Blogging on Blogs, Internet Spaceships, and Accepting P2W

Elite Dangerous - Star UI

Blogging on Blogs

I’ve decided to give the novel concept of using my blog as a blog a go. I’ve never been much for writing blog style posts, always choosing to focus on more newsy or article style content instead. I guess in retrospect this probably comes from having worked on the college newspaper all those years ago. Regardless, since my news and article content has all moved to MMO-Central for the time being, I have this website just sitting here, so I may as well try putting something a bit more conversational with a bit less editing (sorry) out there. We’ll see how it goes.

Internet Spaceships

I don’t have much of a background in space-sims, flying games, or anything like that. I played X-Wing vs Tie Fighter when I was a child, and did a little a bit of dogfighting using a mouse and keyboard in Star Wars: Galaxies‘ Jump to Lightspeed expansion, but other than that, I’ve been blissfully uninitiated into the genre. This has actually been pretty awesome, as it’s made it extremely easy for me to not give Star Citizen any of my money. Unfortunately, I no longer have the shield of ignorance standing watch o’er my wallet.

After some coaxing from a friend – who has yet to actually play with me, I would add (you know who you are) – I eventually gave in and picked up Elite: Dangerous. It wasn’t that expensive, and I had read that it handled really well even if you were playing using a mouse and keyboard instead of the HOTAS set-up I don’t have and didn’t want to buy. Unfortunately, the use of the past tense there was entirely deliberate.

Suffice it to say, I’m enjoying the hell out of the game, and the internet space ships have me now. Elite: Dangerous is far and away the most immersive game I’ve ever played, and everything from its immersive in-universe UI, to its beautiful vistas, to its ridiculous implementation of a 1:1 scale representation of the Milky Way galaxy complete with around 100 billion star systems makes me feel, more than anything else ever has, that I’m actually in space.

[Obligatory: "I'm in space" reference]

[Obligatory: “I’m in space” reference]

That said, it is a pretty shallow game, and while its actual minute-to-minute gameplay is incredibly enjoyable, its actual game systems do need a lot of work. There’s no player driven economy (players can affect NPC supply and demand levels with trading, but that’s about it), so while it feels like a sandbox at first, it becomes very transparent early on that it really isn’t one. This leads to certain playstyles feeling really empty, as your goods never actually contribute to building anything, and are just a commodity to be sold to NPC stations. This is especially true of mining, which needs work on a lot of other fronts as well (though thankfully, a good chunk of that work is coming in the next update).

The multi-player systems seem pretty sparse, as well. You can group up and do the exact same things you would do solo, only with more people (and thus being able to overcome greater challenges, I suppose), but that’s really the extent of it. Even something like adding multiple person ships to the game would go a long way towards making teaming up with friends more compelling, as teaming up as a pilot / gunner combo is a lot more engaging than being in two separate ships.

When all is said and done, I fear that Elite: Dangerous in its current form is more of an advertisement for Star Citizen than anything else, as the folks over at Cloud Imperium are working on including everything I miss in Elite into their base game. And Star Citizen leads me to my next topic:

I Guess Pay-to-Win is OK Now?

There was was quite the firestorm of conversation on the topic of pay-to-win this week, kicked off by a terrific article on MassivelyOP.net that attempted to tackle the topic of pay-to-win in the current MMO market. I shared the post on twitter, which sparked a lot of angry tweets defending pay-to-win and a barrage of blog posts coming in on all sides of the issue.

I’m not going to weigh in too heavily on the issue here today, because I refuse to believe it’s actually necessary to spell out why pay-to-win is bad for the consumer, even if the success of the model as a form of monetization pretty much proves me wrong. The TL;DR? Any system where developers monetize their game by selling the ability to skip parts of it encourages designing the game to make you want to skip those parts. TESO wouldn’t sell many experience potions if their game wasn’t a massive experience grind, and ArcheAge players wouldn’t drop massive amounts of money on gearing up if crafting weren’t such a horrendous crapshoot of near insurmountable RNG. I’d rather play a game that isn’t designed to make me suffer until I insert my credit card and pay in ways that don’t encourage making the game less enjoyable for the consumer.

Guild Wars 2 is Still Boring

Just to echo what everyone else is saying, it sure would be nice if a certain company could get around to releasing some new content while we just sit here waiting on the expansion to come out. And no, ArenaNet, adding new cash shop cosmetics does not count as new content.

Previously on:MMOC-LOGO-5

In case you missed it, in addition to a load of news posts, I’ve posted three feature-length articles to MMO-Central so far that would have found a home here in the past. If you missed them, check them out!

Blood and Sand or Oil and Water? Why MMORPGs Just Don’t Work as eSports

With the popularity of eSports soaring to new heights, this piece explores the barriers keeping MMORPGs from successfully joining the competition.

Craft Beer, Crowdfunding, and the Rise of the Bespoke MMO

A discussion of the decline in traditional AAA MMO production and the emerging trend towards boutique/indie titles throughout the industry.

Trading in Crowfall’s Eternal Kingdoms

A speculative look at how trading could work out in Crowfall‘s Eternal Kingdoms.

 

#InternetSpaceShips #MMO #PaytoWin

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4 thoughts on “Blogging on Blogs, Internet Spaceships, and Accepting P2W

  1. I think there is some confusion in terms here, you are using the term Pay-to-Win to refer to the Pay-to-skip-grind concept. In my experience, Pay-to-Win is generally used for games that reserve the best weapons/gear/skills so that they are only available for real money purchases – leaving non-paying players always at a competitive disadvantage. Pay-to-skip-grind, while being a bad design decision for the reasons you mention, is not really the same thing as a non-paying player can end up with all the same stuff, it just takes longer. Pay-to-skip-grind has been around forever and the player desire to skip grind is the driving force behind the whole 3rd-party gold-seller industry, dating back to Everquest and beyond. The size and scale of the gold-seller industry is testament to the level of demand for this kind of play and you can’t really blame MMO developers for feeling that they ought to be profiting from this rather than the gold-sellers. The trick for developers trying to take advantage of it is to make just enough grind that those who can will pay, but not so much that those who don’t want to/can’t afford to are driven away by frustration or boredom.

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    • I disagree. Shifting the defining goalposts is one of the most common defenses of pay-to-win, with players making up new terms every day to try to separate the fact that it’s functionally the same thing. Pay-for-convenience, pay-for-advantage, pay-to-avoid-RNG, and pay-to-skip-grind are all forms of buying your way through content (usually content that’s been specifically designed to make you want to skip it), and are all pay-to-win to some extent or another. These are just terms that pay-to-win apologists have invented to obfuscate that fact.

      Are they as egregious as locking the best gear away in a cash shop directly? No, but very few games are so bad as to actually go that far for precisely that reason. Is that functionally different than a game that has created a system for gearing up so full of insane grind and RNG that it’s functionally impossible to gear up without paying to bypass those elements though? No, of course it isn’t. You have to consider the function of the system, not its form.

      The real issue is that all these types of P2W are forms of coercive monetization, where money is made primarily by inflicting “fun pain” on the user and then offering relief in exchange for a cash payment. From a consumer standpoint, this model should be (and used to be) indefensible, but apparently the public has grown to accept it more and more, with the more minor forms of P2W (think experience boosters) showing up in even AAA subscription based games. This doesn’t encourage good, consumer-oriented design, and it doesn’t give me a lot of hope for the future of the genre.

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      • I wasn’t attempting to defend-by-shifting-goalposts, I sought to clarify a perceived difference in meaning as I’ve not come across the term “Pay to win” being applied to things like experience boosters before; but the terminology issues are not really important.

        My main point was that in any game that has any amount of grind (defined as repetitive busy-work required to obtain some goal), someone will be willing to pay to skip it and someone will be willing to take their money to help them do it. If it isn’t the developer, it will be a 3rd-party. “Pay-to-win” in this sense has happened in every MMO to date. Every MMO has some kind of levelling grind, or reputation grind or crafting materials grind. The worse the grind, the more people will be willing to pay to skip it. It was pretty much inevitable that the studios were going to wake up and realise that all this pay-to-skip money that was going to 3rd-party gold-sellers and power-levelling services could have being going into their own pockets instead.

        Some games have taken this step well – Eve Online implemented mechanisms that allowed trading of characters (and their long-time-trained skills) between accounts (essentially power-levelling), and the purchase of in-game currency with real-world currency (essentially gold-selling) and managed it without filling their game with inflated amounts of artificial grind or RNG gambling boxes.

        Other games have done it badly.

        I used to subscribe to Star Trek Online and kept playing it after it became F2P. But eventually they drove me away as first I became frustrated with the fact all the best and ships were being released only on the store with special weapons/abilities (pay-to-win in its original pvp sense!) and then I was driven mad by their decision to make other desirable stuff only available via RNG lock-boxes that you had to loot in-game and then pay real money to unlock only to find that 99.99% of them had worthless items in them. And then they would spam every player with a notice every time some other player won something from a lockbox. Any immersion factor that game had, any feel of being in the Star Trek universe was completely ruined. I know I wasn’t the only player that deserted the game after that many many players did – but I doubt they cared because we weren’t their target player anymore. They no longer wanted the subscribers – they wanted the lockbox gamblers. The people who will pay to unlock a thousand boxes to get that special ship out of the last one.

        The subscription model has largely failed to make MMOs profitable (with the obvious exception). If we want to revive this model, we need to address the reasons why it has failed. Some might be…

        – the game just isn’t good enough, people don’t feel it’s worth paying for

        – the game doesn’t have enough content to keep people paying month after month after month… (I always feel people just don’t get how huge WoW’s original content was compared to most MMOs – in WoW Classic you could level to 60 some 5 or 6 times over with different classes before you started having to repeat large quest areas, plus you could level exclusively through PvP. Modern MMOs tend to have 1 levelling path per faction, often combining factions in later zones too, with maybe a unique starter zone per race if you’re lucky.)

        – the gameplay is very similar to WoW (etc.) but the game as a whole isn’t as good as WoW (etc.) so why not just play WoW? Many many games fell into this trap.

        – developer spent too much money developing the game and/or overestimated the market for it and subscription revenue, while technically profitable, isn’t satisfying investors who want their big pay-off

        – developer bought big-name IP but then failed to capture the feel/spirit of that IP in the game or failed to make a game that appeals to fans of that IP (often a contributing cause of the previous one!)

        – developer ran out of money or time and was forced to release an unfinished game in the hope of gaining some revenue, any revenue to continue with – but there just wasn’t enough game to justify a subscription

        In all these cases, the developer can “rescue” their investment with a F2P conversion that cashes in on the P2W crowd. They are the gold mine of MMO development. If you can get 100 players who will spend $110 a month on lockboxes, boosters, gear etc. you’re doing better than if you had 1000 players paying $10 a month, and it’s probably easier to attract that 100 than it is the 1000.

        Anyway I’ve rambled on far too long and wandered far from my original point, but for record – I agree that P2W games suck in general and that the payment model encourages design of bad games. Unfortunately, I think they are here to stay. Perhaps a small independent developer with a crowdfunded MMO and a realistic expectation of development time, costs and eventual revenue might come up with the next great subscription MMO, but I can’t see any of the big studios doing it.

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  2. Pingback: The Continuing Adventures of Pay-to-Win Apologists: Black Desert Edition | The Errant Penman

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