Thursday, January 28, 2010

Turbine and Cryptic's Approaches to Paid Content Patches

A mere five months after the retail release of Champions Online, Cryptic has announced for plans to charge for a new zone for players working their way towards the game's level cap. The state of the content in that level range must be dire indeed if Cryptic is convinced that players will pay to escape the current leveling zones. It's relatively common for games to launch with a less than polished upper level experience and patch these areas up to par later, but most companies don't have the nerve to charge extra for such additions.

(As an aside, it boggles my mind that Cryptic managed to get this headline for Champions' Online on the very week where players will have to decide whether they want to cancel their Star Trek pre-orders.)

Speaking of a game that spent its first year patching up its leveling experience for no additional fee, Turbine has just announced the Volume III patch for LOTRO. If these are the highlights, the patch will be somewhat underwhelming - there's no mention of new zones or dungeons, but they found the room to spotlight new icons for Jeweler recipes and opening up existing skirmishes to full raid groups (I didn't know that there were skirmishes that weren't open to raids to begin with).

If I'm correct in reading between the lines, the new patch will send players to a variety of existing content (including an old raid zone) to collect Rangers for the War of the Ring. It certainly appears that I was right when I suggested that the new business model for LOTRO is to save all the major features for future paid expansions, leaving only minor additions and polish for the non-paid updates.

At the end of the day, you can argue that it is better to charge a $15 monthly fee and have mini-expansions that come out to $2.50/month than to charge a $17.50 monthly fee outright, since the player has the choice to play for less if they are so inclined. Perhaps there's even a smidgen more accountability when part of the game's revenue is dependent on the developers producing content that is worth purchasing in a timely fashion. (Then again, that kind of pressure could be a bad thing if it means that we will only get bite-sized chunks of content henceforth, rather than meatier experiences like Moria.) Either way, it's a trend that shows no sign of slowing down.


Ryan said...

I don't mind paying for additional content when I feel a game was largely complete/polished upon initial purchase. I don't like paying when it feels like it should have been released to begin with.

This is why I will never pay for The SIms expansions again. They've already had all their ideas, why should I pay for 3 versions of the same expansion? :-P

Paid content patches should be reserved for innovative or at least fresh ideas that, maybe, had a chance of being thought of after development was already complete.

Yeebo said...

I was hoping that we might get some decent content in between paid expansions, but those hopes are dwindling. Ironically, many free to play MMOs have been outpacing LoTRO recently. For example, Runes of Magic recently got a whole new faction and set of starting areas.

That said, as a lifer who's already saved money on sub fees, I wouldn't mind paying 20 bucks every six months to a year. I imagine that Turbine is hoping there are a lot of players that feel the way I do.

I will also likely never go lifer in another MMO again, at least not for $200. If the defacto business model is "pay for hunks of our game" ala Wizard 101 or DDO, you sure as hell better not charge me for a client and server access. I may stop playing sub based MMOs altogether if current trends continue.

Anonymous said...

And I was thinking the $15/month isn't only to keep the servers running but also to improve the game. Silly me.

Green Armadillo said...

@Yeebo: As a pure item shop game, ROM's business is selling stuff (mounts, exp potions, teleport runes, etc) that players need as they level. The last thing they want to do is discourage players from trying alts on the new faction by having it cost money to unlock them.

Personally, I did not buy the lifetime sub at LOTRO's launch, and I haven't spent anywhere near $200 on fees yet. For me, a $20 mini-expansion works out to $20 + $30 for a 3 month sub (I think the 3 for $30 promo is basically permanent at this point, it's been offered so frequently that there's no point in canceling it), or slightly over $15/month.

If the mini-expansions stay at Mirkwood quality, that's worth the money. What won't be worth the money is paying for an extra 3-4 months between mini-expansions with little to no major content added to the game. If the things start dropping in quality too, it might start to make sense to pick up every other mini-expansion, to ensure that there's actually 3 months of stuff to do.

Finally, there's the question of how to fit larger-scale projects into the mini-expansion format. Minas Tirith alone might be as much work to build as Mirkwood, but can they offer a paid expansion with no leveling content outside the city?

Yeebo said...

When I got my lifetime sub LoTRO was using a different business model than they are currently. I was able to do more group content then you (at least it seems that way based on what you've said), so I never got stuck..even pre-Angmar revamp. Right around the launch of the new MM area I hit 50 and still had solo quests from eastern Angmar hubs in my log. In between launch and MoM Turbine added new content faster than I could play through it. There is still a lot of the old 50 endgame I never saw. I would have been subbed the whole time regardless, so for me it was a good value.

However, if I were starting would be a really poor value. As you say, you would do much better to wait for three month sub/ expansion bundle deals, play through the new content, and then let your sub lapse until the next real expansion.

I think Turbine briefly offering a lifetime sub that was good value (at least to some players) was a pretty unique event. It's not a good value now, and other lifetime subs that have been offered (Hellgate London, AoC, CO, STO) don't appear to be very good values either. All this is why I say I'll very likely never go for another lifetime sub.

Yeebo said...

PS: I think you raise a really good question. How little content can Turbine get way with in between paid expansions without players catching on and leaving in droves during the downtime? How little can Cryptic or anyone else get away with for that matter?

I don't think a second tier (in terms of subs) MMO can really afford to be as stingy with free content as WoW. But Cryptic and Turbine seem intent on trying it out. To be fair, subs in LoTRO don't seem to have suffered much during the long thin year after that launch of MoM, so I could be mistaken.

Brian Inman said...

It looks like they are applying the Guild Wars model with subscription fees.

I think it should either pay monthly fees, or buy boxed expansions every 6 months, but not both.

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.