Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Squeezing more money out of your players

One of the complaints about Free2Play games is that developers would on purpose design the game mechanics in a way that makes buying stuff from the item shop more desirable. Like slowing down leveling and then selling you scrolls of faster leveling. That is indeed a possibility, but it isn't limited to Free2Play games. It is perfectly possible to imagine a monthly fee game in which game mechanics prevent you from leveling alts, so that people go out and buy a second account for dual-boxing.

You don't believe me? Well, EVE Online recently sent out a new Power of 2 offer, encouraging their existing players to open a second account for leveling alts, as their game mechanics have on purpose been designed to only let one character per account gain skills. And you could claim that the World of Warcraft Recruit-a-Friend triple xp deal isn't much different from buying a scroll of faster leveling in an item shop either. Many people rather recruit-an-alt than a friend.

So MMORPG companies squeezing more money of their players has been around for a lot longer than the Free2Play business model. And to some extent getting more value out of spending more money is certainly justified. How good or bad that becomes is then a matter of game design, of how much players feel that they *must* spend more money to get ahead. I've played Free2Play games which were quite well designed, where every purchase was completely optional, and I played others where just keeping you with the most necessary stuff would cost more per month than a monthly fee game. Dual-boxing in World of Warcraft isn't all that common, because the recruit-a-friend program doesn't help with the end game. In EVE I hear a larger percentage of players are dual-boxing, but I can't say how big of a "must have" advantage that really is.
All these options are suffering from the same problem: levelling isn't seen as fun by a large part of the player community, they just want to reach the end game content asap.

It's also offering a strange dilemma. If your customers are willing to spend time or money to spend less time levelling then why would you want to make levelling fun? You'll reduce your income if players don't want those level fast items. You'll also reduce your income if levelling is so boring that noone wants to do it.

It's a problem being solved the wrong way. The right way is to make levelling fun again (pretty much what I hope the next WoW expansion will do). Not give your players the option to skip your boring content.
The only way to make leveling fun is to make it slower.

Right now the only reason to level is that there is some endgame and that you unlock interesting abilities. You cannot do reasonable PvP while leveling (although that his become better).

You can speculate in the AH while leveling, but it doesn't have anything to do with leveling at all. A level 1 char shouldn't be able to be the richest char in the game. It doesn't make a lot of sense - it is not immersive.

You cannot play arena, you cannot raid and the dungeons are terribly trivial if you manage to get a group together.

The leveling game is not a game, but a race. It can be fun in some way, but it's so fast that people don't even bother to get equipment. A lot of players ignore all skills like fishing/cooking and professions while leveling.

The whole thing has to be slowed down to the pace the endgame has.

When I say: Remove the leveling, I mean that you should remove the devide in this game. Make it one game and not two (or more games) that depend on each other although the dependence hurts each of them.
It's a tough one. I know people don't like the fact that you can only train one skill at a time on a character per account but the argument for it is that you can't level 2 characters on the same account at once in traditional MMOs. Personally I think that's perfectly valid.

I don't think it's by intention but the nature of EVE does lend itself a lot to having multiple accounts because you skill them all up off line and a lot of the tasks required in the game are pretty mindless, such as mining and hauling etc.

I don't see anything wrong with it all although I am surprised it's so popular with the players and that CCP encourage it with incentives.
Speaking of F2P, did you stop playing Free Realms? If so, why?

= # # =
I've been playing Eve-Online for years and as much as I do love the game the way they handle accounts with the only (1) character per account allowed to train, along with relatively slow training and promotion of the Power of Two offer and near requirement of alts to do anything has alwayed bugged me.

For a new player joining EvE the first issue you face is being teamed up with and against older players generally 1-2 or more years ahead of you. Unlike a traditional MMO where you would have the option of investing a ton of time with non-stop playing - you are limited to slower but offline skill training queues. However because they're so so your only option as a new player is to specialize to the extreme into a narrow area of skills so you can match the same skill levels of a more rounded veteran player. Doing this severely limits you gameplay to that narrow area unless you sacrifice your general usefulness and become a jack of all trades with low skill levels spread all around.

For most players the easiest answer is at a minimum to buy a 2nd account so you can keep your primary account as a mission runner or pvp account focused on ship combat, then your second account can have either mission runner, your pvp character, or your industrialist training their specialized skills so as to not take away from your primary accounts progress. Then between the two accounts you can make 'filler' characters much like bank alts in WoW, very specialized characters for researching, trading, salvager, hauler, cyno alts for cap ships, scammer chars, spies, etc.. The low value alts are pretty purpose driven and often never need more than a month or training if that.

Some areas of gameplay like brining in cap ships with cyno alts have just been the defacto way to do things, and everybody that has their own cap ships keeps a 2nd account with a cyno alt in order to move their ship. Some things like that seem that bad design on CCP's part unless they truly meant to funnel players into buying more accounts.

I would estimate on average nearly half of Eve's accounts are alt accounts, while some people do manage with only 1 account or pay for alts with game timecards they buy with ISK, by in large a 2nd or 3rd account is the norm. Some corp CEO's are known to run as many as 7-10 accounts.

It does seem like gouging, especially due to some moves the game developers have made like CCP's removal of 'ghost training' (where you could let your character train a single skill while an account was unsubscribed), but I think between the indie developer type love for CCP and the pure addiction of the game most people don't think twice about it.
Coincidentally, I just wrote a post on this last Saturday. Since it's rather long, I'll sum it up:

- developers need to be paid for the game they make
- subscription: pay-to-play
- F2P: pay not-to-play
- economical reality (as opposed to wishful thinking): development focus on whatever gets you paid
- subscription-developer: create incentive to play content
- F2P-developer: create incentive to skip content
- I want to play.
I think you have put your finger on a dirty little secret of EVE. I suspect the number of actual players is a good deal fewer than the number of accounts. I have never seen official figures for how many players have multiple accounts but anecdotally and from my own experience in game it is a substantial amount. You don't even need to multi-box because an alt account will continue to train skills while it is offline.
While multiboxing in Eve does confer concrete benefits, WoW-style synchronized multiboxing is quite rare due to the inability to make macros. You just can't divide your attention over multiple characters without compromising your reaction time and focus. Even the ability to train two characters at the same time is only a fringe benefit, unless you train the alt in a completely different field than your main (and thus forgo synergy advantages). The largest advantage is having an additional character logged on to complement the main character.

For example, a miner could have a hauler alt. A solo miner has to waste time hauling already-mined ore back to the station, but the miner with an alt can keep the mining lasers on while the alt does the hauling. Curiously enough, one of the Goblin racials in Cataclysm is a summonable NPC bank alt, fulfilling the same purpose.

An another example is the capital ship pilot. Most capital ships are too large to use the stargates for travel, and instead use jump drives. The jump drives in turn need a cynosural field in an another star system to lock onto. Corporation and alliance members can usually rely on their teammates or stationary cynosural field generators, but there are always times when you need to move a capital ship and no trustworthy friendlies are around or available.

Finally, while the Power of Two offer does require payment, having multiple accounts doesn't necessarily mean that you pay extra to CCP. A veteran player can afford to fund the alt by buying playtime cards with ISK.
To be accurate, in Eve you only skill train one character per account *at a time*. Nothing prevents you from switching the skill progression to another character on that account. Considering the real time off line nature of Eve's skill training, that seems fair.
Speaking of F2P, did you stop playing Free Realms? If so, why?

Yes, I stopped playing Free Realms. And the reason was badly designed microtransactions, where paying $5 for a sword at level 1 gave you a better sword than the best you could either craft or adventure for, even at the level cap. Horrible design, where you paid not just to accelerate the game, but to skip it completely.
Further to my remarks about EVE

From my own blog archives
I note that ccp actively encourage multiple accounts by patching the
game so that multiple clients can be run on the same computer.
The problem with gaming is capitalism.

When videogame design was only making modest money only dedicated game makers who enjoyed their craft engaged in it. Subsequently, games were more fun.

Game development became a popular industry when making games became lucrative. Then the industry was flooded with people who wanted money for making games all day. ...And publishing them, etc.

The fact that game development is now "work" to the extent that game [developers] "NEED to get paid" for it is part of the problem.

I don't think anyone truly has any fun interfacing with a marketing gimmick or timesink/revenue generator- especially if they understand that that's what it is.

I know I don't.

I think the only way to make leveling fun is to take revenue out of the equation. Concentrate on making a fun game, let the game sell itself, then get back to work on a newer, more important, more entertaining game.

Stop trying to get paid off every little thing forever.
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