Pathfinder Monetization

I have almost finished Pathfinder Adventures (as much as has been released). I have completed story mode on most of the characters and most of those stories on the highest difficulty, along with a strong stable of quest characters. I have done this without paying a cent, and I already have enough gold to buy the rest of the adventure path. There was a little early grinding, but for the most part just trying out my new cards has generated enough gold to get the next cards.

I have enjoyed Pathfinder Adventures, but I do not really have a reason to pay them other than to donate. Just playing gets me the RMT currency I need to keep playing. I will soon have reached escape velocity and have nothing to do with my imaginary gold except buy imaginary treasure chests for a few more random cards. I could easily have all the gold needed to buy the next story path of adventures before they get done coding Rise of the Runelords.

Having enjoyed the game, I would like to compensate them, but I do not see a reasonable increment (or benefit there from). $25 for the whole thing is not unreasonable, if you do that at the start. At this point, the remaining content I could buy costs less than the gold I have on hand. There are smaller increments of gold available for purchase, including a daily gold offer that makes sense for a regular player, but again I generate my own gold by playing. The only thing I cannot acquire that way is the promo card pack, which seems available only with the $25 “box purchase.” And I already own almost everything else in the box.

This seems to be the fate of most F2P — either games are designed around monetization in a way that makes them not worth playing or the monetization is an afterthought and there is little way/incentive to reward good developers for the game. Many of us in F2P games have made regular purchases as a de facto monthly fee (Kingdom of Loathing) or buy a package as a voluntary “box cost” for a game we like (Team Fortress 2). In both of those examples, what you can spend money on is neither necessary nor sufficient to motivate a purchase, but instead the game falls into a pleasant middle where you chip in a bit of money for a bit of fun, decoration, or non-required power, where you do not begrudge the money because you are getting great value for the game. That is what I am looking for in Pathfinder Adventures, a bonus to encourage me to chip in but not one that feels like a P2W wall nor one that feels like idiotic benefit-cost. It is a narrow eye to thread.

: Zubon

Yes, I know that TF2 became a hat sales operation after that initial pack, but I maintain that there was a lot of pent up demand to pay Valve for the great value TF2 was in the Orange Box.

RMT Currencies

Sites and games establish their own currencies to help distance you from your intuitions and inhibitions about money.

A small purpose is to get you to make fewer, larger purchases. You might flinch from putting down $0.99 every time you want to get a pack of imaginary cards. Buying five of them is five separate pain points. Getting you to buy 250 gems for $5 is one pain point, and then it is a lot less painful to buy 5 packs of cards for 49 gems each.

Once your players have converted their real world currency into your game currency, they are committed. It is not hitting their wallet anymore, and it is not as though they can spend those gems on anything outside your game. Why not pick up that shiny mount or xp booster? And might as well round out that shopping cart with something to use up the last few gems, no point in wasting them.

Soaking up those last gems at the edges is the minor gain, a few bonus nickels and dimes. Because you got as close to zero as you could, and now there is a new shiny mount that you do not have enough to get. Maybe you should make another purchase? Or make all the purchase amounts add up badly so zeroing out is not reasonably possible. The $25 gem pack comes with 250 bonus gems, taking you to 2750, but most (good) things are in units of 495. Maybe you should buy another $25 and round that up?

The main purpose is to put psychological distance between you and your spending. It is not just that five small $1 flinches are worse for sales than a $5 flinch, but that a $5 flinch is worse than a 250 gem flinch. You have decades of experience with money but very little with gems. Setting your emotions aside, you need to do arithmetic to figure out how gems relate to dollars, the horror. And “100 gems” looks closer to $1.00 than $2.00, doesn’t it?

You can see sites and games combine these. I have played Spellstone on Kongregate, where the main currency is gold and the RMT currency is gems, but Kongregate has its own currency of Kreds, which you buy with a credit card instead of physical bills. Your hours at the workplace are way over there, behind your paycheck behind your credit card behind the kreds purchase behind the gems purchase behind the gold conversion. And didn’t they give you some gems and a few kreds? This might be a free pack of imaginary cards! I saw Spellstone on mobile, where there are some actual dollar amounts, and I got sticker shock in a way that the prices in kreds never caused.

: Zubon

Bug Zapper: Turbine Edition

As you may have heard, Turbine is transitioning out of the MMO market and into mobile. I am somewhat surprised that mobile F2P is still a growing market, but maybe that is where the social media gaming money went after Zynga did its thing. Mobile devices are certainly a huge and still growing market, and you have many casual players in that space. It feels like a lot of people are competing for a few whales.

It makes me downright mad to see a studio that used to show such passion and talent for MMOs to be groveling for the scraps of mobile gaming.
Asheron’s Call, a game hovering on the edge of “not officially canceled” for a surprisingly long time (but certainly not under current development). Kill Ten Rats was effetively a LotRO fan blog for a while with all the active writers playing it. Ethic, chime in here if the dream lives on, but I’ve killed that goblin a hundred thousand times across a dozen games over more than a decade, and I can scarcely muster the energy to read about how it is being re-skinned as a different shade of orc in whatever the next WoW expansion is.

In the Western market, WoW is the juggernaut that carries on under inertia, able to print millions of dollars with any significant update but unable to further expand the market. EVE Online remains in a category by itself, seemingly quite sustainable within a comfortable range. Everyone else seems to be a hanger-on and/or niche market. I have nothing against niche games, and my dear love A Tale in the Desert is now up to its Seventh Telling under new management. Good for them. People love their games and create great communities, and they can keep going indefinitely so long as someone pays to keep the servers up. That is an advantage to players of smaller games: no big studio to decide that resources can be better invested elsewhere. You can even launch a new one of those like Project: Gorgon as a boutique game and get enough interest to make it worthwhile.

The title of this comes from the GU Comics running joke. MMO flies circle the bug zapper, and while LotRO lives to see another year, would you renew that contract in 2017? If Turbine is exiting the MMO space, wouldn’t you expect the MMOs to be sold to someone who wants that as their market segment?

But maybe your corner of the MMO space is vital. I imagine the Eastern market marches on? I cannot recall when I last logged into an MMO. I don’t know if I ever installed one on my new hard drive. My MMO era finished, and seeing Turbine do the same provides a sense of closure.

: Zubon

The Room

This is not about that movie.

The Room seems to be the best thing I picked up on the Steam summer sale, and you can still get it for $1.24. It is a not-terribly-long puzzle game, starting with a puzzle box and unfolding from there. Most of the puzzles are enjoyable, although sometimes a little too far into “A leads to B leads to C, push the button” or “what are they thinking?” but where things fall on that continuum will probably be idiosyncratic based on what you find intuitive. When in doubt, try looking through the lens.

Even when it is not at its best as a game, in that you are basically pushing buttons to watch a fancy mechanical box whirl, it is a cool fancy mechanical box. It also leads to some enjoyably phantasmagorical imagery as the story of the game develops.

As a bonus, the sequel launches on Steam July 5, so if you like this one, there will be another one this week (and 2 and 3 are already available on mobile).

: Zubon

Story via Mechanics

One thing I enjoy in the Pathfinder Adventures story mode is that the rules can be adapted to create good scenes, fluff out of the crunch. One of these is done inelegantly, with a paragraph of text that makes that one a mini-game, but consider:

  • “The Poison Pill” sets you against someone leaving deadly traps around town. The usual henchman mini-bosses are obstacles (poison traps) instead of monsters.
  • “Local Heroes” wants you to network around town and meet people. The henchman mini-bosses are replaced with allies you can recruit, with the goal of closing all the locations instead of defeating a villain. And the scenario reward is more allies.
  • Several scenarios have a special rule that makes the difficulty scale in a way that encourages you to find the villain as quickly as possible and to create the usually desired effect of rising difficulty over time. For example, “Undead Uprising” raises the difficulty to defeat Zombie Minion mini-bosses for each Zombie Minion defeated (and the boss summons more before the final confrontation). “Foul Misgivings” increases the difficulty of everything as Haunt mini-bosses haunt your characters, and the lowest difficulty adds a rising chance for a bonus boss fight as you meet Haunts (the higher difficulties just throw the bonus boss at you). “Them Ogres Ain’t Right” increases the final boss’s difficulty by 2 for each mini-boss defeated. A wildcard mechanic has the same effect of rising difficulty, which could get ugly stacking with the scenario mechanic.
  • Several locations have connections to specific allies who can be used for bonus effects, like the one who can banish the aforementioned Haunts.
  • “Angel in the Tower” requires you to have someone at the Shadow Clock location or else time starts slipping away.
  • “Battle at the Dam” has the most elegant implementation: “The Dam may not be temporarily closed.” For folks who have not played, if you encounted the boss but have not closed all the locations, you can “temporarily close” them to keep the boss from escaping; if you win the fight, the boss flees to any open location. If the Dam cannot be temporarily closed, you MUST fight the boss there, either early (and you spend the rest of the scenario tracking him down) or more likely as the climactic battle (because why risk fighting a mini-boss there when you cannot close it).

: Zubon

Evil Defenders

I finished playing through Evil Defenders. It is a tower defense game for PC or mobile; I played PC. It is somewhat entertaining, but either you like tower defense and have already played better or have not and should play better. If you liked Kingdom Rush and want more levels of a worse version, pick this up on a sale.

There are fifteen levels each at six difficulties. You will need to go through most of those because the upgrade costs were set with mobile microtransactions in mind, please buy more souls. But if you play through the assorted difficulties, the game is not especially difficult, as the upgrades come faster than the difficulty.

The game’s achievements are kind of bad, which is an outgrowth of the grindy mindset. I decided to play through the whole game, all difficulties, and like the person in the linked thread I have 3 achievements left that will take hours of repetitive play to complete. Their estimates are a little high, because you could “efficiently” grind a high-yield map, so I timed that and estimate it would take 15 hours of playing that one map 90 times to complete the last few achievements. No. Even getting 1 more achievement would take 3 hours. Still no. Global stats tell me that 2% of players have that last achievement, so I hope they were cheating rather than spending a literal day farming kills. If the game had an endurance mode, and I could leave it running overnight, that might be doable, but no.

Getting all the achievements is not the point so much as using the achievements as a guide to what the developers are thinking and doing. In this case, they made 15 levels and are trying for fake longevity by adding on repetition. Grind souls to get your upgrades, repeat the levels six times each, and if you want your 100% completion, play for another entire day.

: Zubon


crowbar card from the pathdfinder adventure card game I am trying to decide if this is an example of fluff versus crunch or of fridge brilliance. The crowbar is a staple of gaming, and in the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (as well as Pathfinder Adventures), it is an “item” and not a “weapon.” It helps you get past barriers.

blacksmiths son and shopkeepers daughter cards from the pathfinder adventure card game But these two are “barriers” classified as “obstacles.” They get in your way, presumably want to talk, and can take up your turn. Shopkeeper’s daughter is getting chatty? Out comes the crowbar. Blacksmith’s son is trying to seduce your ranger? Crowbar.

: Zubon

Humble E3 Digital Ticket

If you occasionally get a Humble Bundle, now is probably the time to get one. Just looking at the “pay what you want” level, it includes:

  • Psychonauts, which is good.
  • 40 treasure chests for Pathfinder Adventures
  • 500 coins for the Amazon appstore
  • content for 4 MMOs

And then more. And then more MMO and MOBA content in the paid levels, and more games, and some subscriptions and betas. And then there are some more of those games and betas at the “pay what you want” level. And some other stuff.

: Zubon


I have several casual games going at the moment. They give a range of grind. Two are idle games, which grind themselves.

One is Pathfinder Adventures, where I rejoice in the grind. The grind here is simply playing the game. Of course, that is always what grind is; I think of “grind” as when you must repeat the same content repeatedly to unlock new content or achieve some arbitrary goal. In Pathfinder Adventures, you can pay $25 for all the content, pay a smaller amount for a la carte, or repeatedly play “quests” that are essentially the same content as the main “story” but with randomized content and no cut scenes. Those award 100 gold (plus gold for enemies), where it costs 2000 gold to add a character option and 4000 to unlock a set of story missions. You use the same character set on quests with a different character advancement mechanism. Because I enjoy the quests, I have not spent any money, because I will happily get enough gold to unlock everything I want just by playing normally. It is a strange irony they are more likely to get money from people who want to play less. At some point, I will probably play through the story missions on all the difficulty settings, but “same content but you must roll higher” does not sound like a huge draw.

I am also playing Evil Defenders, a mobile tower defense game ported to PC and heavily discounted on Steam. It is mostly entertaining, but not good enough that I can really recommend it. Notably, it has a poorly balanced need for grinding, presumably a relic of mobile F2P microtransactions. Playing gives you “souls” you can spend to upgrade your towers. These are not “nice to have” but absolutely required to beat later levels. After hitting the first level where the difficulty curve spikes faster than the pace of advancement, I went back to try previous levels on higher difficulty settings to get more souls. I cannot yet say whether you need to grind for souls or just beat every level on every difficulty setting (bonus souls for each “star” on a level), but it feels grindy enough just having six difficulty settings for each level. And there are achievements tied to beating the fifth and six settings for each level, so you know my completionist, achievement-whoring heart is going there. Consulting achievements, I see that 92% of people who have bought the game on Steam have played it, much higher than Borderlands 2, but only 19% of players have completed all 15 levels. These are not long levels, the basic difficulty is 10 waves, and you could beat the whole game at one sitting were it not for the grind. More than half the players who have completed every level have also completed every level on every difficulty with a perfect score, so this game either caters to obsessive players or requires that sort of investment to beat the last level at all. Because if you need to defeat 14 levels at all difficulty levels to earn enough upgrades to beat the last level, why not make a perfect game of it?

: Zubon

Pathfinder Adventures

At Tobold’s suggestion, I have tried a bit of the Pathfinder Adventures card game (on Android). I always seem to have a digital CCG of some sort going, and this seems to be a pretty good one.

I had intended to try the paper version, but I do not have a regular gaming group with which to play. This falls between a CCG and a tabletop RPG; the decks are characters, which change and level up through adventuring, but there is not quite the story feel of an RPG. If you want the mechanical part of the game, this is an efficient way to go about getting it without needing another play to sit out as GM.

I do not know how long this will stay in my playing rotation. The fixed adventures and the random quests are really about the same, in that you face some semi-random group of cards, most of which you will quickly come to recognize. I suppose they are better themed in the story adventure chain? I was finding it just as satisfying to run random quests. Given the minimal story, that’s about the same gameplay. The lack of cloud save is a negative.

The game’s model is F2P with microtransaction and “box” options. The “box” here is paying $25 for full access to all the modules and characters, as if you bought the box of cards. The microtransactions are for smaller quantities of gold, which you can use to buy the box cards, but there is quite a bit of grinding to be had to earn that gold. Personally, I found no hardship in beating 15 quests to unlock a second hero because that’s the game. At the lowest difficulty, the game is entirely playable with just the two free characters, and I will see how it does with three or more.

: Zubon