The NDA on the ESO beta has been lifted. Meaning I can now talk about my experiences playing two sessions of the beta (but not post videos or pictures – although it has been promised that the last beta session will allow this).
One of my new favorite Youtube people – Kinetic – talks a little about the game in general.
I have been surfing Youtube and watched some gameplay videos but mostly I pay attention to the comments. It is interesting to me that instead of focusing on the actual content of the game the debate centers on the subscription fee.
“When it goes free” is probably the most used comment I’ve seen so far. If you have read some of my previous rants on this you will know that I am a fierce opponent of the “F2P” model. But I am really surprised at how strongly some people react to the idea of having to pay a monthly subscription. The comments range from aloof: “oh this game does not seem that good – it will be free to play in three months”. To idealistic: “subscription is an outdated model – many good games are f2p”. To downright angry: “a subscription like this is pure greed! Look at this calculation I just came up with. The game can’t be that expensive!”.
Now I could spend a lot of time arguing that maybe one should not pass judgment because one has seen a single gamplay video, that just because something has been around for a long time it does not mean it is outdated (WoW and EVE still does it – Final Fantasy just started doing it) and that pulling numbers out of ones ass does not an argument make. But I chose not to – I will simply state that I do not agree. I will also state that I am surprised that a few years with small, cheap (and excellent!) indie games on the rise as well as a lot of so called free to play one hit wonders has created a culture of extreme butthurt over the idea of having to pay for games.
I guess this all might derive from a sense of apathy. While there has been many interesting and groundbreaking games over the last couple of years (both entirely new games and continuations of popular concepts) there has also been a plethora of really bad games – especially in the MMO genre. On top of that some game concepts have become so ingrained in our psyche that we cannot imagine our games without them – yes we have also become incredibly bored with them.
Take the term DPS for example. It literally means “damage per second” – referring to the way you usually measure the performance of a damage dealing character in World of Warcraft. Even in new games where the term “damage per second” makes no sense whatsoever this stereotype is so powerful it is applied nonetheless. This is symptomatic for a lot of things. Concepts such as “the holy trinity” (tank, healer, dps), balanced classes, targeting and autoattacks and I could keep going. We are bored with these concepts and games trying to repackage them (with little to no success) but at the same time we are so dependent on them that when we encounter a game that does things differently we cringe, moan and throw up our hands in exasperation – what IS this?!
Well ESO is – finally – going to throw a monkey wrench into that whole system. You can wear all armor, use all weapons and mix your skills as you see fit, you have to AIM your attacks and depending on how good you are at finding Skyshards your character just might be more powerful (that is – have a more skill points) than others at the same level (unless you spend skill points on being an able crafter of course).
To me all of this is so refreshing it feels like an injection of mint flavored adrenaline directly into my eyeball (I don’t know where that came from but I have a habit of not deleting what I write even though I later go “WTF?!” when I re-read it). I have had a great time playing the last two beta sessions (despite the fact that the fan on my graphics card decided to die on me at a rather inopportune time) and I will readily admit that at first I was exasperated. The controls felt weird, I kept getting killed by “trash mobs” and the game felt demanding. But as I kept playing I started to unlearn what 5 years of half assed MMO games had – I am ashamed to admit – drilled into my skull. I stopped expecting the game to play itself for me – I started getting smart. I learned how to dodge, how to aim and to stay mobile – accepting that a combat should be more than two computer entities facing off against each other to see who is the best at typing out a sequence of keys that the number crunchers have deemed the most effective. I also started slowing down. Getting used to being talked to by the characters, to inquire, to spend time looking for solutions and to exploring. It is a vast world and it requires you to pay attention – imagine that.
As good as it felt exploring the beta and as much as I am looking forward to ESO there are a few kinks that Zenimax still needs to get sorted out. ShoddyCast sums one of them up pretty much spot on in this excellent 40 min (worth it) talk.
Like so many other things on the internet it is very hard for me to make Neverwinter understand that I detest it on a level barely comprehensible by the minds of men. As such it keeps sending me emails. This time with a code to redeem- FREE LEVELS! Oh joy.
Are you also tired of being a character depicted entirely in grey-scale? Does it annoy you that you have to spend time and energy obtaining epic weapons and gaining levels. Well don’t worry – Neverwinter has just the thing for you. Oh and you can just copy/paste that code. Wouldn’t want you over exerting yourself by having to write or type.
With the upcoming launch of ESO (The Elder Scrolls Online) there is a lot of buzz going on – a lot of talk – and speculation. Not about whether it will be a good game to play – but about whether it will be a “successful” game. What being a successful game actually means is a hard to pin down but the essence seems to be about money – will it make a lot of money (and since people means money it also means “will a lot of people play it”).
Since the Beta is still protected by the EULA there isn’t much basis for discussing ESO as a game (not that it’s stopping some people from looking at the description of game features and proclaiming they will suck) since I’d prefer discussing that as we are actually playing the game.
As such I feel that the discussion about ESO right now is more and more becoming a discussion about the format of MMO’s. ESO has chosen to set a fairly high price for the game itself as well as a monthly subscription fee for playing (with ambitions for additional content releases every 4-6 weeks). Many people see this as an “outdated method” and that SWTOR showed us that not even a huge brand with a solid fan base can manage to be a subscriber only game. This is something I severely disagree with (I like throwing in the word “severe” whenever I can).
I also think of SWTOR as a sort of cautionary tale but not a tale that informs us that monthly subscriptions is a failed model that no longer works. I see it as a cautionary tale about just how easy it is to buckle and fall into the “free-to-play” trap. A lot of people now consider SWTOR to be a “hybrid” game. It has a free to play option and a subscription model that gives you certain advantages. For me – however – SWTOR is a “pay to get ahead” game and as such completely disqualified from any discussion about the payment model. I wouldn’t mind the microtransactions if they were just for silly vanity items, even mounts or – stretching it – boost items (xp, crafting speed… I’m on shaky ground here) but in SWTOR you can just buy your armor sets or get more in-game money by paying for it (or by using the monthly “allowance” you get for subscribing). As I’ve argued before: a game that severely restricts your options if you don’t pay is not free to play and a game where you can just buy your gear is not a game at all.
I vastly prefer ESO as a subscription only game. The whole discussion about subscription vs free to play is not even relevant for me because I have yet to see a free to play game that I do not consider to be broken (that is my way to try and be polite and not say “cash hungry sell out failure”). It may be true that the subscription format is old. But that as long as there is no alternative that does not break a game I do not see how it can be called outdated.
I also am concerned about ESO dipping it’s toe into pay-to-get-ahead territory with their collectors edition and pre-purchase deals.
I have no problems with a vanity pet (except that I find “pets” uninteresting at best – but to each his own). I can live with the treasure maps – they are a fun addition. The ability to play as any race in any alliance is interesting – I wish there was another way to get access to this than buying it but no better option comes to mind right now. A mount is fine too. But I get really antsy about the ability to play and craft as an Imperial. A whole race with unique skills and a rare crafting form to make money off (unless you can’t sell your Imperial gear) is an as blatant example of pay-to-get-ahead as they come. I am disturbed by this and I cling to my hope that this will be the only instance of this we will see in ESO.
Thankfully this statement from game director Matt Frior gives me some peace of mind:
“And it’s important to state that our decision to go with subscriptions is not a referendum on online game revenue models. F2P, B2P, etc. are valid, proven business models – but subscription is the one that fits ESO the best, given our commitment to freedom of gameplay, quality and long-term content delivery.”
I do – of course – disagree with him completely on what a “valid business model” (or rather what is a tolerable business model) is but since we agree on what the RIGHT model for ESO is – I’m willing to let that go.
As such I loved the recent update of The Noob which tackles the subject in it’s own hilarious manner. What I really like about this page is that it illustrates just how I was forced to a halt in a certain games based upon a popular fantasy setting. First a boss encounter – that me and my group had spent considerable time reaching – that we could not beat because the group ran out of certain items (which the game kindly offered to sell us) and then a whole area where fighting the mobs with items obtained without spending money was just not feasible (sure – I had the option of going back to the lower level area and grind until my level alone let me beat the mobs. But game satisfaction tends to fade pretty fast when you can’t play level appropriate content).
In other semi-related news I just got a Hearthstone beta key (my friend calls it “Magic The Gathering for the mentally challenged”) and am feeling my way around Blizzards newest endeavour. I am actually enjoying the game itself. You can get to feel endlessly clever when you play it right… but you can also feel extremely frustrated because a lot of the game is settled by blind luck – that is – do you draw the right combination of cards or not. If your opponent has a good hand to counter your own you will get trampled and there’s very little you can do about it (other than hope for a reversal of fortune – Tymora favour me now).
On the subject of microtransactions hearthstone does not really use that model but I can’t ignore the fact that the “special” cards are usually more powerful than the not so special ones. It is – of course – a matter of combining cards in the right way but when you face an opponent who plays just blue, purple and orange you know you will not be allowed a win. As such you can buy power by buying cards and obtain an advantage over players not spending as much – and that is not a model I’m overly fond of. Again I would much rather spend a one time amount and have more interesting ways to obtain new cards available to me in the game.
And just to round things off – look at this amazing piece of “art” from the Neverwinter webpage:
Oh look there’s a weekly sale next to the boobs too!
Neverwinter is asking me why I have not been playing the game for a while. They are probably to busy to read the opinion I already delivered on their game so – sure – I’ll take the time to fill out their survey.
After my recent rant on how Neverwinter is a horrible excuse for a game and a blatant attempt to grab some fast money from the nerds (why do we let the brands we love do this to us?) I thought I’d look more into the issue. Some games actually do manage to use the microtransactions quite well. While I would still rather pay a subscription or the full price of a complete game maybe it’s possible to find some common ground between the two.
World of Warcraft: In world of Warcraft you pay a monthly subscription fee to play and you can spend money on vanity items. That means items which are cool and/or funny but these items can not affect the game itself. You can’t buy yourself an advantage. You have to earn all the cool gear by actually playing the game.
League of Legends: LoL is free to download and play. In the game you choose one of many champions – each with different abilities – to control. As you play you earn Influence Points with which you can unlock new champions to play and purchase runes that will customize your champions. You can also spend money getting Riot Points which will unlock new champions as well as vanity skins – alternate visual themes – for your unlocked champions. It should be noted that all the champions are of equal power – each with their own force and weakness – their cost is dictated by how new they are.
Pox Nora: This game is played by collecting “runes”. A rune will be a warrior or an effect you can put into play. You gather them into a custom collection and match it against your opponents. In Pox Nora you can play the game to earn gold which will buy you runes from all but the newest releases. You can pay money for the newest runes (even though you only have a random chance to get the rarest ones) or you can trade other players for them.
Star Wars – The Old Republic: Truly a hybrid – SWTOR is free to play you can spend money to buy a lot of different items which will make your character more powerful, level up faster and have more unique looks. Also certain aspects of the game requires that you “unlock” them using the in-game currency or real money. As an alternative you can choose to be a subscriber and have a lot of these benefits just handed to you as well as a monthly “allowance” to spend on the boost and vanity items.
Neverwinter: I think I have already said my piece on Neverwinter. Long story short it is free to play except everything in the game and it’s mother is for sale. Which it will advertise loudly and obnoxiously if you try to have fun without paying. Woups – couldn’t keep it in.
EVE: As always doing it’s own thing. In EVE a PLEX is worth a month of game time. You can buy a PLEX for the game currency (ISK) and cash it in to renew your subscription or you can use your real money to buy yourself a PLEX and cash it in for ISK. So while it is possible to boost yourself with more money – wealth in EVE is a fickle thing ad you might end up losing it all over again. It’s hard to compare EVE with other games.
I very much like how League of Legends has solved the problem of payment vs being free to play and based on how well the game is doing it seems like that business model is quite viable. That said LoL doesn’t strike me as a game that took the same level of development as a major MMO.
I’m very curious about how the coming Elder Scrolls Online will work and how future games will adapt. I think the “basic” subscription model is a bit outdated but as seen with Neverwinter all out “F2P” games will not capture anyone’s attention for long.
Neverwinter is now in “open beta” and I have been checking it out. Trying to make up my mind. My rogue is now level 30 and I’m kind of having great fun – and kind of loathing the shit out of the game.