Camelot Unchained’s 57th newsletter discusses how features are kept in and cut from MMOs

    
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Camelot Unchained’s 57th newsletter dropped this week, providing a run-down of what City State Entertainment has been up to the last month for those who haven’t been keeping up with the weekly updates. Audio improvements, siege engines, projectiles, building placed objects, color grading, chat, abilities, NPC behavior, server performance, VFX, art, and so on were all on offer this month.

CSE Game Designer Ben Pielstick also embeds a discussion on every editor’s favorite thing: deleting stuff. No really, it’s about prioritizing what makes a final cut.

“Almost every game has to make cuts and additions while going from what was originally envisioned to what eventually is delivered,” he writes. “As such, one of the most important things developers do is determine what can be left out, and what absolutely has to stay in, so that the game fulfills the goals that were set out for it. This might sound a bit negative, but in fact, a lot of the time removing unnecessary complexity helps to streamline the experience, and actually makes the game better in its final form!”

How do you decide what’s worth keeping and what falls to the delete button? There’s no “mathematical formula,” he explains, but it’s down to how much “impact on the player experience” a given feature has – how often it’ll be encountered and how the player will feel about it – as well as how long it’ll take to implement.

“Whenever considering adding or removing features, it is important to try and go through the game experience with fresh eyes, imagining what a new player would feel who doesn’t have the background of all the changes that have come and gone over the course of development. This is something external testers and early adopters in of games are very helpful with, which is one reason games across the spectrum, Camelot Unchained included, have moved toward showing works in progress to players early and often, and taking non-developer feedback into consideration.”

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3dom

I think DaoC was great (in fact I bought it twice) and its mass PvP was the greatest multiplayer experience ever (I’ve witnessed how a single leader – Boltar – turned the tables on the biggest PvP server Merlin from utter Hybernia domination to all 21 out of 21 keeps controlled by Albion at the same time, every day, for weeks) – but also I think CU will spiral to ~0 online in only 4-6 months because subscription model won’t work in the over-saturated B2P/F2P gaming environment where I don’t have time to do all the dailies in the games I have installed (let alone play more than one of them) despite that Mark thinks based on his 90s experience. I mean – there are only two successful sub-based games in existence and both are run by giant financial behemoths with hundreds millions $ advertisement budgets, not by daring small companies.

Hopefully, Mark will read this and consider changes in the project. I want to see it thriving (but also I’m not considering getting into a pure subsciption-based game).

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Mark Jacobs

Thanks for the thoughts and love of Dark Age but I promised our Backers that this game would not go F2P so I couldn’t do that. However, there are a lot more than two successful games that employ subscriptions. They may be optional subscription games, such as ESO, but they are out there and please keep in mind that some of the games who have gone FTP did so after a sub run. Here’s a good list:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_massively_multiplayer_online_role-playing_games

Please keep in mind that we are not baselining 250K subs (Dark Age’s subs at peak) for Camelot Unchained to be successful. We know that we are a niche game and we’re going down that route. If we make a great game, I have no doubt there are 50K+ people who want to play an MMORPG without worrying about how the publisher is always looking for new ways to take money from your pocket. BTW, my opinion is not based on the 90s, it’s a different time. It’s based on the fact that there’s a ton of people paying for monthly sub games and we only need a small portion of them to be successful. Frankly, it’s less of a risk today because back in 1999, the idea of having lots of sub-based games was an anathema to most publishers and many players as well. OTOH, we now have 20+ years of sub-based games and players out there as potential players for our game. I like those numbers. And again, the key is that our baseline for success is smaller even than 1999.

But you’re absolutely right 3dom, it’s a crowded market and it won’t be easy. OTOH, nothing about making Camelot Unchained has been easy so far but we’re willing to take the chance.

CU! :)

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Coolit

“I have no doubt there are 50K+ people who want to play an MMORPG without worrying about how the publisher is always looking for new ways to take money from your pocket. “

That’s music to my ears as the first thing I do these days is check to see a games monetization before buying.

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Mark Jacobs

And you’re not alone in that kind of thinking. Many, many other people, including me, share it with you. :)

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Bruno Brito

Best of luck, Mark. But i still think you could make a fair F2P without running into the issue of powercreeping the store.

Hope you have a great launch.

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Mark Jacobs

Thanks BB, I agree with you! I think I do know how to make a fair F2P MMO but, my fear is that once you go down that path, even the best intentioned of studios/publishers have to resort to things that I wouldn’t be happy doing. It’s a similar problem to what sub-based games face a number of years into their lives. One of the advantages sub-based games have is that they don’t have to support the non-payers. While this isn’t as big of a problem if the game wasn’t cloud-based since the equipment was paid for, for games that are cloud-based, it’s a game-killer. Keeping the lights on a game that’s losing money each month is a problem since you are essentially always paying rent for the servers, but less of a problem for older, non-cloud based games.

I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time thinking about how I could design a BTP (easy peasy) game or a FTP game but both still have the same problem over time. Now, for the right game, cosmetics and other item sales (I’m not being sarcastic) can help keep the lights on but it isn’t easy. Plus, I never want to feel that I/we are doing things to get people to pay more and more money as the number of people who pay dwindle. But, that does become less of a problem if you already have the hardware since you don’t have to rent it every month (or length of your contract).

Thanks again BB!

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Loot Boot

Love your response Mark. I’ve watched the same commentary influence the F2P uprising and I just don’t understand it. I’m so sick of cash shops in every game I play. 15$ a month I will pay gladly for the full experience. Cosmetics I can earn from in-game experiences. Nothing trapped behind a cash-wall that I can’t obtain in-game.
In the age of sub based *everything*, a sub to play an mmo without a cash shop is an easy pill to swallow. Heck , HBO go costs the same.
I sincerely wish you the greatest of success, and don’t let the naysayers get to you.

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Mark Jacobs

Thanks and I don’t worry about naysayers until after the game launches. If I did, Dark Age would have never been made because almost nobody believed Mythic could deliver on the game and even if we did, they said we’d get crushed by EA, Microsoft, and Sony. And, even if they didn’t crush us, there were “hundreds of other MMOs in development and how can you separate yourself?” I’ve related that story many times and well, Dark Age worked out great thanks to the one publisher/distributor, Vivendi Universal Games, and the incredible work done by our team at Mythic.

People have a right to be naysayers, I’m good with that, just as I’m good with my belief that our team will deliver the goods.

Thanks for the support LB, appreciated.

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Arktouros

I for one like that you’re at least willing to have a conservation about it. It doesn’t mean we have to walk away in agreement, just the respectful conversation can be enjoyable. Having such conversations broadens each other’s views on things and opens us up to the ideas and views of others :)

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Mark Jacobs

Ark, I’m 100% in agreement with you. I love these kind of discussions and back and forth. Always have, always will!

Covynant001
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Covynant001

Err….CCP would likely disagree with your assessment of sub viability for smaller MMORPGs.

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Arktouros

Would that be the same CCP that sells PLEX codes that players can then sell in game for silver and buy things like skill points and ships to boost themselves?

:|

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Robert Basler

I am constantly amazed by the number of people in MOP’s comments saying they prefer subscriptions.

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Loot Boot

Robert, why? I pay for Netflix, why is it surprising that I would pay for a video game with everything included, no need to shell out for rare skins/mounts/etc. It sounds quite refreshing.

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Arktouros

Because traditionally speaking subscriptions are a terrible deal for consumers.

You don’t just automatically get extra skins, mounts, etc as part of your base game subscription. Think of WOW. It’s not like you pay your $15/mo and they just give you a free mount skins and wardrobe every few months cause hey thanks for your subscription. Most subscription based games (as in non-optional subs) just pocket that money as a charge for letting you access the game you likely already paid for.

Netflix is an odd comparison because it’s more of a collection of products that you get access to with the subscription. They’re good deals because you get access to vastly superior number of entertainment products that if you had paid separately for would be vastly higher than the subscription. It’s a good deal/value essentially.

The reason why we like subscriptions from a gaming perspective is because they empower us, the consumers, over the developers. If we don’t like the direction they are going or we don’t like what we hear we can cancel our subscriptions and vote with our wallets. Where will they get their revenue in a system where whales don’t exist? Power to the people at the cost of the developers being at the whims of us lunatics.

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Mark Jacobs

I guess it depends on the MMO. Guys like Turbine, Mythic, etc. did a really great job in the old days of putting out additional content for the game as part of the sub and didn’t sell things other than expansions. As you know, neither Dark Age nor WAR sold cosmetics or other items, everything had to be earned by play. Now, a fair argument is that essentially you’re paying for it because you’re paying for the subscription. It’s why I’ve always said about CU that if we are a full-price subscription game we won’t have a subscription + cash shop because I don’t think that is fair to the consumer.

With Dark Age and even WAR (while I was there), I harped on the fact that I wanted to give our players more than just access to the game and we did. I’ll do the same thing with CU. OTOH, games that don’t do that or do full price sub + cash shop, are an example where you’re right.

Just like FTP or BTP, the devil is in the details. :)

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Arktouros

I’ve never seen a subscription only MMO that puts out enough content/updates for their game to warrant a $10-15/mo subscription. This is not to say that games never released “free” (non-expansion) content, and even in my WOW example you can point towards Blackwing Lair raid, the Dire Maul dungeon, the massive Ahn’Qiraj event and dungeons/raid and many others. However we’re talking about $390 of subscription fees over that time. Are we going to pretend that a handful of raids/dungeons were equivalent of 6 AAA major game releases?

Devil is certainly in the details, which is why I continue to be perplexed by people who praise the merits of the subscription system while ignoring the fact we, as players, usually get a worse deal with them and rarely get our money’s worth. Yet people seem to think going to a subscription service it’ll be raining cosmetics and all the cash shop things will be available in game and covered while ignoring the fact no game to date has operated like that.

It’s just all rose tinted glasses and predatory cash shop fatigue. The reality is that when you look at the content we get delivered and compare it to the time it takes to deliver said content and then the money we paid over that time it just has never matched up.

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Mark Jacobs

You’re right if you just factor in the cost to players that you are not getting the amount of content you would get from 6 AAA games. OTOH, what you should do is what I did at Mythic, and will do with CU or any other game I make, and dedicate a portion of the revenue to new content because you have to deduct the cost of operating the game from the gross revenue. Depending on the game, the costs of operating a LIVE game are pretty substantial *if* the dev/publisher is really supporting it just from a bug fixing, customer service, etc. perspective as well as hardware/bandwidth/etc. Plus, you have to factor in bad debt (reversed charges, hacked cards, etc.) as well. These can be quite substantial and eat a large part of the gross revenue. So, a developer of a game whose charging $10 per month doesn’t really have $10 per player to devote to content, not if they want to keep the lights on. :)

Now, the amount you have to spend on content scales increases nicely with the amount of subs you have so a game with 1M subs doesn’t have 10x a game with 100K subs because while some costs scale linearly, others don’t so that the 1M sub game has proportionately more net revenue to use however it sees it.

Now, if you figure that the margin for an MMO is x% (some have had a great margin, others were much tighter) you can just use that percentage off the top and see how much you can really devote to new content and still turn a profit. For example, if a game was grossing 1M per month and the game had a 35% margin and you wanted to devote 25% to new content, you would have approximately $250K per month for dev salaries. In today’s market where experienced US-based engineers are well north of 100K (pre-benefits), you can see that wouldn’t buy you a lot of talented senior engineers, let alone artists, designers, producers, etc. . BTW, I’m not factoring in box sales but you can do that as well but it doesn’t apply for FTP games which is why I left it out. However, this is also why I was able to expand Mythic and put out a lot of subscription-based content for Dark Age because we had 249K subs back when costs were lower than they are today. :)

I’m not saying that MMOs aren’t profitable nor should you feel sorry for devs but just that it is a complicated problem and running MMOs are expensive. And that’s also one of the reasons I don’t want to make a FTP MMO. Keeping the lights on and content flowing, especially in the West, can be expensive.

Enjoy your Saturday Ark! As per above, I’ve been enjoying the conversation.

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Arktouros

The way I see it is simple.

The first few months of any PvP game are usually banging. We’re an audience without a home and usually everyone piles in to at least check things out for a bit. So I can guarantee I will have a few months of fun in just about any competitive based game and honestly don’t care what the business model is from subscription or full on predatory F2P Korean game mode.

However I have zero hope in a game like CU to be a long term game. There’s just too many red flags and too many systems that seem based on past systems that failed miserably. Asynchronous class balance which was just absolute failures in games that have used it. Three way PvP that always ends up with top two factions picking on the weaker one. So on and so forth, and on top of all that they got a subscription which is just going to act as a barrier for re-entry when we quit and consider coming back.

Will they work it out? Will they be successful? I dunno. I honestly don’t care. I don’t have stock. I don’t have any investment in the company. If they fail, I’ll just wait for the next game. Best case scenario I’m hoping for is even if they fail they got that engine/system they’ve spent so much time into and maybe can license that out to another company who does something interesting with it.

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Mark Jacobs

And yet, Dark Age of Camelot is still running and has a number of non-licensed servers running.

I’m not saying the three-way PvP solves all the problems, nor does async class balance but games with two-way PvP have had/have their issues as well.

And you’re right about the sub being a barrier to re-entry but based on everything I and other folks who have run and are running pay-for-play MMOs, people do come back. Also, part of the reason people don’t come back is that they feel they are too far behind their friends/guilds/etc. Fortunately, in a game like ours that is far less of a problem. That’s one of the reasons we went with a horizontal progression game.

You’re also right about time will tell, I say the same thing all the time. :)

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Bruno Brito

Three-way PvP is way better than Two-way PvP. That’s not debatable. Any moron can log in Return of Reckoning and see why AoR had such a issue with balance.

Hell, any moron can log into: A- Wrath Pservers, with Human racial ( EMFH ) being the best skill for Arena. 80% of the arena toons were Human. B- any imbalanced Retail WoW server. You’ll rarely see a 50/50 server.

Also, while Three-way PvP does has it’s issues, they’re more easy to solve, rather than Two-way PvP. While two strong servers can gang on a weaker one, the opposite can also happen, and it balances itself out.

The only way to balance a two-way faction PvP, is by the company either making the lesser faction more interesting to reroll, or engaging in marketing to bring more gamers. It requires a effort OUTSIDE the game, to be fixed. Not a good approach.

i’m a simple guy. I believe the best PvP should be three-way factioned, but you don’t roll the factions at the beginning, you join them as you level, you choose one and act as a soldier for it. And the top level faction cannot have people joining it after certain threshholds. There, fixed.

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Mark Jacobs

BB, yeah, I’ve been a fan of three-way RvR forever, a lesson driven into my brain, as I’ve said countless times before, by the brilliant guys from Kesmai Corp in the early days of GEnie. Still am, it’s also in the graphic novel I’ve written. :)

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Arktouros

I think it’s perfectly debatable.

Specifically to your point regarding population, there’s nothing in a 3 way system that inherently balances anything out. If you have 80% of your game population on Faction A and Faction B has 15% pop and Faction C has 5% population that’s not going to be any different outcome.

Guild Wars 2 was probably the best example of this with Henge of Denravi at game release which had the “Titan Alliance” which was a large group of players who mass recruited players from all time zones (NA, EU, Oceanic) so they could provide around the clock coverage and always keep their queues maxed out no matter what time of day it was. Both other servers, regardless of which ones, could both team up on HOD but they would always lose cause they just didn’t have the numbers/coverage.

However in addition to that you end up with the more common scenario where the middle group will pile onto the weaker group. This is just smart strategy as if the stronger opponent is already taking easy gains from the weaker if you pile on you can sneak your own gains to ensure you stay second while not provoking the superior opponent. This has happened in DAoC, Planetside, GW2, Planetside 2, ESO (even it’s 3 way battlegrounds) etc.

So really that problem exists regardless if it’s 1v1 or 1v1v1. Personally I prefer solutions that aren’t based on the idea that players want or are looking for a fair or good fight experience. As someone who’s played competitive environments for 20+ years I can tell you players want to win and will do so even at the cost of ruining that competition. Having a system that relies on people’s better nature to team up against the stronger opponent is just naive.

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Bruno Brito

Specifically to your point regarding population, there’s nothing in a 3 way system that inherently balances anything out. If you have 80% of your game population on Faction A and Faction B has 15% pop and Faction C has 5% population that’s not going to be any different outcome.

Normally, games limit the number of population in servers when it’s a pvp based game. If i well recall, Jade Quarry had a time where no one was able to transfer because the server was just too loaded.

As someone who’s played competitive environments for 20+ years I can tell you players want to win and will do so even at the cost of ruining that competition.

I will agree with this with a small counterpoint: During the WvW Event, several of the matchups had alliances. Jade Quarry had a run for it’s money, at least when i played in T1. I don’t recall the minute details of it, but during the event ( and since Anet devs were playing, the WvW pop was extremely hyped by having Anet’s eyes on their game mode and hopefully better changes to come, but i digress ), several “top tier” servers had issues with keeping up with the alliances. Hell, i was pretty surprised to see my server working out with other servers. I think i was at Tarnished Coast at the time. My toons are at Eredon’s Terrace, nowadays.

so they could provide around the clock coverage and always keep their queues maxed out no matter what time of day it was. Both other servers, regardless of which ones, could both team up on HOD but they would always lose cause they just didn’t have the numbers/coverage.

Actually this is a good question for Mark. How will CU deal with overnight capping? It’s a HUGE issue in WvW, and completely destroyed matchups ( still do, WvW PvP is a mess. )

Man, GW2 PvP in it’s entirety is a mess, i’m getting frustrated just by remembering.

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Arktouros

Numerous 1v1 based game systems do the same population limiters as 1v1v1. In both cases people usually figure out ways around them and it remains a problem regardless. This leads to snowballing where under represented sides just have less people participating which just further skews the numbers as well.

Alliances are always difficult to keep going. For example the only server who could rival Henge of Denravi at release was Eredon Terrace which had RUIN, LOTD, Team Legacy and others all on the server. However instead of keeping things together, they fought and blamed each other and the alliance fell apart. However while they are difficult to keep together and full of drama and intrigue it doesn’t stop people from trying to put them together to win a fight before the fight has even begun.

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Bruno Brito

^ True, but it’s still a inside way of working things out. Doesn’t rely on transfers and such. That’s the strong point with 3way. It has several ( albeit abusable and temporary ) ways of solving imbalance. These aren’t avaliable at 2way pvp.

When a 2way pvp server is imbalanced, you feel it, and it’s pretty unsolvable. It’s for instance, a huge problem for the RoR team.

Mark worked on AoR, correct? I’m sure he knows how painful it is to balance Warhammer fights, and how server pops factors into that, specially since the game has a AoE pirateship meta, like GW2 had for a while.

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Arktouros

Personally I don’t see whether or not a game is still running strictly as a measure of success. It’s very rare to hear of large studio MMOs shutting down at all.

Of course two way Faction PvP has issues as well. However the idea that the only options are two way or three way without any kind of evolution of those systems is disappointing.

I’m sure people come back to games as well, even with subscriptions. However I’ve resubbed to EVE too many times only to realize 15 minutes later why I unsubbed and quit the other dozen times before to fall for that in other games.