Thursday, March 10, 2011

Catering to Subscribers and F2P in DDO

While all of this Rift stuff has been going on, DDO had its fifth birthday party.  The shindig introduced a new pirate-themed world event, featuring an original quest in which players lead a party of comic NPC kobold miners in search of crystals and adventure.  I didn't really feel like taking the time this weekend, so I logged in for long enough to redeem my pirate hat voucher and stick it in my bags for future upgrading.

(The sheer amount of work that went into this event makes its eventual return pretty much certain.) 

Judging from the coverage on DDOCast and DDO Cocktail Hour, there are a few interesting things about this event.
  • As Tipa observed, this is still a free to play game, and the event was accordingly designed to invite cash store purchases.  I don't know if it was mandatory to pay to play, but it certainly sounds like the podcasters spent some Turbine Points on the festivities.
  • Perhaps more troubling, the DDO store recently got cosmetic armor skins that could be applied over lackluster armor to improve its appearances.  Predictably, people were underwhelmed by the appearances of the event armor. 

  • Unlike the Mabar event last fall, this event added a scaling quest (the Kobold mining event) that actually awards exp.  For the most part, DDO does not hand out exp just for killing mobs indiscriminately, so this was a welcomed change.
The last point is potentially interesting and problematic because a big part of the premium business model is that non-subscribers need to pay for level-appropriate content to obtain the exp needed to reach the cap.  To the extent that players are able to get in without paying (which I can't judge, because I didn't try), having an event that awards exp at any and all levels could cost Turbine a lot of money.  As a result, this particular bit of fun and unique content will need to be locked away in the vault, only to emerge when the sales of festival goodies outweigh the potential losses in sales of leveling content. 

Beyond this specific event, the content scaling issue impacts Turbine in each and every patch.  Longtime subscribers generally want new content that scales for their high or max level characters.  Newer players often have a need for more low to mid-level content (though really the low levels are pretty well covered at this point).  One suggested solution has been to have content that is more flexible on level ranges, and now we finally have a quest that can scale from level 1 to level 25... but it can't stay in the game without breaking the business model.  It's going to be interesting to see whether attempting to run two business models at once has painted Turbine into a corner on this issue. 


    Yeebo said...

    I didn't manage to get on for the event either. It looked interesting.

    Word on the forums was that you could get extremely powerful items out of the event, as well as enough platinum that the economy went haywire on most of the servers due to the event.

    Espoire said...

    I had the opportunity to check it out personally. I didn't spend a single turbine point on the event, and came away with a bunch of equipment comparable to endgame raid gear, some extremely powerful to the point of being unbalancing bind-to-account low-level gear, and 450,000 platinum. (What Yeebo says about this being enough to send the economy on my server haywire is completely true. I had accumulated maybe 50,000 platinum over the previous two months.) These were the rewards given to a level 13 that spent one weekend on the event, and the consensus was that playing at max-level was significantly more-rewarded than other level ranges.

    While there were some cash shop items offered in association with the event, I can confidently say that all of them were completely unnecessary to participate in the event, all of them were available as random loot from the event, and the harder-to-find ones offered a rather limited advantage.

    I think if this event made them any money at all, it was in the form of "setting the hook," to use a fishing metaphor. I think their purpose was to try and convince tourist players who had recently joined the game that it was fun and accessible, so they would stay with the game for a longer period of time, and thus consider spending money on it.

    Espoire said...

    Oh, and I forgot to mention, the experience rewards were small to the point of being virtually nonexistent. They were in no danger of cheating themselves out of the sale of leveling content.

    Green Armadillo said...

    @Espoire: Lessah of DDO Cocktail hour said that she spent "her points budget for the next six months" on the event, so clearly some folks managed to spend money somehow. Also, I think one of the guests said said that they'd farmed up all of the possible loot, which presumably makes even a small exp reward add up (though this may matter less, since they're presumably VIP's). Obviously, these guys represent the extreme upper end of what players did during the event, and I'm glad to hear your account of what happened to a more average player.

    That aside, I'm curious what level you ran the event at? The podcasters were talking about setting the thing to level 25, so perhaps that affects the exp?

    Brad said...

    I did the event without spending any turbine points. I honestly don't know why anyone would spend many (if any) tp on event items.

    I am using some armor from the event, and would agree that it's not the nicest looking.

    My character was level 18 when the event started, 19 by the end. There was an xp bonus going at the same time. I think I would have gained much more xp if I'd done normal questing, but it was nice to get some xp while doing a fun event.

    I don't think the xp for doing the event will have much effect on people buying content. I expect the event to come back ocassionally, but not often enough that people can count on it to take level their characters. I agree that making quests in general that scale like this is doubtful for the same reasons you gave. Perhaps it will be used to make the difficulties more flexible than n/h/e in future adventure packs? I think it would still have an impact on their sales.

    Anonymous said...

    I agree with your thesis that managing two models is a challenge for Turbine.

    I recently felt the need to cancel my sub for LotRO due to the coming monetization of the game's LI system.

    Ultimately, I have to draw a line when my subscription doesn't pay for an update.

    Espoire said...

    @Green Armadillo: For the most part, the level we set the event to was dictated by the group I found myself in.

    The rules with regards to level choices were: if you personally are more then 5 levels different from the quest level, you personally get no rewards, although others in your group may. For each level, up to five, that the highest-level player in the group differs from the quest level, the crystal (currency used to buy the event items) and XP rewards would gain a penalty or bonus, based on whether the highest-level in the group is above or below the chosen level.

    Thus, we ran at whatever level the highest level present was, which varied from 12-16. (I went a couple times on a lower level character, who was group up with a level 12.)

    From my observations, I saw that the XP rewards scaled more dramatically with level difference than the crystal rewards did. So, running above group level might have made the XP significant, however, playing even two levels above my own led to extremely brutal combats, often with the party wiped towards the end of the mission. (The mission's success criteria did not require the players being alive, so wipes were not failed runs, and in fact, one of my most successful runs had us sitting around dead for 3.5 minutes at the end of it.)

    Brad said...

    To address some of the comments:

    I assume turbine will adjust some of the trade-in costs and plat values of some of the things in the event before it comes back. As items were upgraded, there were lots of gold dubloons left over with few things available to spend them on. The platinum value of those was relatively high and vendors would buy them, so some people made thousands of them and sold them. You either made lots of plat, stored lots of extra stuff until next time it comes, or threw away excess.

    I was level 18 or 19 and mostly did level 25 instances. I pugged during the event, and had no failed runs but seldom got max rewards. I think experienced players with a solid group almost always max'ed the rewards for a run.

    To understand my perspective: I recently hit level 20 with my first character after playing for almost exactly a year. I did play some alts a little, but not much - my next highest was level 8 at the time. I don't particularly care how much xp/min I get or how long it takes to reach cap. I'm probably undergeared (certainly undergeared by forum standards) as I haven't gotten into grinding for gear or GS crafting yet.

    I think the items are great for someone like me - undergeared casual players. For power-gamers, I think they are nice items to tide them over until they get the uber equipment they're grinding for, but won't replace much of the best gear. Since you could buy the items at various levels, they are also good twink gear.

    I upgraded one item to the highest level. From what I heard, serious players upgraded numerous items to that level. Also, those are the players who were able to make lots of platinum - the more you crafted, the more excess dubloons you had.