Tag Archives: Micropayments

August in Review

The Site

This month saw another big spike in traffic due to something pretty much unrelated to the site.

Cracked.com linked to a rant I wrote quite a while back about the mis-use of the term “microtransactions.”  They did a humor piece about FarmVille, and somehow my post seemed relevant.

Obligatory Traffic Graph

Also driving traffic this month were the search terms “Blood Elf Porn,” “Elf Porn,” and “Ancient Porn.”  All this for a post titled Fighting Blood Elf Porn.  Do you suppose it was nerd rage that brought them here?

Along with the big PLEX loss story, those were the big three traffic driving posts of the month.

Aside from that, I took yet another baby step into the 21st century.  I now have a Twitter account.  All it does is tweet when I put up a post… WordPress.com does that for me automatically… and it works most of the time.  It will list posts for both this site and EVE Online Pictures, my other site.

Otherwise, I have little to say in SMS sized bits.

So far I have two followers.  You know who you are.

One Year Ago

The Matrix Online (MxO for those in the know) was shut down by SOE last August.  Planetside is still around though!  For now.

Bruce Everiss was getting sued for libel by the makers of Envoy.  That was eventually worked though this past March.  Enovy, LLC dropped their suit, but not before causing Mr. Everiss much pain and hamstringing his desire to be as forthright in the future.

Somebody was granted a patent for something that sounded a lot like podcasting.  How did that ever turn out?

That Wii Bowling Ball made another appearance.  Still no know deaths attributed to it.

I was wondering what genre our post apocalyptic future really was.  People assume it is Science Fiction.  Is it?

On the Blizzard front, we learned that we were not going to get StarCraft II for Christmas.  I still don’t own a copy yet.

There was a lot of speculation before BlizzCon about the next WoW expansion.  I tried to draw parallels between 2004 and 2009.

I subscribed to the BlizzCon Pay-per-view event via DirecTV.  That was a lot of gaming coverage to watch.

Meanwhile in the instance group, we were finally almost all level 80.  It was time to screw around in some old raid instances.

I actually posted the results of that cheating poll I had set up.  I generally mean to post the results of these sorts of things, but somehow I usually don’t get around to it.

And, finally, I was on a re-reading binge last August while making Code Red floats.

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Most Viewed Posts in August

  1. RMT and Microtransactions Rant
  2. Fighting Blood Elf Porn
  3. The PLEX Story We’ve All Been Waiting For
  4. Pokemon Enigma Stone Download Event
  5. How To Find An Agent in EVE Online
  6. WoW Account Hacked… Officially No Longer News
  7. Play On: Guild Name Generator
  8. WoW Account Hacked – This Just Keeps Happening
  9. EverQuest Next and Lessons Learned
  10. The Factions of WoW Account Hacking
  11. Torchlight II – Look Out Diablo III
  12. EQII Extended – The Trial of Inconvenience
  13. I Do Not Like Raspberries

Search Terms of the Month

blood elf porn, elf porn, ancient porn
[These seem to spike late on Friday night.]

[Thanks Tobold]

blizzard account hacked and i dont play
[I have no account, and I must be hacked]

hack beter wow very good
[Very good indeed]

Spam Comments of the Month

Now let’s create, continuous innovation with Fashion game network:
[Because that is the innovation that will revive the economy!]

May i sex dating with you?
[Me sex date you long time]

EVE Online

I am in total slumber mode in EVE Online.  I have converted some of my ISK into PLEX and am just sitting in the station training long skills.  Still, I will have over 60 million skill points soon.

EverQuest II Extended

I said I was going to play this when it launched, but I forgot that in the post-Google world, the word “Beta” means you’ve shipped.  So I was waiting for it to go live, but SOE has been letting all and sundry in to play.  I hear the load on the Freeport server is pretty heavy, apparently with EQ2 vets.

Lord of the Rings Online

Turbine is a company that knows what Beta means.

The instance group… well, four of the group… have been seen regularly in Middle-earth.  The game has become my only MMO for the moment.  While the instance group is in the 20s, I have been pressing on ahead in hopes of catching a glimpse of Moria.

World of Warcraft

My daughter is in the Cataclysm beta and has been taking screen shots now and again… when I ask repeatedly.  My own WoW account… lapsed.  While I may leave it like that until Cataclysm ships, that will mean missing out on the last bottle, and the achievement, for Brew of the Month club.  Decisions, decisions.

Coming Up

LOTRO will be going Free to Play soon, and no doubt that will change the feel of the game some.  We’ll see if it is for the better or not.

Aside from LOTRO, I expect this coming month to be pretty light when it comes to posts.  Summer is over.  My daughter went back to school last week and, this week, I went back to work.  My wife now has the house to herself again during the day, much to her relief.

Item Shop Humor

Perhaps another, very minor, potential item shop problem?

At least when it comes to a fantasy MMORPG.

I received an email from Turbine today with a series of special deals from the Dungeons & Dragons Online item shop, including one that made me chuckle:

My first thought was, “Sure, that is a fine discount, but where would I put a whole race?  I don’t even have enough space for our LEGOs.”

Yes, I know, the discount is for buying the ability to play a drow character in DDO, as the fine-ish print goes on to detail:

But I love the inherent ambiguity of the headline.  A really good ambiguous headline like that just brightens my day.

It does however point the finger at the commercialism needed to drive a quality item shop financed MMORPG like DDO.  Somebody has to pay if you want to play, so  you just have to resign yourself to adds now and then that play in your head with that “Matthews TV and Stereo” voice (“Top of the Hill Daily City!”).

There are certainly worse things in life.

And, in case you were wondering, +4 weapons and selected adventure packs are also on sale, this weekend only.

See the DDO Store for details.

Summing Up On Free-to-Play Catches and Cowboys

Last Friday when I posted about Battlefield Heroes and their cash shop controversy, I was just writing out one of those “what does it really mean?” sort of posts that has an interminable lead-in then ends (if you lasted that long) on the actual question that came to my mind.

Much to my surprise, the post had more reach than I expected, getting noted over at Massively, on Tobold’s blog, and, after a short delay, partially explained by a Packer’s loss (the same thing afflicted my brother-in-law), over at Heartless_ Gamer.  (And in a parallel effort there was an unrelated post about subscription models over at Nerfbat as well.)

Perhaps not quite a “shit storm,” but well beyond my expectations.  Of course it touched a tender subject, which is money and how much we pay to play these games.  But we all know somebody has to pay, because nobody is making all of this entertainment for free.  Even those with a passion to create have to eat and pay the rent.

My only real surprise is that for MMORPGs there seems to be two camps, the subscription model and the free-to-play item mall supported model.  Tobold proposed what he saw as a different but more fair business model, something that sounds remarkably like a post I wrote three years ago, back before F2P was en vogue, prompted by my phone plan and my general cheap skate nature.

But we all want to get the most for our money and will seek out the plan that best serves us, another Tobold point.

Probably the most interesting thing to come out of this though was from Brian “Psycochild” Green who commented with a link to a presentation from Daniel James of Three Rings Design, makers of Puzzle Pirates,  Bang! Howdy, and Whirled, that included detailed metrics based on the experiences of Three Rings in the F2P market.  A good read if you are interested in the topic.

All of which was interesting, but never really got me closer to an answer on where the line between “not enough” and “too much” might be drawn when it comes to pushing item shop purchases in a fantasy MMORPG environment.  Not that I expected an answer.

I did however end up spending some time on Sunday playing Bang! Howdy.

I have to admit, I totally did not get it.

Perhaps I should stick to fantasy MMORPGs.  Subscription based ones… for now.

The Catch in the Free-to-Play Model

Proponents of the free-to-play, cash shop, and micropayments financed philosophy of online games like to point out what they see as a key flaw with the subscription model:  Subscriptions set a cap on how much money your customers will give you.

You’re stuck.  You only asked for $15 a month, so that is all you got.

Now the conservative accounting guy in me can see the benefits of a steady revenue stream.

Subscriptions x $15 = monthly gross revenue.

That is nice and predictable.  Your business plan revolves around getting and keeping subscribers, which is at least a concept you can get most people’s heads around.

Still, I see the point of another approach.  In the free-to-play model, not everybody is going to pay but, as the joke goes, you make it up in volume.

So instead of 100,000 subscribers chipping in $15 a month for a top line of $1.5 million you just get a lot more subscribers and have some percentage of them pay $15 or more.

Of course, that is the fuzzy “step 2” in the process, the details between the idea and profit.

You have to make a game with enough free content to be viable so that you can build that subscriber base from which you will generate your revenue.  Only a certain percentage of your user base will ever give you any money however, so having free content that brings people and keeps them is a plus.

Okay, that sounds a lot like getting and keeping subscribers.  But you have the word “free” to play with, which is a big plus in the getting department.

So if you want to make that same $1.5 million a month and believe that 10% of your user base will spend, on average, $30 a month on your game, then you need a total user base of 500,000.

And I pulled those numbers straight out of my backside just to demonstrate the equation.  I am certainly no expert on the subject of what percentage of players pay how much in any given game.

On the other hand, I would be extremely skeptical of any model that assumed more than, say, 20% of customers buying in unless your game is balanced such that players are at a severe disadvantage if they do not pay.  And if you did that, you’d be killing off a chunk of the subscriber base that is there for the “free” aspect of the game.  So there is something of a tightrope to walk.

Being somebody who has moaned in the past about there being a lack of subscription options, I have been somewhat interested in free-to-play games.  Certainly I was a lot more likely to play Dungeons and Dragons Online or Runes of Magic under that model.  And the fact that neither game has really stuck with me isn’t really an indictment of those games.  I’m just having enough fun elsewhere at the moment that I don’t need a new game regardless of the subscription model.

The whole free-to-play thing came to my mind the other day when I read an article over at Ars Technica about Battlefield Heroes.

Battlefield Heroes is a free-to-play online shooter that I have been poking my nose into off and on for the last few months.  I own most of the Battlefield series of games, but I haven’t really been into shooters since I was playing Desert Combat, a Battlefield 1942 mod, some years back.

While I bought the next couple of installments in the series, I never played any of them as much as I played DC, so I lost the desire to spend any more money on their games.

So along comes Battlefield Heroes, which is free to play.  I like to play a shooter now and again and this looked good, so I signed up.  Customer acquisition win for DICE and their parent EA.

However, since I only play a couple of times a month, I have no real desire to be competitive in the game.  I play, I shoot people, I die, I have fun.  Customer retention win for DICE and EA and fun for me.

What I don’t do is spend any money.  Not so good for DICE and EA.

And according to that article at Ars Technica, I am hardly alone in not spending any money.

So DICE and EA changed up the game.

Previously, or so it was claimed, you couple be a competitive player by earning enough victory points through moderate play to buy the upgrades you needed to keep up with those laying down cash.  Never having aspired to be anything beyond a moving target most evenings, I’ll take their word for it.

Now, however, you must play a lot more to earn enough victory points to keep up with the neighbors who pay, something seen as a bit contrary to the intended spirit of the game, as illustrated by this EA trailer.

And the community is up in arms about it… or at least the part of the community that wasn’t paying any money and that gives a damn about being competitive.  And while I point out my own lack on that front, I will admit that when I move from target to constant lead receptacle I will often call it a night and do something else.

The Ars Technica article comes to a dark conclusion at the end with the line:

…this update has a very real chance of ending the game.

Maybe over statement, maybe not.  I’m not invested enough to have a good feel.  But as I said above, I think if you try to squeeze to hard, you’ll reduce the player base without necessarily increasing revenue overall.

And the fact that this is coming up makes me wonder where that line is when it comes to cash shop financed MMOs.

Sure, the player base is probably a bit different, and there are certainly some cheap shots you can take at the stereotypical FPS player, not all of which are totally inaccurate.

And the play style is different.  A shooter puts you in direct competition at all times with people who maybe be spending more money than you, while in a PvE MMO at least, direct competition is somewhat limited.  The guy with the store bought mount and sword of might can go on his merry way and not wreck your evening unless he really sets his mind to it.

So far, in the free-to-play MMOs I have visited, I have not seen a huge push to make people feel they need to buy.  Usually what I see are incentives, special deals, and other come-ons to make item shop purchases look more attractive.  But who knows how long that will be the case?  What happens when a game don’t make goals for a couple of months and the CFO is calling to tighten up the business model?

What happens when it becomes imperative for the company to make the players buy more stuff?

Can you push the cash shop free-to-play formula too far in the direction of “must pay to realistically play?”  Or does the MMO model… or at least the PvE fantasy MMORPG model… protect us from that to a certain extent as long as you have a tank, a healer, some DPS, and a monster against which to throw them?

DDO Guild Creation FTW! Almost…

One of the game annoyances I could do without is guild creation.

When we rolled up on Lightninghoof in WoW, we had to go through the same old routine, getting 9 people to sign the charter when we only had 5 available.  We managed to get some friends to create characters to help us out, but in the end I still had to stand there for a while in Orgrimmar and grub for signatures.

It didn’t go too bad.  I didn’t face some of the usual problems, like people out-bidding my charter signing bounty, people signing, taking my bounty, then signing another guild charter before I have turned in my own (so their signature goes away!), or the usual “bigger must be better” guild spam inviting every unguilded newbie they see.  It did take a while all the same.

Eventually our guild was formed.  In the time it took me to finish that, Potshot had already earned enough money at the auction house to buy a guild bank tab.

While I was rolling up new set of characters again this week in Dungeons & Dragons Online (thanks to a tip from Vett on how to get a free key to add DDO to your current Turbine account) I was poking around at the various functions in game and came across the ubiquitous “Social” window.  As in WoW or LOTRO, this is where things like your friends list resides.  It also has a tab for your guild.

So I decided to see what it was going to take to form yet another guild in yet another game.  But I was in for a surprise.

Buy a guild now!

Buy a guild now!

Want a guild?  Go to the item shop and buy a Guild Charter!

Now that is a cash shop item I can get behind.

Given the choice between spending time begging for signatures from strangers and spending a couple of bucks, I will take the money option.  The tool tip for the store is right!

Of course, I’m sure not everybody will be as enthusiastic about this as I am.  There is no “go beg for signatures” option on a free account.  Somebody will no doubt wonder aloud if this is not unfair to the unemployed or some such I am sure.  But I know enough people who pay for character transfers on a whim to think that this has the potential to be pure win for a lot of people.

But how much does this cost?

I clicked on the Buy Now button and was greeted with this.

No Guild For You!

No Guild For You!

The social tab appears to be a bit ahead of the DDO Store.  The DDO store does not have such an option available at this time.

So no guild for us… yet.

Still, I like the idea that we could just create the guild on demand via the DDO store.  Some day.

How about you?  Would you rather grub for signatures?

RMT and Microtransactions Rant

In which I opine about the positioning of the deckchairs on the Titanic.

First off, what Blizzard is selling us with character customization is not a microtransaction, nor is it RMT, at least not by any definition I can find.

Yet I have seen it called both.  Stop it.

You can say it is stupid.  You can say it is not enough.  I might not agree, but I cannot fault you for having an  opinion.  But stop trying to shove the square peg of character services into the round hole of RMT.  It hurts, and frankly it doesn’t swing that way.

It is not RMT any more than any other character service offered by an MMO company is RMT, such as paid server transfers.  It even has a 30 day lock out like paid server transfers.  There is plenty of precedent for such services. EVE Online will sell you an avatar swap, EverQuest will sell you a name change, and nobody has considered either RMT.  So unless you want to broaden the definition of RMT far enough that your monthly subscription fee counts as RMT, it just doesn’t fit the mold.

Then there is microtransactions.

Microtransactions, or micropayments, are transactions where a company sells something to a customer for less than is financially viable to run a credit card transaction.  This is clearly not the case with character customization.  Blizzard’s subscription model proves that charging people $15 is a perfectly viable price point for a credit card transaction.  Not a microtransaction.

But when companies do try to sell something below that threshold, it is usually accomplished by having the customer buy a chunk of a restricted currency, like SOE’s Station Cash or Nexon‘s Nexon Cash, in increments that are financially viable for a credit card transaction.  For SOE, the minimum you can buy is $5.00 here in the US, so you can guess what the economically viable threshold is in the eyes of SOE.

And speaking of SOE, the problem with what they are doing is that they are selling stuff for way too much money.  When almost half (7 out of 16 in EQ2) of the items you are selling are at or above that financially viable threshold, you are (in my opinion) doing it wrong.  You have priced things to a point where people will now think twice before they buy.

Furthermore, SOE made the same mistake here they have made with experience potions in the past in that they last too long.

Too long?

Okay, maybe it is just me, but I almost never use my potions because they last for an hour and it is not often that I will be actually killing things (or crafting) for an hour straight.  And the potions they are selling last for 2-4 hours.  And they don’t persist through death.  No Sale!

If I were SOE, I would make the potions last for 30 minutes tops and charge no more than 25 units of Station Cash for them.  You want to make this sort of thing a no-brainer to consume, not have your customer have to debate on both purchase and usage.

And I don’t even want to get started on the armor sets.  66% of the monthly fee so you can dress like a NPC?

As it stands, I’m not buying any of it.