Tobold's Blog
Thursday, September 20, 2012
 
Jagged Alliance Online

I've been playing a bit of Jagged Alliance Online, as JA was I game I played a lot in the 90's, and JA: Back in Action was somewhat flawed. Now the good news is that JAO is very playable, in some respects better than JA:BIA. The bad news is that the business model is fundamentally flawed, which makes the game ultimately unplayable.

In JAO you start out with only one character, your avatar. Annoyingly you choose his class before you've seen anything of the game, and then are unable to change it later or restart, unless you make a new account. After the first tutorial you will need more than one character in your group. So you need to hire mercenaries. Now there are two possibilities: You pay for a mercenary with in-game currency, for 24 hours of real time. Or you buy him permanently for gold bars, which cost real money. And that is where the game quickly breaks down: Paying with in-game currency is getting more and more expensive with levels, faster than your income grows. So you need to do more and more missions in those 24 hours real time to make this work. Somebody who is playing this game all day will have no problems, but somebody who just wants to play for 1 hour every evening is screwed.

So the time-poor should buy mercenaries for real money instead? They probably would if they were reasonably priced. But even a low-level mercenary costs $10. By the time you have a team full of high-level mercenaries bought with real money, you spent considerably more on JAO than a full-price game would cost you. And then you still haven't paid for all the other stuff you're expected to shell out real money for, like inventory space, special items, upgrades for your buildings and such.

In short, a decent online game is just totally killed by an extremely bad business model. Why can't game companies look at games like World of Tanks or League of Legends to learn how to do Free2Play right, which is both attractive for the players and profitable for the company?

Comments:
Sounds as though it's the pricing you have issues with, not the model.
 
I think that the problem Tobold refers to is that instead of the typical "no money = slower progression" approach they are going for an all-out "no money = impossible to play" method.

 
I find that ridiculous pricing is a common problem on free to play games.

I worked on a Facebook game for six months last year and mentioned this to the ceo of the company. His explanation was that they'd found that only a tiny portion of their users would pay anything, but the ones who would would commonly spend silly amounts. So he didn't see the point of having cheap items.

This is a good article on the concept http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/zyngas-quest-for-bigspending-whales-07072011.html

If it becomes impossible to play without spending money that's a problem, but only it's only a big problem if it happens at a point before the user is already invested in the game.
 
Thank you for that link, very interesting, if somewhat disgusting if you consider it in terms of income equality. Not many people could even consider spending $10,000 on virtual items.

I still think the World of Tanks model is far superior than the whales model. You *can* sink tons of money into WoT by buying gold tanks and gold ammo; but the basic stuff the average player might want is available for less than the price of a MMO subscription.

I tend to check early on in a game what it would cost to buy all the things from the item shop that I would consider "necessary" to make the game "playable". If some browser game then ends up costing more than a full-price single-player game, I bail out right away. I am not poor, but I refuse to pay those sort of prices.
 
No, that's not expensive at all.

You have an iPad, right. Get Tiny Monsters. It's a rip off of another game, Dragonvale, but my point is this... you can breed your own rare monster by combining hybrids, or you can purchase it in the shop for ... up to 39 euro!

For the record, the monster is different only in its appearance, so there's little functional use (it might or might not give you more money than regular mobs). So JAO is cheap by appstore standard.
 
So JAO is cheap by appstore standard.

One game hardly constitutes an appstore "standard". I have bought dozens of games on the appstore, and found them to be extremely cheap compared to PC games. "Free2Play" appstore style frequently means "play the first 10 levels for free, get the full game for $1.99".
 
No, that's not expensive at all.

You have an iPad, right. Get Tiny Monsters. It's a rip off of another game, Dragonvale, but my point is this... you can breed your own rare monster by combining hybrids, or you can purchase it in the shop for ... up to 39 euro!

For the record, the monster is different only in its appearance, so there's little functional use (it might or might not give you more money than regular mobs). So JAO is cheap by appstore standard.
 
The pricing is only wrong if people aren't buying the item.

If people are buying the item, then the pricing is right, even if you consider it too expensive.

In my opinion, the whale model is the only one which works. Most everyone else is too cheap to pay anything, regardless of what they claim.
 
In my opinion, the whale model is the only one which works.

If that were true, then why are the two most successful Free2Play games World of Tanks and League of Legends? Why is Turbine doing so well with their Free2Play MMORPGs? And why are Zynga shares so low with disappointing revenue and profits?

It is a lot easier to get $1 each of 1000 people than to get $1000 of 1 person.
 
It is a lot easier to get $1 each of 1000 people than to get $1000 of 1 person.

No, it's not (always the case). Ask any enterprise software company or any B2B business for that matter.

Games that focus on whales cater to a very select minority who trumps the unwashed masses. In a way, they pay $1000, so they can be superior to a thousand players that don't spend even a buck.

A few people have paid a million for bugatti veyron, so they can feel superior to a million (probably). So a buck a person is about right in terms of pricing.
 
I don't think you can compare a browser game with a Bugatti. Most people are clever enough to see how little status you get by buying a win in a browser game nobody plays because it is too Pay2Win.
 
WoT works for everyone. If you want to play for free, you can. If you are willing to spend about $8 a month you can get accelerated xp. If you want to spend 100 a month you can do that too by buying gold rounds, skipping the crew leveling experience, and converting free xp/cash for credits. It's a pretty slick system.
 
That's the point. Jagged Online isn't slick at all. It's bam in your face brick wall.
 
It's a real shame, because I have LOVED every JA game. First I saw of this was the launch news on Massively. Seeing that it was F2P, however... well.

I guess experience with F2P these days has jaded me somewhat, and analyzing the psychology of what is offered to who and why definitely breaks some of those tools in respect to how they work on you.

This one threw up damn near every red flag I have. It's almost Vanguard bad.
I won't view any more media on the game. It'll only make me disappointed with what could have been.
 
Tobold, my point is that product/pricing is a continuum.

You can sell a lot at a very low margin (Walmart) or you can sell a few at a high margin (LV, Bugatti, etc).

I'm not saying JAO is Bugatti, but they already have only a few people playing. So if your market is very small, it doesn't make sense to charge 1 cent, regardless of the quality of your product.
 
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