Tobold's Blog
Saturday, March 08, 2014
Paying for not playing

I am a capitalist insofar as I do believe that game companies are not charities. The overall revenue they get from a game needs to be higher than the cost to produce that game plus the cost of capital. And I am open to different business models. I do not consider "pay once, play forever" to be the only viable option. For example I am quite in favor of DLCs because of what I said about the revenue needing to be higher than the cost. If a whole triple A game would require a one-time purchase cost of $100 to keep up with inflation, I'd rather get half the game for $50, and the other half in the form of five DLCs for $10 each. That way I can play through a shorter version of the game before committing the other half of my money.

I am also in favor of a particular business model which is popular on mobile game platforms like iOS and Android: You get a game for "free", but that game has only a very limited number of levels. After level 5 or so you come to a screen telling you that you unlock the remaining levels for a one-time in-app purchase. That basically is the same as a game you pay for once, with a free demo. I do not share the EU's concern about the misuse of the word "free", although I do support the idea that app stores should have warning labels about "contains in-app purchases" and a list of the most popular purchases to give an idea of the real cost of the game.

I don't mind things like the sparkly pony in World of Warcraft either. As I am not an achiever at heart, and do not even believe that you can "win" a MMORPG, I don't even mind in-game stores selling stuff that could be said to give the player some in-game advantage, and not just being decorative fluff.

Where I am a lot more sceptical is thing like the recently revealed business model for EQN Landmark, where you pay money for the resources that you would otherwise need to spend time in game to gather. Again I am not worried about that being Pay2Win. Instead what bothers me is that you are paying more for the privilege of NOT playing the game. In my previous examples you paid to get *more* content, so you could play the game *more*. If you buy resources in EQN Landmark, you pay money to play the game *less*.

And it is not that I dislike resource collection in MMORPGs. In fact I rather like gathering resources in typical MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. I also am currently playing Craft the World, a game in which you spend most of your time gathering resources. But if you have a regular MMORPG or a game about gathering resources, the game developers have an interest in making resource gathering a fun activity. I'm afraid that in EQN Landmark the game developers have an interest to make resource gathering as annoying as possible, so as to maximize the number of players who rather pay than gather.

In addition to that, I am somewhat suspicious of whether SOE is price gouging rather than covering the cost of development, capital, and some reasonable profit margin. I mean up to $99.99 for access to the alpha version of what is basically a kind of editor for a future MMORPG? Resources being sold already in that alpha version? What we have here is a pricing scheme which would be considered somewhat expensive for a release game applied to an alpha version. Shouldn't such early access come with a heavily discounted pricing scheme to make up for the lack of features and finish?

So if you were wondering why I am not playing EQN Landmark, now you know why. For a game that has "Free to Play. Your Way.®" written on its homepage, I find it far too expensive right now. If it really becomes free to play, I'll probably try it.

Gathering resources is one of those things that some people see as "gameplay" and others as a total waste of their valuable time. There's a significant body of opinion in Landmark Alpha that is only interested in building and that interest group seems quite keen to be able to buy resources.

In fact, the question of "paying for not playing" is something of a red herring in this context. The only controversial part is whether the payment should be allowed to be made in real dollars rather than imaginary gold. No-one is suggesting, either in Landmark or any other MMO, that Player A should be prohibited from buying gathered resources from Player B, whether directly or via an Auction House. That happens in every MMO I've ever played - there are always far more players who want to craft than there are players who want to gather, which is why gathering is the way new players almost always bootstrap themselves into the economy.

As for the buy-in costs of Alpha, supposedly they were set deliberately high to set a bar for level of interest. The idea was that people who'd pay $60 or more to get into Alpha would be more likely to participate and contribute time and ideas. Not sure it worked out quite like that. And on the other hand they supposedly sold about 20,000 packs before or just after launch - if people want to give you a couple of million dollars to act as unpaid testers, why turn them down?

I certainly feel I've had my moneys-worth already. The main problem I have with Landmark is that its so fiendishly addictive I daren't play it too much or I never get anything else done.
I suspect that " a kind of editor for a future MMORPG" was the original motivation for EQL. A brilliant way to beta test the voxels and engines much sooner than they could with EQN.

But it seems to be growing. Forbes: "Initially announced as “just” an exploration and creation/building title, EverQuest Next Landmark is confirmed to feature all the trappings of a major MMORPG. Weapons, item drops, monsters, and combat. It’s even going to use the same emergent AI system that’s being touted as one of the major innovations in EverQuest Next."

So my never-going-to-happen fantasy is that EQL becomes all the fun parts of an MMO - crafting, selling, exploring, creating while EQN adds all the unfun parts of an MMO that the epeen crowd care about - dailies, raiding, combat logs.


My argument is that the $99 for alpha is the new 2005 subscription. I.e., it's main value is it keeps most of the internet out. The forums are far more reasonable discussions than you would get in an open environment.


I get your concern, but there is an upside. I remember in EVE there was a progression path (not the Goons tbh it's just easier to scam people) was to start out grinding level 1 missions. After you have done a couple, the idea that you could obviate "20" minutes of grind for a small fraction of a US cent was liberating. If you are tired and kinda want to go to bed, you can do so with the "oh well I can make up for this at any time in the future for a tenth of a cent" even if you eventually spend the time instead of the penny. It's the argument that you buy fire insurance not to replace your house - most don't burn down - but so that you can go out to eat without worrying about it.


In EVE, Wildstar, Rift, SWTOR, somewhat it WoW you can buy items for RL$ that sells in game. So perhaps Wildstar has an incentive to have punishingly high sinks - e.g. repair costs. In all of these games (which represent a considerable portion of the MMO landscape), you can purchase in game resources with RL$, it is just that you are required to go through an intermediate step. Economists would see a difference (floor value) but morally or "moral hazzard" would EQN have been different if they had sold a PLEX for RL$ and allowed people to get resources for RL$ via and intermediate currency.

"most" MMOs, at least on a volume basis, allow you to skip leveling with RL$. High level characters from WoW, EVE, Lotro, EQN, Terra, etc. If you still are playing MMOs and accept that someone can spend $60 and skip 89 levels, then how can you object to allowing them to skip gathering for RL$?

accept that someone can spend $60 and skip 89 levels

I don't "accept" the $60 price tag to skip 89 levels. I just said that it is superior to a $5 price tag to skip 89 levels, because it leads to less people buying it.

Paying $60 to skip 89 levels is as much an example of "paying for not playing" as the EQN Landmark resource buying is.
In this case it's not exactly "paying not to play". It's paying to not spend so much time on things you don't enjoy so you can spend more time on things that you do.

I normally buy most of my crafting resources on in-game auction houses anyway.

What gathering I do is like Bhagpuss says a way of bootstrapping myself into the economy, or a necessary fallback when mats are not easily available or too costly to buy on the AH.
The proof shall be in the pudding. There are the moral hazards you list. The eventual prices and effort will be how I decide how fair and good it is.

There are moral hazards in other monetization schemes. Sub games are motivated to greatly reduce the drop rates and resource acquisition. B2P games are motivated to cut development and increase marketing to maximize sales when the hype train is at full speed. None of them are per se bad, just how the developer implements them.
I doubt you'll see Landmark go F2P until their much closer to the EQN launch, if they don't "officially launch" both games at the same time.

Part of me thinks they may end up with Landmark being turned into a user-generated content tool, like an SOE version of the Foundry from Cryptic.

"In this case it's not exactly "paying not to play". It's paying to not spend so much time on things you don't enjoy so you can spend more time on things that you do."

And that is the problem of the majority of f2p games. Developers must create activities that players do not enjoy but they are "forced" to do in order to do something else that they enjoy. And then comes the $option$ to skip those activities.

I guess this is the what tobold trying to say with the phrase "pay not to play". That developers chose to create boring and painful activities that people should willing to pay to skip them instead of chose to sell additional content.
I think a lot of the blame for this kind of monetisation is the oft repeated demand that everything in a f2p game should be available to earn without paying real money. That demand single handedly forces game companies to ensure there are grindy elements of the game that only paying players can skip to get to the "good bits".

I agree with you that "pay to unlock content" is a much better model. In the example you give they could just charge a fee for access to crafting. No incentive then to make resource gathering unpleasant.
@Heath - I think SOE has said all future games will be F2P. They have said that EQL and EQN will be. Which of course makes the $99 alpha even more (insert your belief here) - it is not just $99, it is $99 for a f2p game.


Don't all MMOs have these sort of problems? Take mining in EVE. They can't make it so unpleasant that nobody does it. If they made it so easy everyone does it, the ore is worthless. If they make it too fun, it is bad because the Goons et al would be sad if when they gank a Hulk the miner said "I lost 30 hours of effort but that is great because I love mining and will go remine the mats immediately." The sweet spot is to make the gathering the right amount of unpleasant, whether you are f2p or sub.

If a game's mechanics are built upon resource collection, and those resources are available in a store, than that mechanic is broken imho.


The problem in this case is that a lot of people DO enjoy leveling in WoW.

But others don't, especially if you're leveling for the 10th time or whatever.
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