Monday, August 29, 2011

End of the PAX Turbinica?

MMO News during the first half of my vacation was interesting enough to lure me out of hiding for a round-up post.  Spinks has a good summary of the news out of PAX week, which seemed like a slower convention by comparison.  What caught my eye was a pair of seemingly unrelated posts that suggest the honeymoon may be over for Turbine's touted and popular hybrid free to play business model.

Underwhelming DDO and LOTRO updates
Over in Middle Earth, players are concerned with what they're getting for their money in LOTRO's new expansion.  Syp's column at Massively calls Isengard "the Unfinished Expansion" and writes that it "feels a little weak" in comparison to the game's previous paid updates.  Turbine's CM's had to rush to head off a controversy by confirming that there would be no additional charge for the level 75 instances that would not be ready by the players who pay full price at the expansion's launch. 

Meanwhile, seemingly the biggest news for DDO out of PAX was that the new Artificer class will initially be limited to players who pay in the cash store.  The class will eventually be available as a favor unlock (think reputation or faction reward), but there will not be enough quests in the game to obtain the required favor until the next patch, which will presumably come 2-3 months after the class rolls out.  Non-subscribers should be relatively accustomed to this aspect of the DDO business model, but this marks the first time that subscribers will be forced to spend Turbine Points for access to a major character-building feature. 

Double-edged popularity?
One one level, I'm not sure how many stones should be thrown in this situation.  Both games are still delivering far more content to players than they were before their changeovers, and the premium options in both games allow players far greater flexibility to get by for less than $10-15 per month.  I would still prefer to pay a developer when they actually deliver something worth paying for, rather than paying a monthly fee whether or not they've done anything to earn it other than not kicking me off of the servers. 

That said, I think these two stories illustrate a shared flaw in the premium model used by both games, and one of my earliest observations of the DDO model - for a player who doesn't spend money on cosmetics and consumables, Turbine's monthly revenue will only drop each and every month as that player permanently unlocks the features they want and lives without the features they don't want.  This bargain is precisely the feature that makes the Turbine premium model so popular with players, but it leaves Turbine getting less and less money for the same amount of work as the playerbase matures.

In this context, it makes sense that Turbine would be interested in some combination of higher prices and less content.  Unfortunately for Turbine, players may not cooperate, and the flexibility of the models give players unprecedented leeway not to pay for stuff that isn't worth the price tag. 


Stabs said...

I think the best business plan for Turbine has to be to simply accept that DDO in particular will dwindle and bring out new games while supporting the old ones as more or less a goodwill gesture.

Accept that income will come as a bell curve and that both these mmos are past the peak of the curve. Trying to offset profit declines by decreasing value will just see people leave with bitterness.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Turbine's sin in both cases is trying to double-dip. In LotRO's case, they want the benefits of the free-to-play model with the benefits of the subscription model. I no longer play LoTRO because I was tired of feeling like they were trying to squeeze more money out of me. As I've said before, the point where I broke was when there was a cosmetic tailor recipe that was store only. Sure, I could save up my trickle of points to buy it for my one tailor character, but that meant I wasn't spending those points on something else.

The Artificer class is the same problem in DDO. Currently, being a subscriber means you get access to pretty much everything, with few exceptions. The only thing you don't get is the Favored Soul class, so I guess there's precedent. But, still, it feels like they're trying to squeeze a bit of extra cash out of people in this move. There's also the Death Knight syndrome to consider, where the Artificer seems intended to be super-cool and powerful, so the power gamers will want it badly.

Overall, it's a negative sign of things to come. We'll see how things fall out, but it's not comforting to the fans.

Helistar said...

I agree completely with the problem.

I play LotRO, I started and got VIP for a few months. I ended up with Turbine points which I used to buy some expansions (adding another 20E I think). Then I ran out of things I need....
I don't care about special unique cosmetics: there's a ton of gear ingame which can be used to build nice-looking outfits.
I've leveled past the quest zones I never bought.
I've gotten the guilds I need, and unlocked the AH slots I use for money-making.

Honestly, I would not know what to spend the points on. So I let the VIP expire (I think I had 3 months total) and, up to now, I don't even see WHY I would need to take it again....

Of course this is good for me: even if I rarely play, I can just log in and play whenever I want, something which on WoW would be impossible. But as a revenue source for Turbine, I don't exist and apart from buying Isengard I risk being worth very little to them.

Anonymous said...

In lotro there's been a clear escalation of products available in the store which are aimed at trying to stop the free TPs that subscribers get each month from getting too big and also to encourage even subscribers to buy additional TPs. The progression has gone something like +10/20/30 stat tomes, followed a few months later by +40/50 tomes, then relic removal scrolls (along with changing a previous mechanic which automatically removed relics), legendary item and cosmetic slot unlocks and store-exclusive end-game relevant relics. And Turbine have also done something very sneaky with the expansion - the instance cluster, which by right should be a part of the expansion and is only not because they're rushing an unfinished product, is only bundled with the expack if you buy it with real $$ (either through pre-ordering or through the outside-game Turbine store). If you buy it with TPs, say the ones you had saved up from your VIP subscription before you let it lapse, you will have to buy each of these 5 instances separately at ~$4/each in addition to the xpack.

Anonymous said...

My problem with the consumable stuff that Turbine sells in LoTRO, that would soak up Turbine Points if I ever bought it, is that it's all about strengthening your character, optimising your build, reducing downtime, and making the content go by faster.

The problem with that is I already don't play on my lifetime account because the rest xp makes things go too fast for me.

The consumable items I would actually pay for would be ones that remove chunks of XP so I go slower, and ones that nerf me for a period when fighting grey mobs and doing grey quests, so that that content was more fun.

Consumables that let me extend the life of the existing content, rather than reducing the life of the existing content.

Obviously I'm more than a bit strange, but plenty of games come with hard modes or higher difficulty levels, so I don't think I'm entirely out there. But such things do seem very alien to people running the current F2P models.