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 Many people see this as an “outdated method” and that SWTOR showed us that not even a huge brand with a solid fan base can manage to be a subscriber only game.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.
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.
In SWTOR choosing how your character acts is a big deal. You choose between Light and Dark (capitals, yes!), how you interact with people and what your companions think of you. The choice you are faced with the most is dialogue options. Three ways to react in a conversation.
I am very pleased with choosing to cash in some vacation time between Christmas and New Years. As previously mentioned Lasse and Adrian shoved SWTOR down my throath. On top of that Steam had Skyrim on a special offer and after trying it out at Torill‘s place I was pretty anxious to give it a shot.
I am very pleased with both games. SWTOR is the newest and most ambitious MMO on the field. Sporting the powerful Star Wars brand and coming from Bioware it is a high powered, fast moving object. Skyrim is a single player game and despite the lukewarm reception Oblivion, the previous installment in The Elder Scrolls series, recieved it has been highly anticipated. Skyrim now sports all of the experience, good and bad, gained from Oblivion and I feel like some solid inspiration has been gathered from Dragon Age as well.
Mae-Lin, my virtous jedi, is now level 15 and Kean, an emotionally detatched and ruthless bounty hunter, is level 11. In Skyrim my Dunmer warrior-mage is level 16 and has three dragon kills under her belt. I’ve decided to share my experiences so far in the form of a simple pro/con list.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
- It’s Star Wars. It feels like being in the movies and the depiction of a grand universe is very convincing.
- Storytelling. Every class has it’s own unique story, for the first time I have felt like doing just one more quest because I want to know what happens next. The
- Relating to your character. Through the simple system of light/dark points and choices in conversation you get a feel for your character. Mae-Lin is strong willed and virtous but not understanding of the fact that others may not be. Kean is loyal only to the highest bidder but has a strict code of honor inhow he conducts himself once he is on the job.
- Character animation. Combat feels dynamic, powers have a very individual feel to them and when fighting another toon there’s is a distinct feeling that the two are actually engaged in combat.
- Everyone gets a pet. Your companions have opinions and influence how you play both in terms of the story and mechanics.
- Still some things copy-pasted from WoW (the benchmark of MMOs). Do we need a skill point based crafting system?
- A lot of effort put into making YOUR character seem like the center of the universe. It’s an MMO and there is a lot of other universal nexuses running around. My impulse is to ignore them.
- Streamlined. The newest incarnation of the mechanics are a huge step up from the previous games. None of the skills feel awkward to use and, get this, theres a talent point system that works!
- Reaction/immersion. In Oblivion NPC’s would turn to face you and some times greet you with a standard phrase. in Skyrim these messages are highly individual. They relate to where you are in the story. In Whiterun your identity is known. In another city it is not (and this may depend on wether you choose to use your special powers within the city or not) and as such the responses will be different.
- Atmosphere/graphics. Skyrim is just beautiful. Mists and weather artistically blend with the landscape. Mountains tower above you in the distance and the ruins are, as always, creepy as fuck (as are their inhabitants).
- Freedom of choice. As always you have a choice to go where you want and do what you want to do. Pick sides in the great war, go study magic, make friends with the reclusive orcs… it’s all up to you (ps: the orcs are assholes).
- Sometimes it happens I get tired of being awesome. In Skyrim you cannot sneeze without everyone complimenting you and if you’re in luck a priest will show up just then and declare you the herald of the mucus god. You are so fucking special it hurts.
- There’s some balancing/power level issues that get to me.
- Someone should have bothered to name all the dragons. Killing “Dragon #16” is anticlimatic (yes I’m nitpicking)
As I was handed a bag from a cupcake shop I was, as one does when handed a bag from a cupcake shop, thinking: “uuuuh, cupcakes!”. As it turned out, however, the bag contained a little box with lightsabers and the Lucasarts logo on the front. That’s when it hit me: I had been Forced.