Thursday, March 15, 2012

You Are What You Sell

It seems these days that you can learn a lot about a game by examining what exactly it is in the business of selling.  MMO Studios are by their own admission still working out the kinks of non-subscription models.  One of these questions is what exactly the developer should be adding when they're making money off of what sells, where the more traditional subscription model would have been more concerned with what has an overall effect on the game experience.
  • As I mentioned yesterday, STO expanded its duty officer system in a way that expands the need for new types of officers that weren't previously in the game.  This sells more duty officer slot unlocks, possibly more inventory unlocks, and potentially the random duty officer packs in the cash shop.
  • After not having any new high level content in the November paid expansion box, the EQ2 team is rolling out a new zone with an increase in level cap in April's content patch.  A higher cap presumably means a complete gear reset, which means more gear unlock tokens for the non-subscriber. 
  • Part of DDO's expansion pre-order rollout is a new tome that persists through true resurrection and offers a hefty experience boost - a tome that's also available in the DDO store for a whopping 1595 Turbine Points.  (Regular tomes that boost stats have also been changed to persist through true reincarnation.)  The presale packs also include existing content.  It appears that Turbine sees the sale of content - and additional trips through that content on new characters (including the new class) - as one of the big draws of their game.  (In fairness, the wide-open class system does make this a selling point.)
  • When I look at something like Aion's free to play rollout with funny acronyms and nebulous details, I'm puzzled about what exactly it is they are selling (and why anyone would buy it). 
At the risk of picking on SOE (who seem to have an unfortunate habit of running into major issues that can't reasonably be blamed on the actual developers, such as their parent corporation selling the rights to the European service to a random German company or last year's hacking debacle), the catch is more with what does not get done.  Yes, EQ2's new patch has a fair amount of stuff in it, but the game is also now down to three scheduled updates this year - barely above Blizzard's notorious slow pace, but Blizzard's base releases have way more content to start with. 

The issue is that it is very hard to show any short term return on the marginal investment of putting more effort towards content patches.  By contrast, it's very easy to show increased revenue from adding some new microtransaction or whatnot.  You can eventually do enough damage to your brand name to affect player retention - Eve did this in a very short span last year, while I'd suggest the state of EQ2 has been more of a slow drain that is much harder to note on a budget spreadsheet. 

By contrast, we do still have the last subscription titles standing - WoW, Rift and SWTOR primarily - that are sticking to the model of selling game time and nothing else that affects gameplay.  Item shop purchases remain largely optional, while game boxes only go down in price over time - the fee is the one constant in this world, for better or worse. None of which is to say that this model is more democratic - it's hard to show a specific reason for a marginal drop in subscriber numbers in the same way that it's hard to "vote against" a cash store purchase that people other than yourself are buying. 

What exactly is your game of choice selling?  Is it something that you are happy purchasing, or, if not, do you feel that the game may be going in a direction you don't like because you are not the source of its income?


Bhagpuss said...

I think EQ2's F2P model is insanely generous. If you aren't buying cosmetic fluff from the SC Store then you can play the entire game even at the highest levels for a fraction of the subscription cost.

Just sticking to the issue you mention of the two-level increase to 92 it should cost a max-level silver player much less than a month's sub (although if you have a level 90 character that does Heroic or Raid content it's highly likely you'll have decided you like the game enough to subscribe anyway).

But let's say you haven't. There are 21 equipment slots. Unlockers cost 30 SC each so that's 630 SC to unlock a new item for every slot. The exchange rate is $10 per 1000SC. Even in the unlikely event that the two-level increase is so generous that every single piece of gear you have becomes outmoded and in need of replacement right away, you can do it for two-thirds of the price of a single month's subscription. After that it will last you until the level cap goes up again, most likely in a year's time at the least, other than for the odd upgrade you get along the way, which will cost you 30 cents per.

That's assuming you paid full price for your SC and didn't buy it in one of the fairly frequent double or even triple SC sales. I'm sitting on a nest-egg of SC I bought at triple rates, meaning that I could replace my entire paperdoll of equipment for just over $2.00. I could have all four slots of my silver account filled with Level 90s and fully re-gear the lot of them for less than a month's subscription.

I could go on at enormous length but I'll refrain. I think it's a great payment model. It certainly beats the pay-or-don't-play one it replaced, that's for sure.

Green Armadillo said...

I don't disagree with the sentiment, but that's not the point I was trying to get at. Just over six months ago, this team's position at Fan Faire was that we were getting four game updates in 2012 and no increase to the level cap for the foreseeable future due to various concerns about the consequences to mechanics. The business model may not be the sole reason for reversal on both of these points, but it doesn't hurt that they get paid for going in the direction they're going.

(Based on how they rolled out the second half of the quests in Eastern Wastes, my guess is that this patch will be accompanied by a solo quest series with at least one complete replacement of all gear, as with past level cap increase - or, in DOV's case, non-increases. At one point, after all, there was a plan in which this was the content portion of the paid expansion from last November. I further assume that there will be one or more full gear sets of gear in the new repeatable content. However, as you say, the total amount that a non-subscriber can expect to spend on gear unlocks is definitely less than a monthly fee, provided the player is willing to live with the plat cap.)

Xaxziminrax II said...

> WoW, Rift and SWTOR primarily - that are sticking to the model of selling game time and nothing else.

If by WoW, Rift, and SWTOR, you mean Rift and SWTOR. WoW has had a cash shop for a long time now, and that's not even counting the mobile/browser apps.

Green Armadillo said...

Xax: Good catch, I edited in "that affects gameplay" to account for the minipets and mounts - Rift and SWTOR both have their collector's editions with similar.