Blizzard’s Q4 2014 Report: Hearthstone Edition

The big news in the Activision Blizzard Quarterly Report everywhere else is that WoW appears to have stabilized at 10 million subscriptions. Also, that Hearthstone has 25 million registered users, whatever that means. After reading through the transcript of the earnings call however, it turns out that we can estimate exactly how well Hearthstone is performing. Spoiler alert: it’s pretty damn good.

First, we have this quote from Bobby Kotick:

Last year, we launched 2 of the most successful new entertainment brands, Destiny and Blizzard’s Hearthstone. Combined, they attracted over 40 million registered players worldwide and generated more than $850 million in non-GAAP revenue, a testament to our team’s proven abilities to capture the imaginations of millions of people around the world time and time again.

Then from Eric Hirshberg (CEO of Activision):

So in closing, over the last 3 years, Activision Publishing has methodically expanded its portfolio, and for the first time in its history, now has 3 tent-pole properties, each of which generated over $500 million in non-GAAP revenue this year and drove the highest digital revenues in Activision Publishing’s history.

So by the power of inductive reasoning, we can say Hearthstone made around $350 million in revenue last year. Further, according to Thomas Tippl (COO), Destiny and Hearthstone are “tent-pole franchises” that were “profitable out of the gate” and are expected to “contribute to [Activision Blizzard’s] results every year in a significant way.” Combine that with Mike Morhaime confirming that the December release of the Goblins vs Gnomes expansion resulted in the highest monthly active players and highest revenue quarter-to-date, that indicates Hearthstone is still growing a year later. That’s kind of a big deal.

Now, it’s entirely possible that “more than $500 million” means Destiny has a larger slice of the $850 million combined revenue pie than I am assuming here. Maybe Hearthstone “only” achieved $300 million. Or even as little as $250 million. It’s helpful to keep some perspective though: all of paper and digital Magic: the Gathering brings in $250 million in revenue. So, on the low end, Hearthstone is already a bigger franchise than Magic: the Gathering. And apparently growing.

Not bad for a “casual app with a PC port.”

Time is Fair

Tobold has a series of posts now in which he simultaneously blames players for the failure of F2P games and then denigrates everyone who, you know, plays RPGs for supporting/enjoying “Grind2Win.” Apparently it is unfair for someone who has played an RPG for longer than you to have any advantage whatsoever. I can only imagine what he thinks about XP as a concept.

In short: Tobold is against any form of progression that you can’t buy your way past; merely playing the game more is asking too much.

Perhaps I am being less charitable here, but I consider the entire “debate” to be, quite frankly, insane. If you spend more time reading a book than me, you will be further along in the story than I. That is… logic, working as intended. Meanwhile, time and money are not analogous; the former is distributed equally to all persons and the latter is not. Perhaps you could argue that more money allows for more day-to-day freedom (i.e. time), but that extra freedom still requires one to spend the same hours playing a game as anyone else.

There is literally no more fair a payment than time. Unless you are dying by mid-evening, everyone has the same 24 hours in their day and every single one of those hours is valuable. Conversely, money has a marginal utility such that $10 to one person is a rounding error and to someone else it’s food for the week.

One of Tobold’s complaints is that Grind2Win lessens the importance of skill. Well, yes and no. If two players of equal skill are fighting, the one who spent more time playing the game will probably win. And that’s… a terrible outcome, I guess? A great moral failing of design? I mean, how dare someone who spent more time in an activity have an advantage over someone who has not! A truly Just World would… have exactly that design.

In clashes of unequal skill however, the outcome is usually less clear-cut than what is being assumed here. Outside of level differences in RPGs and time-management games like Clash of Clans, it’s hard to say how big an advantage grinding gets you. Gevlon did demonstrate it was possible to clear an entire WoW raiding tier in blue gear. Indeed, the surprisingly large delta between skill and gear becomes obvious in most MMOs – squeezing in an extra attack per rotation (skill) will almost always trump a blanket 5/10/15% better DPS stats (time). In MMO PvP, 10% more health isn’t going to save you from being dismantled by a Pro Player.

So what Tobold seems to be really upset about is that small band of conflict between a mediocre player who plays a game often and the slightly-less mediocre player who doesn’t. Sorry, I can’t quite get worked up about the “inequity” of that situation. Not only is one’s time-advantage frequently capped – in MMOs via raiding tiers – it is not much to ask a player to… play the game. Even the most skilled Chess player in the world has to, you know, play a lot of Chess matches to move up the ladder.

All of this really ignores the fact that “Grind2Win” doesn’t even exist as a monetization strategy on its own. Without a cash shop bypass, “grind” really means “pacing” – you can complain about the pacing being off or too slow, but that’s about it. You can’t even argue that MMOs like WoW have weekly raid lockouts to milk subscriptions because it makes no sense. The world-first competition is over within a few resets, long before anyone can “grind” anything. And then the entire tier lasts six months or more, leaving plenty of time for anyone else that cares to get all the gear they want/need. The only scenario that one needs to be suspicious of is when a task is made arduous while there is a cash-based workaround.

The bottom line here is that Pay2Win and Grind2Win are not “equally unfair” and its insulting to even suggest it. I know it sucks to lose to a “no-lifer” who is really a human being that has spent more time playing a game than you, but it’s not even in the same league as someone buying their way to the endgame. A hundred dollars to a F2P whale is not of equal value to a hundred dollars from someone living paycheck to paycheck. Hours spent, though? That’s a direct correlation with how valuable a given activity is to you. And if you are unwilling to spend the time on something, what are you even complaining about?

Daybreak at SOE

Talk about an unexpectedly busy couple of days in MMO news.

Multiple struggling age-old companies shedding otherwise profitable enterprises for… reasons. First you have AOL unceremoniously dumping Joystiq and every blog under that umbrella, including WoW Insider and Massively. And now you have Sony selling SOE to an investment firm in what sounds like a shady back-alley deal. I mean, you’d think if it were a positive, on-the-level thing, there would be talk leading up to the deal, you know? Not just coming to work and seeing this out front:

I expect to see those letters on eBay tomorrow.

I expect to see those letters on eBay tomorrow.

There has been a lot of schadenfreude in terms of SOE/Massively bashing, but I’m not entirely sure that is the actual lede here. Sony hemorrhaged $1.29 billion last year, while restructuring itself out of the PC and low-range TV markets. While most articles mention that SOE specifically lost ~$60 million, that seems to be largely based on shuttering Free Realms, Star Wars: Clone Adventures, Vanguard, and Wizardly Online, not necessarily the profitability (or lack thereof) of SOE’s other titles. The other thing to keep in mind is that SOE’s losses are less than 5% of Sony’s total losses. So this deal seems a lot less like Sony dropping an under-performing asset and more like Sony pawning its laptop to make the rent payment.

As far as AOL goes, their primary aim these days is to sell ads, apparently.

We can suggest that the sale of SOE indicates that SOE is in trouble, but thus far the (optimistic?) indications are that its business as usual. PlanetSide 2 just started becoming profitable. No studios are being shut down (yet?). H1Z1 is… selling betas? EverQuest Next is still in the pipeline. Is there actually a better time to sell SOE to investors than right now, at the bottom of a potential growth curve? It is still entirely possible that “SOE being SOE” will ruin everything, but my point is that the sale itself is not indicative of anything in particular. Sony is about a half hour away from turning tricks on the street corner; can’t really blame SOE for that.

Well, other than the four failed MMOs closed last year, but that could happen to anyone.

One final note on the SOE thing: one of the senior managers of the no-name investment firm that bought SOE is Jason Epstein, who personally brokered the deal to buy Harmonix (Rock Band, etc) back from Viacom. While rhythm games have gone out of vogue in the US, Harmonix was still releasing games in 2014. So at least one guy knows his way around videogames.

I’m sure the true fallout has yet to start raining down, but as someone not at all invested in the outcome, I suggest keeping the wailing/high-fives to a minimum just yet. This could in fact be good news for Bitcoin SOE.

About that Projector

Pulled the trigger:

Oh my.

Oh my.

I took the above picture in HDR mode, which is why the screen seems a bit washed out and you can see the rest of my room. Indeed, as you can probably tell, I have yet to properly prepare the space. Once the remaining items filter in from Amazon, I’ll do a full write-up on my setup in the off-chance someone else wants to avoid doing the weeks of superfluous research I endured.

For the record though, the projector is a Favi HD-LED-4T, which I bought new off of eBay for $230.

And that’s an 8-foot diagonal screen.

Open World Flood

I was browsing some reddit threads talking about Dying Light the other day, and came across a comment chain that started with the following:

I dont know about you, but I”m getting kinda tired of open world games now. Literally almost every aaa title is an open world game that exploring them just isn’t as fun anymore. It seems to be the same thing that happened with military shooters last generation. Rinse and repeat experience. Not to say they’re bad games, but i’m just getting tired of the formula.

At first, the sentiment sort of struck me as being funny. How can you get tired of wide-open games that let you do anything? And then I started reading the example games people were giving. Then I looked at my own unplayed Steam list:

  • Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
  • Assassin’s Creed: Revelation
  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Darksiders 2
  • Dead Island: Riptide
  • Dead Rising 2
  • Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
  • Fable 3
  • GTA 4
  • Just Cause 2
  • Prototype
  • Saints Row: The Third
  • Sleeping Dogs

To be fair, not all of those are technically “open-world” games. To be fair the other direction though, I didn’t include the more borderline titles like Tomb Raider, Thief, Prince of Persia (I apparently own 5 of them somehow), the Hitman series, and so on and so forth. Nor does that list include games I want to play, such as Far Cry 4, Shadows of Mordor, and GTA 5. Nor does it include, you know, Dragon Age: Inquisition, which I am still currently playing.

While I am enjoying my time in the aforementioned Inquisition, I can see the commenter’s point. In fact, they have given voice to the sort of unspoken sentiment I have been fighting against for a while now: open Steam library, look at games, and become physically exhausted.

My issue seems to be more 3rd-person Action game fatigue, but it is basically the same thing. Run around, spam the attack button to auto-chain combos, climb shit, find secrets, defeat boss with large HP bar by waiting for vulnerable spots to light up and completing the Quick-Time Event. Huh… that actually sounds suspiciously close to a cynical MMO description.

Anyway, don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy this specific genre. Just, perhaps, in smaller doses than the horse tranquilizer ones I’m staring down the barrel of. I want to play these games, but somehow I can already feel the sheer volume of virtual space I would have to traverse to get there. When you get sucked in and immersed, you want the game to last forever. Looking through the glass window from the outside though, before it can sink its hooks in you, and it more closely resembles a Little Shop of Horrors.

Detective Vision

About halfway through this already worrying Kotaku article regarding The Witcher 3 is a section on Geralt’s “Witcher Vision”:

Witcher Vision is pretty cool. At any given moment, you can hold down a button to put Geralt’s field of vision into a sort of detective mode. This lets him see footprints, clues, key items, and the like. In practice, sleuthing around various environments—be they houses, dilapidated beach huts, or seemingly inconspicuous forests—isn’t very challenging, but it adds a lot to the feeling of being a Witcher.

All I could do was release a heavy sign and massage my temples.

“Detective vision” and its equivalents has never been good game design in any game I have ever played, for one specific reason: there is hardly any incentive to ever turn it off. Games with detective vision usually have hidden treasures and/or secret doors that are only visible in detective mode. This makes sense in a twisted-logic way, as why have detective vision at all if you can only use it in certain prescribed areas? That is basically “Press B to solve puzzle.” Of course, you don’t want to give players an ability that’s completely useless outside of specific zones either, for the same reason you don’t craft an elaborate cave complex with no treasure chest at the end. That’s just frustrating.

But the end result is that designers hide invisible things throughout the game because they feel they have to, and then the players end up spending the entire game with detective vision active so as to not miss these invisible things. Which means not only is nothing of use being accomplished (the actions cancel each other out), the player ends up spending the entire game in a sepia-colored wasteland devoid of all detail or immersion.

This was my screen 99% of the time.

The bad guys may as well not even have character models.

Case in point: Batman Arkham Asylum. Played and beat it a few months ago, but I couldn’t even really tell you how the game looked, because I was in X-Ray vision nearly the whole damn time. Case in point: Dishonored. The Dark Vision spell is an early upgrade that trivializes even the highest difficulty, no-kill runs. Beautiful game environments reduced to sepia-colored vomit for the whole rest of the game. Hell, I didn’t even like the scan mechanic all the way back in the first Metroid Prime game for these same reasons. I just ran around trying to scan every damn thing, just in case.

Around 90% of the time, your screen will look like this.

Around 90% of the time, your screen will look like this.

I honestly see no good solutions for this design issue. Even if you limit the player when they’re using detective vision (e.g. not letting them attack, or perhaps even move) that doesn’t stop players from feeling like they need to be utilizing it at every opportunity. Only allowing detective vision to be useable when there is something to detect is kinda asinine; why bother including it at all?

None of the solutions feel particularly good. One might think that the “search pulse” ability featured in Dragon Age: Inquisition, the original Witcher games, and many others might be better, but… I spend the whole damn game spamming those keys already. Same deal with the Battlefield series and PlanetSide 2, in spamming Q to spot enemies that I don’t actually see, but could be out there somewhere near my crosshairs. Sometimes it saves your life; there’s no reason not to.

This might well be one of those scenarios in which the “old school” solution of just making hidden things hard to find is best. At the same time, I don’t necessarily want to go back to the days of having to tab out and hit GameFAQs when I can’t find the pixels the designers wanted me to click on either. If I had to choose though, I would rather miss hidden treasure because I was too immersed in the game environment than miss it because I took a break from the otherwise permanent Instagram filters.

Anime Reviews: Clannad, Code Geass

Clannad & Clannad: After Story

Episodes: 22 & 22 (plus bonuses)
Genre: Drama, High School, Romance, Devastating Feels

Clannad

Clannad is the anime adaptation of one of the most popular visual novels ever released in Japan. It follows the high school life of Tomoya Okazaki, as he wastes his days away as a delinquent with his only other friend, Youhei. After a chance encounter with the timid and sickly Nagisa, Tomoya ends up halfway courting nearly the entire female school population, as is usually the case with these sort of shows.

In terms of structure, Clannad and especially Clannad: After Story, good god, is precisely calibrated to deliver devastating emotional payloads. The majority of the series is your standard sort of high school comedy, but it always eventually segues into serious childhood trauma. The visual novel origin means you will become extremely familiar with each of the main love interests throughout mini-plot arcs with little, if any, sort of “payoff.” This changes in the last few episodes as the plot solidifies around one person in particular, and… well. Just keep some tissues handy.

Clannad and its After Story is one of those anime that I both hesitate to recommend while also requiring other people to eventually watch. The series is a great response to someone asking if an anime can be just as emotional as a book or film, and Clannad arguably beats the majority of both. I am not exactly walking away from the anime with a sense of well-being, but the catharsis is real. And to be fair, that sort of thing is extremely hard to pull off.

Code Geass – Lelouch of the Rebellion & R2

Episodes: 25 & 25
Genre: Drama, Giant Robots, Supernatural, Cerebral

Lelouch

The best way I could describe Code Geass is Death Note meets Gundam. Which is more than a little ironic, considering that Code Geass was released concurrently with Death Note back in 2006. It follows the travails of Lelouch vi Britannia, an exiled prince in hiding, as he schemes to destroy the empire of his birth to save his disabled sister from political machinations. His plans are greatly accelerated in high school when a chance encounter with an immortal witch grants him Geass: the ability to force anyone to follow any command he gives… once, and via direct eye contact only.

Over the course of two seasons, Code Geass remains fairly consistently serious. Outside of a cat episode early on, the plot is filled with drama, betrayal, and impossible scenarios in which Lelouch has to rely on his uncanny brilliance to escape. Lelouch’s fight with Britannia doesn’t quite reach the labrythine depths of Death Note’s Light vs L showdown, but it remains pretty satisfying nevertheless.

It is not going to change your life or anything, but Code Geass is worth a view in my opinion. It rather successfully marries the kinetic, mecha action to the more cerebral, supernatural anime. If you only like one of those genres, chances are you will still enjoy this blend. And if you like both? Buckle up, because this show is for you.

H1Z1, HotS, TESO

There have been a number of gaming developments in the past week, but I find them difficult to write about. First, because I remain distracted with the whole television vs projector search. Indeed, I went from 98% gung-ho for a projector to finding out I could get a 40″ TV for ~$205. For such a value-crazed individual as I am, it’s tough to imagine a better deal. But, projector, man. I could be playing Shadow of the Colossus on my wall, instead of on a TV a mere CD-length wider.

Secondly, I just don’t know how to feel about some of these news items.

For example: H1Z1. Much has already been said about SOE reneging on their promise of no P2W shenanigans, which the airdrops certainly were. Originally. The airdrops have since been nerfed to basically have a 10% chance of containing a pistol or shotgun, so… now what? Do we pack up the pitchforks and go home? Or do we stick around and stab some things since we’re here?

One of the terms being thrown around regarding the airdrops is “Pay 4 Content,” in the sense that buying an airdrop means luring other players to come fight you and/or others for supplies. I find it difficult to argue with that bit of cash shop jujitsu. Similar games like Rust already have random airdrops, so is there much of a difference beyond one’s ability to “advance the timer” in H1Z1?

Framed like that, it almost sounds cool. “This is boring – let’s shake things up a little.” If airdrops were exclusively a crafted or rare lootable resource, I doubt anyone would drop them out of boredom; the eccentric players would get one or two at most, instead of the effectively infinite amount they have under this scheme.

Aside from airdrops, I have been following the other bits of news from the game and it reminds me of why F2P is bad: it engenders cynicism and paranoia. For example, the looting system was described this way:

The lot [sic] system is very intelligent. It keeps track of where all the items are in the server and balances loot spawning accordingly. If everybody is all looted up and hoarding loot, then it’s time to hunt some players or steal from their stashes.

When a player logs out, the server knows that there is now less potential loot on the server and will begin spawning more. When a player logs in and puts the server over it’s limit, the server will stop spawning loot (of the kind that the player has) and you’ll need to begin fighting for it.

The first thing I thought of was: of course your looting system would be like this in a F2P cash shop game. Self-sufficiency isn’t profitable. Smedly was more than forthright in explaining the PlanetSide 2 implant nerf was intentionally done to squeeze extra cash out of players “to keep the lights on.” How would you trust any design decision under such a rubric? Your options are to imagine that SOE wanted a gritty, The Road-esque survival game with few resources, or… they’re just another exploitative F2P developer out to make a quick buck. I sure as hell don’t believe that there is a legitimate game design reason why my Town Hall takes six real-world days to upgrade in Clash of Clans, for example. Nor do I believe that Candy Crush’s candy placement/generation is entirely random either.

In the meantime though, it appears looting is getting buffed along with a number of other action items. The game is Early Access, which makes it difficult to feel justified in one’s outrage. This sort of thing is what Early Access is for, right?

Speaking of Early Access, there seems to be some internet consternation in regards to Blizzard charging $40 to get into the Heroes of the Storm Beta. Apparently, if Blizzard copies what everyone else is already doing, then… uh… er, isn’t that the standard Blizzard MO? People also seemed to have forgotten that paying Blizzard for Beta access already happened: the Annual Pass that granted Mists of Pandaria Beta access. While the Annual Pass was also tied to a “free” copy of Diablo 3, I know more than a few WoW players who bought it specifically for the Beta access.

The chances of Blizzard charging for HotS beta access having an effect on any other developer’s decision to charge for beta access is less than zero. Between Kickstarter and Early Access, the days of a privileged beta have long-since died. And even before those programs, people were selling GMail invites on eBay for hundreds of dollars. Beta access has value whether you choose to believe it or not, and I don’t begrudge these game companies cutting out the middle-man. As long as, you know, they slide me a few extra keys.

Finally, The Elder Scrolls Online has dropped its subscription and went Buy-2-Play. While such a scheme is dubious ethically, this sort of payment model trajectory could be a way out of the otherwise unfortunate design trap of $60 million MMO budgets for ~150,000 player audiences. Obviously these companies would prefer a million-plus subscribers, but chances are they wouldn’t be able to get their investment back if they released with B2P, or developed the game under a lower budget at the start. It sucks for the early adopter, of course, but life has always sucked for them.

We’ll have to see how this move plays out for TESO. The game has never been on my radar and more or less remains that way currently, even though I very much want Skyrim 2. When I start seeing it on sale for $20, perhaps I will take a closer look.

Projectors

About two weeks ago, I came to the conclusion that my 32″ TV just isn’t cutting it anymore. That almost seems laughably small these days, but it worked just fine back when I had it in the corner of the bedroom. Now that it’s ten feet away from the couch in the living room? Not so much.

I have no need for for 50″+ monstrosity, but some sort of upgrade seems appropriate. After poking around and seeing as how I could conceivably get a 42″ for $280, I started wondering “isn’t that about the price for a projector?” Yes, yes it is.

And thus began a descent into the madness that is projector shopping.

The basic gist is that you have to be absurdly careful. If you go to Amazon and just type in “projector 1080p,” all the projectors will show up. That is because A) they’re liars and thieves, and B) Amazon and most other sites are complicit with the deception. See, they’re “compatible” with 1080p signal, even though the projector will downscale your Blu-ray to its native 640×480 resolution. If you’re reading this on a PC, right-click on the Desktop and go to your resolution options and switch to… hell, my monitor doesn’t even go below 800×600. Nevermind. Point being, not only is that a resolution from a decade ago, it will also letterbox pretty much any media you would ever play through it.

The other end of the spectrum is legit, native 1080p projectors. Which will cost about $600+ on sale.

I’ll be honest here: I have spent entirely too much time looking at projectors in lieu of, you know, playing videogames. So here is what I’ve got, data-wise:

Projector Price Resolution Bulb life Lumen Zoom Throw Ratio
Vivitek XGA $299 1024×768 4500 3000 ? 1.6 – 1.92
VVME v61 $289 1280×720 20,000 2800 No ?
FAVI RioHD-LED-4T $279 1280×800 20,000 500 ANSI ? 1.6
iDGLAX DG-757 $234 1280×768 20,000 2800 ? ?
EUG 800 $299 1280×720 50,000 2600 1.2 ?

The first thing to note is that top item: it is an example of a tricky Best Buy “deal.” Marked down by nearly $250, everything looks good… up until you realize that it is not native 720p. You might also note how all the other projectors I have listed there have LED bulbs which should last well past 6 years, assuming you run the thing 8 hours every day all year around.

Still, everything feels like a minefield. How loud are the fans? How vibrant are the colors? Why doesn’t anyone list their goddamn throw ratios or the fact they have (or likely don’t have) zoom features? How does 500 ANSI lumen stack up to 2800 bullshit lumen? It’s a mess. How am I supposed to min-max this?!

So once again, dear reader(s), I am open to advice. I’m working with a 12-foot space that’s extremely light-controlled. I’m really just looking for something I can stick on a shelf behind the couch and hit that ~81″ of bare wall next to my computer. If I move my furniture around, I could probably get a little bigger projector space going. I’d love to hit the $300 price-point; if it’s anywhere close to $400, it better be far and away better than the ones I’m already looking at. Not looking to become a home theater enthusiast, I just want a bigger screen.

Tautology of Value

Keen has a post up on the nature of F2P that, at first blush, reads as a truism. Namely, that one should be suspicious of any F2P title – after all, if the developers thought it were a valuable product, they would be pricing it accordingly.

Why do we have to pretend games are free or better yet that they have to be free in order for people to want to play them? MMO gamers are capable of identifying whether a product is worth being paid for or not. A good product will sell. A poor one will not.

This prescriptive sentiment has always bugged me. In one of the comments someone else asserts:

A great product will sell itself.

These all read as tautologies to me. How do you know if a game is great? It sells itself. And games that sell themselves are great, by definition.

…except we all have examples of underrated masterpieces, and garbage that sells millions of copies every year. Unless we are ready to admit that Star Wars Galaxies was terrible and Candy Crush Saga is one of the best videogames of all time, we need to decouple a game’s quality from its sales performance. There is correlation on a good day, but just as often there is not.

Similarly, the trend towards F2P is not necessarily one of naked greed and cynicism. I will be the first to admit that I prefer the antiquated “buy the box” or subscription models, as I believe it properly aligns developer incentives (i.e. make better content vs more cash shop items). But in 2015, there is one reality every developer must face:

1) F2P competition exists.

If you are all set to release a subscription-based MOBA in an environment where League of Legends still exists, you are going to have a bad time. The same is true for subscription-based MMOs these days. It is easy to claim that Wildstar (etc) failed not because of the subscription model, but because it wasn’t good enough to justify a subscription model. But that still sounds tautological to me. “If the game was good, it would not have failed.” Or to shorten it: “If it were good, it would not be bad.”

In the present MMO environment, it isn’t enough to simply be good – one has to be as good or better than all the alternatives, many of which are F2P. This is especially salient in MMOs considering the social dynamics are pretty much the only reason why you would continue playing the game. We can imagine a scenario in which the perfect (to you) MMO is released… but it ends up as a ghost town, and subsequently loses most (or all) of its value.

Which makes this part of Keen’s post a little ridiculous:

Charging for a game is absolutely acceptable, and it won’t dissuade people from playing.

Of course charging a subscription or box price will dissuade people from playing, else lowering prices would not generate any increased sales. Obviously there are people out there willing to purchase $60 titles on Day 1; what is less obvious is whether there are enough. Unless you are willing to settle for Minecraft, most MMOs are released with $60+ million price-tags which need to be recouped by volume. Populations in the 100,000 range simply can’t cut it anymore, nevermind the negative social effects of low server concurrency. It is quite a pickle that you place MMO developers in when they either need to craft a more valuable product than WoW (etc) or go with an extremely low-budget project… which will still be called a failure anyway due to low sales volume. “A good product sells,” remember?

Overall, I do think the warning vis-a-vis F2P games is sound – there is no payment model better suited to erode consumer surplus than F2P. And there are certainly a million and one examples of very bad, very cynical F2P cash-grabs. But I do not agree that good games necessarily sell (or sell themselves), I do not agree that sales is necessarily an indicator of quality at all, and I would suggest that developers have many perfectly valid reasons to “give their product away” even if they could have charged for it. In fact, they very well may have to these days, just to get enough warm bodies in the door to achieve the social critical mass that MMOs require.