This blog is generally a summary of in-game activities, because that’s what I enjoy reading other blogs for (and writing about). It’s interesting to read what others think about various issues, but mostly I leave the State of the Genre (™) musings and other deep thoughts on the nature of MMO content to others.
There have been some interesting posts recently, from Syncaine, Jewel, and some else I cannot find in my browser history! Note: I found the gist of it in 2 other places so maybe I’m just shuffling that together in my mind. I’ll get to that.
TL;DR – my 2nd comment is a concise summary of my actual point: I think the F2P funding model will be even more prevalent in the future, for various reasons.
Syncaine ranted about the State of the Genre 2015, which is a great post in which he splits up the genre into 4 time slots: birth, WoW/EVE, clones, F2P. In case you somehow missed it from all previous posts, Syncaine is not enamored with the F2P revenue model; a game moving to it is a failure. Except of course, for the handful of “successful” games, which are defined as “subscription games with a large population of players”. By this definition, all F2P games are failures because they cannot also be “subscription games with a large population of players.” And the Asian ones which have large successful long running examples. But they don’t count either for reasons.
There are of course exceptions to the exceptions – by some measure, various players will tell you EVE is really subscription optional because real players PLEX all their accounts through their awesome spaceship mining and market ninja skills. When you subscribe to EVE, you are really merely a temporarily embarrassed market guru, or just too lazy to mine Mercoxit for the big ISK payoff.
GW2 is also a notable failure, because ANet is forced to release an expansion 3 years after launch, because “they” never mentioned that in the original vision. O RLY? Now I was there at the start of GW2, largely because I was a rabid fan of GW, and I don’t recall anybody associated with ArenaNet ever saying “we will never charge for expansions”. I mean, they did exactly that in the previous game, for Cantha, Elona, and EoTN. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t pre-emptively cut their options off but hey, maybe my memory is shot so some sort of source link would be nice, if it exists. “Buy the box, play forever” doesn’t guarantee access to new content – going off the previous example by the same studio, if I never bought Factions, I never get to make a Ritualist or Assassin. But I still get to roam freely and unrestricted in the Prophecies campaign.
But, WoW is NOT a failure for charging for expansions – after all, Blizzard probably never said they would never release an expansion! See how that works??
ArenaNet also changed their game delivery, since I also don’t recall promising biweekly content updates at the start. Those updates surely cost money to produce, so perhaps the expansion will fund future updates in a more reliable fashion. But this is a catch-22 since Syncaine could claim that as a sign of failure as well. It’s beautiful logic really – charging for an expansion is failure, cash shops are failure (except for WoW and EVE which have an approved exemption), developing new content and wanting to charge for it is also failure; unless it is all done via subscription in which it is the correct way to succeed.
There is some disagreement over revenue models, and when I point that out I am accused of going “full retard” (i.e. I disagree or point out some inconsistencies in his definitions). Yes, B2P is terrible… except that’s how games were sold for I dunno, 30+ years? And are still sold right now? Yeah, clearly there is no possibility of that working, it was all just an illusion. I don’t remember buying “Wizardry: Providing Grounds of the Mad Overlord” for a monthly fee but maybe I just can’t recall as well as Syncaine can. Anyway, music to my ears, from the guy that drops unsourced guesswork into his posts, which all clearly demonstrate GW2 failed. After all, it cost 100x as much as EVE, isn’t profitable, and is apparently in death throes.
Another sure sign of GW2 failure is the cash shop – but that one must have been implemented on opposite day by ArenaNet because the same cash shop functionality in WoW and EVE aren’t ever mentioned as steps towards their imminent failure. It is truly difficult to follow the consistent logic and requirements of the Syncaine-approved stamp of MMO success.
Basically it seems to boil down to a certain forgiveness a sins, as if success (i.e. subscription) grants a retroactive stamp of “correct” on all decisions. If Turbine announces a $50 hobby horse, but never actually puts it in the game, that is an example of a screwup. But CCP can put a $60 monocle up for actual sale, and that is viewed as an opportunity to show how CCP listens to feedback when they remove it. Same mistake, actually bigger since the hobby horse was never actually for sale, vastly different response. Same thing with WoW’s space pony for $25. Basically, a money grubbing game that charges a subscription – ah that’s OK. A money grubbing game that partly exists on a cash store – worst thing ever.
Anyway, under the ever-shifting definition of “successful MMO” landed some interesting reading, from Forbes and Gamasutra. They basically say that for various reasons, things have changed since 2009 (the year Syncaine appears to be stuck ranting in) and perhaps in current times, F2P is actually part of the business plan.
Yes, part of the plan all along. Basically like how airplanes and car makers charge more for better seats and models, MMO studios charge a subscription to recoup a portion of their initial investment, then switch to F2P for steady-state activity. Price discrimination at its finest.
But doesn’t that line up with Syncaine’s disdain for F2P – the studio already planned failmode from the start? How can that be??
Well… businesses don’t actually care how Syncaine buckets their product, they are more interested in revenue, since that’s what actually pays the bills, not the thumbs up of approval from various bloggers.
And along those lines was a post that caught my eye, about how much revenue games are pulling in. It summarizes other information from Superdata Research “digital good measurement” which are all interesting.
However the most interesting thing is according to Superdata, SW:TOR and LoTRO are raking in over $100 million a year (in revenue, so not sure how much is left after paying the bills), which I would think is not too shabby. These games might also have expenses higher than that, but I would think a moderately well run gaming business can survive on $100 million a year in sales. It isn’t like they depend on wildly fluctuating prices on the world commodity market. Somehow regular non-MMO games get by without subscription revenue, with occasional releases every few years, so surely some MBA can figure out how to keep the lights on.
If player’s wallet voting is what matters, as Syncaine says in the comments of his post, then.. oops wait a minute, some of these F2P games are higher revenue some subscription games? That is unpossible! They must be subscription games in disguise playing an inscrutable long game. Or they didn’t get the memo that the top revenue spots are reserved for subscription games.
I’ve rambled a lot so far, but there is more – yes there is!
J3w3l at Healing the Masses wrote a funny post which highlights that not one, but TWO of those mobile F2P games advertised during the Superbowl. Yes, the most costliest ad slots in all of TV, USD $4.5 million for 30 seconds (this year), and Clash of Clans and Game of War felt it was worth the money. Why would they do that and what does it mean?
I was thinking about that and realized it was the final piece that makes everything fit together.
I think F2P will be the dominant model for MMOs going forward. Despite what Syncaine thinks, what matters to businesses is paying their bills and there is ample proof that enough money comes in via this model. For example, the app market in general (more on that coming up). Yes there are failures, just like subscription MMOs folded and disappeared before an F2P conversion was even imagined. Unless there is some secret charity funding MMOs, enough are F2P and continuing to run despite being left for dead years ago, that they can’t all be attributed to isolated situations.
The sea-change reason why is hinted at in the Superbowl ads, or the fact two game studios felt it was worthwhile to advertise. For one thing, the barrier to acquiring the game is so low that seeing an ad might prompt an impulse purchase – because they are cheap/free and plan to make money elsewhere that doesn’t involve a recurring charge…
Wait, that sounds eerily familiar, I don’t know why…
But a larger point is that an entire generation of gamers is being brought up on that model – the one with low cost/no cost initial purchase, expansion or in-game/in-app purchases that is basically centered around the F2P model, and perhaps more casual gameplay (i.e. not playing the game as effectively part-time job) too.
This model gained primacy through the release of the iPhone and its Appstore in 2007. By 2009 is was clearly a success and in 2011, which Syncaine lists as the split between cloning and f2p-ing, finance-types were busy figuring out monetization models for their products. And all of them basically said that F2P was a model that worked from mobile to desktop, shooters to strategy, single and multi player; so bake that in from the get-go. Because if we have a viable business from F2P revenue, then a subscription period that lasts longer then planned is extra gravy on top of the whipped cream.
So I can see a future where the vast majority of the customer base has grown up playing CoC – ironically Syncaine enjoys a match now and then – and other similar games, expecting a low-cost buy in, no subscription, and various tchotchkes for sale in game, to where they cannot imagine paying a subscription because that is a relic of a bygone era.
I think it is interesting that WoW and EVE are already 10+ years old, and Blizzard and Square Enix wrote games for decades before entering the MMO scene, with great success. In some ways, they are already relics of an earlier age.