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10 Sep 2014

The High Price of Founding

I have a concern, and it’s about the high price of MMO ‘founders packs.’ For a strong title that’s still early in development, it’s a great way to raise funds and bring in eager gamers to test the game out. But the status of being an early adopter comes with a cost, and it’s usually measured in dollars. I’ve seen studios charge as much as $150 to get into the alpha of a free-to-play title.

Fundamentally, that feels wrong. With an unseen and un-previewed title, the risk for buyer’s remorse is huge. More importantly, however, I don’t think it’ll result in the right mix of testers that will hammer content hard without trying to buy their way around a problem, usually through premium currency tokens. That might be the kind of game that the studio wants to make, but my experience tells me there are better ways to persuade players to part with their cash.

The most common strategy I’ve seen used is where higher prices are charged for earlier access. Pre-alpha costs $150, alpha costs $100, closed beta is at $50, and open beta is free. The bigger packs come with more in-game items and premium currency, but little else besides. It rewards those cash-rich players that can risk that much on a game they might only play once, while hindering the cash-poor but time-rich players that would be a great testing asset.

What would I propose? Glad you asked. Basically, it’s a blend of the existing methods we already see, and the best of Kickstarter. Crucially though, it also lets players trade up – if they like what they see, they can pay more, unlock more, and get themselves a bargain. It reduces the risk on the player, but rewards the developer as well. As an example, imagine there’s a steampunk sandbox MMO called Cogsworld, and it’s just about to hit alpha. Here’s how I’d see it playing out:

  • $20 – Tourist Visa: Limited to 1000 – The Cogsworld Tourist Office only hands out a limited number of visas every year, so grab one before they run out! A stipend of 200 Platinum Cogs is included
  • $50 – Resident: Limited to 2000 – Buy a green card and the city of Cogsopolis will grant you numerous perks, including 600 Platinum Cogs to get you started.
  • $100 – Nobility – As a member of one of the Cogsworld Nobility, you are always welcome. Your inheritance of 1500 Platinum Cogs will be waiting for you at the Bank of Cogsopolis.
  • $200 – Upper Crust – Part of the Cogsworld Elite, your family has amassed a fortune of 3000 Platinum Cogs. In addition, you will be sent a real-life pennant featuring the Cogsopolis Coat of Arms, and real-world versions of the Cogsopolis currency.

All of these are just rough examples – the costs are roughly what I’d charge, but the limits and rewards are completely flexible.

On top of that, I’d allow players to buy premium currency from an item store and exchange it for regular currency on the trading post, giving those cash-poor players a way to earn extra Platinum Cogs simply by playing the game at a rate that’s set by the market itself. Finally, all currency would be reset at the end of open beta, and reassigned to the original players as part of an overall server wipe. The ability to trade would also exist in the live game.

Having this run through beta will, in itself, generate some interesting data:

  • How much/how long does each bracket play?
  • Do players from each bracket drop out/give up at similar points, or is a group more committed?
  • When do players decide to upgrade their package, and what persuaded them to do it?
  • What bracket is more involved in the community, either championing the game or providing helpful feedback?

All of this can help the development team to understand if their actions have meaningful impacts on the playerbase. For a free-to-play title that’s reliant on those with large and small wallets, it also gives them a chance to balance out reception across the spectrum.

Here’s the other thing as well: as Cogsworld edges closer to launch, the limitations on those first two packs can be dropped, but the prices increased/adjusted to the final launch packs. Essentially, players are getting a discount for joining early, rather than being charged a premium.

That said, monetization is an ongoing discussion. Is this the kind of model you’d like to see more of, or would you prefer a different form of founders pack? Maybe you’re happy with the status quo? Whatever your opinion, sound off in the comments.

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9 Sep 2014

WildStar Swag Competition – The Winners!

A few weeks ago, I ran a competition to win some delicious WildStar swag that I’d managed to bring back from Gamescom. After being flooded with entries (my inbox is still trying to recover), I was really impressed with both the quality of entries, and by how much people said they had fun doing it. Picking winners has been tough, but I’ve eventually managed to select some. So, without further ado, here they are!

Elthuria.140820.174641

In first place is Elthuria from Lightspire, with this snazzy spellslinger!

In second place was Zoui, with this awesome Mordesh!

In second place is Zoui, with this awesome Mordesh!

And in third place is Aecius with this sharp Cassian!

And in third place is Aecius with this sharp Cassian!

There were also seven runners up, each winning a WildStar Gamescom loot code. These were Lady Annieloy, Kearns, Mashakey, Odin, Farley, Jay and Kaboom!

Lady Annieloy

Lady Annieloy

Farley

Farley

Jay

Jay

Kearns

Kearns

Kaboom

Kaboom

Mashakey

Mashakey

Odin

Odin

Once again, thanks to everyone for taking part – I wish I had prizes for all of you! Just to show how tough it was, here’s a selection of other entries we received. Enjoy!

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20 Aug 2014

Competition: Win WildStar Swag!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thanks to the very generous people at NCSoft and Carbine Studios, I managed to make it back from Gamescom with a sack full of delicious WildStar swag! But, rather than keep it to myself, I wanted to share it with you fine folk. Here’s what’s on offer:

  • First Prize: Plush Rowsdower & Gamescom Loot Code
  • Second Prize: Blank Spiral-bound Book & Gamescom Loot Code
  • Third Prize: Rowsdower-head phone cleaner & Gamescom Loot Code
  • Seven runner-up prizes of a Gamescom Loot Code

The loot code itself contains a number of in-game perks and items, including:

  • Fancy-Pants Top Hat
  • Gamescom Purple Dye
  • Title: Showstopper
  • Fancy Table housing item

For images on how these items look, check out the WildStar Core article covering them in detail!

To be in with a chance, simply send me a screenshot of your character looking their fanciest! Be creative with costumes, diligent with dyes, and don’t forget to use lighting and setting to emphasise your look! Send your emails to me@gazimoff.com and I’ll look them over! And you can always ping me on twitter at @Gazimoff if you want to confirm that I’ve got your entry.

The closing date is Friday, 5th September at Midnight BST (UK time). Any entries received after that will be discarded.

Finally, the small print:

  • Gazz judges all entries. Gazz decision final. Don’t like? Gazz doesn’t care.
  • As I have to pay for shipping myself, and the codes only work on EU accounts, entry is restricted to EU residents only.
  • By entering the competition, you’re granting me the right to use your screenshot in a future post and/or video announcing the winners.

 

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3 COMMENTS
8 Jun 2014

Warcraft: Skip to Next Track

wownope

Back in October 2013, I quit World of Warcraft. After a year or more of playing action-focused MMOs like Guild Wars 2, TERA, and WildStar, Blizzard’s MMO felt slow and dated. I’d developed a taste for a newer, more active style of combat, and felt that a return to hotkey bashing was just boring.

This was actually the third time I’d quit: my first time was partway into Cataclysm, when the long wait for new content coerced me into reconsidering my subscription. I returned for Mists of Pandaria, only to quit again once I hit level cap, after I discovered an endless sea of daily quest grinds waiting for me. My final return was for the Timeless Isle update, where friends tried to persuade me into gearing up and playing again. But, by that time, my opinion had been thoroughly tainted, and I only lasted a few months before cancelling again.

That said, Blizzard always had a way of drawing me back in: freshly baked lore. I’m a sucker for a good story, and I’d come back time after time to explore what each new expansion had to offer. Of course, Warcraft’s monolithic pace of updates meant that other activities needed to fill the void – social, PvP, raiding – anything that could give me a reason to log in night after night. If you look over the history of this blog, I’ve no doubt you’ll find more.

This time, I won’t be going back. For the first time since World of Warcraft was released, the story doesn’t interest me.

When I originally signed on for WoW, I felt that there was an epic storyline unraveling in front of me. It was a tale of heroes, battling against impossible odds against a time-hardened enemy. It was a story of courage, defiance, and spirit. The world Blizzard had created fired the imagination of millions of players, led to the establishment of an amazing blogging collective, and helped me discover many amazing, opinionated people.

Today, Warlords of Draenor comes as a disappointing story update, taking us across lands that we’ve already seen, just at a different point in time. It squanders the attention of the audience, saying “Hey, I know you want to get on with the serious business of Argus, Xoroth and the final defeat of the Burning Legion, but we want to indulge ourselves on a whimsy.” Instead of continuing with the arc that they’ve had in motion for years, WoW’s creative team want to go back in time and find out what happens if one of the most crucial points of history went a different way. It’s a thought experiment made into an expansion, an indulgence of minds that should know better.

This indulgence might be symptomatic of wider issues with the creative team at Blizzard, the result of which is that many former fans feel excluded from a world they grew up with. For me, it offers a story that I’m no longer interested in. My line of Collectors Editions will end with Mists of Pandaria, and might someday resume with future expansions that actually push the story forward. Right now though, it seems like Warcraft is trying to jump the shark.

My gut feel is that Warlords of Draenor is brought about by two merging desires: to delay ‘ending’ the arc while millions of players are still interested in what’s going on, and to explore the already-rich culture that Blizzard has built up around their orcs. The result is an expansion that’s been described to me as “Dudebros of Draenor,” alienating small but significant groups of fans in the process. Not only is it disappointing, but it’s also unnecessary, with other arcs emerging as one ends.

If there’s anything that I hope comes from Warlords of Draenor, it’s that the studio learns from the experience. That it brings in a respect for the players and fans that choose to spend their lives in Azeroth. That a humbler Blizzard emerges, devoid of the aloof arrogance that has been seen of late. That a new dialogue opens up where player concerns are addressed, rather than being dismissed by a corporate machine. These are all core skills that the studio used to be very good at, but which – just like with the story – they seem to have lost their way.

Time will tell if Warcraft manages this – and I have every hope they will – or, like Happy Days, the shark-jumping moment is just the beginning of the end.

 

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3 Feb 2014

In Memory: Judy Freeman

It seems like yesterday.

After blogging about MMOs for the best part of two years, I’d landed my first paid writing gig, producing features and the occasional bit of news for ZAM. It was a dream-come-true for me; a chance to learn how to create professionally, and to put those creations in front of a huge audience. I was alive with innocent excitement. The Editor-in-Chief at the time, Christopher Tom (now doing a superb job over at Riot), introduced me to the team.

Including Judy Freeman, the copy editor.

I was paranoid. Would my words be up to scratch? Would my distinctly British sense of humour translate across the ocean? Would my eccentric idioms be struck down by the stern gaze of this unknown entity? I needn’t have worried. In her own words:

As I see it, my job is to make my writers look great so I polish and burnish. My goal is to forever remain invisible to the reader. If he/she can see my work I have failed. I will never ask you to write in my style but will do everything I can to make yours glow.

Writers often say that they write for an audience, and mine was Judy. Over the course of a year and a half, I’d try out ideas on her. Test the waters, see if something worked. Sometimes it was a huge success, like the time I wrote a preview entirely using an in-game narrative. Other times it ended up being redrafted and refined, like some of my very first interviews. But she was always there, being encouraging and supportive. I never had much confidence in my own ability, feeling like a pretender, but Judy lent me hers.

She also taught me a lot about American English. People stateside are never keen, but they are sometimes eager. Groups of people – teams, corporations, studios – are singular, not plural. Drop the u here and there, slide in the z occasionally, and it all works. Even if she had to correct me regularly. There were the times when I was scrambling to meet a deadline or embargo drop, and she’d work late into the night to have it ready for publication in the morning.

Even after I moved on to pastures new, we still caught up occasionally. Sometimes by Skype, sometimes by email, just to shoot the breeze. She’d tell me what she thought of Downton Abbey, and I’d grimace inside at what she’d think of the UK as a result. But it was all good-natured. She was still working away with her collection of red pencils, sharpening articles as an unsung hero.

Last week, Judy died. Cancer has robbed the world of a good friend, mentor and muse. I have no words – and she’d probably laugh and gently mock me – but grief and loss. She touched almost everything I wrote, but her influence on me went far beyond it. Judy made me think more about the craft of choosing and placing words together than anyone.

Judy had been at ZAM/Wowhead for over 5 years, with countless writers on numerous games. It’s staggering to think just how much she worked on, yet always being fresh, inquisitive and passionate about the content she pruned and polished. I missed her when I moved on, and I miss her even more now.

Thank you, Red Pencils. For everything.

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