Thursday, November 14, 2013

Daily Rewards and Non-Subscription Games

I've been taking League of Legends for a test-drive over the last two weeks.  I play for about 30 minutes per day.  That's how long it takes to win a Twisted Treeline match against NPC bots to collect the daily "first win" award.  Playing a second match after that would yield maybe 1/4 of the rewards, so I'd rather go spend my time elsewhere.  Is this incentive functioning as intended? 

Influence in the League
For context, in League of Legends gold and items are all temporary resources that are granted and used in a given match.  The biggest things that are persistent are your roster of unlocked champions - each week there are ten champions available to try for free and beyond that list you can only use your unlocked champions - and the Runes attached to your summoner's Rune pages.  These things are earned with two currencies.  
  • Riot Points, named for the studio, are used in the cash shop to unlock Champions, cosmetic skins for the Champions, and a few other things such as boosts for additional rewards.  There is a one-time grant of 400 RP for new accounts to unlock permanent access to one basic Champion (so you aren't totally dependent on the weekly rotation), but otherwise this currency is only obtained by spending real world money. 
  • Influence Points are earned in-game by playing matches.  These can be used as an alternative to Riot Points to unlock Champions (though not the other stuff like the skins), and are also the only way to purchase the runes for your rune slots.
There is more precise math on Influence Points but I find that 2 IP/min on a match that you win (which will be all matches against NPC bots, since probably one good player can carry your team to victory if needed) is not a bad estimate.  This means that a 20-30 minute Twisted Treeline match against the bots is offering up somewhere around 50-60 IP base.  The cheapest basic Champions are available for 450 IP but from there it quickly goes up as far as 6,300 IP, which means you're looking at 100+ matches for the high end Champions.

The wrinkle here is the daily award for winning a match, which is a flat 150 IP.  That's a big deal because suddenly you're looking at only 30ish matches for the high end Champions - i.e. the Champion of my choice for free every month (more if I choose cheaper characters this month).  As a result, if I know I will want to play around 5-10 matches this week, I have a strong incentive to make sure that's one per day rather than all on the same day. 

(Two asides: Losing cuts your IP rewards significantly.  I doubt this is the only reason why this game's community is known for being so toxic, but it can't help your teammates cope with a loss when they know their IP salary just got docked.  Also, the need to buy Runes with this currency undermines the "you can unlock all your heroes in game" model a bit, as in the long term you're looking to fill 30 rune slots with runes that can run 400-2000 IP each.  You can actually pay with Riot Points - i.e. cash - to earn IP faster, and I assume this is almost exclusively for Runes, since you can just buy the Champions if you already have the RP.) 

The Daily and the Non-subscription
The daily quest system in a traditional MMO has an obvious path for netting the studio more money - players are paying for access to the expansion, game time in which to complete the content, and can be enticed to purchase any other perks the studio offers for sale. 

By contrast, the League of Legends model seems to have the opposite effect - with some patience, a less frequent player who wants to get a new champion each month goes from paying $5-10 for that character to paying nothing.  And, to be clear, League is not alone in this regard.  Hearthstone's daily quest system functions similarly, while Marvel Heroes' cash store alternative is NOT on a daily cooldown but can similarly compete with real cash purchases.

Any business model is going to cause some revenue to fall through the cracks.  Of the customers they could be losing out on, players with my level of patience may be the best group to write off if we aren't that common or wouldn't spend that much in the store anyway.  Perhaps they're thinking that if I find I don't even need the real cash store currency to buy Champions I'll be more willing to spend it on cosmetic skins.  Whatever the case, I appear to be in a position where I can see a little bit of a lot of games for very little money down.  Not sure it's working as intended but I guess I'll take it. 


Anonymous said...

I think the model is great, and I would not be surprised if Heroes of the Storm adopts a similar model. I think there is a big group of people for whom these games are "snacks" and not "meals." For that reason, you can come and go as you please, with no subscription to tie you to the game or prevent you from coming back. If a character is released that you love (much more so for a game like MH or HotS than LoL), then you might drop some money for that character, play more for a month or so and move on.

Good or bad, they leave some money on the table to ensure that people keep the game installed and check it out every once in awhile, and they decrease the barriers for entry. I imagine this is a known, well thought-out trade off.

And Gambit will be on the Test Center Friday or Monday, meaning one less character release out of the way before ones that you are interested in. :)

Stabs said...

It's a matter of how the company perceives the "freeloaders".

You could argue that here you are, playing LOL, blogging about what great value it is, incorporating it into your life, answering Lol when people ask you what games you play or what you think they should try.

Once you get to a point where you want to test your skill you may play more and at that point are likely to spend. For many people we spend precisely because we don't have to. I spend money from time to time in EQ2 even though as a solo mid level player I really don't need to because I think it's a way to show appreciation.

Psychochild said...

Stabs is right: you may be a "freeloader", but you have some benefit to Riot. You're posting about it, you might talk to friends about it, etc., maybe convince them to play on a team against bots. Maybe your friends will choose to spend money where you don't.

Also, if you do dip your toe into PvP matches, you become content for the other players in the game. Same is true for traditional MMOs with free-to-play business models; people who play a lot become part of the social fabric even if they don't pay a lot for the game. This can be a net positive for the game if there are a number of good people to play with.

Pangoria Fallstar said...

To add to the model, they started allowing you to gift skins and what not to your friends.