Wednesday, December 15, 2010

EQ2X Holiday Spirit Fail or Business Model Win?

The new addition to EQ2's Frostfell holiday this year is a daily quest that allows players to obtain Frozen Tokens of E'ci in a scaling solo instance.  This opens up access to a variety of housing and gear rewards that were previously restricted to the holiday's group content. 

Though there are a variety of potential consequences of this change - less reason to run the group content, and easier access to items that can compete with player crafting - you're reading this on PVD because Mr. Scrooge-jumper has literally left EQ2X non-subscribers with a bill for the contents of their Frostfell stockings. 

Major Change in EQ2X Subscription Philosophy?
Last week, SOE quietly made a major change to EQ2X's payment model.  Players can now "unlock" items and spell upgrades for use on their non-subscription accounts by paying for unlock tokens (currently sold in a bundle of 5 for $2.50).  This addresses the single largest failing of the game's model - players who wanted to pay money for the game without being locked into the $15 monthly fee could not gain access to Legendary and Fabled gear for any price. 

Legendary items are EQ2's equivalent of WoW's blue items and LOTRO's purples, and can be found on solo quests, faction reward vendors, and in the game's single group dungeons.  Completely locking down access to these items removed both the incentives to complete large portions of the game's content, and, in some cases, the gear that would be required to do so.  With this restriction in place, the game's model was effectively an extended free trial.  If you planned to advance beyond level 68 or ever complete group content, the only advantage to the free to play server was the ability to log into your character (who would have all their gear unequipped) for social reasons while your subscription is lapsed. 

With the new gear unlocks, the non-subscription option is a legitimate choice - one that will be a better deal for infrequent users and perhaps a worse deal for more frequent players (who were subscribing anyway).  If anything, I'm surprised to see prices so low.  $10 pays to unlock basically a full set of gear, which sounds like a lot during the leveling game, when you might gain 10+ levels a week, but is actually a pretty good deal at endgame - how often do you get so many gear upgrades in a month of dungeon running that you're going to burn through $15 worth of gear tokens? 

(The spell upgrade unlocks are less significant because players have always been allowed to continue using upgraded spells they gained while they were subscribers.  Another new addition allows players to unlock the final 2 bagslots on an individual character for $2.50 each). 

Paying for item inflation?
If I'd heard about this change before Frostfell hit, I would have been more positive about it.  I still think that this is a major improvement to the game's business model, and one that may succeed in getting me to spend more money on the game.

That said, we've now got a business model where SOE literally gets paid 50 cents every time they can convince a bronze or silver player that they want an item that's being offered in game.  I'd like to think that this isn't going to lead to massive item inflation (which will have an equal impact on the subscribers to the traditional EQ2 service), but SOE's record on the slippery slope of increasing monetization is not encouraging. 

(In other news, we learned that EQ2's new vampire race will not only be available for an extra fee, as I predicted, but will actually go on sale about a month and a half BEFORE it is given as a reward to loyal subscribers.)

It's going to be very interesting to watch the next year of EQ2 content - both in the Velious expansion and in any game updates targeted at lower level ranges - to see whether the game starts presenting players with legendary upgrades for every minor accomplishment in an attempt to sell more tokens.


mbp said...

Interesting move. I think that this is definitely preferable to just selling the items in the item shop. You still need to earn them in game as well as buy the token.

I can see the moral hazard for SOE to flood the game with locked items just to sell more tokens. As long as you also have to earn these items in game though I don't think that this will be a major problem. Casual players don't have the playing time to earn a whole lot of the rewards while more committed players have the option of a subscription.

I strongly believe that F2P games need to ensure that non subscribers can have full access to everything in the game on a pay as you go model. Therefore choosing to subscribe or not doesn't make you a different class of player it is just a payment choice. Casual players (of which there are many) are better suited by pay as you go while more committed players get a better deal by subscribing. This change by SOE seems a step in the right direction to me.

Starseeker said... Good write up, while the puritan in me who does not like F2P abhors the idea, I think with SOE's model it is a good move.