GDC 2018: Yokozuna, big game data, and the future of MMO monetization

GDC isn’t E3. It isn’t PAX. It’s not even what I think stereotypical gamers can appreciate. But I think the Massively OP crowd is a different sort, and because of that, we can give you some content the other guys might not be talking to you about. Like data collection and monetization. They’re necessary evils, in that we armchair devs can generally see past mistakes rolled out again, but know those choices are being made in the pursuit of money.

So how do you make better games and money? Maybe try hiring some data scientists, not just to help with product testing and surveys, but with some awesome, AI-driven, deep learning tools. Like from Yokozuna Data, whose platform predicts individual player behavior. I was lucky enough to sit down with not only Design and Communication Lead Vitor Santos but Chief Data Scientist África Periáñez, whose research on churn prediction inspired me to contact the company about our interview in the first place!

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Darkfall: Rise of Agon pushes for crowdsourcing and a freemium model

Do you have talent? Then Darkfall: Rise of Agon wants you to chip in and help out — for pay, of course. The team behind this indie PvP MMO announced the formation of its Agon’s Community Talent (ACT), an initiative to recruit talented artists that can help design resources for the dev-strapped game.

Players can submit their own decorations, weapons, and armor designs with the hopes of having them added to Rise of Agon’s cash shop. Those that do will be rewarded: “While getting new items and artwork you created added to the game you love sounds great and all, we want to also reward you for your hard work. Everyone who finds one of their entries added to the Nithron Coin Shop will officially join ACT, providing them not only with forum and in-game recognition but with financial reward as well.”

ACT will help with the game’s transition to a freemium model that should open the doors to more players giving it a try. In addition to this initiative, the team is hard at work on a market patch with a new auction house interface and a global wallet.


The Soapbox: Evaluating gaming monetization through the lens of Nintendo’s mobile history

Bloggers and journalists throughout the online gaming industry have been talking about monetization a lot lately. It’s not just lockbox/gachapon scandals, or their relationship with gambling, but basic monetization and what we want from it. Games, after all, don’t make themselves; we have to pay for something to make that happen. But some gamers seem to view free-to-play games as a game that should be free, not one to be supported if it earns respect. And on the flipside of that, far too few game studios give off a vibe not of experimenting with monetization but of maximizing profits above all else while barely veiling their greed.

However, outside the MMO world, there is a company that’s been doing it “right” for a long time: Nintendo. The AAA developer/publisher is known for both innovation and hesitance, following in others’ footsteps with great trepidation, trying to figure out the ins and outs while entering the mobile market long after it’s been established. The company recently released a new mobile title, but what’s interesting is that it and the company’s last four games are all different genres with different monetization strategies. Exploring these titles and their relationship to their monetization plans will not only highlight the potential success of the models but hint at why they work and how they can be curbed into models gamers and lawmakers can better accept.

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Ryzom transitions to a freemium business model

As of May 31st, Ryzom (formerly Saga of Ryzom) has transitioned into a slightly different business model that will take a little explaining.

Essentially, the game is straddling the line between a freemium and free-to-play model, giving subscribers a chance to continue to access their account if they choose to let their sub lapse. Free players can enjoy the game, albeit with limitations on skill points, gear, and storage.

Meanwhile, premium (subscription) players will enjoy even more bonuses than before. These include double XP, many service account options, and no restrictions on skills, leveling, and gear. The subscription price is remaining the same, and the devs promised players that current and future game content would remain free for all.

We recently wondered what ever happened to Ryzom and did some investigating to find out.

Source: Official forums. Thanks Austin!


The Game Archaeologist: Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds

I confess that I have a particular fascination for MMOs that came into existence in the 1990s. It’s not only the fact that I was oblivious to them at the time (er, wild college days?) but that practically each and every one of them were true pioneers in their own fashion. And while your standard MMO fan might think that there were only three such games in that decade (four, if they are gracious and include Meridian 59), the truth is that there were far more online games at the time, particularly if you looked over to the east.

Today we are going to look at one of the most important MMOs to emerge from that time period, Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds. Its influence was primarily centered in the Korean gaming community while being vastly downplayed in North America. Still, here’s a successful MMO that not only beat Ultima Online out of the door by a year but has since won a Guinness World Record for longevity!

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Champions Online introduces a new archetype: The Witch

Seven-year-old Champions Online has a reputation for being a neglected MMORPG, but it’s actually had several updates in 2016, including Teleios Lair and Shadow of Destruction. The latest update arrives in the form of a brand-new archetype known as the Witch.

“The Witch is a new Support Archetype focused on ranged combat and support. The Witch excels with support powers and work best on a team, casting Curses on enemies that poison or stun. The Witch can also can heal themselves and others, with the healing increased by the amount of active Curses. Your main attribute is Constitution, so focusing on that will make you more powerful and give you more hit points.”

Like the game’s other freemium archetypes, The Witch is gonna cost ya; 1150 ZEN is the current price.

The latest patch also fixes a number of bugs and issues with the Cybermind Alert and the Qliphothic Warzone.


New report says South Korean MMORPG companies are ‘facing a crisis’

The Financial Times blog has a doom-and-gloom report out this week on the gaming market of South Korea, specifically the MMO genre.

“The country’s online game makers have long dominated the global market for massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) but have lost their edge as gamers have increasingly embraced playing on their smartphones,” writes author Song Jung-a in a piece suggesting online games studios in the region are “facing a crisis” in part because giants like NCsoft and Nexon shifted attention to mobile — unsuccessfully.

A lack of mobile isn’t the only problem, either; it’s also the focus hardcore MMORPGs Korea is known for. “Analysts say South Korean companies have focused too much on graphics-heavy role-playing online battle games that are now losing their appeal among gamers, overshadowed by simpler, more speedily paced offerings,” Song writes, contrasting the success of U.S.-born Overwatch and League of Legends with NCsoft’s last “big new online title” Blade & Soul in 2012 and Nexon’s MapleStory 2.

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The Game Archaeologist: Puzzle Pirates

Up until this point in my life, Puzzle Pirates has always been that “Oh yeah, that actually exists!” game to me. Even when I do lists of pirates in MMOs, this title slips right off of my radar. Maybe it’s because Puzzle Pirates doesn’t make waves (har!) these days, or maybe it’s been around for so very long.

I think that part of Puzzle Pirates’ forgettable nature is that it doesn’t exactly scream “MMO.” I mean, its combat is more cerebral than anything else, it’s all cutesy and stuff, and even its name suggests a casual flash title than anything deep and substantive.

Yet I have friends with a long and abiding love for this game, people who always chide me when I forget it. So to peer pressure I bow: It’s high past time that we gave Puzzle Pirates its due as part of the MMO genre. Avast, ye landlubbers, and swab those peepers: We be goin’ to sea!

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Massively OP’s guide to MMO business models

Not too long ago, there was all but one way that you would pay for an MMO, and that was as a monthly subscription. Oh, it used to be an hourly sub back in the wild early days of the genre, when keyboard cowboys thought nothing about racking up $481 a month playing a game on a 400-baud modem, but in the late ’90s, the monthly sub model established itself as the baseline, and most all MMORPGs fell into line behind it.

Though a rare few western games dabbled in a free-to-play model along the way, it was Turbine’s decision to embrace it with Dungeons and Dragons Online in 2009 that brought it to the mainstream in the west. Since then, studios have been experimenting with business models left and right, trying to come up with the most attractive method of emptying your wallets into their coffers.

Sometimes business models can get incredibly confusing, especially when games will use the same terminology in different ways. Today we’re going to walk through all of the major types of models that MMOs and their cousins are using. Hopefully we can find the right model that fits your budget and comfort!

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The Game Archaeologist: Saga of Ryzom

Every so often I get requests to cover such-and-such game in this column. These are often incredibly obscure titles, even to me, and when I get them they go into a queue along with my other wish list topics. One title’s popped up enough in the request space that I knew I had to tackle it before too long, and that game is Saga of Ryzom (or just Ryzom if you’re being informal, and we are).

Ryzom is an incredibly odd sandbox that’s been on my radar for two reasons. The first is that it was a beloved title by one of our former Massively colleagues, and the second is that this game had struggled to survive over the years as it switched hands, business models, and presumably alternate dimensions. In September, the game will have been operating in one form or another for 12 years, which makes it a candidate for investigation.

What is Ryzom, how did it come to be, and can you really own and run a copy of it yourself? We’ll answer these questions and more today!

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Guest Interview: Lusternia, MUDs, and the evolution of MMOs

This guest interview was commissioned through Massively Overpowered’s 2015 Kickstarter campaign by donor Brett Richards, who interviewed Lusternia Producer Robb French in lieu of a Soapbox. Any opinions here represent the views of our guest interviewer and his interviewee, not necessarily Massively OP itself. Enjoy!

MUDs like Lusternia (official site) get little love in the MMO community but are still wildly popular among a select group of players as one of the last bastions of text-based gaming. I credit Lusternia for helping me survive and overcome quite a dark period of depression and self-doubt in my younger days. I believe that the immersive world and wonderful players I’ve met there provided me the freedom to experiment with and eventually express parts of my identity with an online persona that I couldn’t otherwise, not to mention improved my social and computer skills to no end. The self-awareness I developed through play has helped me become a healthier and more complete person in real life – or at least I hope so!

That’s why I’ve chosen to interview Lusternia Producer Robb French for my donated piece here on MOP. Let me slip into my alter ego, Elryn, to have a chat with Estarra, the Creatrix of the Multiverse known as Lusternia.

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EVE Evolved: The right way to reboot DUST 514

This week we heard the news that CCP Games will be officially shutting down PS3 online shooter DUST 514 in May to start work on a PC reboot. While this is obviously disappointing for the small but dedicated community that has stuck with the game over the years, it’s a predictable end that we always knew was coming and the prospect of a PC reboot is interesting. DUST 514 was an incredibly ambitious game that aimed to merge EVE Online‘s spaceship warfare with planetary conquest on the ground in realtime, but it never managed to harness that potential. We got very limited forms of cross-game communication and a barely useful orbital bombardment mechanic, and the core FPS gameplay wasn’t compelling enough on its own.

The new reboot is in the very early development stages and is being built from the ground up on Unreal Engine 4, so we probably won’t be getting our hands on it any time soon. By the time it does arrive, there’ll be several more first person shooters on the market and it may be competing with games like Destiny and Star Citizen on first-person gameplay. CCP will have to do something unique and compelling with the new FPS to make an impact, and that means playing on EVE‘s main strengths as a single-shard sandbox MMO with intense wars and community politics. For the new FPS to be a success, it will have to be much more tightly integrated with EVE.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at why DUST failed in its execution on PS3 and what kind of gameplay and features I think the reboot needs to be a success.

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Darkfall developers considering freemium model

When Darkfall opened up its doors to community discussion, one of the major points mentioned by the developers was that free-to-play was completely off of the table. The developers are now discussing the possibility of a free-to-play shift. The difference, as the post explains, is that free-to-play means there are no optional subscription models, but an optional free playstyle makes for a freemium game model.

Depending on your level of interest in the fine details of MMO business model terminology, you’re either nodding enthusiastically, rolling your eyes, or just whispering “what?” at your monitor.

The practical upshot of all of this is that the developers are actively exploring a free-to-play model with optional subscriptions, which is far from the impression given when it was said that free-to-play was completely off of the table. The major impediment to this is apparently working out backend settings for account, so players should keep their eyes peeled for further developments.


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