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When Good Games Go Low-Rent

Posted Fri, Jun 07, 2013 by gunky

When Good Games Go Low-Rent

There's a tendency for games to start strong and make a powerful first impression, but then peter out when company avarice starts to trump the game's design.

The other day, I was clicking through the ad links on Ten Ton Hammer - something I recommend for everybody - when I happened across a particular "news" site that shall go nameless. This "news" site had lots of articles that were clearly targeting a very specific market, with articles about video games, sci-fi movies, hot girls and zombie stuff, and about 80% of the articles had titles like "10 Things About (X) That You Probably Didn't Know," "5 Things That (Y) Doesn't Want You To Know About," or "The 20 (X)-est (Y) Scenes Ever." These articles were clearly written to generate pageviews, rather than to express an opinion or inform the reader of an issue of personal relevance to the writer. Low-value, lucrative trash.

Normally, this sort of thing would kind of disgust me, and I would simply close the browser tab and do something else instead. But I've grown accustomed to this kind of low-rent marketing, because that's how they do things in MMO's these days. In fact, this "news" site reminded me of a couple of games in particular, and of how they would be a lot better if it weren't for aggressive, spammy marketing taking place inside the game - low-value items being pushed too hard, making the whole rest of the game suffer for it.

Low-Rent Marketing - Enchanted Keys for Nightmare Lockboxes
The tooltip shows more purple items than green ones, but guess which is more likely to be in the box you paid to open.
 

PerfectWorld/Cryptic are, unfortunately, pretty bad for this. In both Star Trek Online and Neverwinter, their low-value, hard-push item is keys for lock-boxes. These lock-boxes drop quite often, can't be sold to vendors, usually contain items of marginal worth, and can only be opened by spending money on them. To make matters worse, in both of these games, anytime someone lucks out and finds a very rare, high-value item in one of them (in STO it's Tal Shiar ships, in Neverwinter it's the fiery Heavy Inferno Nightmare mount), a message pops up on the screen informing everyone on the server.

This system creates an artificial demand for items of very little actual value. The keys usually don't get you much; they're essentially digital slot machine tokens, and the loot boxes are the one-armed bandits. Certainly, these gambles have some kind of payout every time, but that payout is usually low-value junk that you wouldn't normally pay real money for.

Even this wouldn't be so terrible if the boxes dropped far more rarely than they do. In the Lord of the Rings Online, there is a similar system in place, with leveled loot boxes requiring store-bought keys to open. In LotRO, I have personally found maybe three of these boxes since they were first introduced a couple years ago. They're rare drops, and players can sell the high-level ones for a good chunk of gold. I have no problem buying keys for these, even though they often contain little more than vendor trash.

In STO and Neverwinter, however, I find a dozen of the damned loot boxes every time I play, and I am in no way tempted to buy all the keys I would need to open all of them. It would end up costing too much money, even if I did get one of the purple-quality items. They are so common that you can barely give them away - sometimes they can be sold at auction if the buyout price is ultra-low, but more often they get returned unsold. Furthermore, I would be embarrassed if I actually did end up getting a Nightmare mount or Tal Shiar ship, because it would be announced to the whole server, and everyone would know I'm a key-buying sucker. No thanks.

Low-Rent Marketing - STO Banner Announcement
Congratz, Skippy... but why should I care? I'm busy fighting Orions!
 

Though I cite LotRO as a better system for their rare loot-box drops, that's not to say that they aren't fumbling into low-rent marketing these days. The introduction of the catch-all currency, Mithril Coins, to their cash shop gave Turbine a whole new way to sell "convenience," as these coins can be used to bypass some travel restrictions and reset cooldowns. But that convenience has become sort of intrusive lately - Mithril Coins are used to speed up just about everything, and they're even used as a cash-type currency in the new clothing store in Bree. But that little button shows up plastered all over the UI - you're encouraged to spend your coins every time you ride a horse out of a stable, every time you complete quest objectives, and for a hundred other little things. The hard sell doesn't even let up when you die; you can buy another instant-revive if you fall in battle and already used your hourly freebie.  It's just as bad for subscribers and VIPs as it is for F2P players - Turbine is selling the living hell out of those coins.

Low-Rent Marketing - Mithril Coins Everywhere
Broken gear? Burn a coin. Need a ride? Burn a coin. Finished a quest? Burn a coin. Run out of coins? Burn your cash.
 

It's becoming enough to make a fella want to run some kind of ad-block software in-game. I get that the studios need customers to use their stores, but the pushy sales tactics can be exhausting. Neverwinter isn't out of open beta yet, and I'm already kind of burnt out on it. It feels to me like the monetization of the game is more important than the player experience - as if they don't care whether or not we're enjoying the game, as long as we're spending money on it.

Low-Rent Marketing - Rez Items
Shop 'til you drop... and then keep on shopping!
 

These are all good games. There are things about all of them that I adore, and they're not the only games or game developers doing these sorts of things. But this pushy, aggressive marketing of low-value junk is making these good games suffer. It's the same kind of marketing that inspired the development of spam filters for our email. The next logical step is in-game telemarketing - customer service reps sending us tells trying to sell us limited-time account upgrades and character unlock bundles. Y'know... the kind of tells we get from gold-seller drones.

There has to be some kind of middle-ground here, something less than spamming players with loot-boxes and irrelevant banner announcements. By all means, make the cash shop visible and accessible. But we don't need to be urged to reach for our credit cards with every single interaction we make in the game.

This is why i don't like "Free to Play" mmorpgs, and its in quotations for a reason (we all know its not f2p, come on people). $50 dollars for a mount in neverwinter, wth (thats 3 whole months of game time in wow, and you GET EVERYTHING!!!)? After I saw that i quit the game, very few companies do the "f2p model" right like 5%. 95% of all f2p mmos end up being pure garbage and trash, the game can be fun for a while but thats just to suck you in. After that (if you're smart) you begin to see f2p games for what they truly are, slot machines with 3d graphics. You end up paying WAYYYY more money (if you take them seriously) on these games than you would a $15 a month (and a month is a very long time) subscription game. And don't come to me talking foolishness about "oh man you troll you can get everything in the game if you just play and grind" listen fanboy, YOU CAN'T no one is going to grind two years for something that they can buy for 25-40 bucks (unless they have no life), sad thing is, when and if you actually grind for that item when you get it, new content will already be out and you would have wasted you time anyway. "Free to Play" games are designed this way on purpose, get a clue and stop being suckers, "Free to Play" is NOT the "future", and I see a lot of tools running around saying that these days. SERIOUS gamers are willing to pay a decent reasonable price for a game and if your game is good they will happily resubscribe, if you can't get them to resubscribe or get new subscribers will then that means your game isn't that good bro, so you either make it better or quit, thats how it goes. If "Free to Play" is the future of mmos, then the future if mmos is a dark and bleak future and the genre will fail, trust me. These companies like Perfect world Entertainment and Cryptic don't give a damn about making decent fun enjoyable games, they just want your dollars and a sucker is born everyday, watch how long neverwinter (broken game) will be in "open beta" and how many decades it will take before an expansion is released (not that hey are obligated to release anything since the game is "free" lol don't make me laugh) "Free to play" makes me vomit, freeloaders who don't want to pay a dime for anything are ruining this genre of gaming. Thankfully i have a pretty strong feel TESO will actually be subscription based, and will survive and thrive, because there a still gamers out there who actually have jobs, are not cheapskates and actually willing to pay as long as they get their monies worth, 15-17 year old beaners who think everything should be handed to them need not apply.

/end rant

ps if you don't like paying $15 a month because you are busy and won't feel like you are getting your monies worth if you are not playing, then don't pay. Wait until you have time then pay, its not that complicated, $15 really isn't that whole lot a money, its like 3 days lunch quit whining (and by the looks of some gamers these days, three days without lunch or with a smaller lunch might actually be for the better).

TBH, I could accept this thing in Neverwinter as it doesn't offer a subscription and should make money some way. I don't like the way, but I can't accept that.
From LOTRO instead I can't accept it. It's a game that offer a subscription while offering also a free-to-play option, same for STO.
Is F2P hurting their business model? I played DCUO as premium for time and now I subscribed. THis means that a game - if done right - can spur people to convert free players to subscibers.

1) F2P Games are about maximizing profit in a short window of popularity.

2) These games are being made to take your money, not be be quality long-lasting products.

3) Play Blizzard Games, LoL, Eve online, or accept you are willing to be suckered for your time AND your money.

Free to play is BS... period. It's a backwards step to the old video arcade revenue model. You can watch for free, but if you want to play that'll be another quarter.
My wife bought a LIFETIME subscription to LOTRO when it came out. It was over $200 at the time. She's now paying about $80 a month in addition to her "premium" lifetime subscription playing the game. You might think I'm making that up, but I've got the credit card bills to prove it. She plays a lot, sure, but in any world, there should be a limit to how much the game can cost you over a specific amount of time.
They relentlessly market every little convenience you can imagine. "Do I really want to spend 4 minutes running somewhere when I can teleport instantly for a quarter?" Play that scenario over enough times and you got yourself a gold mine my friends.
She's currently looking for a P2P or subscription model game. I really don't mind paying a subscription, in the perfect world games that started subscription and succumbed to the F2P lure would have a dual revenue model, if you want F2P that's fine, you can buy whatever as you play, or grind your butt off to get something, but if you have subscribed EVERYTHING is included, there's no "insert name of BS currency" special perk or enhanced xp/travel/resurrection/insert name of BS time saving device potions that you can only get by paying above your subscription.
With one game my wife and I played we had 5 different accounts all attracting a subscription monthly. But I can't afford free.

What is she doing that she's spending an additional $80 per month even with a lifetime sub? I'm really curious, that sounds excessive. I'm a regular player of lotro and I don't have a lifetime sub, (wish I'd done that), but I do have a subscription and pay a monthly fee but nothing more than that (except for on expansions which are about once a year). Maybe I'm just being frugal but it's not necessary to spend that much to fully enjoy the game, as a subscriber they award you 500 turbine points a month anyway.

In Neverwinter, you can sell the lockboxes to vendors. You couldn't in the past, but now you can.

Everquest 2 is far worse with its buy now advertising.

I don't mind their extra buy now placements. Eventually I will have spare points to buy them.

F2P is a trend, as someone said it is companies trying to make the most amount of money possible in the shortest amount of time. I would rather have a model that asks for a subscription and allows me toearn things with my time ... or and some people may disagree... do what GW2 did. There buy to play model is excellent, I have played GW2 for nearly a year, the only thing that I have felt the need to buy is some bags I think I have spend 15 bucks total. I do not play GW2 a ton, I think I am in the high 50s but still I do play and i enjoy it and I want to give them a few bucks because it is a quality product.

I think F2P, when done reasonably, is a fine approach. Like oneano posted above, I enjoyed GW2 for many months, and still pop in occasionally, and I have & had no problem with spending money in game for things that enhanced my enjoyment of the GW2 world. I've been playing MMOs since the beginning - actually since before "the beginning" as I played the text based mud Gemstone III, then jumped into Ultima Online when it launched, then EQ and have since played more MMOs than I can remember - literally!

The problem that I found with more than a few of those over the years was that I paid to buy the game, became a paying subscriber, and all too quickly found that the game was flawed in one or more ways. So when I dropped out after a month (in some cases) I was out both the price of the initial purchase (approx $40-50 depending on when it was) and at least a minimum of one month's subscription (approx $15 in most cases). So I spent $55-65 for a month of entertainment. Or in some cases a month of annoyance.

Now with the F2P MMOs (of which GW2 is not really a good example since you do have to buy the game itself, you just don't have a monthly subscription fee) you can jump in, try it, and if you like it then either live with the F2P model or spend some $$ to enhance your enjoyment.

Note that I said "when done reasonably". Some games which are currently billed as F2P don't seem, in my opinion, to do it that way (LOTRO and D&D Online come to mind). When a vast % of the quests aren't available unless you pay, or when there are too many restrictions on what you can do without paying, those should probably more accurately be called "Limited free to play option available" or something akin thereto. It is misleading and borderline unethical to say that a game is F2P when you can only play a truncated version without paying for real, built in content.

GW2, for example, allowed you to play every quest, to visit every zone, and make the highest possible level without paying a nickel in subscription fees. Neverwinter Nights (at least so far in the one week I've been playing) hasn't restricted me from any zones, blocked me from any quests, or done anything that makes me feel like a 'second class citizen' - as both LOTRO and D&D Online did. I've spent about $30 so far mostly for a nice bag, bank slots, and a character slot, with plenty of their ZEN credits left over but that was an easy choice BECAUSE I didn't buy the game, didn't have to commit to a subscription, and am having fun. I may very well spend more, we'll see.

For folks who can't control their spending - no offense, but $80 a month to play LOTRO is crazy! - then there might be some problems, but addictive personality flaws exist in real life too. One simply has to control one's urges wherever one finds oneself. Enough said.

For me - I'm happy to see the F2P model succeed, and I have no problems tossing a few dollars on the virtual table to help fund their success. I mean, honestly -> if I'd paid to poke my nose into Wizardry (which I uninstalled after less than 5 minutes in game) I'd have been really annoyed! *shudder*

In fact, this "news" website rang a bell in my memory of one or two of games specially, and of however they might be lots higher if it weren't for aggressive, spammy promoting going down within the sport

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