How to #$*! your players

You there. Yeah, you, the dev with the plan. Put it down for a second. Considering going F2P, like all the other cool kids are doing? Well it won’t be successful until you learn how to properly #$*! your players. What’s that you say? The game? No, you got it wrong. This isn’t about games anymore. If you wanna make games then quit, start your own indie house and do it there for art’s sake. This industry is about making “interactive entertainment experiences with large potential to be monetized”, not “games”. Don’t be archaic.

If you’re still with me, some pointers on how to make sure you’re #$*!ing your players the right way:

- Is your virtual world very, very large and requires extensive travel? Make sure you #$*! your players by charging them to make this travel fast. Limit and sell, honeybear.

- Do your game and loot mechanics award gobs and gobs of items to players, both useless and useful? Do their bags get full easily? Then #$*! your players properly by reducing their bag space, and selling them unlocks. Limit and sell. Are you getting this?

- Use psychology! Remember, the more complicated and layered you make your F2P system, the more players will say “Aw, #$*! it” and just subscribe as usual. Throw mud into those waters! #$*! them all Freud-like!

- Your game virtual world thingie has tons of achievements? And lists, to make sure you’re constantly fingering that itch on OCD players? Great start! Awesome! Extreme! However, if your players complain that some of those feel way too long and grindy, then you have to do the right thing: Don’t adjust that length! #$*! them by leaving things inhumanely long and selling them stuff they can use to accelerate completion for a little while! Think outside the box and into the wallet.

- Every time you manage to squelch a little bit of fun it makes Bobby smile. #$*! ‘em.

46 thoughts on “How to #$*! your players

    1. moondog548

      No, I don’t think he’s talking about LOTRO. I mean if he was talking about LOTRO he would point out that they not only increased stack sizes of mob drops, but also reduced the variety of “trash” mob drops so that inventory management has been greatly eased with the latest update.

      Well if he wanted to sound like he knew what he was frothing about, that is.

      1. moondog548

        Oh, and he also probably would have mentioned how previous life-time subscribers not only have their never-pay-a-sub agreement honored just fine, they also get a stipend of points to spend on fluff. Yeah, they actually gave the non-paying customers MORE stuff than they already had. Kinda like how the folks who never paid at all can now play the game merrily till about lvl20 with no major hinderance. (If you have inventory problems before then, ur doin it wron, and if you need fast travel before then, you were out of luck anyway since there ain’t any within the 3 zones you’re playing in anyway- between them yes, but you don’t need that to play, just to change your starting zone.)

        1. Julian Post author

          Threading thin on that one. How is a previous lifetime subscriber a non-paying customer? They don’t pay right this second but they sure dropped those $200 or however much it was when it was offered.

        2. moondog548

          As you say, by not paying right this second, they are a non-paying customer. I threw down my $200 3 years ago. It was a gamble that Turbine made sure paid off big for me. That’s a strong contributer to my fanboi-ism, along with a top notch product. ;-}

    1. Julian Post author

      Bitter? Noooo.

      Bitter was 10-12 years ago when the first promises began to be broken. Then it was cynic for a few years. I quite enjoyed that. I squinted my eyes at everything that was about to come out, warned people and enjoyed showing them my past scars, telling them “See, this is how they can #$*! you. I’m better than you. I’ve already been #$*!ed”.

      Right now I’m too old to be bitter or cynic. I’m at the “There’s no reason for you NOT to get this right. If you don’t get it right, it’s because you don’t WANT it right, so I’ll fight you because you’ve shown you’re an ass.” phase.

      Old angry coot, in the KTR porch with a +2 Shotgun of Righteousness. That’s me. Bitter is old news.

  1. Ethic

    Also make it hard to get a mount as a free player so that when they group along with a paid player they both need to run around on foot.

  2. Longasc

    Well, as a Champion without fast travel ability in a certain game you are certainly refering to… yeah, I agree. I am an EU player, but what I heard so far about the shop and for what people have to pay already pissed me off a bit.

  3. Rog

    The inherent and underlying problem is you can either:

    1. Make a game.

    2. Make a product designed to capture the largest possible audience and appeal. There’s a common denominator to (most) everyone: Money. Charge nothing, or label it as free, to capture a huge audience.

    As this industry has also discovered, our culture has another common denominator: The desire to achieve. So dole out the achievements, make it free (or at least give it a “free” label) and tada! Great success!

    The problem as I see it: Combining the best of #1 & #2 is like swimming upstream. Possible but improbable.

  4. Dblade

    Yes, it’s horrible what they did and you should get your money back. Oh wait…

    Tongue-in-cheek aside, what do you expect? F2P games survive on getting you to be a paying customer, and they are not going to make it easy for you to play for free because they make no money off of it. F2P games are designed to make you spend more money, not less. LOTRO is really no different from other games that make you buy bags, or have tremendous exp grinds midlevel.

    1. Julian Post author

      DDO apparently doesn’t feel the need to toy (much) with assholish behavior and yet it seems to be doing fine. Which makes LOTRO even more surprising, since they came from the same place.

      But I may or may not have been talking about LOTRO anyway. ;)

      1. Dblade

        People need to stop defining F2P by one game, DDO. It’s an exception because its structure made it good to F2P, and stuff like this is typical for more traditional MMO types. Not every game is as modular and as amenable to content selling.

  5. Ravious

    Oooh ooh, also don’t let players see what the buyable apparel will look like in-game before they buy it. #$*! your players by using an icon as the only pictorial descriptor of the item instead of a screenshot.

    1. moondog548

      OMG They said they workin on it u troll!1!1

      (tho I’m not sure why they don’t at least have a screenshot available to start with. They’d need one of each race and each gender tho, so maybe they’re still kicking around a way to optimize those options with the browser the store uses…)

  6. Mikey

    A quote from the least quoted band ever, the Gin Blossoms: “If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down.” – GB, Hey Jealousy

    I think your expectations of what you want the game to be and what it truly is are just a *wee* bit too high…

    1. Julian Post author

      No. And I’ll give you two reasons why.

      1- Because I’m not expecting the game to be anything. I’m not a new player and I know what and how the game -was-.

      My message to devs would be: If you’re gonna drive a stake through the game, then don’t come crying later that people unfairly associate F2P with cheap and cumbersome; you’re making it cheap and cumbersome.

      (whatever game we’re talking about here, since I didn’t name any game)

      2- Because I refuse to lower my expectations. This state of things, here and today, is the long end of a road we began years ago full of lowered expectations. It only leads to mediocrity and disappointment. I won’t, under any circumstance, be the guy who applauds the industry as it valiantly and tenaciously lowers the standards year after year, and then turns around and says “Well, it’s okay. They need to make money”.

      Yes, they need to make money, but there are ways and ways. I will never accept that being a dick to your players is a right way. We should be holding their feet to the fire and be constantly demanding more quality and an attitude to improve, not complacently drink the kool aid of lowered standards.

      1. Dblade

        You are playing a game for free, or trying to play it as cheaply as you can. Your expectations don’t matter. They may be a dick to their players, but a majority of their players are dicks to them by spending the absolute minimum of money, if any.

        You want quality? Pay a sub. You want to freeload? Stop complaining about quality.

        1. Longasc

          They are pissing off their players with nagging limitations that are not nearly as elegant as DDO’s F2P.

          I will rather show them a finger than sub or pay for that.

        2. Julian Post author

          No, I won’t stop complaining about quality because that should be the last thing you touch. Limiting access is one thing, and is almost expected, but limiting functionality is something else.

          And how in the name of Cthulhu is “the majority of the players” being dicks? Didn’t 100% of their active players paid subs until a few days ago? Didn’t they have a ton of lifers? Didn’t they have four million characters/accounts/flamingos/whatever a while back? Christ, if that’s being a dick I hope whenever I make a game all my players drop the ball like that.

      2. Mikey

        But isn’t the game still the same, if not better, if you STILL sub to it? The option to sub in any game switched over never went away, last time I checked.

        You mention that if you have an extensive world that you have to pay now to travel fast across it… how has it changed? Last I checked, the only “fast” travel was between major points. And, as I can tell, it still is. Its free for the same thing you got before, but if you want it upgraded to be fast all over the place, thats where the extra payment comes in.

        You say the accomplishments are too long and grindy… well, they are, but they’ve ALWAYS been like that. Just because they don’t make it easier to finish it doesn’t mean its a broken system. Again, its the same way it was before, but NOW you can pay to speed it up, if you wish.

        These aren’t lowered standards and expatations. These are the same exact standards they had before, with the ability to pay to speed it up. Any real gamer wouldn’t fall for the bait to pay knowing it cheapens their accomplishment… but for those who don’t care about personal accomplishment (like those that buy strategy guides along with a game) they have a choice to speed it up or not.

        And again, if you don’t want these “lowered standards”, just subscribe to the game like you always have been and get EVERYTHING you did before, plus currency!

        My real complaint is to the industry itself… what kool-aid did everyone drink to think that paying a subscription to a video game was good in the first place? Every game up until the advent of MMO’s is a box fee and any expansions to the game were a fee as well. Did any Final Fantasy up until 11 have a subscription? How about Grand Theft Auto? Any sub there? Mass Effect? Bioshock? Dragon Age? No subscription, and still successful series, huh?

        So the RETURN to a system where you pay a one-time fee for a game and extras, and you can come back and play it at ANYTIME… is lowered standards and cult mentality? Really? Shouldn’t it be the entire other way around? A video game costs as much to play as the minimums on my credit card and loans and people are okay with this?

        If I don’t feel like giving, say, LotRO another penny, then what… I can actually still go back and play my character without having to worry about how much time I have to play it and if its worth the time/cost ratio. If I decide to not give WoW any more money, WHAM! Door slammed. No access to anything I have accomplished until I whip out my credit card again. THAT, my friend, is the delicious cherry kool-aid the industry can’t get enough of.

        (By the way, love the posts man. Keep up the good work. :) )

  7. CF

    Loved this post! I’m with you pal, I’m way beyond the critical stage as well. :)

    You’ve hit the nail on the head with the MMO industry today. It’s just one giant %$*!-fest.

  8. jocogi

    I’m curious what you guys all make of Allods online. It’s been pretty spectacular watching it crumble. Perhaps someone can explain how on earth Arenanet pulls of their bizzare micro transactions system, and still has the funds to make a competitor to WoW. I’m so confused these days. All I know is, I HATE subscriptions (Eve is a tolerable compromise) and will pay in any other way I can, although not if there is micro and sub both available in the same game. I feel that is just greedy. I much prefer to pay for content, ie. Guild Wars expansions. Other than that, why do these companies need to make so much money from their players when something like Battle.net also has huge numbers of servers to maintain for 15+ years and it’s a one off account cost? I freakin loved the Allods setting, although I don’t know if the gameplay was that great. I can’t believe that debacle.

    1. Julian Post author

      Never played Allods and never really followed it. Not much idea here, other than general vague comments saying it was a good game that #$*!ed its customers by overpricing semi-necessities at the store.

    2. tupodawg

      i think Allods is a perfect example of where things are headed. It was obviously developed by people that wanted to make a good game and then taken over by a company who wanted a piece of the F2P goldmine and were too greedy to understand the need to sucker people in gradually and then hit them with the the pay 2 win stuff when they’re hooked and not do it straight away.

  9. Bhagpuss

    I love bag restrictions. For a packrat, having severely limited inventory space is the tough love I need to save me from myself.

    It’s so much easier to resist spending actual money than it is to resist picking up imaginary items I have no use for.

  10. Katherine

    I like how people tell you that “it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun!” as though it is somehow a failing of yours that you don’t enjoy having your game ruined.

  11. Carson

    Your claims of players being #$*!’d would seem more plausible and less hysterical if there had been any change whatsoever in the game experience of those who carry on paying their subscription, just like they have been for the last three and a half years.

    Fast travel? It’s still there if you subscribe like you have done for the last three and a half years.

    Inventory space? It’s the same as it has always been if you subscribe like you have done for the last three and a half years.

    Deeds? They’re the same as they have always been if you subscribe like you have done for the last three and a half years.

    Complicated system? It’s pretty goddamn simple if you subscribe like you have done for the last three and a half years.

    You don’t sound like someone who has just been #$*!’d. You sound like someone who is trying to personify the phrase “looking a gift horse in the mouth.”

    1. Julian Post author

      So, basically… sub? Strange game, Dr. Falken. The best move is not to F2P and sub.

      The beef comes from thinking -why- it’s better to sub. It used to be that subbing was the better choice purely for money reasons. You get a better deal if you sub, just like you get a better deal if you plunk down for 3 or 6 months instead of 1. That kind of thing.

      But this is different. The beef comes from realizing that if you don’t sub not only access is limited (which is par for the course with these things, I guess), but also functionality and some important mechanics. For some people that’s a bridge too far. The beef comes from seeing that there are other store systems in other games that don’t feel the need to be dicks, including one from the same company, no less. So why is this one such a dick? It’s a mystery.

      We might both be right anyway. Glass half full, half empty and all that. The only thing I’m saying is that I think there’s no good reason for the limits in place other than “Well, let’s see how much we can gouge people or inevitably force them to sub”. Which might very well be great business acumen, but leaves a sour taste.

      1. Zubon

        It used to be that subbing was the better choice purely for money reasons.

        If you think it’s limited now, you should have seen how limited your gameplay without a subscription was last month.

      2. Carson

        Well, no, I’m not necessarily saying that subbing is the best choice. It depends how heavily you’re planning to play.

        What I’m saying is that if subbing was acceptable to you last week, it should still be acceptable to you this week, because you can carrying on subbing and nothing will be different – well, except that you’ll have 500 TPs a month to spend on random stuff, and you’ll find a lot more players on your server (granted, this could be both bad and good).

        For what it’s worth, I do think that Turbine need to do something about swift travel if non-sub play is to be truly viable. I would recommend either allowing permanent unlocking of individual routes for a modest fee (100 TPs per route?); or single-use swift travel tokens for a _very_ cheap price (5-10 TPs each?).

    2. Buboe

      What Carson Said.
      Oh, and that subscription? Ten bucks a month for access to a AAA title, a community of adults, and some of the best lore ever written in or out of a gaming situation.
      Or don’t pay the very reasonable sub, and keep your tightarsed mutterings to yourself.
      To paraphrase a great 80′s movie, “you haven’t been #$*!’d, cos when Bobby #$*!s you, you know it.”

  12. Song7

    @ jocogi: Allods did screw the players pretty spectacularly. I used to play quite a bit. The straw that broke the camels back for me was the consumables that evaporated after 6 days of purchase(now fixed to 30 -I think). That and the horrible method of removing the spammers from your ignore list so you could add new ones to it(I’m expecting an item in the shop to allow more people to your ignore list) had me happily remove it from my HD.

  13. Julian Post author

    Well, GameDev could use more income from $TITLE, so the way to do it is not to improve $TITLE in any way so a better product is offered. No. The way to do is to segment it and introduce enough irritation in it so that players will end up subscribing just to sidestep all the blockages and artificial complication which was -not- there to begin with and was introduced, not to better $TITLE in any way, but simply to create this situation.

    And this is something to applaud? Or apparently, at the very least, not have the gall to say it’s wrong in any way and continue merrily along? 2010, is that how it is?

    By the way, nothing against GameDev. I hope they get their income. I hope they get tons of subscribers and wear hats made of money. I really, really do. But I wish they’d do it by creating something which was better than before.

    1. Jeromai

      You’re looking at it from the perspective of players being 100% into the game or 0% not interested in playing the game.

      At which point, players who are heavily invested in the game are much better off subbing for the $10 a month, because they will be playing it to an extreme and do not want to deal with irritations.

      However, there are a significant number of players of the game in question who are on-again, off-again. To solely follow a subscription model causes long-term attrition of these players because they can’t justify paying per month. The story and the development haven’t even got to Rohan and Mordor yet, so there’s a ways to go. It’s not good design to keep making them sub for a month, cancel, sub again – it’s too much of an inertia barrier to re-entry.

      On a personal philosophy level, feel free to disagree, I don’t have an issue with a game company getting differential amounts of income from more avid or less avid segments of their game playing audience. The $15 one-size-fits-all subscription model is not so flexible. By datamining what folks are buying from the store, the company has a better grasp of what their audience wants and what to focus on in the future as well.

      And for the record, I have been playing a new Premium Rune-keeper up to level 15, to test the more-limited F2P experience, and am still surviving on 3 bags. It takes more rigorous inventory management, Explorer by crafting profession means ores, wood AND hides. The increased cap on vendor trash helps.

      (The Free versions MUST be exceedingly limited, otherwise you’d have goldsellers and farmers running rampant. Hence Premium is the range I’m bothering to test.)

      Not having swift travel hasn’t started to bother me yet, I tend to stay in one map area and use the local horse routes, map out to a major city to do crafting/auction/trainer maintenance. Once I get a “Return to” skill, the map will get switched to the local quest hub to map back. Local horse doesn’t bother me, it’s nice scenery, somewhat more immersive to ride from place to place, and if it gets boring, there’s always walking away from the computer for a while, like you’re supposed to in order not to kill your posture :P Same as I do when I want to craft 30+ hides, hit “Make All” and walk away.

      The personal horse and riding skill might be the deciding factor for me in whether I subscribe for a bit. I would much rather quest for it then buy it off the store – I can see others prefering not to grind it and pay a couple dollars though, it’s good the option is there.

      But how gamechanging is a mount anyway? LOTRO doesn’t let you click on anything while on a mount, so you dismount frequently anyhow. I seem to recall falling off frequently from aggro. My main Guardian was forever broke from the exorbitant repair fees at the time, and couldn’t afford one at lvl 35, only in the 40s. I enjoyed the heck out of it in Eregion because galloping across the plains looked as cool as anything, and promptly fell down the deep dark hole of Moria and was mountless again.

      S’ all perspective as to the whether the limits are annoying or no.

  14. kaozz

    I hear ya, if there’s a need for it be sure you’ll pay!

    I’m hesitant to even spend much time, besides goofing on the side, in these FTP models because it can actually end up being more expensive than a normal sub.

  15. yunk

    What sucks is some of these are there for even subscribing or lifetime subscribers. The horrid grind that you can now pay extra to slightly lessen. And letting you buy the first x levels of traits? Those are the easy ones, killing 30 flies is certainly less annoying than hundreds.

    I went back a few weeks ago (I quit just before Moria) since I’m a lifer, and realized the grind is not only still there it is worse.

    The beginning levels are fun from an explorer standpoint. But to have to do horrid grinds just to see moria or lothlorien? No thanks.

    I never thought i’d play single player RPGs again, but the past year or so I’ve really gotten back into them. There are no artificial grinds to make you keep playing (you can ignore achievements) and the stories are tighter with beginings and endings.

  16. bonedead

    Fuck fuck fuck, mother mother fuck. Mother mother fuck fuck, mother fuck mother fuck, noise noise noise. 1 2, 1 2 3 4 noise noise noise. Smokin weed smokin weed. Doin coke, drinkin beers. Drinkin beers, beers beers. Rollin fatties, smokin blunts. Who smokes the blunts? We smoke the blunts! Rollin blunts and smokin em……

    (At first I was going to attempt to fill in the blanks, coulda swore I turned my /filter off, then I was inspired to quote a funneh funneh)

  17. tupodawg

    What some people don’t seem to understand is that when a game heads off down the cash shop route the players will gradually stop being customers and start turning into prey.

    The internal logic will push things that way like gravity.

    It’s not 100% inevitable but the pressure will always be in that direction.

    However as mentioned above there is a good point that with the subscription model people have the choice of having a 0% or 100% attitude towards a game whereas a person might be 50% about two different games.

    Personally i’m coming to think the best route would be an unlimited (in time) but restricted in content free trial partly just to keep the lowbie areas always busy and partly to provide resource gatherers for the subbing players and the “sub” to be bought blocks of time like 30 hour blocks with discounts for larger blocks.

    If players are buying blocks of time then the incentive for the game company is to make the players want to spend as much time in the game as possible which makes their interests coincide with the players.

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