Tobold's Blog
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Saying some nice things about Crowfall

To stop the death threats I should write some nice things about Crowfall. :) Just kidding, there are actually nice things to say about Crowfall and as I only talked about the Kickstarter I feel that my generally negative attitude towards Kickstarter may look as if I hated Crowfall, which is not the case.

First of all I totally agree with Rohan that it is totally okay for Crowfall to be a PvP-centric game. We don't have enough decent PvP games, especially in the fantasy genre. Even for somebody like me who won't play a PvP game it would be interesting to know whether the lack of success of fantasy PvP games is due to there being no demand, or there not being any decent game on offer.

Second, I totally dig the Crowfall business model. I am not a big fan of the straight WoW-like subscription model, because that model sells you "equal opportunity of access for equal money". As in reality two people with equal opportunity of access will have two very different degrees of consumption, the straight subscription model penalizes players for playing less if either their real world commitments or their interests result in them not playing many hours per day. There is a good reason why there are so few restaurants with all you can eat buffets, the customers who just want a regular meal resent paying for the gluttons. In spite of $15 not being a huge drain on my finances, I cancelled my WoW subscription when I started to play less, because it always makes me feel uncomfortable to waste money.

The Crowfall business model is much better. You can buy the game once and play forever (I assume that is only valid for the core game, and any expansions will again have to be paid for). With that single payment comes just a single character passive skill training. Passive skill training means gaining skill while offline, which obviously is a huge advantage. So if you want to play more different characters, you either need to buy the game several times, or you need to get a "VIP subscription", which gives you three passive skill training slots. In either case, a casual player who has enough with just one character will pay less for Crowfall than a very engaged player who feels he needs several characters.

The semantics of that business model are somewhat tricky. On the one hand the devs can claim that theirs is not a Free2Play game with a Pay2Win / Pay4Power item shop. On the other hand an account with three passive skill training slots is rather obviously more powerful than one with only one, so you *do* pay for power. But as that power comes in the form of having more options, and being able to play more different characters without the disadvantage of having no passive training, the power of any individual character is not affected by this. That is extremely important for a PvP game. Crowfall does not allow you to boost the power of a single character by using money. It does allow you to use money to get more trained characters and larger kingdoms, things that are desirable (and thus will presumably sell) but not an unfair advantage in PvP. I find that very well balanced. It is even a slight improvement over the EVE model, where you need to pay several subscriptions for several characters in offline training.

I put an alert on the Crowfall Kickstarter to check in a month how it went. Given the current result it appears almost certain that the $800k goal will be reached, but that isn't really the number I am interested in. I am interested in the number of backers, currently just under seven thousand, in order to get an idea of what the potential market size for a PvP MMORPG is. (Don't quote EVE numbers to me, which are highly misleading: They count accounts instead of players, and count the 80+% of PvE EVE players together with the PvP players.) Dividing the money given by the number of backers also gives the highly interesting information that the average backer gave around $100, which is very interesting regarding the financing of niche games. Ultimately a niche game will need to get more money from the players than a mass market game due to economies of scale, and it is interesting to see whether that is possible.

Number of kickstarter backers =/= number of potential paying players.

I'm very interested in Crowfall and will very much buy it when published.

I'll be damned if I pay any game company a single penny before they have a finished product.
Our hobby needs niche games because they are the places where creativity can really be let loose. Therefore I am delighted to see an enthusiastic cohort of fans who are willing to put a not unsubstantial amount of money into developing a niche game.

Unfortunately I am also worried because past experience has shown that those same enthusiasts can be the most unforgiving critics when a game doesn't quite live up to their high expectations. Given the shoestring budget it is inevitable that the server infrastructure will struggle. It is inevitable that there will be bugs. It is inevitable that the graphics won't be up to par. It is inevitable that classes won't be balanced. Will the game be able to survive the equally inevitable backlash from fans when all these things happen?
Number of kickstarter backers =/= number of potential paying players.

I agree with "unequal to", but I'd claim there is some proportionality. Especially I think there is a strong correlation between number of Kickstarter backers and number of LONG TERM players. It isn't the tourists who pay in advance.

Will the game be able to survive the equally inevitable backlash from fans when all these things happen?

I noticed that lately EVERY SINGLE GAME that was released had negative headlines of one sort or another, on all different platforms. When was the last time a game was released that was universally liked?

The correlation between that negativity and economics isn't obvious. Lots of people said lots of bad things about Destiny, but the game made a metric shitload of money and still is.
Not entirely sure I understand the complaint. The success of games like League of Legends, Battlefield, Call of Duty, Counterstrike, etc, seem to suggest there's a huge market for pvp-centric games, and that there's more than adequate exploitation of this market.

People are willing to pay a lot of money to go into a game and beat on each other. And that's fine.

If anything it seems to suggest to me that the large majority of people who prefer fighting other players instead of npcs, also prefer to do so in a more structured setting. Everyone loves a good match.

I'd even go so far as to guess that there are more gamers who prefer structured pvp than pve. But still there are definitely more who prefer pve or structured pvp to unstructured pvp.

PvP is not niche. Unstructured, open, non-consensual pvp is niche.
"We don't have enough decent PvP games, especially in the fantasy genre."

When you followed this up with liking the business model (given how outspoken you have been against the dangers of Kickstarter), for a moment I literally thought you were making a rather snarky sarcastic post.

The business model aside (obviously, you weren't talking about Kickstarter but the subscription model), just look up any list of "upcoming MMORPGs 2015." Well over half are PvP games.

The current offerings might suffer from a "chicken or egg" issue. Are they all low budget because that's all this niche market can support, or do they pull in niche numbers only because they're low budget?

However, by the end of the year, this will no longer be an excuse. Most of the top grade MMORPGs coming out this year heavily feature or are entirely PvP games. Many are imports and should be largely free of bugs or glaring balance issues. Sink or swim, we will know the top end viability of PvP games.
I remember playing and getting excited about a PvP game called "Fury" which was being done by Australian developers.

I bought it, played it and very quickly it went free to play as the funds werent there. There was a relaunch and eventually the game died.

For a PvP only game I quite enjoyed it, though the systems they used were horribly random.

Hopefully this Crowfall is any good and since I like the Guild Wars "buy once" model I might even play!
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