Or Sometimes It Doesn’t

Yesterday we discussed the tendency of a new option to expand to all potential uses. Facebook was a digital whiteboard but now you use it to share family pictures and invite people to events. I want to discuss the failure to expand in two ways.

“The gimmick” is when it does not proliferate. They tried it once, it failed to spread, and it became quietly ignored outside its home. The blade itself is lost in the back of a drawer. In MMO-land, this is usually update- or expansion-specific, the neat new idea that never went anywhere. Will LotRO have mounted combat outside Rohan? You go through a zone and need to learn a new mechanic, but you will never need that mechanic again. Sometimes that is intentional, to give each zone its own gimmick.

“The forced feature” is when it proliferates but reluctantly and only by including it whether it makes sense or not. Developers may not have a use for it, but management said that it goes in everything. The Wiimote comes to mind: it may not make any sense for the game to involve wiggling the controller, but the Wii was sold around its innovative controller, and the games must justify it. Maybe every dungeon must have a physics puzzle or use the conversation mechanic or include a trap or have a secret door with a bonus treasure behind it. You learn to recognize when you have reached The Obligatory X Scene

These two go together really nicely. In the new expansion set, every single thing must incorporate the forced feature, and then it will not be seen again until someone uses the gimmick five years later in one boss fight as an intentional callback.

: Zubon

If you have better terms than “gimmick” and “forced feature,” comments are open.

Supply Creates Its Own Demand

The blade itself incites to deeds of violence.
— Homer, The Odyssey, although I cannot find a translation online that uses that exact phrasing.

It is not a slippery slope argument to say, “Developing the capacity to X makes X much more likely.” Beyond the tautology that you cannot do X if you cannot do X, we find that humans are more likely to pursue options that are readily available. Once you have the ability to do something, you start finding occasions for it. This is a driver of progress and source of anguish.

Continue reading Supply Creates Its Own Demand

Revolution, Evolution, Variation, Recombination

Before Arkship started, I needed food. I walked until I found a restaurant we did not have back home, which happened to be Fatburger. We do have hamburgers in Michigan, but not that chain, and friends had gushed about the place. It was indeed a quality sandwich and my first time having a hamburger with relish on it. I have had hamburgers and relish before, but not together, and the combination of ingredients was unexpectedly good.

Relatively few restaurants offer anything new. They can offer something new to you, Continue reading Revolution, Evolution, Variation, Recombination

Revenue Models

Felix Salmon blogging at Reuters has some things to say about monetizing online magazines that has applications to gaming:

Which brings up a fundamental rule of online subscriptions: there is zero correlation between value and price. There are lots of incredibly expensive stock-tipping newsletters which have a negative value… And of course there’s an almost infinite amount of wonderfully valuable content available online for free…

Or look what happened when Newsweek and Sullivan parted ways: both of them started subscription products, at almost identical prices… That doesn’t mean the two products have almost-equal value; it just means that both…came to the conclusion that the $20-a-year range was more or less the point on the supply-and-demand curve where they would maximize their income…

But there’s another consideration, too: the more formidable the paywall, the more money you might generate in the short term, but the less likely it is that new readers are going to discover your content and want to subscribe to you in the future…

…on the internet, people prefer carrots to sticks. That’s one of the lessons of Kickstarter, too. To put it in Palmer’s terms: if you want to give money, you’re likely to give more, and to give more happily, than if you feel that you’re being forced to spend money.

I saw this last note most richly in Kingdom of Loathing, where players would buy the item/familiar of the month as a de facto subscription fee just to give Jick $10. I have donated to quite a few online games, some of which called it “donating,” but I find myself strongly averse to paying for flash games that added a grind you can pay to skip. Games with limited, optional, non-pushy cash shops probably see more purchases that the players think of as donations, and some shops’ opening saw pent-up demand to donate to the game (probably an influence on sparklepony’s revenue).

The third paragraph is most of interest to me. Aggressively monetizing can yield great short term revenue while harming your long term prospects. Without having revenue numbers, I suspect Turbine is seeing this: excellent initial numbers, followed by decline and aggressive monetization of dedicated players, and flirting with blatant absurdity. You can get a feedback loop if players start feeling like the game is being milked before it shuts down.

: Zubon

Hat tip: Marginal Revolution

Yearly Contemplations and Prognostications

2012 was a good gaming year for me. There were some nice surprises. I am looking forward to what 2013 has to bring. Here’s what I thunk and think as we cross the yearly threshold.

Play to Finish MMO Paradigm

With all credit to this term going to SynCaine, this simple concept has been in my rock tumbler since it opened my eyes. It is also very pertinent because arguably my favorite MMO relies on the concept. A “play-to-finish” MMO is one where players get to some end of their choosing, such as a storyline, max level, or something clearly designed as an end point. Then the bulk of the experience has been played. Players that do stick around do so in a fashion similar to single-player gamers doing game achievement unlocks. This is an oversimplification, but this is where I want most MMOs to head. Continue reading Yearly Contemplations and Prognostications

[LotRO] Help Me with This One

Is this LotRO’s community being typically atypical, F2P players displaying entitlement, or something else I’m missing?

LotRO recently added (character level) experience for crafting, which is the sort of thing we like around here. As with any change, forum-goers announced they are going to quit. It is “More then ridicules. It’s underhanded,” “a deal bracker,” and it will not “do anything aside from discouraging people from doing crafting.” Oh, you laugh now, but “I hope you feel the same when the game is shut down from everybody leaving and Turbine not making a profit.” (One poster took the interesting tactic of replying until he had 10% of the posts in the thread then declaring, “Good for you u like the idea but sorry to say your out numberd.”) (sic on all those)

Some players do not like outleveling content or leveling too quickly. Except there is more content next zone over, and you can run an alt through that level range rather than doing everything from that level range on every character. Except if you are not paying anything and want to avoid running out of free, level-relevant content. Except your opinion does not matter if you are not paying anything, so pushing the free players through the free content faster is a good business decision. Out of alt slots, out of quests? Oh sorry, that is not a problem for subscribers, $$ button’s over there.

Logging on a level 30-something alt, she needed to farm 2.5 stacks of blackberry (master tier) seeds to get one level, and that is with rested xp. Given the leveling curve, this must be a significant amount at the F2P levels but virtually nothing near the level cap. Festival quests now give scaling xp, I’m told, which will also help F2P players level to paid content more quickly.

Turbine also added an xp disabler to the cash store (although not as a consumable as originally designed). Sure, you can stay in F2P levels all you like, but you’re paying for it. I have sympathy for the argument “this should be free for VIP players,” because there are several things in the cash shop that you would expect as part of your paid account rather than monetization monetization, but I’m also sympathetic to “if you think this game is worth playing for months, how about paying us for it?”

: Zubon

My sympathy for that argument does not extend as far as $70 expansion packs.

[LOTRO] The Horse’s Path

Mounted combat is the centerfold for the Riders of Rohan expansion in Lord of the Rings Online (“LOTRO”). It changed things, subjectively for better or worse. Some people think that LOTRO became bad for them. I feel that as I am nearing level 80 I have a pretty good handle on mounted combat. I can see through the curtain, so to speak, and I haven’t decided whether I like what I see. The horse’s path doesn’t seem to go very far. Continue reading [LOTRO] The Horse’s Path

Small Thoughts, Small Complaints, Small Post

I am very surprised at the degree I continue to log in to Guild Wars 2. In a constant period unspoiled by content updates, expansions, etc., I usually flit around 2-3 MMOs. I don’t nibble as much as Syp, but I do enjoy small plates. Guild Wars 2 has continued to be my main MMO, and I am having a blast with alternate characters, which is something I rarely do in most MMOs. I will have to discuss my WvW-only character in a future post.

I am slightly frustrated having a necromancer main with the gear options. It seems there are a bunch of cool scepters and staves, but the artists seemed to have forgotten to colorize some for the necromancer. Are there any green-plague glow effects? Seems like fire and ice elementalists get a lot of love. I’ve decided that I love Memory of the Sky for my staff because of the dichotomy of light and dark with necromancer’s staff skills. I would kill for a green-tinted Wayward Wand as a scepter, but my choices now seem limited to ice, skulls, and eyeballs.

In Lord of the Rings Online I am finally hitting Rohan proper with the Norcrofts zone. Overall the Rohan expansion is really good for a quest-based MMO. The flow is exceptionally good. The stories are also nice with some decent gems scattered around. There is also some conventional silliness like a fell-beast cool with watching me burn down it’s roost or me having to constantly interrupt a funeral to advance a quest line. Still I am enjoying the expansion. I’ll have to discuss mounted combat, revisited, in a later post too.

I would play it a lot more if the client was not an inefficient woolly mammoth of a program. With my computer running Guild Wars 2 on max settings, I can be in the game in less than a minute. Lord of the Rings Online is at least a couple minutes. It is a shame too because the quests are so conducive to small bites of playing. I also hate that the client won’t run windowed unless it changes Windows 7 to basic view. I’m sure optimizing load times and compatibility with Windows 7 graphic mode is near the bottom of their engineer’s to-do list.

Guild Wars 2 Wintersday event is coming on December 14, and the Lord of the Rings Online Riders of Rohan 3-mans (Goblintown, Mirkwood, and Misty Mountains) have less than a month to be released. That is about where I am heading.


To-Hit Rolls

To-hit rolls are an RPG mechanic inherited from pen-and-paper systems. They represent an obvious intuition (attacks can miss) and use a binomial mechanic with a random chance. Many non-RPG computer games use a different mechanic: did the sword, shot, spell, or whatever hit the target?

One of the City of Heroes developers remarked that, had he to do it over again, he would not have included a to-hit roll or an accuracy stat. Every attack would hit unless some defense caused it to miss, and then you would have an indicator of why you missed. Continue reading To-Hit Rolls