Holy Crap

Ardwulf explains why a game doing well might change its pricing model:

The key factor here, I think, and the one that led Turbine to this decision, is that DDO subscriptions have increased under its free-to-play model. And not just jumped a bit, but tripled. Not to mention that overall revenue is up tenfold, last we heard.

Pretend for a moment that you are a Turbine executive, circa 2008. Someone on the DDO team presents the free-to-play proposal. S/he includes a slide predicting that subscriptions would triple. You would have laughed him/her out of the room, wouldn’t you? I would have expected some decline in month-to-month subscribers with potentially increased revenues from new and old players engaging in microtransactions. This must be the most successful free trial program ever, to say nothing of the microtransaction revenue.

: Zubon

16 thoughts on “Holy Crap”

  1. It’s so disappointing to me that so much of the discussion regarding MMOs lately is about business models and market direction.

    This used to be a gameplay-driven industry. I like to think it still is at the core, but I’m having my doubts lately.

    1. Yep. It will still take some time till SWTOR and GW2 come along and Cataclysm does more seem to reboot WoW than to innovate the whole genre.

      Besides all the fuss about F2P or not, my concern is that the only new thing that will come to LOTRO late this year is another “book” update. Content is trickling down very, very slow. I already “finished” the content LOTRO. I need something new. At least a Moria sized expansion.

    2. My RSS feed is still mostly gameplay discussion. Aside from LotRO’s announcement, the front page of this site is still mostly gameplay discussion. And I like to talk about the business of games.

      1. The design of gameplay is also heavily influenced by the business model. As I’ve said before, the reason I helped write a book about business and legal issues in game development isn’t because I love business and legal issues, but because I have seen too many great games wither on the vine when people ignored the issues.

        One interesting aspect of the business model change is that it’s gotten people talking about LotRO again on many different sites. A lot of people have negative impressions about LotRO from playing it near launch, and have said how terrible the game is in comments. Otheres have pointed out that the game has changed since launch, so I think the business model change might give a lot of people an excuse to visit the game again. Perhaps you can have a second chance at making a “first” impression.

        1. You can, if you make a big enough splash with the “second chance.” That is a huge part of what made the DDO relaunch successful. Other MMOs that have tried similar approaches have had spotty success.

    3. Perhaps it’s because the gameplay has been all but abandoned by the devs themselves? Newer, shinier grinds aren’t exactly prime examples of good gameplay.

  2. DDO is somewhat atypical for free to play games.

    First, it was very badly publicised. Atari dragged its heels so badly in the regard that they are being sued by Turbine for not doing their job. So a good game launched without many of us MMO fans giving it a go.

    The relaunch gave people who would have loved it back in 2006 but who never tried it a chance to fall in love with it.

    Next it’s extremely cleverly marketed. I played it intending not to pay. However I realised I would get a huge improvement in what I had access to if I paid something, anything, as that would upgrade me to Premium. Surely worth $6.

    But when I came to spend my $6 they had a sale on the top level of Turbine Points. 5000 points for $49.99. That was so much better value than the $6 deal that I went for it.

    Next it’s intensely social. It’s very annoying to play with a group and realise you can’t go with your friends to the next dungeon because you haven’t purchased access. So people subscribe so as not to have to worry about it.

    The 500 free Turbine Points per month that comes with a sub is intensely clever. By giving people free money to splash in the cash shop people become more invested in the game. It works because if you sub you really don’t need 500 Turbine Points per month so you spend it on fluff. This causes the effects Gevlon explained a year ago that accrue with conspicuous consumption.
    http://greedygoblin.blogspot.com/2008/12/theory-of-leisure-class-3.html

    Most free to play games simply aren’t good enough to draw people in so much, aren’t that cleverly marketed and aren’t in the situation where they have a great game that slipped under everyone’s radar.

    1. Note that DDO is still a subscription-based game, but it also has an F2P option in the pricing model.
      And the change of the subscription option to include Turbine points means that that it is more likely to feel that people get something back from it, even if they would not play or barely play during a month – they still get the Turbine points.

      Compare that to a traditional MMO subscription, where the perceived value is pretty much non-existent if you do not play during a month.

  3. The best thing about all this is that we’ll see it working or not working soon(tm).

    And I still maintain that the “It worked in DDO, so it must work in (x)” is a pretty large leap.

  4. I’ve been playing DDO f2p alot recently. Its been fun and interesting.

    BUT, I can’t get past this one issue. There is no SHARED WORLD.

    Its this issue which stops DDO feeling truly cosmic.

  5. I don’t think anyone at all ever thought a simplistic, 2d sidescrolling game turned MMO would go on to get 100 million player accounts, spawn an entire industry, and make it’s publisher one of the most profitable MMO companies out there. If you told Turbine that in 2005 they’d laugh them out of the room too.

    But Maple Story did that. I don’t see bloggers championing it, and any blogger that would say that 2-D side scrolling spite-based games are the wave of the future would still be laughed at despite that genre being much more successful than anything Turbine has and will put out.

    Want another? Who here thought a side scrolling, final fight close made out of bad 2-d games would go on to have a staggering 197 million player accounts and be so popular that it’s televised? Dungeon Fighter Online is that game.

    So no, DDO is not the most successful mt game or free trial ever.

    1. Free accounts versus subscribers. Having millions of completely non-paying customers is not good business unless you can otherwise monetize them. And if you are going in that direction, Farmville is a ridiculously popular free-to-play game, to say nothing of Solitaire or Minesweeper. And American Idol, oh my goodness, with millions of viewers and no account fees at all! Or we can accept that we are wandering into a different but related entertainment milieu. Otherwise: Ms. Pac-Man, microtransaction grand-master, gobbling up billions of dots, ghosts, and quarters.

      1. Not sure what you mean by that, both the games I cited monetize them, and better than DDO because they sell much more in the cash shop in terms of consummable and other items. They probably have higher conversion rates than DDO. Large amounts of player accounts still mean a large amount of converted paying players. I could use free realms as an example too.

        My points were that DDO is not the most successful MT game out there: it was notable only because it was the first game to fully change payment models mid-game. Also if you want to claim profitability, the DDO model pales when compared to simple, 2-d and 3-d side scrolling games. No one would have thought that at all, and we are lucky they didn’t.

        1. You are arguing against a point I did not make and am not interested in pursuing. If you are going to develop that into a posting, I recommend finding the actual numbers for those games.

  6. It only makes sense really. The idea of giving up your credit card information and being attached to another monthly bill turns off a lot of players. They don’t want to commit.

    On the other hand, if you can just log into a game any time you want to you run the risk of having fun. You also run the risk at looking at the little $1 and $2 items in the cash shop and thinking, “Well just one or two.”

    By the time the month is over you’ve thought that 20 or so times and boom! Great model for players and companies!

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