Friday, August 20, 2010

DDO Free Players Don't Reach Endgame?

"Here's a fun fact: The vast majority of high level characters are on accounts that were created way way before free to play launched. Those bad PUGS at high level? Same people you were playing with before September 2009."
 - DDO Developer Tarrant

DDO is often held up as the pinnacle of what can be accomplished with a transition to a free to play model.  New players came to the game, bringing more revenue.  The game retains a very high ratio of players who are actually spending money on the game, even though access to the world is free.  However, it appears that us new free players (the highest character on my five-month-old account is level 6 out of 20) are not reaching the level cap.

Some of this makes sense based on the game's payment model.  DDO (and soon LOTRO) are called free to play, but effectively charge players per content (whether you pay via a monthly sub or one time quest/adventure pack purchases).  This is a difference from traditional free to pay models (see Runes of Magic) that don't charge for content, and it means that there are some financial barriers between new players and max level.

The long term challenge, though, is what you do if indeed your population begins to skew more and more heavily towards the low levels over time.  You're not going to stop developing high level content that you were working on before you went F2P (e.g. LOTRO's Enedwaith zone, high level content in F2P DDO's early updates), but knowing that high levels make up a smaller and smaller proportion of your playerbase is bound to affect the direction of future content.

15 comments:

Longasc said...

Yeah, and I am afraid it will affect development for late game content. And this is where I am usually. I am not that casual.

Tanek said...

With DDO, I think the developers have already started adding content that takes into account the numbers of new players at lower levels. In addition to the new difficulty setting on some quests that bring them up to level 20, content can be put in at low levels and allowed to scale in jumps to cover mid- and high-level players as well. I don't know that people will see it as the best solution, but at least it gives the devs some options for adding content that spans different groups of players.

LotRO does not seem to have that luxury. The current design of the game (and the progression of the story in general) requires growth at the top and leaves little room for anything new to be added at the bottom. It will be interesting to see how things play out with the population once the new model has been in place for a time.

Keen said...

I'm just going to say what I feel needs to be said: Free to play is garbage. There.

Very nice find here Green Armadillo. It just illustrates everything that I'm constantly saying/beating my head against the wall about.

Longasc's comment is very true and is threaded deep within my point as well. Free to play DOES impact the gameplay, even indirectly.

Indy said...

OTOH, DDO seems a much harder-core game than LOTRO does. It's certainly interesting, especially to D&D players, but on reflection the quest-only (instance) xp model -- that reduces xp gains for repetition -- as well as other harder core design decisions, may explain the lack of progression for a good chunk of the playerbase.

Doesn't make it a bad game, but if the goal is to get most players to endgame, than I suggest that the game needs to be more casual friendly. (Which is the trend in MMO's since WoW, of course, which itself has gone further that direction each expansion.)

My impression has been that a lot of D&D players seem to think the mid-levels more fun or interesting than the high levels, and that I'm sure carries over to DDO in their playing style. If you go back, most of TSR's modules were for mid-level, not high.

Green Armadillo said...

@Tanek: The fact that there are larger numbers of low level players was relatively predictable, since new players start at low levels. I just would have expected them to begin to make a dent in the ranks of higher level players as well.

@Indy: There are two separate issues with the mid levels in DDO at the moment. The first is that the newbies aren't getting to the teens, while the veterans have already gotten past them. This means limited, grindy options because it's not cost efficient to work on that level range.

The second issue, which is even harder to fix, is that hit rate and armor class mechanics increment in steps of 5% at a time in the DND rules. Being well-rounded ceases to matter at high levels because these mechanics become all-or-nothing. The game does not do enough to warn low-level players that this will occur later and/or help them overcome it.

Brad said...

I've also been playing DDO for about 6 months. My highest level character just hit level 11. I suspect that the typical f2p player is more casual, so we take more time to get to cap (I'm always amazed when vets talk about getting a new character to cap in a week or two).

Additionally, it's easy to make a poor character in DDO until you've played a little more, so I suspect a fair number of the newer players end up re-rolling as they progress.

Also, the variety of the possible character builds promotes having alts.

I suspect a reasonably large percentage of f2p players will get to cap, just that it's taking a longer time for them to get there.

When you read the forums and find that some of the vets have 10-20 capped toons, it's not terribly surprising that they are still the vast majority of the high level characters. They've been playing for 4 yrs and based on the forum sample, tend to be power gamers.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

I've been playing my account for about five months now, and my highest level character is level 9. I think that part of the issue here is that since the subscription isn't required, there's less incentive to rush to the top. I play in Massively.com's once a week group, an alt I run with some of the people there, once a week with my GF on a different server, and I've puttered around with a few other characters solo on various servers.

Unlike other games, I don't feel the need to play compulsively, because I know the game will most likely still be there if I don't get around to playing more than those few times per week. The clock isn't ticking away on a subscription. (Not that it makes a huge difference, I'm still paying for LotRO despite not logging on very often.)

I'll disagree with Keen. I think DDO is one of my current favorite games. We'll see if LotRO's conversion next month treats my other favorite game well.

Stabs said...

I have got a lot of fun out of DDO without getting a character past 12.

High levels are overrated. Even in WoW, which I played for years in a rather hardcore way, many of my fondest memories are not at max level.

Cold said...

Too many idiots spend all there Turbine Points on gimmicks and fluff items instead of saving them and buying new modules when they are on sale.
Cold
of
Faction Grinders

Yeebo said...

Most MMOs fall flat on their face for me once I cap. I can count the PvM exceptions on one finger, and even that game ran out of fun solo options roughly six months after I capped.

I violently disagree with Keen that all FtP MMOs bite. It's an economic model that can be done well (see DDO, Wizard 101, and Guild Wars) or poorly (see Allods Online, apparently EQIIX even though I have not yet tried it, and seemingly hundreds of Korean Grinders). It's not as if there aren't a ton of sub based MMOs that bite. Keen's fickle wanderings through MMMO space are a case in point from a random player perspective.

On DDO, I think Turbine is wise to focus their next new content at the mid levels. I have two level nines now, and quite frankly the game falls on it's face there. It becomes much harder to figure out where to go and what to do next once you get past level 7 or so, particularly as a new player.

You can use the global list of quests to find things. I've bought all of the low and mid level quest packs so I qualify for all of them near my level. However, most of them recommend a "balanced party." If you are playing a solid solo build (mostly any toon with decent offense and good self heals as far as I can tell) the only way to figure out if that means it's (1) dead easy to solo, (2) possible to solo but hard as hell, or (3) impossible to solo ...is to stick your head in and try it. That leads to an hour of your life set on fire more often than I'd like.

Dblade said...

They don't make a dent, because a majority of them leave or play DDO in rotation with other games, slowing progress to a crawl. To reach cap as a newbie generally you need to stick to one game for an extended period of time and put in a decent amount of hours per week.

Either that, or buying content at midgame levels isn't working, and people are playing the game trying to spend little or no money. They drop it when they hit the Cash Shop Limit-where you need to spend real life money or the game slows too much to be enjoyable.

Either way it's ironic he trumpets this as a response to the community. Having few new players ever reach cap is worse than having many bad ones.

Tesh said...

If the less-than-capped players are still having fun, and the company is still making money... what's the problem again?

Back to Longasc, perhaps; late game players want more content. Fair enough. And yet, if the company doesn't make as much money developing for the endgame, is it really a mystery that they don't focus there? Maybe, just maybe, they are making the bulk of the game better for the bulk of the players. That's smart business... but yeah, it sucks if you're an outlier on the demand curve.

Winter said...

Keen is such a damned whiny baby...

Anyways, as numerous other people have said, F2P DDO means that you don't need to play as often as "time rich" Keen does to get value from the game.

Static groups as I and my friends have that play once a week are great fun, get great value from the game and are fairly slow to level. Who cares? We are having fun and don't have to pay much for the privilege.

Also, as Tanek pointed out, DDO is in a good position in that their content scales well over a number of levels. Mid level missions can easily be a challenge over a level range or 4-5 levels depending on difficulty. You also then have the option of Epic difficulty once you hit level cap. As you progress through the difficulty level everything scales up, harder content (and not just enemies with more Health, they also do different things), more XP and more loot.

It is a far better situation than you find in a game like WoW. In DDO, you can make new things for lower levels (the last few packs have been level 5, level 8, level 9) that also have epic content for the end game. Best of both worlds. As opposed to WoW where once you are past the level of the content it is useless except for your alts.

Ian said...

Tesh,

The problem is raiders whine.

But thats fine, because their money is as good as anyone else's.

Making content most players dont ever see just doesnt make sense in a hybrid model.

Anonymous said...

Firstly

you can certainly get past level 6 on a free account. It isn't even hard to do.

Secondly, I play VIP and have a couple of sort of auxillary free acounts I use for storage and other reasons. And yes, getting to level 20 on an FTP account is freaking crazy.

You'll only have 2 char slots on your main server unless you buy more with the pitiful amount of TP you earn for getting favor. And when are you gonna find time for it anyhow what with having to buy a bunch of adventure packs, a class, and a race or two.

Oh, You'll want a shared bank too or a lot of really nice loot you get goes toally to waste.

But yes, getting to level 20 on this game... they designed it so that there is sort of a leveling superhighway where at any given level there are one or two dungeons that give a prodigious amount of experience, something like 4 or 5 times the exp of other quests in the level range. If you want to see what that looks like google star's path ddo. Basically you do these over and over up to ten or more times each and they are mostly sprinkled through many adventure packs that cost TP. even if you could do the EXP Highway on a free account, when you went back and started doing the early quests you skipped to get the favor, you'd have to do them three times to get the max favor on FTP or Premium vs only once on VIP.

I agree the deck is heavily stacked against an FTP player ever making it in this game.