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B2P MMO Goes F2P

We kinda knew from an earlier leak already, but it’s now official: Guild Wars 2 is going F2P.

The F2P restrictions can be compared here, or just read this bullet list from Reddit:

  • Does not receive daily login bonus
  • Start with less storage than paid account : 2 character slots, 3 bag slots
  • No map wide chat interaction, can use local chat
  • Cannot post on ArenaNet forums
  • Can only start new whisper conversations once every 30 seconds
  • Can trade and buy common items on TP
  • Can’t mail items or gold to other players, can still send text-only mail to friends
  • Must be level 60 before entering WvW, other unspecified zone/level restrictions
  • They must play to level 10 before leaving the starter zones, to level 30 before using LFG
  • They can play PvP immediately but must get to rank 20 before using custom and unranked arenas
  • Cannot trade gold for gems
  • Cannot access guild vaults

The more I think about it, the more bizarre this announcement gets. First, has there ever been a B2P MMO that went to F2P? I know GW2 is highly dependent on its cash shop for additional revenue already, but this still feels like a weird strategy. Especially in terms of those “restrictions,” which are incredibly lenient when compared to similar offerings. I guess the WvW restriction might prevent easier zerg leveling/karma farming, but the scaling was so bad back when I played that you practically had to be 60+ to do anything of particular note anyway.

The second bizarre thing about this announcement is the timing. Remember two months ago when ArenaNet bundled the base game into the expansion box price and the internet lost its shit? Surely they knew they were going to announce a F2P conversion two months later… right? Maybe they wanted to wait until PAX for the press coverage, but that was still a lot of negative coverage right in the summer months that could have been avoided multiple ways. Perhaps them knowing F2P was coming contributed to their laissez faire attitude at that particular information rollout.

I’ll admit that I’ve been feeling a slight itch to maybe perhaps download GW2 again, especially after I stopped playing WoW. My game experience ended on a particularly sour note last time around, but it might of been because I wasn’t completely sold on the Elementalist playstyle. Plus, you know, since I bought the retail box years ago, I could start it up and be back playing with little issue.

On the other hand, ArenaNet’s commitment to “Living Stories” and one-time events means that I’m not even sure what, if anything, would actually be different a second time around. Lion’s Arch was destroyed and rebuilt, I think? Maybe they added a few more entries to the Explicit Schedule of Villainy? Who knows. For now, I’m much more likely to get into FF14 than GW2 again.

Best of luck to ArenaNet just the same.

Investment Window

It’s been a few months since I stopped playing WoW, but the entire time I was I was psychoanalyzing the merits of purchasing the crafted gear to boost my characters further. That dilemma reminds me of a similar problem I have with many F2P games, or any game selling convenience items. Specifically: when, if ever, do you invest more money into the game?

I have mentioned it several times, but I am currently “playing” Clash of Clans. “Playing” gets the scare quotes because the actual amount of time I spend interacting with the UI versus waiting for bars to fill up has steadily decreased for months now. Indeed, I am solidly in the design trap that is Town Hall level 8, wherein you are losing more resources to raids than you could ever hope to replace with either raids of your own or passive resource gains. Being in a raiding clan might offset it some, but realistically, some actual cash exchanging hands will be necessary to progress further.

Of course, having played the game for so long, I have zero desire to do so.

All of us have been there before: you finally get annoyed or bored enough to throw money at a problem, only to stop playing the game entirely a few days later. Even if spending that money did improve your play experience, it was too late to make much of an accumulated impact. Had you dropped cash at the very beginning though? Then you could have gotten months of utility out of that purchase, and otherwise generating a return on fun.

The problem I have though, is actually timing the investment window correctly. In the case of CoC, no time actually felt “correct” because it was just a game I was playing as a diversion; I had no idea that I would still be playing it months later. In fact, that’s most games. Reminds me of those RPGs with the “+5% XP” talents you can select early on. While a dubious investment in the long-term (the talent is useless at max level), you can recognize that if you were going to take such a talent, you need to take it sooner rather than later.

While my dithering ends up resulting in more money in my pocket, it also in some cases results in a diminished experience. For example, not outfitting my alts with the crafted weapons in WoW. Did I save gold by not crafting them? Sure. I also lost gold by not crafting and selling them. I suppose having 8+ months of WoW Tokens makes this a bit moot in a practical sense, but old AH habits die hard.

So how about yourselves? How do you choose a time to make an optional purpose?

Doom Averted (?)

About two weeks ago, I warned that the financial numbers weren’t looking too hot for Wildstar. Today’s news is that Wildstar is going Free-to-Play. This Fall. Which I’m assuming means that NCSoft is going to give Carbine a chance to bail the submerged vessel out a bit longer before pulling the plug, to mix metaphors.

I would say I am not particularly optimistic that Wildstar will get a second life from the F2P transition, but now that I think about it, MMOs shutting down is more rare than you think. TERA is still around. People are still playing RIFT. Hell, you can go download Age of Conan off of Steam right now, and when was the last time you even heard of that game? The City of Heroes episode sort of underlines NCSoft’s view on profitability, but the status quo seems to heavily lean towards zombie MMOs.

As for me, I shan’t be returning to Nexus. I have read about the inroads the devs (those who remain anyway) have made in terms of smoothing out the hardcore cupcake edges, and that’s great. Unfortunately, I had a much more fundamental problem with the game, as described a year ago:

And that’s when I realized that I don’t really like my Medic. Not just healing, which is a total clusterfuck, but… all of it. I enjoy the concept of the class, and even the sort of niche it occupies as an AoE healer. But guys, there is a profound sense of deadening when you realize how utterly shallow the combat system is. I get why Carbine did things this way – the only way the bullet-hell gameplay works is by reducing everything down to 5 buttons – but it puts enormous pressure on those few abilities to be fun to press. This isn’t like WoW where you can go Arcane or Frost if you dislike the Fire rotation. Every (DPS) class is basically a Ret paladin. Enjoy.

There are a lot of things you can dislike about an MMO and still play anyway. You know, raiding instead of PvP, or vice versa. When you don’t like pushing the buttons though… well, you’re going to be doing that quite a bit. Or not, in my case.

Good luck, Wildstar. Something tells me you’re going to need it.

Performance Enhancing F2P

As I was browsing reddit a few days ago, I found my way into a thread talking about how you can play the Star Citizen alpha for free until March 15th (or March 20th depending on the code used). This is a game that I am somewhat interested in playing, but not 22gb of files interested. Makes you wonder about what the final download size is going to end up being. The Secret World is already over 40gb and making me think deleting it would be better than keeping it around in the off-chance I feel like… Googling the answers to ridiculous in-game riddles.

In any case, I continued reading the various comments to try and glean where Star Citizen was in development. As it turns out, they’re still in the “sell $2700+ ship packages in the store like it ain’t no thing” stage.

A bargain at twice the price.

A bargain at twice the price.

The Completionist Package is actually much more expensive at $15,000, although for some reason the $2700 tier galls me a bit more than the other. I think it’s because at some point the amounts are too ridiculous to contemplate, but these smaller ones are more “reasonable.” Could you even build a gaming PC that cost $15,000 without spending money on the equivalent of Monster Cables?

Once the game officially launches, the idea is that the cash shop for ships is going to close; thereafter, the only things sold for real dollars will be customization options… and a “small” amount of in-game currency, with a daily cap. The amount is supposed to be “miniscule” and the equivalent to whatever it costs to refuel and rearm a ship. Whether that amount will just cover a normal ship maintenance cost or one of the $200+ ships you can outright purchase right now, is anyone’s guess.

What is not anyone’s guess are the fascinating arguments being made that such purchases aren’t P2W:

There is insurance on the ships, if you bought the ship early you are granted free insurance.

Insurance will be cheap though, so if you lose your ship without insurance you kinda have to blame yourself. You won’t get a huge advantage with free insurance.

And what’s the problem with buying ingame cash? If I only have 6 hours/week to play the game I should be able to spend cash so I won’t get left behind by the players sitting 6 hours/day.

This bolded sentiment simply boggles my mind. I don’t even know where to start.

Perhaps I could start with an analogy: performance enhancing drugs in sports. If you only had six hours/week to train for a competition whereas your opponent trained six hours/day, I think everyone would still say that that is fair; if you wanted to legitimately compete with this person, you would put in the necessary hours to do so. I don’t think there is anyone here that would say you should just pop some steroids so you “don’t get left behind” by the person who is clearly more committed to playing the game than you. But suppose you do believe it’s fair, and everyone should have freedom to take whatever drugs give them an edge. In such a scenario, what happens to your advantage when the 6 hours/day person just, you know, takes performance enhancing drugs themselves? You end up where you started, except now everyone with even a modicum of desire to win is taking drugs.

Meanwhile, the people selling steroids are making bank.

The other problem I have with the bolded sentiment is what it says about time spent playing the game. If you are paying dollars to skip content, that implies the content being skipped is the unfun, grindy parts of the game. Which means all the players you are bribing your way past are stuck doing content they probably don’t find fun either. Which means that the game designers have a dilemma: they can either make the unfun, grindy parts more fun for everyone (and lose money), or they can do nothing and make more money. Or, you know, make that payslope even steeper.

This is not even my final form.

This is not even my final form.

Is that a little too tinfoil hat thinking? Maybe. Maybe there are good, legitimate reasons why my Air Defense tower in Clash of Clans takes six real-world days to upgrade. Whatever those reasons are, they can’t be too important though, as I can buy my way past the timer. As I’ve mentioned before, these sort of cash shop designs immediately throws every designer action under suspicion.

The final problem I have with the bolded sentiment is difficult to put into words. It’s like, when did we start expecting to have better outcomes than other people who play a game more than us? I would agree that a design in which no one can catch up to Day One veterans is bad, but I feel like there is a crazy expectation that skill should triumph over time-spent and yet the game still have character progression somehow. How would that work, exactly? And when did it become unfair for someone else to spend six/hours a day playing a game? And then fair for you to bring resources completely outside of game (i.e. cash) to make things even?

Sometimes I feel like we’re all just lost in the woods here.

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?

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.

Why Aren’t You Playing Minecraft?

A lot of people are:

As noted in the Reddit thread where I first heard of this, the nigh-million concurrent players is only counting “PC (win/osx/linux) only, versions 1.3 and higher, modded or vanilla it doesn’t matter.” So not only is that number not even close to peak time, it does not count anyone playing on consoles or mobile devices. Or, you know, anyone playing offline.

For the record, as of June 2014 the sales broke down like this:

  • PC/Mac: 15 Million
  • 360: 12 Million
  • PS3: 3 Million
  • iOS/Android (Pocket Edition): 16.5 Million

It’s probably not a stretch to say Minecraft achieves concurrency numbers of 3 million or more any given day.

So the question I have to ask everyone – especially those constantly pining for “virtual worlds” – is why aren’t you playing Minecraft? Is this not everything you want in game? Crafting? Check. Small communities where name recognition matters? Check. No LFR/LFD? Check. Customization options? Check. Freedom to progress at your own pace? Check. A virtual world where things that matter happen around you? Check and check. And hey, it’s also a Buy-2-Play box model without a cash shop or other F2P shenanigans (as far as I know). If this isn’t a Jesus game, it’s at least a Moses.

I’m only being somewhat facetious here.

Minecraft isn’t for everyone (although it is for a lot of people), of course, but I always find it somewhat interesting in the reasons people give for why it isn’t good enough. Maybe there aren’t enough people per server? Maybe it’s the graphics? Or perhaps you are a little more attached to the traditional WoW content structure than you would have everyone else believe. After all, with the notable exception of Star Wars Galaxies and perhaps City of Heroes, many of the Jesus games are still around. Here is Dark Age of Camelot. Here is Ultima Online. Or if you prefer, Ultima Online Forever. EVE continues to be a thing. Hell, even EverQuest is still churning away. Is… there a reason you are not playing them instead of complaining about the “sorry state” of current MMOs?

I mean, I get it. A remade FF7 would be the ultimate exercise in nostalgerbation for me. There is no particular shame in saying you want an MMO to look like Wildstar but play like something that came out a decade (or more) ago. But I think it safe to say that it is a bit unrealistic. The original EverQuest and Dark Age of Camelot had budgets around $3 million back in 1999 and 2001. By the time the original Guild Wars came out in 2005, that went up to $20-30 million. RIFT was $60-70 million. SWTOR was around $200 million. I don’t think you often get green-lit for budgets of that size for game-types that clearly weren’t profitable enough to save the original title (in the case of SWG/CoH).

Still, there may yet be hope for… well, if not for you, perhaps your kids. Minecraft is the third-best selling videogame of all time, behind Wii Sports and Tetris. Microsoft bought it for $2 billion. This type of game will very clearly continue to be serious business. Then again, I’m not entirely sure that (F2P?) copies of EQN: Landmark are flying off the digital shelf, nor that ArchAge is doing particularly well, nor that virtual world supporters are supporting (supposed) virtual worlds like The Repopulation.

Camelot Unchained got funded, although the release date appears to be mid-summer 2016. Star Citizen will also (maybe) come out in 2016, with it’s $68 million in crowdfunding. So there’s a horizon out there at least, even if the actual long-term profitability of virtual worlds remains to be seen.

In the meantime… you could always play Minecraft.

WoW PLEX, pt 2

In the comments on the last post, Kring took me to task a bit for not delving deeper into the sort of game design considerations regarding WoW’s impending (?) PLEX introduction. Part of the reason I didn’t was because how it impacts me in pretty fundamental: it introduces dollar signs into my gameplay. Whether the concept or implementation of PLEX itself fits WoW is immaterial to me – it could be the best thing ever done in the history of the game… and I’m still going to be calculating my repair costs and AH cuts in USD.

That’s my own neurosis though, so perhaps it’d be interesting to look at the broader picture.

Who is WoW PLEX for?

Kring suggests the following:

Blizzard has problems to gain new players. I’m sure that if you can tell LoL players that “good player can play WoW for free” that has some appeal. And I think that’s their primary goal. To spread the news that “WoW is F2P for good player”. Which means PLEX must stay in a reasonable range, they don’t want “good player” to complain that it is “too expensive”.

Here we have the first question. Who is the player base which Blizzard thinks will constantly buy PLEX for Euro to sell it for gold?

The real answer to this question is pretty simple: WoW PLEX is for the tens of thousands of players currently purchasing from illicit gold sellers every month. And that is probably the extent to which Blizzard has thought about PLEX being utilized. We saw this exact same line of reasoning single-handedly birth the abomination that is was the Diablo 3 AH, and I have little reason to believe there is some deeper design significance going on. WoW PLEX is solely to combat illicit RMT.

While there may be X number of AH barons who will be able to PLEX their accounts year-round, I do not suspect it will be the norm for them, let alone the average person.

Are there enough gold sinks in WoW?

Second, I have my doubts that WoW at the moment has big enough gold sinks to keep enough player interested to buy PLEX with Euro and sell it for gold. PLEX will be consumed on a monthly basis, which means they must also be supplied on a monthly basis.

I think WoW must be changed to add gold sinks. New huge gold sinks. And they must hurt the players which Blizzard intends to sell PLEX for Euro in the future.

Four words: Black Market Auction House:

The Mariana Trench of Gold Sinks.

The Mariana Trench of Gold Sinks.

I could also include the more traditional “100k gold vendor mount” but that seems like small potatoes compared to the above screenshot of 840k (and counting) for the Flametalon mount. The genius of the BMAH – besides being able to have auctions get into the million-gold range – is that it targets everyone: the people chasing rare pets/mounts, the collector looking for one-of-a-kind or extremely limited items like the Arcanite Ripper, and then even the hardcore raiders with Mythic loot drops. Indeed, I don’t see much stopping even ultra-casual players from grabbing uber-high gear to help out in dungeons or to make rep grind dailies easier. Well, nothing stopping them other than needing tens of thousands of gold… which, hey, what a coincidence!

Now that I think about it, the true genius of the BMAH may well be that it was introduced first. Can you imagine the backlash if Blizzard dropped in WoW PLEX and then opened up the BMAH a week later? I don’t really believe Blizzard is that nefarious, primarily because that would require the ability to actually think ahead and plan accordingly. Which is demonstrably missing, as evidenced by their inability to release expansions on time.

Will WoW’s game design change because of PLEX?

Yes, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

Blizzard will shift resources to mainly create content for the player base that buys PLEX with Euro. This will be their primary target and this will be the group that will get the most updates. Take a look at GW2. They setteled on a biweekly rythm of adding new items to the cash shop and delivering small parts of their living story. Blizzard will have to add a new gold sink on at least a monthly basis and deliver something for the PLEX with Euro buying player.

What does that mean for the other player? Will we get even less “free” content? (free = not shielded with an insane gold wall).

I do not believe that Blizzard will move towards anything resembling biweekly game additions, basically because I don’t believe Blizzard is capable of creating content with such speed. That’s certainly a snarky response, but it is somewhat rooted in the dev team’s rather consistent push-back against obviously-goofy things in the game. For example, the rather strict Transmog rules which prevent you from wielding giant fish. There have certainly been plenty of silly toys and such over the years, but I don’t think we’ll ever see the sort of GW2-esque Quaggan backpacks. When you cut out those category of items, you are left with a much harder problem in spending artist time designing in-universe gear.

The real impact might well be to go the other direction: being more cautious around implementing gold sinks. I’m not quite sure what the total gold cost of the Garrison ended up being, but imagine something like Epic Flying at 5000g when PLEX is sitting at 15,000g apiece. Honestly, PLEX will probably be closer to 150,000g than anything, but Blizzard will nevertheless need to be careful to not appear to be jacking prices up for PLEX sales. Some percentage of players might sell PLEX to keep up, but there is another (likely larger) percentage that would balk at paying a double-subscription fee and just get squeezed out of the game entirely.

Is this baby steps towards F2P?

Technically it could be, but I feel like people lose the proper sense of scale when it comes to WoW.

F2P really only makes sense for a game if F2P revenue > Subscription revenue, right? One of the fundamental ways of measuring F2P revenue is ARPU, which is Average Revenue Per User. As of April, SuperDataResearch lists World of Tanks as the highest ARPU amongst several high-profile F2P titles, such as League of Legends and TF2. That amount? $4.51 ARPU. Now, LoL is sitting at $1.32 ARPU in comparison, but it of course has tens of millions of more players and thus generates much higher overall revenue than World of Tanks.

The ARPU for (Western) WoW players is at least $14.99, if you have forgotten.

Would WoW attract and ensnare at least 30+ million F2P players such that F2P would make economic sense? Could WoW attract that many? It’s very doubtful in my mind, and a rather absurd risk when you are already taking in a billion dollars a year doing exactly what you are currently doing. Blizzard won’t even enable flying in Silvermoon and you think they’ll restructure the entire payment scheme for the game? I can perhaps see them doing so sometime in the distant future, but that is the same future in which WoW drops below 5 million subscriptions. Which is still twice as many as anyone else has ever had.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, I think WoW PLEX is a bold move on Blizzard’s part entirely meant to combat gold selling. I do not believe they are making an overt move towards F2P, I do not believe this change heralds the introduction of more gold sinks, and I do not believe many people are asking the right questions. Namely: how are you going to feel about dailies (etc) once this gets introduced? I already know it’s going to suck for me, because it sucked in Diablo 3 and Wildstar vis-a-vis hoarding currency for no particularly rational reason.

The idea is sound, and will likely work out for a lot of people. Just not me.

H1Z1 Pre-Alpha Early Release

So after a rather extraordinarily long amount of time, it appears as though the F2P SOE PlanetZombieSide MMO might actually be released on 1/15/15. On Steam Early Access. For the low, low price of $20, or an indeterminate amount of money if you want to alpha-test the super-secret special modes.

I am poking fun at the EA payment model – ahem, Early Access – but honestly I am not nearly as miffed as Keen. I too remember the days when game companies would ration out alpha/beta access for free… and I remember that same access commanding tremendous cash values on eBay. $100+ beta Gmail invites, anyone? So it makes perfect sense to me that a game company would see that situation and decide to cut out the middleman. They get prepaid game development, and you get a Kickstarter you can actually sorta play.

What I am infinitely more concerned about is the state of H1Z1 generally. The topics have not really changed since the last time I talked about it (“4-6 weeks away” back in April 2014…), but these days I am almost cringing at the PlanetSide 2 engine usage. Don’t get me wrong, Ps2 can certainly look really awesome. It also ends up looking extremely angular with a poor sense of physicality, collision, and ephemeral bodies. All of that is perfectly acceptable in a sci-fi FPS (especially one with 100s of people in close-quarters), but have you seen these H1Z1 streams? The outdoors look okay with the trees and hills and such, but indoors? It’s… too modular.

Perhaps these are the sorts of things that get papered over with better textures in beta or whatever, but the Ps2 vibe is weirding me out. That and the fact that it’s difficult to go back to manikin-on-a-pole style character interaction after the more grab-y Dead Island/State of Decay/etc style. I suppose the current system is more conducive to MMO design, but it’s tough to go back.

Unfair Impressions: Dragon Nest, Neverwinter

My recent completion of Dragon Age 2 has freed up some mental space that I wanted to give towards something outside of my normal M.O. So, after encountering a random forum discussion somewhere, I found myself downloading Dragon Nest and Neverwinter. Why these two F2P games? Why not?

Dragon Nest

I had a pretty good idea what I was in for just based on the loading screen:

If I can see ass cheeks, it's not a skirt.

If I can see ass cheeks, it’s not a skirt.

Near as I can tell, Dragon Nest is a lobby-based, Action RPG with what amounts to MMO elements. In the random forum discussion that led me to download it, the game features a heavy, skill-based element to combat. Indeed, there is no tab-targeting; the mouse controls the targeting reticule, and spammable attacks are bound to left and right-click. Whenever I received a quest, I went through two loading screens until I arrived at a predefined area, killed all the mobs, and then zoned onto the next area in a sequence with a boss at the end. This picture sums that up:

Looks better than it plays.

Looks better than it plays.

This impression is labeled as Unfair because I basically stopped playing after about two hours. I was playing as the Kali, which is basically a melee warlock dancer, so perhaps that had something to do with my lack of fun. On the other hand, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that if the game was going for kinetic Devil May Cry or God of War-ish style, that they missed the mark. Movement wasn’t as fluid as I would have liked. And then there is the sort of goofy things like quest interface, inability to zoom out very far (which is a limitation of any crosshair-targeting game, I suppose), and general sense of 2nd-rate-ness.


Much to my surprise, it turns out I had actually downloaded Neverwinter months and months ago, but had never bothered to boot it up for some reason. Unfortunately, I had about ~5gb worth of updates to download, so I might have been better off with a clean install.

Permanent drunk goggles.

Permanent drunk goggles.

In my handful of hours of play, Neverwinter just strikes me as a game that is missing, oh, maybe $25 million in development. Although I am on maximum settings, the world just feels… muddy, yet insubstantial. It is another crosshair-targeting game but I had a real hard time ascertaining that enemies really existed out in the world. And sometimes they were just really hard to see. It is sort of how I felt about Guild Wars 2, but worse.

There were a lot of little D&D touches that I liked. Your “daily” power meter is a d20 that fills up over time. There are “skill checks” of sorts when interacting with certain objects out in the world. For example, after killing an NPC in a cave complex, I noticed a sparkly skull over in a bookcase. After passing a Dungeoneering check (which basically happens automatically), the bookcase opens up to reveal a treasure chest on the other side. All of this managed to evoke both D&D and a sense of physicality, the latter of which is otherwise conspicuously missing from combat itself.



The rest of my limited experience was spent seesawing between interest levels. I very much enjoyed how each class seems to have their own unique movement mechanism: warlocks float at a sprint whereas rogues do a dodge-roll. But movement in general just didn’t feel all that good. You know how in WoW and Wildstar and GW2 when you get a movement speed buff and you can kind of keep the momentum going after it wears off by jumping? You can’t quite do that in Neverwinter. And for some reason that feels bad. I can’t quite explain it better than that, but that feeling seeps into everything.

The other curious issue I ran into was how… health doesn’t regenerate. Maybe it does later? It just feels really weird in an MMO for it to not, as it sort of subconsciously delineates the world into checkpoint corridors. Which maybe is the point? There is health potions and such so maybe it is not all that big a deal. But it certainly felt like a big deal as I was playing.

I did not even try anything in The Foundry, which is likely the most remarkable thing Neverwinter brings to the table. Based on my current mood, it isn’t particularly likely that I will.


So there are my completely Unfair Impressions for Dragon Nest and Neverwinter. If you are a player of either game, by all means let me know your own opinions on the matter. Do the games get better? Do I need to play them with a certain mindset? Which class would be the most fun? Things like that.


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