MMO designer Raph Koster talks about what makes the subscription model a success

    
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Playable Worlds CEO Raph Koster, as we all know, has opinions about MMO gaming and multiplayer gaming, especially on the business side of things, so if you’re the sort of person who likes to hear his thoughts on those topics, then you’ll absolutely want to dig in to a VentureBeat interview that discusses the subscription model and what makes it work (or not work).

“In terms of what works, the number one answer is a game that deserves to be subscribed to,” reasons Koster. “The ultimate intent of a subscription is to offer a service that holds players for terms of years. And making a game that will hold somebody for years is very hard, and a completely different proposition from making consumable content games. In order to keep someone subscribing and re-engaging you need to prove your value every month.” Doing that involves keeping things dynamic with new challenges and content along with a sense of ongoing evolution and fun.

This probably seems obvious to MMORPG fans, especially since our genre has been doing this reasonably successfully for about 25 years now. That said, there are also best practices that can be extracted to apply to other game genres as well as MMOs such as pivoting to free-to-play once you start dropping below a certain user threshold, using season passes, and making the release of expansion packs into events that drive engagement for players, press, and influencers.

That said, driving loyalty is also about making players feel that devs are part of the community they’re creating. “The most successful ways to drive long-term community all have to do with the audience perceiving the operator as being part of the community, and not above it,” says Koster. “That sense of, we’re all in this together, is absolutely crucial. It’s the number one driver of loyalty.”

More on this subject can be listened to as part of a panel discussion that features Koster as well as Xsolla VP of marketing Berkley Egenes and senior VP of Zynga and online puzzle game Words with Friends Deepthi Menon.

source: VentureBeat
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Java Jawa

I’ve noticed for myself, my fondest memories of MMOs come from sub based games and to a lesser extend buy to play.

Asheron’s Call
Ever Quest
Ever Quest 2
Early LOTRO
SWTOR
ESO
FFXIV

There’s something most of those games offer. A vast virtual world to explore, numerous activities to partake in for all manner of players. Be it crafting , PvP, collections , housing, story content, group content.

That’s something I’m not seeing a lot now days. Plus it’s nice not to be bombarded by , buy x, buy y. Content comes at a regular cadence.

Probably the best example out of the above list is FFXIV. I have to give major kudos to Yoshi-P.

While F2P in my opinion feels like finger food, a quick nibble and move along. That’s my own experiences anyways.

I bet a lot of what we perceive is good or bad is based on our demographics: age, type of gameplay enjoyed, type of interaction (action, fast, slow, tactical).

In any case there’s at least an mmo for everyone.

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kjempff

What I take away from this is that a sub model will work fine if the game is designed for long term use. I am pretty biased, having said for years that f2p is not just a business model, but that f2p also dictates game design on all levels of a game; and not in a way I prefer my mmos to be. I completely agree that the sub model will not fix a flawed mmo, but on the other hand, f2p will usually corrupt a mmo (exceptions apply).

Maybe I am reading too much of my opinion into this, but what I am hearing, echoing my thoughts, is that to make a long term game (which a mmo should be), it will need to focus a lot more on systems, design, community instead of one time consumable content.
Story driven games are “one time” consumable content, and all major pve mmos has been doing this the last 15 years.

What we need now are more dynamic mmos, based on long lasting systems that transfers agency to the players so that they create their own stories – This can be litterally making content, or by having open-ended content (opposed to on-rails story driven).
There are many ways this can be done, but the key part is that the developer needs to take the scary step of letting go of some control, back of on the narrative way of thinking about content, and instead provide (and onviously maintain) systems, rules, etc.
This is not saying that content is not important, but that content can be created as open-ended, or as dynamic changing by either ai-systems and-or by players.

Make Worlds Not Stories!
….no seriously, it is high time to kick the story driven formula that was never intended for mmos.

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Bruno Brito

but on the other hand, f2p will usually corrupt a mmo (exceptions apply).

I completely disagree with this. F2P doesn’t corrupt anything because it’s not a conscient decision-maker. It’s a business model.

Blame the executives wanting to nickel-and-dime the everliving crap out of their game. They’re the ones corrupting their game, and just a heads up: They didn’t need corrupting. If a F2P model launched being godawful, bet on the fact that those executives were already wanting to improve profits for a while. It would be bad, sub or not.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

Difference is, with F2P at least you can see if it’s a piece of garbage without having paid something first(Then throw money like mad if you enjoy it.), whereas sub model doesn’t allow that, unless they regularly run ‘free trials’ (And once they have you hooked, they think they own you so they won’t listen to your desires anymore.)…and B2P makes you buy the whole thing only to learn you want a refund…nowadays they do all kinds of hybrid stuff…but the main thing devs/publishers need to do is learn to let you sample their damn game first…

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kjempff

There are other ways to sample games. There are play free weekends, trial versions, etc. Point is that f2p is defining the design of a game much more than I think people realize, so if the aim is purely to get a broad reach, f2p is a very negative solution to a simple problem.

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Bruno Brito

Monetization models define the design of games a lot. People think it doesn’t but it does.

There’s a reason why WoW sets itself to reset systems every xpac: They want you to resub every time. There’s a reason why FF14 is full of gated content: It forces you to stay subbed.

People have a really rose-tinted way of seeing subscriptions. Sub games tend to have several timegates, as F2P tend to have several paywalls.

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Bruno Brito

Difference is, with F2P at least you can see if it’s a piece of garbage without having paid something first(Then throw money like mad if you enjoy it.)

Exactly.

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kjempff

You are welcome to disagree all you want.
Maybe corrupted is perceived as a strong word for people who like f2p, but from my perspective that is what it does. Meaning, f2p changes how a game can and will be designed, down to its core; not from any anti corporate greed perspective, but simply by how the game is supposed to make money.
A sub game also need to make money, but it can be designed for longevity (and depth) in a different way. I am not a big defender of sub, however f2p in general does not produce games that I like… although reality is not black or white but a big blurry mass of grey, and there are a wide range of more or less intrusive (corrupting) f2p methods.

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Bruno Brito

Maybe corrupted is perceived as a strong word for people who like f2p, but from my perspective that is what it does. Meaning, f2p changes how a game can and will be designed, down to its core; not from any anti corporate greed perspective, but simply by how the game is supposed to make money.

Same as sub games. You speak like subscription models didn’t define game design. They did.

A sub game also need to make money, but it can be designed for longevity (and depth) in a different way.

Yeah. Timegates. You taking a humongous ammount of time in TBC to farm all reputations from outlands to actively being able to join heroics and get ready to THINK about raiding.

I am not a big defender of sub, however f2p in general does not produce games that I like… although reality is not black or white but a big blurry mass of grey, and there are a wide range of more or less intrusive (corrupting) f2p methods.

So it’s corrupting but it’s not corrupting.

Make up your mind, friend.

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gridley17

He said “Maybe corrupted is perceived as a strong word for people who like f2p, but from my perspective that is what it does” as well as described f2p as blurry, grey, and can be more or less intrusive. It sounds like he has his mind made up already and doesn’t really need you directing him to “make up” his mind.

Maybe read a little more for understanding before being so pushy and obnoxious, friend?

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Bruno Brito

Maybe read a little more for understanding before being so pushy and obnoxious, friend?

He can answer for himself, thank you, mouth-piece.

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starbuck1771

For those of you who want to know more of Raph’s thoughts go read his Blog at https://www.raphkoster.com/.

Raph Happy early Birthday. I may have beat you to 49 by 21 days but at least I have very little grey hair. :P

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Raph Koster

Thanks! :)

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starbuck1771

You are welcome. Will you be at the D.I.C.E. summit next year if it isn’t canceled?

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Witches

I don’t get this obsession with the business model, it doesn’t seem to influence the cadence or quality of new content, which is what i care about as a consumer.

Also none of the top MMOs currently or ever are or were pvp games, but somehow all the wannabe saviours of the genre are pvp games.

I don’t want devs to be players, they are invariably (old school GW2 and TSW being the exceptions) the type of player i avoid in game.

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Ozzie

I think it’s a focus because the studio wants you to focus on it. Look at how almost all big new games are introduced – they’ll mention their business model right at the start. For example, taken just now from their new Steam page: “STAR WARS™: The Old Republic™ is a free-to-play MMORPG…” It’s the very first thing they mention, other than the title. Even before the genre of MMO.

Maybe they think players consider the business model as the most important factor in a game. But I think it’s because the business considers it the most important factor and they mistakenly wave it in front of the player. Many studios probably consider the business model just as important, if not more, than their game design. They’ll put so much effort into their business model and cash shops that it drastically impacts their game. I have no doubt SWTOR does just that, as they even sabotage their own gameplay to lure players into their cash shop to buy action bars. So of course they focus on it!

I agree that consumers probably don’t care as much about the business model as they think. I’d be willing to spend a wide spectrum of money if I thought the game was fun and good enough. Anyways, I’m hoping the savior of MMOs are a mid-budget game that puts the game design way above the business model, with pvp or not.

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Bruno Brito

but somehow all the wannabe saviours of the genre are pvp games.

Shallow attempts to inovate so they can be the starters of the fad, kinda like WoW. People still chase the WoW dream til this day of being the “first” ( which wasn’t really, but it was polished better ). Then they fail and need to redesign the entire game, and it launches as a subpar circus.

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Raph Koster

In this case, it just happens to be what I got asked to talk about on a panel. I’d rather talk about game design, and usually do :)

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Sorenthaz

I don’t get this obsession with the business model, it doesn’t seem to influence the cadence or quality of new content, which is what i care about as a consumer.

I guess for me personally, I’ve always seen subscription models as a sense of security. By paying a monthly fee I’m getting access to a game without worrying about paying anything additional (with the exception of expansions). Anything additional is just a bonus vanity bit that is what it is.

I would rather prefer that than have to play F2P/”B2P” with restrictions and paywalls or cash shop items shoved in my face.

Also means that subscription games have to actually work hard to earn my sub, otherwise I’ll unsub and play something else only to maybe come back for a month or two once in a blue moon.

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Bruno Brito

For me, it always depend, because some games pull F2P relatively well ( GW2 being a case, and Wildstar being the epithome of how F2P should be, to the point where it was too forgiving.). Other games pull monetization extremely badly, and most of them are F2P, B2P yeah. But i consider ESO a hybrid, and jesus christ, it’s awful.

Vaeris
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Vaeris

Add to this that with a steady income the devs don’t have to focus on ways to monetize new content. Many times I’ve seen/felt that the content introduced to monetize a FTP cash shop wasn’t engaging content to keep me (a player) coming back.

Having “purchase this” messages shoved in my faced also is a great killer of interest in a game for me as well. I’m there to play the game and enjoy the world, not get barked at by virtual salespeople. If it was a Retail Store or Traveling Salesman MMORPG then I’d expect it though not from the developer itself. Those “purchase this” interactions really kill immersion.

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Bruno Brito

Having “purchase this” messages shoved in my faced also is a great killer of interest in a game for me as well. I’m there to play the game and enjoy the world, not get barked at by virtual salespeople. If it was a Retail Store or Traveling Salesman MMORPG then I’d expect it though not from the developer itself. Those “purchase this” interactions really kill immersion.

Those are really not prevalent features. They’re really common in the lowest of lows, and in Cryptic games. Neverwinter is irritating in that regard, but that’s not something you’ll see for instance, in GW2.

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Sorenthaz

Yeah if cosmetics alone don’t work then they always start putting in pay for convenience options, push lootboxes, gate content behind paywalls, or sometimes even go full P2W.

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Bruno Brito

I can live with most of those, except the p2w stuff.

It’s the nature of F2P. Some concession must be made.

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Anstalt

I love Raph!

Re-reading his “a theory of fun for game design” at the moment and it’s still great. I feel like he has a better grasp of game design and what it takes to design a great game than just about anyone out there, especially when it comes to MMOs.

On the point of subscriptions, I totally agree with everything he said. The main reason they don’t work is simply that the games are not worth it. They’ve been designed around single player mechanics, so they have a single player lifespan, thus not worth paying an ongoing subscription for. As Raph even stated, making a game that is designed to be engaging for years on end is extremely difficult, very few people can do it, thus very few games will be worth subbing to.

My main point in favour of subscriptions was briefly touched upon in the VB article: having a subscription acts as a gating mechanism, only those players who really want to play the game will actually be playing it. This has massive benefits for the quality of the community within that game, and thus massive benefits to retention. This is something I’ve observed firsthand multiple times and is one of the reasons I won’t play F2P games.

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Rndomuser

This has massive benefits for the quality of the community within that game

This is a false assumption. WoW has been sub only yet it always had one of the worst community I have ever experienced in any MMORPG, from elitist assholes who take dungeons way too seriously to general amount of racist, sexist and very immature players in general.

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Rndomuser

And making a game that will hold somebody for years is very hard

It is very hard if you make standard PvE game where people go through new story content and dungeons in 1-2 month then stop subscribing until next major content release because there is nothing else to do (unless you are into RP or general socialization and game has good variety of tools to support this kind of gameplay, but not many players are into that).

It is not that hard if your game has a good variety of PvP gameplay where you can keep being interested in doing things like wage wars over large permanently capturable territory with hundreds of players (or thousands if the game is popular) in every battle or hunt down some careless person or player-run bots in deep area of space ;-) And where you can do some fun social engineering like take over major corporation/alliance and steal all of their very valuable belongings or sabotage them to the point where other corporation or alliance can take over their territory ;-)

Not saying that a game with primary focus on PvP will be always fun for everyone (people get bored even in EVE Online, I’ve seen that, I also felt the same) but just saying that it’s not always hard to make a game which will hold somebody for years depending on the type of game you are making. And of course, the perfect game will allow people of different type of gameplay preference to enjoy it, doesn’t matter if it is PvE dungeon grinding or 1000 player PvP battles, and will provide the best longevity even if it will have subscription fee as the only option, unfortunately no one is trying to make such game yet.

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Bruno Brito

game has good variety of tools to support this kind of gameplay, but not many players are into that)

Debatable. Games with good sandboxy systems ( good crafting, housing, fashion system ) tend to have a better retention rate under content drought timeframes.

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Rndomuser

No, you don’t understand. I know many people like crafting or making their house pretty and like to make their characters pretty and it is true that people like that are the ones that will keep paying sub fee even after finishing all story and dungeons but there aren’t many people like that. When I played WoW – there were people who enjoyed this but most did not, same goes for FFXIV, so if Blizzard and SE would stop releasing new story and dungeons content – both of those games would rapidly decline to the point of being unprofitable.

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Bruno Brito

If any of this was true, you would see WoW fail in the first content drought. How far are we waiting for Shadowlands?

but there aren’t many people like that.

Debatable, again. You don’t know that. You’re going by anedoctal experience, but WoW itself has endgame focused on Raiding and Arenas, yet only 10% of the population partake in those high level content.

so if Blizzard and SE would stop releasing new story and dungeons content

When did i say that? And what? Dude, we’re in a content drought, waiting for Shadowlands. WoW tends to have these YEARLY. And they’re not short. They have 2/3/4 months. Did WoW fail? No.

You speak like WoW players want to wait queues while jumping on their mounts in the capital cities.

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starbuck1771

Yup on or before December 31st. I imagine due to Covid-19 after all they are in California one of the hardest hit states. Their usual release dates are last week of October or in November so not really that big of a push back.

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Bruno Brito

I’m highly sure the first big content drought was Pandaria, with what, 14 months?

These things don’t hold up. Sub-based MMOs tend to make unsubbing a living hell ( a problem i had with wow constantly ), and yet people do.

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starbuck1771

Yes but the issue wasn’t the lack of content but the quality. People had a lot of issues with some of the content. I think you can have around fifty characters per account. Run out of content for one make another and choose different options as you go along.

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Bruno Brito

MOP was a generally liked xpac. Siege of Orgrimmar for an entire year wasn’t. It wasn’t a issue with quality. It was a issue with time. It was also a contemporary of other good MMOs, so people went exploring.

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Raph Koster

It is not that hard if your game has a good variety of PvP gameplay where you can keep being interested in doing things like wage wars

Clearly, the huge plethora of games offering that shows it’s easy to make such a thing. :)

Seriously, making that is Hard. That’s why almost no one has done it.

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Rndomuser

I didn’t say making PvP-focused game which would hold a lot of paid subscribers for long time is “easy”. It is still hard but less hard than making PvE-focused game which needs to hold subscribers.

I have played EVE Online for many years. Since 2004, actually, on various accounts and various corps and alliances. I have never seen something that I have seen in EACH and EVERY PvE-focused game: people mass leaving the game because they have done all storyline content, got latest fancy sword/armor/mount and don’t have anything else interesting to do and don’t want to keep paying monthly fee for doing nothing. Some people were leaving corporations because of real life issues, some were leaving because of disputes or because they did not like the current leadership and some were leaving because they got tired of flying a ship and wanted to play a different game where they can, for example, do cute emotes towards another player’s cute avatars. But the amount of people doing this was very small and never to the extent it happened in PvE-focused games, where I was, for example, a member of some guild which was going from 30-50 active players at the release of new expansion to 10-15 players a couple of months after the expansion, for every expansion or major content patch.

Once again, making successful subscription-based MMORPGs is always hard but it is much, much easier to make a game like EVE where you give people huge territory with lots of fancy tools to create their own content which would encourage them to keep paying monthly fee with little maintenance than to keep pumping out new story and new dungeons for PvE-based game in order to encourage most people to keep paying monthly fee for it without taking a large breaks.

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Raph Koster

I mean, I agree with you, you don’t need to persuade me of the value of systemic content or of how great a game Eve is! — but I also acknowledge that the masses of people who quit Eve do so in the first few days, because of its learning curve. It’s not like Eve is the only game that tried to succeed down this path — they’re the survivor who pulled it off spectacularly.

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starbuck1771

Actually it’s not as much the learning curve in EVE as the social atmosphere. While learning new skills can be time consuming , it’s the trolling, and kill or be killed nature of the game that causes most players to leave. CCP has tried to combat that to draw in new players with F2P but it’s still the nature of the beast.

The issue is to be effective in the game you’re still forced into PvP. Which doesn’t sit well with the majority these days especially those just starting out.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

As someone who free trialed EVE Online, I can actually say I would’ve enjoyed learning those systems over there (I love space-based tactical games!), but it was more the combination of how skills train…

(I don’t like sitting there watching a timer…I prefer active playing, and realizing I’d never catch up with the long term people just because of sheer time spent…this was before you could pay for skills…which I’d be unwilling to pay for too.)

…and the poor tutorial (May have been updated since.) that failed to teach me how to properly handle things and/or know when to get out…

(Promptly got podded by something with missiles shortly after flying around for a bit…trying to do objectives it gave…which it should never have given objectives that could’ve easily gotten me dead for early-game.)

…and the fact that yes, it turns into a PvP-fest after a certain point and I don’t care for PvP, nor being limited to areas because of PvP.

Personally, I probably would’ve ended up being one of those massive capital ships, or a carrier type ship, or maybe even something science-y. Heck, even a miner/hauler wouldn’t be too bad sometimes…

I have no problems paying a sub and have done it on multiple games that were more my style.

I don’t think I even ran into any of the ‘toxic’ people on there, because things went so badly…

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

Of course not, the masses (98% – CCP’s metric, not mine.) leave within the first few weeks.

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Bruno Brito

Yeah. Beautiful.

Let me tell you how it works in the real world: The moment a MMO chooses to go sub, it requires a LOT to keep up with already established solid games. It operates on a loss. There’s only so much you can innovate without screwing things up ( GW2’s lack of trinity for instance ), and most MMO studios aren’t really competent enough to keep a sub-based MMO floating while it bleeds players, because that’s what always happens. Then it goes F2P not because F2P is the best, but because they need to survive and to survive, they need to attract players.

Making a leveling experience through questing is not innovating and won’t win you any lighting in bottles. Not only that but even the newest fad ( action combat ) already went past us, when people realized that action combat is either badly implemented, where it’s not really action, or it’s a workaround for what is shallow combat gameplay.

Everytime this man speaks, i’m reminded of how much of a circus our scene is right now, with old star developers resting on old laurels whilst trying to get back into relevancy with their over-funded, over-hyped, over-featured, past launch date, mechanic-less crowdfunded garbage.

I’ll pass. I don’t know what time Raph lives in, but we’re not in the age of Everquest anymore.

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Raph Koster

First, this wasn’t just about MMOs. The panel discussed season passes, GamePass style aggregation subs, and much more.

Second, who’s talking about leveling grind, be it by quest or not? As I said in the panel, people need to stop thinking that business models drive retention — the game design does. That also implies that a given business model doesn’t necessarily imply a specific game design. Designing for retention has FAR broader scope than EQ style levelling grinds or WoW/FF-style quest lines.

I’d be curious to hear what you do think is innovating, though.

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Bruno Brito

Second, who’s talking about leveling grind, be it by quest or not? As I said in the panel, people need to stop thinking that business models drive retention — the game design does. That also implies that a given business model doesn’t necessarily imply a specific game design. Designing for retention has FAR broader scope than EQ style levelling grinds or WoW/FF-style quest lines.

Business models drive retention because they are the window through how you see how a MMO will be financed. You talk about game design, but game design, as you know, doesn’t come free, and MMOs need to find a way to monetize themselves in the best way possible, to keep players coming. So, business models, in an indirect way, do influence player retention.

For instance, i doubt that keeping GW2 b2p would be beneficial for the scope to which they develop content. In a way, it would be worse, because the entry price is high.

Designing for retention has FAR broader scope than EQ style levelling grinds or WoW/FF-style quest lines.

I agree but that was but one example. There’s not much groundbreaking stuff you can do anymore unless you go full Star Citizen and never launch anything as a result.

The reason why i mentioned Everquest, was because i remember well, that the focus on those times was leveling really slowly by grinding. Questing was groundbreaking. To the point where my game, Priston Tale, had only what, the evolution quests for your character, and they were simply called The Quests, because you had nothing else.

Designing leveling with questing was groundbreaking. Until it wasn’t anymore. We’ll keep moving goalposts to chart new territory but let’s be honest here, are we even getting anywhere?

I’d be curious to hear what you do think is innovating, though.

A waste of time, right now. I’m not interested in food/drink mechanics. I’m not interesting in bio-breaks in game. I’m really not interested in 20min trade trips for the sake of shallow realism. What i want, is that companies become competent enough that they grasp what we already achieved and IMPROVE IT in a meaningful way. I would love, for instance, for WoW to go back to the Talent Tree system and improve it greatly, so you would have meaningful choices and a healthier “must choose” cookie-cutter spec. Because that’s part of it.

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PanagiotisLial1

Not to mention, that for many people, including me, its the things(activities/side activities) a game has in Addition to combat. I think players and new developers got to understand that mmos(and single player games, at least RPGs) arent only about combat. Combat should be just an element of the entire package. To expand not all people like same things too and all like to some extent variety so being able to do various things, and be part of a world.

For what is worth someone above mentioned EVE too(which I played 2012-18) just for PVP, but if you remove all the sand around EVE and make it a ships deathmatch it wouldnt be so interesting either, at least not for long. There the economy model and the various side activities give fuel to the PVP. Also CCP mentioned lots times they got like half players never gone to low security space so yes – its keeping players cause it offers a full package despite its on the rough side for hardness.

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Bruno Brito

I mean, you’re not wrong, but then what? Several MMOs have alternate systems to combat, altho they aren’t the best at implementing them. ESO itself, has a great housing system, it has ok-ish open world. I think if you disconsider the incredibly irritating Cashshop, ESO is one of the best MMOs in the market right now and yet, YET: It’s b2p. People hate the way it’s monetized. I do. Several MOP readers do. Even ESO players do. It already has a huge wall impeding people to join, the game is already monetized to hell and back. Whoever likes ESO enough to sub can sub, but it’s not a model that would sustain the game.

My problem with Raph’s argument here is that subs are a success, when they’ve been failing spetacularly for the past years.

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PanagiotisLial1

Subs exclusively can work on a major game and we havent had one in years. I dont like FFXIV(I think it banks on FF and Anime fans attraction and gets more praise than it deserves as it is full of gated content instead giving you enough freedom of choice on your activities – ESO does a lot better on that part which is a dealbreaker for me) at all but it is the last made subscription game and its not that much new anymore. If the game can attract a target group that is large enough and has the quality needed it can work on sub. Just none makes major games anymore and by major I mean games that target realistically over 100k active subs – in other words, at least large, not huge games. Reason most failed is they were making games on bank credit due to huge development and maintainance budgets so they needed extreme amounts of subs to just survive and same time they got to repay the loans. I could argue more the era of big development budget games might be done since they get more money from console and mobile but I hope I am wrong on that

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Bruno Brito

MMOs are extremely expensive and operate on a loss. I’m not really holding my breath for us seeing anyone trying sub-based monetizations anymore. And most companies aren’t competent enough to pull that.

I’m not debating whether sub based is better than F2P. I’m just facing reality here.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

Hard disagree that subs are failing much less doing so with style.

What has happened is that too many studios that had no business developing or operating an MMO failed hard. This has made the industry niche incredibly adverse to even trying anymore.

Anecdotally: I play and subscribe to FF:XIV. I would drop it in a hearbeat if there was anybody else out there that offered their level of polish and consistency.

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Bruno Brito

There are two sub MMOs out right now. Three if you count ESO. All the others are hybrid or B2P/F2P.

Lets count some, shall we?

– Allods
– Flyff
– Priston Tale
– Everquest
– Everquest 2
– Tibia
– WoW
– The Elder Scrolls Online
– Guild Wars 2
– Dark Age of Camelot
– Ragnarok Online
– Perfect World International
– Tera
– Lineage
– Lineage 2
– Ragnarok Online 2
– Requiem
– Lord of The Rings Online
– Dungeons and Dragons Online
– Neverwinter Online
– Aion Online
– Champions Online
– Blade & Soul
– Adventure Quest 3D
– Adventure Quest Worlds

This is a list of mostly MMOs i played and got from memory, i’m highly sure way more are open and just trudging along. I’m not discussing if these are successful or not because that’s beyond my point.

But of a list that has 25 MMOs, 2 are sub-based. That’s not a trend, and it won’t be. People will not go back to sub-based MMOs, when F2P MMOs offer one great entry-level population.

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starbuck1771

What no Age of Conan, or Fallen Earth?

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Bruno Brito

When i typed DAoC i remembered AoC but forgot later. Bleh. AoC is a great game and i would love it to get a developer who’s worth a damn to introduce housing, a small level squish and give the support it deserves.

FE is not up, so…

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

Ew. ‘Season Pass’/’Gamepass’. Gag me.

Runescape put one of those in, and they HAVE a subscription mode (That game’s been weird about this stuff for years though…they are now trying to ‘triple dip’ with a subscription, battlepass, and another membership club thing that gives access to a special area…along with having F2P options..up to a point skill-wise.), and DIDN’T include their subscribers/members in the goodies the ‘Battlepass’ or whatever it was called gave. That’s one reason I left again actually, among a couple others. If you’re going to stiff your sub members, by creating another way to be subbed and not giving them access/expecting them to pay double, at least expect to lose even more players.

I’m almost to the point where if I even see that as an option in a game, it’s a ‘hard pass’ now.

I’ve been playing ESO ‘subscribed’ (ESO+) for almost a year…and tried to buy the game sections/DLC I’d probably play, but they did shenanigans that wouldn’t let me just purchase the ones I’d want…so I ended up basically re-paying for portions, then doing the ESO+ to get access to craft bag/extra bag space…and now I technically have enough crowns to buy everything except the new expansion or whatever…but they just did something insanely stupid to try and boost their cash shop sales…they took away our ‘gallop’ skill…as a pure PvE player that was a huge no-no. So I took away my CC info.

If you want consumers to pay money, don’t be a dumb-!)% and take things away from your customers, or try and get a ‘one-up’ on them/try and slow them down. Customers that are having fun, will pay you as long as they are having fun. When they stop having fun, and you make things difficult, they get bored…and wander off, taking the money you love so dearly with them…

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Bruno Brito

Which is a point i agree with here: Sub, F2P, B2P, whatever. The problem is that greed and incompetence are reigning on the MMO market, so even good MMOs have to languish with godawful monetization, like ESO.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

I’ll just copy the reply I made to you in another thread here, because it’s also relevant to you saying ESO is ‘good’ :

I was really really enjoying all the sneaking around/stealth mechanics/thieving stuff, so I wanted to make that stuff easier on myself, and I certainly wanted to try out the assassins guild…because that’s basically how I roll character-wise normally anyway, but it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. Being able to be swiftly forgotten for thieves guild though, that’s really helpful. Problem is, how they did it, you have to re-do the whole story-line for every alt, and if you’re like me, playing all of them through that gets crazy tedious, and just boosting it up by doing the pickpocketing quests is also just as bad, because they put in those stupid long load screens…so you load into the thieve’s guild area, then have to run over to the the thieves refuge and load in there, then once you get your quest, you have to either load back out to zone to wayshrine, or use money to travel to another zone…and that’s another zone load, but to get the max rep for some of those, you have to thieve in 3 areas, so it’s 3 zones worth of loading…then go back and reload…I had enough. That was just dumb. Remove the stupid load screens already, especially since we PAID FOR YOUR GAME!

That, and once you have craft bag open, you literally realize after awhile, that there’s no point in any of the stuff you pick up, except for gear for your character…and once you’ve thieved your hearts content, you also realize there’s not really a point to gold either. Then you start questioning why the heck you’re actually playing…when you still haven’t really found the main story line quest stuff almost 9 months in…(I think it was the Harborage stuff, but I managed to do like maybe 7 of those, and then got annoyed by it being locked away in an instanced area that required load screens…)

Yeah, it’s a fun game in some ways, sure. But there’s a lot of things wrong there…and it’s stuff that’s intended to slow you down/make you realize there isn’t actually that much of a game there…

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Bruno Brito

so even good MMOs have to languish with godawful monetization, like ESO.

I think it was clear enough. ESO has a terrible monetization model. I’m not disagreeing with you there. The game ITSELF is good. The artificial systems designed to make you pay, aren’t.

ESO is half-way Archeage. People keep saying how good Archeage would have been without the monetization schemes, except that Archeage had the labor system and the regrade system by design in the game. These systems were designed to be monetized and they’re not artificially implemented. The game itself is a cashgrab.

ESO has some of these: The crafting is timegated by design, the mount upgrade is 180 days of pure tedium, set farming is really bad and work intwined with crafting.

So, if your argument is that ESO cash model is pure dumpsterfire of irritation, you won’t find me disagreeing with you.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

Heh, I just wish games would knock it off with the stuff intended to get you to pay a little more. I keep having to leave games that are otherwise decent for silly reasons like them catering to the AFK auto-play crowd, attempting to nickel-dime you for everything, or ‘You won’t pay us enough, so we put impediments to your fun all over until you do’ stuff, when I normally pay (IN BULK NO LESS) for the games I play.

I love those ‘You pay a few hundred right now and get the whole shebang for a year, and we’ll take a smidge off the price’ deals. Not my fault if they can’t manage that cash-flow of instant cash but no more later..(Heck, I even occasionally buy something else midway down the road too, if I see something I really want that I didn’t ‘earn’ by being a paid up member.).

Can’t comment on Archeage, because I didn’t even try it. Only know what I’ve heard about it from others here.

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Arktouros

Hard disagree here. Subscription model is easily the worst.

The first problem is that most cases Subscriptions are a double dip right off the bat as companies will sell you the game content as part of a $20/40/60+ package but then also charge you a subscription to access that content you’ve already paid for. No other entertainment source even is remotely comparable as you either buy something or you rent something, not have to pay rent to access the thing you’ve already bought.

More over rarely we’re talking about a subscription for access to a singular game. In today’s entertainment market where we’re literally bombarded with multiple companies all offering us endless hours of variety of video content let alone burgeoning services like Game Pass now also offering endless hours of video game content. You wanting the same price for access to a singular game is a really bad value proposition. I mean I paid like $46 for 11 months of Game Pass through various deals and have easily downloaded $300+ worth of games so far on Xbox and my PC and I still got 4 months to go.

Which brings us to the fact that almost no companies out there can or have delivered enough content in 30 days to justify a subscription. The only two that come to mind are Black Desert, which has a patch each week with usually one of those being a big patch once a month and early Guild Wars 2 when they were doing their twice a month content updates (oh how the mighty have fallen). Every other game is beyond disappointing and you still end up with huge content droughts.

What’s the result? People stop subscribing and move on to an other game who either just did a major update or some other side game. When they finally produce new content in 3 months some people go back others just don’t. Subscriptions create a huge barrier to entry where someone now has to pay just to check the game back out again. This is devastating for smaller companies as larger companies have the income levels to weather it. This is why so many games failed in the late 2000’s.

The only reason people talk it up is nostalgia for the way things used to be.

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Bruno Brito

when they were doing their twice a month content updates (oh how the mighty have fallen).

Those were pretty small content tho, being devoured in hours of gameplay, and then people were left to sustain their gametime with core GW2, which isn’t really the most complete experience.

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Raph Koster

GamePass is a subscription. As I mentioned on another comment, the panel (and interview) were not about MMOs specifically.

I also think that this comment:

almost no companies out there can or have delivered enough content in 30 days to justify a subscription.

really misunderstands what drives the need for ongoing revenue. You’re not paying for additional content. You’re paying for the servers to be running at all. An online service could launch and never update ever again, and it would still require ongoing revenue.

That doesn’t mean ongoing updates aren’t important: they are. People get bored, need new content, etc. But there’s a reason why there have been ongoing fees for online gaming since forever, and it’s not to make new content.

Subs as a barrier to entry is very much a thing, as you state. But one reason why many have set up VIP sub tiers on their F2P games is because subs provide more reliable, regular revenue, as a tradeoff for spikier but often more lucrative revenue. Reliability is valuable to a business. I predict we see more hybrids like that, where a game is free, but there’s a sub tier.

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starbuck1771

Correct which is why those that are free to play have micro-transaction stores as well as subscription options. If you are not a subscriber you are gated from certain content that you will have to purchase via a store or subscribe to activate.

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Bruno Brito

I predict we see more hybrids like that, where a game is free, but there’s a sub tier.

This is not anything but the obvious, Raph. Hybrid is the way forward because F2P is the way forward, but no company wants to lose their sub players. They want the best of both worlds.

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PanagiotisLial1

I kind of like how SWTOR and TESO do with subs right now. The former gives some cash shop currency, some extra quality of life and gifts every now and then and TESO gives mainly a lot more quality of life. Both dont have too pricey subs either and both are hybrids since their sub is optional and they got a store

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Bruno Brito

both are hybrids since their sub is optional and they got a store

Both have heavy-handed cashshops.

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PanagiotisLial1

Its optional, since hybrid – personally since my budget is low(living on a fairly poor country after all) all I spent for was one mount and one house that fit my Argonian Templar(light RP reasons)

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starbuck1771

You may want to try Lord of the Rings Online. You get shop funds for completing deeds which are relatively simple via slayer, exploration, and skill usage deeds. There are also some event deeds that grant points and other items.

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Bruno Brito

I did. Still heavy. I love LOTRO, but that’s another can of worms.

Also, i wouldn’t submit myself to the masochism that is playing LOTRO right now.

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starbuck1771

That was meant for PanagiotisLial1

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Bruno Brito

LOTRO having to buy the riding skill and not being an account-wide feature was a pretty huge blow on my chest.

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starbuck1771

I automatically get riding skill at level 5 for every character I make plus multiple mounts.

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Bruno Brito

Sub? I had to buy mine with farmed cash shop currency, and it didn’t translate to other characters.

The talent benefits being also behind paywalls, and you have to buy each one, was also egregious.

LOTRO cash shop is a great example of how not to do things, in my perspective.

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PanagiotisLial1

Already done sice long ago and still visiting it fairly often. There arent that many mmorpgs I havent tried as from late 90s to today I tried well over 100. LOTRO uses a system similar to SWTOR rewarding achievements(more often than SWTOR though) and it was always good – the problem with them is stat items in cash shop and the fact that if someone started and had to pay through all expansions it would be a lot. Also buying an expansion sometimes gets stuck and you wait a lot(they use some second party). I bought helms deep and still havent received the key after 2 weeks – just got multiple emails to inform me the order was made and paid. Digital River is a problem

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Bruno Brito

Right now, my Wood Elf Nightblade ( shadowknight ) has 8 slots of his backpack occupied by transmutation charges. They don’t stack and are extremely useful for when i get the CC DLC. Which is one of the issues with ESO, a lot of the features is paywalled.

The Rapid Maneuver changes is also a pretty sour change for me.

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PanagiotisLial1

Keep in mind there is a bag space npc where you upgrade space with ingame gold – for me that along with horse upgrades and bank upgrades with ingame gold was enough so far

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Bruno Brito

Yes. I know that. It’s also a HUGE moneysink, and most ESO gold rewards are for what, 300 gold?

My bank upgrade is what, 33k, i have 30k. Right now, my bank is full of crafting food materials.

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Arktouros

Well this website is about MMOs, specifically. Also to give context that I did leave out I specifically was talking about the “Subscription Only” MMO business model.

really misunderstands what drives the need for ongoing revenue. You’re not paying for additional content. You’re paying for the servers to be running at all. An online service could launch and never update ever again, and it would still require ongoing revenue.

Yes however this entirely ignores my point that from the customer angle we have numerous options. This isn’t 1997 and MMOs are entirely new and oh which one will I play I guess this one because it’s the only one. You can perfectly explain the math of server costs and keeping the lights on but what it comes down to from the customer perspective is I got $15 to spend. What can that $15 get me?

If the answer is “We need that $15 to keep the servers on so you can keep accessing repeatable quests that we put in to keep you grinding on a filler content treadmill.” then I don’t find that a very compelling argument to spend $15 on. I can easily go take my $15 to steam and get a new indie game and get more hours of enjoyment out of or I can take my $15 to Xbox and get their game pass and get access to tons of games.

Now if the answer is “We need that $15 to to keep the servers on and oh btw here’s this major system update and next month we’ll have a new class coming.” then you start to really justify my attention and money.

We’ve reached a point in the gaming industry where the limiter is customer time. We can only game for X hours a day and there’s endless choices where to spend that time on and other services that aren’t games are also now competing to entertain. Updates are the only thing keeping me paying and playing. Games to who fail to understand this die off.

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Bruno Brito

I was waiting for you to reply.

This isn’t 1997 and MMOs are entirely new and oh which one will I play I guess this one because it’s the only one. You can perfectly explain the math of server costs and keeping the lights on but what it comes down to from the customer perspective is I got $15 to spend. What can that $15 get me?

Perfection

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Armsman

Ralph Koster (like Lord British) is now just a big windbag stuck in the past. Theory Crafting is fine, but when virtually NONE of your theory survives in the real world…

He’s ultimately screwed the pooch in some way on nearly every game he’s been involved with.

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Ozzie

Merit from the past is no longer good enough to have insights into game design? Helping to create the entire genre isn’t good enough? Being there from the start and working on these designs without a blueprint for decades, isn’t good enough?

If the only merit is surviving in the real world now, there’s just not a very big list of people able to have game design insights. You might have noticed the genre isn’t doing so great at the moment. So I’d rather listen to people who have tackled these foundational problems firsthand than listen to WoW devs talk about how to survive in present day.

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Raph Koster

You’ll just have to wait and see what we ship, of course.

That said, I have extremely high confidence that you’re playing a game that uses features I helped design. :D Saying none of the theory survived is… odd!

But that’s OK! I recognize that people are burned out, jaded, and skeptical. I’m pretty excited about what we’re making, but there’s no reason for people to take it on faith. Proof will be in the pudding, or not.

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starbuck1771

Yeah people forget that you designed a lot of games, features, & systems that are still actively in use today including my beloved Star Wars Galaxies. I wish Disney would get you to do a second SWG because I bet you could make a better one with all the content available from the sequel trilogy as well as the animated shows and the Mandalorian .

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Bruno Brito

If you said this before the Camelot Unchained debacle with the new game, i would be agreeing with you, sword in my chest.

As for now? Yeah. Proof is in the pudding. I wish you the best.

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Armsman

The ‘theory’ I’m talking about is the idea that right now, no new game is going 100% subscription. The full subscription model is effectively dead – but that’s more because Developers know F2P is and always has been more profitable – and PROFIT is what drives new game development. Yes, WoW and FFXIV started and stayed subscription, but they are both outliers in many respects.

Western Developers didn’t try the Asian F2P model out of fear that Western players would never accept it – but once DDO showed the Western audiences would, the switch was on and there won’t be anyone going back. (BTW – I’m not a fan of the F2P model, but I understand WHY MMO development companies see it as the main way to go if they want to maximize profit and ROI.)

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Bruno Brito

I’m highly sure most old import MMOs ( PT, Flyff, ) made quite a buck with their godawul cash shops.

Why are we discussing this? The past is important as a study piece, but not as a place of betterment. We’re not moving forward towards a new age of subs. It’s dead.

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Raph Koster

The ‘theory’ I’m talking about is the idea that right now, no new game is going 100% subscription.

I wasn’t arguing for that though. The case I was making, and I think it’s pretty clear in the interview, was this:

“Treat your players right! Make them a fun game! Earn those dollars! If you meet player desires and needs, they will subscribe, they will pay by other means. Don’t treat them as cash cows. Don’t see yourself as above them, don’t think of them as a market to be exploited! Think of you and them together on a journey, and treat them right!”

That’s what I was actually arguing for, and I think I have been pretty consistent in arguing that way for many years.

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Bruno Brito

“Treat your players right! Make them a fun game! Earn those dollars! If you meet player desires and needs, they will subscribe, they will pay by other means. Don’t treat them as cash cows. Don’t see yourself as above them, don’t think of them as a market to be exploited! Think of you and them together on a journey, and treat them right!”

Ok, cool. I can get on with that.

Still doesn’t change reality that the sub model all but merged into F2P because no one will pay sub MMOs nowadays unless they’re the “big two” or some of the hybrid options with strong IPs to back them up. Which is mainly what i’m arguing here: Almost no MMO nowadays is worth a sub.

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PanagiotisLial1

Theory Crafting is fine, but when virtually NONE of your theory survives in the real world…

If the only goal is surviving and not moving the genre forward the path is simple and recently tried. Mobile games-that cost nothing to install but a lot to advance. Just check their revenues.

But many devs and players want something with quality on PCs, cant blame them

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Bruno Brito

The problem is that going back doesn’t move forward. We’re not going back to the age of subs. We’re simply not.

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PanagiotisLial1

The problem is how we move forward too – if the driving force is only money future games will be mainly gatcha-like

Also its wrong to emulate the past – it isnt wrong to learn from the past

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Bruno Brito

It already is. We already have crapload of gacha monetization in games.

And learning from the past is one thing, praising it without criticism is another, which is what i took from Koster here.

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starbuck1771

I disagree Raph & Richard are both great people. If you don’t like their theory’s that’s fine but no reason to insult them.

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Bruno Brito

Considering what happened with Shroud, i’m highly sure everyone who backed Richard have enough reason to spit on his face, let alone insult him.

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starbuck1771

People make mistakes. (To err is human; to forgive, divine. Alexander Pope -1711)

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Bruno Brito

Irrelevant. Making mistakes is human, making mistakes with your money, then just leave the project and keep avoiding the subject while going deep-sea diving isn’t a mistake, it’s a fuckup without self-analysis.

I’m not obligated to be a better person than Richard Fucking Garriott.

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Java Jawa

Take some notes lotro!