Why the subscription MMO has to make it

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In a recent interview with ign.com the game director of Guild Wars 2, Colin Johanson, said the following.

“It takes some serious balls to jump into the MMO industry and go after it. You’re basically betting your company any time you decide that the thing you’re going to make is an MMO. They take so long to make, and they take so much money that either you’re successful and you’re going to do really well, or you’re not and your company’s toast. If you have a really big backer, maybe you can survive that but it’s a huge risk.”

Johansson is of course right. However lately there has been a trend within many gaming communities to promote and argue the idea that the era of the subscription mmo is over.

 

The two arguments

There seems to be two main arguments for the death of the subscription mmo era.

The first is that since there are several free to play mmos out there today, players have come to expect to play mmos for free. Competition has driven down the possibility for taking a monthly subscription fee and the market simply won’t support this model anymore.

The second argument seems to be the examples of the recently launched mmos, originally planned to be following the subscription model, but since then was forced to go free to play. And there are some good examples here.

As Kate Cox over at Kotaku notes,

“All of Sony Online Entertainment’s titles, including EverQuest and its successor, EverQuest II, are now without a subscription fee. City of Heroes and Lord of the Rings Online haven’t required a monthly charge in several years. DC Universe Online saw a 700% jump in revenue when it became free.”

Guild Wars 2 is of course another example of a successful free to play mmo game.

While some clearly makes a compelling case for this opinion, there is another side.

The first of these arguments has a serious problem. It’s very hard predicting what the public and the mmo players will and will not pay for. It’s easy to claim that people simply won’t pay a monthly subscription fee anymore, but it’s harder to back that up. Sure the market has shown these tendencies the past couple of years, but this can easily change.

The history of gaming is full of success stories that turned things upside down, and this goes way beyond World of Warcraft. When the original Starcraft game was released the market was crowded with competition. Great rts games like Age of Empires, Command & Conquer, Red Alert, Settlers, Total Annihilation, games from the Star Wars series and a little later Cossacks and Empire Earth. Little did anyone know what a massive hit the original Starcraft games would be. But no one furthermore knew that this small game would, in many ways almost singlehandedly, create the progaming and esport scene and set its tone for decades to come. Just as World of Warcraft, Starcraft changed the entire gaming industry.
In the light of this, who are we to say what gamers want, in these kinds of macro terms?

The market side of this first argument is equally flawed. Yes there is more competition in the mmo scene today but with examples like World of Warcraft and EveOnline, with almost 10 million unique subscribers every month combined, is it really logical to presume that there is no more space on the gaming market for additional subscription mmos? Is it impossible to imagine a new great subscription based  mmo, attracting customers both from todays subscription scene and free to play scene? It doesn’t seem to be any real reason to make such a claim.

What about the second argument from the free to play enthusiasts. Recently we have seen several mmos fail. Some failed big. Huge even. Is this a proof there’s no room for success? Does these recent failures (let’s not forget that most of these happened the last couple of years) show the hope is forever lost on the subscription mmos?

A comparison would be one of Apples worst product failures in history, The Macintosh Portable. Does the failure of the Macintosh Portable, and several other laptops of that era, prove the laptop market to be an impossible one to make a real impact on? Does the difficult laptop market at the time prove that laptops forevermore must be free and that the consumers arbitrarily will reject all other laptops? The answer is of course no.

I would say on the contrary. It is the failures of today that builds the expectations of things to come tomorrow.

If you are to make one general claim for all gamers, except of course that most of us love gaming, it seems to be the following; Gamers will pay a reasonable and often even a slightly higher price then expected, for a great gaming experience. Take a look at the hardware we buy, our equipment, the LAN’s we visit, the new gaming consoles we buy and all the games we already bought.

We will pay. That’s it.

If the game is good enough the communities of gamers will support the games until another, even greater experience comes along.

 

The real problem

The real problem for the subscription based mmos, and the only reasonable argument I see as to why these huge games fail – one by one, is that they’re not providing that experience. The recently released subscription mmos simply wasn’t good enough. They didn’t make the cut.

One by one, whether it was Swtor, Age of Conan or Lord of the Rings Online, they all had several flaws, or at least one flaw big enough to make too many players reject the notion of paying a subscription fee for these games. It’s not a coincidence that these games had a big hype around them before their release, Swtor for instance was called the WoW-Slayer, before its release. They didn’t deliver enough and players made the reasonable choice of not paying.

World of Warcraft was the first major mmo to capture a really big, international, reliable audience over many years. If you want to “kill WoW” then you have to provide something great, truly new and iconoclastic. No one really did that yet.

 

Why the subscription MMOs has to make it

There are reasons why the community of players should support the notion of subscription mmos. These reasons are important. Very important.

First of all it’s very hard to imagine how a free to play type mmo in the long run could keep up with a subscription game when it comes to updates, new releases and expansions. Both quantity and quality wise. The game developing company of a successful subscription mmo will simply have more resources to pour back into the game, at their disposal. Ask yourself what would bring more income; three million people buying a game or three million people buying a game and then on a continuing basis paying a 10$ a month subscription fee for that game?
It’s true that some free to play games has better content updates from time to time, then say for instance EVEOnline but generally they don’t. It’s very hard to take an isolated free to play game, like Age of Conan, and argue that it will have the same opportunity to release as great content as EVEOnline, given it where only up to those two games to be self-sustaining, without having the respective game publishing company taking money from other projects in order to create better content for the mmo.

The second reason to support the notion of subscription mmos is related to the first one. To put it simply; there is no better way for the communities to support game developers than to support the notion of subscribing to a game. If we gamers won’t take on a “will never subscribe attitude”, then we will support maximal growth of companies releasing great games. Companies that will release great games will grow more, and be able to release better games in the future, if we subscribe rather then expect to pay a one time fee.

The third reason is simply to keep micro transactions out of our games. Whether it’d be faster mounts, better items or weapons, these things should not be sold ingame for real currency. This is very important because it creates an economic class system within the mmo games. Some gamers can afford to pay, others can’t. Having to buy anything else then cosmetic upgrades (which you could argue against aswell) is the most efficient way of separating gamers by their real life income, and thus relating the gaming experience to your buying power as a consumer.
It’s also considered a boring element by many gamers and will keep a lot of folks away from these games. Subscriptions, combined with the gamers demanding the limiting of these kinds of ingame micro transactions, is the best way to keep this ghastly idea out of our games.

The fourth reason why the subscription MMO has to make it is because several payment models creates a more dynamic and versatile game market. And that’s a good thing. If there are more than just one basic expectation in regard to the payment model for a game, the game developers has a more dynamic sheet to work with when creating a game. The possibility for diversity will effect the market, the games and therefore the different projects. Diversity is often a good thing. This is the case here as well.

As Colin Johanson, said.

“It takes some serious balls to jump into the MMO industry and go after it.”

Johanson is right. It takes balls.

Therefore we gamers should be open-minded and support the game developing companies, by supporting both payment models.
Not condemning one to benefit the other.

Both free to play and subscription based mmos can coexist.

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April 12th

Editorials

Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition, update 9 and creativity

Recently 4J Studios released a new trailer for the Xbox360 console version of Minecraft. The trailer shows the upcoming update nr. 9 for the big hit game.

In the trailer we also see “The end of the world” and footage of the Enderdragon.

Minecraft could be considered to be a pretty interesting game. Not because of the playing mechanics or graphics. The huge portion of freedom the players have has attracted many to buy the game. Minecraft survives in a highly competitive market due to having creativity and player freedom at its core.

When one sees the current game projects generally and the mmo projects in particular, the feeling is that a lot of today’s game developing companies and publishers should learn from Minecraft. Learn how another mindset in regards to online gaming is possible.

In order to craft new, modern and iconoclastic games the player creativity and freedom should be put at the center of the productions. The Minecraft creator Markus Persson did this in his own way, but there are many other ways of doing it.

Even though it can’t always be easy to think outside the box in a very tech-savvy industry, a larger effort should be made. Maybe it will be a coming product of that kind that is going to set the new standard for the industry in the years to come?

How do you think the game developers should tackle the creative and freedom based aspect in mmo games, in a practical way?

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March 28th

Editorials

News

Athene and Cenarion Hatchling future compass to aid?

Time for some good memories. We all remember that last years charity drive by Blizzard, for the Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami catastrophe relief, was a big success.

It was to help the victims of the Japanese Tsunami, the “wild and noble” Cenarion Hatchling was introduced by Blizzard.
The purchasable pet has since been a big hit – it has raised over $1.9 million for the American Red Cross efforts. At $10 per pet and 100% of the proceeds going to the American Red Cross, that’s over 190,000 pet purchases since the pet went on sale in May, last year. Big complements to Blizzard for launching another successful project last year, this time to help people in need.

This raises some questions however. Are the game developing companies doing enough to meet their social responsibility? Will the map and methodology of foreign and social aid be redrawn in the coming time, to better match todays reality of charity through computer gaming, mmorpgs and other technologies?

This is yet another example of the world adapting to the modern day technology. Not the other way around.

Here an additional aid organizer comes to mind. Many of us have seen the narcissistic, loud and dysfunctional internet character Athene. Most of us however knows that Athene is just a character, an online persona.
In reality Bachir “Athene” Boumaaza is a calm, smart and highly skilled gamer and aid organizer. The concept is easy, those people who follow him and his gaming streams online, or anyone else for that matter, can choose to donate money for Save the Children in Africa. Last year he raised over a million dollars and the donations for charity keeps coming in.

Athene gaming, organizing high-end charities and making faces.

What could be a more ethically striking and modern example of helping people through charity than by mobilizing big masses of gamers, like Blizzard did with the Cenarion Hatchling and Athene did with his online gaming videos and streams?

By the way. The pet is still available in the Blizzard pet store. And you can donate money for Athenes charity.

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March 19th

Editorials

Follow up

A more perfect union

Some of you may remember Tseric.

For those who don’t, Tseric was a Blizzard World of Warcraft community manager. One of those forum admins who gets to explain to the inpatient players why something happened or something didn’t happen they way that exact player wanted it to.

On May 13th 2007, after a series of postings in the Shaman class forums, Tseric posted the following about his job, the challenges he at the time dealt with and his relationship with the community.
Shorty after the thread was deleted.

“When you can understand how a group of belligerent and angry posters can drive away people from this game with an uncrafted and improvisational campaign of misery and spin-doctoring, then perhaps, you can understand the decisions I make. Until you face mobs of psychology, you will not see my side.

Until you see some bright-eyed player coming onto the forums wanting to know what they should spec as this class, and see them shat on and driven away by petty and selfish people who are simply leveraging for game buffs, you will not understand.

You will not understand until you have to see it daily, for years…

Until you understand that many people will trod over you to get where they’re going, or to get what they want.

Until you understand that so many people will agree, completely, 100% with a loud, vulgar and assertive individual, not because he is right, but because he is making a stand against “the Man”; to take no critical thought in what they say, but simply to hop on board.

Until you actually try to acknowledge those who do not speak on the forums, for whatever reason they have, you will not understand.

If you think an archaic business formula like “the customer is always right” works, you fail to understand customers, not a customer. It is a collective. No one person, even myself, is truly above the whole.

I simply have the unfortunate quality of being easily singled out.”

A short time passed and Tseric wrote and published a second post.

“Can’t help it.

Posting impassionately, they say you don’t care.
Posting nothing, they say you ignore.
Posting with passion, you incite trolls.
Posting fluff, you say nonsense.
Post with what facts you have, they whittle down with rationale.
There is no win.
There is only slow degradation.
Take note. It is the first and only time you’ll see someone in my position make that position.
You can be me when I’m gone.”

On May 17th 2007 (the following Thursday), in response to a thread about a new CM job opportunity, Eyonix, another Blizzard CM, revealed that Tseric had moved on to different things. No further information was given.
Players still to this day argue whether Tseric was fired or if he wrote these last posts to go out in a blaze right before he gave his resignation.

The tale of Tseric is often seen as an episode of subtle comedy. He was ridiculed by some after he left Blizzard. Others took the opportunity to discuss the bad manner, the immaturity, the trolling and the ridiculous cater me always expectations of the World of Warcraft community in particular and the mmo community in general. This discussion is one of importance. Too many believe that “trolls are gonna troll” and that’s the end of it.

But.

It’s not the end of it. If polite, mannered and mature communities are to be built, all the participants must engage to make it so. Here the game companies has a huge responsibility. One often sees that when this responsibility isn’t met it can lead to horrible outcomes. Many players simply leaves the game in which trolls thrive. One example of this is ofcource the game HoN, which probably has one of the worst communities of all time. In every category.

Game development companies can do a lot to establish a well mannered culture within their game communities. It’s all about which norms they choose to promote.
At the same time the communities themselves have a responsibility to eachother. Older players can make the choice to in a calm and mature way set a standard in the tone of conversation, which actually inspire change. It might not make it all the way in it self when it comes to building a well mannered and positive community, but it’s an important step.

Three incentives seem self apperent to promote, to build a nicer community.

1. In-game rewarding sytems for being well mannered. Helping others, showing and explaining. Basically creating opportunities of playing together, but at the same time with some rewards for being mannered.

2. Incentives outside the game. The posts on forum, website and comment sections should be rewarded when posted in with manner and good tone. doesn’t have to be much. Just basic incentives.

3. Real time incentives. Now this is important. Regardless if you are in-game or in the forums, all game companies and community sites must focus on hard and fair chat, comment and forum moderation. Skilled moderators determens if a community floats or sinks. There are countless examples of this. Instead of mentioning names of community sites that did or didn’t do well here I will simply say that all communities that tends to have a this is our house mentality, and demands respect for it, has a much more positive, well mannered and interesting visitor and member base.

Here is where the unfortunate story of Tseric matters. If both Blizzard and their World of Warcraft community had taken more responsibility to establish a positive culture, less responsibility and weight would have been put on the already overburdened community managers. This applies not only to the Blizzard community, but to all of them.
In order for gaming and game developing companies to thrive, these demands should be met at a much lager rate. It needs to be a priority, both for the owners of the game companies and community sites, and for the community participants themselves.

In the opinion of yours truly, that’s the main way gamers would create a more perfect union.

What are the best ways, in your opinion, to create politer, kinder and more helpful gaming communities?

 

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March 18th

Editorials

About the gold

About the gold
So lets talk about the hot potato; the very infected subject of gold making in Azeroth.

Why is it infected? Rather simple actually. People earn money illegally by buying, farming and selling it and by doing so seriously harming the competitive and fair side of the game.

Those of us regarding themselves as supporters of the legit and competitive gaming scene strongly oppose this trend. But even so we can’t let this keep us from discussing the influence of gold and how to make it. It is after all an important side of the game.

The main reason the currency of gold got such an impact is simply this; no matter if you’re a pvp- or pve player or both, or for that matter a roleplayer, the currency of gold is needed for reaching the ultimate height of you character. It is deeply needed to buy the stuff that will make you go all the way; the gems, enchants, glyphs and inscriptions. But also the materials to level your professions, to buy faster mounts and even to buy epic gear in the Auction house.
So even though it is true that you can level a character to it’s full level without much gold, the reality is that you won’t get much further then than that without it.

About the market
I will not go in to this particularly deep. This is not a guide and there are several good free guides out there that are easily found.
What I will say though is simply this. First of all earning gold is deeply connected with your professions. Learning to buy mats and to put them together creating profits, sometimes using the skills of several of your alts is extremely important. Perhaps that is one of the main reasons why it often is expected of you to have alts and knowing of to use them profession wise when you apply for a serious and highly skilled raiding guild; you need to be able to carry your own costs.
Secondly the market of any system, both in real life and in the cyber ether is a delicate thing. It can help you accomplish your goals. It can work against you. It can collapse.

Once in time I was given the advice not to undercut entities in the World of Warcraft Auction house if I wanted that particular market to crash. I was instead told to put up mats of that sort greatly overpricing the current standard. Creating a big gap between the entities in that particular market would create the instability needed for it to crash and having to start over.
What is true for capitalism in the real life is also true for capitalism within WoW.

The market in World of Warcraft is an economic system. Instead of buying gold, players should generally put more focus on breaking the system.
There are financial sharks everywhere. Be one.

Finally i’d like to know what your views on gold are? Is it a priority for you and if so have you learned to carry your own costs?

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March 16th

Editorials

Why CCP wears a heavy burden

April 25th-27th, 2013. The annual EVE fanfest is coming closer.

Last year CCP reveled new information about their upcoming mmo “World of darkness”. An intro trailer about the game. There were also talks with developers.
Not much, but small talk about great things will easily travel fast through the grapevine. Many remember the various mmo forums when CCP a couple of years earlier announced their merger with White-wolf, the publishing company originally responsible for this cult-like pen-and-paper roleplaying game hit.
The two companies had agreed to work together, creating a mmo worthy of being second in line to the huge and massive EVE.

Mmo gamers all over the western world rejoiced as many only would dare to dream about projects like this. The harsh memory still burned the mmo fans through out the scene, from recent disappointments such as Age of Conan and SWTOR. This was encouraging.

Old(and new)school pen-and-paper roleplaying fans were rendered breathless.
Long had they known and worried about the finances and momentum of White-wolf. The old and beloved publishing company, responsible for countless of roleplaying and lore books, was not the same as before.

By the way, this was the real deal, the true shit if you will.
We live in an age with vampires influenced by boy bands and countless teenage vampire movies and books. This contemporary vampire culture is made with one single purpose; to make money. The fans of The World of Darkness had long seen this.
And their hate for it was marrow deep.
They knew real vampire lore when they saw it; The horrible power and malice from the antediluvians, the manipulative ventrue princes, a world of real torture and sorrow, a world of hate, blood and darkness. A world so horrible and dark it actually made the roleplayer reflect upon the simultaneous curse and blessing of the vampires, the eternal life.
Without going too much of trail I will simply say this; the roleplaying community joined in with the mmo gaiming scene and rejoiced these news. White-wolf was saved. New WoD material would be released, this time in the form of a mmo.
Praise be to whatever deity relevant .

Two communities came together, we wanted more. More information about the game. How will the game mechanics work? What vampire clans will you be able to play? What will be the basic concept of the game? How will the game treat casual players vs the hardcore base? How will the graphics look? And most importantly of all;
When will World of darkness the mmo be released?

CCP has since been very quiet about any information regarding the game. Small hints and some urban pictures of an ingame city has been released, but nothing more. The fan site wodnews.net is constantly grasping after straws to discuss and report, but so far it doesn’t seem to be going too good for them.

Here a great responsibility for CCP starts to manifest. The Icelandic company has two communities with expectations to meet and cater to. At the same time CCP needs to cultivate those communities and nurture them to keep their goodwill. It actually hurts their brand not to release any information what so ever regarding World of darkness and the work in progress.

Some companies are truly brilliant in this regard and of course Blizzard, the main competitor of CCP, comes to mind here. It’s true that Blizzard also takes on the “It’s done when it’s done” mentality, but the Blizzard marketing team always makes a huge number of releasing new and hard material on the company events. Blizzard understands that not doing so could actually hurt them. Keeping expectations up is an important part of marketing.

At the same time CCP has been dealt the hand of actually having to release a product of great quality, in order to be accepted. The expectations of two metamorphed communities must be met when WoD is released. In this balance, CCP should not make the cardinal mistake Bioware made, developing SWTOR. Namely relying too much on the already existing brand and fan base of the game, failing to meet the requirements of making an exciting, iconoclastic and fun game to play.

No one said the balance between these two realities will be easy for CCP to deal with, but the company has handled complex games and situations before, mainly when it comes to EVE.

CCP will need to focus on seeing this new project through with great quality and at the same time give the fans their carrots now and then.

They should not miss the chance to do so at this years EVE Fanfest.

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March 13th

Editorials
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MMO Opinion

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