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Archive for December 22, 2009

The timeless free trials

December 22, 2009 7 comments

I think it was either The Chronicles of Spellborn or Saga of Ryzom that were among the first of the subscription-based MMOs to offer free trials which were not limited in time, but rather how far you can get into the game. This approach has then been picked up by Warhammer Online, Age of Conan and Champions Online.

One thing that these games all have in common is that they are not really fighting in the absolute top with regard to subscriber-numbers, so understandably they have to do more to entice people to play. But some of them are still not going the path of “free-to-play” model and some of them keep the same subscription fees. Is an unlimited free trial enough?

In Ryzom you are restricted to the tutorial area, which you can spend a few hours. Age of Conan is limited to the Tortage area, which is also a number of hours, although a bit different game from what is outside Tortage. Champions Online is restricted to the Millenium City crisis zone (the tutorial zone), where someone typically would spend their first 5-6 levels, but in theory possible here to stay until 15. I do not know what the restrictions are for Warhammer Online, have not tried that game.

I guess it is a sign of the times that it becomes more difficult to compete in the MMO space – go back a couple of years and many MMOs were probably doing ok financially even if there were not big blockbuster successes. In the last 2-3 years it has been more of a mixed bag, at least that is how it appears.

I would not be surprised if we relatively soon will see that almost all games will have their first part “free” in some way and unlimited in time, to get people to try it.

Metaplace services closing down – what to do with user generated content?

December 22, 2009 1 comment

I got an email from Metaplace.com that the service will close down on January 1st, and Raph Koster also mentions this on his blog. Metaplace as a company will still be around, so they will look into other ways to use their technology. In the metaplace forum posts they also mention some downsizing unfortunately. Hopefully those people can find new interesting anf fun jobs.

I am probably one of those people that is the reason the service is closing down – I like the idea of user-generated content and was curious what it was all about. But after trying it out late in the beta I did not really give it much more chance. Why I did not continue I am not 100% sure, but there were a few things that comes to mind.

The art style was a bit too “cute” for me from what I did see – should perhaps not be a big deal, but I remember not liking this part. At the same time as I tried this I was also playing around with Mission Architect in City of Heores/Villains. While MA is likely more limited than the Metaplace toolset in what can be done, I still preferred that one.

Mission Architect for me was probably more fun because it was more focused on creating content in a context that I enjoyed – the Rogue Isles and Paragon City. I think Metaplace.com felt too generic perhaps, from the start. As I did continue to work with Mission Architect some of the limitations became apparent and one would wish for more control options.

I think that a path where one starts in some familiar context and step by step increases the abilities of what can be done might be able to gain more traction. Then people can gain confidence and stop exploring and expanding at their own comfort level. In its purest and most flexible form it may only gain the true enthusiasts, I suspect.

Mission Architect quickly had many thousands of story arcs/missions created, but there a problem is actually finding the content because it was too much. And likewise for content creators the problem would be that for the majority almost no-one would find or play their creations. The search tools has improved, but it is still a problem. And with a number of people creating content to maximize their progress in the game rather than tell a story of some kind, there has also been a clash between these different mindsets – the min/max mentality and the story-telling mentality.

I do believe in the concept of user-generated content, but I think it has to be part of something else, not just stand-alone. The toolset to experience the content probably also must be adequate for the content that has been generated. If there are thousands of content entities to choose from, I need something along the lines of Google or other similar search tools to help find interesting content, whatever interesting might mean.

I do hope Raph Koster and the others at Metaplace find a new way to use their technology and toolsets. It is tricky to find the right balance to apply it in the real world.