Tag Archives: Free-To-Play

Ultima Online Adds a Free to Play Option

In an item of note today, Ultima Online becomes the last of the “big three” MMORPGs from the late 90s to jump into the free to play pool.  EverQuest went to FreeVille back on its 13th birthday in 2012 with the SOE “Free to Play Your Way” campaign while Asheron’s Call went free… back in August 2014 I think.  It was at some point after they decided bringing back Asheron’s Call 2 was a good plan, but before they turned them both off for good early last year.

Welcome indeed

While the plan was announced a while back, today with Publish 99 Broadsword, the minders of the game since 2014, have added a free to play option called the “Endless Journey.”

This new option will be available to new accounts as well as any previously created account that has not been subscribed in the last 120 days.  I guess that is one way to keep people from just unsubscribing when you add a free option, though I am not sure banishing current players for 3 months if they want to go down the free path is necessarily sending the right message.

There is, of course, the usual list of things that free accounts can and cannot do.  In the case of UO, the list is pretty long.

You’re going to have to click on this to make it readable

This list is also part of the Publish 99 release notes linked above, but I thought I would take a snap shot of the day one version in case it changes at some future date.

I really know very little about Ultima Online, having never played it, so I cannot speak to whether the restrictions on the Endless Journey option are going to really push people to subscribe after they have tried the game.  But I do know from experience that when you go free to play with an MMORPG the plan is to drive people to subscribe, get people to buy from the cash shop, or both.

Either way this does make it a bit more likely that Ultima Online will be my choice for my 2018 goal of playing one of the early MMORPGs I have never tried.

The Coming Alpha Clone Skill Point Apocalypse in New Eden

for me at least this started back during EVE Vegas when CCP announced that they were going to expand the range of skills that would be usable by Alpha clones.  After about a year of these free accounts roaming New Eden, CCP felt they ought to be allowed to do more.  So CCP said they wanted to unlock tech II weapons up to the cruiser level, add battlecruisers to the list, as well as limited battleship skills.  Oh, and Alpha clones would no longer be limited to their own faction.  If a Gallente Alpha clone pilot wanted to bring their Drake, that would be within the realm of possibility.

The interesting bit, for me, was how they were planning to do this.

Adding in the new ships and expanding support to all empires raised the skill point total possible to about 20 million.  However, free Alpha clone training would still cap players out at 5 million skill points.  If you wanted to get 20 million skill points you were going to have to subscribe and become an Omega clone to train them or inject them through the usual method.

The Skill Point Divides

So if I unsubscribed my alt, who has over 120 million SP, I would be able to use 20 million of those skill points to play as opposed to just the meager 5 million.  This, to my mind, would create a special class of players who had paid CCP some money at some past date and were being given a minor reward for that support.

LOTRO has something similar in the past, where there were free players, VIP players, and then those who had paid for something and so were entitled to a higher level of support even if not VIP subscribers.  I thought that was a good idea back then, and think so today.  In a game where “free” is an option, people who show a willingness to spend money ought to get some attention.

After EVE Vegas there was a dev blog that laid all of this out again and listed the skills that would be included in the new, expanded, unlimited use pool.  Good so far.

This was followed about two weeks later by an additional dev blog about New Alpha Training Options, the dev blog that introduced the Daily Alpha Injector.

LOL! Drink a pot noob!

This is where the slope begins to get slippery.

CCP had some criteria that this new injector should meet, which I will borrow from the dev blog:

  • Alphas must be able to acquire training in small chunks (one day’s worth ideally)
  • Training rate from new option must not be faster than Omega
  • Must not activate Omega state or put character in a new Clone State
  • New option must be easily traded and available on market

And what they came up with was the Daily Alpha Injector, which has the following specifications, again borrowed from the dev blog:

  • Only one Daily Alpha Injector may be used per day, per character [not account] (resets at downtime)
  • May only be used by characters in the Alpha Clone State
  • Can be purchased in the NES for PLEX or purchased for your regions real money currency via secure.eveonline.com
  • Can be activated to immediately to add 50,000 skill points to your character’s unallocated skill pool (roughly one day worth of Omega training)
  • Can be traded on the in-game market
  • Does not award Omega Status

While you can earn ISK to buy the 20 PLEX for your Daily Alpha Injector (DAI going forward) in game, you can also straight up purchase them for cash, which I have to imagine is going to be a likely course for many an Alpha clone player.

So what we have here is a clear attempt to monetize the free player by selling them skill points generated on demand.

Now, on the one hand, CCP is a relatively small company in the industry; they’ve only have, and have only ever had, the one successful video game and the company lives or dies by its earnings.  They have also made something that is unlike almost all other games in the genre.  Given that, my inclination is to cut them some slack, a position no doubt influenced by the fact that I have played and enjoyed the game for more than 11 years.

So an admitted blind spot right there.

On the other hand, a lot of us just had a jolly old time last week roasting EA for going so overboard on monetizing Star Wars Battlefront II that even Disney had to step in and say, “Whoa, dude, settle down!”  And even though EA has shown itself to be bad to both its employees and its customers regularly and repeatedly over the years, there is still plenty of room for hypocrisy if I just say, “Well, CCP are nice people so they get a pass.”

CCP isn’t straight up selling a titan + fully skilled character package yet, but they are, as has been pointed out in a number of places, pulling skill points out of thin air and selling them for cash money.  And while CCP is clear on their intent, embodied in this phrase:

They can only be used by alphas, and an alpha can only apply unallocated skill points to alpha skills.

That isn’t strictly true.  If you pile up a bunch of DAIs, using them every day on your Alpha, but not spending the skills, they just sit in your unallocated skill points buffer.  If you then convert the account to an Omega… which is to say, you pay the old fashioned monthly subscription fee, which is what CCP really wants you, so we all win when you do that… you can use those unallocated skill points on whatever you want.  But if you go back to being an Alpha and you used those points on skills outside of the noted 20 million, you’ll lose the use of that skill.

Admittedly, that is a tiny and unlikely to be pursued loophole, but it does exist.  And if I can find that one, I bet there are others I haven’t found yet.

And the loophole isn’t really the issue here, it is the willingness to change a long standing rule of the game.  We got skill injectors because players could already buy skilled up characters from other players through an official process.  Besides which, they were not introducing new skill points into the game, just reallocating those already present.  In fact, due to the way the injectors worked, CCP was effectively removing skill points from the game.   If I try to use a skill injector, which contains 500,000 skill points, I only end up with 150,000 while the other 350,000 disappears into thin air.

Well, now those skill points seem to be coming back out of the air and are available straight up legal currency, and no other players need be involved.

But its only for Alphas right?  And it is in such small increments right?

I expect the usual cast of characters to express outrage.  Gevlon and Dinsdale will point at this as CCP revealing their true colors or sign of the impending demise of the game.  And certain Star Citizen fan boys who feel that EVE Online must die for their game to succeed will jump on this as well.  But the current EVE player base seems… well… oddly restrained.

I mean, look at this thread on Reddit.  Generally speaking EVE Online players cannot discuss the weather that politely.  I mean sure, there is dissent buried in there, and the expected “This is the end, EVE is dying” theme pops up now and again.  But the most upvoted comment basically summarized DAIs as selling Omega training time in daily allotments.  (Which sounds a lot like the “selling game time in smaller increments” that Gevlon brought up in an ongoing comment thread with Raph Koster on Saturday’s post.)

I guess that is how you could look at it.  I guess I could get comfortable with that.  I mean, no Alpha clone is going to catch me at 185 million SP consuming DAIs.  It would take them over ten years.

But I was also pretty okay with day one DLC and the whole Season Pass thing wasn’t horrible, but now look at where EA stands.  If we’re fine with one thing it sure seems like a company will push things further.  What follows selling skill points under very restricted circumstance?  And can CCP, which has investors and shareholders to appease just the same way that EA does, afford to not press the envelope and find further ways to monetize the game?

The whole thing leaves me uneasy.  I want to be reasonable, see the stated intent as the only goal.  But I am a product of my environment and goals can change, especially when cash comes up short… or even when cash is flowing freely but somebody sees a way to eke out some more.

What’s a capsuleer to do?  I suppose we shall see come December 5th when this goes live as part of the Arms Race release.

Ascension Day in EVE Online

It is the day, the day the Ascension expansion hits EVE Online.

Today is one of those dividing points, a time when everything changes, a point from which will be reckoned a brand new era in New Eden.  For many long time subscribers, everything before today is now history, and everything after will be the new shit that ruined the game the grand experiment that changed the universe.

Coming in November

It’s here, it is finally here!

Free to play has come.  CCP has opened the door and invited everybody in without a cover charge or a two drink minimum.  And seriously, this can be a game where two drinks often aren’t even enough… literally or metaphorically.  Clones states are here.

We can split hairs over what *really* constitutes “free” in “free to play,” whether the restrictions on Alpha clones make this more of an unlimited trial or a bonafide free experience.  All I know is that you can make a character, fly in space, shoot people, and never be asked to pay a dime.  That sounds pretty damn free to me.

Well, you will be asked to pay a dime.  Many dimes.  In fact, I am pretty sure you will be pestered to do so incessantly.

Can't touch that!

Upgrade to Omega

It would be remiss of CCP to not throw some of that Candy Crush Saga-esque “Oh, you want more? Well pay up!” persuasion in the game.  But you will not be obligated in any way to do so.  You can choose, as I do with Candy Crush Saga, to look at free to play as challenge mode where anything you accomplish is all the sweeter because you did it the hard way.

If all Ascension had for us was free to play and things related to that, it would be a huge deal.  That alone could be the biggest thing in a long time for EVE Online, a game that thrives on having more players.

But that is not all that Ascension brings with it.  What is left would still be a super feature packed expansion even if the whole free to play thing was not part of the deal.  That list includes:

That is most of the list from the Updates page, but there are also the Patch Notes for the expansion, which include many smaller items going into this release.  And little, of any of this, is non-controversial.  EVE Online is like any MMORPG where every feature is somebody’s favorite so changing any feature pisses somebody off… and Ascension is changing some fairly substantial features.

But there it is, deployed already.

I am excited… but also a bit anxious.  There will be bugs… there is already a patch set to drop at the next downtime.  And then there is the whole New Player Experience, the fourth since I started playing the game.  It is a directed story line that gets players involved with the empires and their lore, different for each of the four empires.  That is a fairly radical departure from the opportunities system that was in place until today.

So, if you have been waiting to try EVE Online… erm… maybe wait for the weekend to jump in, once there have been a few post expansion fixes deployed.  Or just jump right in.  Sometimes a good bug can be a formative experience in a game.  But CCP wants you to come give it a try.  There are many things you can do with an Alpha clone.  I expect all groups catering to new players will have Alpha clone compatible doctrines.  I even have my own Alpha clone trained up.  His skill plan wrapped up yesterday (though I had already brought him out for a trial run), at which point I started on a second one.

Others are talking about Ascension naturally enough, and while the focus is on Alpha clones, there is a lot of other things in play today as I noted above.

Finally, it wouldn’t be EVE Online if there wasn’t a new song for a new expansion.

 

CCP Has a Plan for EVE Online Free to Play

Welcome Back Poors!

-Tweety Bird, EVE Online F2P forum thread

I was going to push this off to see how it plays out for a bit, but then I realized tomorrow was a new month and I like to mark events during the month they happen, so here it goes.

My initial reaction

My initial reaction

CCP announced today, via a dev blog, that November’s release, which is clearly going to need some sort of epic name that we can curse at some future date, will include a free to play option for the residents of New Eden.

The basic upshot is that, come the release, there will be two flavors of capsuleers, those with Alpha clones, who are non-subscribers, and Omega clones, who are subscribers.

Nothing will change for Omega clones.  We won’t even get the usual “please subscribe!” in-game cash shop currency bribe.  Instead, focus will be all on the Alpha clones.

Alpha clones will be severely restricted.  There will be a 5 million skill point cap on them and they will only be allowed to train from a specific set of allowed skills, which will be based on the race of the character in question.  So an Alpha clone Amarr will get lasers, a Caldari will get missiles, and a Minmatar will get a roll of tech I duct tape and the usual kick in the ass.

They also won’t be able to extract skill points.  Glad somebody thought of that hole immediately.  Also, no cynos, no cloaking.

This seems to be following the early SOE F2P, which aimed to make free play so limited that anybody who really wanted to play would subscribe just to be done with the rat’s nest of “velvet rope” restrictions.

The thing is, EVE Online is different that a lot of other MMORPGs who have gone the free to play route.  And EVE Online is very much a game where having multiple accounts is a force multiplier.  And the real question of the hour isn’t so much how many new players this will attract to New Eden, but how the current player base will exploit this new method that will effectively allow them to have as many crappy, low skill alts as they want.

The first, and most obvious hole, which even CCP brought up in the dev blog, is suicide ganking.  This will allow players to go nuts on that front.  But even if CCP decides it needs to close that loophole, what else will players do with all those crappy, low skill alts?  Will a couple players being able to put eyes in every system in a region change the game?

I suspect that a lot of this, like simultaneous Alpha clone logins, will be locked down fairly quickly.  But still, having an alt hanging out in any system where you need eyes on only a login away will have some impact.

On the plus side, if/when your subscription runs out, your characters will become Alpha clones, only able to used the set range of skills, but you will still be able to log into the game a and chat with people.  More people in local is always better, right?  And when you try to do something you used to be able to do, the game will remind you that you need to subscribe.

Can't touch that!

Can’t touch that!

Anyway, this is a fresh item, CCP is still bouncing it around, and there are still a couple months to go before November.  We shall see where this heads.  I am sure I will return to the topic again, once things have settled down.

Others jumping right into the fray:

Bonus Assignment: Compare and contrast CCP’s play for EVE Online with Blizzard’s unlimited trial program for World of Warcraft.  Be sure to discuss what makes something free to play versus just being a trial account.

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!