Have you wondered why it is Ubisoft is so dedicated to putting out a continual string of games as a service, even its ostensibly single-player offerings? Actually, as an MMO fan you probably haven’t wondered, but the latest investor presentation for the company makes it absolutely clear why this model is favored by the company. Specifically? Because it means money. So much money, for such a long time.
Ubisoft has found that games like The Division and The Crew wind up generating much more revenue over the long term, meaning that a yearly game released as a service makes a lot more money over the long term than simple single-player launches. Of course, long-time MMO fans are probably familiar with this principle, and it doesn’t exactly address the question of whether or not it produces better games. But if you needed confirmation, here it is.
You may not like it, but the vast majority of MMORPGs are free-to-play or buy-to-play as of 2018. EVE Online went free-to-play at the end of 2016, you’ll recall, and some of the last classic holdouts – Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot – will make the same move this year. That doesn’t leave many games to go free-to-play or alter their business models in a big way. World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV with their subscription-only models lead the way (and have been lauded accordingly).
Do you think any of the remaining sub-only MMORPGs – that are actually launched and live, that is – will yet go free-to-play? What MMO will be the next to change up its business model dramatically?
Before you get too excited, let’s note that today’s update for EVE Online
is not simply handing out ships like space travel-shaped candy. Free players are still going to need to train their various new ship options. It’s just that there are more ships available for free players to fly once the requisite training is done
. Heck, there’s even a whole video overview on it just below, if you’re curious.
This update also brings in a new event celebrating these new piloting options, new visual improvements, new daily skill injectors for free players, resource war adjustments, and lots of other fun things all around. You can jump in right now, if you so choose (or at least you can once you’ve done the requisite patching and so forth). Unfortunately, this update does not include the free ship fairy visiting everyone, but perhaps that’s something to ask for when the winter holiday comes around.
Don’t be too proud of the barrier to entry you’ve constructed; the ability to make in-game unlocks incredibly expensive is insignificant next to the power of angry consumers. An update after the latest furor over Star Wars: Battlefront II’s hero unlock prices sees the prices for these characters slashed by 75%, bringing Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader down to 15,000 credits, while Palpatine, Leia, and Chewbacca will run 10,000 credits and Iden will cost only 5,000 credits.
What EA doesn’t note in its blog post is that it also reduced reward payouts commensurately.
We’re sure the cost is one that’s still meant to provide a sense of pride and accomplishment, somehow. Whether or not this mollifies players who were rather justifiably miffed about the whole thing remains to be seen; what is already quite obvious is that this is not something that the target audience is taking lightly, so the next move is on Electronic Arts – and that move appears to be an AMA?
Hey, gang, this is absolutely wonderful. Activision has filed and been granted a patent for software designed to push you into buying cash shop crappies through the most insidious means possible. The breakdown is fairly straightforward: Once you buy something, the game’s matchmaking software will push you to a match where that something would be very effective or where another player’s purchases would influence your purchases, thus creating positive feedback and inspiring you to buy more! Isn’t that grand?
For those keeping track at home, this is starting to cross the line from gambling over to extortion, which is not a pleasant road to be walking. If you thought microtransactions amounted to a cash shop wholly separate from gameplay and you never had to worry about it influencing anything else, you were wrong.
Activision’s official statement is that this was simply a patent filed for exploratory software and it has not been implemented in any games. Said statement does not include phrases like “will not,” of course, so draw your own conclusions about when and whether it will show up. You can also draw your own conclusions about how shady it is, but the answer is pretty decidedly “super shady.”
Whether you’re a big fan of the e-sports scene or you would be quite happy never hearing about it ever again, you are no doubt aware that a lot of companies are sinking quite a bit of money into it. It’s not just limited to existing e-sports darlings like League of Legends, either, as Blizzard is very clearly targeting the field with Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch, and it’s pretty obvious that Guild Wars 2 wanted a slice of that pie. But a new piece by Joost van Dreunen, CEO of Superdata, brings up a relevant point that is often getting overlooked: With all of these companies investing in the field, where is actual business model to make money off of e-sports?
Van Dreunen points out that the long-term impact of e-sports, both in terms of viability and engagement, has yet to be understood in anything more than the broadest terms and may in fact be part of a shifting of culture. The current emphasis on a very narrow appeal isn’t helping drive long-term engagement, and it raises questions about whether the long-term goal of e-sports is to serve as a business model unto itself or if the goal is basically to use these events as an advertisement for the games in question. It’s well worth reading even if you’re not a fan of the field, as it brings up some interesting points about where the idea of competitive video games will go in the next few years.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?