Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Strange new business model

Via Syp I found Stylish Corpse's blog entry on the new EQ2 Pass, a new business model from SOE. It allows existing players who have cancelled their subscription to jump back into the game for 3 consecutive days for $5. The ad suggests this would be great for "game update events, bonus xp weekends, multiboxing, special promotions, and Station Cash sales". Me, I'm rather doubtful whether this is a good idea, and whether it will have many takers.

One problem is the complexity of MMORPGs. I had the experience several times where I came back to a game I previously played and had left for some time, and that invariably ends with me feeling a bit lost. Meanwhile you got used to the control scheme of whatever game you were playing in your break, you forgot where the quest giver was who gave you that quest a year ago, and you don't necessarily remember what you wanted with all those strange items in your backpack. And of course the people who stayed have moved on too, and the game developed with patches and expansion while you were gone. Imagine you logged out in Shattrath two years ago, which was fully crowded then, and you log back in today and find yourself alone there, with your talent build reset, and lots of other game changes you aren't aware of. Playing a game after a long break for just three days will is barely enough to get you reaquainted and up to date with the game.

The other problem is the fundamental motivation why people play MMORPGs. I would say that in most cases the motivation for playing a MMORPG is relatively long term. Character development is the cornerstone of MMORPG gameplay. Another important motivational factor is social interaction, with the online friends you made. Logging back into a game for three days isn't going to do much for your character development, and depending on the length of your absence your friends might or might not be there any more. I once found myself guildkicked after a 7-months break from WoW, and in another case when I looked back into LotRO I was presented with a rather funny button asking me whether I wanted to "usurp" the guild leadership, as the guild leader and all the other members hadn't been online for months either.

In summary, I could imagine somebody wanting to play a single-player game, anything from Tetris to Call of Duty, once in a while for a three-day gaming binge. But MMORPGs don't really lend themselves to that sort of short burst playing periods. And if its just to see the game again, you could save yourself $5 and just sign up for a 10-day or 14-day free trial that most subscription MMORPGs offer nowadays.

What do you think? Is there any game you left where you would like to pay $5 to play for a weekend, gain a level, and then not touch the game again for several months until the next short 3-day gaming session?
You are absolutely right.

This is probably an idea from the marketing department.

If you start an MMO with the mindset of just testing if it is immediate fun, you will log off very soon.
Even modern, down-tuned MMOs that try to offer fast gratification are (thankfully) not capable of offering instant fun within a few days.

"Peasant anticipation" (dt. Vorfreude) is a major part of the fun in an MMO.

This actually leads to a discussion that has been ignored for a very long time:
How to get the player into the correct mindset/state of mind?

Point is: You need to approach a game in a certain way. One example is your EVE example. If you approach a game in a wrong way it is totally unsatisfying, although tt could be a lot of fun otherwise.

This as also the problem with returning to old(ancient) games that have been fun 15 years ago. You are in the wrong set of mind to enjoy them. It sometimes requires a lot of work by the player to get into the right mindset.

This is something companies need to do as a primary goal: Every developer interview/intro movie/etc. needs to prepare the player thus that he enters the game with the correct mindset.

The three day trial puts the player in an inappropiate mindset. He will try to have instant fun to maximize the value of the three days he just paid for (isn't $5 quite expensive for 3 three days??). He will fail in an MMO.

Let me close by repeating this: Humans are quite predictable. Games are measured by how well they cater to human nature, only.
No, I don't think it will get many takers at all. But I can see it appealing to a few people and it's not like it's replacing any other subscriptions. It will raise a bit of money and perhaps have a small chance to get someone back into the game.

It won't get many takers but if it gets a few then it's done it's job.

I think it would do better if you could buy say 15 hours play for your $5 to be used whenever you wanted rather than 3 consecutive days. But that would require much more development work. This probably just required them to put the number 3 in a database field somewhere :)
You would think they would at least have the foresight to offer it free.

Paying for something, in contrast to having it for free, requires...I don't know, more thought about whether or not you actually want to do it. If it were free you are usually already limited by being forced to reinstall the game, or at least suffer through patch downloads, something which doesn't bode well for instant fun.

But overall, it isn't a very hard choice to make. If you feel you have even the remotest chance to enjoy it, you can usually spend some time beforehand to enjoy some free fun. Making it cost $5 takes a hell of a lot more investment though.

I honestly don't know how successful this would be if it offered a week for free simply for the reasons you talked about. But 3 days for $5?
Well, I've played and enjoyed a couple of LOTRO's free "welcome back" weekends. It didn't ever take that long to re-familiarize myself with the game.

But $5 for three days is a bit too pricey, I think.
Absolutely agree with @John Burton's proposal of $5 dollars for 15 hours to be used whenever you want.

The mmorpg market has matured to the point where there are many experienced mmorpgers who would like to hop between different games or to play games on their own schedule (for example a once a week static group). A pay for time model would greatly facilitate these types of gameplay and I suspect would increase overall mmorpg revenues.

Pay for time offers many of the advantages of free to play without the disadvantages inherent in the accompanying item shops.
ha.. much better to buy weekend sale items from Direct2Drive, GoG or Steam (Deus Ex this weekend for 2.50$) than to pick this up
Depends on the game I'd say. The way you describe EVE I imagine it would work alright for that.

WOW takes me a week or so to get the hang of again. Lotro about the same.

Whereas with FFXI timing is critical and that's something you get better at as you level your job. I've found particularly with the mage classes, there's no real means to get my party timing back if I haven't played for a long time. So I'm stuck with a rdm42 and the only way I can envision playing it again is by levelling a mule up to that level in order to recapture my sense of timing!
Keep in mind, it costs them next to NOTHING to offer this service. 3 days at the cost of 1/3 a month is great for them if even ONE person accepts the offer.

It does not matter who accepts this offer or how or when they use it, just that someone, somewhere does, because it costs them no more pennies to keep the offer going than it does to cancel it.

Honestly... I would have used this feature when I played WoW (and then stopped) during Vanilla and BC, but then wanted to get on while they were creating the first versions of their holiday events. For the price of a matinee movie ticket, I can be part of the initial holiday rush, have a day to feel good and gloat, and then another day to catch up with friends and decide if I wanted to get back into it.

Nowadays, I have more foresight and communication with current players so I can ask what the event is like and then realize "Oh, its just a bunch of daily quests, or camping one mob with everyone else, or doing useless achievements that are not a challenge."
The way you describe EVE I imagine it would work alright for that.

Wouldn't work at all for EVE, because the skill queue is too short. You can only queue skills that *start* in the next 24 hours, thus the best you could do would be to stack some smaller skills until 23 hours 59 minutes, and then one level V skill which would take a week to complete. But then you'd need to pay $5 again in a week, which is more expensive than paying $15 for the whole month.

What would work for EVE is a formula where for $5 you could play every day, but only 15 minutes per day.
Having just come back to WoW after a year and a half off was quite confusing to me and I just decided to create a new PC to refamiliarize myself... And EQ2 is more complicated than WoW. Don't see how it could work but hey, it costs them nothing to put it out there. Now, I might do a 3 day in the original EQ just to have a nostalgia tour with my high level toon. Would be fun to run through Lower Guk and Neriak etc again!
It sounds like a great idea to me. It's a foot in the door for getting people back. Imagine you used to play EQ2 or SWG or some other game they offer and you've heard about some great new patch. Or perhaps a horrible one.

Do you drop $15 per game to test the new patch? Or do you spend $5 to try out a few games? Then you find that they're more fun than you remember and pay the $15. Or alternatively, you might have been planning to resubscribe until you heard of the terrible patch. $5, log in, world is destroyed, pay $15.

It's a sampler pack. Those are always a worse value than the full size. Maybe they won't managed to bring people back, but I think they will get a lot of $5s since or many people that's close to the point of "so cheap it's free".
I have a level 17 rat monk who is working on getting into Qeynos--and I have been itching to try it again with some of the stuff I have been reading on the blogosphere.

$5 for 3 days just might get me in for a bit, redownloading the client and what not.

Of course I should probably wait until I have my paper done (due May 1) :-p.

I think its an interesting idea and if nothing else Sony should get some acknowledgment for trying something new in pricing.
I liked City of Heroes but the grind would wear me out. I often wished I could pay to play for a weekend, so this is something that would interest me. It does seem a bit pricey. I'd rather pay $2.99 for 48 continuous hours of access. I could even see doing that a couple of times a month.
"3 consecutive days for $5"

Considering that I pay $15 for 30 days this is about 3x more expensive. Why don't you just give those who have been gone for a year or longer two weeks free playtime? If they enjoy it they'll pay the $15 a month.

Although I did first read "3 consecutive days" as 72 hours of gametime.
I think it is a lot harder to pull in a former player who has already quit than it is to recruit entirely new players with free trials and a good new player experience.

Former players already know what the game has to offer and they will come back if the game changes enough to interest them once again. I don't think many would want to log in for just a few days.
I agree. 3 days is not enough. I think AoC has a better approach letting you get any character up to level 20.

Also, f2p vs p2p models in general seem to work well by having larger populations that feed eachother.

Your point underscores what I believe is a fundamental flaw in most of the Tier 1 MMOs -- levelling time is too quick, and too narrow. There needs to be more depth than just racing to level cap or gearscore cap.

Many of us are still waiting for the next big thing in MMOs. But have you considered that perhaps this will not happen? That instead the genre will slowly devolve into FPS worlds or something similar while the traditional MMO model will just die out?
There are some good points here...Maybe they don't expect a lot of takers, but maybe setting it up in their system was a piece of cake, so it's just to pull in a little extra money for their business.
This is a good IDEA but a poor implementation. What I want is something more akin to cell phone plan fees.

For example: a $5 a month fee for 15 hours (use whenever you want) of total game time, and $15 for unlimited usage. THAT would probably be more successful.
I would potentially use it for WoW - to see new features and the like, and see if i were interested in returning to the game.

But then the cost would be something to weigh up also. when for triple the cost of three days you can have thirty days - you just about may as well ...
I think this "payment plan" is geared toward players like me, who quit the game every few months, then return after a relatively short break. It would also be good for players who only log in for the special events.

Possibly their hope is that, if you log back in for a few days, you'll get hooked enough to pay for a month or two before you leave again. So they actually end up with $5 + 1 x $15 or even $5 + 2 x $15. Unfortunately, most players are simply going to interpret that as "you're charging me $5 for a Welcome Back Weekend when you should just be offering me a free week or something to try to get me to come back."

As for me, I might be interested in the offer if it allowed me access to all my character slots (I usually subscribe to the Station Pass plan that gives 5 extra character slots). Unfortunately, I'm 99% certain that it will only give me access to the first 7 slots. So it may be targeted at me, but it misses the mark :^P
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