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.