Saturday, May 7, 2016

An Expansion By Any Other Name : EQ2

There seems to have been some very mild controversy over Daybreak Games' decision to tuck some of the recent Game Update 100 content behind the paywall of All Access membership. In a feature post I found confused and unconvincing, Massively OP's regular EQ2 correspondent MJ Guthrie described it as a "gaffe".

The gist of the argument against appears to be that since the new Scourge of Zek addition to the game is big enough to be an expansion it should therefore be sold as an expansion. Well, there's some merit in that, although, as we all should know from a million genre fantasy plotlines, the proper naming of things matters.

There's certainly no doubt it's large enough and sufficiently feature-complete to merit a box fee. If they'd chosen to launch it as a $30 expansion pack I'd have bought it, happily. On the other hand, I'm fully on board with the idea that it would have been more elegant to package up all the features, both severally and together, and sell them directly to non-subscribers through the Cash Shop but that's a road that SOE was always somewhat unwilling to go down and it doesn't appear that DBG is any keener to break that ground.

I think the best take on selling both content and subscriptions that I have seen is the way KingsIsle do it in Wizard 101. There they offer a range of options that include buying access to specific zones individually, then keeping that access in perpetuity, or paying a subscription that allows access to any zone at any time but only so long as you keep paying the subscription. LotRO works in much the same way.

While I would agree that a more flexible payment plan along those lines would be preferable, I don't think there's very much wrong with having content that is only available to subscribers. If you turn the current EQ2 issue on its head, rather than a slap in the face for the Free to Play crowd you might just as easily see GU100 as a hugely generous perk for subscribers. I'm a subscriber and that's definitely how I think of it.

All Access members, such as I, who were already paying our subs, had no particular right to think that we'd be getting a massive content drop like this midway between annual expansions. I certainly wasn't expecting one. This time last year DBG was trying to sell us the much smaller Rum Cellar "adventure pack" for $14.99. That didn't go down at all well so it seems a bit rich to start complaining now, when something several times larger (and better) is being handed out to subscribers for free.

The underlying issue here is not so much whether there was a better way to handle the release - there's always a better way. No, it's more a question of the underlying direction of travel. After five years and more of maneuvering and experimenting, few MMO companies have yet settled on a final strategy where payment models are concerned, but the idea of charging some kind of recurring access fee, something that, for a while, looked to be gone for good, is coming back into vogue.

Of course, there's a natural inclination to try to keep all the income streams flowing at once. Just because a game has a subscription doesn't mean it can't also have an aggressive cash shop as well. Similarly, why give up the potential advantages and synergies of combining business models? No-one wants to shut out potential customers completely, especially when they could be milling around the common areas, making the place look busy and spending some money in the cash shop while they're at it.

The drift appears to be back towards something that looks very much like the old-style subscription model, only this time front-ended by various flavors of extended, open-ended free trials - always backed up with an extensive cash shop. I really don't think any MMO from a major commercial developer is going to eschew direct sale in-game cash shops ever again. Why would you?

The water is inevitably muddied with the various "pay your sub with in-game coin" schemes like PLEX, REX, CRED, WoW Tokens or EQ2's own Krono. Who knows how people are using these, how they fund them, or even how the traded items enter the game? Yesterday when I was questing in Zek someone in the trade channel was looking to buy thousands of Kronos. It might have been tens of thousands. I forget exactly how many he wanted but he claimed to have many millions of plat ready to meet whatever offers came in.

With a plethora of purchasing plans like these I really can't see too much of a problem with gating specific content behind a subscription, not even when that content comes down to something as fundamental as access to zones or dungeons. After all, in the "good old days", if you didn't pay your sub you couldn't log in at all.

In the same way that MMORPGs are always works in progress, operating in an eternal quasi-beta state where nothing is ever final, so it seems the way we access and pay for them will go on changing. We can complain about it all we like - and we do - but in the end it's simple enough: do you want what they're selling and do you think it's worth what they're asking?

Answer "yes" to both of those questions and you're in. Answer "No" to either and you're out. As far as EQ2, GU100 and The Scourge of Zek are concerned - I'm in. For now.


  1. "I really don't think any MMO from a major commercial developer is going to eschew direct sale in-game cash shops ever again."

    I completely agree. When there are customers eager to give you more money than the minimum required, and looking for additional items to spend money on, no business wants to limit the customer's ability to spend more.

    1. Judging by the almost instantaneous gap between a flashy new item being announced and my characters not being able to move for players strutting around the banks of various worlds showing off, I'd say there's probably as big a demand for the chance to spend real money on imaginary items as there is to play the actual games themselves.

  2. Interesting to see such a negative reaction to this, especially since SWTOR did something similar with its latest "expansion" and that seemed to be rather well-received overall. Sure, some people complained initially too, but then others pointed out that if subbing isn't usually your thing, just sub for the minimum amount of time (one month in this case) and then immediately cancel and it's effectively the same as a B2P unlock. Seems that people complaining about that kind of thing are actually saying that they don't think the content is worth one month's sub fee. (Unless in EQ2 your access gets revoked again once your sub runs out?)

    1. "(Unless in EQ2 your access gets revoked again once your sub runs out?"

      This is what I'm not entirely clear about. I think you only have access to the zones while you have an active sub running but I'm not 100% sure about that. Even if that is the case I would expect those zones to get rolled into the great mass of "old" content as soon as the next expansion releases, so they will almost certainly become open-access at some point. Everything else has.

  3. In general I am more on the Massively side in this one, as I can relate to to the issue.

    When a game gives game-changing, involuntary 'perks' to subscribing, not everybody likes subscribing. This was eventually the case with Vanguard (faster Xp, more Rep & Drops - going totally against why I susbcribed for a year from the go-get), it's certainly the case with Eldevin (even faster XP, more Rep and drops - when XP is already way too fast for the amount of content/level), and may (can't remember tbh, been ages since I last logged) be the case with EQ2. That doesn't mean people don't like to support their game (I ended up buying more than a sub's worth in Eldevin for example), they just don't like the way it is implemented.

    In general, if a subscription is a 'must' (I don't like it, as it tends to make Devs a bit on the lazy side, and focussing their attention on content for the raiding etc. minority instead of dividing their attention more fairly), I prefer the model of 'all' accesible while subbed and Buy piecemeal to have access while not subbed - and that apparently is impossible with the latest EQ2 update, no matter how many times more than a sub you have paid in the past and are wiling to pay for access without altering your gaming experience.

    1. I find the logic, expressed in the Massively piece, downright bizarre: that buying goods and services from the store implies a right either to be given, or to buy, further goods and services makes absolutely no sense to me at all. Buying from a store is a discrete, finite transaction with a set value. You get the thing you bought and that's an end to it. When there's another thing in the store you get to buy that, if you want. And so it goes.

      Of course, you can choose to spend money on things you don't want for reasons of your own, which might include loyalty, a sense of being part of something or fear that if you don't the game my close down, but the actual payment you make is for the thing you get. Only you know what value you have added in your head.

      I do think it would be a good idea commercially to sell zone access in the store but if access via a subscription is going to be limited only to the time you maintain that subscription then the access sold in the store would also need to be time-limited. I can't see 800DBC for 30 days access to Scourge of Zek doing down a lot better than the current offer, somehow!

  4. I am curious on what the numbers are like that show how many F2P subscribed for this content. A lot of people are upset by this update because it is a big change of direction for Daybreak. They are pushing customers to subscribe. I think the resolve stat is the same thing. There will be items in gated content that will have this stat that everyone will need.

    Personally, I subscribe because I have fun in the game. I think the F2P is too restrictive for my playstyle. But this is not a growing game. I would like them to open up the F2P just to keep or attract more customers. A healthy population makes the game a lot more fun.

    1. We'd all like to know the subscriber/active log-in numbers for every MMO but we are never going to get them. I remember when the actual log-in screen for EverQuest showed the number of players online - those were the days!

      The most interesting thing about the way they've chosen to release GU100 has been the reaction from players and commentators. The MassivelyOP piece's comments thread is filled with people ragging on DBG and saying how terrible the decision is, but most of those comments are from people who don't play EQ2 and have no wish to start. The long thread on the forums about it, however, is exactly the opposite.

      I hadn't read that thread when I wrote this post or I'd have linked to it but it begins with a complaint from a F2P player about "having to subscribe" and develops into six pages of people who do subscribe telling him he's an entitled whiner who should go play another game.

      The established EQ2 players never wanted F2P. They opposed it at every turn and did all they could to stall and prevent it. There is nothing most of them would like more than a return to a full, mandatory subscription. The current decision to gate muh of GU100 behind a subscription seems to be extremely popular with the current paying playerbase and I would imagine DBG expected that.

      If there were more F2P players of significance (i.e. ones who spend regularly and substantively in the cash shop) than there are subscribers I bet DBG would not have chosen the route they have. At most they'd have sold access piecemeal in the store but they'd probably just have rolled it in free. The fact that they didn't suggests to me that they now see F2P as little ore than a glorified free trial and an open door to allow lapsed subscribers a quick and easy return to the fold.

    2. Agreed. I am sure that are a lot of analytics behind the scenes that we will never see driving these decisions. I just think that the game is too old and with established F2P allowances to start changing. I did read through that thread and it is similar to every other F2p thread, calling every F2P player an entitled whiner. The forums are very heavily subscription biased. Always have been. I always hated that. Who is to tell another person what they can afford?

      ...Anyway, I would just like to open up the content to F2P to have more people to group with. Purely a selfish reason lol.


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