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:
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!
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
So, I haven’t made it a secret that I pay to play Star Wars Galaxies. I’ve been doing so since its release back in 2003 and I’ve not had cause to regret it.
Galaxies is a very unique game that I keep going back to over and over again (hence why I haven’t stopped paying for it). The attributes that keep bringing me back are part of the reason I’m doing this little project here. I find it funny that a lot of people just hate the game because of all the changes that have been foisted upon it. A long time ago (in my house, not in a galaxy far, far away) I told my Mom (after I’d tried Everquest at a friend’s house) that the only online game I’d pay to play would be Star Wars. It IS the only game I pay to play (my DDO account isn’t technically paid by me, so it still holds true). Even through the adjustments the gameplay has received over its long run, the game still keeps my interest and whereas I appreciate all the perspectives of those who’ve complained about said changes, they weren’t enough to shake me from continuing to enjoy the game. Sorry guys, but in my book, you’re pansies for quitting. Deal with it. (Disclaimer: for those of you who just got bored with the game, that’s a perfectly valid reason for leaving and I appreciate the time you spent enjoying it. To everyone who’s left the game, I hope you remember it fondly because some of you are still talked about even today as legendary characters.)
In no other online game have I been able to have a house that’s part of a town where I can store my stuff that accumulates over the years. No, I’m not talking like Second Life or anything like that. I’m talking quest rewards and veteran rewards and crafted items. Every item in my house (the Mustafarian Bunker, actually) has a story behind it. What’s up with that suit of Katarn Armor? How about those animal heads mounted on the wall? Where’d you get this cool painting? Hell, even the house has a story (I got it as part of a preorder for Rage of the Wookiees).
Further, in no other game have I witnessed a mayoral race or even bonuses for having your house within a town’s boundaries (my home city provides a bonus to crafting while you’re in it).
Something else that keeps me coming back is the crafting system. It’s almost absurdly complex. First, you need to see what ingredients/materials you need to build what you’re building. Then, with “shopping list” in hand, you need to hunt down those ingredients either by surveying/sampling/harvesting or by purchasing from other players or (in some circumstances) building/buying components for the object you’re trying to build. While you do this, you need to ensure the quality of the ingredients as they relate to your finished product (resources all have statistics of their own with varying caps on those resources depending on what type of resource they are). Don’t forget to get some crafting buffs from an Entertainer and to eat/drink some food buffs! THEN you get to put the resources and components together in a very nice interface (either click and drag or double-click). Next there’s the experimentation/prototype/schematic stage… this is where you can tinker with the object in production to make it better, turn it into a production schematic for a factory, or just build the damn thing. Lastly, some objects can have custom paint jobs and name changes. After all that, you can sell your products to other players on the in game bazaar terminal or through your own vendor or use the items yourself.
I love this crafting system. I’ve been using it for about a year now (out of my nearly 7 years playing the game) and I LOVE building weapons for people (especially ranged weapons). I’ve been called the “best weaponsmith in the guild” before, which I’m sure isn’t really the case. I like to credit my work ethic and my turnaround time. I ONLY take custom weapon orders and I’ll only build level 90 weapons (with very very few exceptions). I ask a lot of questions to ensure that the weapon I’m building them will actually be used and appreciated and that the customer will be pleased with the product. Depending on how much work I need to do, it takes me anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour to start and finish building a weapon. Part of my process is going through my stockpiled resources (metals, gasses, crystals, organic materials, etc.) and determining which ones I’m going to use via a mathematical formula that looks difficult but is actually rather easy to use. Hell, I made a forum post somewhere explaining the process to my guild members! I may repost it here in the future if only for my own posterity.
I take crafting for my customers very seriously. I appreciate the money they give me (I have a chronic under-charging issue, so I’m working on remedying that) and I appreciate the desire to have something hand made. I actually found I have to limit the orders I take to just a few in a single day because of how stressful it can be (I put myself under a lot of pressure to finish as quickly and efficiently as possible). I write down my shopping list and keep track of the resources I pull out of storage or the ground in order to keep everything straight. Honestly, this keeps me more interested and excited than combat most of the time.
One more thing that keeps me coming back? Space flight. I’m an X-Wing fighter pilot and I LOVE to fly in Star Wars. Recently they adjusted the space slayer collection system so that instead of hunting through every sector to find the kills I need to get the collection complete, I can just run a mission and they’ll come to waypoints that I get in my datapad. Then all I do is go to those designated waypoints and BAM! time to fight! I’m proud of my X-Wing, even though I know it’s not the BEST ship out there. Hey, it’s my baby and I’ve spent a lot of credits and time working on her. Even got her a custom paint job of red and gold. Whenever SOE adds something to the Space portion of the game, is precipitates a return from whatever hiatus I’ve been in. The last couple of days have been a balancing act between DDO, Galaxies, and Lunar thanks to the latest update.
I may go away from Galaxies for a couple of months at a time, but then I get this urge to play again. I say hi to my old friends (who are some of the best damn people in the world) and we get cracking. I churn out a couple of weapons, I fly a few missions, hell, I even run a few quests with the guild… and then another game or something from life steals my attention away and I disappear for a few weeks. I’ll always come back to Galaxies… it’s my home and I’ll keep paying to play until they turn the lights out (like at the end of Babylon 5, where Zack Allen says “I figured I’d be here ’til they turn the lights out.”).
I’m looking forward to Star Wars: The Old Republic (a hell of a lot, I’m excited!), but Galaxies is always going to be special to me and will always be worth an evening of play. I want to thank the Remnants of Mandalore (formerly of Corbantis, now on Chilastra) for being an amazing guild and for always welcoming me with obvious joy every time I return from one of my random vacations from the game. I’ll always return home, don’t you worry.
Until next time, may the Force be with you!