business models

EVE Evolved: What's the deal with EVE's PLEX changes?

This week CCP Games announced that some big changes are on the way for PLEX in EVE Online. The PLEX or "30-day Pilot's License EXtension" is a virtual item that represents 30 days of subscription time and can be bought for cash and then sold to other players for in-game ISK. This simple mechanic has proven to be one of the most important innovations in the subscription MMO business model over the years, allowing players with lots of in-game wealth to effectively play for free while permitting cash-rich players to buy in-game currency without funding dodgy farming operations that can disrupt the game world. Dozens of games now support some kind of player-mediated currency roughly like PLEX.

The proposed changes are intended to simplify EVE's business model by merging PLEX with the microtransaction currency Aurum. Players will also be able to put their PLEX into invulnerable account-wide PLEX Vaults that are accessible at all times rather than having to move the valuable items manually by ship. There's been significant backlash from the EVE community over the newfound invulnerability of PLEX, plans to delete some microtransaction currency from the game without compensation, and the possibility that someone leaked the announcement to friends early in order to make a profit. So what's the deal with these PLEX changes, and why are some EVE players going nuts over them?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at the upcoming changes to the safety of PLEX, the opportunities that more granular PLEX could have for EVE, and why players are up in arms over plans to delete Aurum from thousands of accounts.

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EVE Evolved: Alpha Clone economics, bragging rights, and restrictions

Yesterday at EVE Vegas 2016, developer CCP Rise held us spellbound with tales of his recent misadventures in EVE Online recently when pretending to be a newbie. With free alpha clone accounts on the way, the devs wanted to prove that a well-informed player in an alpha clone could engage in a wide range of activities and even see success in PvP, and CCP Rise naturally rose to the challenge. Starting with only the skills trainable by an alpha clone character and no ISK or assets, he quickly got on his feet and made enough ISK to start engaging in frigate and cruiser PvP and net some very nice solo kills against veterans.

Rise's success came as no surprise to me, as I've done similar experiments with small group PvP and I know just how effective cheap tech 1 cruisers can be. I recently showed how free users could be nearly as effective as well-trained subscribers in the same ships, and yet the myth that they will be simply cannon fodder for the elite pervades the comments sections in articles throughout the web. Developers have said that they intend for free play to be a viable long-term play style, and it should be possible to extend the system in the future. We may even some day get specific challenge clone states for those who want bragging rights or hardcore clones with permadeath.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I debunk the myth the alpha clone system is an endless trial, examine the potential impact of alphas on both EVE community culture and CCP's financials, and look at a few ways the clone state system could be expanded on.

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Daybreak is cutting out game cards

If you're a big fan of buying game cards for Daybreak's various online offerings, you should go snap them up now before they're gone. Daybreak has officially announced that it's getting rid of game cards as of November 8th, 2016; no more grabbing PlanetSide 2 or EverQuest II cards when you're in the checkout line. Even if you find them around after November 8th, the cards will no longer activate, so you'll be out of luck.

Any cards you already have can still be redeemed, and you can also convert existing game currency into the new H1Z1: King of the Kill Crown currency through the end of 2016. Cards cannot be used on consoles, however, even previously purchased cards, so players who enjoy Daybreak titles like DC Universe Online on consoles will be out of luck. If you've got a few cards yet to be redeemed in your desk drawer, now is the time to take care of them.

Source: Official Site; thanks to Kinya for the tip!

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The Daily Grind: Do low-budget imported MMOs have a place in the current market?

The sad news about Asta and ELOA's upcoming closure prompted a musing from longtime commenter GreaterDivinity regarding the import-run-close model that has long been the domain of certain publishers. You know the ones. It's a pretty reliable plan: Import a new game with enough existing content to spread it out over a year or so, get people invested in the game for that span of time, then shut it down and import something else. It presupposes that the game is meant to shut down after a certain amount of time, but it certainly does line up with what's actually been seen happen on a regular basis.

On the one hand, this seems like something that should already be gone; when you can count the number of subscription-only games on one hand, it seems odd to assume you can gain traction with a quickly translated game compared to market leaders. At the same time, it's been a staple of the free-to-play market for quite some time, and the publishers who import these titles seem no closer to running out of stuff to import or an audience for their titles. Do low-budget imported MMOs have a place in the current market? Are they doomed to be obsoleted by free-to-play titles with higher budgets and production value meant to be played over a longer term? Or do they still have a dedicated audience who prefers title turnover to playing Star Trek Online or Neverwinter for years on end?

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Evolve player population explodes following free-to-play transition

Player numbers matter. If no one is playing your game, players aren't going to start playing just to play on empty servers. As a result, Evolve's player numbers on Steam are fascinating to watch. The game went into free-to-play mode on July 7th last week, and its player population has gone from an average of 106 players to an average of 3,391 players, an increase of more than 3,000 percent. That's a pretty significant uptick.

It's important to note that this does not make the game one of the biggest success stories of all time, nor does it mean that the game is necessarily bringing in more money, but it does mean that there are a much larger number of people with the potential to drop some cash on the game. Only time will tell if that's enough to turn the game's fortunes around. But it does provide an interesting insight into how significant a jump really can come from a game going free-to-play, which is useful whether or not you're interested in team-based monster hunting.

Source: Steamcharts; thanks to Pashgan for the tip!

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WoW Factor: Alternative content release models for WoW and beyond

It has been noted in the past that I am a big fan of having big, show-stopping expansions released for games. I will not deny it; I don't want to deny it. I like a good meaty expansion. But lately, World of Warcraft's expansions have stopped feeling... well... expansive. They've somehow become narrower, completely lopping off all of the game-that-was in favor of a new world entirely. One of the reasons I'm hopeful about Legion in the long run is that there are already signs of things taking place in the game world aside from just the new expansion areas, remembering that we already have three different worlds and four separate continents available on Azeroth.

Combine all of that with the fact that these expansions just keep coming out more and more slowly, and one starts to wonder what WoW would look like if this weren't the case. What sort of content models would work for the game? What sort of new deployments could we see? Is there a better option out there for Blizzard's big game aside from the content droughts and big expansions?

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The Daily Grind: What motivates you to try out an MMORPG?

I've seen many designers and players over the years say that a game going free-to-play will attract more players, but I've always wondered about that. The logic seems clear enough, of course; removing the price tag from Tree of Savior means that more people can jump in without feeling like they've made big investments first. But most of the people I know seem to be motivated to play a game by the game itself and what it promises, not by the presence or lack of a pricetag. Black Desert managed to win quite a few people over just by virtue of its systems, and that still costs money.

But are mechanics really what makes it happen? Some people try out games based on the company publishing those games, some try out games based upon the current buzz from an update, and some try out games based entirely on whether or not the designers like the right football team. So what about you, dear readers? What motivates you to try out an MMORPG? And for extra credit, what do you see offered as an enticement that actually makes you less interested in the game?

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Paladins is mixing up its cards and champions model to be closer to SMITE

The designers behind Paladins had a plan for how the game would work on a whole. It was a simple plan, too. A new developer post explains that the game was to feature a small number of individual champions for players, but each champion would have a large number of different cards to tweak the champion significantly. So rather than having, say, a dozen different ranged champions, the game would have one ranged champion with cards to make her play like a dozen different champions.

It was with this plan that the game went into beta, only to find that players wanted almost exactly the opposite.

Thus, a change. Rather than having a small roster with a wide selection of cards, the game will have a small number of cards amidst an ever-expanding roster of champions. Much like SMITE, the game will allow players access to several champions free of charge at all times, while players can purchase new champions with either real money or spoils from the game. It's a pretty major shift for how the game is played, but if you were hoping for more champions and less fiddling with the cards, you got your wish.

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RIFT will soon let you buy any of its 8,100 artifacts for credits

Whether you call them shinies or sparklies, artifacts are a fun little diversion in RIFT that can pay off with special toys, mounts, and pets when sets are completed. When RIFT adds these collectibles to the Planestouched Wilds on February 17th, there will be over 8,100 artifacts in the game, making up a whopping 1,400 sets.

That's not the only change coming this month, however. Trion Worlds announced yesterday that it will be adding the option to purchase artifacts on the cash shop for credits: "Completing all the sets is a huge undertaking, and we’ve recently planned a change that will help those long frustrated by those few empty holes in their collections. As of February 17th, 2016, collectors will be able to fill long-sought collection items with credits."

Trion said that all 8,100 artifacts have been hand-placed by developers and should be reachable, although some are occasionally bugged.

Source: RIFT. Thanks to Greaterdivinity for the tip!

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Skill Trading is coming to EVE Online tomorrow, prices revealed

A few months ago, CCP Games announced its somewhat unorthodox plans to allow EVE Online players to extract and sell their skill points on the open market for in-game currency. Players can already buy and sell entire characters for ISK via the Character Bazarr, but the new system allows smaller batches of skill points to be extracted and traded as items. Other players can then buy the skill packets and inject them into their character to be assigned to any skill they like. The skill extractor items go on sale tomorrow, and CCP has released a new devblog explaining how to get your hands on them.

Each consumable skill extractor sucks 500,000 skill points (about 10 days of passive skill training) out of your character's head for sale, and characters with over 5 million skill points will suffer diminishing returns when injecting them. Skill extractors can be bought in the cash shop for 1,000 Aurum or purchased directly for $5.49 each. From tomorrow until February 26th, players who sign up to 3, 6, or 12 month subscriptions will get several injectors free and anyone buying Aurum packages will get more bonus Aurum than usual. This new mechanic will allow new players who can make it rich in EVE to physically catch up to older players in skill points, but it remains to be seen just how expensive skill packets will become on the open market.

Source: EVE Devblog

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Studio Wildcard creative director cautions against using Early Access as a funding method

Early access has become a bit part of the gaming landscape over the past few years, with many games launching into it. ARK: Survival Evolved is indisputably one of the big success stories of the past several years. In a recent interview, co-creative director and studio co-founder Jesse Rapczak cautioned against using early access as a funding model, specifically pointing out that doing so creates unpleasant and unhealthy expectations for a game.

Rapczak specifies that a game ready to launch in early access should be ready to launch in general, with the earlier access tailored toward ensuring that players can provide important feedback ahead of time. Thinking of early access as a way to generate more funds leads to a lack of consumer confidence, which in turn will eventually demolish the model as a whole. It's certainly worth considering as an opinion coming from a creator who has found no small amount of success with early access.

Source: GamesIndustry.biz via Gamasutra; thanks to Crow for the tip!

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Perpetuum posts premium packages to power up players with popular pricing

The developers behind Perpetuum want you to be able to get in and start playing the game on the cheap. Said developers also want to provide a way for players to spend additional money on the game without anyone feeling ripped off. Thus, the game's new premium packages. Each of the two packs is priced at $10 and contains various benefits for any new or existing player, but each one can be purchased only once per account, turning them into shots in the arm for anyone who is playing the game or just wants to start out stronger.

At the same time, the base game has been dropped to a $10 price as well, and a new player can pick up the base game and both packs for $28. The hope is that this change in pricing will make the game more accessible to new players without alienating existing players or creating a sense of resentment. These packages are currently available only through Steam, but they should be available via the game's site in the very near future.

Source: Official Site, Steam; thanks to Zoltan for the tip!

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PSN users find level boosts for Destiny on the PSN store

Good news, Destiny players on the PlayStation with a desire to bypass a good chunk of leveling! You belong to a rather narrow subgroup, but you appear to be the first group able to purchase level boosts on the PSN store for a price. Players first noticed the level boosts on sale for £24.99 on the UK PSN, but have subsequently snapped shots of the items for sale in the US PSN for $44.99.  Which would seem a bit steep even if Bungie hadn't previously said that the datamined level-boost items were not meant for microtransactions.

Friendly reminder: Bungie said exactly that.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, players are already up in arms over both the price and the sale of these level boosts, although thus far the noly reports are coming in from the UK PSN store. There's no word yet on whether the items were meant to be sold or it was simply a fluke somewhere in the system; it does seem to contradict earlier statements, but a lot can change in two months.

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