Stropp's World

Games And Gamery

SWToR Free To Play — That Was Quick

Posted by Stropp on August 1, 2012

The SWToR devs have announced that Star Wars The Old Republic is going to go to the free to play model.

That didn’t take very long did it?

I’m sure all kinds of analysis is going to be published around the internet in the coming days about why this happened. Lot of commentary about how the subscription model, or the MMO genre itself, is dead will be written. I might drop a few words about the subject myself in the next few days.

Just my immediate reaction now though. Am I sad about this?

Well kinda. It’s sad to see the hard work done by the developers (programmers, artists, etc) go this way. Sure the game isn’t dead, but it’s a bit of an indictment on that effort don’t you think?

On the other hand, lots has been said over the last few years about the philosophy of simply copying WoW. And to be honest, SWToR is a gussied up copy of World of Warcraft with even less MMO. It is effectively a single player game with lots of other players. That the developers (executive) didn’t take notice of this shift is why we are seeing this gorgeous game fail*.

In the meantime I leave you with some pages to read. First of all, the comparison of free to play vs subscription features. And here is the FAQ from Bioware.

*Fail — Not meeting expectations.


What Games Would You Like To Go Free-To-Play?

Posted by Stropp on June 22, 2012

There’s been a huge abandoment of the subscription model over the last few years. MMOs that started as traditional subscription model games have been rejigged into the free-to-play model where players don’t have to pay to play, but instead are offered ‘products’ such as experience potions, pets, mounts, and in some cases power enhancements.

The beauty of this model is simple, if you don’t want to pay a cent to play the game you don’t have to. There may be some inconvenience; it takes longer to level; forsaking fast travel; even not being able to go into some zones; but you have a choice. And it’s great for budget challenged players.

There are advantages for the developer too. If the game is anywhere past decent, it’s a chance to aquire new players, and with each new player added there is a chance to increase revenue with in-game sales.

So the question is: What games, past, present or future, would you like to go free-to-play?

For me, I’d like to see Asheron’s Call converted to free-to-play. How about you?

Everquest 2, Now More Free To Play

Posted by Stropp on November 11, 2011

There’s a bit of buzz today over the announcement by SOE that Everquest 2 is going to go completely free to play. (See the producers letter for details.)

SOE have been testing the waters of freeness with EQ2 for a while now, with EQ2 Extended. That must have been a successful enough test to encourage SOE to go all the way with free to play. At least with EQ2. (I wonder if they’ll go the same way with other titles like Vanguard?)

My first thought was that I’ll now be able to get back to EQ2 and spend some time adventuring with my characters. But after seeing how the FTP works, I’m not so sure how this all is going to work with existing characters.

Have a look at the price chart for EQ2. (Click for a bigger version)

You notice a couple of things about the free option, and the silver for that matter.

Spell Tiers

If you pay for the Gold membership, you’ll have access to all spell tiers. That means you can upgrade your spells and combat abilities to the maximum allowed, that’s master level now I think. However, with the free sub you can only upgrade to the adept level.

Now that’s okay for a new character. I have no problem with SOE encouraging players to subscribe with better character progression, after all they’re in the business to make some money. However, I’m not sure how this works with existing characters.

If I log in free with Bargears, my close to max level Troll Shadowknight, what happens to the many abilities and spells I have upgraded beyond Adept?

Do I lose them completely, or am I just temporarily downgraded to Adept until I purchase the appropriate subscription?

Shared Bank Slots

This is another concern. Over the years I have collected a bunch of items that I have put into the bank, and when I’ve run out of room, into the shared bank slots.

With a free account, not only does the number of bags I can have get reduced from six to two, my shared bank slots go down to zero. What happens to all the gear and items I have in those slots? Gone forever, held in escrow, or something else?

Active Journal Quests

Everquest 2 has perhaps one of the most generous allowances of active quests I have seen anywhere. For a long time WoW only had 25 or so, not sure what it is now, and Fallen Earth only has 20. Even so I found myself bumping my head on the quest limit, and when I departed the game over a year ago now, I reckon I was close to the limit too.

Free accounts now only have room for 20 quests in the quest journal. Again, not a big deal if starting fresh. SOE has to make some money to keep the game running. But again I find myself wondering what happens to those quests above the limit when a player logs in for the first time.

These questions may have already been answered. I haven’t gone looking for a FAQ yet. But there was no mention of the consequences for long established players who have let their accounts lapse and then log in after the game has gone free to play in the producers letter. If they haven’t already addressed these issues, then SOE needs to do so before the FTP goes live. Otherwise there may be some very unpleasant surprises waiting for players.

And that won’t be good for anyone.

Fallen Earth: Back To The Apocalypse

Posted by Stropp on October 16, 2011

It wasn’t exactly an auspicious return to Fallen Earth.

Now that Fallen Earth has gone free to play, I figured it might be a good time to see what has changed and how the game was handling the whole going free thing.

After spending a while patching the game to the latest version, I logged in and created a new character, and was immediately popped into the tutorial. So far so good. I did the tutorial missions without any problems, and then was given the option of choosing the starter town. This is where things fell apart. I dropped from the game, and then upon logging in found myself stuck at the character select.

It turns out that the servers couldn’t handle the huge number of players coming back to the game, or the new people attracted by the change to F2P. The devs did some quick magic to lower the number of players allowed in, and that got the servers back up an hour or so later.

The next problem I had was that once logged in, I couldn’t get out of the town chooser area. The first time this happened, a GM ported a bunch of us out to the towns we wanted. In my case that port worked, but I couldn’t get any quests. Turns out that some new characters were bugged, and needed to be deleted and recreated. I ended doing this twice until I got a playable character.

The other odd thing that the stuck players reported was a game dropout that put them in a long canyon. This happened a couple of times to me too.

I did finally later in the evening manage to login and start playing. I also spent a few hours today playing an old character. I’m looking forward to spending time in Fallen Earth again.

Still, it seems the change to free to play isn’t quite as straight-forward as the devs would have hoped.

Is Free To Play A Sign Of Defeat?

Posted by Stropp on September 3, 2011

Or is it the superior business model for MMORPGs?

Star Trek Online is the latest MMO to announce that they are going to go from a subscription model to a free to play business model. Considering that Champions had already made the transition some time ago, this announcement didn’t come as a surprise.

It seems that more and more second tier MMORPGs are making the move to free to play. Dungeons and Dragons Online started the trend a few years ago, and that move saved the struggling game at the time. Since then, we’ve seen Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, Champions go free, with Fallen Earth and now Star Trek making the move in the near future.

In the cases of DnDO, LotRO, and AoC the developers have reported significant increases in the number of players playing, and an increase in revenue.

Of course none of the first tier MMORPGs are planning to go FTP anytime soon. WoW and Rift, as far as I know have no intention, and the big up and comers, The Secret World and Star Wars The Old Republic have announced that they will be using the subscription model.

So it seems that, in Western markets at least, developers prefer the subscription business model. And who can blame them? Subs provide a fairly stable income stream, which if you have lots of subscribers can be huge.

But when these games start struggling with subscriber numbers, it seems more and more of them opt to change the model to the free to play model.

So I ask, is this a sign of defeat or does it mean that free to play is the superior business model?

Secret World Subscriptions

Posted by Stropp on August 27, 2011

Yesterday Funcom announced that The Secret World business model was going to go down the subscription path with a game store that sells only convenience and character customisation gear.

I have been wondering a bit about this. While it’s not surprising that Funcom are going to use a subscription model for The Secret World, the fact is that going Freemium with Age of Conan has brought a lot of new players (or perhaps returning players) to the game. Something like 300,000 extra active players I believe, which has to be good for the game.

Still, The Secret World has a lot of positive buzz around it at the moment. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t do well at launch, as long as the launch itself doesn’t go the same way as the Anarchy Online and Age of Conan launches.

Third time lucky anyone?

Age Of Conan Unrated

Posted by Stropp on May 26, 2011

Noah over at Channel Massive has some words to say about the news that Age of Conan is going to go free to play, and more to the point, how Funcom are planning to push the game as unrated. I wrote about Conan going F2P last night, but missed the point on the lack of rating. That might have been the lateness of the hour of writing.

Noah makes a few good points about this strategy, including the fact that by unrating the game, Funcom is effectively cutting themselves off from all but the digital distribution channels. At first glance this seems like a bad strategy, but I wonder actually how many boxed copies of AoC are still being sold. My guess is that it’s not very many, and that the digital sales already vastly exceed the box sales.

The other point Noah raises is:

But Funcom has put itself into a dangerous place beyond how the game’s distributed. If this new version just adds a few more fatality animations and more T&A, misinformed media are likely to be the only ones jumping on it, adding fuel to the fire that games are a corrupt, dehumanizing experiences for everyone (especially the children! Oh, the children!).

I’m not sure this move is all that dangerous. Sure, there is some risk here, but there is probably more reward. We all know how the news media, especially types like Faux News, love to jump on the Helen Lovejoy, won’t somebody please think of the children bandwagon when it comes to anything new. Politicians know this all too well, and since they love to be seen so much they love to climb aboard this particular wagon as well.

There is no danger that Age of Conan will be banned due to its content. Politicians have tried to ban games from being sold to minors in brick and mortar stores and they haven’t yet succeeded because the courts see this as an unconstitional attack on free speech. It would be nigh on impossible to succeed in bringing in a law that banned a game being distributed over the Internet.

The thing is, making this much noise about how evil such and such a game is generally doesn’t have the kind of effect that the naysayers would like. They want parents and lawmakers to come down hard and ban the games they don’t like. The fact is most people have more than half a brain and know that games are really pretty harmless (no reputable, unbiased, or peer approved study has ever found a link between games and violence) or they simply don’t care.

All the jumping up and down about games simply advertises the game to people who would like to play it, and they buy. Even some pretty terrible games, and I don’t mean morally terrible, have experience great sales even though they didn’t deserve them.

Noah continues:

Honestly, the “unrated” strategy seems like a desperate swipe for short-lived notoriety, something Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online and D&D Online didn’t need to be successful after transitioning to F2P. Can’t Age of Conan be meritable just for going F2P and adding a new expansion?

That’s true, but LoTRO was a great game from the start, and DnD Online had the advantage of being one of the first western games to go F2P gaining a lot of publicity in the process. Age of Conan suffered from a lack of content at launch and the subsequent bad publicity, and while the game itself has been vastly improved Funcom don’t appear to have recovered from that launch.

By relaunching the game, and perhaps getting some free advertising from the Helen Lovejoy’s for AoCs unrated extreme and sexy content, Funcom is looking to give the game a large initial boost.

The biggest risk Funcom faces is that noone will take notice of the media and politicians, and not play the game.

Conan The F2P Barbarian

Posted by Stropp on May 26, 2011

Age of Conan is going to be relaunched as a Free To Play game sometime this NH summer, which should be pretty soon now as it is getting quite chilly in the land of Oz.

It’s not all that surprising really. Funcoms other game, Anarchy Online, also doesn’t require a paid subscription for the low end content. And from what I’ve observed, adding special F2P servers for Everquest 2 has been good for that game as well. Hopefully this action by Funcom helps AoC get a decent influx of new and old players into the game.

It’s been a while since I player AoC. It was about a year ago I took advantage of a promotion to create a Barbarian and retry the game. At launch Age of Conan was fairly limited with the best content being experienced in Tortage under level 20. When I got back into the game last, it was obvious that Funcom had spent a lot of time and effort improving the post-Tortage experience. And from the press releases I’ve seen, that effort has continued.

I’ve also seen recently that there is going to be an expansion that ties into some of the locations that movie goers will see in the new Conan The Barbarian movie.

With all that, and considering that the Barbarian is going to be one of the four classes that comes ‘free’ with the F2P aspect of the game, it might be worth dusting him off, equipping that axe, and once again finding out what it best in life.