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Relative Value of Money

Gaming has gotten pretty complicated for me these days.

The annoying part of this situation is that the complication is all by design. Clash Royale recently celebrated its 1-year anniversary, for example, which means I have been playing this mobile game off-and-on for about a year. Just the other day they teased a “one time sale” that included 100,000g and a Magical Chest for roughly $25. At the stage of development I’m at in the game, that amount of gold would effectively allow me to upgrade two units. Two. For $25.

And I was seriously considering it.

The only real thing that stopped me was that the deal wasn’t as good as the prior deals I did take advantage of. The $25 thing was only a “x4 value” whereas I dropped $25 on a different package several months ago that was a x10 value. At the time, it offered a rather significant boost of power, and allowed me to finally snag an Ice Wizard, which I have used in every deck to this day. Conversely, it is not entirely clear that upgrading two units for 100,000g would see similar returns.

In addition to Clash, I am playing three separate gacha-esque games with similar payment models. Four, technically, if you include Fire Emblem: Heroes in there. I haven’t spent near as much in those as I have in Clash, but I do boot them up every single day for the feeling of incremental progression. And all of them are offering “amazing” deals for $10, $25, even $99.

Then look what happened with WoW. There is currently a “sale” on character services, which means it “only” costs $18.75 for server transfers. Since I had over $180 in Blizzard Bux from cashing in WoW Tokens, I decided to use some of those funds to move the survivors of Auchindoun-US over to Sargeras-US. Moved about four toons thus far, and thinking of a fifth. That’s $75 already. Not $75 from my bank account per se, but I could have nearly bought StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void and 50 packs of Hearthstone’s latest expansion with that same amount of funds.

All of this is why I take a somewhat adversarial stance with game designers. If these were all B2P games, we would not be having this discussion; instead I would be lamenting about how there aren’t enough hours in the day to play all these great games. Instead I’m talking about services within a game, or progression boosters, any of which are more expensive than actual, other games. I just bought Mass Effect: Andromeda from GMG for $41 and some change. That’s roughly two character transfers in WoW, or a few unit upgrades in Clash Royal.

Now, there’s the argument that there aren’t that many games you could even play for a whole year and not tire of. Doesn’t Clash Royal deserve my money for how much amusement it has generated? Isn’t plopping down some cash on these games technically cheaper than paying full price for new releases every few weeks/months anyway?

I think those are the wrong questions, and intentionally engineered to take advantage of cognitive dissonance. Because we aren’t asking those questions up front – we are asking them after having “invested” dozens (or hundreds) of hours into the game. If you told me at the beginning that it took 50,000g to upgrade units in Clash Royal, I would have balked. But having stewed in a pot of nearly boiling water for a year, it all seems reasonable. “Of course it makes sense that I used to get upgrades every three days, and now only get one a month.” Not really, no.

(Especially not when they end up nerfing units a month later. No refunds here.)

The value of money is mostly relative. Going from making $20k to $30k is life-changing, whereas going from $100k to $110k is likely not. However, money is also fungible. Dropping $10 or $25 here and there might make sense in the context of whatever game you are currently playing long-term, but those same dollars could buy anything else.

It is important, IMO, to consider the full picture of what your gaming dollars may or may not be purchasing. A server transfer in an MMO that will save your waning interest may seem a bargain. Hell, it might actually be a bargain in the final analysis. Just be cognizant that the decision should not be “do I spend money or not,” but rather “do I give up X or not.” I decided that two unit upgrades in Clash Royal isn’t worth half a Mass Effect. Framing it this way helps me resist all the fallacies (Sunk Cost, Gambler’s, etc) working on the decision to make it seem reasonable (when it is not), and gives me an answer I can live with.

Maybe your gaming budget is such that you don’t mind dropping hundreds of dollars a month into whatever. In which case, feel free to Paypal some my way, chief. Otherwise, we all have to look out for each other a bit, because the game designers and the in-house psychoanalysts on their payroll certainly are not.

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OverLottery

One of the more interesting complaints I’ve heard about Overwatch is that of its microtransactions. Specifically, the only ones it has: loot boxes. It’s true, you can indeed purchase loot boxes:

OverwatchLoot.jpg

At least it doesn’t say “Best Value.”

I find the complaint interesting because Blizzard has opted for the Hearthstone model when it comes to loot. Specifically, the items you receive are random, but duplicate items are converted to a currency that you can in turn use to purchase your exact desire. If said desire is a Legendary skin – which, let’s face it, is pretty much what everyone wants – it costs a maximum of 1000 currency.

I just hit level 30 50 the other night, which means I have opened a total of 30 50 loot boxes. After level 20, the XP required to get to the next level stays the same at 22,000 XP, and there is no level cap. There are a smattering of bonuses depending on match performance, but the biggest award is typically based on time spent in the match. Generally speaking, then, I’d say that you can average around 2200 XP per match, which takes ~10 minutes apiece, so… 1.5 hours of gameplay per box.

Given the above… how egregious are Overwatch’s loot boxes, really? One faction might suggest any microtransactions at all in a B2P game is too many. Another faction wants the ability to just purchase the skins they want. Another more bizarre faction laments the random nature of the loot boxes and what that means in terms of how long it takes to collect all the things.

And I get it. Sorta. But just like in Hearthstone, this is by far the most fair random loot box scheme that is likely possible. Most other games would be 100% fine with giving you useless duplicates, making it possible you never received anything you wanted. I’m not sure a middle way – such as loot boxes + the option to buy game currency – would really work economically, but I suppose that would be more fair.

In any case, of all the things one might criticize Overwatch about, I do not believe the loot boxes deserve to number among them.

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.

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.