The Secret World Goes Free to Play

Latest just in, Funcom has decided after poor sales of their game “The Secret World” that they are in fact dropping the monthly subscription fee on the game.

This shifts the company away from a subscription model that has been powering many of their older releases for years and instead adopting the Buy to Play model used by ArenaNet (maker’s of Guild Wars 2).

This new payment model indicates that Funcom is hoping to make money off of box sales and of course off of new and often expansion packs.

After a price reduction this is the latest attempt to try and grab some sort of audience.  The game of course was a pretty historic flop on launch and received little to no attention.

Whether or not this new tactic will work will depend on whether or not the game goes completely free to play or not.

About half a year ago I put up a video claiming that the life time subscription for $200 could potentially screw people over when this game goes free to play.  It did not go well, over 200 dislikes.

Today I feel a little bit vindicated as it is not even using a full free to play model in which they can create subscription based revenue models.

Death Penalty: Why?

Every time an MMO comes out the question is always asked, how punishing should a death penalty be?

I can think of four punishments that MMOs release:

  1. Perma Death (Start over from level 1)
  2. Lose Money
  3. Negative Debuff
  4. Have to Start from a Checkpoint

The idea is that a person in an MMO should feel that they will avoid death at all chances to give the game a feeling of intensity and realism.  When a person jumps off of a cliff their heart jumps not because of the effect of falling but the sudden realization they you will die.

This is a classic condition similar to the gambling effect found in MMOs.  If you are punished for dying every time you die you will want to avoid death.  In real life there is no real need to punish death because we naturally avoid death and try to survive.  It is a basic evolutionary principle that simply does not apply to digital games.

Over time people will do whatever they can to avoid death knowing full well there is a huge punishment for it.  This is also why in most battlegrounds people do not mind and rarely try to avoid death because they know there is no real penalty for it.

The death penalty is not an indication of skill as so many players seem to think it is.  You can die in a game for a large number of reasons.  I’ve died from game glitches where I fall through the Earth.  I’ve gone AFK and come back dead.  I’ve been camped by people 20 levels higher than me.  I’ve done 5v1 in battlegrounds and died.

Death in MMORPGs is NOT a sign of skill it is merely a mechanic in the game used to emphasize staying alive.

From here I will look at what I feel at the four types of death penalties.

1. Perma Death

So in this form of death if you die, you’re dead.

Diablo 2 is the first game I can think of that had permanent death in a multiplayer scenario.  If you entered hardcore mode if you died you were dead. So people would spend their time gearing up in non-hardcore mode and try and challenge people in hardcore mode.  It worked well for Diablo 2.

Lost Souls 2 also has hardcore mode allowing for permanent death, it did not work out nearly as well.

Terraria also has a nightmare mode that allows permanent death.

The thing is this is not the whole game, it is merely an option.  It is an option that basically nobody ever chooses.  Nobody ever wants permanent death.  Everyone always wants lives or outs.

The games that have had permanent death in them during the Nintendo age were some of the most unpopular ones.

Perma death makes for a terrible concept largely because it would give the best no one to play with.  When you are really good you enjoy killing people who are less than you because it makes you feel bigger.  But NOBODY likes camping introductionary zones an making people quit the game.  It just doesn’t make for a fun experience for anyone.

2. Lose Money

The lose money category comes in with losing gear and having damaged gear.

This is another bad choice for death penalty but it is the most common one.

The reason why this is a bad death penalty is because people will instead of thinking “how can I avoid this” they will instead think “can I afford this.”

How many times in raids do you hear people complain about their repair bills complaining about how  a night of progression raiding costs them X amount of gold.

They don’t actually fear death they just see it as an inevitability and are constantly making these cost analyses.

It’s a really really bad model and it is one that NO ONE is moving away from.  This is because without this death penalty the economy of the game goes out of control.

3. Negative Debuff

The negative debuff often comes with losing money.  The idea is you are going to take a 5-10% cut in stats for every time you die.  The buff doesn’t last too long but it will stack.

So in Age of Conan you would get this 5-minute buff that would stack up to 10 times.  It would decrease your stats by 4% every time you died.  So if you kept dying continuously you would presumably lose 40% of your stats.

So what is the problem here?  Well, the problem is this system doesn’t actually encourage life.  Once you die once you become more susceptible to death.  It doesn’t mean you have to play better it means someone else will have to carry you.

A death that promotes you dying more is a horrible concept.

I remember the first free to play MMO I ever played. If you didn’t buy the power ups dying was very easy.  Every time you died you would get a stacking one hour debuff.  The only way to get rid of the debuff without waiting an hour was to buy an item in the shop for it.

Negative debuffs are on the way out, but there are still so many developers who feel death ought to be a punishment to mark players for being bad.

4. Checkpoint

So this is what I consider to be the better death penalty.  The concept is simple.  Every single time you die you move back to a set point.  The penalty here is your time.

People consider their time to be valuable.  The worse the checkpoint is for you the better the penalty is.

The reason why this is so particularly punishing is because you have to… start over.  You have to kill all of those mobs again.  You have to go through all of the steps again… and you learn your lesson.  You will avoid death at whatever chance you will because you fear starting over.

It is powerful enough to make people not want to die but not too powerful to push people away.

This system presumes (rightly) that people will want to consistently progress through content which I think is true of any gamer.

Are you Addicted to Gambling… I mean MMOs?

In gambling addiction research one of the most common elements is that people are being conditioned to enjoy gambling.  It is not that the gambling is actually fun but because it has all the proper signals a person will believe that they want this.

An example of this is the typical lottery machine.  A person pulls a handle.  A person hears bells and has pretty fruit light up.  Money comes out.

So take a classical condition as a designer for a machine.  The attitude you want someone to have is addiction to the game.

People must ENJOY things.

So what you do is every time they win they get a favorable response, every time they lose they get no response.  This gives no negative reaction to losing, hence no reason not to play.  But it gives you a positive reaction to winning.

Over time this will train you into instead of enjoying the game to just play it out of habit.

The same is true in training a dog.

I have a 3-year old minature daschound.  Most dogs are trained when they’re babies, this one was adopted at age 2… harder to train.

So we had a problem where the dog was growling at us every time we touched it or his bone.  Eventually he started snapping at us, we had to train OUT this behavior.

So here is what we did, first we pet the dog, second we give it a treat, third we take the bone, fourth we let the dog finish his treat, finally fifth we give the dog back his bone.  This is an alternative technique to the “Cesar Way” which has the same result and will simply have you steal the bone and lightly hit your dog.

What is happening in our method is the dog will learn that when I touch him I am not trying to steal his bone I am instead giving him a treat.  So instead of reacting negatively he will start acting positively to my presence.  When I take his bone from him he will know that I am going to give it back to him after he is done his treat.

I did this with him 15 times and eventually he just stopped growling when he was around his bone.  As an adverse effect every time I pet him he thinks he is getting a treat and immediately drops his bone.

So this is the subject matter, conditioning from rewards.

This has been a lot of material on something not about gaming.

So now to bring in the gaming aspect.

You kill 100 monsters, you level up, flashes and magnificent effects show up everywhere to congratulate you.  You kill 100 monsters, you level up, flashses and magnificent effects show up everywhere to congratulate you.  You kill 100 monsters, you level up, flashses and magnificent effects show up everywhere to congratulate you.  Repeat this process 40-70 times.

What is happening?  You are now being conditioned that if you do something you will get a reward for it.  This essentially means that you will like this game as long as it continues to reward you.

This is a potential psychological explanation of why people hate on cash shops so much, because it is not a reward for work.

The question might be, is your judgment as an MMO player likely impaired by the game you are playing.  Do you feel that you only enjoy the game as long as there were a reward.  If there were no rewards for the game would you play it.

In a baser manner, do you feel MMO developers are treating you no different from a gambling addict or a dog?

Star Trek Online vblog #1: Free to Play Early Access Yo

I could not help myself.  I had to jump in before everyone else could.  STO sold over 1M units in under 3 months.  Having said that the price of STO went from $69.99, to $59.99 to $49.99 to $29.99 to the $9.99 we knew up until the F2p conversion.  I explain what happened and why some people are pissed.

As well I’ll do one mission and I will also show off their entire item shop.  Enjoy