Transparency in Action
Back in April-ish, when I started writing about all things Eternal Crusade, I became (and currently remain), very involved in the Eternal Crusade forums, getting to know my fellow community members and spouting my own opinions on every topic imaginable. I realized that the community was at least as excited about EC as I was, and was probably far more knowledgeable on the various topics being discussed, and that it might serve me well as a game-journalist (HAH!), to put together a list of people on the forums who were well-spoken, intelligent, able to converse with others of differing opinion without losing their tempers, and were willing to listen and change their positions based on rational discussion with others. I thought these people might be good sources for game quotes, etc. over the course of development.
As it turned out they were even more useful than that...
In mid-August I reached out to eight of these people, from countries all over the world, and asked them to list, in their opinions, what the top five issues/concerns they had with the development of Eternal Crusade thus far, and why. While the lists I got back were all varied and different, there were two issues that were on every person's list: Rogue Trader Store prices and the “Sidegrade- Pay to Win” debate. Since these two were related we elected to address both of them together, and then we went at it. Forty or more pages were filled with argument and counter-argument, proposal and counter-proposal. At the end we had some ideas that we thought were pretty sound and we wondered how to communicate these ideas to the Dev team. Ultimately we decided to reach out to one of the Devs to see if he would be interested in taking a look at what we had.
We asked Steven Lumpkin, Lead Level Designer on Eternal Crusade, if he would like to take a look at what we had, and, fortunately for us, he was willing. Not only that, but Miguel had also heard about what we were doing, and was very excited to see what we had come up with, and if he might share some thoughts with us. We, of course, said yes please, see what we have here and let us know what you think.
So, by early September there were two devs who wanted to hear what we had to say, and one of them was the Head of Studio! Miguel joined in, and gave us lots to think about in terms of how Behaviour was approaching the RTS, and more importantly why they were approaching it that way. About a week later Miguel asked David Ghozland, the Creative Director on Eternal Crusade, to take a look at the things were talking about: things like avoiding even the suggestion of Pay-to-Win, since that is the kiss of death to an MMO. Like how we thought that they would actually sell more items in the RTS by lowering the costs (to be fair, Miguel had already announced to the community that they were reconsidering the RTS pricing at this time). We presented several options that we thought might get community support, and still generate enough income to sustain the game in the long-term.
What David sent to us a few days later was, to put it mildly, shocking. Amazing. Unprecedented, at least in my own personal experience. On September 15th, we received this post:
I finally went through the entire discussion. I have to admit that after page 30 I had a tendency to accelerate the reading. So first of all, please understand that I am not ignoring you and that my noticeable absence from the forums doesn't mean that I am not following what happen there. Steven, Brent, Michael, Ivan and basically everyone on the forums are bringing me your concerns on a regular basis.
When Steven says David is busy he really means it. My leads have sometimes some difficulty to catch me since I am rarely at my desk. I am always in meeting with the leads or working with the art direction, audio direction, GW, animation direction, development direction, producer, tech direction and also... executives on the monetization part. My role is to be the champion and guardian of the vision and to make sure that any department call will not jeopardize the overall experience of the game. I am NOT the guy taking the decision about monetization but committee in charge has to consult me before to take any decision. This is where I can battle for the best of the game and for the community. Sometimes the battles can be difficult but like you I want to see this game online and full of players, so I need to compromise.
I technically don't have the time to be on the forums. I rely on my core team to point me the right thread to read or to answer. I am missing this dev blog on the site which Turbulent will make soon or later, so I can answer globally to the community. That said let's talk about the subject of this discussion. P2w, cosmetic vs sidegrades, B2p vs f2p, basically we are talking about EC monetization strategy. This is a delicate matter because from a player perspective we rarely get or see the grand scheme of things, But since we have this solid transparency policy let me try to summarize the context here...
The game needs to make money to support the dev team, to pay for the live team, pay for the server cost, reimburse the game development cost plus some benefit for our investors. The reason of existence of the cash shop is to generate a revenue stream which will pay the monthly bill. Now a lot of people talk about cosmetic items as the solution to solve this problem, but the reality is that cosmetic items represent, depending of the game and the country, between 1-5% of the player population spending an average or $10-$20 per month. Since we are 40k there is only so much we can do cosmetic wise before to break the IP, or we can charge an insane amount of money for each purity seal, which also doesn't make sense. So basically we are closer to the 1% than to the 10%. I unfortunately can't share our forecasts but I can tell you that this is not enough to pay for the server cost alone. For that to work you need a huge player population. But there is the boosters and stats items market which represent more 10-20% of the player population spending even more money for items with some real impact in the game. This is much better and we can even start talking about profit.
(head to page 2 for the rest of the letter)