  But there you had two different client applications and the fear that the old servers would wither and die because all new players would be steered towards the free version, from which they could not transfer.  Now the spin is different, with the free servers being the old news and the shiny new special rules servers drawing off a significant percentage of the long-term fans of the game.

Aside from a hunch about the two H1Z1s needing more distinct names, I am curious to see how this will play out.

Of course, the hidden bit of news in the FAQ is this little gem:

At this time, we do not have any plans to make either H1Z1: Just Survive or H1Z1: King of the Kill Free-to-Play titles.

I knew that early access was simply too lucrative for them to let go of to depend on free.  “Free to Play. Your Way” seems to be dead at Daybreak.  H1Z1 is not a free to play game.  It will be buy to play, with a subscription, and an overbearing cash shop, complete with lock boxes.  Expect no less from anything else coming out of Daybreak.

At least they will be dropping the early access moniker this summer, or so the FAQ alleges:

H1Z1: King of the Kill will be coming out of Early Access and will launch on PC, the PlayStation® 4, and Xbox One in summer 2016

We shall see.

Others on this topic:

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.

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!

Quote of the Day – The Problem is You Not Buying My Stuff

You see, we have a problem in the mobile gaming sector, thanks to you. You would rather buy a pumpkin spice latte a few times a week and enjoy it for a few minutes than buy a game that you can play as long as you would like. In order for creative games to be made, there needs to be a major culture shift. We need to be willing to spend a few dollars on a quality app, rather than for a few extra lives or other in-game purchases.

Aksel Junkilla, The mobile games market is an absolute mess, thanks to you

There is an almost physical sense of irony in reading a post in which the author complains about the entitlement of his audience and yet fails to notice his own sense thereof.  If we want good mobile games, we need to pay for them… starting with his game.

We’ve been down this path before here.  And as amusing as I find The Oatmeal on occasion, if you find you are borrowing an argument from a four year old web comic, maybe you should take a deeper look at your idea.

The comedic exaggeration of the concept

The comedic exaggeration of the concept

However, that is not his sole target.  The author, once he is done taking his potential customers to task turns on his fellow developers, calling on them to unite against the socio-economic menace that is Free to Play.  Only when that has been defeated will people be willing to pay what his game is actually worth.  He then points at the wondrous joy consumers used to feel parting with $40 for a Pokemon game and so on and so forth.

What a load of shit.

I actually expected him to go full Marx and declare that work has inherent value.  But he didn’t quite go that far.

And he certainly didn’t go after his real problem, which is low barrier to entry.  Nintendo can charge $40 for a Pokemon game because they invested in creating an ecosystem where not only do you have to pay that much for Pokemon, but you also have to spend $150 on hardware to play it as well.  To get in the App Store you just need to development kit, meet some basic criteria, and be ready to give Apple their cut.

I love when people… and developers especially… bitch and moan about Apple creating a walled garden with the App Store, and then go back to playing games on pretty much any console ever.

And a particularly sweet dumpling in this rich soup of irony is that this walled garden has pretty much failed to weed out crap.  It is, rather, a complete mess, with page after page of half-assed knock-offs and derivative shit.  And even when you aren’t mired knee-deep in crap, there are often still many options.

The other night my wife wanted a video poker app as a warm up for EVE Vegas.  Go to the App Store and search on video poker and tell me how many results you get, and how many nearly identical apps you find in the results.  And most of them were free.  So yeah, we didn’t buy a $4.99 app because it was not different in any discernible way (at least before purchase) from a number of free options.  So now my wife has a perfectly serviceable video poke app on her iPhone that looks just like the real thing in Vegas.  She only gets a limited amount of money to start with, and has to buy more if she runs out… that is the in-game purchase option… but she hasn’t run out yet.

There are things that certainly need to be fixed with the mobile market… problems that have been around since the App Store showed up, if the author had done his market research… but the fixing customers should be nothing more than afterthought on any list you can create if you want to live in the real world.

Complaining about customers isn’t a path to success.  As in any market with low barriers to entry, you have to stand out from the crowd, distinguish yourself from the pack, make some effort to prove to potential customers that you’re worth the price.  Plenty of mobile games out there have made money, and not just the free to play ones.  If yours wasn’t one… well, you can blame whoever you like and declare life isn’t fair while you’re at it.  But that won’t change reality.

(Hat tip to: What If…)

Addendum: Tim Cushing at TechDirt takes on this story and tears it apart.

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.

Wildstar_logo

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.

In Which I Predict The Next Big World of Warcraft Feature

I felt compelled to write a post making some sort of prediction about what the next World of Warcraft expansion might bring us, a bit of comedy more or less, in before we get real information about what is coming.  A bit of fluff to be laughed at before it is swept away in the storm that follows.

WoWLogoBut to write a post like that you have to start somewhere, and I usually start with what I might want from the game.  And I can certainly pull a few out of where ever it is I store these sorts of things on my person.  My list might include:

  • Real Housing… no, REAL Housing Blizzard!
  • Guild Garrisons
  • Special Rules Servers
  • A New Race
  • A New Class
  • Dual Classing
  • Mounted Combat… no, REAL Mounted Combat Blizzard!
  • Alternate Advancement
  • New Trainable Skills for Battle Pets
  • A Level Cap Squish
  • A Viable Crafting System… no, a REAL Viable Crafting System Blizzard!
  • Mentoring/De-leveling
  • More Freakin’ Storage
  • More Freakin’ Five Person Dungeons
  • Player Made Dungeons
  • Player Made Zeppelins
  • Rip Off Minecraft Somehow

And I could discuss the merits of each and why Blizzard won’t be giving us any of them, because I can come up with damn good reasons why each of those don’t align with Blizzard’s own goals.

Because that is always what it comes down to with Blizzard.  They make slick, best-selling games, and they have succeeded largely by focusing more on works for their goals than for ours.  Sometimes that has worked out fabulously, sometimes less so. (Diablo III Auction House, I’m looking at you.)  But in the long term it has been a good plan.

So rather than asking myself what *I* want from the game, I decided to ask myself what Blizzard wants from the game?

And for me, the big clue came already this week.  The game, having peaked at 12 million subscribers back in the day, has been viewed as “in decline” ever since Cataclysm shipped about five years ago.

What I believe Blizzard thinks it needs is to be freed from that comparison.  It is a millstone around their neck, something that the analysts are going to peck at during every single earnings call.

So I am going to go way, way out on a limb here and predict that the big expansion announcement will include a business model transition.

World of Warcraft will be going free to play.

In one fell swoop they can wave bye-bye to subscription numbers and, as we all know, free to play transitions always see big initial success.  They remove the stigma of decline and revenue soars.

There will still be subscribers in some form.  There always are.  They will get some special benefits and some sort of stipend for the new cash shop currency that will be introduced.  They already have a cash shop in the game, it just uses your credit card currently.  How tough could it be to change that to a new currency they control?

And Blizzard, having seen how all of these other games… and the list is pretty long with Dungeons & Dragons Online, Lord of the Rings Online, EverQuest II, DC Universe Online, The Elder Scrolls Online, and so on and so forth… have done it and fared, might be able to steal this idea and make it their own, imbuing it with that special Anaheim magic (which I am sure they are siphoning off from Disney illicitly) as they have done so often in the past.

Tomorrow we might see the dawn of a shining new free to play utopia, the business model done right, and we will be able to look forward to full servers and special perks and sparkle ponies as far as the eye can see.

Or we’re getting more fucking orcs.

That’s my call, either free to play or more fucking orcs.

We shall see.

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.