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Death of an MMO redux: Warhammer 40k Eternal Crusade

Posted by Ozzallos Thursday October 8 2015 at 6:59AM
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How to kill your Silver Bullet MMO franchise in one easy step:

What business model will the game use?

Eternal Crusade will be available in retail, for digital purchase, and a free-to-play option we call “Free-to-Waaagh!”. By purchasing a copy of the game, you will have access to it forever with no need for a subscription. There will be post-launch expansions as well as a cash shop for aesthetic customizations and side-grades.

You can play Free-to-Waaagh only as an Ork Character. In contrast to the premium Ork progression, some options will be locked, but you’ll be able to go anywhere and fight for the Waaagh! If you like it, but don’t want to pay the full price, you can unlock some of the missing options with micro-transactions.

-Warhammer 40k: Eternal Crusade FAQs

Billing yourself as a Free to Play MMO from the outset is a risky proposition. Name brand recognition is almost mandatory and even then you’ll need some way to make profit on the backside so you can keep the lights on. Most of your player populace will be free to play until you can entice them to spend money and to do that, you need to give them a taste of the game. Like crack, if you will. The analogy is probably more relevant than not, but that’s neither here of there. Without that foot in the door, you will fail.

While no Star Wars in terms of franchise power, Warhammer 40k isn’t exactly a slouch for fandom, so let’s be generous and say that we’ve at least got a foot in the door. The next is convincing players to spend money, and that’s where Behavior Interactive has gone horribly wrong. Take your favorite MMO, for example. I don’t care which one, but pick one. Got it? Good.

Now you are only allowed to play humans. All other factions are locked out behind a paywall. What? Your MMO is only a single race type game? Okay, you only get to play fighters. Mages, Clerics and thieves are locked behind the same pay wall. While the latter example is less accurate, you get the idea. Free to play lives and dies by giving players a taste of their game. Most of them are not dumb enough to lock a majority of their content behind a cash shop veil from the outset, and that’s where the critical fault here lies with Eternal Crusade. I hear you like orks. So here’s some orks with some orks and a motherfucking cash shop for anything else.

I’m sure you can picture the meme well enough without me having to post it here.

Of the games out today, their business plan seems to resemble Guild Wars 2 the most, but let's be honest-- Does anybody here think Arenanet's game would have been even a fraction as successful if they had forced all F2P player to play just Charr until they ponied up the cash? Say it with me: Nope.

Now I’ve hear that part of this is on purpose. Behavior-if I remember right –wants there to be the hordes of Orks just like there is in the fiction. While it certainly serves the purpose, I can’t help but to think that you’ll completely devaluate the gaming experience by creating an us-versus-them environment, and not simply on the battlefield. We’re talking the have and have nots. The pay versus free players. This can already be a poisonous topic among the player community without going out of your way to actually instigate it as a policy. More to the point, you’re subtly insinuating your free to play user base is an expendable horde.

If this game is planning on surviving as a F2P title, it’s deliberately handicapping itself by locking a majority of its content out from the outset for those free players to sample; and make no mistake, that will be the majority of the player population. It’s also creating a poisonous environment by design and frankly, I don’t think there is enough of an initial paying base to sustain the actual pay portion. Yes, I know it’s Warhammer 40k… but most of this game’s potential audience doesn’t have a figure of Slaanesh on their desk or a 40k rulebook for reference.

I’m predicting one of two things here: Either Behavior Interactive realizes that /wrists is really a bad idea and opens up the race archetypes to everybody or this game implodes faster than the grimdark plot of Warhammer 40k itself.

Leveling – The Gateway Drug

Posted by Ozzallos Sunday October 4 2015 at 5:02AM
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Free to Play publishers. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Whilst perhaps not the wise words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, it's certainly a close enough description of free to play’s state these days. A company that cannot find a way to get money from you now (subscriptions) will find a way to get it from you later and perhaps with more desperation (F2P). The cash shop was and still is the facilitator of this big reach around, and is largely used to actuate the pay to convenience theme we all know and love. Buying all out gear advantage is usually frowned upon by most players, but speed leveling items are commonly accepted as only a minor sin.

With so much competition these days, publishers have to walk a fine line—They want their game to be playable in order to attract eyeballs, but not too playable. They want you to buy something from them at some point, and that has traditionally been to alleviate level grind; and therein lies the rub—We gamers are a patient lot when it comes to free stuff. Years of half-baked MMOs have numbed many of us to the grind to the point where we accept it as a fact of life. To put it simply, level grind no longer serves as an effective incentive to wring cash from us.

For the Free to Play publisher, that’s a problem. One of their primary revenue gates is being rendered ineffective, and if they can’t get their cash now or later, they’re pretty much screwed.

Now I’d feel sorry for these people if Free to Play was being used as a fair and equitable transaction of money for entertainment, and there are a few companies out there that really do deserve our business. But by and large, it’s not. Right now, I can go to Greenman and pre-order Fallout 4 for $65, a title that is 100% complete and shines through and through. It quite literally has thousands of hours of voice, a plot, and the graphics are stunning. There is nothing about this game that doesn’t scream quality entertainment.

Or I can go to Wargaming and spend that same $65 on a Tirpitz tier 8 battleship-- Basically a fragment of a gaming experience in a game that is rife with balance issues. A game that is missing core features not due out until 2016. A game that is in no way complete regardless of its launch status.

Now if it sounds like I came here to specifically rag on Wargaming and World of Warships, you’re only half right. I’m actually using them as an example of where the more unsavory elements in the Free to Play industry are taking their brand. We’ve known for a while that manipulating player psychology plays a big role in getting users to spend hard cash. The most egregious example of this is the in-game Slot Machine. Or lottery. Or cash shop random prize box. Regardless of what you want to call it, it achieves the same end as gambling does in a casino: The thrill to maybe win big with odds heavily weighted in the houses favor.

Reaching back to Firefall’s beta, this same tactic was used to simultaneously used to encourage players to retire horded currency for lack of meaningful content as well as stimulate real cash growth for the company as players bought more game currency. They could have added any of those new visuals to the cash shop as promised, but nope. Fuck you, players. We want… no, we need money from you whether this game is called free to play or not.

This is the state of most F2P today: An adversarial relationship between publisher and consumer; where one tries to exploit the psychological weaknesses of the other.

And like ebola herpes, it’s evolving.

It’s a trend I’ve been noticing across several free to play titles and perhaps you’ve noticed it too: leveling is getting easier. Taking World of Warships for example, it’s not the actual grind that’s the problem. You can get to late game ships easily enough… It’s staying there because the economy is specifically rigged to force you back down into the mid-tiers so that you can produce enough income to play at the higher ones, like some fucked up gaming yo-yo. Conveniently, you can abdicate this by buying premium time and/or premium warships to produce the cash to stay at the desired gaming levels.

Archeage provides us with another example, as I touched upon in my review of that game. Leveling and combat are almost untouched in terms of the player’s ability to play the game for free. Heck, you can even craft your way to max level. For the majority of the game, you may think you’re getting a pretty fair shake until you realize it’s not the grind they want you to pump money into... It’s everything else. Housing. Ships. Production. End game gear Etc.

Even new arrivals such as Wildstar are showing hints of this. Leveling in this game is not hard, but you start to see a hint of what the game wants to focus your finances when it comes to simple things such as dyes and cosmetics with prices now scaling into multiple platinum.

The TL;DR version is this—The scum and villainy of F2P are still looking to separate you from your money for as little as they can possibly get away with but their tactics are changing. The old barriers of enforced level grinding are just as good at turning potential players away as it is funneling them into cash shop, or even not at all. In its place a new form of psychological manipulation has sprung up—

Attachment.

The game you’re playing just made it fairly painless to level up to 100 and now you’ve got this somewhat awesome character. It dual wields two swords of +4 badassery. You’ve grown attached to it. It has a big number to go with. And now that you’re up here, you’re going to really want to compete, right? Pimp that bitch out. Buy some cash shop coins. Throw some dye on that costume you just bought. Ease the crafting grind that you really didn’t think was mandatory before.

The levels were a diversion. The real threat to your wallet was waiting up here at max level the entire time, hoping that you’ve become so psychologically attached to your character that you’ll pay the publisher to get bent over on the backside. The addiction of 'just one more level!' is now a tool of the trade.

Hey, even I’ll admit this can be a fair exchange depending on the company involved. But do yourself a favor. Well, two favors. Find out what the money sinks are before you invest the time. Second, just assume you didn’t find that single golden nugget amongst the industry flotsam known as free to play, because you probably didn’t.

Free to Play needs to change. I'm struggling to think of an industry that is so manipulative to its consumer base as to resort to such deception in order to get their sales; one that goes to such great lengths to disguise their commerce model in order to ass-fuck you for a dollar.

This it'snt the future of gaming. This is the death of gaming.

Blade and Soul: Feeling Proud of Itself

Posted by Ozzallos Friday October 2 2015 at 12:07PM
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Call this one an NCsoft double feature of sorts. It’s taken Blade and Soul nearly four years to get a North American release date, but we finally have one on the table for beta: October 30th. I’d have been more enthusiastic if not for two things—First, having learned that Blade and Soul is yet another title extremely porous to hacking. The second is their Founder’s pack pricing model; as in holy crap does this game think highly of itself.

Now maybe NCsoft will deal with the hacking issues in the localization from here to there. I’m doubtful, but it could happen. The pricing for the founders packs are, however, less than optimistic. The lowest level doesn’t buy you much at twenty five dollars—The most notable being beta access and 25k “premium points” of dubious value. To get anything meaningful, you have to take the next step up and spend seventy five fucking dollars. Want more than that? $125. Pay up, bitch.

Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and just say that this looks amazingly similar to how players got boned for Archeage early access. I know the game looks amazing and NCsoft isn’t usually horrible, but Blade and Soul is starting to look like a game poised to anally rape you and your wallet from the outset. And with the distinct possibility that the same hacking problems will be present in this version as well? Likewise, it's not as if these games are startups in desperate need of cash. Blade and Soul has already had a successful four year run in another market... WTF is it with the exorbitant early access pricing scheme?

Do yourself a favor, folks… Don’t be the early adopter on this one. Let somebody else get burned first.

Wildstar: Reloaded F2P Review

Posted by Ozzallos Friday October 2 2015 at 10:29AM
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Wildstar F2P, eh?

It doesn’t sound like such a bad deal when you think about it and it’s really not, depending on your MMO needs. As many of you already know, Wildstar started its life out as a subscription based title, but failed to generate enough player interest to sustain continued, long term operation. NCsoft came on board and Wildstar was re-launched a year later as Wildstar Reloaded. Going F2P has changed some aspects of the game, of course, the biggest being that F2P gamers are only allowed two character slots per realm and you cannot create or invite to guilds.

That’s not so horrible, right?

Two player slots does strike me as a bit chintzy but not overly crippling, and as long as you don’t have any guild aspirations, it’s a pretty fair deal. Of course, there’s other minor drawbacks—fewer auction house slots, costume slots, etc, while Signature access either alleviates the above or significantly overpowers the bonuses to many aspects of the game. Yep, pay to convenience is alive and well in the new Wildstar F2P but that’s only a crime if you don’t get something in return, such as a great gaming experience.

Not much has changed insofar as content goes—Wildstar still has that edgy B-Movie sci-fi cowboy plot going on, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, in my opinion. If there is one thing the title has in spades, it’s style and attitude. A lot of MMOs take the safe route and lean on more familiar settings, such as ye ole China, but you can tell somebody cared about the Wildstar universe and its presentation to the player. Quality narration is plenty and even the simple act of leveling up greets with a rockstar welcome. The cartoonish art style is likewise distinctive and probably single parallel I’ll draw to World of Warcraft in that care went into its design. For some, the cartoonish presentation of the characters and the world may not be there thing, but there’s no denying it was well done. Finally, Wildstar goes out of its way to tell a story and does so better than bioware and its multimillion dollar flop.

So why didn’t Wildstar succeed?

There’s very little fresh about the title, in my opinion. Like Tera, it utilizes an action driven combat engine to interact with the bad guys world. Unlike Tera, it’s not nearly as fun. First off, most of the classes are casters to some degree, with only two being proper melee types. It results in a lot of standoff spam that may or may not be your thing. In PvE, it makes for a pretty sedate experience that gets a bit more exciting in PvP because real players don’t stand around waiting for numbers to fall off of them. In the end, it results in somewhat bland gameplay since the mobs always come to you but you really never have to go to them.

The other part of it is the telegraph system that dumbs it down even more. This was originally sold as a feature of the game, but the more I play it in Wildstar, the more distain I have for it. It literally dumbs gameplay down to the point where you mindlessly avoid the red zones that enemies spawn with zero guesswork. Sure boss battles change that up, but in doing so almost completely invalidates this mechanism with unavoidable attacks and the like. Needless to say I’m not a fan of this system and if would never make it into any MMO I would care to build. Even PvP features this system, which makes it more annoying.

“Oh crap, there’s a giant cone of red death getting charged up. Better move out of the way!”

It’s pretty much like that, but more hectic.

The leveling system is pretty much standard fare after that. You level and get new skills, f which you can only put eight on your action bar at once. This is my frowny face. You can individually improve those skills through a point structure and have yet another point structure to get more skills. Frankly it feels like this system was slapped together as an afterthought, but serves its purposes toward specializing your character.

Faction balance is likewise lopsided. A huge chunk of the gaming population invariably chooses the Exiles due to some poor decisions on Carbines part. First, they are pretty much the theme that Wildstar advertises on the tin, not the shady Dominion Empire. Seconds, they get the underdog freedom fighter backstory. Third, and most importantly: Furries. Exiles have all of these innate advantages while the Dominion doesn’t get nearly enough advertising screen time, and now history is repeating itself in F2P.

So there you have it. Wildstar’s biggest sin was being a mediocre game with a great story, much like Old Republic. It wasn’t a bad title, just not enough to actually interest players from the other mediocre titles that were already free to play or the handful of excellent ones that easily eclipse Wildstar’s gameplay. As a free to play title, I predict success, however. Free is just the right price and the care invested in this title’s backstory is worth that alone.