A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Posts tagged “ACE Online

Discussion: MMO Pricing Models

Today I’m going to talk about something that stirs up a lot of feelings in a lot of people all over the net: pricing models.

Here’s the three different primary types here:

Free to Play

Microtransaction

Subscription

Allow me to explain…

Free to Play is just what it says: Free. To. Play. Seriously, you download the game, you install it, you set up an account, and bam, you’re ready to go. It’s that simple. Examples of these games are Champions Online, D&D Online, Lord of the Rings Online, and several of the games I’ve previously mentioned like 9Dragons and ACE Online. For future reference, I’m abbreviating this as F2P.

Microtransactions (I may have explained this in the past, but humor me) are where you throw a few dollars at the game here and there. Typically this goes hand in hand with a F2P model. The point is to purchase in a cash shop of sorts a few extraneous objects or such that you don’t normally get with your usual account. An example of the things that are usually available in such a shop are extra character slots on the server, additional character classes or capabilities, costume items that have no effect outside of changing your appearance, experience bonus items, and so forth. Frequently the company running the game invents some sort of point system that goes with the shop. Champions Online and Star Trek Online both have their C-Store (Cryptic Store) and they take advantage of Atari Tokens. D&D Online and Lord of the Rings Online are both run by Turbine and they each have very similar shops with points named differently (DDO Points and Turbine Points, respectively). Sometimes the company running the game doesn’t even bother to do point transactions. In the case of games like Star Wars Galaxies where there’s a separate card game built into the game, you just buy booster packs and such using your credit card or whatever. Sometimes these points are easy to get (in LOTRO, you can gain Turbine Points by accomplishing deeds that award 5, 10, or 15 points and you can save them up), other times you can only get them by buying them (Star Trek Online), and still other times you can get a stipend of points per month for subscribing (D&D Online and Champions Online each offer 500 and 400 of their points per month, respectively). All in all, you’re typically not spending a lot of money at once (if at all), hence the term “microtransactions”. Me, if I like a game well enough, I’m cool with throwing twenty bucks at it (like LOTRO).

Subscriptions for MMOs have always been a touchy subject but most frequently they’re priced around fifteen dollars a month. Some games (once again, LOTRO) offer the occasional discount to ten bucks a month and a few games out there are five a month (I believe Dungeon Runners used to do this). Sometimes if you buy a bunch of months in a row (like 6 or 12) you can get a discount. $120 bucks a year changes your subscription to ten bucks a month instead of fifteen… which isn’t bad if you intend to play the game for the whole year. Like I’ve implied, subscriptions can run monthly, annually, bi-annually, or whatever. Also, some few games offer lifetime subscriptions where you pay one large lump sum (often enough to buy an XBox 360 or a PS3) for permanent subscription services for as long as the game is up. I recently acquired a lifetime subscription to Star Trek Online for the paltry sum of $300 (hah, paltry) and there’s really no difference between a normal subscription and the lifetime (except for a few nifty concessions). Once upon a time, I said (upon discovering Everquest was fifteen bucks a month) that I would only truly pay to play a Star Wars game. Well, I’ve been proven wrong (DDO, LOTRO, STO and now another SW game is coming out soon).

Admittedly, those are the primary models above, but companies love to mix and match to their own delight. A prime example of this is in what Turbine and Cryptic have¬† done to their games. Let’s take a look at D&D Online and then Champions Online:

D&D Online offers a free to play model. There is a cash store where you can buy points and spend said points on objects you want. There’s also a variety of subscription options (monthly, 3 months, 6 months I believe) available for those who want free access to all the restricted content that’s available for purchase in the store (more or less). Further, for those who subscribe, you gain 500 DDO points per month of your active subscription. If you allow your subscription to lapse, you downgrade to a “Premium” account which has more benefits than a regular Free account, but considerably less than a subscription. In this case, if you’re playing a class (like the Monk or Favored Soul) that is specifically given to you because of your subscription, you lose access to that character until you purchase the class in another way (via favor or money).

Champions Online has recently gone free to play. There’s a cash store where you can buy points and spend them on objects you want. They also have subscription options, but they also offer a lifetime subscription with additional benefits on top of the standard subscription. The entire game is available to play, but certain quest trees are unavailable except to those who subscribe or purchase said quest packs. For subscribers (lifetime and otherwise) you gain 400 Atari Tokens a month. If you are no longer a subscriber you revert to a “Silver Player” (as opposed to Gold) and lose access to all the things that Gold Players get specifically (you lose access to your Freeform characters and quest packs) until you subscribe again.

Personally, I’m a fan of these combination models. I feel that they appeal to wider audiences and in many cases allow people to try the games until they feel like they want to spend money on it to get the extra stuff (like me with D&D Online, Lord of the Rings Online). Champions Online is now a current favorite for me and I’m highly tempted to get a lifetime account with them.¬† Don’t worry, I make myself come up with three good reasons before I splurge on something so expensive.

When looking to invest in a game, it’s encouraging that so many are going free to play with subscription options. I’m certainly a fan of being able to try stuff out before buying (like test driving a car). I have a hunch that subscription-only games are going to be phased out in the future and “choose your own pricing model” games will become the business standard.

Regarding the lifetime subscriptions: personally I like to buy and not worry about things any more, hence why I’m a fan of these. Further, Star Trek Online has held a lasting appeal for me in the last six months and I felt it was a worthwhile investment. Also, STO is still a growing game. It’s been around one year (celebrated its one year anniversary the first week of February). If Galaxies had a lifetime subscription option, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

Until next time, choose wisely so that you can have a great time!

– Elorfin

P.S. In hunting down links to put up above, I found something particularly awesome that some friends may or may not appreciate. Neverwinter.

P.P.S. I was right about the Dungeon Runners subscription. Booyah.

P.P.P.S. “Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it.” – Publilius Syrus


ACE Online – Impression

This is a little later than I’d hoped it would be and I probably could’ve written something earlier in the week if I hadn’t been sick at the time. Subagames’ ACE Online is a fascinating approach to the MMO and it’s very refreshingly unique (compared to the others I’ve shown thus far and probably the others I will show). It’s a game where you’re a fighter pilot and there are four different types of planes to choose from (each with varying styles and approaches nestle you into certain roles). The A-Gear is your tank (literally a flying tank), the M-Gear is your buffer/bonus provider, the I-Gear is your high speed interceptor, and the B-Gear is your all around air superiority fighter.

You also get to choose an avatar for running around the few towns in the game for buying/selling/equipping and other mundane tasks you perform in between shooting down enemies. In my opinion, this is the weakest part of the game, the wandering around town part. It feels kind of tacked on in some sort of afterthought. Thankfully, you spend most of your time flying missions in your chosen craft.

The towns are really just big open spaces with stores along the outer walls.

Overall, I love this game. It’s very different and very relaxing and satisfying. Explosions (from enemy fighters) and splats (from enemy critters) are your reward (along with loot that floats back to your plane) for the large number of kills you require for most of your sidequests.

You get skills and ability points that go towards improving your abilities in combat. Depending on your craft depends on how quickly certain stats go up. For example, the A-Gear IS a tank, so if you throw one ability point into Defense, you’ll get 4 Defense points. If you throw that same point into Evasion, you’ll only get 1 Evasion point. The B-Gear, because it’s “all-around” gives three points per ability point allocated.

Also, I love the refueling/resupply station in every field of combat. If there’s a bunch of aggressive bad guys chasing you, you can even do a touch-and-go where you land, do a quick rearm/resupply and take off IF you’re good (and I got good).

And now, another screen because I really like this game and I’ve only got a couple of minor issues with it.

My minor issues with this game are as follows:

– You hold the S key to put your airspeed at minimum. The issue here is that you wind up hold the S key most of the time you’re trying to shoot at stuff so you can actually STAY behind them.

– You double-tap the A or D keys to do a barrel roll. You can only do this once every three seconds and this takes about 4 skill points per. This function isn’t nearly as responsive as you’d like and it’s hard to judge when you’re about to get hit by the missiles you’re attempting to dodge. Well, either the function is either minimally responsive or the fact that I’m playing on a laptop kicks in here and the keyboard is limited on the input side of things.

– You’re forced to pick a faction at one point. Whichever faction you choose, your WHOLE ACCOUNT is LOCKED into that choice. If you want to be for the government but you chose the rebels last time? Sorry! Gotta go rebels.

– The screenshots? Bitmaps. I had to save them again as JPEGs. Pesky.

Okay, that’s it for ACE Online! I highly HIGHLY recommend this game for those of you who want something fluid and just plain fun to play! Like 9Dragons, I’m keeping ACE Online installed on my computer. Next, I’m going to stray from the list a moment because I’ve discovered a game I MUST try: Fantasy Earth Zero. It was mentioned in a recent (read: today) Real Life comic (link in the dooblydoo to the right) and I just had to check it out to see what it was. The trailer HOOKED me. Looks like a mix of Crystal Chronicles and a regular MMO if the trailer is any indicator. I’m gonna try this game out for my next posting and we’ll see what happens!

Until next time,

– Elorfin


ACE Online – In Progress

Hey all, today I installed and ran ACE Online and managed to burn several hours on it before I realized what I’d done.

This is a rather unique MMO. You pick a plane (there are four different craft) and a character (there’s a bunch of those too) and you shoot down flying things (and sometimes you shoot down AT things on the ground). You get machine guns and missiles to shoot, your plane has shields and hit points, you have an afterburner, you can barrel roll to the left and the right, there’s a quick bar at the bottom of the screen for items and skills you acquire as you play, and there are a lot of quests to keep you going.

Overall, this game is pretty darn good. The only issues I really have with it stem from the part where you run around a town as your pilot. The movement is click-to-go, with the right mouse button for moving your camera. Pretty much the only reason there is a town for you to be in is so you can take a breather between missions and buy/sell stuff at NPC or player shops. The town and pilot stuff feel kind of tacked onto the game. The flying is so fluid that when you land, you’re left wondering how to move around nicely.

I like this game, mostly because it’s nothing like anything I’ve played online and it’s very active. I like it.

Until next time, here’s hoping I’m not that sick!

– Elorfin


9Dragons – Impression

This is a little later than I would’ve liked, but I had an amazing time playing Civilization IV yesterday, so no worries. Here’s my impression of 9Dragons by Acclaim.

First of all, a few points of interest. I was required to move the camera via the right mouse button pretty much all the time. Whereas I frowned upon this in 2Moons, here it was more fluid and less of a burden. It could possibly be that I was having issues with 2Moons because I played that in the default windowed mode, or that 9Dragons runs at a lower resolution (that you can’t change… I don’t really mind that, but it would be NICE to have the option to change it). Either way, I had an easier time controlling the camera in 9Dragons.

Here’s a glimpse at the world of 9Dragons (great world map):

Big place, huh? Well, the locality I was in was mostly the training grounds for getting into the Wu Tang (the Tai Chi sword users). I started in Baiyun Village.

There’s more than one faction in the game: Wu Tang, Sacred Flower, League of Beggars, Shaolin, and a couple more that I can’t remember. Essentially it’s three “good” and three “bad” groups. You’ve got a wide variety of weapons from swords to axes to polearms to wheels (yes, wheels). I really appreciated the healing mechanic in this game. Everyone gets a self-heal where you meditate and you can regain your health and your chi (essentially mana).

Also, I really like how the names of the things you kill have different colors depending on your level. This next screen, I’m fighting a guy called “Timid Male Thief” (yes, there are “Timid Female Thief” and Aggressive and so forth) with his name in yellow which corresponds to him being slightly tougher than me, but it’s possible to kill him (and I did).

The skill training segment is particularly cool. In order to be able to use the skill you’ve just acquired at the skill trainer, you have to successfully train it up on a combat dummy. Here’s how it works: you talk to the trainer and buy a skill of your choosing. So, say you want “Basic Sword” and that’s what you shell out the coin for. Well, next you walk over to the combat dummies and (with your sword equipped) you double click the dummy and agree to start training. You get something like this:

Then you play a short mini-game where you have to left-click when the blue ball is in the red zone several times (there are three levels and each level requires 12 successes for a total of 36 successful clicks). I’ll show a “work in progress” on the next screenshot, but first I need to talk about something mildly annoying about the item system. It feels… I don’t know, kind of lacking. Here, let me show you:

Okay, the box on the right is your “bag” or inventory. I know you can get more bags, so space isn’t my issue. On the left is the character page and “paper doll” where you equip stuff. You can also access the bag via the character page and the bag will show up next to the paper doll on the right. If you left-click once on an item, you get a breakdown of what it does or is or whatever. If you right-click on it once, you equip/unequip the item (if that’s possible). It’s hard to explain, but I just feel that this equipment/item system is a little lacking. Like there’s nothing really special about it. The game’s primary focus is on learning and mastering the skills in the game and equipment/items feel a little tacked on to this. Looting is easy with frequent tapping on the spacebar (once per item nearby).

Those are really my only issues: the right click camera and the equipment/item system.

The things I love about this game are (to recap): meditation for healing and recharging (watch out though because you can get jumped when you do this), actually doing something to learn your skills (yay, mini-games!), obvious scaling of the enemies as you level (shown in their names over their heads), the disciple/master system (which I’d like to look into some more in the future), and the fact that the quests just pop out at you and are easy to find (and if there isn’t a quest for you to do, go level and one will show up, pretty much guaranteed).

I actually think I’ll leave 9Dragons installed for now so I can go back to it later and play around some more. I almost wish I could spend more time on it, but I’m still trying to nail down a play schedule for this project of mine and I’d like to give each game only a few days tops. I highly recommend giving 9Dragons a spin, if only to try out the nifty martial arts moves. I seem to recall that the magic or chi moves or whatever they’re called are particularly neat (I do remember having to do a lot of kiting as the caster though). In the meantime, moving on to the next game which will be ACE Online (another game I recall very clearly due to its relative uniqueness).

Until next time, Don’t Forget To Be Awesome!

– Elorfin