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Vicarious Existence

To blog about what is going on in the MMO genre from a casual MMO player's viewpoint.

Author: UnSub

Cryptic Bucks Vaguely Detailed; CoH/V Puts on the (Coloured) Gloves Against ChampO

Posted by UnSub Saturday July 18 2009 at 12:10PM
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In answer to the question "What is a Cryptic Buck?" Bill Roper has come out with some more official information on the topic: 

Champions Online will support micro-transactions, but contrary to the concerns of some people, the game is not ‘based’ on them. There are the basic tenets for our micro-transactions:

* The vast majority are aesthetic items, such as costume pieces, action figures, emblems, etc.
* A very few are account-level management tools, such as being able to rename a character
* Micro-transactions should never limit your ability to enjoy the game or reach the level cap
* Any micro-transaction that has a game effect can also be earned in the game through play

Also, it’s important to note that the overwhelming majority of micro-transactions are account-wide. This means if you buy a costume piece or an action figure, every character on your account gets it.

Finally, many of the pre-order programs that we’re finalizing now have cryptic points associated with them. This is a way for us to allow our players to choose their own pre-order reward(s) which falls into our whole customization concept for Champions Online.

So, it's likely to be for cosmetic items in-game, Cryptic doesn't want it to be a 'pay-to-win' system and it has a broader value to Cryptic operations, such as Star Trek Online. However, there still seems to be the "we're not quite sure yet" vibe about Cryptic Bucks from Cryptic - they know they want them, but exactly how they fit hasn't been finalised (or at least that's my perception).

On the topic of superhero MMOs, City of Heroes / Villains (CoH/V) announced the pending release of Issue 16: Power Spectrum. This is the issue that finally, finally, finally introduces powerset customisation (well, a greater degree, anyway) with new animations available for lots of powers and the ability to change the colour of powers. More existing powersets are getting opened up for more Archetypes, so more powerset combinations are possible. And, finally, more mission difficulty options will be made available, so if you wanted your hero / villain to be able to solo a mission but fight opponents scaled for a team of 8, you can.

I've looked at I16 and, although it finally (did I say finally?) meets a long time request of the player base, it just doesn't impress me. Obviously it is coming in to compete with one of Champions Online's key offerings, but however complex it may have been on the back-end (i.e. programming and development) to do, on the front-end (i.e. what the players see) it isn't that much. There will be excitement about finally being able to make that hot pink Dark / Dark Scrapper you always wanted (Emo Revenge Barbie, now with extra pink) it's not something that is really going to pull in new players. If you left CoH/V for any reason other than "I can't make a yellow Ice Tanker", it's not the issue to bring you back. And CoH/V needs to be attracting new players, not just pandering to the base. 

Sure, locking in the base against ChampO is a good move. But they can't duplicate one of its key offerings - customisable power frameworks - and it isn't going to grow the base, only cause it to shrink slightly slower that it would otherwise.

Also, I can't believe that after Paragon Studio's mishandling of I14's Mission Architect system and the banning of players for abusing it and excessive powerleveling, they are going to introduce difficulty settings that will allow for potential abuse and excessive powerleveling, topped off by more efficient mission farming. I'd hope that Paragon Studios wouldn't fall into the same trap again, but I've learned it doesn't pay to be optimistic about such things.

Internet Rumour: GOA sheds staff, WAR's US subs now less than 100k, Mythic on new MMO

Posted by UnSub Wednesday July 15 2009 at 3:24AM
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It's an internet rumour, so take it with a truckload of salt.

From a source that has been reliable, it appears that GOA (who look after Warhammer Online in Europe) is going to be shedding about 50% of its staff by September, while player numbers for WAR in the US set at about 97000 and for Europe (minus Russia) at about 83000. Which leaves WAR with 180000 or so subscribed accounts in its launch markets, which once contained over 800000 accounts (at launch).

WAR has been expanding, however - into Russia and Taiwan. This is likely how it appeared that WAR's player numbers didn't shift from the 300000 announced for the previous two quarters - growth into new markets hid the erosion of existing markets.

All of this fits into the latest round of free character transfers, aimed to pull characters off empty servers and onto more populated ones. And the exit of Mark Jacobs from Mythic, of course. WAR is failing badly in retaining subscribers and it probably isn't unforeseeable that EA will decide to cut its losses at some point if the game can't be made profitable.

So then, why the rumour of Mythic working on a new MMO (on top of people being syphoned off of WAR and onto DAOC)? To stop more people being fired, that's why. Start a new MMO, get the staff you want to keep working on it and then sell the hell out of it to the money men that this time they're on a winner. Move staff to the profitable MMO, just in case the unprofitable one gets cut.

But anyway: it's a rumour.

How Not To Announce A Micro-Trans Pricing Model: Cryptic-ly

Posted by UnSub Thursday July 2 2009 at 12:38AM
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With the build up to the launch of Champions Online, there was always going to be some sort of pre-order goodies to encourage people to sign up at launch. And lo and behold: both Gamestop and Amazon came out with their pre-order bonuses. Ignoring the fact that the Gamestop goodies (flight travel power at lvl 0, special insect wings) is better than the vaguely DC-esque costume items Amazon gets (Grenade Chest Strap aside, the Harlequin Headpiece and Black Knight Helmet are a little Batman related, don't you think?) what really grabbed peoples' attention was the other bonus offered for pre-ordering:

5 Cryptic Bucks which can be used to purchase a variety of premium in-game goods.

This immediately raised the question "what are Cryptic Bucks?" and at about one day cycle or so from the announcement, we still don't know. It's fairly obviously some kind of microtransaction mechanism for Champions Online linked to "premium in-game goods", but that's about it. Going out with something as contentious as a paid box plus subscription fees plus microtransactions for a single title was always going to be a controversial issue, but not having info about Cryptic Bucks lined up for the launch of this information was stupidly negligent.

Nature abhors a vaccuum. With no official word on what Cryptic Bucks are good for, people are free to make their own assumptions; these assumptions are usually on the negative end of the scale. For some MMO players any kind of microtransactions is a turn-off, especially since it raises the issue of being able to pay-to-win rather than grind-to-win put time in-game to achieve items and character progression.

My personal view on RMT is that I'll judge them as a I see them. If Cryptic Bucks turn out that I can unlock something cosmetic I want quicker than having to grind it out, that's fine with me. If it means that Cryptic puts out extra content more regularly to keep those RMT revenues coming in, that seems like a good deal. But if having to buy Cryptic Bucks is the only way to advance through a title, or I'm no longer enjoying the game, then that makes microtransactions less attractive. There are certainly issues with having sub-fees and microtransactions in the one title if you have to spend both to keep playing in a reasonable manner.

Looking at titles like Fury, Hellgate: London and the bankrupting Chronicles of Spellborn, a major reason they failed is that they didn't have a business revenue model that could support the game. Confusing players about what they need to pay is never a good idea while it is commercial suicide for a studio to launch a game without considering how they are going to get paid for it in detail. 

Something like Champions Online launching with microtransactions should have been news Cryptic's PR people had answers ready and prepared for. Some people would be automatically be turned off by the idea, but if the offer is suitable then there are a large number of fence-sitters who would at least consider it. However, no information at all leaves it to the imagination about what role Cryptic Bucks are meant to serve and can be a turn off. That's not a good move for a title trying to build momentum two months from launch.

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