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On the eve of LOTRO's free-to-play transition tomorrow, we'll look at what made DDO a successful free-to-play port and why games like EverQuest 2 Extended have thus far failed to capture the same level of excitement. Our take in today's Loading... Turbine's Secret Weapon.
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We tend to talk about free-to-play ports as if all of them were re-created equally, but that's not the case. The free-to-play transition is far more nuanced than simply making a server subscription free and sticking former item drops on an RMT marketplace. The time-honored lesson of free-to-play is this: for free-to-play to work, the game must be built (or re-built) around free-to-play. And in a nutshell, that's why I think LOTRO is likely to be as big a success as DDO Unlimited and why I'm not so sure about other games struggling to make the transition, like EverQuest II Extended.
Let's compare and contrast. Going free-to-play, in DDO Executive Producer Fernando Paiz's words, democratized the game. Turbine was suddenly incentivized to make content that players would pay for. An entire marketing division was born to figure out what players would pay for and help direct design efforts in that direction. It's capitalism at its best - freeloaders get a complete MMORPG experience, purchasers can choose and get exactly what they want, and Turbine makes only the quality content that people are willing to pay for. Those preferring to subscribe get an all-access pass plus a generous allowance of points to buy more each month.
On the other hand, EverQuest II Extended was, in SOE President John Smedley's words, a "business decision," and whose success or failiure might dictate the future of games like Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. Don't get me wrong, taking DDO and LotRO free-to-play were business decisions as well, but unlike Turbine, who went all-in with the free-to-play model, EQ2 Extended holds back by segregating subscription and free server populations. Worse, SOE offers no path between the server types.
I honor the server-splitting intent - SOE was anxious to satisfy its veteran subscriber community that players who pay for items and equipment wouldn't compete on the same terms. But with another round of server merges on the horizon, I'd think the cooler heads in the EQ2 community would recognize that EQ2 isn't as susceptible to imbalance as other games (PvP really isn't a part of core gameplay) and welcome new players whether their toting RMT equipment or not. After all, EQ2's playerbase has had a five year head start to collect their shinies.
More worryingly, however, is that SOE has co-opted Turbine's business model without picking up on Turbine's secret weapon. Rather than designing content for the free-to-play audience, paying close attention to what sells, SOE seems to be treating EQ2 Extended as a sideline. To wit, Executive Producer David Georgeson commented that EQ2's upcoming Destiny of Velious expansion is a "completely separate project" from EQ2 Extended. This may have just been a comment to sate the subscriber rowdies in the EQ2 audience but for the fact that SOE has gone on record stating that the free-to-play and subscription servers will have exactly the same content moving forward. One gets the impression that subscribers take priority in the decision-making, and this will certainly limit SOE's flexibility to cater to two very different audiences.
In short, everyone wins when free-to-play ports cater to a discerning subscription-free audience rather than just a plan to replace flagging subscription revenue with an aggressive push toward RMT items. We wanted to see more subscription-free efforts among games past their peak, but we were kind of hoping that developers would follow Turbine's lead in building a quality free-to-play experience from the ground up.
What do you think? Should developers look towards the free-to-play or subscription audience first when plotting out new content, features, and fixes? Have your say in the Loading... forum!
Today's Hottest Articles, Guides, and Features from Ten Ton Hammer
5 new Ten Ton Hammer features today! 30 Ten Ton Hammer features in September! 985 in 2010!
Skills, Traits, and Builds - An Exclusive Guild Wars 2 Combat Interview
For anyone who has been following the development of Guild Wars 2, it’s been readily apparent that ArenaNet isn’t simply content to create yet another formulaic MMOG based on a decade old template. Every aspect of gameplay has been given close attention with the end goal of creating the best, and more importantly, most fun experience possible. While certain things may contain an aspect of familiarity for veteran players of the original Guild Wars such as the names of various skills, by and large the combat in Guild Wars 2 is an altogether fresh experience.
To get some more details on what sets combat apart in Guild Wars 2, Ten Ton Hammer spent some time speaking with Game Designer Isaiah “Izzy” Cartwright who is heavily involved in that aspect of the game’s development.
Rift: Planes of Telara Class & Invasions Video Feature with Russ Brown http://www.tentonhammer.com/rift/videos/pax10
Russ Brown, VP of Development for Rift: Planes of Telara, showcases the games classes and callings system, the seldom talked about focus gems concept, and offers a detailed look at how footholds and invasions work in this new 2-part video series from PAX 2010.
Aion: Assault on Balaurea Video Podcast
Aion: Assault on Balaurea has launched and players are now waging war against the Balaur and each other in new lands. There's a lot of new stuff in the free expansion, extending to over 50 pages of patch notes, and the Aion dev team has put together a new video to give players a preview of some of the newest content and features.
New Runes of Magic Screenshots Showcase The Raksha Temple
New Runes of Magic content is on the way and Frogster has revealed new details about The Raksha Temple, a new dungeon located in the recently introduced Northern Janost Forest. The new dungeon will also allow players to choose between three levels of difficulty for the first time. A press release detailing the new update has been released with several new screenshots and you can check them all out here.
Super Hero Squad Online PAX 2010 Trailer
Gazillion Entertainment was in attendance at this year's PAX Prime to show off their upcoming Marvel-based MMOG, Super Hero Squad Online. A fresh batch of new images from the event were the first thing to find its way into our hands and today we have the game's brand new trailer straight from PAX.
FEATURES & GUIDES
WoW Cataclysm: Profession Change Overview
Sure professions may not seem like the most exciting thing in game. In fact most players dread leveling or even using their professions, and tend to avoid them like the plague. However the changes that can be seen in Cataclysm including a new title, skill cap, and tons of fun new items are enough to get even the most jaded player excited. Join us here at Ten Ton Hammer as we share with you some of the changes that can currently be found in Cataclysm Beta.
Today's Top 10
- Skills, Traits and Builds - An Exclusive Guild Wars 2 Combat Interview
- Rift: Planes of Telara Class & Invasions Video Feature with Russ Brown
- Guild Wars 2 - Hands-On at PAX Prime Part 2
- Guild Wars 2 - Hands-On at PAX Prime Part 1
- A Tale of Two TERAs - A Hands-On Look at TERA's Group Play
- PAX 2010 Hands-On Preview of Torchlight II
- A First Look at Red 5's Firefall at PAX 2010
- Half Elves, Time Travel, and a Demonic Vultron? A PAX 2010 Video Preview of DDO Update 7
- Rift: Planes of Telara First Hands On Preview – Part 2
- Minifigs, Start Your Engines! - A First Look at Racing in LEGO Universe from PAX 2010
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- Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle and the Ten Ton Hammer team