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The 2013 List – This Time it is Goals January 4, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Dungeons & Dragons Online, entertainment, EVE Online, Rift, Star Trek Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Vanguard SOH, Warhammer Online, World of Tanks, World of Warcraft.
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At the beginning of every year I write a post about the upcoming 12 months.  Sometimes it is silly predictions.  Sometimes my predictions are even correct, but not very often.  I have made demands.  I have asked questions.  Here is the story so far:

Now it is time for the 2013 version of my yearly post.

2013

This year I think I am going to set goals, which is just another way of drawing some marks in the sand to measure what happened when the year finally comes to a close.

1- Finish Rift

Well, finish Rift for a specific definition of “finish.”  MMOs are designed to never truly be finishable and Rift, with all its possible class builds, especially so.

In this case, it means hitting the level cap and running all of the five person instances with my main character, Hillmar, and the rest of the regular group.  And, just to put another parameter in the mix, I would like to see this happen before the inevitable Summer hiatus when we head out for vacations and other distractions.

2- Find a new goal in EVE

2012 was about learning to live in null sec and flying in large fleet operations.  There were large wars going on throughout most of the year and I flew all over null sec in fleet ops.  Now, however, things have quieted down.  There was no “Winter Break War” as there was last year and the prospect of any big conflict seems pretty remote right now.  We have been effectively ordered to not do anything that might result in the CFC having to deal with any more sovereignty.

Which puts me out of a job.

So I am in training mode with a little bit of ratting and selling now and again.  That can be lucrative, but it is also dull, as is mining.  (Though I hear from Gaff that with the new NPC AI, he has to actually tank all his mining ships as the rats now change targets.   And they pop drones without mercy, making drones pretty much useless for mission running and the like. So mining is dull AND annoying now!)

There are some things I could train up.  There are a few decent guides on planetary interaction out there, if I wanted to add that do my EVE resume.  There are some player skills I could work on, like scanning.  I am hopeless at scanning at the moment and, historically, every time I make an effort to figure it out, CCP changes how it works.

But as for what would essentially be a new vocation in EVE, I do not have a plan… or even a general direction.  It might be time to go back to that chart.

3- Get to Tier IX in World of Tanks

This is something of a vague goal, as I do not really have my eye on any specific Tier IX tank in WoT.  For now the Soviet heavy tanks seem to be my favorites, followed by the German tank destroyers.  But who knows, I might be mad for French self propelled guns or get the itch to nip about the field of battle in one of those Cromwells.  And then there is the Chinese tank line coming along soon.  Or so they say.

Anyway, barring any dramatic need to start up on another branch of the tree, Tier IX ought to be an obtainable goal even with my somewhat sporadic play schedule.  I just need some focus.

Good luck on that.

4- Finish that Second Instance Group Video

Almost a year back I put together a video about the first year of the regular instance group in World of Warcraft.  Fun stuff.  I like to go back and watch that video now and again.  Not quite as emotionally evocative as Sayonara Norrath, but a lot closer to home.

Originally I was going to make a video about our whole experience, but that was a huge project, so I cut it back to just the first year with the idea that I would do one for each of our six… headed into seven… years.

But while the first year was a good plan (for me at least) as it gets our origin, how do you distinguish it from year two, three, four, and so on?  So I decided I needed another specific subject.

I chose our time in Wrath of the Lich King for the next video.  I even started in on the long job of reviewing and editing pictures.  WotLK was the pinnacle of the instance group in WoW, where we finally got our act together.  It was also our downfall, the last happy time in WoW.  We got good at the game only to find that it isn’t that much fun when you are good.  When you are a random, badly equipped group running comedy specs in the wrong roles, every boss kill is a major victory.  When you are geared appropriately, using the right spec, and playing your role correctly, it starts to become a matter of just figuring out the gimmick for any given boss.

Archaedas was exaltation.  By the time we hit King Ymiron, he was just another boss on the long list.

Still, those were good times and set a standard of effort and fun that Cataclysm couldn’t match.  And it was a nice, discreet time frame.  We were there the day the expansion launched through to finishing off the last instance.

Piece of cake to put it together, right?

Except I cannot find the right music.  I need that to inspire me.  Earl’s rendition of Eleanor Rigby, with its twangy sounds and great mix of nostalgia and irony (all the lonely people indeed!) really moved me to finish the first video.  But I have not found the right music to get me excited to finish this video yet.  What will capture Northrend and the instance group, our travels, our defeats, and our victories?

So really my goal is really to find the right music.  We shall see if I can get there.

5- Retry an MMO That Didn’t Stick

There are a number of MMOs out there which I have tried and let drop after some effort.  For one reason or another the games just did not hold my attention or otherwise compel me to keep moving forward.

There are a number of options for this goal.  Possibilities include Vanguard, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Star Trek Online, Runes of Magic, Warhammer Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and probably a few more I have forgotten.  Pirates of the Burning Sea maybe!

The trick here of course is to find a game where whatever made me stop playing has either been changed/fixed or was something that I have since changed my mind about.  And that, in turn, is something of a function of the time that has passed since I last played the game.

SWTOR, for example, is just a year gone by, and I did not like blaster combat or having dialog forced on my character. The former probably hasn’t changed, while the latter is the vaunted “fourth pillar” that was going to distinguish the game, so it seems like unlikely that I am going to like the game any more than I did the first time around.

At the other end of the spectrum is Vanguard, which I haven’t really played since late beta, and which I only recall as being an ugly, lagging, broken, resource hog of a game that was clearly not ready for prime time.  Six years down the road it is possible they may have addressed some of those issues.

6- Scout for the Next Instance Group Game

With the downfall of WoW as our default game, it has become an ongoing task to scout for the next game we might try.  We are currently settled in Rift, but since the first goal on my list is to “finish” Rift before the Summer hiatus, it seems likely that we will need something new come the end of vacation.

As always, the usual parameters are in place.  It must have content that caters to groups of five or six people.  It has to work for a variety of play time budgets. (Some of us will play all week long, others will only play on group night.)  It has to have content that we can enjoy in our standard “three hours on a Saturday night” parameter.   And it has to be something that we can all buy into.

There are a lot of options out there, even discounting things some of us have already played.  I think that, as a group, we might find a month or two of fun in PlanetSide 2.  Four of us would probably find Need for Speed: World or World of Tanks good fun, but I am not sure about all five.  And there are candidates from both the previous and the next goal that are possibilities.  Picking one though and getting everybody to download and commit, that can be a challenge.

7- Book My Autumn Nostalgia Tour Early

Every autumn I get the urge to go back and play some game from my past.  Sometimes it is EverQuest or TorilMUD.  This past year is was EverQuest II.  And given my long time attachment to the games, you can probably put WoW and Lord of the Rings Online on the list of potential candidates.

The thing is, the urge tends to hit me rather suddenly and I run off, play for the requisite month or so solo, then the urge tapers off and I am pretty much done. (Pro Tip: Always subscribe month-to-month for nostalgia based events.)

But while this is often fun, it is usually a lot more fun if I can get Gaff or Potshot in on the tour.  Nostalgia is a meal best served family style or some such.  So if I can just peer into the future and maybe decide on my target, we can get together on the plan and have a great time.  The thing is, which game?  Do I book a room in old Qeynos for the rainy season, or is the Forsaken Inn a more likely holiday spot?

8- Blog Stuff

Often when I look at the future, I will tack on something about “playing more and writing less.”  Over time though, this has increasingly looked like nonsense.  Writing here on the blog is clearly part of the process of playing games… or at least online games… for me.  The writing, the remembering, the picking of screen shots, and the clicking of the “publish” button are all part of the package.

So my goal for the blog is pretty much “stay the course.”  And maybe find a new theme.  Though I have been saying that for about six years and I am still using the same WordPress theme that I had on day one.

So those are my goals for 2013.  Not very exciting.  We shall see how they play out.

How does 2013 look to you?  And any ideas for music for that video?

The Catch in the Free-to-Play Model December 4, 2009

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Dungeons & Dragons Online, entertainment, MMO Design, Other PC Games.
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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?

Shut Up We’re Talking #51 July 14, 2009

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest II, Podcasts.
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Shut Up We’re Talking,” one of the podcasts in the VirginWorlds Podcast Collective, has released episode 51.

Regular hosts Darren from The Common Sense Gamer and Karen from Journey’s with Jaye were joined by Andrew from Of Teeth and Claws, Frank who runs MMO’ Money and contributes to MMORPG.com, and myself.

Topics:

  • Introductions
  • Listener Mail – DestroyerDestroyer regarding Mark Jacobs
  • What We’re Playing
  • White Collar Crime in a Space Suit – We talk about the latest EVE Online drama surrounding EBANK and the embezzlement of 200 billion ISK by Ricdic, the former CEO of the venture.  The nature of EVE and the lack of any effective recourse when you have lost money this way come up, along with the fact that your money is safe in your character’s wallet so that one of the traditional roles of a bank, safeguarding your cash, is missing from the equation.
  • The Horse That Would Not Die – After the enthusiasm on the last show for Dungeon & Dragons Online’s adoption of a Free To Play model, Darren turned around and found a sore spot in the Runes of Magic cash shop, the now infamous $10 horse which lead him to post, and post, and post, and post yet again, some of which generated response posts from various points in the blogesphere, including this site.  We have a therapy session with Darren and help him work through his issues.  There are group hugs and towards the end we find that the horse in question was discounted to $5 for a limited time, which was almost low enough for Darren.
  • Blog of the week – Mynxee’s Life in Low Sec
  • Show Close – Includes peer pressure to get Karen to do a blog post
  • Out Takes - EVE is like a hot biker chick?

You can get the show via iTunes or download it directly here.