Jan 12, 2005
MMOGs and Mulligans
MMOG design is nothing if not path-dependent in the extreme: it piles the path-dependence intrinsic to coding large, complex applications with the path-dependence that comes from the accumulated activities and expectations of a virtual society.
It is interesting in this regard to see Mythic's recent announcement that among the future changes they hope to make to Dark Age of Camelot is the addition of a new server type designed for "casual players".
It isn't hard to puzzle out at least one of the major reasons for this announcement: it's spelled W o W. The success of World of Warcraft in an otherwise stagnant marketplace has served notice to current and future MMOG development teams: designing around the needs and sensibilities of hardcore powergamers is not market-rational. WoW's success is a complex thing and needs to be analyzed carefully but the extent to which it welcomes casual gamers on multiple levels clearly is a crucial part of its achievement.
What puzzles me a bit as I read over Mythic's announcement of plans for a "casual" server is why it took WoW to make a long-term criticism of DAOC (and other MMOGs) stick in a meaningful way. Even Mark Jacobs acknowledges that they've fielded requests from their players for a game that is more friendly to casual play almost from the first day the game went live. But this is the exact opposite direction that the game's development has taken. Each progressive expansion of DAOC has made the game require vastly more time for grinding. Even attempts to help accelerate character development and entry into the PvP "endgame" have been countered by other design decisions that undercut any such accleration.
DAOC is not the only MMOG with that problem: in fact, virtually all MMOGs tend to grow more and more prohibitively frustrating in their long-term development. It's a kind of design arteriosclerosis. Of course, some start with their arteries preclogged: SWG's Jedi system, for example (in either incarnation). One step down that path and forever will it haunt your destiny, or so it seems. A MMOG which adds more and more grindiness or which makes the later development of a character more and more prohibitively time-consuming will find it impossible to retreat from that.
Which makes the idea of a separate casual server both an understandable solution to path-dependent development and an ultimately futile one, in my view. It's rather like the promises that some food manufacturers make about "light" or "fat-free" versions of their products. If those versions actually do taste exactly the same (or better) than the heavy or fattening versions, then it becomes something of a puzzle about why the company would want to continue to sell the fattening version as its "mainstream" product. Presumably there are people addicted to the original who want to buy it, but most consumers would prefer the light version if it is equal in taste. Of course, if it is not--if it tastes "light" and is unattractive because of it, then the only people who want it are the strongly weight-conscious.
If you can make a casual server that is just as much fun as the original game, then why not drop the original game altogether? If you can't, because the original is so dependent upon punitively time-consuming mechanics, why imagine that you can make a server which is the antithesis of the game as it has come to be? I can well see why Mythic (and maybe other designers) might hope that a separate server rule-set would allow them to do over design decisions whose underlying rationale appears in retrospect to be dubious, but some choices can't be undone.
Posted by Timothy Burke on January 12, 2005 | Permalink
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>If you can make a casual server that is just as much fun as the original game, then why not drop the original game altogether?
How are you defining “casual”? I would see it as someone with a limited time to play. To me the obvious feature of a casual server is that it would allow a ten hour a week player to experience the full content of the world. But this would leave the hardcore player with nothing to do for much of the week. So separate the two types of server.
Seems to me, designers are confusing “persistent world” with server 24/7 uptime. A server that was only up when I was there would be persistent from my characters point of view. I noticed in ATITD in the beta there was a strong community sense of “we are all in this together”. Because pretty much everyone who played was there when the server is up. Now that it is live, there is a definite gap between the have and have-nots. Those that have 40 hrs a week to spend in Egypt, and those who only have a few hours. No matter how accommodating hardcore players are, they live different lives in Egypt from the casual player. So to my mind, there is a lot of sense in segregating the two playstyles. A pure casual server would I think provide a much better community for the casual player.
Posted Jan 12, 2005 3:08:22 PM | link
> The success of World of Warcraft in an otherwise
> stagnant marketplace
There were a number of big hits last year. I realize the year ended in bang, but it wasn't exactly stone silent before that.
"Stagnant marketplace" isn't how I'd describe 2004 at all.
Why do you say that?
Posted Jan 12, 2005 3:19:00 PM | link
The metaphor of MMO "design arteriosclerosis" might well stick, if it were not so hard to spell. Mythic has put itself in a unique position in the MMO market space. A bit of history:
- When originally released in 2001, DAOC was seen roughly as "Everquest lite, with a team based realm-versus-realm endgame." It was not casual-friendly on the level of WoW, but by 2001 standards it was a step in that direction.
- 2002 expansion, Shrouded Isles, continued the game on the same track, arguably lessening the grind. The new classes were very fast to level, and few of the quests required more than a pair of players to complete. Around this time, "battlegrounds" were added, allowing low-level players to compete in team PvP. DAOC came close to its maximum subscriber figures.
- 2003 expansion, Trials of Atlantis, moved the game in a completely new direction, adding an unprecedented level of grind. Most observers link it to an infusion of cash in 2003 from an outside investor, TA Associates. The TOA expansion added many quests requiring massive numbers of players, with 50+ often seen on Everquest-style "Master Level" raids. "Artifacts" were also added, offering powergamers items that levelled through grinding. DAOC briefly hit its peak subscriber numbers after ToA was released, and has declined since. Fortunately for Mythic, there were no major new titles to cannibalize their market in 2003. Lots of players stayed but grumbled.
- 2004 Catacombs expansion - DAOC added instanced dungeons, along with new classes. It is generally seen as a casual-friendly expansion, reminiscent of Shrouded Isles. But players still complain that "I can level quickly from 1-50, but I still need to spend weeks or months with the "Atlantis grind" before I can compete in the Realmwar endgame. In short, Catacombs would have been a solid expansion in 2003, but WoW and EQ2 were the direct competition in winter 2004. Players ask "Why should I bother with all the DAOC baggage, when I can start fresh with a truly casual-friendly game?"
Conclusion: I cannot think of another example of an MMO designer so radically altering their game and their market strategy with a single expansion, as Mythic did with Atlantis. In a single stroke, they transformed perceptions of their game from "medium grind" to "heavy grind." While it is good to see Mark Jacobs admitting the mistake, you are correct that it will be an uphill battle convincing players to return.
Posted Jan 12, 2005 3:31:03 PM | link
Timothy Burke wrote:
If you can make a casual server that is just as much fun as the original game, then why not drop the original game altogether?
What's fun to one person is boring to another. They're trying to appeal to a different group of people with the casual server, not trying to meet the desires of all their customers or potential customers.
Posted Jan 12, 2005 3:33:19 PM | link
While you should always be looking at ways to make your game more fun, I would argue that now is the bad time to make changes to your game that makes it 'more like WoW', and this includes going too far in making it more casual. WoW has that spot in the marketplace pretty locked up, and you need to differentiate yourself, and expand your own pond. In Shadowbane, while trying to make our game more user-friendly all around, we're working hard to take our USPs to the next level, as evidenced by the territorial control system we added last month.
Put another way (and an example I've used recently in my blog): Cadillac is known as 'big, safe cars', and Volvo is known as 'safe' cars. Cadillac failed when it tried to make small cars, and Volvo failed when it tried to make sports cars, even though in each case the market was in a cycle that favored those models.
Put a third way: WoW is a delightful game, but I fully expect the player base of the game to eventually 'graduate', and want something that is a little crunchier. Everyone else needs to be in a place to attract them. This is, incidentally, exactly what Dark Age of Camelot did when they initially launched in order to compete with EQ.
Posted Jan 12, 2005 3:35:37 PM | link
> A pure casual server would I think provide a much better community for the casual player.
How would one enforce a "casual server?" Would a time-limiting feature be added to the game, forcing players to log off after a set period, say 2 hours per day? Such a concept sounds foreign today, but I remember Bulletin-Board games from the 80's-90's which enforced daily turn limits.
In the case of the DAOC casual server, Mythic indicates that their casual server would reduce or remove the "grind," but has announced no plan to prevent powergamers from flocking to the server. Such players would zip through the new light grind, on their way to the Realmwar endgame. They could then PvP 24/7. This would return DAOC to its 2002 model, not very innovative but possibly enough to retain players.
Posted Jan 12, 2005 3:52:10 PM | link
Damion said, I would argue that now is the bad time to make changes to your game that makes it 'more like WoW', and this includes going too far in making it more casual. WoW has that spot in the marketplace pretty locked up."
The idea that WoW actually appeals to anyone who might be called a "casual" player is kinda hilarious to me. "Casual" by comparison to the typical MMOG player perhaps, but that's not exactly what casual means to the much greater (and almost untouched) marketplace. Virtually requiring 10 hours per week is not sustainable by the true casual player. What we're talking about here is more the 'casual fanatic' as opposed to the 'hardcore fanatic.'
Posted Jan 12, 2005 5:41:36 PM | link
Here's the flaw in the logic of making an MMO more like the competition: If there something WoW does better than EQ, DAoC, etc., and people have left your game to get that game experience, those customers are *gone*. They've already pulled up stakes and gone to greener pastures, and the chance that come back for a pale imitation of what they left to find is minimal.
Meanwhile, the customers you have left are the ones who *didn't* find whatever made that new game different attractive enough to be worth leaving for, some percentage of which actually *dislike* that difference, and at a minimum are more drawn to something about your game that the new one doesn't offer. So putting your effort into making your game more like the new one is not going to draw anyone back, and may drive away more. Meanwhile, anything you might have done to make your game uniquely attractive has been forsaken.
Posted Jan 12, 2005 5:55:17 PM | link
Dave Rickey> and people have left your game to get that game experience, those customers are *gone*.
I don't think this is correct. Players take breaks from their fav game to get a new experience from a competitor, and they come back for the next expansion. But, by then they are used to a more fluid experience. Removing the wrinkles in the fabric is a good idea, not a bad one. A complete sell-out is of course a bad idea, but you can't really do that given the amount of work it would take to turn say DaoC into WoW...
Posted Jan 12, 2005 6:32:48 PM | link
Recovering players: Actually, Ola, Dave is right; experience has shown us that once a player unsubs and leaves the game completely, it is tough to get them back. 10% recovery is considered stellar; less than 5% is more likely.
What Mike said: Is absolutely true. WoW is in no way a 'casual' game. What they've done well is to make the game easier to get into, smoother to play and not absolutely requiring 20 hours per week to play. In most ways, though, the game is still a hard-core fantasy experience that would never appeal to the mass-market.
Posted Jan 12, 2005 6:46:36 PM | link
In a way, I think the issue here is that there are two very different senses of the term casual that we could think about with the MMOG marketplace.
There's the self-identified "casual" who has played MMOGs before, is playing them now, and has a deep love-hate relationship with the entire activity. They're generally bitter, annoyed and highly critical of the entire genre but also remain highly engaged with it intellectually and otherwise. Think the readers of Lum the Mad and all the later places they've migrated to.
Then there's the true casual: the person who has maybe at best played one MMOG, and probably not for long. Maybe never. The person whose gaming habits we know about not from MMOGs but from the fact that they play other non-MMOG games. We can infer some things about what a MMOG that was friendly to them might be like.
It's not what Mark Jacobs is talking about with his casual server. It's not WoW. It's something as yet unseen in a much more fundamental way. The casual server is about the highly mobile, significantly disillusioned group of known MMOG players who leave games that they perceive to be overly punitive in their levelling and gameplay mechanics. Which DAOC became, big-time, with TOA.
It's also somewhat off to counsel that DAOC or any other MMOG not design with a consciousness of the market. DAOC arrived with a consciousness of the market. It may be forgotten now, but it clearly entered with a promise to not be EQ as it then was, both on the community relations front and in game mechanics. Which spurred some important changes at EQ. (See, MMOG design isn't completely path-dependent!)
In terms of the established customer base, I'd still say that "casuals", e.g., the people who know MMOGs and want to play them, are a more important market segment than powergamers. There's a complicatedly dependent relation between the two--powergamers don't like playing games with no casuals in them, and casuals like to have powergamers around for both practical and ideological reasons. But the right target is casuals first, powergamers second.
True casuals, e.g., people who haven't even bothered: they're another matter entirely. That will take more than WoW's modest tweaks to the basic formula.
Posted Jan 12, 2005 7:12:31 PM | link
Do "casual" players pay the same monthly rate as "hard-core" players?
I tend to be a casual player, playing around 5 hours per week. I pay $15/20 = $.75/hr to play. Someone who plays 40 hours per week pays $15/160 = $.09/hr to play.
Why should I subsidize them?
If there were a game with WoW's quality that had a "casual" plan for $5/month, I'd play that instead.
Does that mean that MMORPG with a "casual" server should have hourly fees? Or at least casual (< 10 hours) vs. hard core (> 10 hours) plans?
Posted Jan 12, 2005 7:18:14 PM | link
Jessica Mulligan> Recovering players: Actually, Ola, Dave is right; experience has shown us that once a player unsubs and leaves the game completely, it is tough to get them back. 10% recovery is considered stellar; less than 5% is more likely.
5% of what? Current active subscription base?
Well, I can't argue with hard numbers, but a low return rate could suggest that the MUD they left didn't really have enough unique offerings or a strong community. Out of curiosity, how was this measured?
How do you measure whether players play multiple games in parallell or not? How do you know whether they left for another game or just stopped playing MMOs? Etc...
Posted Jan 12, 2005 7:30:52 PM | link
> 2003 expansion, Trials of Atlantis, moved the game in a
> completely new direction, adding an unprecedented level of grind.
This expansion killed DAoC.
My wife and I were very active players in one of the premier guilds in Midgard/Percival (Percival was typically in the top 3 population wise for servers).
Within a month of this expansion coming out, people were quitting like mad. A month later, my wife quit. I kept my account for a long time out of nostalgia (and to keep our house), but the recent absurd price hike they announced finally motivated me to cancel.
ToA slaughtered DAoC. It took away the fun end game of RvR and turned it into a despicable EQ grind fest.
> But players still complain that "I can level quickly from 1-50,
> but I still need to spend weeks or months with the "Atlantis
> grind" before I can compete in the Realmwar endgame.
The very thought of needing to do 7 more MLs and level a pile of artifacts is what made it impossible for us to even consider playing DAoC again.
Posted Jan 12, 2005 8:31:00 PM | link
Ola>5% of what? Current active subscription base?
5% of accounts that left and you attempted to recover.
Ola>Well, I can't argue with hard numbers, but a low return rate could suggest that the MUD they left didn't really have enough unique offerings or a strong community. Out of curiosity, how was this measured?
By results, :D.
Ola>How do you measure whether players play multiple games in parallell or not? How do you know whether they left for another game or just stopped playing MMOs? Etc...
No way to know for sure, of course and I don't know that it matters, in the short term, to the basic stat of subscriber recovery (acknowledging that the finer the information, the better you can do in the future). You can get an idea by measuring the trend in concurrencies when a new game launches, then compare to your subscription levels a couple months later. Historically, there is generally a dip in concurrencies and then a recovery, while there is generally little effect on subscription levels.
Posted Jan 12, 2005 8:35:02 PM | link
Timothy >>> It's also somewhat off to counsel that DAOC or any other MMOG not design with a consciousness of the market.
I'm not saying not to keep your eye on the market, I'm saying that you need to do so with foresight. The time to prepare for a competitor is before they come out. Once the damage has been done, reactively trying to "fight the last war" and try to do in a hurry what you should have done with care 6 months earlier is a waste of effort.
Some things are worth emulating. If your competition improves their user interface, you should do the same. If there's a refinement you can make without significantly compromising your gameplay, go for it. But radical and extreme changes are like a drowning man's panic: They just make things worse.
Posted Jan 12, 2005 8:52:31 PM | link
Mike Rozak> Do "casual" players pay the same monthly
rate as "hard-core" players?... If there were a game with WoW's quality that had a "casual" plan for $5/month, I'd play that instead.
Bingo. One of these games needs to experiment with a time-limited plan. 20 hours for $5/month, for example. Add a timer gadget to track it. For the true "casual" gamers who enjoy variety, this would be a boon. One of the older games should try such a pricing option.
Why do so few players come back? I speak as a leader of a large multi-game guild... Very few of my guildmates maintain multiple MMO subscriptions. They cancel one and join another quickly. It is hard to justify paying $15/month subscriptions for multiple games, when one MMO is getting most of the play time. Even harder for couples, who must double all the fees and box costs.
So from a marketing perspective, what's better: $5/month for a time-limited "casual" subscriber, or $0 for a cancelled account.
Michael Hartman, I hear you... My wife and I followed the exact same pattern, although we were Hibernians on Lancelot. Took us a full year to reach level 50 and get into RvR, then Atlantis pushed us to quit.
Posted Jan 12, 2005 9:07:32 PM | link
An interesting approach to a scaling fee structure might be to charge /at most/ your current subscription rate. You start with some figure, say $5, for basic access, and increase that by 50c for every five hours played per month. Someone playing 10 hours a week will pay an extra $2; someone playing 5 hours a day will hit the cap quickly and pay the $15, depsite having accumulated $28 in play-time charges.
Posted Jan 12, 2005 9:16:56 PM | link
Do "casual" players pay the same monthly rate as "hard-core" players?
I tend to be a casual player, playing around 5 hours per week. I pay $15/20 = $.75/hr to play. Someone who plays 40 hours per week pays $15/160 = $.09/hr to play.
Why should I subsidize them?
Why *shouldn't* you? The assumption is that its a net minus to having hard-core players around in a mixed server population. May that is true in many games, but I'm not sure that is always true. For example, in some worlds the "hard-core" might arguably out-weigh their negatives by providing "communal memory" of the game, run guilds, help noobs, etc...
I'm not saying the pluses always outweigh the minuses, but where they do, why wouldn't you subsidize them?
Posted Jan 12, 2005 9:17:06 PM | link
This move makes a lot of sense to me, not just because of market share, but as a way to customise the experience to a range of player needs. Whether a player gravitates towards a casual or hardcore server will boil down to an issue of self-selection into a community that works with one's play style. If I self-identify as a casual player, I may choose the casual environment where I can group for short periods of time and join more permanent groupings where I'm not thrown-out if I don't play for a week nor nagged for not being a dedicated participant, unavailable to do that critical activity at 2 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon (prime park time for my kid!). I won't feel as guilty when I have to suddenly log because the baby's woken up... and I can be happy that my in-game friends aren't all doing 2-3 levels a day. Conversely, hardcore gamers probably aren't going to enjoy spending time on a server full of not-so-serious players...
I think this move actually makes a lot of sense, mainly because the culture of a game (or a server, guild or group) has a huge impact on stickiness and attrition. Does a player feel welcome? Valued? Do they have an in-game community with complementary play styles? These unique servers allow the game to meet a range of needs for a range of players... On roleplaying servers, not everyone roleplays, but if a player chooses to play there, at least they know it's a possibility. As such, the game itself finds an entirely different manifestation in each of these environments. I think that's great -- better to magnify each of the facets, than trying to mush too many disparate agendas together.
Posted Jan 12, 2005 9:24:42 PM | link
Re: pricing. Unfortunately, to make up the lower price to new players, you'd have to raise the price on the elder players. Then they feel undervalued, and you're playing a price war with other companies with a flat rate.
Sure, you might get more 'casual' customers, but at a much lower margin, and the 'elder' players are the glue that hold your communities together.
Posted Jan 12, 2005 10:18:41 PM | link
Please catch me up, if this is old terrain: I'm pleased with the idea of making things more viable for the casual gamer, but I'm not sure exactly what that would mean, as far as implementing that goal on a specific server.
Would it be a matter of compressing the rewards into the first hour of daily play or the first few hours of weekly play, with dramatically diminishing returns thereafter? Is it accelerating the march to the upper echelons (or to endgame for games so designed) so that one reaches it relatively quickly, or is the overall pace about the same, but with a smaller weekly investment (i.e., one could reach lofty heights after 6 months of 6-hour-per-week play). Would there be changes in the faucet-drain mechanisms for the economy? Would players be able to get stipends instead of engaging in productive work?
(One mechanic that occurs to me is to allow crafting to occur during off-time - I don't know if this has been implemented elsewhere. In other words, allow the player to schedule the activities of the character when the character isn't logged in. It wouldn't surprise me if this has been done already; simply not in the subset of games that I've played.)
Posted Jan 12, 2005 10:24:27 PM | link
crafting to occur during off-time - I don't know if this has been implemented elsewhere. In other words, allow the player to schedule the activities of the character when the character isn't logged in.
Eve-online manufacturing can work like this - its a process that chugs in the background (subject to constraints of adequate materials and leases on facilities) whether you are logged in or not.
Posted Jan 12, 2005 10:32:26 PM | link
On scaling plans to usage:
All of those plans, and many more, have been tried before. One salient fact of online gaming (and online usage in general) that was discovered: People don't like complex, multi-faceted plans and they certainly don't like feeling as if you are nickle and diming them. Proidgy, AOL and INN found this one out the hard way.
People DO like uncomplicated flat rates or lightly tiered plans. For example, I wouldn't charge $5 per month for 20 hours plus 50 cents for each additional 5 hours. However, I would consider charging extra for enhanced features aimed at the hardcore gamer.
Posted Jan 12, 2005 10:51:40 PM | link
Lee> How would one enforce a "casual server?" Would a time-limiting feature be added to the game, forcing players to log off after a set period, say 2 hours per day? <
One scheme would be to reboot the server every 24 hours. Then charge people something like $3 to $5 a month to play on a particular day. This I think fits well with the play schedule of regular working people, who tend to do one particular entertainment thing on one particular night of the week. Or at least, it has often worked that way with my friends.
Damion >Sure, you might get more 'casual' customers, but at a much lower margin, and the 'elder' players are the glue that hold your communities together.<
I’m curious about the economics behind that. Why a lower margin? If I am taking in $3 + $3 + $3 + $3 + $4 + $5 + $4 = $25 on a daily booted server, for the same amount of bandwidth and content that used to bring in $15, it seems like I am ahead. But I am assuming the content and bandwidth are the big costs. Is there a big cost per customer beyond simple billing? I have no idea of the actual numbers myself.
If you split your server into daily communities, then a “casual” player could be on enough time to glue your community together. I’d question the idea that at present the five hour a week player benefits much from the activities of the sixty hours a week player. Seems to me like they a playing almost different games. Mixing them is kind of like putting Formula 1 cars and bicycles on the same race track.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 1:59:55 AM | link
(Gah, just lost a long reply I had written based on observations. Short version:)
Jessica> 5% of accounts that left and you attempted to recover.
I take this to mean cancelled accounts in the last N months, but I consider people to "leave" when they use system B more than the old system A for a period of time (they may still play system A for social/habit reasons). I see a cancel as slamming the door shut and throwing away the keys (if they give away their stuff :).
I can only say that I see players reducing their level of participation while tasting other games (betas or retail), then return for expansions (which strenghtens the community due to many guildies being online at the same time), then some of them cancel... My interpretation: they have something "smooth" to compare with...
Jessica> You can get an idea by measuring the trend in concurrencies when a new game launches, then compare to your subscription levels a couple months later.
I suppose you can measure concurrencies if you launch a new game yourself (ignoring the brand loyalty bias), otherwise it would rather difficult, or?
I am curious about the measurement issues as I think good quantitative measures in MMOs are rather difficult to obtain. Subscription levels is a rather crude instrument.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 4:12:04 AM | link
>I suppose you can measure concurrencies if you
>launch a new game yourself (ignoring the brand
>loyalty bias), otherwise it would rather
>I am curious about the measurement issues as I
>think good quantitative measures in MMOs are
>rather difficult to obtain. Subscription levels
>is a rather crude instrument.
Until companies are willing to open up their data to analysis, there's no much progress to be made on this front. Any analysis they do want to perform they'd rather keep to themselves for possible competitive advantage.
Some games actually show the current number of people logged in, so it's possible to get concurrency numbers that way. Others don't supply that number directly, but it can be obtained by logging into the game and doing a /who or whatever. (WoW has a client add-on that does just this, and collects the statistics it gathers.)
I agree that subscriber numbers are a less-than-perfect metric, but at least it is one that people will talk about. The Asian MMOs focus on peak concurrency more. There are lots of other metrics one could also track -- revenue, number of servers, bandwidth usage, web site traffic, web board traffic, etc. Each will tell you something different.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 4:43:53 AM | link
Ok, I guess I misunderstood the term "concurrency". I wasn't thinking of peak numbers, but to what extent players play multiple games. E.g. 30% of player X's gaming time goes to game A and 70% of his gaming time goes to game B.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 5:34:40 AM | link
Two points immediately struck me after reading the announcement:
Firstly that unless Mythic have some pretty clever ideas as to how to enforce a "casual" server they are going to have problems with "hardcore" or even just "average" people playing there and eating through content many times faster than normal. There were interesting complaints from the community shortly after the Gaheris (PvE only) server opened that because there was no RvR endgame it was pointless for people to level quickly and they should enjoy the ride instead. That didn't stop many guilds powerlevelling their way to 50 and then spending a lot of time raiding and so on. I imagine that the same sort of situation is going to arise on any sort of casual server as well.
Secondly the perception of casual versus hardcore seems to be completely relative to someones point of view. If you manage to implement a server that restricts people to 15 hours per week then those who play for all 15 will be the new hardcore and those who log on for maybe 2-3 hours a week the new casual. I don't know if this will solve the problem. If instead the server is just an easier or better version of standard DAoC servers then (as mentioned) I don't see why people wouldn't flock to it in hordes simply because there was no longer a reason to play anything else.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 7:04:46 AM | link
You can do that quite easily by having an accumulating time-based XP-pool that is constantly refillng at a constant rate. Whenever you kill something you gain N% of that XP-pool.
Players only playing 7 hours a week will gain more XP per kill than those playing 15 hours per week. At some point your XP-pool will dry up.
Players only playing 3 hours per week will have a saturated XP-pool and experience "insane gains". Maybe that is enough to keep them.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 8:06:05 AM | link
Tim> The success of World of Warcraft in an otherwise stagnant marketplace has served notice to current and future MMOG development teams: designing around the needs and sensibilities of hardcore powergamers is not market-rational.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
Tim> If you can make a casual server that is just as much fun as the original game, then why not drop the original game altogether?
Camelot has insane amounts of replayability. There are so many class/race/spec combinations that would be fun to play, yet the casual player has time for one (or less) at most. I believe I spent as much time at DAOC Catacombs, working through different specs, than actually playing the game.
It seems to me that DAOC could easily be remodeled to a very casual-friendly game as follows. Where WoW occupies your interest with a few classes and lots of quests, DAOC could do it with fast leveling and a Counter-Strike endgame. Instead of exploring lots of lore, as with WoW, you could explore lots of different combat playstyles. (And there are tons of them in the game already.) That would be fun. If you told me I could play DAOC and have a level 50 cleric, healer, druid, cabalist, enchanter, ice wizard, fire wizard, necromancer, bard, spiritmaster, scout, runemaster, etc., I would love to go back into the game.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 8:33:59 AM | link
Complaining about differential hourly rates when there's a fixed monthly fee has a familiar ring to it. In tabletop RPG, we hear from the folks who want to do excrutiatingly detailed analyses of the cost per page of this book and that, and who complain about pages they don't use. But I feel about rates the way I do about pages: the right question is, "Do you get satisfaction and enjoyment from the parts you use, so that it's a good return on your purchase?" If the stuff you use is enjoyable and worthwhile, then it doesn't matter - or shouldn't - whether someone is using more of it, or a different part of it, or whatever.
I'm the one who plays most in my group of friends playing WoW. But those who play only 20-30 hours a month still seem to feel that they're getting a return on their $15 that makes it worth paying it, rather than getting a few used paperbacks, or a cheap DVD, or a couple movie matinees, or whatever. Rate analysis would mean anything if, and only if, it were true that people have very similar curves for the value of such things and we could establish that truth. In practice I don't think either part of that is true. My valuation of online entertainment is shaped by countless factors, from my ongoing disabilities to my professional interest in world presentation; the same is true of my friends and their circumstances. The part that I find interesting, in fact, is how different our explanations are when we try to articulate why it keeps feeling like a good value.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 9:44:03 AM | link
I don't think there's enough tea in China to pull me back into DAOC. I hit 50 (a Mana Mentalist on MLF/Hibernia) during SI and left shortly after ToA was released (without ever having purchased or tried ToA). After playing WoW for 1.5 months, all I can remember of DAOC is the incredible grind it took to hit 50. I actually physically shudder when I compare it to WoW's quest system. I shudder a bit less when I think of SWG and hitting Master Tailor there.
Dave Rickey> If there something WoW does better than EQ, DAoC, etc., and people have left your game to get that game experience, those customers are *gone*. They've already pulled up stakes and gone to greener pastures, and the chance that come back for a pale imitation of what they left to find is minimal.
Dead on. Of the games my guild has played, the only one we've left that anyone still dabbles in is, of all things, Asheron's Call. Not SWG, not DAOC, not EQ, not Anarchy Online, not Horizons, not Planetside, not Shadowbane. Even then, only a few players do so.
I don't know what Mythic is hoping to do with a "casual" server. Who do they think they will entice? If I meet any "casual" gamers, I would tell them to look into WoW since it really is moderately casual-friendly. It's a day late and a dollar short for DAOC, imo.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 9:48:42 AM | link
Keeping in mind that I'm talking about the kind of "casual" who plays MMOGs, is interested in the genre, and might play 10 hours/week--the "casual" who I think of as being categorically interlinked to what I've elsewhere called "moral economy" players of MMOGs, what is it about WoW that is casual-friendly, and why would I be skeptical that DAOC could imitate it with a simple ruleset change on a single server?
Well, for one, it's the composite effect of the entire apparatus of the game: the smoothness of the quest system, the design of the economy, the interrelatedness of gameplay across a wide variety of domains. That's almost impossible to simply mod into existence on an alternative server.
Maybe the one thing you could do that WoW does is a simple but earthquaking shift: the labor-time that it takes to go from level 49 to 50 is not markedly longer than the labor-time it takes to go from 21 to 22. As is typical, WoW accelerates the earliest levels, but once you hit the ordinary pacing of levelling in the mid-teens, your time-to-level will largely be the same if you carry on the same activities; there is a slow lengthening but it's very slow and fractional. There are no "hell levels". I can't think of a single MMOG with levelling (or skill systems) about which this is true besides WoW. Even City of Heroes, that paragon of casual-friendliness, makes the later levels much harder and slower to gain.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 9:58:35 AM | link
Don't forget WoW's experience bonus system. As explained by Tobold:
" World of Warcraft has an experience bonus which accumulates while you are offline. For every 8 hours you are offline with you character resting in an inn or a city, you gain one "bubble" of bonus experience, 5% of a level, up to a maximum of 30 bubbles, or one-and-a-half levels. If you log off in the wilderness, the experience bonus is only one quarter of this. The bonus experience is not actual experience points added to your current xp. Rather it is given out only when you gain xp by killing monsters. As long as you have bonus xp left, for every xp you gain from a kill, you get another xp from the bonus pool added. Thus you earn xp at double the normal rate. The bonus is smaller than it looks: One level of bonus xp doesn't mean you get two levels for the price of one, you only get one level in half the usual time."
Arguably one of the better devices for helping the casual gamer. (And it's taught me to log off in an inn if at all possible.)
Posted Jan 13, 2005 10:18:37 AM | link
WoW's experience bonus system: a nice design that provide incentive to encourage a certain behavior that is attractive to a certain player demographics, but is beneficial to all players.
Mythic can do likewise with their casual service: a rule-set that have game designs attractive to the casual MMORPG player.
Another simple design is a lower power difference between a 1st and 50th lv character. The focus is then not on level/power, but the content and experience. A good side effect is that it does not penalize new players who did not spend years to build their 50th level character, but still give advantages to elder players who have spent years accumulating more "experience" and in-game wealth.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 11:50:56 AM | link
> Alan wrote:
> Arguably one of the better devices for helping the casual
> gamer. (And it's taught me to log off in an inn if at all possible.)
It is an interesting system, but it has one fatal flaw:
Exp / money balance.
Money is very important in WoW, and they have done a good job of making it hard to come by.
If you earn exp at double the normal rate, but money at the same rate, you very rapidly have a serious exp/money imbalance.
As most people know, there is something far more painful about not having enough money than not having enough exp. I have never understood exactly why this is the case, but it seems to be true in all games: players are more frustrated about being poor than they are about not being high level.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 1:04:25 PM | link
> Edward Castronova wrote
> If you told me I could play DAOC and have a level 50 cleric,
> healer, druid, cabalist, enchanter, ice wizard, fire wizard,
> necromancer, bard, spiritmaster, scout, runemaster, etc.,
> I would love to go back into the game.
You quit before Trials of Atlantis, didn't you? :)
Getting to level 50 is now, MAYBE, 1/5th of the path you must follow before being RvR viable.
The 10 Atlantis MLs (which provide incredibly powerful abilities that of course become "must haves" to compete) take weeks (if you are in a constantly raiding huge guild), months (if you are in a medium sized guild), or never (if you are unguilded).
Then you have artifacts. If you hope to do anything other than get rolled within minutes of stepping into the frontiers, you better have a handful of fully levelled up (level 10) artifacts. This also adds weeks or months to the process.
For even the most hardcore player, you are looking at a few months of grinding and farming to complete MLs, find artifacts, find the 3 scrolls to unlock each one, and then level each artifact up to level 10.
Until you do that, you're as vulnerable as a level 30-something in old-school RvR.
Oh, and did I mention you better be Realm Level 5 or better (for Realm Abilities) or else you still get rolled.
DAoC had a really nice run. Their RvR system was an absolute blast for a long time. They wounded it with Realm Abilities. They gravely wounded it with their see-saw class/realm balancing. They fatally wounded it with Trials of Atlantis.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 1:07:36 PM | link
I assume that Edward Castranova is describing the new, theoretical "casual DAOC", where Atlantis timesinks would presumably be minimized. Give everybody free master levels, and limit the artifacts to one per character, for example.
I think we are all in agreement that DAOC would benefit greatly from having a clear-cut RvR endgame, with a very rapid PvE treadmill leading to 50. Design and expansion efforts could focus exclusively on improving the strategic and tactical aspects of realm warfare, giving the game a unique market niche.
GuildWars is aiming for that same niche, but the game is exclusively focused on arena-style small-team combat. DAOC could be positioned as the best complex, large-scale PvP game on the market.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 1:19:08 PM | link
"DAOC could be positioned as the best complex, large-scale PvP game on the market."
And what's the market for that? What if WoW peels away most of the DAoC players who like the PvE aspect of DAoC as much as the RvR? What's left?
Mythic should be a bit scared. Blizzard will be launching the first of several battlegrounds soon. What if they hit a homerun with it? What if the word gets out that WoW's battleground is better than DAoC's battlegrounds?
I kind of think of WoW as a black hole. It keeps sucking in players, getting bigger and bigger, and the pull it exerts on other players in other games keeps getting stronger and stronger.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 1:56:09 PM | link
Michael Hartman> Money is very important in WoW, and they have done a good job of making it hard to come by. If you earn exp at double the normal rate, but money at the same rate, you very rapidly have a serious exp/money imbalance.
Personally, I disagree that money is hard to come by in WoW. I've had enough to keep my weapons and armor current, not to mention my abilities and spells. Granted my main is a Paladin so a mount was never an issue, but he is a Weaponsmith and has sunk a lot of coin into his profession.
Plus, if you're really concerned about money, choose a caster-class. Less focus on equipment and more on spells leads to deeper pockets. Always has, always will.
Don't forget the time it takes to build up and then utilize the extra exp. 5% of a level built up over an 8-hour absence means 1 level of exp built up over 6.67 days (if my math is correct). Then you still have to go out and hunt monsters to *get* that extra exp. I think the growth rate and utilization rate balance out with the hunting such that you won't cripple the character by leveling too far (if at all) beyond the character's spending "needs."
Posted Jan 13, 2005 2:06:18 PM | link
Generally, I'd agree that making a "casual" version of an existing game is a bad idea. DAoC might be an exception. It is the only game I can think of which seemed genuinely more fun at high levels than at low levels (most MMOs are the opposite--fun for a while at low levels, but with a pointless endgame). Alas, the PvE side of DAoC was boring and unjustifiably long (even by MMO standards).
I spent, literally, months getting a character to RvR levels. Once there, I found that RvR was, indeed, a whole lot of fun. But then, even before I was able to get to level 50, they added a new and longer ladder: realm ranks. Then they added Master Levels and artifacts, etc. I realized that I was not the target demographic and have progressed to more and more casual games as they've been released. But I still remember the fun times in RvR. And I have to admit I've been tempted from time to time to buy some level 50, RR10, ML10 characters on eBay to get to the fun part again. DAoC is the only game in which I've ever even considered buying an account.
Whether Mythic can figure out a way to make the game appeal to "casual" players without losing existing subscribers or trivializing 99% of their PvE content (personally, I won't miss it) is another matter. I couldn't do it.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 2:38:07 PM | link
Mark Asher>Mythic should be a bit scared. Blizzard will be launching the first of several battlegrounds soon. What if they hit a homerun with it? What if the word gets out that WoW's battleground is better than DAoC's battlegrounds?
I would never leave my computer and would die of dehydration. But I would die happy.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 2:40:56 PM | link
Mark Asher> What if WoW peels away most of the DAoC players who like the PvE aspect of DAoC as much as the RvR? What's left? Mythic should be a bit scared. Blizzard will be launching the first of several battlegrounds soon. What if they hit a homerun with it?
Oh, Mythic would be blind not be worried, and their recent communications would seem to indicate an awareness of their possible doom.
But if you were them, what market niche would you try to fill? Or would you just try to keep some cash flow, until the new Imperator MMO can release. With "Romans in Space," it would seem unlikely Mythic will face any direct competition. But this might be for a good reason...
Posted Jan 13, 2005 2:51:57 PM | link
I find it very interesting that with all these other desperation moves, Mythic also chose to have a 50% price increase.
I think what they are saying loud and clear is this: "The people we have now are pretty much the only ones we are going to have. We may as well bleed them for 50% more money since that's a lot easier than attracting or luring back 50% of our lost customers."
Frankly, it is probably the smart business move.
On the flip side, it was the move that finally motivated me to stop being nostalgic about my characters and my house and actually login to click the cancel button.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 3:37:22 PM | link
Alan, I'm glad you are not having money problems. You mention you are playing a Paladin. heh. No wonder. :)
The point is that no matter what is said, the fact is that if you give casual players double exp but the same amount of coin/loot, you *ARE* creating an exp vs. money imbalance. That is the flaw in the system.
If you play a number of alts, you'll actually come face to face with this phenomenon. My wife and I have spent a significant amount of time in "blue exp" because of playing alts to help friends get into the game. It has a very noticeable negative effect on our ability to keep up with training costs (we both have 10+ abilities unlearned and at level 38 are nowhere near affording mounts at lvl 40).
It is a cool idea that I think is very interesting. It just needs a bit more refinement before it can truly be lauded as a true boon to casual players.
Furthermore, hardcore players can easily exploit it and I admit that I personally "exploit it." I have 4 characters. I only play 2 of them when they have blue (rest) exp. When they go back into normal exp, I log them off. From what I have read, there are a lot of people who do this with a full slate of 8+ characters and are able to play almost constantly with blue/rest exp.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 3:41:04 PM | link
The devil's in the details. I challenge anyone to come up with some "casual" system that a powergamer wouldn't be able to exploit. Casual servers look like vast fields of sheep waiting to be harvested to the pvp wolves.
The casual server may have made sense if it were launched along with the pvp server and other server types three years ago, but now it will just attract the efficiency crowd who seek to overcome a new challenge.
A non-ToA server might attract new or recover old customers, removing much of the grind from the game.
But Mythic's best shot at reclaiming their old customers will be with instanced pvp. Most folks prefer squad-level combat (5-8 to a team) to the large (150-200 per team) battles Mythic currently provides.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 3:46:37 PM | link
I do think the suggestion of an alternate payment plan offering [x] amount of hours per month at perhaps 1/2 or 2/3 the price of a standard unlimited monthly plan could have merit.
Much like various services like NetFlix where you have some customers that simply want your service, but perhaps only need a small portion, it simply doesn't make sense for that subscriber to pay the full rate, even when they know they aren't getting the best bang for their buck.
Of course this does have to be balanced enough that you aren't canabalizing your standard $15/monthly plan by losing that additional revenue from players that normally would let their accounts lapse while still paying the full rate (often a huge portion of a services income just like late fees were for companies like BlockBuster). The concern would be that the income gained from offering a discounted hourly plan would bring in less income than what would have been lost anyway by casual gamers unsubscribing to save on their monthly fee anyway, and sales being canabalized by the more hardcore players using the discounted rate for secondary account, or so on.
It's definately viable but it would require a lot of analysis to determine if it could be justified as being profitable and a benefit for your customer base. I really have to think several of the major MMORPG's have thought about it and analyzed it but decided not to go ahead because of the obvious issues brought up.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 3:49:29 PM | link
I honestly do not believe that offering payment plans for less than $10 or $15 a month will produce any significant increase in revenue.
That is really a small amount of money in the grand scheme of things to virtually any PC gamer. Charging less will most likely only result in making less money.
The only trade off I could see would be if you charged less per month but had enough value added extras to make up the difference.
Ebay and IGE and its ilk make it extremely obvious that people are willing to pay alot on their games (and even casual gamers make use of such sites).
At 10 or 15 bucks a month, even the extremely casual gamer who only plays 10-15 hours a month is looking at $1/hour or less. If someone does not consider that to be good value for their money, then they must think the game they are playing is a steaming pile of garbage.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 3:55:11 PM | link
Just a quick comment about the PvP/RvR aspect that for DAoC is the core issue:
Mythic kept developing the RvR system so that it is achievement-based. This achievement allows peoples to feel motivated into taking part in the RvR. With the time this treadmill became too important. From a side it must be relevant or there's no purpose to stick with the game (no reward), from the other side the reward makes the PvP less and less appealing because it becomes just a matter of who catasses more.
The point is extremely simple:
Good PvP -> Flat power curve
Mythic's implementation is flawed in this core concept. The gameplay is *based on* a power curve. Recently they pushed this forward by adding Realm Ranks up to 12.
The key is how this discussion applies to PvP. The key is also that PvP without a flat power curve is a born-dead idea.
I have my own ideas and solutions about this problem. Mythic should look and solve it directly instead of circumnavigate the issue without solving it (like they always do).
The market needs ideas and personality, not bleached imitations of features made popular by other games.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 4:07:35 PM | link
In fairness Michael, Mythic did not raise their price 50%. They went from $12.95 to $14.95 per month. More like a 15% increase.
As for thinking a game is a "steaming pile of garbage" if I do not want to pay $1/hour or less... I think this illustrates the all-or-nothing mindset of companies in this market, where every MMO aims to be the "one game to rule them all." But many players do enjoy variety. Why should I not be able to mix and match pricing plans? For example, this month I'm playing WoW heavily but I'd like to keep my DAOC account active. I would pay $5 for a time-limited option if I could, and it would definitely increase my chances of resuming a $15/month option at a later date.
Sure, $15/month is not bad, but these fees add up when multiple accounts are involved, as with me and my wife. Are we willing to pay $30/month for 2 accounts we're barely playing? Afraid not. $10/month to keep our expensive in-game houses? That might work.
Jessica Mulligan is correct that there are examples of time-based pricing from the olden days of Prodigy and Compuserve. But I think these examples are faulty. If I recall those old games, they had no cap (or a high cap) on monthly fees.
No modern MMO game has attempted such a "budget" option, since UO offered a $9.95 flat rate. A 5/10/15 plan would be easy to understand. 20 hours for $5/ 40 hours for $10/ unlimited for $15. Will WoW or EQ2 try such an option? Of course not, they are hot commodities. Should DAOC/AC/CoH/AO/UO consider it? I think you know my answer :)
Posted Jan 13, 2005 4:25:05 PM | link
Mike Sellers > The idea that WoW actually appeals to anyone who might be called a "casual" player is kinda hilarious to me. "Casual" by comparison to the typical MMOG player perhaps, but that's not exactly what casual means to the much greater (and almost untouched) marketplace. Virtually requiring 10 hours per week is not sustainable by the true casual player. What we're talking about here is more the 'casual fanatic' as opposed to the 'hardcore fanatic.'
I arrive late to comment here but... On what are based the assumptions that WoW "requires" 10 hours per week of play?
Why don't you modify the comment system on this site so that it works like a message board with the threads locked? I believe that this confrontation is valuable but you put it into a model that let's the arguments die by age instead of by interest. A better structure could help to valorize all these "words".
Posted Jan 13, 2005 4:31:45 PM | link
Michael, it's hard to argue with that. I just think that the "loss" or "unearned coin" is a small price to pay for easy exp. Besides, guilds can help fill in this blank by providing support with items and services.
I also suppose I should start those other characters/classes I've been contemplating and begin working off their "blue exp" (haven't heard it referred to as such before but you better believe I'll use that terminology from now on).
As an aside, few players except the power ones or ones with *very* rich friends/guildmates have a mount at 40 or even in the lower half of their 40's. Whenever I see a player (non-Paladin, non-Warlock of course) of level < 45 with a mount, internally I put a check mark in the "had lots of help from another high level character" box. (Also, Druids, Shaman and Hunters all get speed buffs or travel forms. Only Mages, Priests, Warriors and Rogues lack a less-expensive-than-mounts speed buff.)
Posted Jan 13, 2005 4:38:33 PM | link
No modern MMO game has attempted such a "budget" option, since UO offered a $9.95 flat rate. A 5/10/15 plan would be easy to understand. 20 hours for $5/ 40 hours for $10/ unlimited for $15. Will WoW or EQ2 try such an option? Of course not, they are hot commodities. Should DAOC/AC/CoH/AO/UO consider it? I think you know my answer
I fully agree with this. I play WoW. As in, that's the game that I find worth $15/month so I can log in any and every time I want and putter around in it. It takes up the majority of my time.
I miss DAoC battlegrounds and PvP. WoW PvP doesn't appeal because of the lack of limiting behavior on it. Plus, I liked the DAoC character and combat system. But I cancelled my account because I couldn't justify $15/mo. for 2 or so days a month of play that seemed likely. And I'm sure as heck not going to re-subscribe when I expect I'd have the same type of attention span.
Similarly, I do still hold an account with CoH. I've kept it this long, despite playing little to none, mainly because I like the way they've treated their customers so far. That will eventually wear out, and they'll lose my $15/month.
I quit EQ because I was playing one day a week, and that just didn't justify the $15.
I'm interested in EQ2, but I don't own it, and I won't buy another game to play even one day a week when I'm very happy with WoW. But I think if I played it at the one day per week mark I might just enjoy EQ2.
Essentially, every one of these guys has or will soon lose any revenue stream for me, because they don't offer anything that I can feel like is value for my dollar. I'm happy to pay the $15/unlimited for WoW, because that's great value per dollar. But the other games get the cash stream cut off because I could just invest those hours into WoW and get even more value per dollar, and though I sometimes want to play the other games, I don't want to enough to override my value per dollar sense in regards to the fixed (and high) monthly fee.
A 5/10/15 plan would work perfectly. I'd keep a DAoC account at $5/month, a CoH account at $5/month, and an EQ2 account at $5 month. The other companies would get a bit of revenue they wouldn't otherwise, and at least have a shot at hooking me into something even deeper. I still suspect I might like EQ2 better than WoW, or I might really get into the DAoC PvP system, but I won't ever know, because I don't continue to play them and even get a chance to see those systems.
At 10 or 15 bucks a month, even the extremely casual gamer who only plays 10-15 hours a month is looking at $1/hour or less. If someone does not consider that to be good value for their money, then they must think the game they are playing is a steaming pile of garbage.
Not at all. But for the $15/month I spend on a secondary MMO, I can keep myself rolling in new budget PC/console titles that offer more than the requisite 15/20 hours of gameplay the MMO does, especially once I quit paying.
I don't think the market for primary players at these rates is the idea at all. Rather, it's the market for people such as myself who would play multiple but realize that only one at any given time will dominate their time, and the relative value comparison makes other options seem, well, foolish.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 5:08:34 PM | link
Lee Altman: No modern MMO game has attempted such a "budget" option, since UO offered a $9.95 flat rate. A 5/10/15 plan would be easy to understand. 20 hours for $5/ 40 hours for $10/ unlimited for $15. Will WoW or EQ2 try such an option? Of course not, they are hot commodities. Should DAOC/AC/CoH/AO/UO consider it? I think you know my answer :)
FWIW, to keep the ancient musty halls of history in some order, UO wasn't the first to go with flat $9.95 pricing -- M59 was, 18 months earlier. And we talked long and hard about this, as this was back in the day where people were typically paying metered pricing for their online access. We did briefly consider what some called "therapy pricing" where there was a flat fee up to some number of hours per month, and then an hourly add-on fee after that. Fortunately that idea died.
I could see something like a 5/10/15 plan coming back around as the market grows and segments. I don't think we're there yet, but it sounds like maybe DAoC's plans lay the groundwork for it.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 5:22:35 PM | link
Almost every time someone talks about wishing there was a $5/month type option, they will also admit (when pressed or sometimes without being pressed) that they paid the full $15/month for at least one (if not many) games for many months after they stopped paying.
The reality is that people want the cheaper option because (surprise surprise) people like paying less for the same return.
I imagine these companies have done market research and found out that the number of people gained by a $5/month plan is less than 1/3rd the number of people who go ahead and stay on paying $15/month.
In every example given in this thread, the reasons for a $5/month plan is to basically keep your account active while barely playing at all. I could actually see the viability of some kind of "freezer" account that doesn't all full playability but keeps things active like houses or other things that would expire (or even allow you to login and do basic things like chat or whatnot).
But if someone is actually going to PLAY the game, $1 an hour is insanely cheap and going lower than $10 or $15 a month is giving away your product for less than people would happily pay for it.
Furthermore, you cannot ignore the fact that there comes a point where being cheap makes people think your product is cheap. I have seen numerous market studies that explore this phenomenon.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 6:47:01 PM | link
"But if you were them, what market niche would you try to fill? Or would you just try to keep some cash flow, until the new Imperator MMO can release. With "Romans in Space," it would seem unlikely Mythic will face any direct competition. But this might be for a good reason..."
I dunno - they have some real problems, but they still have a good core customer base.
I guess I'd work on the RvR and make it more robust, and do what I could to freshen up the PvE a bit.
As to alternate pricing, the pricing isn't really the issue. It's the time. I really only want to play one of these games at a time now. I have a press copy of EQ2 and three free months of play that came with it, but I haven't installed it yet. So there -- I have 90 days of EQ2 for free and I'm still not buying because I don't have the time or inclination to play more than one of these MMOs at once.
(I will play EQ2 someday, but I don't have a review assignment for it so there's no rush.)
I think reducing the price of MMOs would go a long way towards getting more mainstream interest, but tiered pricing for different playstyles would just be confusing and probably end up making some portion of the playerbase angry.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 7:40:40 PM | link
Lee Altman> No modern MMO game has attempted such a "budget" option, since UO offered a $9.95 flat rate. A 5/10/15 plan would be easy to understand. 20 hours for $5/ 40 hours for $10/ unlimited for $15. Will WoW or EQ2 try such an option? Of course not, they are hot commodities. Should DAOC/AC/CoH/AO/UO consider it? I think you know my answer :)
Uhm... The basic AO is free and comes with 1 year free subscription. That is: offer ends soon. Can't be much more "budget" than that? 12 month plans are also "budget".
Posted Jan 13, 2005 8:24:19 PM | link
Lee Altman: Jessica Mulligan is correct that there are examples of time-based pricing from the olden days of Prodigy and Compuserve. But I think these examples are faulty. If I recall those old games, they had no cap (or a high cap) on monthly fees.
Oh, there were plenty of examples. INN started with a pure flat-rate pricing plan that morphed into a Frankenstein monster; at one point, they had 9 or 10 different pricing options, including many being discussed here, such as flat rate plus an hourly after a certain number of hours. Interesting, the most popular plan was the large flat rate/all you can eat (I think it was $200 a month, but I don't remember exactly).
The online services where games lived almost exclusively until 1996 tried all those, too. Remember, AOL started as $9 per month for 5 hours and $5 per hour after that (later lowered to $3 per hour under pricing pressure from GEnie). If you wanted to play the games, you ended up paying the hourly. Same for CiS, GEnie, The Source, PeopleLink, Prodigy, et al. In between 1983 and 1997, plenty of different pricing plans, including almost everty one being discussed here, were tried by the services, until they all went to flat rates under pressure from ISPs.
Through it all, the one plan that has increased subscribership significantly is the flat-rate, "all you can eat" method. You can tier that method and get results, as SOE's The Station does, but anything that isn't flat rate/all you can eat access hasn't worked all that well in the past.
So what I'm trying to say is, try flat rates combined with additional fees if you want, but I'll bet money they won't show good results.
Then again, I'm a Seahawks fan, so what do I know?
Posted Jan 13, 2005 9:18:32 PM | link
> So what I'm trying to say is, try flat rates combined with additional fees if you want, but I'll bet money they won't show good results.
It seems SOE wants to specialize on this (see EQ2 recent announces).
Posted Jan 13, 2005 9:45:38 PM | link
Ola, yes I've heard about the free year of basic AO, but I'd feel almost guilty doing it, as an ex-AO player myself. It is a good way to attract new players, but as a veteran I would want to return with expansions enabled, which would mean the standard $15/month.
And Jessica, wow those figures bring back some memories alright (Mac-only AOL, amazing). I just wonder whether today's economies of scale make comparisons difficult. Clearly servers and bandwidth have come down in price, while the potential playerbase has grown into the millions. Maybe I am wrong, but I've gotten the sense that modern MMO marketers have grown so accustomed to the flat rate paradigm, that they do not seriously consider alternatives. At most, like Sony they look for ways to add premium features on top of the flat rate.
Sorry if all this discussion of rates has hijacked the thread. My initial point was simply that a "casual server" approach might also be accompanied with a casual pricing package.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 11:48:46 PM | link
One tricky thing about defining a "casual" player is the frame of reference. Players sometimes gauge their advancement againt that of other players. CoH and DAoC address level-based segregation fairly well, but most other linear advancement games just go with segregation. So if a player isn't "keeping up", they ask themselves why.
In general though, I feel having to create a special-rules server to appeal to the "casual" points to deeper issues with the game system. I would argue that even the harder-core DAoC fans still playing wouldn't mind XP being lightened a bit. What Mr. Jacobs says in the letter sounds good (particularly more quests and more direction for players). But I'd rather see Mythic make the whole game more approachable than spend many resources on the front end hoping for a massive influx of new players to justify it.
Adam wrote (on WoW XP bonus): Arguably one of the better devices for helping the casual gamer. (And it's taught me to log off in an inn if at all possible.)
While the Inn XP bonus of WoW is a great way to maximize XP, everyone can use it. If everyone has bonus all the time, then both the hardcore and the casual will advance at 1.5 times the rate, with the same level disparity, and the same challenges this brings.
Conversely, the XP bonus that brings players back to Inns before they log out also increases downtime across the game. A dedicated grinder will want to log from an inn, but in doing so may have added ten solid minutes of running time to return to the place they previously hunted.
Micharl Hartman wrote: If you earn exp at double the normal rate, but money at the same rate, you very rapidly have a serious exp/money imbalance.
I am purposely playing WoW as a CRPG, to see how long it can be played as such. I find that, at least until 36, as I do every quest, I will always have just enough money to make the skills purchases they need. Whether I go from 75s to 5s or 8g to 5s, I always end up dirt poor every two levels :). But in doing the quests, I get equipped with Blizzard's idea of "appropriate" gear. This has worked well thus far. Players, of course, look for advantage, so will take two collection skills, camp the AH, and so on. But only those with far more time than I can do that plus hunt and quest at a frequency I prefer.
I do wonder how mudflation will be addressed. Players already end up ignoring some quests, and by extension, the rewards, because they researched it and the reward wasn't enough to be worth their time. Though that quest is supplanted by another quest, eventually, new quests will come to enhance replayability (I'm on my fourth, and final, Human until then). What they do with the existing quests will be interesting. Will they go ignored, ala EQlive? Will they change?
I agree that WoW isn't so much "casual" as it is "approachable". The game directs players well with a user interface that is clean. While restrictive, I do not feel newbies should have to immediately worry about customizing their user interface, as they once had to in EQlive, and still do in SWG. Too much information is presented to the player the moment they begin the game. WoW lightens that load. Later, if someone wants to dig deeper, they'll likely start with Cosmos UI, and then maybe even get into Lua scripting.
Bruce wrote: (WoW has a client add-on that does just this, and collects the statistics it gathers.)
In case anyone didn't know, WoW Census collects and displays such data, the results of which make for many, err, "energetic" discussions at the game forums.
Posted Jan 13, 2005 11:53:45 PM | link
Lee Altman: "Maybe I am wrong, but I've gotten the sense that modern MMO marketers have grown so accustomed to the flat rate paradigm, that they do not seriously consider alternatives. At most, like Sony they look for ways to add premium features on top of the flat rate."
We do a lot of surveying, market research and focus groups, too. You'd be amazed at how many people refuse to pay anything above Internet access, much less any kind of metered fee. Their price point seems to be "free or less."
Posted Jan 14, 2005 2:45:48 AM | link
Thank goodness for Wikipedia. I had no idea what these "Mulligans" were that everyone is talking about.
Posted Jan 14, 2005 4:18:06 AM | link
Are there any successful pay-to-play games which are accessed through a web browser only? I think it is interesting that some web games can be incredibly popular with 100000s of users when they are free, but tank completely when they charge. I.e. the interface constitutes a genre with some associated expectations (free)?
Posted Jan 14, 2005 6:13:59 AM | link
Richard Bartle: "Thank goodness for Wikipedia. I had no idea what these "Mulligans" were that everyone is talking about."
And you owe me royalties for using the term, Richard. And since I'm older than you, you owe me royalties on your first name, too.
You can get in on the action by making everyone call MMOs "Bartles."
Posted Jan 14, 2005 10:07:30 AM | link
If Bartle wasn't getting a royalty on that freaking Bartle Index test where everyone was happily Balkanizing themselves into poorly-understood archetypes, he missed his chance.
Posted Jan 14, 2005 12:52:06 PM | link
>So to my mind, there is a lot of sense in segregating the two playstyles. A pure casual server would I think provide a much better community for the casual player.
In a perfect world - maybe. I think the error in Mythic's idea is rather than rework their entire game they are making a separate easier server and then not creating any limitations for that server. What is to stop hard core gamers from populating the casual server, thereby alienating the rest of the casual players?
Are there going to be time caps on these casual servers? Why not create a game where casual and hardcore players can coexist? From what I gather, Eve has tackled this problem in a decent way. I think some time will need to pass to see whether Blizzard also solved this problem or not.
I don't see Mythic's decision as being the correct way to solve this problem, however.
Posted Jan 14, 2005 2:06:37 PM | link
>Are there any successful pay-to-play games which are accessed through a web browser only?
Runescape, in the 100k Europe group, is a Java based game that is played inside the web browser. So, I'd definitely call it successful, and it's been growing over the past year. Actually, they do have a two-tiered pricing, in a way; you can play the game for free on certain (crowded, ad-supported) servers, or you can pay to play on member only servers, with access to a lot more content (more areas, quests, skills, items), as well as having new content added for members freqently.
I'm getting a bit tired of the grind and am getting ready to build a new computer and start playing WoW. I'll let my membership lapse in RS, but I expect I'll log in occassionally to the free worlds. Will I ever re-up? I don't know yet...I may very well, given the lower membership price point than other MMO's. Or I may decide RS is a treadmill I want to step off of...
Never go on an adventure without a hat!
Posted Jan 14, 2005 2:57:40 PM | link
One thing all this talk about reaching the casual market makes me wonder if the casual market would even be interested in MMOs that you play an hour or two a week?
What kind of MMO experience would you have if you played that infrequently? Would there even be much of a draw? My guess is no.
It seems to me that making a grab for the mainstream means getting some of these casual players to move up and become more hardcore. If you don't get them playing more often, say 5-10 hours a week, then they won't get much out of any kind of MMO -- unless you want to broaden the definition of MMOs to include online card/trivia/puzzle games with chatting.
I also think that not only will you have a hard time designing an MMO that offers meaningful play to the 1-2 hour a week players, but it will be harder still to get them to pay for something like that.
Posted Jan 14, 2005 3:18:29 PM | link
>Are there any successful pay-to-play games which are accessed through a web browser only?
Fun game, IE-only. No idea how many subscribers it has, but its target market is kids age 6-11 and their moms, so it's not like they're having to lure anyone away from WoW or EQ or DAoC to make do.
Posted Jan 14, 2005 4:13:09 PM | link
>Are there any successful pay-to-play games which
>are accessed through a web browser only?
RuneScape is growing by leaps and bounds. It's Java-based and very popular in Europe among those who only have access to library computers or college campus computers where they can't install software. The "basic" game is free but for only $5/month you can subscribe and get tons of additional content. And the game has over 200K subscribers! I'm at a loss to explain its popularity beyond the fact that it is targeting those low-end gamers who simply weren't being targeted by a MMOG before...
Posted Jan 15, 2005 12:59:37 AM | link
This is something of a plug, as they are my new employer, but Orbis has two web games with subscriptions, both very profitable and growing quickly.
Also significant is that the players are overhwlemingly young and female, an audience that largely the escapes the rest of the industry.
--Dave (hey, at least it's a completely *shameless* plug)
Posted Jan 15, 2005 1:10:57 AM | link
Jessica Mulligan>And you owe me royalties for using the term, Richard.
I didn't sign your EULA.
>And since I'm older than you, you owe me royalties on your first name, too.
Oh really? I've had 45 birthdays - you've only had 12. Who's older now, kid?
>You can get in on the action by making everyone call MMOs "Bartles."
J.>If Bartle wasn't getting a royalty on that freaking Bartle Index test where everyone was happily Balkanizing themselves into poorly-understood archetypes, he missed his chance.
I missed my chance when I put the MUD concept into the public domain.
Posted Jan 15, 2005 6:18:18 AM | link
FWIW Ragnarok has both hourly and monthly payment plans:
The hourly option (buying X hours to be used over Y months) is undoubtedly appealing to the casual gamer. It would be interesting to see the usage patterns on the different types of accounts...
Posted Jan 15, 2005 9:21:21 PM | link
I wouldn't try to sort casual players into categories. In fact, there isn't even a solid dividing line between casual gamers and power gamers. We just have a more or less gaussian distribution of how many hours per week each player is playing. The trick is to make the game most attractive to the huge middle field of that distribution curve, not the small high end.
That is relatively easy if you don't have PvP. Then people that play far more than others simply reach the "end" of the game earlier, at which point they either quit (no problem, there aren't that many of them), or start over. If you have PvP, you need to make sure that people that played much more than others don't get an opportunity to fight against these much easier opponents. For example DAoC should have separate battlegrounds for ToA artifact holders and people that don't have those.
A casual server could simply double the xp and money you earn. If you can make a casual server that is just as much fun as the original game, then why not drop the original game altogether? Because some players will want to play on the harder server, to have more challenge, and more bragging rights. Remember when UO split into Trammel and Felucca? Most people chose the casual Trammel side, but there were still hardcore players on the Felucca side. You probably just would need more casual servers than hardcore ones.
Posted Jan 19, 2005 7:44:38 AM | link
I would love to see some proof that "most" people prefer the 5 or 8 player battles. I dont believe that to be the case at all.
From everything I have seen the preference is toward epic battles.
Posted Oct 28, 2005 12:45:29 AM | link