Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Lesson In Pay To Win

I spent most of the last few evenings working on Runes of Magic's triple exp weekend.  (Yes, the high end exp curve is set in a way that you can literally triple exp awards.)

My primary class (Druid) had been sitting at level 53 for some time while I worked on my secondaries (first Rogue, then Warden).  As I pushed on past level 55 - occasionally called the start of the real game due to increased exp requirements and steeper gear curves - I decided I was willing to spend $5 to see what the game is like for the pay-to-win crowd. 

What I got for my money was disappointing, and the way in which Frogster delivered it makes me seriously question whether I should trust them with my money in the future. 

Note the exp curve - 5.3 million exp for level 50, 11.6 million exp for level 53, and 25.5 million exp for level 57.  Exp gains for content do not increase nearly so quickly.

A Bad Purchasing Experience
I had about $5 in diamonds left on my account from a sale last summer, in which I had deliberately left myself a bit of spending money.  That money had not been spent since for lack of anything that I wanted to spend it on.  Other than permanent mounts, the entire contents of the cash shop are either time-limited rentals (e.g. storage) that don't make sense for infrequent players or pay-to-win consumables. 

The one thing that would genuinely improve my quality of life would be permanently expanded storage.  I'd willingly pay $5-10 to buy an extra tab outright.  Unfortunately, the only way to obtain permanent storage tabs is to gamble - you purchase a lottery ticket called a Gasha with diamonds (that cost real money) and you get some consumables along with an undisclosed chance of obtaining the item you want (in this case, a backpack).  My back of envelope math based on the forum thread about this weekend's gashas puts the drop rate around 10-15%.  Readers with an understanding of probability can probably see how this can end very poorly.

Despite a semester of statistics in grad school, I decided that I was willing to spend precisely $5.50 - the existing credit on my account plus a chunk of an additional $5, which would leave me with enough diamonds to buy a horse for an alt later - on some daily quest tickets with the low chance of getting a backpack.  Frogster's touted new payment provider ended up muddling this plan, by taking something like 36-48 hours after my purchase to deliver the diamonds. 

This delay, allegedly for a manual review for fraud, is unacceptable in a business model that routinely runs sales for a single day at a time.  This particular sale was still going when the diamonds finally arrived, but Frogster's EULA and Customer Service are very clear that there are no refunds given for situations in which their payment provider fails to deliver the promised currency before the end of the sale.  Effectively, they can deliver your pizza two days after you wanted to eat dinner, and you still have to pay for it because they eventually delivered you something you can use later. 

I had heard rumors of similar issues with delivery in the past, but I did not have issues over the summer (when I paid through a third party provider, Zeevex).  If these are the terms of doing business with Frogster America, there is a very good chance that I have done my last business with them. 

What I got
So, I ended up stopping at 3 daily quest ticket gashas, which turned into four daily quest reset tickets and (as is predictable) no backpack in exchange for roughly $4.12.  I redeemed three of these over the course of the weekend, obtaining as much exp as I could have earned by doing ten dailies per day for nine days straight (or some smaller number of quests over a longer period). 

The ROM exp curve heavily biases quest completion over mob kills, in part because there is no stopping players from grinding mobs.  I don't tend to play ROM every day, and I have routinely ended a play session with two or more days' worth of backlogged daily quests to turn in.  Where daily quest tickets suddenly become very valuable is when exp is tripled for one weekend only.  With each level 50 daily in Xaviera suddenly awarding over 750K experience, the three tickets that I used during the weekend translated into at least one level for my Druid, just as she hits the point where the exp curve starts to get really steep.   
Butterfly raid
As an aside, there was a very interesting subculture with these dailies.  Though the content is soloable, the quests can be completed in a raid group.  This becomes necessary because there are not enough spawns to go around.  The result was that all weekend long there were one or more raid groups farming butterflies in Xaviera, presumably burning daily quest tickets all the while.  (Some players were financing this habit by looking for players to gift them tickets in exchange for gold.) 

Unfortunately, I have to rate the actual gameplay experience as a disappointment.  For one long weekend, the rate of advancement in high level ROM was accelerated to a rate that I would consider reasonably fun.  I would gladly pay some amount of money to have that same experience on days that aren't triple exp bonus weekend.  I'm less impressed by the opportunity to spend $4 to spend more time stomping solo butterflies in a raid group for unreasonably large amounts of exp towards an even more unreasonable exp curve. 

What I did instead
Out of a small army of alts, I was able to find a female character who is actually wearing something that passes for clothing.

In the mean time, I ran a fair amount of the non-repeatable content on my main, advancing from 53 Druid/50 Warden/50 Rogue to 57 D/53 Wd/50 R on the remaining quests of Xaviera and the Weeping Coast.  This was fun. 

I also leveled five different alts, most of which had been parked around 10/10/0 from when I was trying out classes, to 25/25/25.  Coast of Opportunity is very good for this on bonus weekend - I'd say it took about 60-90 minutes per alt, a bit longer for the one alt I rolled up from scratch.  This was fun, and it positions me to test drive a ton of dual class elite skills I haven't had access to previously, as I try to see which one, if any, I'd like to stick with for another long term character. 

(Interestingly, permanent mounts have actually been reduced in price since last I checked, perhaps because it is the one thing in the cash shop that you really should have for all characters.  Because I spent fewer diamonds than I had planned thanks to the payment provider snafu, I can probably buy horses for two different alts the next time there's a sale, if I'm so inclined.) 

All of these things were reasonably fun, and ironically did not cost me any real world money.

The Irony of Pay to Win
The end result of this deal is that I basically purchased 1-2 levels' worth of exp. I don't look at my character as tainted or feel that this transaction was morally wrong.  It also clearly is not imbalancing to the game, to the extent that grinding the dailies was so popular. 

Even so, I'm extremely unlikely to ever do this again.  Not because I'm ticked at the company for customer service issues or because of moral outrage on behalf of the purity of the game.  The problem I have with pay to win is that, to the extent that the game is fun to play, paying to get out of playing the game is pointless.  On the flip side, to the extent that the game is NOT fun to play, paying to win is equally pointless. 


Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Huh, that's too bad. It surprises me that companies don't put a higher priority on getting things like this right. I worried a while ago while preaching the virtues of free-to-play model that it was likely that larger companies would "do it wrong". There were some problems with Frogster a while ago, maybe this type of service is part of the problem?

But, I completely agree with your conclusion, and it's the reason why people who "hate 'pay to win'" are barking up the wrong tree. The game has to be fun in the first place before you can get money out of people. If a game is fun, then reasonable people have no problem forking out a bit of cash. But, squeezing too hard is going ot piss off customers in the short term; it's a foolish business decision.

Anyway, thanks for sharing your experiences. I don't have time to play ROM, but I do enjoy reading about it on here.

Yeebo said...

I had a similar problem with Allods Online when I played it. The progression as quite smooth to a point (very WoWish), but you would eventually hit a soft cap where further progression became grindy..much as what you have experienced at 50 in ROM. Word on the street is that my issue in AO has been at least somewhat alleviated, but I haven't been back to check it out yet.

Bhagpuss said...

This is where F2P games work for me. I like low-level play and generally my interest wanes once I hit that inevitable point where, as you describe, the rate that you gain experience begins to diverge sharply from the amount of experience you are asked to gain.

I played both RoM and Allods in beta. In RoM, which I initially enjoyed, if I remember correctly I had already lost interest before I reached the mid-teens. That was when I saw that I'd have to dailies to progress and I had no interest in that. Allods was much better. I got to level 27 and would have got further had the beta not ended. It was mainly a lack of desire to start again from scratch so soon that led to me not playing Allods when it went Live.

In either case, though, the real problem would have arisen not if I didn't enjoy the game, but if I did. At that point, if a game required me to pay for content and/or character or account development, like LotRO, W101 and EQ2X, that would be fine. If I had to play just in order to get through a normal day's play in an entertaining manner, for example by raising xp gain to a level I could enjoy, that would be unacceptable and I'd find another game.

There still seems to be little consensus among companies on how best to go about getting our money while keeping us satisfied.