Democratizing DDO - Turbine Reveals New Facts and Figures at GDC 2010

Posted Mon, Mar 15, 2010 by Ethec

It’s no secret that DDO has successfully switched from a subscription-driven revenue model to a hybridized model featuring a microtransaction store. So how have these changes impacted Turbine’s bottom line on DDO? Short of sharing the actual dollars and cents, Turbine’s Fernando Paiz, Executive Producer of Dungeons and Dragons Online, was refreshingly free with the numbers. Paiz’s openness was all the more surprising because Turbine, unlike nearly all of its competitors, is a private concern and need not make its financials public.

Fernando Paiz at GDC 2010

Paiz’s thesis was that DDO, under the old subscription-only model, cut off both the hardcore players who were willing to pay more to get more from the game and the free-to-play players who wanted to play the game without ponying up a minimum fee each month. The hybridized model unveiled last October not only allowed players to pay for as much or as little of the game as they desired, it also precipitated new levels of involvement in the game for both players and developers and dramatically increased revenues from the game.

Noting that the hybridized model unveiled last October was the result of 18 months of tough design decisions, Paiz broke down the game’s microtransaction offerings into five distinct categories: content, convenience, consumables, cosmetics, and concierge services. While the nature of most of these categories is well understood by anyone with any knowledge of a microtransaction game, the workings of two of Paiz’s more unusual categories - convenience and concierge services - are a bit more obscure.

Convenience services include items like experience potions, which allow players to speed past run-of-the-mill leveling content, and veteran benefits, which allows players to skip the first four levels after playing through these levels once. Turbine was all too happy to let players skip the first four levels anyway, since these levels were already part of the game’s free-to-play offering.

Concierge services allow players to experience the game in a different way - for example, as slightly more powerful races and unique classes (i.e. drow, warforged, monks, favored souls). This also includes one of the DDO store’s bestsellers – 32 point builds – which essentially allow players to transform any class or race combo into the more powerful purchased races.

Some of these microtransaction categories were more controversial than others. Paiz noted that among Turbine’s stickier decisions was making content available as an a la carte. But Paiz contended that challenging, compelling “adventure packs” (unlike brainless, grind-driven content) can carry a price tag comfortably.

According to Paiz, making parts of the game that players considered especially valuable, such as excellent content, available in the DDO’s store offering essentially “democratized” the game. Instead of just building content to attract new players or retain end-game players, Turbine builds content and services based on what sells.

This was where Paiz’s talk differed from other free-to-play sessions we’ve attended at GDC 2010 and before – Paiz contended that a hybridized model breathed new life into their development efforts. Rather than the free-to-play encouraging DDO’s developers to take a vampiric stance towards their playerbase, it instead encouraged them to think very closely about what adds premium value to the game for their players. This “marketplace of ideas” approach is fairly new to MMO gaming, and in this writer’s opinion, very welcome.

So much for definitions. Let’s move on to the numbers, but keep in mind these figures come straight from Turbine. That said, numbers can match perception and good sense, and in this case, they certainly do.

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