Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Everquest I & II go microtransactions

SOE just announced their newest venture, called Station Cash, offering microtransactions, the ability to buy in-game items for cash. Most are vanity items, but there are also xp potions, which give you a buff that increases the rate in which you level up. Some people like the idea, others give a neutral overview, with a third group not being happy about microtransactions in a game you already pay a subscription for.

Me, I wouldn't mind the vanity items for cash, but am highly critical about those xp and achievement potions. The potions that increase adventuring xp, or achievement points, or crafting xp by 50% for 4 hours cost a whopping $10. Two-thirds of a monthly fee for a potion that only lasts about one typical daily gaming session? Pricey, for what some people will consider to be a must-have item, and which is less good than WoW's free rest xp bonus.

Personally I simply wouldn't buy the stuff, but I'm sure some EQ / EQ2 players will. Somebody playing every day and wanting to be with a 50% xp bonus all the time could end up increasing his monthly bill from $15 to several hundreds of dollars, depending on how much he plays. In a way you could consider that as a tax on the hardcore players, assuming that you'd need to be very dedicated and highly interested in leveling fast to pay that much extra for a 50% boost. And while I personally couldn't care less how fast the player next to me levels, I know that others will feel the need to keep up with the Joneses, further increasing SOE's sales. A ripoff, if you ask me.
A few things to keep in mind are that EQ2 already has the same free rest bonus (more or less) as WoW, and it already has an in-game channel for getting these kinds of potions - veteran's rewards for playing various amount of time already leave a lot of players with many potions like this stashed in their vaults (though the AA potions are new.) Add to that that the xp gain in the game was already substantially ramped up from levels 20-70 (out of 80) AND that players get a 10% xp bonus for every character they have at max level, and levels are already flying by. Also, with the xp potions (and presumably the AA ones) you lose the effect when you die, so you're taking a big risk of getting a lot less than a four hour return on your money. I'd say a ripoff, overall. I do think people will shell out the money for new house pets and appearance clothes, though.
Makes taking a plunge on DC Universe Online even less likely...
Using microtransactions for anything besides clothing, housing furniture/decoration and fun pets is lame. But SOE are already incorporating RMT for potions, mounts, etc. since LoN so Station Cash is just another "distribution channel" with a more direct approach. They should just convert every server into Station Exchange and get over with it.
This is a tough one. I am also of the mind that there should be no 'must-have' items that are RMT. However, in older games I could see things like the XP potions or even pre-made Level 40's (for WoW) an attractive thing to buy for alts.
I think it's a great idea for SoE and I'm strongly in favor of anything that gives players more options available to them. If you don't like it, don't use it. What's the big deal? Can't afford it, you're no worse off than if it wasn't available. If you can, you get more enjoyment and SoE gets more cash. What's the problem here?
I subscribed to EQ2 for the first time ever a couple weeks ago because with the latest expansion they finally seemed to have decided that they wanted to make a game for non-soloers too. I bought the game, but will be canceling my account because of this. Everquest no longer deserves to be called a game, it's a glorified chat room.

To be fair, I was already on the fence though. The leveling speed has been increased so much that there is no point in grouping at all while leveling. Grouping is slower XP no matter what you do, and the nicer gear you might get from a dungeon crawl is completely pointless since most mobs die so fast anyway. Since people level so fast, you also wont be staying in the same level range with any other players, so you never get the chance to build a peer group while leveling like in other games. 0 challenge, 0 reward.
Yeah, I agree - sounds like Sony is trying to milk more $$ from their player base.

And though you say you don't care about how fast others are leveling, are you sure that you don't feel the pressure to keep up with the rest of your guild as they level, Tobold? I'm pretty sure you've mentioned feeling relief that your priest hit 80, and that you were distressed that the rest of your guild in WAR was leveling faster than you since they were grinding scenarios. I know that I feel pressure when the rest of my friends level quicker than me.

I think this is a potentially bad trend - one moving towards 'forced' microtransactions on a subscription game. ...That being said, Sony is laying off 8,000 employees, so they're pretty starved for cash, it seems.
It reeks of desperation, greed, and short sightedness.
Players should react if they oppose the micro-payment/transaction ideas that several companies seem to deem a viable alternative to subscription models, or as extra cash on top of that: Do not play such games.

I will stop playing MMOs when I ask people where and how they got that armor and the answer is 5 dollars for the breastplate, 5 for the helmet, from the online shop...
Wonder when they will cross the thresshold and start selling UberSword of coolness with +250 strength :).
I don't agree completely. It sounds overpriced as Tobold says (and desperate, as the poster above comments) but the one thing that is killing my interest in the WoW expansion (and MMORPGs in general) is the time demands. I have a WoW 70, but due to a move away from Europe and the consequent lag, she's no longer really playable. Rerollers, as I would be, and new alts face literally *days* of travelling through largely empty and/or largely repetitive content. Likewise, in War, the speed of levlling slows significantly, and because of that the repetition starts to grate. As a casual player, I have neither the time nor the interest to spend several real time months levelling up to see actual fresh content or join the majority of the player base. Give me an option, as these potions do, that lets me trade my real time work for a little less repetition, and I might consider it - although not at that price.

Just to be clear: I enjoyed my journey through WoW the first time, and much of my journey through War, but I simply do not want to invest so much time in games that (for me) seem to change so slowly. The argument that people who don't play the full game don't 'learn their class' really rather overestimates the complexity of soloing in MMORPGs - and how many readers would put their hand on their heart and swear that the majority of their experience comes from grouping? There are bad players at every level, and, ultimately, I don't think there's anything wrong with having an option for people who want that extra speed.
Well, I was on the fence for going back to EQ2. Only if they make the game free to play will I go back now.
This smacks of greed, and petty ways to drain the player base. What there is of it mind you...
One less game for my list to worry about...
I agree, it's a ripoff.

With Blizzard's refer-a-friend, it's only $20-50 for a new account and that gives *two* accounts a 300% bonus to leveling for 3 months! Definitely the superior way to buy your advantage in the game.
I don't mind what they are offering in the Station Marketplace now but I do believe the slippery slope argument has merit here. People used to complain about the exclusive items that showed up in retail boxes or collector's editions. "They are just fluff items," Sony pointed out. Fine. Then they got plants that created exclusive potions. "But the potions aren't really that great, its no huge advantage." True, so fine. Nowadays, players can buy the retail version and get a mount that's better than what many players can afford in game.

With Legends of Norrath, once upon a time the Loot Cards were mostly things like house pets and house paintings. Now you can actually get the freaking (rent free) house.

The definition of "fluff" is becoming broader daily. Its only a matter of time before the "Sword of 1000 Truths" shows up for only 2500 Station Coins. Or they add 10 new levels in the next expansion pack except the amount of XP is so exponentially higher than what we're used to today that XP potions are the only way to make it tolerable.

I'm not quitting over this... yet. If Sony manages it well, I could be ok with it. I'm not against buying things like appearance armor on there. If they had anything that looked good, I might even do so myself. Given Sony's track record with other "RMT Light" activities like the kinds of in game items that show up in retail boxes or LoN Loot Cards, I'm not convinced that Sony will continue to keep things like super fast mounts and plants and rent free houses and other items that DO impact gameplay in a significant way off of there.
Maybe if it was a 24-hour buff, persistent through death, then possibly.

But $10 of Real Money™ for a buff that lasts just 4 hours and you lose the buff if you die? How could anyone possibly think this is a good idea?

This is not someone paying Real Money™ for a Virtual Sword that they'll outgrow in 5 levels. This is someone paying $10 for a buff they could potentially lose within minutes when a griefer trains a bunch of Mobs onto them.

I would not use Real Money™ to buy the XP Potion not because I don't have the disposable income, but because it's an extremely flawed idea implemented by a money hungry corporation.
I have no problem with paying for vanity items (blizz could make a fortune out of me by having RM armour dye). But paying for game-affecting items is something I'd oppose. It just feels like ... cheating. How do you justify clamping down on gold farmers when you're effectively doing the same thing?
That's the key, Sven; the demand is there. If the company captures it instead of fighting it (and the law of diminishing returns), then there's a new revenue stream and happy customers. It wouldn't work to jam it into an existing game in some ways (vanity items are completely fine, I figure, and I've written about dye before), but build from the ground up, a game could completely outflank gold sellers by controlling the RMT demand in-house.
Microtransactions for vanity items are fine. Microtransactions for non-essential fluff items like powers that can be only used once every hour, and don't offer any significant advantage to the purchaser are fine.

Paying money for XP potions?! Are they nuts? That's a solid in-game advantage right there for anyone with heaps of spare cash. That's gone right down the slippery slope into no-go imbalancing territory. It completely changes the nature of the game, from a level playing field, to one where those willing to drop the cash have an advantage. You don't change a game mid-field like that, you will lose people, guaranteed.

Now if your game started out that way, that's cool, them's the rules upfront. Dungeon Runners gives members who pay $$$ a clear advantage. You choose to play the game, them's the breaks. Kingdom of Loathing's $10 Mr Accessories give a significant softcore boost, but there are mechanisms in place to offer equality in hardcore/bad moon modes for those who prefer it, and the items are tradeable to those without the RL cash as well.

Switching an established game like Everquest to those kinds of models in midstream... Gonna be ugly.
Micro-transactions move the product from a fixed expense to an uncontrolled expense.

People who are willing to pay under those models must have at least two of these:
1) Self control
2) Disposable income
3) Lack of financial intelligence
4) Over inflated sense of the value of virtual experiences

Some things that used to be micro-transaction and are not:

1) Internet Access
2) Long Distance from land lines
3) Cell Phone plans (unlimited is still pricey though)
4) MMORPGs (by the hour)

Micro-transactions are very good for the company producing the game, if they don't lose a significant portion of their user base, but only good for the portion of the user base that meets the above criteria. This is because it has the very likely effect of increasing the amount per month per user significantly.

There are psychological effects that micro-transactions ignore:

1) If enough can be gained with cash, the game is no longer a game but a collection of virtual stuff and bragging rights
2) If enough can be gained with cash, the divide between the haves and have-nots becoms apparent in the virtual environment, removing the have-nots, which over time slides up (it's like poverty, you know... relative!)
3) If there's no sense of accomplishment, there's no sense of attachment beyond how much you paid, which then becomes what is being gamed.
4) From the corporate side, it will make sense to alter the game to improve profitability under the new revenue stream, which means the company will be gaming the game to get more money out of the player!

Bottom line, it's just a way to increase the bottom line of the company in question, the only concern they have regarding players in this aspect is if they'll lose more revenue by doing it than not.
Meh, the xp potions already exist in game (see veteran rewards), EQ2 already has rest experience (EQ1 does not) and leveling is already exceedingly fast in both games. Also -- in EQ2, no consumbable buff poofs when you die, so I would expect these do not either; in EQ1 they usually do, and they have explicitly stated that these persist through death. Pricey, yes, but you do at least get your full 4 hours.
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