Tag Archives: Thoughts Without A Real Point

How Long can the Fifteen Dollar Subscription Hold Out?

I remember, way way back in the day, a user review for EverQuest that was an all caps exercise in outrage over the fact that, on top of the purchase price for the game it required you to pay a fee every single month you wished to play.  It ended with a call to boycott the publisher of the game to put a stop to this complete rip-off of a business model.

I think EverQuest was $9.95 a month back then too.  It wasn’t even to the $15.00 mark we’ve come to accept as the norm.

Daybreak subscriber prices

But we’ve been at that $15.00 mark, with a discount for purchasing multiple months, since before the launch of World of Warcraft.  The fact that WoW adopted it pretty much set the price in stone.  I recall Mark Jacobs being soundly rebuked when he suggested that maybe Warhammer Online would cost more, a premium price for a premium game and all that.

We have been conditioned by Moore’s Law to expect tech items to cost less over time.  While the law itself specifically concerns itself with the number of transistors that can fit in a given space, the corollary effects include the iPhone 8 in my pocket outperforming a 1970s Cray supercomputer for a tiny fraction of the former’s original price.  We get better, cheaper hardware all the time.

And some of that has been reflected in other pricing.  It used to cost an hourly rate to log onto the online services of the 80s like GEnie and CompuServe.

GEnie Price “cut”

Now most people in urban and large suburban areas have access to some form of high speed internet and the web, while splattered liberally with ads, is mostly free.

But that is mostly hardware and bandwidth driven.  Software is different for many reasons, though the immaturity of software development methodology and the constant need to update due to security issues and defects has a lot to do with it.

The outsider view is that you write your code and, having written, move on.  The reality, which I can harp on about ad nauseum, is that a development group on a mature product can easily find itself spending most of its time dealing with problems that come up simply due to changes in the environment the code lives in.  Every product manage wants more new features to sell and hates to hear the dev team talking about the need to upgrade outdated libraries or other maintenance functions.

So we are in an unnatural situation when it comes to video game software, with their pricing stuck in time. (There was a good discussion of this in the comments on a post here a few years back.)  Triple-A titles are $60.  MMORPG subscriptions are $15 a month.  And so it has been for coming on to 20 years.

Enterprise and productivity markets have long since gone to annual licenses and even Microsoft wants you to rent Office365 from them rather than buy the hidden, but still available, stand-alone Office package. (And, having just moved an Office 2013 license from an old machine to a new one, let me tell you that they are keen to throw a lot of chairs in your way to get you to give up and get on board their rental bandwagon.  But I don’t think many of the products in the Microsoft Office bundle have change enough since the 90s to warrant a rental fee.  If I could still use Microsoft Word 5.1a, I would.)

But video games seem stuck.  Worse than stuck in the case of MMOs, where free to play has become the norm and only a few strong titles can afford to hold the line on requiring a subscription beyond what is essentially a demo period.  My headline is a lie in that the fifteen dollar subscription hasn’t held… but in the opposite way that I meant!

Stymied on the box price and subscription front, video game studios have ventured out in other directions.  So now we have cash shops and DLC and season passes and cosmetics and pets and mounts and character boosts and special servers and game time tokens and skill points and xp boosts and anniversary editions and premium editions and collector’s editions and even a $250 “friend’s and family” edition, all to eke out a bit more cash from the end users who inevitably shout “Greed!” and “Pay to Win” at the first hint that they might feel mildly incentivized to make one of those purchases.

It isn’t that I want to pay more for any of these games.  I have a kid in college, and education is one front where people haven’t been shy about raising prices.  And I have been notably prickly about some of those items listed myself.

But even though these games I play were launched in 2007, 2004, 2003, and even 1999, the people who work on them have to pay rent, buy food, medical care, and everything else here in 2021.  And stuff has not gotten cheaper.  It feels like eventually we hit one of those “you must pick two” scenarios where the options are:

  • Don’t pay more for games
  • Don’t have Pay to Win in your games
  • Your game stays in business

So I wonder when we’re going to have to pony up some more cash to pay.  Until then I try to temper my ire when companies do things they said they wouldn’t do or trot out packages or plans that seem ludicrous to me.  If they don’t pay the bill then there isn’t a game to be played.

Pondering my Teenage Internet Spaceship Picture Blog

As some of you may recall, I actually have two active blogs. (And a few inactive ones.)  There is this one and EVE Online Pictures, both of which have been around and active for more than a decade.

The original banner for the blog back in 2008

In fact, EVE Online Pictures will hit the 13 year mark later on this month.  For some reason I thought it was today when I set out to write this… I probably mixed up May 2008 with May 8th or something… but we’re close enough for me to carry on.  And that is kind of a long time to run.  The site pre-dates DOTLAN EVE Maps by a couple months.

That blog started as an experiment in blogging, a tale I covered at the five year anniversary, and then kind of carried on for a while. Eventually it had been around long enough that it served as a vehicle to get me into the fansite program.  But the fansite program is gone, and I did not make the cut for the new program, so now it is just a place where I post some screen shots regularly.  That has led me to wonder if it is even worth the effort.

In favor of keeping it is the fact that it isn’t all that onerous of task to post three screen shots a week, my current posting tempo.  The most difficult aspect of that is just me being picky about what gets posted and trying not to post a bunch of the same thing in a row and keeping to a general philosophy of trying to find pictures of things that are cool of things or situations that maybe not everybody has seen.

The abundance of “fleet bridging off of a titan” shots is probably telling.  I have been doing that regularly for almost 10 years now and I still think it is a spectacle worth sharing.

Then again, there are more than a few screen shots of Jita 4-4, which is probably a location more people have seen than any other in the game, so clearly that philosophy might need some tuning.

Anyway, by merely lowering my standards a bit, and given all the screen shots I have taken over the years, I could probably keep posting pictures for the rest of my natural life even if I stopped playing the game today.

The downside of carrying on is that almost nobody visits the blog.

It was never as popular as this blog.  Even at its peak in late 2012 it was barely closing in on 200 page views a day, while this site was around 2,000, back during the last gasp of blogging being popular.   The peak day logged 959 page views, thanks to CCP linking to me in regards to an image they used.  This blog, for comparison, still passes that number regularly.

The peak times ended when the Google image search change came in.  Google was the source for most of the site’s traffic, though the top posts might indicate that perhaps I wasn’t always getting people who were looking for EVE Online related item.  The top five most popular posts are:

  1. B-R5RB Infographic
  2. Space Cockroach
  3. Sansha Battle Station
  4. Asteroid Mining Station
  5. The Maze Complex

Three of those five aren’t even screen shots I took.

Then, in January 2013, Google changed their image search model so that kept cached versions of images and would simply display a larger version of the image you clicked on rather than sending you to the hosting site, and traffic fell off rather sharply.

Traffic is now low enough… down to about 20 page views a day during slow months, which is a step or two down from even the slow times I recorded at the 10 year anniversary… that a single person scrolling down through pictures… infinite scroll for the win… can influence the page view count.  I had a month a while back where, looking at the stats, somebody scrolled back through every picture.  That was the month with the most page views for the whole year.

Traffic is low.  Comments are almost non-existant unless I mistake a Stratios for an Astero (which I have done twice).  The most feedback I get is over on Tumblr, where all my images get re-posted automatically, where a couple of people will like a post and occasionally somebody will re-post one to their own thread.

Does traffic matter?

I have said, for this blog, that I would keep on as I have done even as traffic has fallen off, and have pretty much kept to that.  The peak of this blog, when it comes to traffic and comments and whatever, was back in 2013 as well.  It has been mostly downhill since then.  Meanwhile, I have posted for more than 400 days in a row… WP.com keeps me abreast of my posting streak… and my word count per post has continued to rise.  It is almost as if more words means fewer page views!

However, what I write here is mostly for me or a few select individuals.  Everybody else is invited along for the ride, but only my attendance is mandatory to keep going.

With screen shots… not so much.  There are some images over there that are meaningful… but generally, those same images get used over here as well, often in a post describing the context that makes them meaningful.  As much as I love to inject screen shots into my posts… and I do that do excess because they often bring back the emotions of the moment… it is the words around them that set the context that matter more.

And then there is WP.com itself, which has made having a picture blog more annoying over time.  I did finally find a way to post a screen shot that let you click on it and see a bigger version with an option to see the full size version.  You have to use the new block editor… I hate it for actual writing, but for posting a screen shot I can deal with it… then remember to dig down and set the image link correct… which I forget to do about half the time… and then it sort of works.  Otherwise it won’t let you view the image in a larger for, or constricts it into a frame that is a big ad for “start a blog!”  I miss the old days when you could just click on an image and see the full size raw if you wanted, because most of these screen shots really should be viewed in a larger frame that the blog allows.  But, then again, as noted above, almost nobody even shows up at the blog and somebody actually clicking on an image to view it’s full size form is so rare as to be almost a once a year occurrence.

So I have hit a point of malaise when it comes to EVE Online Pictures.  Thirteen years is a long time to do anything consistently and I am starting to feel tired of doing it.  I have, on occasion, tried to make it more than a screen shot blog, posting the latest videos from CCP or noting events or updates.  But I really do that here for the most part, so I tended to slip back rather that be redundant.

If I could go back in time and give myself some blogging advice, right after suggesting that I find a better name for this blog, and just forgetting about that pizza blog idea, I’d tell myself just to make screen shots a regular feature here rather than devoting a whole blog to the idea.  Better to consolidate in one location.

Then again, I wonder if I would have been so diligent about categorizing screen shots by ship faction and tagging them all by hull type. (The Avatar titan is the most tagged hull on the site, appearing 121 of the approximately two thousand screen shots there.)

Getting back to where I started, having meandered down the page, I have been thinking about the future of that blog.  I get tired just thinking about it right now, but I wonder if I will regret it later if I stop.  I suspect that habit will carry me forward for a while longer, along with a war that is still giving me plenty of material.  But the war will end some day, though I might be tired enough of New Eden at that point that I’ll want a break from there as well.

Group Size, Group Flexibility

Getting ZMud running again put me back to thinking about MUDs and groups and how things evolved when MMOs came along, at least from my own limited perspective.

Origins in the MUD

Back in the day, back in Sojourn/TorilMUD a group was the only team unit, and it could contain up to 16 people.  There were no raid groups.  If you needed to do something and it seemed like it needed more than 16 people, you were probably doing it wrong.

All text, all the time

But the way the game was structured, there were pressures to keep group size small in the form of experience and loot.

Experience for each kill was divided up equally among the group.  The less people in the group, the more experience for everybody.  Likewise, fewer individuals in the group meant bigger shares when the coins were split at the end of the day and less competition for valued drops.

So for some things, like experience groups, you wanted to keep the team small.  But there is always a balance.

The pirate ship, as an example, used to be a key experience zone.  It had a variety of tough mobs that gave good experience.  Granted, beyond level 40 or so, there were relatively few mobs that one could safely solo with all classes, though some classes could manage better than others.  But the fat experience mobs on the pirate ship were not soloable.  (Hush you rogues, your assassinate skill wasn’t all that reliable and had a long cool down.)

I have been in two person pirate ship groups.  There were some mobs that a healer and a tank could do, if they expended everything they had and rested between fights.  But while the experience from each kill was good, kills were very slow.

At the other end, the right six person group, or even the sloppiest seven or eight person group, could slaughter the whole ship and be sitting around waiting for the zone to repop for five to ten minutes.  Experience wasn’t as good, but downtime was very low.  The zone itself was the restriction.

Somewhere in between was an optimum group, but you had to figure that out.  And the optimum group would change depending on who was at the keys and what classes they were playing.

A three player group had to have an enchanter with the spell dragon scales, a damage reducing spell that would keep the tank from losing too much health for the healer to heal.  A well equipped tank and a good healer were also required.

That group got great experience per kill and wasn’t slowed down too much between fights.  But if you added the right fourth player, some massive damage dealer for example, then you could clear most of the ship before repop.  Experience was still good and downtime was low.

And even when you hit an optimum group size and were racking up experience, there was always room for a friend if they logged on.  Or if you knew somebody had to leave in a bit you would try to get a replacement there, and if they arrived early, you could just carry the whole group around for a bit until the other person left.

Anyway, this is a long series of examples that really just wanted to show that there was a degree of flexibility in groups back in the day.  You could optimize for what you wanted.  For experience in a known area, you solved for a good balance between exp and down time.  If you were going to explore some brand new zone that the devs put in, you might drag along a full group of 16 people just to ensure that things didn’t go awry, death having consequences and all that.

Dawn of the MMO Age

Then there was EverQuest, which was in many ways, as I have often said, influenced by TorilMUD.  Like TorilMUD, there were quests, but they were about getting equipment, not about earning experience.  You did experience the old fashioned way, you went out with a group, camped out an area, then proceeded to slay.

Group size was reduced to six players, but for grinding mobs there was usually a happy optimum group size of three or four players, with the usual trade offs in downtime versus experience per kill.

Yes, raiding also came on the scene, and raid groups grew way beyond the 16 player limit that TorilMUD imposed.  But a group was still a pretty flexible unit in EverQuest.  I don’t recall ever feeling we couldn’t go do something because we didn’t have a full group of six players.

WoW and the Perfect Ratio

Time passed.

EverQuest II and World of Warcraft arrived on the scene.  The cult of the quest was born.

Both games used quests as the main method of experience gain.

EverQuest II had (back at launch) a good portion of quests that required a group, and a group was still six players.  There was still, however, flexibility in group size.  In our guild we ran off to do group quests, especially writs for guild progress, with three or four people.  We delved into the Qeynos sewers, Stormhold, and the Ruins of Varsoon in like sized groups, optimizing for downtime versus experience.  It was probably out of habit, since quest rewards were not affected by group size.

But in World of Warcraft, a group was five players.  And not just any five players, but a tank, a healer, and three DPS players.  This was the optimum group and there was little room for flexibility when it came to group content in general, and instanced dungeon content in particular.

You could go after instances at level with four people, but the first boss would let you know exactly how much margin for error you really had, if you had any at all.

And the dungeon finder has cemented that 1/1/3 ratio.  You want to do an instance with dungeon finder, you have to get five people willing to fill each of those slots, no exceptions.  And no flexibility.

We have been very fortunate in our regular instance group to have exactly five regular members.  And despite wavering from the perfect ratio at times, there was a stretch when we were effectively 2/1/2, we were ultimately most successful when we adhered to the group dynamic for which the content was designed.

What Price Success?

And while we were successful, sometimes success isn’t everything.

The lack of flexibility, the lack of that extra slot in the group, meant that while we have a number of friends, relatives, and acquaintances who play WoW, nobody outside the group can really expect to come along with us on an instance run.

If we are all there, the group is full.  If one of us is missing, then the friend has to be the right class, the right level, and on the right server.  So in four years I think only two or three times has somebody outside of the regular group gone on an instance run with us in WoW.  And I think that person was Gaff each time.

So as much as I appreciate how well WoW instances are tuned for the 1/1/3 group, I do look back at the old days when groups were somewhat looser in scope and wonder if the group dynamic had to be set so firmly in stone.

In LOTRO, for example, you have some controls to play with, should you not have the right number of players to fill out a group.  The content is set for a group of six there, but you can reduce the level of the instance or skirmish to help compensate for coming up short.

But I wonder if LOTRO would be so accommodating if they were closer to WoW in subscriptions.  And they certainly do not have something like the dungeon finder to form up groups that meet a predetermined group dynamic.

And then there is EVE Online.  If you want to bring a fleet along with you to your solo mission, go right ahead.

EVE Mission line of battle

You guys work out how to split the drops and the salvage and the game will split up any faction points and cash rewards for finishing the mission.

EVE is very MUD-like in that regard.  However, EVE’s focus isn’t very PvE and if you want anything more challenging than a soloable level 4 mission for your fleet, you have to expose yourself to PvP.  And, as in most games, PvE does not train you for PvP in EVE.

So Where Is The Balance?

It is tough to say that WoW should change, because they tune their content so specifically to the 1/1/3 ratio.  Automatic scaling is a nice idea, but do you assume that you always have another DPS player along?  The odds are likely, but what if you end up with a protection pally instead?

On the other, it would be nice to have some flexibility in groups beyond which three of us are going to be DPS this time around.