Sunday, March 28, 2010

Unintended Consequences of the DDO Item Shop Model

Despite my misgivings about parts of the payment model, there's no questioning that the PAX weekend deal (an extra $19 worth of points on top of the usual "bonus" for spending $50) was as good as it was likely to get in the near future. As such, it was off to Eberron to try and figure out whether the game was worth playing.

Rather than give a superficial rundown of the early gameplay, let's just say that I was reasonably convinced that I would eventually extract $50 worth of entertainment from the game. I did, however, observe some interesting quirks to the game's free to play system.

Intentional Community Scatter
If you're a chronic alt-o-holic, DDO is probably the first game I've ever seen that will actually PAY you to re-roll.

Each of the game's seven servers is treated as a separate community for the purposes of unlocking stuff. The bad news is that, if you do unlock a race or feature on your main server without paying in the item shop, you won't have access to the feature on any other servers you choose to visit. The good news is that you qualify for new player Turbine Point (the cash shop currency) awards once on every new server.

Within roughly 30-40 minutes, you can complete a handful of quests and walk away with 50 TP for the earliest reward. I went through half a dozen characters anyway, just auditioning playstyles, and ended up with 300 TP for my trouble. Of course, that's only $3 worth at the best exchange rate, but it's a nice little bonus gift. Your first 100 favor (think reputation, earned by completing quests) on each server is worth 150 TP, so that's actually a non-trivial boost if you repeat it seven times (which, again, many of us would have ended up doing anyway).

On the downside, I suspect that this system is why I've never before seen a game where it was so hard to find a character name that wasn't taken. Between the game being free to play and actively encouraging free players to go forth to multiple servers, I've really had to scrounge around to find available names. Also, obviously, rolling on multiple servers means being cut off from any friends and guildmates. You even have to physically close the game client and relaunch it if you want to switch.

What Do You Value?
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of having a currency wallet and all kinds of options in the store is that it really does come down to what the player wants to spend money on.

For example, one of the pricier items in the shop is the option to make 32-point character builds instead of 28-point builds, a perk that is priced at just shy of $15 worth of Turbine points (more at worse exchange rates). Though there's some debate in the community as to how useful this feature is, I personally value it pretty highly. One of the things I really enjoy about the Dungeons and Dragons character system is the ability to pair levels of literally any two classes in the game to create unique multi-class combinations. For example, my hypothetical dual-wielding Kensai(Fighter)/Warchanter(Bard) would want very high numbers for Dex and Cha, but neglecting Str would leave me doing relatively low amounts of damage per hit.

By contrast, just about every form of equipment or consumable item in the game can be purchased with Turbine points, but I can't help but wonder why anyone would choose to buy them. For the price of a stack of consumable potions, I can permanently unlock a new subzone that would be available to every future character I create. I suppose these sorts of perks are for people who are really pressed for real world time and therefore spending relatively larger amounts of money in the store.

The only thing I've bought so far is access to the Monk class, which is on sale this week. I expect that I'll pick up the 32-point builds, the drow race, and the Favored Soul class at some point, though I might as well sit and see if they go on sale since I've got other games I'm working on at the moment anyway. Even if I do ultimately pay sticker price for all of the above, I'd still be working with

The Something For Everyone Challenge
All that aside, the big challenge Turbine will face is continuing to add content. There is a certain amount of room for new races and classes - apparently the half-orc race is slated for later this year - but there are limits to how many races/classes players can be convinced that they need. Likewise, there is the question of content. Dungeons and Dragons isn't really designed for increasing the level cap, but at some point Turbine may run into difficulty if players have already unlocked enough of the game for free to play status to reach the cap.

We've seen a bit of a hint of that in their current efforts. All dungeons are available on multiple difficulty settings, often including a solo-only version and a raid version. Sure enough, the next major patch is slated to contain a leveling dungeon that has an end-game raiding version (similar to how Blizzard reuses leveling content as Heroic endgame stuff in WoW). But how long will this model hold up? I guess Turbine is going to find out.


  1. I'm not sure that a lack of content will be a problem for most people; both the pricing model and the game itself encourage casual play, and, I think, discourage the sort of relentless pounding through content that one sees in most MMOs. The amount of content in the game already is large and the leveling pace very slow (slow enough to be jarring to players more familiar with how fast leveling goes in WoW or even EQ2,)

    I'm playing once a week with a static group and putting in an extra couple of hours on a solo alt, and while I've run some content more than once, I don't feel like I'm exhausting the activities available; and I've been doing this for a few months now. Too, Turbine seems committed to bi-monthly content updates, and so far they've done a good job with mixing in free stuff along with new paid content.

    Now, this may change as we continue to progress, but (I'm told) t doesn't until level 12-14 or so, and at my pace this is many months away at least. Turbine has lots of time to add new stuff between now and then.

  2. how is the actual gameplay and how does it compare to WoW and LOTRO?

    Especially curious about the quests and combat system.

  3. I'm hesitant to write too much about gameplay because I'm still a newbie, and some of what I think now may be wrong, but here's my snap impressions:

    The combat mechanics are more active than most target + autohit MMORPG systems. You click to swing your weapon (hold down the button to keep swinging in a combo), press shift to attempt to block attacks, and you hit what's in front of you when you swing or cast a spell.

    I had a lot of trouble attempting to cast at specific targets, which probably means I'm doing something wrong, but it's a somewhat moot point because casters are very difficult to solo. They made their MP system much more flexible than the pen and paper DND it was based on, but your magic only regenerates at special "rest shrines" or with expensive consumable potions. The create character UI flat out tells you that your solo ability will be "challenging" if you attempt to play as an offensive caster.

    I'm still working on the newbie village, but the typical model has been that each quest gets its own scale-able instanced dungeon. Dungeons include traps and puzzles - typically the quest only tells you to kill the boss or recover the artifact, and the rest of the specifics unfold as you journey through.

  4. So you know, you unlock drow on a single server by getting 400 favour, and favoured soul with 2500 or so.

    You can also unlock veteran status (ability to start at level 4) and, I believe, 32-point characters.

    But only on the server you have that level of favour earned.

    Husband and I are enjoying it.

  5. If I get to 1750 favor (much less 2500), it'll be because I've enjoyed the game enough that I won't begrudge Turbine some extra cash for having paid to unlock the features. Also, I'm expecting to try a bunch of alts, possibly on a bunch of servers, so I'm not sure that I want to be tied to advancing one character on one server that far to unlock options that won't be retroactive for my other characters.

    The Drow race is the one thing that I'm hedging on at the moment. I'm pretty sure that I'll have at least one character hit 400 favor eventually, and I can just save the rest of the slots on that server for Drow. I think I'll probably hold off on unlocking that race unless it goes on sale or I decide that I really want to go Drow. :)


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