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MMORPG - our Virtual Worlds are under attack. Log in and fight dammit!

Our genera is under fire by a generation of gamers for whom the term MMORPG represents an extension of Animal Crossing or Battlefield 2. Writers are telling gamers to buy buffs from people who control the need for them. I hope it's just a Secret World ARG

Author: Cyberdeck7

Item shops - in logic and fiction

Posted by Cyberdeck7 Saturday July 23 2011 at 4:48PM
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This article is not a broad criticism of the f2p model as a whole or even item shops in general. It is about applying logic to one small part of the so called f2p revolution: buying and selling buffs and potions in item shops. Hopefully I'll be able to illustrate just how sleazy the practice is and help some of you buyers out there, even occasional buyers, snap out of it.

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So, you're a freshly minted alt - you've just saved the town for the third time and you can almost feel the crackle of lightning coursing through your new staff and pulsing through the inscribed runes. There's a cloud in the sky though, your spirits are dampened a bit by the foreknowledge that just over that little stone bridge there's a pissed off farmer who'll need 15 wolves killed.

You do it because you know he gives you the 5 AC Robe of Wonder and maybe zapping them with lightning is new enough to take some of the tedium out of finding and killing those 15 while avoiding the white ones until you meet the farmer's friend down the road.

You blaze through some greys but die once because you got too close to a white. He seemed to come from a long way to get you though and took you down in two bites, but maybe he was returning from a chase and you were still wearing that Ragged Robe after all.

Back off into the woods you go blasting greys. It's fun but holy hanna do mages go through mana. They did say mages were advanced to solo with, but that heal costs about a third of your mana a cast. Luckily, you had the 4 small mana vials the townsfolk gave you in appreciation and you didn't use them all. The farmer was going to give another 2 along with the robe so you'd be back to 4 and should be able to easily get through the white wolves for his friend.

You get to his friends house and of course he asks you for 15 white wolves. They're a little way off, but you get there, find the first one and then mana mana mana, die die die. You get sick of running back and forth and though you're looking forward to that castle in the valley, you begin to get kind of bored of the grind.

 

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This could be any MMO, subscription or item shop based. The difference is how devs and producers will handle the situation.

For a sub based game the dev's motivation is to keep you interested so you stay subscribed. The way to do that is to make adjustments so the grind isn't so boring. Boring is bad.

For an item shop game the motivation of the devs is to increase the grind so you go through your mana quicker. The more you burn through, the more they sell. If they don't sell mana in the store the situation is much more dire. They're selling XP and health buffs. In that situation they try to walk a fine line between you being bored enough to buy ways to accelerate through the content, but not bored enough to quit.

See, the tables of capitalism have turned. In a sub game, you're a customer who is there to be entertained. They have to keep you from getting bored by adding content and keeping things balanced. In an item shop game the devs control both the sale of and the need for buffs.

We're not dealing with "The Mom and Pop Dev Shop" here either. The games are sold to us by massive corporations that see only numbers at the decision making level. You can bet your life they are not only adjusting content so you're either bored out of your mind or die enough to get frusterated, but also researching the f2p model into a precise money extracting machine. It's a real goldmine for them - they're selling replicable 150k icons for $3 a piece and controlling the need for them.

In the real world you'd be fined or sued for for creating a need for which you're the sole provider of the solution. At the very least it's the sleaziest of businesses that use that model. Camel Joe and the Marlboro man are guilty of it - nicotine is addictive, all they have to do is get you in the door and let's face it - Camel Joe was targeted at kids. Crack dealers use the f2p model as does big Phama. Restless leg disorder, give me a f'ing break, but you can get a free sample - just ask your doctor and here's a pamphlet outlining your symptoms. Cure cancer not boners you f'ers. But I digress, back to bilking people by selling icons.

I don't think people who think differently than me on this subject are morons, but I do think the companies using this model are sleazy. After considering how many times a buff icon is replicated, it costs a fraction of a penny in development costs. It's pretty much nothing if we're talking potions -they're a 2d 150k .png already on our drives along with a function,  [x = x + 50] and [y=20;y=y-1], or some shit. Selling a 20-pack for $9.99 while fine-tuning the difficulty of the content is disgusting.

It's literally like beating a kid up, taking his candy, selling it back to him, then beating him up and taking it again. With a game and an item shop there's no real violence but the financial transactions are, pardon the pun, virtually the same.

Additionally, I personally believe the journalists encouraging this f2p revolution are behaving irresponsibly by not thinking this thing through. You're telling a lot of kids to spend $10 on a 2d 150k .png already on their drives along with the equation [x = x + 50] and [y=20;y=y-1] from a company that adjusts difficulty levels to lower even the virtual value of that purchase as low as they can possibly get away with. Kids listen to you guys, ya know.

Frankly, this type of rip-off can't happen in a purely subscription based game. It makes no financial sense for a company running a pure sub game to do anything but raise the perceived value of fun and accomplishment in their game. Items, either purchased via in game currency or given outright, are rewards not expenses. A crappy player doesn't pay more to play the game and you can't get swatted by some noob who XP potted his way through the levels.

A sub game is a game with rules - you buy the game and you play the game. Everyone plays under the same conditions no matter what their financial situation.

Most importantly, the devs don't have financial incentive to make your valuable playtime frusterating or boring, their only financial incentive is to develop more content to keep you paying that sub.

=================================================================================


A clammy breeze prickles across the tatooed scalp of our intrepid young mage. Now level 25, he stands outside a cave portal ready to solo the previously impossible dungeon due to a snazzy new game feature - the scaling instance. He swings off his pack and untwists the leather strap binding it. Rummaging around inside, his brow furrows as he sees he has only three jugs of pure silver mana left.

The mage straightens his Robe of Minor Doom (+4.2%) as he stands, covering his eyes against the sun. He considers the trail he'd come down.It was a long ride back to the quest hub and he couldn't remember if the little town had a potion vendor or just a general store. The last place he bought mana was the city before which was only a little further, but it was making his way through the spiders that cost him most of his mana supply on the way up.

The player's eyes flash towards the golden button while in an alternate reality a young project lead looks on. Shiny shoes up on a shiny coffee table, he talks on the phone excitedly about his team's improvements to the Scaling Instance project's revenue stream.

They'd positioned the new E'atronoiac Caves instance far enough out that the travel factor alone was generating some numbers in the inst trav and frgt pots categories. Adding the spiders and removing the potions from the mid-trip general store was a stroke of genius. He needed something more though.

The caves were doing well, but the mobs' on the fly stats generation cost quite a bit in processor load up front. Even with the project granted one of the sparse XLTs (Extended Loading Time) slots, importing a party's stats, equipment and inventory, then adjusting the frequency/stats of mobs and mob groups created quite a server load.

Scaled instances were the perfect 'milkers,' as his director put it. The goal of the zone and dungeon projects was never to kill players over and over, just to milk them; to send them onto the next zone almost dry of pots, a little shaken and dreading a grind. 'The scaling instance project was the future,' his boss said over a beer. He claimed it was the perfect companion to their new f2p conversion and was already fine tuneable down to 9 or 10 pots left in inventory.

In the long run, with a little tweaking, they thought it'd be far cheaper to replicate a reskinned scaling instance then to build and balance a standard, level focused dungeon. They'd be able to shed modelers almost as fast as the Bump Skinned Pony Project.

Around the office the BSPP was actually referred to as the Pony of Doom Project, which was funny in a way, and the young project leader briefly pondered what they'd call his. They weren't just fine tuning item recovery, but the fact that the system scaled and skinned was going to save the company a shit ton in labor.

As he was on the phone trying to explain why the boredom factor was a good thing he glanced over at his laptop. His view into the world since launch had migrated to watching characters near the entrance to the instance. He'd peek through their bags and try to guess what might change after they went in. Surprisingly enough, big character changes after entry, after content generation, were a major problem to tune the code for.

A character leveling inside the instance was where the issue first became apparent. Leveling was one of the few areas where the system slowed down in item recovery. It threw off the balance enough that they had to dial back their potion use estimates and figures. Solving that problem was the coding team's top priority at this point.

The guy on the screen was just a solo mage sorting through his bags. He only had 3 mana... the project lead squinted his eyes and began to chant 'go to the store, go to the store' to himself. On the phone - "no, hehe... nope, I was just working a little." Nope, no store trip. Damn.

The guy entered the cave. "Oh, sure - now he goes to the store. Great, there goes my item extraction ratio for this guy." The programming team had better get a handle on this soon. The Scalable Instance project stood to really make him stand out. With his boss being up for retirement this year, the project lead stood to climb the ladder quickly. They just had to drive their potion extraction numbers up.

The little gold item shop button was both his profit pipeline and his main problem. Huge changes after entry really tanked his numbers. Though the spiders were doing their job and the dungeon had its distance factor going for it, there was still a 50/50 chance of players restocking after entry. On the phone - "Holy shit Mom, I gotta go" and he hung up.

He held the phone for just a second before dialing his director. He'd be stepping around his boss a second time. He could theoretically be fired for breaking the chain of command, but he just had a feeling this was his shot. He was going to take it.

With the fate of the mage on the screen completely wiped from consciousness, he dialed the number. "John? yes, hi, this is Hal from scalable instances" ..listening... "yep, yep.. no, no problems, in fact - I think I have something here".... "yeah, ok.... I think we should just turn off the gold button in dungeons all together and bill it as the Devs fighting against marketing because the Devs feel the button is too distracting during the dungeon content."....."Yep, I fully considered that - that's why we use the marketing vs Devs thing. We get less variablility and much higher pot extraction numbers and it'll be a PR godsend.".... "yes" ....."uh huh, I agree. They all want to love Devs and hate marketing." ..... "Sure" Hal almost stuttered "you liked Newcastle, right?" .... "OK! I'll be right over!"

As the Ogre blocking the exit exploded into a electrically buzzing splatter,  the mage looked through his loot and reflected on how much fun he'd just had going through the new scable dungeon. He still had plenty of supplies and was feeling pretty powerful as he went through the exit and on towards the elven castle in the valley. The dungeon had been so much fun that he decided to bring his stagnant Ranger through the instance after his mage's current quest chain ended, maybe in a couple days or so.

A week later there was a big to-do over the item shop itself. It was an internal company battle that was made public via a leaked memo. The player read with interest as all of the sites were saturated with the story. Every detail, every dev post since beta, was rehashed over and over in the news and the forums. For once, sanity overtook greed and the Devs won - no gold button in the dungeons! Victory! Yes, death to The Man!

He thought about how awesome his game company was as he watched the ticking progress bar for his 60MB patch get longer and longer. Finally!

Inside the world a 26th level ranger woke from a long slumber. He made the ardurous journey from the hub city to the village and on to the E'atronoiac Caves. He already had a few ideas on how he'd approch the dungeon mobs with a ranger and was almost giddy with anticipation as he looked through his inventory. After a quick visit to the shop he entered the dungeon and thought "Victory!" to himself one more time as he saw the greyed out item shop button.

Three hours later, after multiple deaths culminating in a drawn out 45 minute 1,4,3,5..1,4,3,5 battle with the final Ogre, the embattled ranger emerged from the dungeon broken and sapped. He looked through his bag and considered his previous plans for the night. Screw doing the Goran cave tonight. He needed to re-pot before even trying to get there. He hit the big gold button and began to restock for tomorrow night. He clicked on 'My Account' and briefly weighed the $22 he'd spent this month against the apathy he was feeling after the caves. Nope, nope he thought - he'd stick with the game. After all at least it had good devs who are willing to fight for the players.

 

AtmaDarkwolf writes:

Long read but for the most part, accurate for many of the older f2p item mall games. Hell even pretty spot on for the newer ones.

 

But 22 bucks? Wow, anyone whos sunk money into a item shop usualy spends a good deal more than that per month. :D

Mon Jul 25 2011 7:18AM Report
Kothoses writes:

Fantastic well written and well thought out article which makes many many good points.

 

I enjoyed reading it and hope you keep to this quality every time. thank you.

Mon Aug 01 2011 9:13PM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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