business models

The Daily Grind: What would (or already did) convince you to buy an MMO lockbox?

Look, we know, none of the people reading this right now like lockboxes. And, you know, for good reason. But despite that dislike, lockboxes do manage to make a stupid amount of money. Odds are good that some of the people reading this have bought some, whether or not you liked the experience, and odds are equally high that many of you probably know what would convince you to purchase one even if otherwise disinclined.

So what would convince you to buy an MMO lockbox? Or if you already have, what did convince you to? I know friends who have bought some on the promise of one particularly much-wanted item, or those who already got a monthly stipend of currency and figured that it had to go somewhere. And some people have just started buying them because, well, the game is non-predatory with them, so why not support. Everyone has their reasons. So what were yours, or what could conceivably be one?

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Ashes of Creation adds monthly time-limited pre-order packages to the tune of $500

Good news, Ashes of Creation fans, you can now give the development team more money! The team has rolled out new pre-order packages for players who want to get in to early testing and also want to unlock new cosmetic items. The trick? The packages are time-limited, rotating on a monthly basis to a new set of cosmetic options. Miss out on one package? You miss out on the cosmetics.

These packages also run from $500 on the high end to $75 on the low end, so if you want all of the various cosmetics you’d better be prepared for some major financial outlays. Fortunately for those who had already pre-ordered, there is an option to buy the monthly cosmetics for a smaller sum, but it’s still going to be a rotating offering of stuff you just can’t get any other way. Or it will be that stuff, since none of it is in the game yet. You understand.

Source: Intrepid Studios press release; thanks to Siphaed for the tip!

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Ubisoft investor presentation highlights the profit benefits of ‘games as a service’

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.

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The Daily Grind: What MMO will be the next to change up its business model dramatically?

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?

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EVE Online’s Arms Race update offers more ships to free players today

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.

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EA drops the costs of heroes – and reward payouts – in Star Wars: Battlefront II by 75%

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?

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Activision secures patent for software to trick you into buying cash shop stuff, seriously

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.”

Source: Kotaku, Rolling Stone; thanks to OneEyeRed and Leiloni for the tip!

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SuperData CEO discusses the money problem of e-sports

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.

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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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