F2P Discussions Continue

The discussion over F2P as a viable, fair, fun business model continue, with a couple of really interesting posts this week.

Whether you’re looking at the game decisions or the larger ramifications of how we “vote with our wallets”, there’s something here for you:

  • Azuriel explains why he finds that most F2P games are the worst of all worlds, removing interesting choices and optimisation, despite being pretty much their ideal player.

    Read “The Worst Of All Worlds” »

  • And Tobold looks at how both Kickstarter and F2P are changing the ways that we signal support and approval for the games that we like.

    Read “Voting With Your Wallet” »

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Why That Kickstarter You Funded Looks Like It’s Failing

Today’s post isn’t specific to MMOs, but is so tremendously true – and useful – that we’re featuring it anyway.

There’s a saying in software development that “The first 80% of development takes 80% of the time, and the last 20% of development takes the other 80% of the time.”

As more and more games – often very ambitious games – get funded on Kickstarter, an increasingly large number of them will look like they’re slowing down, falling apart, or failing. Some of them will be.

Others will just be going through a perfectly normal process of game development.

Rampant Coyote explains more:

“In my experience, one of the main things that causes indie game development projects to fail is the incredible gulf between prototype and product. This is actually not a problem limited to indies, or even to game development. I’ve had uncomfortably close views of this phenomenon with spectacular, expensive failures outside of gaming.

In fact, let’s talk about one incredible failure at a non-gaming company. The previous management of the software department had been sacked because, IMO, they were too willing to speak frankly to technologically illiterate executives – and often told them things they didn’t want to hear, like how long a project would really take. So new management was brought in, and they selected a “silver bullet” system (which, incidentally, the previous management had considered and rejected). The sales team and techs from this third party were able to throw together a very pretty prototype of new software using our existing data inside of two weeks. On the surface, it looked like it was halfway to completion!

If halfway there, they reasoned, the rest of the software should really only take two more weeks to complete! They generously gave us eight weeks, just to be on the safe side. We needed training on the new framework, after all. They signed papers, spent a lot of money, and patted themselves on the back for finding such a brilliant, easy solution.”

Read the rest of “The Prototype Problem” »

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Kickstarter Controversy Hits

Kickstarter, and the mass of games projects looking for funding through it, has been a continued subject of discussion this year – but over the last few days that murmur has risen into a roar. Catalysed by the announcement that the Pathfinder MMO project is running a second Kickstarter funding round, MMO bloggers from all over the world are discussing the good, the bad and the implausible of crowdsourced funding:

  • Unsubject is fair but skeptical in a thorough discussion of the Pathfinder Kickstarter strategy“Here’s a studio with a lot of promises about what the game will contain when finished four years from now, and you can get in on the ground floor if you put your money in now. As an added attraction, if you spend $100 or more, you’ll get into early beta.”
  • Chris at Level Capped praises a Kickstarted MMO that seems to be getting it right – crafting MMO GreedMonger“My interest in this project has grown accordingly. Other projects that I’ve backed that have had fewer updates have more or less fallen off my radar.”
  • Adam at The Noisy Rogue finds that the second Pathfinder Kickstarter makes him extremely suspicious“If investors wouldn’t get your vision, why the hell would you start up the first kickstarter in order to secure funding from investors? “
  • Massively launches their new Think Tank column with a discussion of the pros and cons of Kickstarter“Philosophically, I love the idea of throwing a bunch of ideas at Kickstarter and seeing what sticks, but piles of failed MMO Kickstarters, most of which never had a chance anyway, hurt the industry and allow all the usual suspects to declare MMOs a failed genre.”
  • And Tobold looks at the ways Kickstarter games can turn out massively different than they were promised“I am sure that many games change a lot during the development process. Most of the time nobody even notices, because that all happens behind closed doors. “

Have you Kickstarted a game? Would you?

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Greedmonger, WoW in the Senate, EVE Bodybuilder, and more

It’s time, I think, for Random Stuff – the cool, interesting posts or stories that don’t have a specific thread between them. Here we go!

  • Chris at Level Capped looks at the Kickstarter for a non-combat MMO called Greed Monger“In reality, there’ll be a land rush where those who get in early and pay the most set up camp in the most desirable locations, bringing along their friends to circle the wagons around the best resources. Anyone coming in later, or without a support group, will be limited to the dregs of the land, locked out of opportunities controlled by the land barons who are more interested in extortion than in creating a greater community.”
  • Keen argues that the price of an MMO subscription is almost never what stops us playing it” Blizzard still charges $15 a month for WoW because they are not competing on price. $60 boxes still release every Tuesday, and some sell multiple millions. Be unique, develop a reputation, improve, or find some way to differentiate. “
  • Rowan Blaze gives us the tremendously exciting news that an MMORPG player is now a US State Senator in Maine.
  • CNN brings us an entertaining story of a man who became inspired to start bodybuilding by his EVE character“Brand loyalty is one of the reasons Dickinson first decided to shape up. During his trip to the 2009 “EVE Online” FanFest, real life hit him smack in the face. Walking into the convention, he didn’t feel like Roc. He felt like a stereotypical geek, surrounded by other stereotypical geeks.”
  • And Zubon cautions us that just because an event was fun with friends, that doesn’t mean that the fun came from the event, rather than the friends“Just because you had a good time does not mean that it was good. “So bad it’s good” is still bad.”

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Support an Indie MMO, Sandbox your WoW, and more

A quiet day today – everyone’s busy raiding, perhaps? But that gives us time to showcase a project we’re very keen on – plus more great posts:

  • We’ve been following the indie MMORPG project “Project Gorgon” by the Elder Game guys for a while, so we should mention that they’re currently running a Kickstarter to take it to the next stage“Think Asheron’s Call crossed with EverQuest crossed with NetHack.”
  • Bronte surveyed her readers, asking whether they’d advise starting Guild Wars 2 or The Secret World, and she shares the results“I received a ton of a comments, and although GW2 seemed to be winning earlier, TSW has seemed to creep up in the number of recommendations. “
  • Hunter’s Insight hates the letters you receive in Guild Wars 2 from completed Hearts, and they explain why that is“These letters could have been an opportunity to extend lore, get a good laugh, make the world seem larger than it really is. Instead they’re boring, hit all the same notes, practically form letters.”
  • Evlyxx gives us a really useful tip on how to create a “sandbox” WoW installation“Now I could have copied my entire World of Warcraft folder to a new location and it DOES work but I will show you a way that saves you space on your HDD and will save you from having to repeat the process everytime a patch hits WoW. “
  • And Lodur gives his impressions of the first couple of days’ MoP raiding under the new healing mechanics” Do not expect your healers to babysit you anymore, we can no longer heal stupid. You are responsible for your own survival as much as the healers, please accept your PSR. “

Enjoyed today’s posts? Please share them with your fellow players!

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MAKE $$$ PLAYING VIDEO GAMES ONLINE NOW $$$

Don’t worry, we’ve not been hacked. (You can tell because I’m not repeating all my keywords again and again in this article.) But today, money, money, money – it is indeed a rich man’s virtual world.

With the Diablo 3 Auction House looming over us like an over-long sales letter, and the associated tide of Diablo 3 gold guides starting to break, everyone’s talking virtual finance. And with the Pathfinder MMORPG developers trying to get gamers to finance their tech demo, Hell ain’t the only place where it’s starting to look like greed is good.

Whether you want to know what the latest is on the virtual stock ticker, want to discuss just how ethical it is to ask fans to finance an internal demo, or just want some good old fashioned gold tips, the blogosphere’s got it for you today:

  • Ferrel at Epic Slant discusses Kickstarter, and specifically Pathfinder, in a post explaining why he’s not pitching in to fund his perfect MMO“In every way I am the person they are trying to entice. I was not enticed to donate. Why? It didn’t make sense to me. I realize some people will support the project just because it is Pathfinder but for me there are some issues with their strategy.”
  • Tobold’s extremely cynical about Diablo III gold guides, and in response has written a free Diablo 3 gold guide of his own – “Scammers will gladly promise you the secrets of making $25 per hour, if only you buy their Diablo 3 secret gold guide for $19.95. Only after you paid that will they tell you that they meant you’ll make $25 per week, of which you spend 1 hour on the auction house, not 40 times $25 for $1,000 per week. And all the tips in the gold guide will be so common sense, that I can tell you those secrets for free in this post.”
  • And Heartbourne at the Lorehound discusses the economics of Diablo 3 too, in an extremely interesting and figure-filled analysis of how its fee structures will play out“If there is some average level, like our 100g to the dollar example, I would prefer to trade in gold for cheaper transactions: I would rather receive 127.5 gold than $0.50 Battle.net. On the flip side, I would rather get paid in a Battle.net balance than gold on the auction house above $2.60: even if I want gold, I can use the higher levels of Battle.net money to buy more gold.”

Are you optimistic about Diablo 3 gold, or Kickstarter dollars? Or do you think one or the other is a scam?

P.S. Dear Google Penguin – we’re not actually trying to rank for these terms, please don’t peck us to death.

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The AARGH TOO MUCH GOOD STUFF weekend roundup

And here’s our regular Monday evening roundup of the rest of the great blog posts from the weekend. Except it’s not, quite.

See, this weekend has been particularly fruitful in the blogosphere – to the point that even with three multi-link posts, we’ve not been able to fit everything in without firing a “MoP announcement roundup”-sized link post at you! So, instead, I’m going to be running a couple of the really great posts from the weekend later in the week.

So, that means you get a mere seven great links today:

  • Peregrina at Piercing Shots writes a superb post on just why you shouldn’t be worried to report or ticket offensive behaviour“All we’re doing when we put in a ticket is bringing something to their attention. Nothing more than a “hey, you should take a look at this.””
  • Thinking of starting EVE? Cyndre at Kill Ten Rats explains why his experiences, as a self-confessed MMO masochist, may not be the norm“Please be excited about Eve, and keep following my adventures if they interest you, but be careful not to ruin your own experience by following in the footsteps of a jaded old MMO vet hell-bent on breaking every last ship that can be flown in New Eden.”
  • The Ancient Gaming Noob writes a great post about the MMO features he’d like all MMOs to steal from their originators“For those who haven’t played Rift, there is a little button at the bottom of the vendor tab that allows to sell all your gray named drops, stuff that is clearly trash, in one fell swoop. And once you have this button, not having it in another game feels like a huge burden. “
  • Tales of the Rampant Coyote offers a detailed and very readable summary of what’s going on with the games industry, Kickstarter, and the role of publishers“Publishers can still dominate on the mass-market front… that’s what they are built for. But these other aspects of their business, especially on smaller scales, are no longer so easy to dominate.”
  • Gordon at We Fly Spitfires writes an insightful piece on Blizzard’s WoW strategy and how it means they keep more players“I think the real key to holding onto players is in giving them a variety of compelling, by otherwise rather inconsequential, sub-games to occupy themselves with. This is something Blizzard does very, very well and, if the feature list in Mists of Pandaria is anything to go by, they’ve certainly come to realise the power it holds.”
  • Syl at Raging Monkeys brings up a feature request I’d never thought of – the ability to turn targeting highlights off in MMOs“What is it with the white frame all around my target? I have eyes and a target window popping up – I can already see what I got targeted! It doesn’t matter if they are white, green or any other shade; full-body target highlights are obtrusive, ugly and unnecessary!”
  • And Are We New At This spotlights a fantastic-sounding new cross-realm raiding community – OpenRaiding“It is an invaluable tool, one that already has over 20,000+ users, and you should get on board while you can!”

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Would you pay $100 to see your name in a Pandaren Brewery?

This week’s topic, it would seem, is commerce. And Pre-orders, and Kickstarter, and how the world of gaming business is changing. Yesterday we saw several prominent bloggers weighing in on the dangers of pre-orders and today, Azuriel of In An Age writes a fascinating post looking at the business and economic side of preorder/Kickstarter models.

He’s talking about price discrimination – the extent to which merchants have the ability to charge each customer exactly as much as they would be willing to pay for a good or service. Traditionally, the games industry hasn’t been able to price segment much if at all. Pre-orders and collector’s editions offer some ability to charge more to those who want to pay. But with Kickstarter, and its tiered “reward” systems for investors, Azuriel wonders if we haven’t entered an entirely new age of games pricing

“The interesting thing to me about Kickstarter in a cash shop world are the implications. In effect, it proves that there are people out there just looking for the opportunity to give their money away. If I was fanatically in love with Bioware and Mass Effect 3, how could I show my appreciation for what they do? Buy the Collector’s Edition? Buy the novels? In each case, what is taking place is a sale, a transaction, a transfer of goods for compensation. My “contribution” is not distinguishable as an act of charity or praise; Bioware simply gets the feedback that I deemed the product a good value for the money.

Kickstarter is different. Sure, a lot of people treat it as a extra-early preorder. But you can also contribute anonymously. If I sent Bioware a check for $1000 in a the mail, would they cash it? I have no idea. What Kickstarter has done is package up charity and enthusiasm into a “product” that can be sold.

Rationally, it is no different than sending a check in the mail, but it feels different. There is a meter that fills up, there are (limited!) time-sensitive bonuses, there is the satisfaction of needs going on (the game wouldn’t exist without this funding), there is a sensation of fellowship with other Kickstarters. In short, it is brilliant marketing. Utterly and completely brilliant.

As a skeptical consumer, however, I worry. The gamification of charity aside, I am concerned about how the industry marketeers must already be foaming at the mouth. How long is it until it is not just Day 1 DLC we see, but “Pay $100 for your name in graffiti on Station Omega?” It already appears as though pre-order “bonuses” (if you pay for it, it is not a bonus) in the form of DLC is here to stay. When is Kickstarter’s methodology entirely co-opted, and eventually devalued?”

I’m a serial entrepreneur, and the implications of what Azuriel is talking about absolutely fascinate me. We’re leaving a “one-size-fits-all” price model, and entering something much more flexible – which has all sorts of implications, both good and bad. On the good side, we’ll get more Cool Stuff, and increased price flexibility means that more people can get their hands on great games. On the bad side, more pricing options will make MMO pricing even more opaque, and introduce even more Clever Marketing Tricks to separate us from our cash.

Azuriel does a great job of explaining some fairly abstruse economic concepts and making them an interesting read, and I think he’s hit a particuarly important nail on the head by tying pre-order bonuses and Kickstarter customisation together. Read this one now, because I think we’ll be referring to it a lot in future.

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Is Preordering Too Risky?

There’s an interesting debate brewing up right now about pre-orders for MMOs, and whether they’re actually a good idea. In the wake of SWTOR’s Early Access, the Blizzard Mists of Pandaria Beta shenanigans, and even the Kickstarter revolution, several bloggers are asking if preorder culture is getting out of hand.

First up, Gazimoff of Mana Obscura writes a comprehensive post on preorders, covering beta access, the risks of pre-ordering, and more, as he asks whether the increasing pre-order culture is good for anyone, including the developers themselves

“It’s hard to dispute that Blizzard’s Annual Pass fiasco has damaged the World of Warcraft franchise. By guaranteeing gamers with beta access in the upcoming Mists of Pandaria expansion, the firm were inundated with over a million signups. As the start of beta approached, Blizzard then began a massive climbdown, stating that invites would go out in waves. And although there were assurances that priority would be given to long-standing subscribers who took up the offer earliest, I have direct experience that this is simply not the case.

That’s not to say that getting beta access is the only hurdle. The beta servers themselves are swamped with players, particularly in areas of new content. Compressing hundreds of thousands of invites into four servers creates a dismal playing experience. Questing, experiencing content isn’t made difficult because of the game, but by the sheer volume of other people.”

Saying that the Beta fiasco has damaged WoW as a whole is pretty strong stuff, but Gazimoff backs it up, and makes some excellent points in a very readable article. I found his point that any preorder is a gamble particularly resonated with me – it’s something that any game’s marketing tries hard to hide, but the fact is that it’s never been usual before to buy a game before reviews were available.

Meanwhile, Spinks of Spinksville is putting the situation even more strongly, writing that only badly organised people pre-purchase

“Clearly MMO devs in particular would love to jump on the pre-purchase bandwagon. Of course it’d be better to get people to pay while the hype cycle is in full swing and any balancing/ content-free/ or endgame issues haven’t yet come to light. Meanwhile, you the consumer have spent that money on something you aren’t going to be able to use yet. I suppose that won’t matter to people who don’t have to live on much of a budget, which is the market for these offers. For any fans, there is no reason at all not to wait until launch, buy the game then (for the same price or possibly cheaper) and all you missed out on are a few meagre beta weekends. Anet still get your cash, you still get your game – we can call this novel purchasing model “the exchange of money for goods.”

Spinks is less skeptical about Kickstarter than pre-orders in general, but she really has no time for pre-orders at all – and given the available rewards for ordering, I can see why.

And Tobold isn’t even sure about Kickstarter as a concept

“Making video games is an extremely risky business. Changing funding from investors to crowd funding does not change that. Thousands of games every year get cancelled before they are ever released, or are rushed to release in a state that only remotely resembles the promises made before. Pre-ordering a game before the first reviews are in is a risk, which is why companies offer you lots of goodies if you pre-order. Using Kickstarter is a far higher risk, as you aren’t even certain to ever get that game at all.”

Much as I like the Kickstarter idea, and think it’s a valuable opportunity for a lot of artists, I have to agree with him. I think we’re in a golden age for Kickstarter funding right now, when a lot of exciting projects have been announced and few have had to prove themselves. I worry about the backlash that’s likely to come in a few years, after some funded projects have proved disappointing or have failed to materialise altogether – I hope it isn’t vicious enough to sink this promising new funding option.

What do you think? Are preorders valuable or rip-offs? And what about the idea of paying for a game before it’s even made, a la Kickstarter?

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