Friday, September 30, 2022

Old Post, New Thoughts on Games and Business Models

 Getting back into blogging (apologies for missing yesterday for my post a day commitment) has also had me reminiscing through my 17+ years of posts.  I stumbled across This is WHY Free 2 Play works, quote from Pirates of the Burning Seas team today and it got me thinking.  I find it odd how, as a gamer, I jumped in to defend a company making money.  More odd is I still hold to this line of thinking.

It took me reading a few posts to wrangle what my younger self held as opinion on the topic of business models for games, but here is my "years later" assessment of that journey.

  • Back in the day you bought a game in a box and got everything with it.  
    • If the game was online you paid for a subscription and that made sense.
    • Online games with player trading often had real money trade (RMT) where players would sell in game items and game accounts to other players for real cash (usually via eBay)
  • RMT was part of how we played Ultima Online back in the day; you had to go to eBay to buy a house as an example.
  • After moving on from Ultima Online to newer games like Dark Ages of Camelot (DAoC) it became clear to me RMT ruins these games
  • Anti-RMT, buy the box, and pro-subscription became my mantra; just look at how much a player could get out of World of Warcraft for $15 a month!
  • Micro transactions (the infamous horse armor DLC) made no sense
  • At some point I then tried some free 2 play games and I still remember when I posted: My First Microtransaction (in retrospect that was money NOT well spent)
  • I seem to have turned the corner around the time of this post
    • "So, color me conflicted on micro-transaction business models. I still don't believe it beats a subscription model, but no longer is it the EVIL that I thought it was."
  • Ever since that time I seem to have adopted the moniker of "games are a business and have to make money first"

With that last bullet I am going to hop off the autobiography train and focus on "games are a business and have to make money first".  In my older age I find this really odd as a position for a consumer of a product to take, but as a gamer who really-really wants to see my niche of games (MMORPGs) have new options to try.  Basically I want to "vote with my wallet" for games that I want to be successful or from developers I want to be successful.

Speaking of "voting with my wallet" that brings us back full circle to business models.  In the subscription model players have a single vote; my vote counts the same as yours -- either I am a subscriber or I am not.  In a micro-transaction model each player's vote is variable.  A player in a free 2 play game may abstain from voting by just playing for free or a player may be a whale 

There are so many issues with this.  The biggest problem of video games making money is that it preys on human weakness.  For some of us it's just a case of "I have more money than time so I want to buy my way ahead or buy things that are fun", but for others it preys on impaired decision making (children, addiction, FOMO, etc) and works to extract maximum cash.  Yet, I still defend that a game is a business first and has to make money.

To the post I kicked this off with on why free 2 play works (which is really to say micro transactions work) is that it does let players invest at their level so developers/publishers can maximize per-player return. I do still believe as I mentioned in that post that good game design can keep the playing field level.  

At the simplest level for my argument are the games that "just sell cosmetics"; games like New World where after you buy the game you can play for free (no subscription) but then there is a store that offers all sorts of goofy outfits and stuff to put in your house; none of which affects power level when playing.  If you really like and want to support the game then drop $50 on the store, but there is no requirement to do so.

In the more complex category are games with things like battle passes/premium/season pass (for my purposes just called battle pass).  I think battle passes came from a marriage of game design and business model.  For many games battle passes offer unique rewards and drive players to participate in the game in a certain manner.  Good game designers marry battle passes with great game play and it's a great experience.  Every time I jump back into Apex Legends I snag the battle pass and it is worth it.  In Guild Wars 2 I've bought multiple living seasons (which are battle pass like).  Battle pass is the modern day subscription, but this time around players get a benefit.

Of course there is the opposite end of this where battle passes are required to make any meaningful progress and the entire game is designed to get you to pay up.  This is where I start drawing the line as it falls into an area of abusing players.  This is basically why I don't play any mobile games; every single one I've ever looked into, while looking fun, are just designed to make me depart with my cash.

In conclusion: I support game companies making money and I believe good game design can go hand in hand.  It is important to keep this in mind when looking at future games; the sooner they outline the business model the more likely it is the game design will support it in a positive manner.  The later a game decides on it's business model the more likely it is to be abusive and/or insufficient to be successful for the game.  

Want me to review more of my old posts?  Want to argue with me?  Leave a comment.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

New World's 1 Year Anniversary and September Update

 New World is one year old as of today and the September developer update has been posted.  Feel free to watch the update and then read on for my thoughts.

Year One

The first year of New World has flown by.  It was an amazing launch and the popularity of the game lead to some great moments.  For me, it was easily the best MMO launch in the last decade, and I still play the game every single day a year later.  There were some ups and downs through the first year, but for the most part the team at Amazon Game Studios has knocked it out of the park as far as how they have addressed the issues that have popped up and the improvements made to the game.

My favorite release of the year was Tempest Heart.  I am not a huge expedition (New World's term for a PvE dungeon) player, but playing Tempest Heart converted me.  It is hands down the best MMORPG dungeon I've ever played.  The visuals and sound are amazing.  The fights were well done (albeit with some bugs early on) and the atmosphere as you go through the expedition is incredible (giant robot head shooting laser beams!).

My biggest disappointment of the year was 3v3 PvP arenas.  The combat in PvP can just be frustrating at
times and 3v3 hits the worst parts of it such as excessive crowd control where you spend the entire match on the ground unable to do anything or alternately if you don't have the right crowd control light armor players are nearly impossible to catch and kill.  Many of these elements are mitigated in other modes, but when condensed down to 3v3 in a small arena its all right there on display.  Mix in that there is no solo vs group queue and right now, as a mostly solo player, the 3v3 experience is not fun.  

Also its clear, to me at least, the community isn't excited about PvP arenas -- as evidenced by no one showing up for the first public tournament. It is unfortunate the team seems to be investing more into the mode so hopefully they see something I don't.  I'd rather that time be spent on other parts of the game.  The only thing 3v3 needs is solos vs group queue and a ranking; otherwise leave that mode alone.  It is not where the game wins over players.

Whats coming next?

In the update the team talked about focusing on more solo content.  I found this interesting because I think New World is easily the most solo friendly MMORPG on the market.  It sounds like they want to target harder solo content where you can get a sense of fighting a boss fight like a group would but just as yourself.  I am on board with that but I think the team is underselling the current content as it is all very friendly to solo players and offers solo players end game progression.

They also announced wanting to expand into hardcore raid content that is more challenging than expeditions and mutations currently.  No hard details were provided, but a focus on gear specific for PvE was mentioned so that rewards feel more useful in PvE instead of the current "best" being PvP gear.  While not what I am necessarily excited about it was the logical step to take for the PvE crowd.  Personally I think 5-man expeditions + mutations are perfectly good content and I'd be happy seeing a dozen more of those than any multi-group raid content.  But I will admit if the progression and rewards that go with it are done well then I am probably on board.

Also exciting was the mention of working on a gear management system.  Unfortunately seems it is still a ways off which is disappointing.  Adding gear management is the number one thing that could be done to make the game more enjoyable.  It is getting nightmarish to manage my gear sets currently and directly impacting my enjoyment level when playing.  I logged out the other night because I was too irritated to change my gear/attribute/weapon build because plans changed.

Mounts were also a topic of conversation.  I don't think the game needs them but it is a repeating topic in the community and now confirmed it is something the team is officially working on now.  My hope is the mounts are modest, mostly just horses, and don't turn everything into "mount up and alt tab while it runs in a straight line".  An idea I thought would fit perfectly with New World is the way the horse works in The Witcher III: Wild Hunt.  In Witcher III your horse automatically locks into the paths and guides itself so if you are on established roads it just does its thing for you.  Then you can take it off the path/roads and free form it.

Some closer term changes in the upcoming October patch were covered in the video but I'll have more thoughts on those as they get closer to release.  Over all I am very happy with where New World is at and where it is headed.  The team has earned my trust and I foresee continued engagement with this game and it's community.  Everything isn't perfect but there is so much for me to do that is in a great spot that the areas that need improvement don't intersect my play time.  I love playing New World and play every day; my vote is cast.

What are your thoughts on New World's first year and future plans?

A neat infographic as well

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Games Made Me: InQuest Gamer Magazine

Games Made Me is a series of posts where nostalgia gets the best of me and I dip into my gaming past for things that have made me the gamer that I am.  One of those items was InQuest Gamer magazine.  InQuest Gamer started in 1995 and ceased publication in 2007.

InQuest felt like it was tailored for me as a gamer.  It covered the range from board games, to collectible/trading card games, and then into the realm of MMORPGs.  The magazine grew up through the early days of Internet gaming (aka the golden era of MMORPGs with Everquest and Ultima Online) and overlapped the rise of games like Magic the Gathering and Pokemon.  As a young gamer I could ask for nothing more.

My journey with InQuest started when I was working at a grocery store and the magazine caught my eye on the rack.  It hooked me and I was mailing out one of the cards for a subscription the same day (some of you young folk may be surprised to learn we had to write on a piece of paper and put it in the mail to get things done).

While I was mostly interested in the coverage on games like Magic the Gathering (MtG) and the Pokemon TCG which InQuest covered in detail the magazine also became my primary vector into news and information about some online games called Ultima Online (UO) and Everquest (EQ).  At the time our potato of a home computer could handle running text MUDs (multi user dungeons), but games like UO and definitely any sort of 3D game like EQ were out of the picture.  Fortunately, there, in full color and glory, were stories from these online worlds for me to enjoy in InQuest Gamer.  

The articles, like the Bad Boys article featured in the magazine cover above, warped my mind about the possibilities of online games (so much so that over 20+ years later I still remember reading them!). The Bad Boys article covered a player from UO and one from EQ.  The UO portion focused on a player named Redkiller that hunted down red players (aka player killers) to protect their player built city while the EQ portion covered a player talking about the big bad dungeon and losing their stuff in it's depths.  To be honest, hunting down players who killed other players and managing a player built city, sounded way cooler than fighting in a dungeon.  I've been a PvP focused gamer ever since.

Reading the tales of Redkiller in that Bad Boys article convinced me that I had to play Ultima Online and the moment I had the chance to buy a non-potato computer for myself I did so and a short trip to GameStop and I had a copy of Ultima Online (which I still have that box and materials today - except the cloth map).  My gaming existence has never been the same.

InQuest Gamer magazine made me the gamer I am today.

Monday, September 26, 2022

MyMMORPG: Let's dream one up!

 Listening to various podcasts about Ashes of Creation and listening to folks overlay their hearts and dreams on the game has made me think about what I'd want out of an MMORPG.  Combined with my recent "a post a day" commitment to get back into blogging I figured it was time to start my long awaited series on "My MMORPG" and the game I'd make if I was Steven-rich.

The question is where do you start this quest?  Do you come up with a long list of things to do?  An outline of the entire thing?  Define the business model; is it free to play or a subscription?  Write the story first?  

Personally I have a saying I like to use in my career "If something is worth doing it is worth doing WRONG." What does that have to do with where to start?  Fair question. I bring this up here because I want this to be a start but not the only start.  We may be back here again in the near future.  Maybe feedback makes me change course.  Maybe a brilliant idea later down the road requires something earlier on changes.  Regardless I have a couple goals to get started here.

  1. This first post has to set the framework
  2. Keep it simple

So where do we start?  Simple: the world and setting for the game and to keep it simple and set the framework for future conversations this post would be better titled as "The Not-Star-Wars MMORPG". Follow along to find out why.

When I look back on any MMORPG I've played (or wish I could play) the first thing that always catches my attention is the world and setting.  Ultima Online?  Basically took every medieval text MUD I had ever played and put it on screen.  World of Warcraft? Warcraft where I get to play that orc on the battlfield!? Count me in!  Warhammer Online Age of Reckoning?  Duh (and sigh).  Star Wars Galaxies?  Ummm; duh x2!  New World? A cool setting that hooked me before I ever hit log in.

So why "Not-Star-Wars"?  Simple: Star Wars has everything in a setting that I'd want in my dream MMORPG, but I would never want to put my chips into a game that can be ended on the whim of an intellectual property owner.

Let's work through what "Not-Star-Wars" brings to us:

  • Melee combat
  • Ranged combat
  • Magic 
  • Not-magic
  • Mounts
  • Vehicles (aka multiplayer mounts)
  • Houses
  • Spaceships (aka space houses)
  • Varied planets (i.e. zones and instanced content)
  • Multiple races
  • Multiple classes
  • Crafting

Probably the biggest benefit of this setting that pays off the most is the "varied planets".  Planets and space travel between them is the ideal contextual reason for zones and instanced content to exist without turning the game into hub and spoke and thus losing the M for Massive.  While the world setting doesn't need to explain everything the more it is able to justify for mechanics to exist the better the game will feel.  It would make immediate sense to a player that they are jumping in a space ship, zooming through space, and ending up on a unique alien planet that only they and their group are present on.

This also allows this MMORPG to target the "mega server" model instead of "single server" and have it all make sense with the way the universe is set up.  All players need to be in one single universe with the chance at any time to interact with any other player.  This eliminates problems such as scaling up single servers to deal with population growths and eliminates the follow on problems of having to merge servers down.  The universe just exists and it makes sense when you jump in a space ship and fly off to a planet that you are off by yourself and then joining back on a busy core planet with thousands of other players.

Another benefit that some old school MMORPG players will welcome is that space travel, inside a fully customized player ship, can bring back the social aspect that has been missing due to the "get you directly into a group and into content" model of "group finders" in most MMORPGs.  Don't get me wrong; I want games to connect players via in game tools but what I also want to ensure it drops players into the opportunity to socialize and not just at the starting point a sprint.  Sitting around in a space ship, making preparations for the content, and socializing with your fellow players is huge.  Scale this concept up to core planets and ideas like space stations: the core of setting should be places for players to interact socially.

As my bulleted list shows there is a lot of pieces that fit with Not-Star-Wars and give context to game systems and mechanics MMORPG players are familiar with.  Again the most important aspect is that the setting gives context to many MMORPG staple systems such as zones, instanced content, socializing and more.

More to come on MyMMORPG!  Have thoughts?  Think I am starting in the wrong place or heading in the wrong direction?  Leave a comment.  I love to argue socialize.