Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Buying Vs Renting In F2P EQ2 and LOTRO

While I was out, the NDA on the LOTRO F2P beta dropped, and we also got a few more details on EQ2's shift to F2P.  Both models are still in testing, and it appears that both are weighing what to do about buying character features versus renting them. 

EQ2E Class Rentals
Over on the EQ2 side, the game's producer confirms that it is not possible for non-subscribers to purchase access to the non-free classes.  Eight of the game's 24 subclasses are available to non-subscription free to play accounts.  For the moment, the remaining 16, including popular group classes like bards, shamen, and enchanters, are only available to subscribers. 

(In a minor nuance, players who pay the $35 fee to copy their characters from the existing traditional subscription version of EQ2 will be allowed to continue playing those characters as long as their EQ2 subscription remains active, even though they would not be able to create a new character of the same class in EQ2E due to not holding a subscription there.  Players who use SOE's all-access Station Pass will be considered subscribers to both services.) 

This is a very clunky and counterintuitive way to handle things, and Smokejumper concedes that even SOE's own marketing materials fail to adequately explain the split.  The entire selling point of the free to play service is not having to pay a recurring subscription.  If you're paying the $15 anyway, you're better off playing the subscription service, where you don't have to pay extra for things like the majority of the game's races (available in packs of 3 for $7.50) and aren't stuck on a server whose class balance will be overwhelmingly stacked towards the third of the game's classes that are actually available without a monthly subscription. 

I maintain that there is going to be significant buyer's remorse among players who invest time and money on the F2P side only to realize its limitations at endgame, and that this unproductive model arises solely from the need to keep current subscribers from ditching their fees

The LOTRO Beta Subscription Downgrade Paradox
Meanwhile, LOTRO is struggling with the same type of issue surrounding the game's free to play rollout.  The beta forums remain closed to the public, but the previously published account type chart illustrates some of the potential pitfalls in dealing with players with lapsed subscriptions (from before or after the F2P shift). 

Using updated prices from today's beta build, it would cost more than 1700 Turbine Points (about $17, plus or minus depending on sales and exchange rates) PER CHARACTER to unlock all of the various things that are locked for free players but not for subscribers.  This includes things like trait slots, the gold cap, the ability to ride mounts, and bags.  The ability to advance reputations is also sometimes gated by subscription status, either because the quests needed to do so require the purchase of quest access or because there's a physical unlock to purchase (in the case of crafting guilds). 

The thorny issue is what to do with characters who have already acquired these perks when their subscriptions lapse.  Apparently, the way it currently works allows players to keep everything they have at the time their subscription expires, if for no other reason than because the game would otherwise need to be set up to temporarily ignore traits and reputation levels based on subscription status. 

The result would be that a one month $15 subscription comes with 1700 TP worth of perks on as many characters as you have available at the time of the subscription (which would leave anyone who unwittingly pays the 1700 TP feeling like a sucker, since the one month sub also comes with 500 TP and a month of subscription access).  The alternative, though, is the path that EQ2 plans to use, where lapsed subscribers can't log into their characters because of lapsed perk rentals. 

The purpose of free to play?
For me personally, the entire point of having a free to play model is not having to remain shackled to a monthly fee.  This can be beneficial to the developers as well as the players, because it allows me to stay involved with games that would otherwise be on the back burner.  If I go from spending $45 per year for three months' subs (spread through the year as content is added) to spending $60/year in item shop currency, the developers win, and I'm not going to spend any currency on a game I'm not playing at all because of the monthly fee.

I don't have a problem with temporarily locking down features (though I can see how that approach is technically more challenging), but locking down characters kind of defeats the purpose. 


Yeebo said...

The way that SOE is approaching this sounds pretty horrific/ stupid. I don't mind buying a lifetime account piecemeal. However, a FtP account that is forever gimped in terms of class choices and end game gear becuase I refuse to sub isn't really a FtP account in any sense of the word. It's an unlimited time trial account at best.

I wouldn't have a problem with it if subbers on the FtP servers got the same benefits as subbers on the regular servers. But they don't. They still have to pay extra for races (at least) and classes (I'm assuming). No one sane that researches the game will seriously invest money in a FtP account. If you really like the game, set your level 20-50 FtP guy on fire and restart on AB, or get screwed by SOE...your choice.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

You know me, I'm a fan of item shop business model because it's sustainable for smaller games. But, I've always worried that when bigger companies latch onto it, they'll fuck things up. Oh, look....

I think SOE is mostly just screwing themselves here. The divide between the "normal" servers and the "extend" servers is going to dilute the playerbase. The "newbie hose" is going to effectively be turned off to the existing servers, and the faithful are going to feel hung out to dry. I suspect that SOE wouldn't mind that happening so that they can get more money out of the people interested in the "free" extended version of EQ2 than if they had signed up for a regular account.

For LotRO, I think Turbine is forgetting the KISS principle. Free DDO works because it's pretty simple, really. You can play for free, but you'll probably eventually want to buy some points unless your time is truly worthless to you. Adventure packs and character options are the main things you might want to buy.

The change for LotRO sounds like a lot of complication. Traits, gold limits, bags, mounts, etc. A lot of hassle to buy more stuff for all your characters, as you point out. I suspect that this isn't going to work out for Turbine quite as well as DDO did mostly because people might try the game then get confused or frustrated by all the little surcharges just to have a "normal" character.

The real purpose of a "free to play" game is that you bring in people for free. I admit it, I gave DDO a chance because it was "free" and I've ended up spending money and enjoying it. I had no interest in DDO before the "free" changeover, so they got me as a paying customer. I may not be quite as much of a cash-cow as a full subscriber is, but it's more money than they would have gotten otherwise. I think they need to focus on that aspect and not worry about trying to charge for a hundred little things. Keep it simple.

Longasc said...

I would like to second Brian there.

The VIP/Premium/Free chart is known for quite some time by now, but the prices were and still are largely unknown, buried due to the NDA no proper listings of the prices for certain things have surfaced yet.

F2P should drag people into playing and paying for a game, not chase them away.

Tipa on West Karana made an example how she tried to play for free and upgrade her free account through purchases to a somewhat "sub-level" experience. In the end they bought a lot of stuff and then still switched back to the subscription option -> she basically paid twice.

The "KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID" principle has a lot of truth to it. Nickle & dime-ing people too often while playing can also scare people away.

I will try to play for "free" with my Champion and unlock a slot for my bank/auction alt.

Stabs said...

Adding my voice to the choir.

A better worked out F2P for EQ2 would have been great for me. I really like the game in a number of ways. If there were no games around that grabbed me more I'd be happily playing it.

But I get distracted and end up resubbing to EQ2 only to find that after a few weeks levelling on my own I'm bored of it again. I'm too far behind to catch up to where the fun is.

EQ2E means that for someone casually interested in raiding like me I'd roll on the free server, play one of the 8 classes, over the next several months close in on max level, discover I was enjoying it enough to raid and sub then realise that I'm playing a class no one on the proper servers wants (because everyone who levels on EQ2E will be one of 8 classes).

I'm very likely to play it casually, I've always liked EQ2 but I simply don't see how I can translate playing casually for free into raiding with competent veterans. The newbie hose doesn't pour into the veteran pond.

Green Armadillo said...

In fairness to Turbine, the previous paid expansions throw a wrench into F2P LOTRO that they didn't have in DDO. I don't know how well the DDO model works if you have to give away permanent access to literally the entire endgame to every former subscriber who owns the current expansions.

There's also an issue on the repeatability of content. If you only play a single LOTRO character, you aren't going to repeat the overwhelming majority of the content. Even if the overall /played time is comparable for a zone's worth of LOTRO quests versus a similarly priced DDO adventure pack (only a handful of which are as expensive as current beta prices for LOTRO zones), it feels like you're getting more milage out of the DDO version because you can repeat each quest on higher difficulty levels.

Jayedub said...

EQ2X is still going to be f2p. With that said, having restrictions on gear usage and not having classes purchasable to free players does seem counter intuitive. I think I am finally seeing what your issues with the new service are.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Green Armadillo wrote:
In fairness to Turbine, the previous paid expansions throw a wrench into F2P LOTRO that they didn't have in DDO.

Eh, I don't think that's much of an issue. They had to deal with lifetime subs, too, but they worked out a pretty sweet deal for them. Plus, Turbine has already gotten money out of current subscribers for expansions.

As I said, the real bonus here is attracting new people to the game. The smart thing to do, in my opinion, would be to make sure that the people trying out LotRO for free get every opportunity to get a good deal and give Turbine money. That's what really worked for DDO, and I worry that they're ignoring that for LotRO.