Thursday, April 22, 2010

Are One-Time Purchases The Bane of The Item Shop?

Psychochild and I are having a little debate in the comments of my post from yesterday about which Turbine game is in more danger as a result of the studio's recent purchase by Warner Bros. (Hopefully, we both lose, since otherwise one or both of the games are in trouble.) He brings up the oft-cited stats about how much DDO's revenue has improved since the shift to free-to-play as proof that DDO must be in good shape.

The catch is that, like basically all numbers the old Turbine released, the DDO free-to-play stats may not be telling the whole story.

The Role of One-Time Purchases in the DDO launch
Thanks to a link I heard on an old episode of DDO-cast, we're able to piece together a bit more about what DDO store purchases look like from Turbine's talk at GDC this year.

Through February of 2010, five of the top ten items in the DDO store in terms of revenue are one-time purchases - the account flags for Veteran status and 32-point builds, along with the Drow race and the Monk and Favored Soul classes. The Warforged race for whatever reason failed to make the top 10 (it is slightly cheaper than the others, and rental access to the race is included in the optional subscription), but that and the somewhat optional shared bank are the only two major account-level flags that were NOT on the top 10. The 32-point builds are also one of the priciest items in the shop (at about $15 worth of Turbine points), but the race and classes weigh in at only $8 each.

Perhaps almost all players are choosing to unlock these items, but it's concerning when one-time items from the upper-middle of the store's price range make up half of the all-time leaderboard. This means that some of that large revenue increase may be one-time spending that was needed to start up in the wake of the conversion to free to play status. This could mean that the much touted revenue spike may not be sustainable.

Trying to push consumable spending
Sure enough, if you look at the recent DDO store promotions, you see a trend that's trying to push spending on consumable items, or at least items that are bound to a single character rather than account-wide flags.
  • Earlier this month, the team reactivated the game's anniversary scavenger hunt event, where tokens from the DDO store are used to win potentially valuable in-game items.
  • Today, the game inexplicably revived the Winter Olympic "Risia ICE Games", cause late April makes you think so much of icy winter. This holiday was not quite so heavily store-based, but there are some store items associated with it.
  • The other big new addition to the store is the ability to buy a single additional bank tab on a PER CHARACTER basis for a whopping 995 Turbine points ($10 at the game's best exchange rate). In fairness, making this option account-wide might have had dire effects on server space, since it would affect many more characters, but most people were shocked to see a price tag that high on a non-transferable single-character option.

Finally, the PAX convention mega-sale on Turbine points, which improves the already skewed "exchange rate" for buying $50 lots of Turbine Points by nearly 40%, has made a sudden reappearance for the weekend. One factor in favor of this is that sales flat-out work - the original incarnation of the PAX sale was literally the reason why I'm playing DDO now instead of at some undetermined time in the future. At the same time, slashing the price by that much for the second time in barely over a month suggests to me that someone thought that sales could use a boost.

The danger of leaning on one-time purchases
I'll consider the latest Turbine point sale, but I think I will pass this time. Part of that is for budgetary reasons, part of it is that I'm weird enough to actually enjoy the strategic aspect of making spending decisions with slightly limited funds, and part of it is that my past experience with LOTRO subscription discounts suggests to me that this deal will be back before I finish spending the remainder of my last Turbine point purchase.

The scary part, though, is that I'm not actually sure what exactly I'd do with an extra 6900 Turbine points if I were given them on the condition that I must spend them immediately. By waiting on sales and leveling, the 6900 points that I bought last month will be enough to unlock all of the race/class options, 32-point builds, and leave room left over for 5-8 premium adventure packs. That is, enough to roll any type of character I want to and level them most or all of the way to the cap without too much in the way of dead spots where I'm stuck with limited free-to-play content.

In the scenario where I suddenly had to spend down a ton of points, I'd go for the shared bank (which I view as more of a want than a need, usefulness for account-bound item transfers aside) and then I guess I'd just start unlocking adventure packs at random. By the time I was done, I'd end up owning permanent access to something like 80% of the current content in the game, leaving me with even less reason to spend more in the future.

I'm actually not opposed to spending money on consumable items that would provide a more steady stream of income to the developer as a matter of principle. The problem is just that, when you give me the option between unlocking content or buying a stack of healing potions or a respec token, I'm going to take the content.

If Turbine has to actually rely on adding new content to bring in an acceptable amount of monthly revenue, that could become a long-term problem once players finish unlocking all of the account-level stuff that they feel they really need.

UPDATE 4/23: The DDO sales of the week include 30% off ALL adventure packs (typically you'll see 2-4 on sale for 20% off) and 25% on the two premium races and the 32 point builds. Guess they REALLY want to move some Turbine Points this weekend.


warhammermer said...

part of the reason people like the cash shop method is that push to add extra content.

Popular items in other games are costumes, pets, mounts, bank space, housing/housing items, and then upgrades to gear +1/etc bonuses.

I can't see Dnd going the upgrades to gear but they may do the rest. People like having fancy things and so far the gear in the dnd cash shop is pretty ugly.

Roll on costume sets and cool looking gear.

hound said...

Sometimes I like to play different games, even add a pay-by-month game or two for a limited time. But I do not like the idea of placing time or money into a game that appears to be just barely surviving.

I was burned on Hellgate: London and Tabula Rasa, so I've got reason to be cautious.

From reading your posts on DDO and LOTRO, I can't help but get the sense that these games are on the verge collapsing. Their ongoing or recent sales and deals, their iffy item shop practices, and now the sale of Turbine itself.

Is there any reason why I should spend money and time on either of these games?

I guess if Warhammer and Conan can survive this long on crutches, then these two games also could, but is it really worth the hassle?

I understand why you are playing them, it's a research kind of thing for you, you really can't seem to help yourself, but for the rest of us, why should we bother?

Green Armadillo said...

@Warhammermer: DDO already has bankspace (both personal and shared) in its shop. The game does not have housing, mounts (there isn't really anywhere to use them), or cosmetic outfits and pets, though they are apparently working on outfits specifically because of the store. They actually do have gear, but the stuff on sale is very basic, and all of it is attainable in-game.

@hound: It's a fair question - I've steered clear of games with uncertain futures myself. If "game must be around in 2 years" is an absolute requirement, then yes, I'd have some reservations about either game until I see more in the way of proof that they're continuing to expand. Then again, how many games are there where you'd be willing to bet your own money that the game will still be here in two years? WoW and anything non-licensed by SOE are winners (the only game SOE killed was The Matrix, and that was only because the license cost more than the game was making), but I'm not sure what I'd put money beyond those.

The reason why I'm playing both games (well, to be precise why I was playing LOTRO and will play LOTRO again when more content is added) is that I enjoy playing both games. However, I will note that I really do not spend any time on anything that I view as a longterm investment (see this post for more on this philosophy). If it's fun right now (e.g. completing LOTRO's solo epic storylines), I do it. If it's not fun right now (grinding out repeatable quests for rep, gear, and legendary items), but might in principle provide an upgrade for later, I don't touch it.

I wrote about the specifics of why it's pros and cons of soloing in LOTRO back in December, the short form is that it offers arguably the best leveling game and the worst endgame of the games I've tried. Where DDO is concerned, you have a deep character gen system, the interesting explorer angle of delving into new dungeons, and probably the best design I've seen for short play sessions (dungeon lengths are marked, so you can bite off a chunk that's just long enough for your 45-minute session and finish on time without feeling rushed or like you wrapped up early).

Note that basically all of my time is spent solo - the picture is very different and much less favorable if you view the process of soloing to the level cap as an unpleasant pre-requisite for raiding.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

I didn't think of it as a debate, more of an interesting discussion. We're both players of the two games in question, so we have some skin in the game.

I don't think one-time purchases are all bad. Look at Guild Wars, which by most accounts has been hugely successful despite being entirely based on one-time purchases and no subscriptions. I'll admit I was wrong about that game, I figured it would add in more microtransactions earlier.

The other thing is that once you slap down some money, you're invested into the game. I'll probably end up throwing $50 into DDO here soon; I'm enjoying it a lot so far. And, like you, I likely won't be buying cakes or potions with my points. But, at that point I'm invested into the game. It's going to take a lot more to make me lose interest in the game after I've invested into it.

As I pointed out yesterday (and others have in the comments here), if people do focus on one-time purchases that's a good thing: It means there will be a focus on creating content for people to purchase. That sounds like a good thing to me. :)

hound wrote:
Is there any reason why I should spend money and time on either of these games?

As far as DDO goes, the only thing you're out is your download time if you don't like it. I've played a few dozen hours in the game so far, and all for free.

LotRO is another story. Perhaps if you really like Middle Earth I'd recommend it. If you're not a LotR fan, then it might hold less interest for you. LotRO is the only MMO my better half has shown any interest in, so I think that's saying something.

Personally, even though I've gone to great lengths to preserve one game, I've never bought into the theory that a game has to survive into perpetuity to be great. If Warner Bros. were to announce that LotRO is shutting down in a few months, I wouldn't regret my time I've spent in the game. It was still a great experience for the months I have played.

My thoughts.

Green Armadillo said...

Quoth Psychochild: "It's going to take a lot more to make me lose interest in the game after I've invested into it."

I don't disagree, the question is whether that plus a buck will buy the devs a copy of the morning paper. :)

Borror0 said...

Tolero, DDO's Senior CM, has stated that they will rely heavily on adding new content to generate a constant stream of revenues. Be it new features (like Veteran Status), new dungeons, new classes (favored souls and monk), new races (half-orc soon) or cosmetics (hair color, funny hats, etc.).

Also, don't forget that they still have subscriptions!

Yes, they do have a pressure to keep adding new content but it's not like it would be easy for Turbine to be unable to keep up. Yes, the longterm veterans might stop paying but by that point they have already forked $170+ dollars to Turbine to buy the whole game - and that is now, how much more expensive will it be in the future?

"The Warforged race for whatever reason failed to make the top 10"

The warforged race is less popular for four reasons:
1. Drows are a stable of D&D while WF are the new kids. Seriously, what serious geek does not know what drows are? The same can't be said about WF.
2. The WF race is unlocked to VIPs. As a result, VIPs don't need to buy the WF race. However, if the a VIP can still buy the drow race which is particularly attractive if you're starting on a new server on which you didn't unlock it yet.
3. The WF race has a penalty to healing spells. That can be off putting to some. It took a long amount of time for the race to be accepted among veterans, even.
4. Drow females are hot; WF females are identical to males.

Yeebo said...

I know that I personally am a lot more comfortable with one time purchases than buying consumables. In fact a FtP, even a good one, that doesn't offer any one time purchases that add value to my account tends to get nothing at all from me. See Allods Online.

As to which game might be in trouble, I doubt either is going anyplace. The real question is whether either game is generating sufficient revenue to support ongoing development of new content.

Based soley on the pace at which new content appears, DDO would seem to be doing better. It also has a heck of a lot more players on the ground in game. Even when I head into areas you have to pay for, I'm seeing a lot of players.

Both of those metrics are flawed of course. DDO depends on new content to sell for revenue more than LoTRO does, and FtP MMO tends to have a screaming ton of players in the free areas. As to there being players in the paid content, after running some alts up a few levels you'll have enough points to buy one of the low level content packs (whether you buy points or not).

Tesh said...

"part of the reason people like the cash shop method is that push to add extra content"

Exactly. It's a lovely feedback loop; I buy content but no fluff or consumables, and the devs have every reason to keep providing content to sell. That's what I feel they should have been focusing on all along.

...yes, that's simplistic, but since I'd much rather buy content than time, I like the direction that business trend is leaning.