Author’s Note: These are excerpts from a longer post on my blog.
Part II: The Importance of Being Innovative
What is Innovation? Is Innovation fun? Does Innovation lead to greater sales and profit? What is Innovation? When things are going badly developers will do anything to stop the hemorrhaging; they’ll throw everything and the kitchen sink at the problem.
I envision innovation with regards to F2P as choice. Someone once wrote that the true goal of civilization is to give the great amount of choice to its peoples. While often times F2P is seen as getting something for nothing, with regards to the business side of F2P, I believe that choice is its greatest innovation. Before F2P, there was only the subscription; $14.99/month. And it worked for many years. Often times when something works fine, the school of thought is to leave it as it is. As costs and expectations rose in the wake of the explosion of popularity in the MMO market, the subscription market met a saturation point. It’s entirely possible, likely probable, that the business side of MMO’s will return to the subscription model, even if it’s just in conjunction to the F2P model. While, there is a growing surge from the consumer side for F2P, there is a core minority that wishes things to remain the same.
A recent article at Eurogamer featured the trio of Ragnar Tornquist, the game's creative director, Joel Bylos - then lead content designer on The Secret World, now game director, and Funcom's communications director Erling Ellingsen; the de facto public faces of The Secret World. In it Joel Bylos asked: "Guild Wars 2 is a very high quality product funded by the largest MMO publisher in the world. Will people be expecting that quality in all free-to-play going forward? What about smaller companies like us? We want to try and create that huge experience, but we don't have five or 15 MMOs that we own that are still making money all over the world. Do the bigger companies then drive out the smaller companies?"
One thing to realize is that innovation often comes from smaller companies, or at least less well-known games. Often times it is the smaller games and companies which can afford to be risky simply because they need something to stand out from the crowd. Ragnar Tornquist said in the Eurogamer article: "On the positive side, this brings change to MMOs, and the market needs it. MMOs had stagnated, and that's something we tried to address as well. Hopefully that things are stirring up now means that there can be new games, new types of games, and those will often come from the smaller guys or the medium-sized guys, and not the big ones, because the big ones are playing it safe."
The most important idea behind innovation is how it is perceived. The Old Republic innovated in story, and after the initial buzz it was largely ignored to the point of switching from a positive to a negative in comments made by writers and gamers alike. It is not enough to merely innovate; it must be innovation that is well received by the audience or consumer base. It is akin to the premiere show of a play. Initially there is a good buzz until word comes down that a major critic has panned the show. In minutes the formerly packed hall is empty. Perception is everything, and often much more important that the actual innovation involved.