SWTOR Goes F2P – Blogger Reaction Roundup

So, yeah, Star Wars: The Old Republic is going Free To Play. Anyone got any opinions on that?

Staggers back, deafened.

I’m honestly not sure if any MMO event this year, aside possibly from the first Guild Wars 2 beta, has attracted this much comment and discussion. So, if you want to hear all the great points that are being made about ELectronic Arts’ shock decision to take their flagship MMO title Free To Play less than a year after launch, dive in!

Long and Detailed

  • The Ancient Gaming Noob has never been a fan of SWTOR, and he offers cynical but still very interesting commentary on many aspects of the F2P transition“We shall see where the money ends up coming from to keep the lights on for SWTOR. Maybe EA will surprise us at last. Or maybe they will tinker with the system with their usual crowbar-like subtlety in order to try to get more juice out of the system. I expect, in the end, that SWTOR will end up the embodiment of all that I dislike about cash shop games.”
  • Psynister looks through the F2P vs subscription limitations for SWTOR point-by-point” If what I’ve seen and heard this morning are actually true then this is not only going to restrict you from being able to create new characters but it will also remove your ability to play existing characters if their species ends up being locked. From the perspective of making this a good cash generating thing this is a good idea, but if they really do end up removing your access to characters you already have then this is going to piss some people off. “
  • Scott Jennings at Broken Toys looks at the internal contradictions of F2P – that it’s seen as failing, but that even WoW is trying hard to appear F2P“The subscription model is rapidly becoming the “new car price” initial markup of even the largest budget MMOs – once you get past the first year, that markup devolves to the default free-to-play model quickly.”
  • Tales of the Aggronaut looks at the reaction of the gaming community to this announcement, and rather despairs“We have built a zero sum climate in massively multiplayer gaming, that really doesn’t need to exist. While every game is in essence competing with the games that came before it, when did we start having to tear the others down?”
  • In a post many other bloggers are praising, Player vs Developer looks at both the announcement itself and how it game to pass“As I wrote last week, the game may be a victim of its times. Non-subscription payment models are lowering the cost of switching games and may be diminishing the appeal of the repetitive mechanics that previously sustained subscriptions.”
  • Spinks writes an FAQ for anyone confused about this new announcement, including the question should you start playing or unsubscribe?“Well, if your main interest is levelling alts, you don’t care about Ops, and you aren’t too bothered about grinding flashpoints or warzones, it looks at the moment as though F2P would be the way to go. “
  • The Nosy Gamer analyses EA’s announcement and the state of the company, coming up with some very interesting quotes and information“Outside of the call we discovered the name of SW:TOR’s new executive producer. The original executive producer, Rich Vogel, left the company on 17 July. In the Executive Producer’s letter to the players on the official forums, we learned his replacement is Jeff Hickman, the original producer for Warhammer Online.”

Personal Reactions

  • MMO Gamer Chick is saddened by the decision, as she feels she’ll never be able to stay with SWTOR as Free To Play“A subscription model is upfront and honest. I know I will never have to worry about encountering a roadblock and having to hit up the item store for the solution. I personally cannot imagine myself playing SWTOR this way, paying piecemeal to get restrictions removed.”
  • Werit looks at his experience with Warhammer Online, and fears SWTOR will go down the same path“For players like me, it is very disappointing. The main reason being that it takes time and resources to convert the game to this new model. This is time that should be spent on expanding the game systems and other fun things.”
  • Shintar at Going Commando is upset and disappointed both for personal reasons and for her hopes for the future of the game“I also don’t expect this to be good for the company’s bottom line. There’s got to be a reason you never hear anything about how much money F2P MMOs make after the initial duh announcement of “wow, so many more people play our game when we give it away for free”.”

Short And Sweet

  • The Altoholic compares EA’s decision to his toddler’s attempts to learn to walk“Between the layoffs and declining subs, SWTOR has been stumbling but under this new model it looks like they’re doing what they should have been doing from the start: selling a box to the casuals while getting the hardcore to subscribe.”
  • Keen of Keen and Graev is excited about the awesome new F2P single-player RPG coming our way“In a way, one could argue the game is now an amazing low-price RPG based on what you get for the price. I can’t figure out if Bioware knows this or not.”
  • Rohan quickly runs through some speculation about the F2P model, including character slots and its effect on raiding“The thing is that the raiding in TOR is decent, but the class stories are the major attraction. Right now, you have to sub to get both aspects. When it goes F2P, it might better for an extended player to switch to another game for raiding, while maintaining TOR in a F2P mode to finish the class stories at leisure.”
  • Adrwulf quickly touches on the decision and a couple of points about EA’s announcement he feels are notable“I’m not sure I believe that, given the shrinkage in the number of servers, but perhaps there’s lots of people who bought 12-month plans and just aren’t actually playing anymore.”
  • Liore doesn’t understand why everyone believes the subscription model is the problem for new MMOs, when there are plenty of other bad decisions being made“Stop orienting new MMOs to the most casual of casual players, because they are fickle and will just migrate to the next big thing. That’s fine with a box game, but if you want a stable, faithful community then it’s time to again acknowledge stable, faithful players.”
  • Unsubject looks at the risks that SWTOR faced on release that seem to have led to its downfall“EA was funding SWOR for the wrong reasons – they weren’t looking to develop a profitable title, but instead create a WoW-level success with a financial break even point of 1m players. “
  • Hawt Pants Of The Old Republic goes bullet-point on the announcement, asking a number of questions about the future“Is it going to be a real pain in the ass when you have a subscription and someone else in your group does not? Like “sorry, would love to help you, but…””

Found these blog posts interesting? Please share this roundup with others! And let me know if I’ve missed anyone!

Read more →

Are MMOs About To Die? Or Just the F2P Ones?

Is the MMO genre as a whole about to die?

It’s a pretty emotive question. Some people might say it’s ridiculous. But in light of news of Zynga’s massive, massive stock market falls over the last six months, there’s a lot of reconsidering going on right now.

Today, we’ve got three intelligent, measured bloggers considering – well, frankly, considering the question of whether the MMO industry as a whole, or even just the Free To Play side of it, is up the proverbial creek without the equally proverbial paddle:

  • Unsubject at Vicarious Existence makes a powerful case that no AAA MMO has really succeeded since WoW, and we shouldn’t be expecting another one any time soon“The key thing to learn is that you can’t pick a winner in the AAA MMO space. There are too many risks.”
  • Edward at Terra Nova considers what Facebook and Zynga’s woes show us, and in doing so looks at the perils of the MMORPG grind“I think something similar has happened in MMORPGs. When WoW came out, millions began the grind with the unconscious hunch that eventually there would be some great feeling at the end. Yet we know that that game and all others like it are not really going to give us anything but grind. “
  • And Spinks writes one of her excellent linkposts, discussing the entire “are MMOs doomed” debate from a wide variety of interesting angles“From Zynga’s example (see above), it’s not clear whether F2P is a good long term solution either. So maybe the destiny of these games is never to be longterm again in the way they have in the past.”

Obviously, I hope that MMORPGs don’t go away – and I don’t think they will. The lure of a virtual world, cooperative gameplay and new friends is simply too strong. But I do wonder if the MMO industry has wandered into a number of blind alleys over the last few years – from tightly-constrained quest gameplay to unrealistically huge budgets.

Time will tell, I guess!

Do you think MMOs are here to stay, or should we enjoy this phase whilst it lasts?

Read more →

Gear, Spaceships and Instant Messaging

SWTOR seems to be the topic of discussion today – and sadly not in a good way. In addition, we’ve got more interesting comment on the idea of MMORPGs morphing partially into social networks, and The Grumpy Elf looks at the perennial topic of gear and “welfare epics”…

  • Yes, Grumpy’s back, and today he has a thoughtful, interesting response to the question “why would non-raiders want raiding gear?”“For the non-raider your progression is your gear. If you are 330 you are starting, if you are 350, you are advancing, if you are 380 you are doing well and if you are 390, you are basically capped as far as you can go without raiding. “
  • Rohan at Blessing of Kings considers the way in which one of SWTOR’s cooler ideas – the personal spaceship – has actually become an albatross around its neck“Sometimes I wonder if The Old Republic managed to incur an ancient voodoo curse during its development. It feels like almost every design decision they made carried a hidden sting, an aspect that would later come back to bite them.”
  • Straw Fellow continues his “worst case” series of MMO futurism pieces, looking at just what might happen if SWTOR does indeed become free to play“SWTOR was supposed to be our last hope. It was supposed to prove that with a good IP and a solid budget you could create a game that could sustain itself on subscriptions. “
  • And Jacob at TL:DR considers the many potential benefits to games companies of allowing non-subscribed players to communicate with subscribers via an IM client“A communication system that spans on and offline would also encourage retention of players. Having an ease of communication between guild members just facilitates keeping a group of people together, which means people play the game longer. “

Enjoyed today’s posts? Please consider sharing them!

Read more →

Pawns, Micropayments, and Not Heroes

I’m looking to get an early night tonight before appearing on the Twisted Nether podcast at 8am my time tomorrow, so here are a few links for the weekend to keep you going!

  • Jester continues looking at MMO business models by examining “Free to play” games, and the ways in which developers are working to make them less free“”If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer,” says the famous little graphic before adding “You’re the product being sold.” “
  • Tobold examines new game Dragon’s Dogma and its NPCs / fellow players as “Pawns” concept“Using your friends as pawns in your game is a very shallow and indirect social interaction. But it avoids players considering each other as obstacles on their way to advancement.”
  • And Straw Fellow applauds Diablo 3 for casting none of its characters as selfless heroes“Their motivations are fairly selfish, and I’m sure if the demons weren’t threatening the world none of these characters would care about them.”

Have a great weekend, and hope to see some of you online tonight/tomorrow morning.

Read more →

Is it really a good idea to just “wait until it goes F2P”?

“Wait until it goes Free To Play” has become a standard line about new MMOs. But why? And is it really a good idea?

Gazimoff of Mana Obscura has been playing MMOs since “Free To Play” was a dirty term, signifying a game was low-quality and not worth it. Since then, of course, things have changed – and of late, we’ve probably all seen one person or another say of a new subscription MMO “Nah, I’ll just wait until it goes F2P”.

It’s a fascinating and potentially worrying development – and in his post this week, Gazimoff explores the reasons behind this attitude, and its potential consequences

“Have our previous experiences conditioned us as consumers to expect games to switch to free to play? Are we becoming congested with too many games we want to try and not enough time to play them, so we’re cutting back on the ones we subscribe to? Or is it just a polite way of saying that we have no intention of playing a game, either at launch or for the foreseeable future?

My own suspicion is that there’s elements of all three. With pre-launch betas becoming larger in size and scope, many of us get the chance to try an MMO before we put our hand in our pocket. Instead of buying the box, subscribing for a few months then ditching the game for something else, we elect to bide our time, drifting from beta to beta while we wait for a bargain. A game might grab our interest, but we have a ready-made, plausible excuse for why we shouldn’t buy into it.”

I’d not really considered the “wait to F2P” trend before, but it’s an interesting development – and Gazimoff does an excellent job of exploring all the ramifications of gamers now considering a drop from “subscription” to “free with microtransactions”.

I found the question of the effect this will have on future MMOs particularly interesting. I can’t see all MMOs going for a non-subscription model – the subscription cashflow is just too tempting – but they’ll clearly have to do something to offset gamers’ belief that if they just wait a year they’ll get it free.

Will we see new MMOs launching with a “never to be F2P, ever” sticker?

What do you think?

Read more →

Sausages, Painful LoTRO, and MMOs vs Dating – Wednesday Links

The last few days have seen a flood of awesome posts, partially inspired by the NBI, so we’re still running a backlog here! Don’t worry though – anything that we can’t fit in the week we’ll stick in a weekend post or the Weekly Digest email.

In the meantime, enjoy this fine flood of MMO thinking:

  • Is there any space left for new MMOs? Gazimoff of Mana Obscura demonstrates just how much untapped potential is left in the genre“That complexity doesn’t just have to come from mechanics. It can be choices like art style (realistic versus simplistic), story delivery (text quests versus fully voice acted), action style and so on.”
  • Spinks writes a really interesting post about how in-game morality choices make characters evolve“Suddenly I saw him as someone who was a brutal, efficient operative, but not completely heartless or unsympathetic any more. More of a hard man doing a hard job (which is still not a morally strong position) than the total emotionless psycho that he’d seemed up to that point.”
  • From well outside the MMOSphere, a really interesting infographic about how MMOs stack up against dating sites as a way of meeting your future partner.
  • Want to help out the New Blogger Initiative? Syl at Raging Monkeys writes a resource post on how you can contribute“This is what Syp’s initiative is about, highlighting newcomers. Besides receiving tips, it’s a wonderful way for them to get some exposure and attention, to feel seen and part of a greater circle of real and approachable people (most of them anyway!). That’s where your support comes in, very directly at the roots of the idea.”
  • And Syp at Bio Break tried to play LoTRO as a strictly free-to-play game, but discovered it was just too painful” It’s nice that it’s a possibility, but it’s way too much work — and, after all, that’s how Turbine wants it to be. The company doesn’t make money from you not paying them, so they’re going to try to ride that fine line between offering you freebies and the way to earn more freebies while tempting you with the easy road of a credit card payment. “

Enjoyed these posts? Please consider sharing them with your friends!

Read more →

Is the sun setting on the subscription model?

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that subscription MMOs are fewer and further between – but does that mean they’re going to die altogether? Or will they always be tied to the cream of the crop, the top AAA titles like SWTOR and WoW, leaving the smaller MMOs to fight against webgames for the scraps in F2P combat?

Perhaps not. Two bloggers wrote about subscription models over the weekend, and neither one of their interesting, fact-laden posts sound good for the subscription model – even for the top games.

First up, Green Armadillo over at Player vs Developer has been considering the value that he gets out of MMO subscriptions, and the arguments that MMORPG developers make to keep him subscribed

“Bioware’s people swear up and down that their model – effectively the 2004 model with few changes – is the only way to finance development on the scale of their game. But is it really the subscription that’s propping the game up, or rather the sales of more than two million boxes at $40-60 each in a market where most non-subscription customers never pay a dime? Judging from their aggressive promotional efforts, Bioware’s problem with SWTOR appears to be less about getting people to try the game and more about getting them to stay.”

GA compares subscription models with cable TV, noting that in both cases he ends up paying for a bundle of stuff that he doesn’t want, and a few bits that he does. And that’s a fair criticism – even in a game like WoW, when we pay our monthly subscription, we’re paying for everything from holiday events to PvP, whether we want that or not. Isn’t LoTRO’s bite-sized approach better for us?

Meanwhile, Tobold has been considering just how sensible it is to start a game out on a subscription model, and whether that design descision hurts the game when it transitions to F2P

“It seems to me that the monthly subscription business model for MMORPGs is ailing, and only viable for a small handful of top games. When people see a game they don’t consider to be a top contender, let’s say TERA, having a monthly subscription, they immediately start speculating how long it will be before the game switches to Free2Play. And then of course it is likely that a game which switches business models will have a less well-designed Free2Play model than one which took the business model into consideration right from the start. There are competitive games like League of Legends or World of Tanks which have been designed for Free2Play and which are generally considered as mostly fair. It is possible to design a virtual shop in which items are both desirable and not hurting the game. But there is still work to do in developing this further.”

Tobold’s point is an interesting one, and backed up by the troubles that LoTRO, for example, has been having recently. Would LoTRO ultimately have been fairer and more successful had it been designed for F2P from the start? And will we ever see a triple A title designed for F2P from the outset?

Some murmers from Blizzard indicate we might well – and it might be Titan…

What do you think?

Read more →

Free MMOs – are they worth it?

With WoW in pre-expansion lull, and Guild Wars 2 still in the future, now’s kind of a quiet time in MMORPG land. Perhaps it’s a good time to try out some of the lesser-known, Free to Play games out there?

Sadly, the truth is that there are so many F2P MMOs out there – and many of them have such a justifiedly bad reputation – that it’s hard to know where, if anywhere, to start. Fortunately, though, today sees two great guides to F2P MMOs – if you’ve been thinking of trying something new, these guides may be just the thing you’re looking for:

  • Lono at Screaming Monkeys has been getting a lot of questions about LoTRO, and so has put together a really useful guide, primarily answering the question how free to play is it, really?“All in all, you get content up to nearly level 30 which can easily amount to a month or two of playing and more if your into alts or if you want to complete everything a zone has to offer. Zones in Lotro are huge.”
  • And ECTmmo have written up a nice piece highlighting three lesser-known F2P games – and by “lesser-known”, I mean “I’d never heard of any of them” – that they think are well worth checking out“I can’t brag enough about Zentia. Really, I haven’t felt the need to buy anything from it unless it was cosmetic stuff, which I haven’t yet and that is just a want. For a free game it is absolutely fabulous.”

Do you have any tips on F2P games that are worth checking out?

Read more →

Back to EQ for many, back to WoW for one – Tuesday Links

There’s a “returning” theme going on with today’s blog entries – from SOE’s attempt to get players to return to the game that started it all, to the popular Ironman Challenge concept returning with, well, even more Iron.

  • Klepsacovic of Troll Racials are Overpowered has returned to WoW – and is finding that the best way to enjoy the game is by first taking a year’s break“I had a blast. Everything came right back, except for where my res key was located (right side bar, a little bit up from the middle). I got some sort of points, but I don’t know the point of them. Halfway in I decided I should go to Molten Core, but didn’t, because I had an instance to finish.”
  • Iron Man Mode are going hardcore for charity. No, not in a bad way – instead, they’re blogging their adventures inside a number of MMO and MMO-like games, with the simple premise – if the character dies, the blog does too.
  • And Everquest – yes, the first one – is going Free To Play. Keen and Graev have been looking at the offering, and they’re a bit cynical about what it’s meant to achieve“The point I want to make, one that I feel is very obvious, is that SOE is going to use you if you’re a free player. You’re not getting anything from SOE by playing for free. They have turned that first tier of free players into value for their own product.”

Found these posts interesting? Please consider sharing them!

Read more →

Star Trek Online F2P, Wurm woes, Rift Endgame, Floating LoTRO – and no WoW!

I think today may be something of a record for the Melting Pot – we’ve got literally no WoW posts on the features list today! (Although I’ll admit I have a couple on my “to feature tomorrow” list.)

In many ways, it’s a breath of fresh air to see so much discussion of so many different games in the MMORPG community. And I find it comforting – even if the giants of the field do slowly fade away, it’s easy to see there’s plenty of other interesting stuff happening in the smaller games too!

  • Random Waypoint considers a small but significant aspect of MMO play, specifically LoTRO – the effect of floating nameplates on your in-game immersion“You tend to not notice the scenery any more, or the mobs themselves; what you see is a target, and a beeline in your mind to said target. Run, kill, loot, run, kill, loot.”
  • Syp at Bio Break is shocked by six really great things about F2P Star Trek Online“People who denounce F2P as being this great evil that’s corrupting our beloved MMOs from the inside-out don’t often acknowledge that there are many ways to do F2P, and while some are aggressively bad and harmful to the game, others are finding a great balance between giving a free experience while tempting players to pony up dough. “
  • Player vs Developer is reporting on the RIFT experience at endgame“I’m starting to see why this game seems to draw the older-school crowd from the days when MMO’s were more of an activity than a game. “
  • In Titan (yes, Titan) news, Rock Paper Shotgun have noticed Blizzard are looking for an in-game advertising specialist for their next MMO“Blizzard are looking to recruit a Franchise Development Producer for their “next-gen MMO”, with one of the main responsibilities being to “work with major consumer brands to facilitate product placement and licensing within the world of Blizzard Entertainment’s next-gen MMO”. Hmmmm.”
  • And MMO Quests offers both advice and caution for potential players on the extremely hardcore nature of Wurm Online“For those gamers who are often enthralled with sandbox games then Wurm is probably a fantastic MMO for you to sink your teeth into. If you struggle with those types of games you may be better off simply reading about it – and I don’t say that to be insulting but I say that because over the course of time I have played I have seen MANY people in Freedom Chat expressing their frustrations.”

Found these posts interesting? Please share them with others!

Read more →