Monday, September 19, 2011

Will Even Free Get Me Into DCUO?

John Smedley is off on a PR tour to try and make the case that DCUO's seemingly overdue conversion to a free to play model is in response to "player feedback" from PS3 players - which was loud and clear before the game ever launched - rather than a desperation move born of underwhelming performance.  In recent months, the game has: 
  • Completed its merge down to the smallest number of servers the regional (US/EU) and platform (PC/PS3) restrictions will allow (4)
  • Introduced a RMT cash shop, to zero outcry that I saw anywhere because no one seems to be covering this game
  • Announced plans to charge an additional $10 fee, on top of the fees for the disc and the subscriptions, for a Green Lantern-themed patch that was presumably intended to coincide with the movie in June.  When Champions Online tried the same trick similarly soon after launch, shock and outrage forced Cryptic to reverse their decision. SOE reversed their course at the last minute with little fanfare - apparently having already realized that even the monthly fee was too much of an ask for many players, especially on the PS3 - when the patch finally launched this month.  
According to the obligatory FAQ, all of the game's current leveling content will be 100% free to download and play.  To the extent that the current content of the game is worth paying for, having all this content available for $0 to download and $0 in monthly fees may be an attractive deal, especially to the PS3 players who apparently make up 75% of the game's current audience.  Functional, completely free games that come with a prominent license to boot are not easy to come by for the console gamer. 

Whether the change actually results in more revenue is a separate question.  As nearly as I can tell, the restrictions on free players (upgraded permanently to "premium" with virtually any purchase - possibly including use of Station Cash balances from other games on the PC side) are things that I wouldn't care about as a tourist come to solo to the cap and then leave.  Character slots only matter if you're rolling alts (which I don't plan to), inventory slot restrictions can be dealt with (especially on a character you're not keeping around in the long term), and only the currency restriction sounds like a potentially significant issue. 

Ironically, this change fails to address the biggest complaint I've had about the business model since its launch - I want to be able to play the game on my large-screen TV with stereo sound and PS3 controller in hand, but I'm not sure I want to shackle my account to a device that sits in my TV room when I spend so much of my time elsewhere with my laptop.  I would have paid for this game if I had been able to share one account across the two platforms.  Instead, I'm still going to remain conflicted even after the game is free, because I'd still be forced to choose a platform to invest my time in.


Straw Fellow said...

"to zero outcry that I saw anywhere because no one seems to be covering this game"

I got this feeling too.

I feel as though DCUO's unpopularity comes from the fact that it saddles a space between console and PC, and therefore makes concessions for both sides that makes the other one cringe. The unalterable UI and lack of mouse control on the PC turns off many MMO enthusiasts on that side, and the extremely small chat box (had to sit two feet from the screen to read it properly) and monthly fee turns off many PS3 owners.

It's not a bad game though. It's a very well polished action oriented theme-park, with characters and plots many comic book fans would enjoy. I hope the F2P conversion brings in more people. I'm willing to pop in every once in a while myself. But I fear it will still lay in obscurity.

Green Armadillo said...

It does seem like odd decisions were made. I don't own a keyboard for my PS3, I don't own a gamepad for my PC, and regardless of which platform I use, I won't have the four hands required to use both sets of tools at once. In the short run, I think the PS3 player gets the better deal in a better play experience, but I can't imagine chatting with the PSN virtual keyboard. No means of establishing social ties is not going to help retention in an MMO.

The pricing model has felt similarly out of place from day one; a console player might pay $60 for the disc and $7-8 per DLC pack, so perhaps it would be possible to get $60-75 worth of value out of a month or two of subscription, but, again, it was never clear how they expected to deliver $15 worth of content every month, even before the layoffs.

Even so, separate servers for the platforms is what irks me, because that should have been a solve-able problem between two divisions of the same corporation. The devs confirmed that there was no technical limitation, which means that the dispute was almost certainly a disagreement on how to split revenue (e.g. what happens with Station Pass users who want to play on the PS3). That's a pretty sorry reason to split the playerbase up, especially now that populations have dwindled. I can't imagine that there's going to be much interest in console MMO's anytime soon after seeing how poorly this went for SOE within their own parent company.

Yeebo said...

I do fear that this pretty much shot most currently planned console MMOs in the head. There are a lot of MMOish things that have done well on consoles, Phantasy Star Online and Borderlands come to mind. But so far no full featured MMOs.

Stabs said...

There's some interesting psychology here in that you'd play a PS game because you have a PS and you'd play a PC game because you'd have a PC but you won't play a game that gives you the choice.

Isn't it the case for most of your other games that you can only play them on one platform?

Green Armadillo said...

@Stabs: Interesting perspective.

Until now, the primary issue with the PS3 version was that there was no way I was going to be able to handle the monthly fee efficiently (i.e. play through the game as fast as practical and then cancel) because the setup was not portable. My objection to the PC side has been and continues to be that I view the game as primarily a PS3 game that I would rather play on the PS3 whenever possible (which is not as often as I would prefer due to the portability question).

Given the new business model, I think you're correct that the PS3 version (which is 3 times more populated anyway) is the rationally correct play.

Tesh said...

I'll try it out. The baffling thing to me is that they didn't start this way. As you rightly note, the feedback from PS3 owners was crystal clear from the outset. It's not rocket science to figure out that console owners haven't contracted the subscription Stockholm Syndrome yet.

Video Game Philosopher said...

With COH going F2P; it would take a lot more than just free levelling content to get me into its a SOE game, which just leaves me feeling dirty.

Bronte said...

This post is why I am waiting for Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and Dust 541.

First that will settle the age-old debate of which group is a better shooter. Second, it will open the door for cross-platform playability. Finally, it might give us the opportunity to finally be able too play the same game on the same account across multiple platforms. I think it is ridiculous that if a friend has an Xbox another a PlayStation, and I have a kickass PC, and we all pay for the same game, none of us can still play together.


Bhagpuss said...

I played it from beta through about two months after launch. It's a very enjoyable game, lots of content, good PvP, loads of fun.

The UI is awkward and the chat system is probably the worst I've ever seen, but if you have any affection at all for the DC Universe you'll find it time well spent.