Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
What if they called it shareware?

Adam commented on microtransactions: "Seems like developers get to take polished game features out of the main game and then resell it to you at a premium on a per month basis? Why not just make annoying features and bugs in the free game and then sell you "fixes"?" And I couldn't help but think, "Congratulations, buddy, you just invented shareware!".

I was recently looking into affordable video conversion software. And most of the shareware programs were either limited to X minutes per video, or added an annoying logo to the converted video. And of course they sell you the "fixes" for those annoying features or left-out polished features. Everybody accepts that. After all, if the developers didn't, people would just use their software for free, and even programmers have to eat sometimes. You get something for free, so you can test it out, but if you want full functionality, or annoying splash screens etc. removed, you will have to pay. This is how shareware works, and it is working well, for decades. So why does Adam call the same concept "dumb and ugly" when applied to MMORPGs?

There are a lot of games out there where you would be unwilling to pay $50 for a box and $15 per month, but where you would be willing to try them out for free. But sooner or later the game company *MUST* receive some money from the players. They have employees to pay, servers to run, and lots of other costs. The "what do you mean, I can't have everything for free?" attitude of entitlement of some people really bugs me.

So lets just relabel this. Instead of calling these games "Free2Play" games with "microtransactions", what if we called them "shareware MMORPGs"? Do you think then people would understand that somebody needs to pay for all the work needed to create and run an MMORPG?
The main argument of the anti MT community is this:
MT destroy the immersion of the fantasy world!

Every argument that goes like: We balance people who have much free time, but less money against those with less free time but more money, is inferior when it comes to MTs, because:

If you want to balance time investment, please do just that:
Introduce various diminishing returns on time investment. Please don't invent a mechanism, like MTs, that sometimes does work, but often doesn't (like when people have less free time and less money or vice versa).
Diminishing returns on time investment are a much more direct and honest approach to the balance problem. Additionally, they are compatible with immersion if you explain them with fatigue in the game.
You are just evading the question by repeating the same old arguments over and over. Who is going to pay for the games that aren't big enough to justify a monthly subscription?
Wiki's destroy immersion a hell of a lot more than MT's do, as well as parsers, third party apps, and knowing your DPS and cooldowns. I'd honestly say immersion in a fantasy world in any form doesn't exist when you constantly need to go to any outside source just to be able to play the game. MT's aren't any worse than sub games in that. All MMO's are not immersive in a fantasy sense, because you have to deal so much with the mechanics of the game itself.

The problem with the second argument is your players will quickly leave your MMO when it becomes apparent it will take years to get things done, with no way of speeding up the process. That's somewhat of EVE's problem, the barriers in terms of time to skill advancement choke off any real way of catching up.
I didn't realise that was the (only) question, but since you asked it:

The games could actually have a test version with some limitation and a full version. Not exactly a new concept.

Alternatively, the games could be free for the first month (or more) and need a fixed monthly payment after that.

Now, I could also tell you that you are repeating the same old arguments without really responding to my (our) arguments, but since this is your blog it is your right to do so ;)
The problem itself is that people do not understand the "work must be done to have something" concept.

They grow up in a family where children get everything they need without any kind of (even formal or symbolic) work. Even "clean your room" or "have 4.5 average this school year" for luxuries like toys or vacation is considered "heartless" and "child-frustrating".

As adults they get money from the government without work.

How on Earth would they understand that games don't just grow out of the ground like mushrooms?
I didn't realise that was the (only) question

The question of financing is the question covered in this thread. Your comments on how microtransactions break your immersion would be a lot better placed in yesterday's microtransaction philosophical prequel thread. I'm trying to keep separate discussions separate.

The question is not how to finance a triple A game like WoW, which can always find sufficient numbers of people willing to pay for a box and a monthly subscription. The question is how to finance lesser games on lower budgets, which aren't necessarily bad, but can't compete with WoW on the same business model.

Your argument is that using a shareware type of business model, where you unlock features by paying, is okay for other types of software, but not for MMORPGs, because "it breaks your immersion"? Sorry, but I'm with DBlade here, the whole internet is out to break your immersion into the fantasy world of WoW. Why single out microtransactions?
I agree that Wikis etc are a problem. I hope that dungeons and related things are randomly generated in future MMOs (just like in Diablo ..).

Apart from that:
Just because A is worse than B there is no reason to ignore B.

You didn't try to add to the discussion, did you?
Ok, your right Tobold. I've been a little bit off topic (again).

What does interest me is your insight concerning the suggestion:

Alternatively, the games could be free for the first month (or more) and need a fixed monthly payment after that.

A load of other ways to finance games come to my mind right now, but lets focus on this.
I tried to answer that by saying that these sort of games can't compete with triple A games on the same business model. Even if the first month is free, people will not necessarily be willing to pay a monthly fee afterwards, and just leave, just like they did leave AoC and WAR after the first month.

A business model of "pay as much as you want", including the option of permanent free play is more suitable. And really, you're probably the only person on the internet worrying about immersion. Every addon, every time you alt-tab out to look up a WoW database, every mention of real life in game chat, every time constraint from real life that prevents you or your group mate from finishing that dungeon, breaks your immersion. As argument that we should ban microtransactions because they break immersion it is extremely weak, because then you would need to ban the whole secondary internet sphere treating these games, including this blog.
"I was recently looking into affordable video conversion software"

Mediacoder - Very free and very powerful. It is not particularly user friendly but I managed to figure it out and I am a video noob.
@Gevlon: You didn't try to add to the discussion, did you?

He did, you just need a translation of that from goblin-speak. Gevlon thinks that people who aren't successful in life and have no money are "morons & slackers", M&S in his language, and should preferably be shot. Although he did post that this is unlikely to happen, because there aren't enough bullets.

My position is somewhat less extreme. I'd say that people who are less successful in life and have no money shouldn't complain about somebody else riding past them on a shiny, microtransaction bought, virtual horse. They shouldn't complain because by buying that horse the guy with the money financed the game company and enabled the guy without money to play the same game for free, just without the bells and whistles. I think that is an extremely fair arrangement, and the alternative to offer the game for free to everyone isn't viable, because the money needs to come from somewhere.
I read Gevlons blog occasionally.
He is quite good (and hard-working) when it comes to microeconomics in a very simple environment like WoW. But he has no idea about macroeconomics and has never heard about i.g. market failures.

He is often amusing, but the only reason he is enlightening is that he clearly says what some steroetype of people thinks.
This way it is easier to spot the logic problems.

Sometimes this gets him into trouble, for example when he tried to argue that more guns in a country lead to more shot people. The kind of guy who reads his blog just doesn't want to read this.

Now, to stay (get back to) topic:
Why do you think that lowering the monthly cost is ineefective?

AoC costed more than WoW when it was introduced. Especially, for those who think that prices matter when it comes to MMOs, I'd think that you first tried to reduce the price. (?)

Just to prevent you from attacking a strawman.: This would not have worked with AoC or Warhammer obviously, because their productions costs have been to high - but then they were also to high for MTs or any other business model. These games costed too much to produce and do not offer enough value for the consumer - not matter what pricing model you apply.

And really, you're probably the only person on the internet worrying about immersion.

I am pretty certain this is wrong - Although I do recognise the trend that WoW started and that leads MMORPGs further and further away from the RP.

While I am no RP-lover at all, I do like a consistent world.

For example I do not like in WoW that the goblins sell a few of the most powerful items in the game (Arena-PvP Equip). Gods and dragons that you can kill for loot are not able to offer better equipment. This just doesn't make sense for me.

I do not like to run along Thrall in UC, buffed by his battlecry that made it a joke to kill any endboss in the game. Why, then, I ask myself doesn't he come along to Arthas and gives me this buff?

For many people these are stupid questions, but many others care.
It is not so much about RP, but about the feeling to play in a consistent world.

Actually this is not unimportant at all. Imagine Blizzard introduced a mechanic that every ability in the game worked differently for skull-level bosses, differently for normal PvE-mobs and differently in PvP. This would be the easiest way to solve the balance problems.

They don't do it, because it transformed WoW more and more into an collection of independent activities with a bloated 'un-fun' client to move you from one activity to the other.

Why do you need 2 people to summon your group to a dungeon? Why not one? Why any at all? Wouldn't it be more convenient to just teleport to any dungeon?

Yes - it were more convenient, but the consistency of the world would suffer even more.

A lot of MMO-design-decisions of the last decade answered the question:
What is more important: Consistency/Immersion/Credibility or convenience/fun?

Just because the last part prevailed in the last few years it doesn't mean that this discussion is dead. An incredible number of 'un-fun' things in MMOs are just there to convince you that this is not just an abstract arcade game, like chess, but a world you joined - however imperfect it might (need to) be.

PS: Typing errors removed.
Video conversion software: have you heard of VirtualDub? Better than any pro software I've used for the job it does.

(FFMpeg is also pretty good).
Free2Play games allow me to use my time and money freely, choosing how much worth playing a certain game is to you. MMOs with subscription feel more like a ball and chain.

Maybe I'm fine with the Free2Play concept because I try to deliberately avoid comparing my progress to others. Instead, I try to enjoy the time I spend in the game.
What is more important: Consistency/Immersion/Credibility or convenience/fun?

You'll love my post about the new WoW expansion that I just posted.
Already read it Tobold ;)

You are right. Blizzard moves more and more away from the consistent world and this actually is a problem. Even you acknowledge this, I see.

It's just like in the movies. I didn't like the new Star Trek because I could name at least one logic error every minute. (Watched it together with my dad - fortunately the cinema was almost empty).

Still, I do not ask for 100% 'realistic' movies. All I ask for is a framework that applies.

I do not ask for a world without mages and fireballs. But I do ask for story that doesn't make the mage stop in fornt of the wooden door, because he cannot open it, although he just burned his way though the guradians.

A good game offers convenience and a consistent world at the same time. Quite often you cannot have both and you need to make a compromise.

If a pricing model A severly reduces the worlds consistency and pricing model B doesn't, then, a priori, I am in favor of B.

All I ask for is to acknowlege this dilemma. That would be a good start.
I have no problem to acknowledge the dilemma, but I disagree with your assumption that consistency should always beat game design. Not enough people care about consistency, but many more care about game balance. Worgen into Horde would have been more logical, but who is going to want to pay the price of even more unbalanced server populations?

but I disagree with your assumption that consistency should always beat game design.

Which I never assumed. In fact, I said you need to make a compromise.

The exact nature of the compromise comes down to personal taste, obviously.
I would love if more games had microtransactions. You know why? because I'd be able to play more games.

I'd play COV if it had a microtransaction model. Then I could play for a while, leave, come back, etc. Right now I play Wizard 101 like that, because it gives me the freedom to play the way I want.

Very few people want to spend on more than one subscription, even though I'm in a position where I could afford it.

And given that, if I played that way, I'd probably use the servers much less, the company might make more money compared to the cost of servicing me with a microtransaction model.

that's the problem with Nil's 2nd argument: taking freedom away from players is no way to generate more customers. Nor is it being very nice to the players to use artificial mechanisms to hold them back. It's a little like the current new dungeon in WoW where they aren't releasing all the bosses at once, to hold players back. Sure we can understand why, but it is a simplistic solution that in a way also breaks immersion and frustrates players who only want to play.
The shareware model is already out there -- it's called Runescape. They have a f2p version and a p2p version that has a lot more features (and no ads) for a low monthly subscription. Runescape is apparently doing very well with this and some counts put it at number 2 overall with 2 million paying players. Not bad! Now some of you will say it doesn't count as an MMO because it is browser based. But if you put aside client definitions and shoddy graphics and view it from a player experience perspective, it is an MMO.

So, clearly the shareware model is out ther but it is DIFFERENT from MT.
And really, you're probably the only person on the internet worrying about immersion.

I'm not sure whether you're serious, but in case you are: Of course he's not the only one who cares about immersion.

There's all sorts of empirical data showing that players like to be immersed. Here's one study off the top of my head:

Out of twelve motivations for playing MMOs, "immersion" was the second most important after "progression."

Anyway, I don't mean to sidetrack the topic, but at least realize that immersion is important.

I'm not sure whether you're serious, but in case you are: Of course he's not the only one who cares about immersion.

Now, I usually only trust statistics that I faked on my own; so, I wouldn't be surprised if Tobold also does ;)

However, I'd like to point one thing out:

Bloggers tend to attract readers who share their opinions. I make a conscious effort to read i.g. Gevlon, although he has many posts that I could easily comment with 4 pages - and that's just to produce some common ground to start a discussion. Thus, I rarely comment his entries.

Most people don't make this conscious effort. If you read Gevlon you will scratch your head how many people are out there, who share this distorted view of reality. Most people, of course, do not share Gevlons point of view - that's just the kind of reader he attracts.

That's why I want to tell every Blogger, not just Tobold: Be careful when reading the comments on your blog. You tend to attract only those people who generally share your experience in life and thus share your opinions. The most valuable comments are always those that disagree with you in civil manner.

That said, I actually agree with Tobold 50% of the time :)
Thanks for returning!! :)
It's quite a fair new coin that you've just coined there. As evidenced by my recent endeavors into Runes of Magic, playing that game at a hardcore level, therefore knowing you like it, can cost a whooping $140+ to be as geared as possible. All depends on how far you are willing to take it. Just like purchasing Creative Suite after the demo.

For the article:
It was something people were more speculating about in 1999 than 2009, but this isn't quite accurate: "But sooner or later the game company *MUST* receive some money from the players." - you meant "But sooner or later the game company *MUST* receive some money."

If 11 million hip people with good demographics signed onto the WorldOfAdcraft, where there were yellow Banana Republic pants, the BMW epic land mount went faster, the robes of Victoria Secret altered your appearance, and the Trojan Shield kept you from getting diseases, then perhaps cash contributions are not absolutely required.

And you could see Microsoft or Sony subsidizing a game as a promotional cost of pushing their platform; it is so much more profitable to be the dominant box. ( Not that anyone expects Sony or Microsoft to undercharge for anything, ever. ) Or even Microsoft subsidizing a We're-as-hip-as-Apple-and-Google-really virtual world is not completely out of the question.

None of the above have much of a chance for success. But I bet the ad idea gets tried at some point in the next decade.
I hope my comment won't upset you. I like how you write. I come from a rather backward country and I'm rather old. As such, I've grown without TV and with a different definition of the word "free". So while I agree that there should be payment involved, and while I agree that it is absurd to think that a game can/should be free (I'm also an avid reader of Gevlon's blog), I have a serious issue with the fact that companies nowadays REINVENT THE DAMN WORDS. Like "free", "need" (in "you need this") etc. And the issue, as I see it, is that in the outspoken, explicit contract that I make with the developer at the moment when I agree to spend my time on his product (and being quite old, my time is valuable, yes), in the promise of some worthy reward, a la Lector in fabula, in this explicit contract there is the word FREE and there is NOT the word PAY. Wrapped in the explicit contract, there is an implicit contract. This is what I'm having issues with.

There are games online where you shoot ducks or smth. Those are free. You do nothing else but shoot ducks, there are no better bullets for a price, no faster ducks for a price. There is no hidden contract in the word "free".

Many companies are doing this nowadays, I can see this, and I'm assuming this is why there is a law that says the conditions for this "free stuff" have to be typed with big enough letters so that readers do understand FROM THE BEGINNING, FROM THE MOMENT OF READING, what the implicit contract wrapped in the word FREE is.

So yes, I think there is a HUGE difference between saying "shareware" and "free". It's about the FRAMESET, frame of mind, that you intend to create in the mind of the audience. And honestly, I feel insulted every time I see such blatant shamelessness, with which it seems the Western world has come at peace... as it is, after all, ingrained in a model that works (capitalism). They take advantage of my innate greed (unwillingness to pay), as they know it's there, and they don't tell me what the conditions are.

Well I'd hate to discover lets say in WOW, at level 10 even, that I have to pay real money ***that i was not aware of when i agreed to play*** (this being the key idea). I prefer an explicit contract, and I am sure most of us do, even when we do not realise this. Implicit contracts are manipulation.

There are implicit contracts everywhere around us and one would think it takes a rather stubborn and well-defined personality to not let yourself sucked into them. But in fact, it takes just common sense.
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