The age of monetization

7 07 2013

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As some of you might have read or heard, Blizzard finally acknowledged the idea of adding MTX ( monetized items ) to the colossal giant that is World of Warcraft. Why is this significant? I think it’s not only a sign of the times, but the fact that the most successful MMO to date is considering moving towards that type of business structure is a huge sign. The age of MMORPG’s charging a monthly fee, plus an upfront purchase price is about finished. Now some of you, might jump for joy and release a victorious shout of “Finally those greedy bastards, it’s about time!”

What most gamers/people don’t realize, is the significant cost of building and maintaining an MMO, and in most cases, the subscription fee is well justified and needed just to keep the game running, and that’s not even addressing the issue of building new content. However, when markets stop supporting one business model and consumer spending habits change, the industry must find another ( insert cheesy “Life finds a way” quote….okay maybe not 😛 ). Thus a new age has dawned, and that is the age of monetization. When games like Puzzles and Dragons make an ungodly amount of money in a single month, the rest of the industry starts to take notice. ( Try to the tune of 113 million, and they aren’t the only example )

 http://www.joystiq.com/2013/05/13/hit-mobile-rpg-puzzle-and-dragons-earned-113-million-in-april/

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Now you might say, “Well that’s not an MMO, it doesn’t compare”. However, as an individual that works on Guild Wars 2, I can tell you in-game monetization is the future, so it would be in your interest to understand it and embrace it, especially for MMO’s it’s going to be a requirement just to get an ROI ( return on investment ) for a product. It’s my belief, that the next console generation that’s starting, will also start to experiment with FTP ( free to play ) and MTX business strategies. Some will even argue that video games are moving towards being a “service” versus just a “game”, but that’s a completely different discussion.

What does this mean for you? This means that you better start being able to identify good and bad MTX/FTP business strategies. For every one out there that doesn’t feel manipulative or over the top, there’s guaranteed to be the ones that feel like they are smacking you with a proverbial MTX hammer, or if you’re of the older gamer generation “Insert coin to continue!” feeling.

Ultimately, with rising consumer expectations, skyrocketing development costs to meet those expectations, and the failing of traditional business models, the industry is in a state of flux. While this is both an exciting and scary time, I think what it means is that in <=5 years, we will be consuming video games in a way that we never would have imagined…..so in the holy words of Samuel Jackson, “Hold on to your butts…

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hahaha….yah no seriously though, you should hold on to them……





Guild Wars 2 Review lvl 30-80

1 10 2012

 

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As promised, I’ll be covering my lvl 30-80 play experience and some of my thoughts on the process. I’ll be covering a few topics such as core gameplay, story, economy, and end game events/dungeons.

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Core Gameplay:

Not much particularly changes from lvl 30 to lvl 80 in this game as far as significant changes in skills/abilities. Unlocking more traits does make a significant difference in customizing your class. However, the game scales rather well in difficulty to your respective level. At about level 60+ I started to observe the corresponding zones of that level were becoming increasingly difficult, in comparison to the previous areas. When I hit the lvl 80 areas, I found myself dying plenty even with pretty good gear. Overall, the game starts weaning you from a balanced mixture of quests and group events, to almost exclusively group events in the lvl 70+ zones. By the time I reached lvl 80, I began to realize just how critical it is to have the right abilities selected, based off of what you’re doing. The final tier in un-lockable abilities is absolutely critical (At least for the Mesmer they are). This is especially true for running the higher level dungeons, which in this game they can be particularly unforgiving. It’s a nice change in pace for the player because the zones condition you to “mobbing” through quests and group events. Then you jump in a dungeon and suddenly you and four other players have to actually function on a traditional level of dungeon running. Strategic pulls, situational awareness, specific tactics for boss fights, etc.

On a recap of skills/abilities, having only five weapon skills per weapon does not feel entirely limited or boring by level 80. I was suspicious of this system from the beginning; mainly I felt it might be a little over simplified. However, blazing through to level 80 I never particularly felt any boredom with my available weapon abilities. The pacing in GW2 negates this problem, as they elegantly avoided any kind of “level grind” that a lot of MMO’s can fall victim to.

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Story:

Without going into particulars of the story, it does a pretty good job of staying interesting all the way to lvl 80, and plainly sets the player up for some end game events. I did notice however, that the corresponding equipment rewards for completing a quest began to become less and less beneficial to me (In other words they started to suck). While at the same time the experience gains became significantly better. From lvl 65 to lvl 80 I practically only completed my daily quest and my story quests. As I mentioned before, this is particularly nice that they avoided a grind in this game. Many MMO’s have the terrible habit of making the last 25%-35% of the level cap extremely “grindy”. In regards to the story itself, they basically designed a branching path architecture with all paths looping back to the same ending. There are several player driven choices that will change the story slightly and how you as the player experience it. For example you have the choice in which factions you join, and you occasionally choose how your character responds (aggressive, compassionate, etc.).

In conjunction with these alterations in the story, you also have to remember that you can change your story slightly during character creation with selecting your past as noble, commoner, etc. So in recap on the story, it manages to stay interesting and relevant to the player. While also being rewarding all the way to lvl cap, and if you as the player want to experience every possible angle and minute change in story, you would have to do a lot of plays through to see them all, as it will fluctuate based on the variables you choose of race, past, faction, and your characters emotional disposition.

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Economy:

Now this is a fun one! If you’re an experienced MMORPG player, you’ve probably played at least one game where it was literally destroyed (or you’re experience lessened) by the economy being destroyed by gold sellers, or terrible design. If you have not experienced this, then consider yourself fortunate. That being said, let me start by saying it is definitely too early to say how the economy in GW2 will pan out, as these things take time to mature. However, I will offer some of my observations and some of the development teams design decisions.

As I was playing through the game, I was so caught up in blasting through events and quests; I never particularly stopped to pay attention to how the market was functioning. Mainly because since you can place items on the auction house while out in the field, I didn’t care! After a decent amount of time, I was wondering why I was getting more money from the auction house (I had placed copious amounts of items for sell). So I took a visit to the auction house and found I had almost a dozen pages of items NOT selling. Upon further investigation, I realized that items beneath rare status often had 1000+ of them on the market. This does one critical thing, since the supply is vastly higher than the demand; it drives the value of items below rare to that of just above vendor prices.  I believe this is on purpose by Arena Net to combat gold sellers. Basically, a lot of these items are more valuable by being broken down for crafting materials, or by just selling them to the vendors. Rare and above items can only efficiently be obtained by running harder dungeons, or completing large group events. This makes it difficult for gold sellers in small groups, or bots, to efficiently “farm” these items.

Lastly, and most importantly about the economy, is that Arena Net is shamelessly their own gold sellers. If you can’t beat them, join them right? What they have done is implemented “gems” that can be purchased for real money, then used to buy cosmetic items, or (ready for this?) used to exchange for gold on a living, breathing, currency exchange. This exchange even has a variable exchange rate based off of player activity and use of the exchange.  Players can buy/sell gems/gold back and forth. This means that savvy players can watch the exchange and make a profit from strategic buying/selling dependant on the current exchange rate. I don’t know how this will work in the long run, but it’s an interesting dynamic and a fresh way to tackle the gold seller problem. I think it’s somewhat akin to digital piracy. Piracy is rarely a social problem, but usually a problem of a service/good not having a high enough perceived value in regards to its current cost or availability.

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End Game:

Now this is the big question people always ask about a new MMORPG, “Is there an end game?” Thanks to a generation of World of Warcraft players being spoiled by a decade of content being developed, they now expect a newly launch MMORPG to have an equivalent amount of content (Okay I’ll get off of my soap box now J ). That being said, I haven’t particularly been at lvl 80 long enough to experience everything. I can say that the lvl 70-80 zones have a ton of group event quests continually going on. I also have not had time to run the higher lvl dungeons yet either. I have observed however, that they have done something interesting by creating raid quality open world group events. For example, in one of the zones a group event opened up, and not only did we have to kill the boss, but periodically she would go through phases in which we had to go to different locations and perform actions like disabling power generators, then resuming the attack. There were other elements to that fight, but what I’m getting at is I believe Arena Net is aiming for raids that don’t require shouting in “LFG” for hours and joining a separately instanced area. These kinds of experiences might exist, but I haven’t specifically reached them yet. In closing, if there is one piece of advice I can offer if you are currently playing through, or plan on playing through, is to SAVE YOUR KARMA POINTS!!!!! Wait let me say that again, this time more accentuated, SAVE YOUR KARMA POINTS!!! You can thank me later on that one!

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Summary:

So far, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first play through to level cap on my Mesmer, and I hope the community that’s been established sticks around and that GW2 has a nice long life. I say this because they’ve done enough different and innovative things that they’ve created a nice and refreshing MMORPG experience that I think everybody should experience.

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Thanks for reading!

-Cheers





The Secret World Review

28 07 2012

To be honest, I really hadn’t followed The Secret World at all during its development. Once it had been out for a week or so I started to hear things about it. At the time I had been playing Tera Online, which had great gameplay but terrible story narrative. So needless to say I was dying to play something with an actual story.

So I promptly started to look at reviews, and once again I observed vastly different and varying reviews with stark differences in opinion. So this was something I knew I had to try for myself. Most of all it boasted an incredibly strong story.

So I bought it, and chose to make an Illuminati character. Other than the entry cinematic, the first portion of an MMO that a player gets to see is naturally the character creation screen. To be honest, I wasn’t very impressed with the character creation. The character models were odd and it took quite a bit of effort to create something that didn’t hurt your eyes to look at. Also, along with the weird character models the selections are pretty limited, at least when compared to today’s standards of options when creating a character.

I obviously did not let this dissuade me in my quest to check this game out, so I ended up creating an exotic Illuminati character and went about playing the game. I won’t go into play-by-play detail of the game itself, instead I’ll put out some of my feelings and initial first impressions after playing through the majority of the beginner area and the first to instances/dungeons.

I was greeted by a pretty strong and compelling story narrative right away, albeit a little odd and different, but I can definitely do odd. If you like Stephen King novels, you’ll love the story and visual aesthetics TSW throws at you. More or less, the main premise behind TSW is that all legends/myths/secrets/supernatural stuff is true and fair game. So pretty much like an alternate reality here on earth. The NPC’s are all fully voice acted, and do a pretty solid job of adding depth to their character. Your character does not speak however, just kind of stands there like a bump on a log, which seemed awkward to me since the NPC’s I was reacting with were conveying emotion to me. To be honest, it felt a little… how do you say.. “Half-Assed”. To go to all that work with voice acting, animation, and dialogue. Then not to even have your character speak? It definitely broke immersion for me just a little.

Getting past that, lets talk a little about the gameplay. Where the story narrative and aesthetic design of the world shine as strong points for this game, the moment-to-moment gameplay combat feels awkward. Some have described it as, “floaty”. The character animations as far as running and acting seem okay, but using abilities in combat just feels jerky and unfinished. After awhile you do get used to it, but it doesn’t feel like they were attempting an alternate style of gameplay, it feels like I said unfinished and or rushed to release. That being said, they did produce an interesting and refreshing take on leveling.

Instead of having character levels, you level your weapons. Your character can carry two weapons at any given time. There are no restrictions when you can change, or what to. As long as you put the necessary points earned from playing into those weapons so you can use them. The other interesting aspect is you are limited to a set amount of usable abilities and a set amount of passive abilities. So you have to carefully mix and match your abilities both active and passive. This creates a refreshing and creative way since you can literally build your character however you want.

The characters also do not use armor; you use talismans and jewelry to increase your base stats. This however brings up an interesting, yet somewhat problematic topic. So instead of wearing armor, you just equip whatever fashionable clothes you like on your character. I’m sure some of you see where this is going, yes that’s right, ITEM MALL EVERYBODY!!!…… oh wait you ask, doesn’t the game have an up front price WITH a subscription fee? Why yes, you would be correct!

So now that I’m done being facetious, your character can unlock clothing via completing “decks” or unlocking weapon trees to completion. While these do give you so cool looking outfits, the exotic and everyday stuff has to be purchased in game via an item mall. This, personally I think is a TERRIBLE design decision. In a free to play model, or even a regular pay up front model, this would seem okay since the clothes are purely cosmetic. However, players are paying a monthly subscription fee, on top of having already paid full price for the game. This is going to come across as nothing more than a money grab, plain and simple. I believe long run, with that business model, they will end up alienating their customers and honestly it probably turned off a lot of potential buyers when they read about it.

Last thing I’ll mention are the quests, TSW does a good job of offering more than, “Hey go here, kill that pig, get some meat and claws, then come back to me and I’ll give you some mad loot!, annnnnd repeat till level cap” style quests. The game does have a few of those, but it also incorporates its version of AGR (augmented reality) style quests, where you actually have to use the built in game browser to research a quest in order to solve it, or just look up a walkthrough. The quests can be challenging and time consuming, but when properly utilized (without cheating) you get that, aha!, moment of elation. The fully voice acted NPC’s do a great job of delivering the quests to you in audio versus assaulting your eyes with walls of text.

So in recap, The Secret World does a great job of delivering a compelling and interesting story with fleshed out NPC’s, but somewhat falls flat on its face with gameplay combat and their business model. This game appeals to those that prefer strong story narrative over enjoyable gameplay, and because of this it will probably end up being played long term by a niche group and will end up being a free to play model or without a subscription.

TSW does have more to it, good and bad, that I haven’t mentioned here. My goal was to give you a rough idea of what it is about. My advice is to seek a friend who is playing and can give you their 24 hour buddy pass, to check it out. Hopefully with time, they can patch some of the inconsistencies. However with Guild Wars 2 on the horizon, time might not be on their side.

P.S. Gonna add a couple pictures at the end because they look cool, and aesthetically speaking they were awesome! (I would have added more but kept forgetting to take screenshots)