Thursday, August 30, 2012

Turning Lies into Marketing

By now, I think we're all familiar with the pattern: A game launches with a subscription, they don't get the numbers they want, and then they go free to play. Sometimes the company is quiet about it until its second launch, othertimes they try to be coy and fail miserably. As I mentioned in the last post of the Worst Case Scenario series, the F2P revolution always comes on the heels of the subscription model failing.

I titled this post "Turning Lies into Marketing" because I felt that companies always lie about going F2P, due to the stigma it attaches to their game. From what I understand, Secret World is an exception to this as Funcom is not shy about saying they might do it, but for the most part companies are ashamed of it. I say, why lie to your playerbase? Instead, make that transition a feature of your game.

Here's how it works: Take a 3-6 month period after the initial launch  and before you go free to play and call that the "Subscription Head Start". This will act much like a normal MMORPG launch. There is a box to buy and you pay a sub, except unlike normal MMORPG's you launch with a cash shop. The box is not necessary to play the game, but the subscription is, meaning that you can pay 15 bucks and get in for a month without the box. The box merely provides a free month, some cash shop currency, and something along the lines of a Founder's Pack which provides unique items you can't get anywhere else. A mount, a title, a cosmetic item, or whatever they like.

Keep the game running as sub only for however many predetermined months you like. It is important that this length of time is announced beforehand, as otherwise people will feel cheated. This time is known as the "Pre-Launch Subscription Head Start". People pay a sub to get a start on the game before anyone else. Then you have the true launch of the game, which is F2P. When that happens, you switch the model over to a tiered system, where the subscription members can keep paying to get a better experience than the F2P players, who have to pay to unlock things.

This system is transparent, easy to understand, and does not lie about the game's future as a F2P title. In fact, it banks on that as a feature and uses it to sell a head start to players. It's not a subscription game, you merely need to pay one to get ahead of everyone else.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Peter Molyneux and the Cube of Curiosity

An alternative title to this post was "What the Hell is Peter Molyneux up to?"

Seriously though, what is he up to? For background, I follow Peter Molyneux on Twitter and in the news because his old studio, Lionhead, is responsible for one of the first PC games I ever fell in love with (Black & White) and the man has an astounding ability to get people pumped about anything. In the time leading up to Fable's release, he promised us the moon and the stars, that this game would wake up in the morning and serve you eggs, toast, orange juice and bacon. Is it love? To Peter Molyneux it was.

We all know how that went, but you can't blame the man for having stars in his eyes and being able to make other people see them. But this new project is weird. This game, now called "Curiosity: What's Inside the Cube?", places all players in the same room with the same cube. You are given tools to pick away at this cube, but they are small. It is a group effort to open and dig through the layers. From what I understand, you can collect coins to get bigger picks, or even buy them with real money. But the catch is, only the person who delivers the final tap will see it.

I don't know whether to be mad, confused, excited, or apathetic. Molyneux promises what is inside will be "truly amazing" and "absolutely unique", but quite frankly, I think it's just an exercise of his hype abilities. For all we know, the only thing inside the cube is a youtube link to Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up". And if the final person doesn't have a recording tool available? Well, then the rumors fly, and I assume the game starts up again with new hype.

It's new. It's interesting. It's confusing. I don't know what to make of it. Is it art? Is it a game? Is it a social experiment? Is it an April Fool's Joke? I have no clue whatsoever. Do you?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Worst Case Scenario - The End of Subscription Gaming

I'd try to make myself look awesome for the fact that I wrote a post about SWTOR going free to play before it was announced, but everyone and their mother knew it was gonna happen so I'd just look like a moron. So, let's take care of some business before we begin: I apologize for my long absence, as real life caught up with me and I found myself sucked into World of Warcraft again. After some thinking, and a lot of post ideas coming up about WoW, I decided not to bombard this blog with those posts. I want to talk about the game, but don't feel like those discussions are up to the style of this blog. Because of this I've created The Westfall Field, a side blog meant for my WoW experiences. Pardon the look of it, I'm still fiddling with the layout settings. I'll be keeping my analytical and general MMORPG posts here, and will still mention WoW, but if I feel it is a topic that is solely for fans of that game it will be moved there.

Because if I don't update one blog enough, clearly the answer is that I need two.

So. For the finale of "Worst Case Scenario" we have a topic that I briefly touched upon in the SWTOR F2P article, and that is the death of subscription games. Many MMO fans are cheering this happening, partially because it means change in the genre and partially because I think they are cheap. I forgive them, because I am cheap too. However, that does not mean I agree with the idea that subscriptions should die.

These days, the rise of F2P games has been accomplished at the cost of subscription games. I can't count very many games lately that have launched free to play, but conversions from sub games are a dime a dozen. It's a proven business model, so why not? However, the saturation of F2P titles in the market can prove even more dangerous for the genre than subs. You see, one of the main hurdles of creating an MMO is the high price point. Many indie developers cannot hope to compete in the market because creating an offline game is much easier, and any subscription revenue would barely cover the costs to create new content due to how few players would be paying. Consider how worse that would be if F2P releases became the norm.

Indie developers would be shut out of the market entirely. Should the consumer base accept F2P launches as the norm, launching with a box and a sub to try to recoup development costs would be suicide for the game. Why would anyone buy when there are so many titles that they can get for free? Less small studios means less risks taken. SWTOR has proven that big companies are only willing to pay into models that are proven, and when the only models they think work are BC and WOTLK-era World of Warcraft, we have ourselves a near standstill in the evolution of games. I can't ignore the contributions of titles like The Secret World, but those are exceptions in a stagnant genre. Make F2P the standard, and the indie developers will put their resources into fields that they can compete in. I'm a WoW fan, but we don't need another title like SWTOR on the market.

You then may note that the trend in the industry is starting to turn to releasing a subscription game, and then switching free to play. Funcom has been quite open about this, but SWTOR was about as subtle as a tank driving through a residential neighborhood. They denied it all the way while driving directly towards it. It was borderline ridiculous the press releases they sent out. "You know, free to play is a good market to be in. Not that we're going to do that. We're just browsing." That kind of behavior may garner a few laughs now, but that will wear off fast. And what you are left with is a lack of trust.

Why would a gamer buy a subscription game now when they can wait a few months to get the game F2P, and with all the launch bugs ironed out? The answer is only impatience and hype. Those can only last for so long until mistrust of companies hyping up their games sets in. Deceptive marketing techniques won't sell a bad game, and especially one that is blatantly trying to use whatever system makes them the most money at the given time. We gamers know that this is a business, and businesses need to thrive, but changing payment models really makes us consider the money we put into a game and where it is going.

Even with all that, my least favorite part is what I mentioned above: F2P titles arrive on the death of subscription games. If there is any stigma that this type of model needs to distance itself from, it is that the company just did it because the game was failing. And though the word "Free" brings in customers, how many are driven away because they think it is only free because it sucked? I want to see this model succeed on its own merits, and not based on the death of the subscription service. And let the subscription service evolve to compete with F2P titles. If this genre needs anything, its a little more innovation.