Saturday this last weekend was a special day. I went up at 05:50 and got to bed past midnight. Parts of the day was cloudy and rainy. In between I drove my car for about 9 hours, spent 2-3 hours waiting far out in the countryside and ran through the forest for a bit less than 24 minutes. And I loved this day and would do it again, in a heartbeat!
Warning – this blog post has nothing to do with MMOs, but rather one of the things I do when I am not playing MMOs – running.
Saturday was the day for Vasastafetten, which translates to Vasa Relay Race, for those whose Swedish is a bit rusty. Some people may be familiar with Vasaloppet, which is a well-known long-distance ski race in Sweden – 90 km long. The ski race is obviously in the winter time, but in the summer time some other races are also arranged, with pretty much the same distance and path as the ski race. This includes Cykelvasan (mountain bike race for 90km) and thus also Vasastafetten. The latter is a bit over 90 km and a competition between teams of 10 people.
This year I and 9 colleagues of mine participated for the first time in Vasastafetten. The participants in the team comes from three different cities in Sweden, so there was a bit of planning to do who would pick up who and with what car. The different relay points of the race are a different points out in the country-side, typically somewhere in the forest near some small village. It is up to the different teams how they handle transport arrangements. However, the organizers of the race did a tremendous job of handling all the cars driving and parking at the different relay point – it worked quite well. This with 458 different teams with 10 persons in each time, plus some supporters, friends and family etc that was around just cheering for the runners.
The ten distances in the race are divided up into different lengths, with the longest one being a bit more than 15 km and the shortest ones slightly less than 5 km. Thus there is opportunity for a mix of running experience levels to participate in the same team.
My own distance was a short one and one I was not worried at all about completing – I run longer than that pretty much every time I train running. But it had been a while since I tried to to run fast, plus when I checked the path on Google Earth I got the impression there could be a fair amount of uphill running in some areas.
Once it was my turn to run I started off in a fairly high speed, for me anyway, and I did the first kilometer in 04:50 – with less strain than I expected. I was still worried that there might be some uphill paths coming up and slowed down a bit to conserve energy. However it turned out that the path did not have as much uphill as I had expected, I had misjudged or misread the info on the Google Earth map. The path was mostly forest trail with some muddy parts and a bit of gravel road. Towards the end I increased speed again and ran to hand over to my next team member. The overall pace for my distance ended up at 5:09 minutes/km, which I am pretty happy with.
The total time for the team ended up roughly at 8 hours and 18 minutes, which included some mishaps on the way that effectively increased the time by a number of minutes that was not running-time. After the race and some showers and sauna we headed off to have some dinner and celebrate a bit in the evening. Then after dinner we all headed back home (a few hours of driving).
Since it was our first time doing this we learned a few things that can make this an even better experience next time. Everyone also agreed that we should do this again and try to get more colleagues to participate – at least two teams next time, which would be about 25% of the employees.
Running the race was a great experience, very fun and enjoyable, great surroundings (it is a very beautiful area) and lots of friendly people. This kind of experience is part of what makes running so much fun.
I have three more races on my schedule in September and October, all 10 km races and all local, or at least quite close to where I live. So there will be 3 more Saturdays of sharing fun with 1000s of other runners this year.
A few short bits and pieces related to The Secret World:
New 3-day trial available, although this time it does not seem to be restricted to a specific weekend – just any three days and one can sign up for it now. Also, if 30+ missions are completed during this trial period, another two days are added to the trial.
I think it is definitely a plus that it is not restricted to some particular dates, but I think it would have been nice with a bit longer trial time and perhaps not only have mission quantity as a “reward” for the trial – if there should be a reward at all. If you know your way around the game 30+ missions is not a problem, but the target audience are those new to the game. I think it would be better to simply give everyone 5 days instead.
The second content update has been announced, Issue #2 – Digging Deeper. This includes a 3rd weapon option and an 8th ability slot – I assume reserved for thise auxiliary weapon. The first weapon of this type will be a rocket launcher. Sounds like it could be pretty cool. There are also at least one mission associated with that.
Seems there is also an addition of plastic surgery and hair dresser, in New York and London. The plastic surgeon’ s voice seems seems to be from a fellow Swede (Peter Stormare).
There is also a number of new missions – five missions mentioned explicitly, hinting at more than that. Overall, I think it sounds pretty good.
In addition to this, The Secret World is available from Steam now also.
I recently got a pointer to an indie MMO project being worked on, Planes of Merinia. This is an MMO for Windows as well as the mobile market (Android and iOS). This MMO seems to be a one man project currently and is planned to be ready by February 2013 though Hitchhiker games. The server side development is pretty much done it seems and the client side is being worked on.
From the description on the web pages it sounds like this aims to be a sandbox-style MMO and cater for various play styles (combat, non-combat, PvE, PvP etc). A few features that might be interesting include:
- The game seems to be divided into multiple planes, with different planes having different properties and requirements. Some of the properties translate to similar features that other MMOs have for their zones (e.g. PvP vs PvE) but possibly more variations and combinations here.
- A character can pick up any skills they want – i.e. not restricted by a specific class choice. Also, my impression is also that this is not just combat skills, but other types of skills as well.
- Guild City – you (your guild) can build your own city. Trading & commerce as well as raiding are mentioned as activities related to the cities.
- Flexible crafting. Seems that there will be a lot of flexibility to create all sorts of items and even do a bit of scripting to control various aspects of an item, if you want.
- Marketplace with online and offline access.
- Skill stealing. For a limited time one can steal a skill from an opponent, so they cannot use it. Not sure if one can use it against the opponent also, similar to some skills in Guild Wars.
In order to get there though the developer Philip Pierce is looking for a bit of help through a Kickstarter project. Most of the funding is intended to go to a 3D graphics artist to help with the visual aspects of the game.
Funcom has provided a report with some indications of how The Secret World is doing, from a sales perspective. The short summary is – not that good.
One of the reasons they point to here is that the score on Metacritic was not that good and lower than what they had hoped for. In the last quarterly report they had given two scenarios they had done some calculations for – one similar toConan-like scenario with high sales (a bit over 1 million boxes over the first year and on average 280K subscribers) and a better-than-Conan scenario (about 1.3 million boxes over the first year and almost 500K subscribers). Now they say that early indications points to box sales less than half of the Conan-like scenario.
I did not expect then to sell over a million copies of the game and if they sell 500K copies of the game the first year I think that is fairly reasonable actually in todays market. Not because the game is bad, far from it. I think the game is great – but I think it is also a game that does not go out of its way to attract the big masses. It does not go out of its way to channel players into the various aspects of the game in a no-friction approach. I like that actually, but I think it would be foolish to assume that that is something for everyone. Combine that with a box+subscription+store business model and they have a bit of an uphill battle in the current market place.
On the positive side financially they expect player retention to be better than for Age of Conan. The ratio of digital download sales have also been higher than expected, as has been sales of add-on packs – e.g. master and grand-master packs (the latter being lifetime subscriptions). Operational costs for The Secret World is also significantly lower than for Age of Conan – or at least lower when AoC was launched. Partly this is probably because there was less hype and fewer servers now for The Secret World, plus that they probably are able to make more efficient use of the hardware they have.
The game is going to be available on Steam later also. That probably will not hurt sales.
While the announcement certainly reads as disappointment from Funcom side I do not think it is that much out of line with what I would have expected, unless they end up significantly lower than 500K copies sold. If they reach and can keep a significant portion of those 500K players – for a subscription-based game which is not targeting every kind of MMO player out there – that is a pretty awesome result I would say.
However, Funcom are the ones to decide whether it is or will be a success or not – at least in financial terms.
It seems that many bloggers have been inspired to write something about the business models used by MMOs in the wake of the announcement that SWTOR will be changing their model. I have been a bit inspired by that as well. As the title is a bit ambiguous on purpose, what I mean here is the acronym “F2P” or the phrase “free-to-play” – not whatever business model you may refer to with this acronym.
As Syp mentions in his blog post, there is really a whole bunch of business model variations that somehow and by someone are referred to as “F2P”. Sometimes it may even mean different things when the same person uses it, depending on context. It is a powerful and catchy phrase and acronym, so it tends to get used whenever it suits the purpose – not to accurately convey a message. What is hidden behind the acronym are really a number of different changes.
Business model changes
In recent years Western MMO companies started to move away from the pure subscription model that most of them used. Not only was it a similar subscription model, but pretty much everyone has the same subscription fee, similar costs to get the game in the first place (box cost) and similar approach to get new significant content updates (paid for expansions). This was regardless of target demographic and what was actually provided as part of the deal.
As the market has changed with more MMOs competing with each other as well as shifting economic realities for players as well as companies, more flexible models have been needed. There was a bit of experimentation with in-game ads in a few games, but that does not seem to have worked out well. Other approaches have worked out better.
Part of the problem for the companies has been to attract customers to try out their game and then keep them as customers – or get them to return as customers again. Some of the changes we have seen in recent years most likely have been to address these kind of issues:
- Reduce or eliminate any hurdles to make people try a game
- Be flexible with the amount of money people are charged at different times – making it easier financially to keep various types of customers
- Provide visibility into what people get for what they pay – can make it easier to keep customers, as well as encourage additional spending
The changes in business models addresses the financial aspects of these issues, but we have also seen seen some functional changes as well, which for example include:
- Digital downloads, quicker installations and staged installations
- Web shops as well as in-game shops
- More frequent content updates
Note that I have not used any references to “free” or “free-to-play” here. This applies to all MMOs really. The Secret World has announced they are doing monthly content releases, called issues. By doing so they provide a pretty good visibility and feedback to people what they get when they pay their monthly fee.
The “free” words are just used in some specific applications of the more general approaches here, typically:
- To attract new customers
- To keep existing customers
Categorization of business model elements
In order to define a more general description of the different business models I think one approach would be to split it up into
- Start cost
- Mandatory on-going cost
- Optional on-going cost
- Optional one-time costs (not micro-transaction type costs)
The old subscription-only model would with some simplification and with US prices have the values “$50, $15, $0, $50 x N”. The first value and the fourth value typically changed over time, with the first one being a box price and the fourth one being paid for expansions, for example. The issue has been here that these two values were the only ones that the companies with this model could adjust to adapt to market conditions.
What has happened now is that companies have reached a point where it is possible to adjust all four values in different ways in the market. Basically all the different business models can be described this way.
The tricky part here though is that the definitions for each of these would still be fuzzy. For example, a mandatory on-going cost would include a subscription fee, but could potentially include other costs that a certain player type in practice would have to spend in the game in order to enjoy it. Examples could be “rental fees” that a game might impose for certain features or various boosts in order to keep the game “fun” as opposed to “grindy”.
It also lacks some catchy phrases or acronyms to describe them. The start cost factor could perhaps work with “F2T” and “B2T” (free to try, buy to try) or something similar. But for the others I have nothing now. You really must have something simple here, otherwise it will not get used.
We do need something better than “F2P”. I am not sure we are going to get it though.
It was a bit of a surprise to see that Star Wars: The Old Republic is changing business model so soon as in November this year. On the other hand, the amount of money that and customers the game seems to be bleeding now they will need to do something fast. Competition later this year in the mass-market from Guild Wars 2 is probably not going to help.
Given the amount of subscribers they have seem to lost according to Massively they have lost more subscribers than most games have had at all in the first place. It is still not quite as bad as Age of Conan, but there are still a few months left of this first year of the game. Age of Conan sold about 1 million copies in the first year and retained on average 280K subscribers during that time. SWTOR is still better percentage-wise, but presumably the cost to develop the game was substantially higher than for Age of Conan. Business-wise maybe Age of Conan was a better deal even.
Given the numbers Funcom provided in the earnings report they will be quite profitable with The Secret World even with numbers similar to Age of Conan. Now that about a month has passed since launch we may see some subscriber numbers soon – if they have been doing well and are able to retain players. if not sooner then their earnings report at the end of August should have some indication possibly – at least for pre-launch sales.
The first TSW content update after launch is live now, named Issue #1 – Inferno. It contains a number of missions, the trading post (player marketplace) and nightmare modes of some dungeons.
For me the new missions are what interests me most, with the marketplace in 2nd place. Three of the missions seems to be in Savage Coast, which the area I am currently playing in. The rest seems to be in later areas, so I will run into them later at some point. There are also a number of bug fixes for missions, which is nice. I was finally able to complete The Black House!
I have not picked up any of the new missions yet when I played today, but I noticed another thing today which I think is new. When you disassemble a weapon with a glyph attached to it, you will get runes from the glyph as well, not just the weapon material. This was a small but nice addition I think.
Right now I do not have any problem spending SP, but my AP is piling up a bit – mainly because I do not see any abilities that are obvious benefits to my current primary build – there are areas that cen improve with some abilities, but will also weaken in some other areas in that case. Of course, it is just a matter of buying a number of abilities and try it out, since I do not lose any old abilities – decisions, decisions…