A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Posts tagged “Micropayments

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


9Dragons – In Progress, Part 1

This game is another Acclaim free-to-play with micropayments. For some reason, the constant rotating of the camera with the right mouse button is less annoying here than in 2Moons.  There’s no WASD movement in this game. It’s completely controlled by left-clicking where you want to go. W switches your weapon, A is for auto-attacking your target, and S opens your skills screen.

I prefer the graphics in this game to the graphics in 2Moons, but that’s probably due to the bloom levels in this one. The bloom smoothes out all the edges. The music sounds a bit more environmentally appropriate and the tutorials have actual voice actors with accents to help you understand how to equip your weapons and how to use them.

After playing for about 40 minutes, I came across this player who asked me to be his disciple. Apparently when you’re on while your master is on, you gain a serious bonus to your hit points and chi. Great system. Oh, also, the skill training system is actually a short mini-game with a sliding ball and you have to click when it’s in the red zone. This is for combat skills like using a sword, though, and I’m not sure if it applies to all of the skills in the game yet.

I’m still playing with it and I’m actually enjoying myself. I encountered a bug that is remedied only by quitting the game and loading it back up again where you can’t do combat at all while you’re under the effects of this bug. Irritating, but I looked it up and yeah, restarting the game fixes it.

I’ll get down to playing it some more in the near future.

Until next time, DFTBA!

– Elorfin


An Explanation and Gaming Online – Part One

Hello to everyone who’s decided to entertain my delusion of grandeur!

I’ve been noticing a couple of friends who, when I tell them what I’m doing here or when they find out, aren’t sure what this project concerns exactly. Allow me to explain in something akin to a wall of text.

Basically, not to sound condescending or anything (but I am going to treat you like a small child for a moment), things are made of parts. In the case of food, the parts are ingredients. In the case of a book, the parts are pages and words. In the case of a game, the parts are called mechanics. The mechanics compliment and supplement each other to provide a whole experience. We, the audience, typically only see the finished product (like in books and food) unless we make our own (we’ve all written something for school and we’ve all made sandwiches). Regarding games, not a lot of people (on the same scale as my little examples) have made games and so we’re all enjoying the finished product without really seeing the components of that product separately as their own entities. This is an exercise in separating the mechanics from the game or, if you will, taking the cheese out of the sandwich or citing a passage from a book. I can’t entirely remove the context of the mechanic, in fact, as is evidenced in the 2Moons screenshots I posted earlier, I showed the mechanics in question IN the game.

I’m not doing this little project as a way of reviewing games, I’m doing this as a way of figuring out which mechanics appeal to me. By doing so, I hope to become a more educated participant in the medium and to also appreciate the complexities before me in my preferred form of entertainment. It’s just like watching a show or reading a book to see if you like it: did you like this program for its character interaction? How about the story? I’m just taking notes while I go.

Further, I don’t intend to spend a lot of time on these games. I’ve played MOST of the games on the list I’ve put up here and I can get past the “honeymoon” phase pretty quickly. Some games (like Dungeons and Dragons Online) will probably be hard to break down into the individual mechanics that appeal to me if the game as a whole has strong appeal for me. I figure probably no more than three days playing any of the Free-to-Play (F2P) games but I’m flexible.

Oh, speaking of F2P… I should probably post a few terms on here as I go to clarify for some non-gamer friends who are interested in my project nonetheless. I’m a huge fan of accessibility and while I’m breaking down games, I should be breaking down terms. I’ll try to keep it rather general so as not to lose some of you.

Free-to-Play (F2P) is just that: the game is free to pick up and play. No guarantees on the quality, but developers are surprisingly proficient in churning out a very pretty and quite functional F2P game. There are a LOT of F2P games out there.

Pay-to-Play (P2P) is also self-explanatory: you pay a subscription fee (like to a magazine or HBO) to access the content of the game. These games tend to have production values (brand names, higher quality graphics and mechanics, big company backers), but can sometimes be outdone by their F2P counterparts.

Micropayments are F2P games where the player can pay a little cash to gain an in-game benefit of some sort. Some games (like Dungeons and Dragons Online) have an in-game store or a website store where you can spend your real money to gain virtual benefits. These benefits range from consumables like magic potions that are not found in playing the game normally or special equipment that is difficult to find or just plain expensive if you were to use the in-game currency. This is sometimes viewed as a happy middle ground to players because you don’t have to pay any money if you don’t want to. Fortunately, enough people want to pay for these little enhancements to game play because it gives them that extra edge and, as a result, the game sticks around funded by these generous souls.

I’m not going to get into the politics of F2P versus micropayments versus P2P (because there’s a lot of outcry over subscriptions). Suffice to say, those are the three financial flavors of online games and each category has a sparkling gem or three. Further, some games cross all three categories like Dungeons and Dragons Online (there’s that game again, but it’s a great example of this). DDO allows players to play for free and enjoy the game with some restrictions (2 characters per server, no special quest trees/dungeons, etc), but they also have a subscription system that gives incredible benefits (10 characters per server, access to every special quest and dungeon, etc) and if you ever stop paying your subscription, you still have SOME benefits but not as many as you had while paying for the subscription (4 characters per server, among other things). Further, they have an in-game store where you can shell out DDO points (which you can buy with cash or accrue through completing quests) for anything from magic potions to magic arms and armor.

Like I said, there’s a lot to learn about these games, but if you stick with me here, I’ll do my best to explain as I go some of the little differences and a lot of the terms. Remember, playing games is supposed to be fun. If you know the terms, the fun comes to you a bit faster.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. I’ve just finished downloading and updating 9Dragons and I’m looking forward to reentering the F2P world of Chinese martial arts! DFTBA!