Friday, October 29, 2010

Human Nature is the Reason Players Resist Free-to-Play

It's a great time to be a Free-to-Play gamer. Sure, Free-to-Play is nothing new, but over the past year or so several high quality, formerly subscription-only games have converted to Free-to-Play and there are more on the horizon. However, not everyone is happy. In particular, the subscription paying players of these games. To understand why, you have to understand what is meant by Free-to-Play.
 
What Free-to-Play often really means is Pay Optional. It costs nothing to start playing the game. A significant portion of the game, if not all, is accessible to the player. In addition to what's free, players are given the opportunity to enhance their gaming experience by making optional purchases with real world money. One way this is handled is through an Item Mall, or Cash Shop. These in-game stores may sell clothing items to change your avatar's appearance, mounts to speed up your travel, boosts to help your character level faster or stay alive, extra storage space, or any number of other game enhancing features. Or a game may choose to only open up a part of their world, and allow players to purchase additional areas if they wish to adventure further. There are several different pricing models out there and most include one or a combination of these options.
 
So why would someone who used to pay a subscription of approximately $15 a month be upset at now not being forced to pay month after month. Part of the reason is the stigma Free-to-Play has. In the past, a high percentage of Free-to-Play games were of low quality when compared to the subscription games. However, over the years they have gotten better. Furthermore, we are now talking about established, Triple-A titles. We know the quality is high.
 
The main issue is the cash shop. Players complain that now that have to pay for stuff that used to be included in the game. I agree this is a valid complaint for someone who plays a particular title a lot and, in the new model, would end up spending more than the $15 subscription fee a month. But, from what I've heard, the reality is that that accounts for only 5% to 10% of the players. Furthermore, many of these games (certainly all of the recent subscription converts) have a subscription option available for people who play a lot, which would allow them to play everything without having to dish out any more additional cash. Yet, players still want to resist the Free-to-Play model. Even those who would benefit sometimes don't like the idea of having to make Cash Shop purchases. They have that "being nickeled and dimed" feeling. In fact, I heard the host of one podcast recently admit to being more comfortable paying a $15 subscription every month than paying $2, $3, $5 here and there in a Cash Shop, even, if on the average, the Cash Shop purchases were less each month.
 
So why the resistance? I believe it is the human nature to resist change.
 
Way back when MMO's were a new thing, in the days of Ultima Online and Everquest, the only model available was the subscription model. Some people jumped right on board. Others, like myself, scoffed at the idea of paying a fee each month to play a game and took a while to accept the idea. Either way, subscription was the only way to play, or at least the only way to play a quality game. Players were comfortable with that arrangement. Now something new comes along that challenges the subscription mindset. It's different. They don't like it. It's not how things are supposed to be done. By accepting it, in some way they feel that they are admitting they were wrong for all those years.
 
I suspect the exact same thing would be happening if the order was reversed. What if the first MMO's were Free-to-Play games and the publishers made their money with Cash Shops and area unlocks? Then, after about ten years of this, a game publisher offers a subscription model which charges a monthly rate less than what most players were paying in item purchases. Players would be up in arms. "How dare you force me to pay a fee every month!" "Don't take away my choice to buy what I want!" "It's just a trick for the game publishers to get rich!"
 
Do you really think it would be any different? I don't.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I Want To Own "The"

Earlier this month a California court ruled in favor of Electronic Arts (EA), a popular video game company, in a case brought against them by Tim Langdell, founder of Edge Games. In his complaint, Langdell claimed that EA’s recent game release Mirror’s Edge, infringed upon his trademark of the word "edge".
 
This isn’t the first time Langdell has threatened lawsuits against companies for using the word "edge" in their game titles, and for the most part he has gotten his way. However, in the this recent cast the court disagreed, saying Langdell has done practically nothing in the way of producing anything under the Edge trademark, while EA has spent millions developing the Mirror’s Edge franchise. Furthermore, the court basically stripped Langdell of his trademark, ordering the United States Patent and Trademark Office to cancel all trademarks Langdell has on the word "edge".
 
This reminded me of a similar case here in Orlando back in the late 80’s. In 1988, Pizzaria Uno opened it’s first Orlando location. Soon afterwards, in some backwards attempt to warm itself to the local community (read that with sarcasm), Pizzaria Uno threatened legal action against a small Cuban restaurant. The reason for the action was that they claimed the Cuban restaurant, which had went by the name Numero Uno for nine years, was infringing upon their trademark of the word "Uno." Apparently, the Pizzaria Uno legal department had just graduated from pre-school and thought that customers would have a hard time distinguishing a small cuban restaurant from a national Chicago-style pizza restaurant chain. This case didn’t work out as well for the defendant as the EA case. The owner of Numero Uno agreed to change it’s name because he didn’t have the resources to wage a legal battle.
 
Now, it’s easy to point fingers at Tim Langdell and Pizzaria Uno and call them opportunist bullies, and rightfully so. But are they really the problem? Actually, I think the real problem lies elsewhere, namely the idiot at the United States Patent and Trademark Office who actually granted trademarks on the individual words "edge" and "uno". How dumb is that?
 
No one should have the right to corner the market on a single word. Tim Langdell’s company was called Edge Games not "Edge". The trademark should have been for "Edge Games". If so, there never would have been a case. Same with Pizzaria Uno. The name of the restaurant is not simply "Uno." And in the case of single word products, the trademark should be dependant on the type of product. Therefore, U2’s guitarist "Edge" couldn’t sue Gillette over their "Edge" shaving cream.
 
Now, if this practice of trademarking a single word continues, I want to make it clear here and now that I wish to trademark the word "the". One book published and I should be set for life. The rest of you can fight over "an," "and," "it," "as," and "of." But I’m calling dibs on "the".
 
I’m licking it right now.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Why I Will Never Be a Master Gamer

As you know by now, I love to play video games and would consider myself an avid gamer. However, I'm pretty sure I will never be a "Master Gamer," or someone who consistently reaches the highest level of a game with the best stats or awards. What happened to me this weekend simply reinforced this opinion of myself. Oh, and if you are not a gamer, let me warn you now, this entry may bore you completely.
 
The first MMO I ever played was a grindy free-to-play game based out of Malaysia called Pirate King Online. The concept of an MMO piqued my interest and I thought it might be something fun that Hopie (who at the time lived several hundred miles away) and I could do together. We had a blast and played for a long time until a couple of things happened with the game. First, we hit a virtual wall as far a leveling goes, and game updates caused changes to the graphical interface that just made the game ugly and more difficult to play.
 
As is the case with several Asian games, there was a US version called Tales of Pirates. We still liked the game, so we decided to give it a try. One of the errors we made on Pirate King Online was not really knowing how best to distribute stat points and what skills to work on. Believing that was the reason we were having trouble advancing, I decided to build my character correctly from the beginning. I picked a character type (you have four to choose from) and a profession that corresponded to that character type, specifically, a swordsman. Then I printed a leveling guide for my chosen profession and began to play. I assigned stat points the way the guide suggested. I learned the skills the guide told me to and advanced them as dictated. I was on my way to pirate excellence.
 
Then this weekend happened.
 
At level 40 your character undergoes a profession promotion. Swordsmen get promoted to one of two professions: Champion or Crusader. When I went for my promotion, the only option I had was Champion. However, when I attempted to learn the next skill listed in the guide, I found that it could only be used by a Crusader. At that point I had a WTF moment. I jumped on the game's website a soon discovered that the promotion to a Champion or a Crusader is dependent on which of the four character types you chose. I was following the wrong guide for the character type I had chosen at the beginning of the game! And yes, as you've probably guessed by now, the stat and skill build for Champion is completely different.
 
I am now the un-proud owner of a totally gimped level 40 Champion!!!
 
I'll make the best of it. I'll try to correct the path I've been travelling the best I can. But one thing's for sure . . .
 
I will never be a Master Gamer.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Opportunity To Honor Missed By Gaming Podcasts

As a gamer one of the things I enjoy is listening to game related podcasts. I listen to five or six different shows and they are a great way to be entertained and pick up some useful gaming information at the same time. Having produced a podcast myself, I hold great respect for these hosts, knowing the work that is involved and that they do it simply for the joy of podcasting. You guys do a great job!
 
And that is why I was a little surprised and disappointed at the apparent oversight made by all my favorite podcasts.
 
One month ago, on September 3, Brian Wood and his pregnant wife Erin were driving in their car when an SUV crossed the center line and threatened to collide with them. According to Erin, Brian swerved so that the SUV hit the driver’s side of the car, protecting Erin and their unborn child. In the process, Brian was killed.
 
Brian was a lead designer at Runic Entertainment, a video game development company. His current project was Company of Heroes Online, a multi-player World War II action-strategy game. Support swelled among the gaming community for Brain, with post after post offering condolences to Erin and contributions being made to a trust fund set up to help support the survivors. Seeing all this online, I was sure that there would be a mention or two on a least a few of my regular podcasts.
 
Well, by now all except one have recorded new shows, some two new shows, and not a word of Brian Wood’s tragedy. I am a bit surprised. I wasn’t expecting an entire memorial show or anything like that. But I did think that a quick mention was in order. When a top designer leaves his long-time company, or a developer lays off several programmers, not only does it get mentioned, but sometimes the mood surrounding the discussion is somber. I had hoped for the same level of respect for a member of their community who has left this earth.
 
As I mentioned before, I have a lot of respect for these podcasters, so I hope I don’t come across as accusatory or overly critical. Each show might have a perfectly legitimate reason why they didn’t mention this story, and that is their prerogative. I’m not about to go on a mad rage posting spree saying that these hosts are inconsiderate and should be boycotted. Of course not. I will continue to listen and enjoy what they have to say. In fact, I can’t say that my opinion of them has altered, at all. My only point is this:
 
Gaming podcasters, you had an opportunity to honor someone who was a part of your community and whose career was invested in creating the games you love to talk about, and you missed it.
 
If you wish to donate to the Brian Wood Memorial Trust Fund, you can find information at this website.
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