With the recent news about LOTRO going “free to play” that seem to have started some discussions in other subscription-based MMO forums about the risk/chance of their MMO of choice doing the same thing. In some places there is a fair amount of negativity against the whole “free to play” thing.
However, worth noting is that currently for DDO and later for LOTRO Turbine does not remove the subscription option for the games – Turbine adds the F2P option and changes the subscription option.
By introducing the F2P option they have also made it possible to make the subscription option more valuable to a larger audience.
In the old model, which most subscription-based MMOs use today, your value from the subscription is not easily seen. There is generally no statement or promise what kind of updates is included in the fee and about the only guarantee is that the game is for the most part available to play.
But in DDO and later now LOTRO the subscription becomes more clear in what you actually get for your money. You do not only get the access to the game, you get other stuff that is more explicitly spelled out. And you get Turbine points. This means that players can choose for themselves what to do with these points from what is offered, rather than implicitly pay for content that may not matter so much to them. If you do not play that often you still gather the Turbine points for use later if you pay the subscription fee. While I did not see anything in the LOTRO FAQ, I hope that Turbine points are also interchangeable between DDO and LOTRO. That way one could pay a subscription for one of the games and get Turbine points that benefit for both games.
I have seen comments that DDO subscription numbers (i.e. people paying $15/month) increased after they changed DDO. I am not surprised. They have provided more payment options to players and made the existing one valuable and worth paying to a larger audience than before. And at the same time they have also lowered the barrier of entry and re-entry to the game.
Those who argue about F2P vs subcription as two distinct and the only two options are missing the point.
So it has been announced that Lord of the Rings Online is going “free to play”. Good for them, if it works out. It does not make me want to play it, so I am more interested in the impact it may have on other publishers and developers.
How does this affect CodeMasters? They have been the European operator for both DDO and LOTRO as pay-to-play games. After DDO changed its business model I did at one time try to get the new DDO through the European DDO site. But looking at that site there was no “free to play”, just the normal subscription thing as far as I could see.
So of course I jumped over to Turbine’s own site instead. In LOTROs case though they seem to be part of the picture in some way, will they get a percentage of items sold in the store?
If this attempt is successful as well I do hope that other subscription-based games will look more into this approach, games that might struggle a bit with keeping many regular subscribers, but which could potentially do well with a lower barrier of entry (waves to Cryptic, Paragon Studios and SOE).
I have seen a few posts from various bloggers about how bad 2009 was for MMOs. Personally I do not quite agree. For me personally there were more interesting new titles released in 2009 than in 2008. But also considerations for a good/bad year should include existing games as well – new expansions and changes, different price and payment models etc.
Thoughout 2009 I have played/tried a few different MMO or MMO-type games:
City of Heroes/Villains, Guild Wars, Lord of the Rings Online, Chronicles of Spellborn, Runes of Magic, Jade Dynasty, Project of Planets, Zero Online, Vendetta Online, Pirate Galaxy, Champions Online, Saga of Ryzom, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Fallen Earth, World of Kung Fu, Twelve Sky 2, Age of Conan, EVE Online, Shin Megami Tensei, FusionFall Online, GhostX – perhaps a few others also that I have forgotten about. Some of these would be an emphasis on tried rather than played though – for various reasons I barely completed the tutorial on some.
While otherwise limited in content updates, I loved when NCSoft/Paragon Studios released Mission Architect for City of Heroes/Villains. A really great feature! It was however plagued with being exploited by some and also in a sense too successful – too many story arcs and less than adequate search tools initially caused some trouble. While it is used by players today, it has perhaps not created the subscriber success that some may have hoped for. Still, it is an important step in making an innovative approach to MMO content a reality. I think that was one of the major milestones of 2009.
With the exception of Guild Wars, most of the fantasy titles I only played for short periods of time. Sometimes a bit grindy and with no special love for the fantasy genre, I gre tired of most of them quickly. Guild Wars has been lots of fun though – partially because it is a good game, but also very much due to the people of Tuesday Noob Club. Not played much lately though and the combination of real life schedule and lack of excitement for fantasy titles has contributed to that.
Just as I managed to totally avoid Warhammer Online last year I also totally avoided Aion this year, and World of Warcraft as usual. There simply has not been any compelling eason to consider playing either of the games.
Champions Online has received the bulk of my play time lately and for good reason – it is an excellent and fun game if you just want to mess around a bit, blow off some steam and get your mind of real life issues, just for a short bit. It is a good complement to other games or other activities.
I think most of the games I have played or tried I have not written much about – which is not to say that there are bad games. Sometimes it has just been bad timing, or some technical issue. I am glad that I have at least tried a fair number of games and see more of what is out there, rather than just focus on a few new Western subscription-based titles and live on the hope that the next big title with be it.
Last Friday I decided to cancel my LOTRO subscription; I do not play it often and I have found it so-and-so overall when playing, so I decided to take a break from it for now.
So fo course I logged on to my Codemasters account, found the LOTRO entry entry and selected cancel and then selecting Yes for the “are you really sure?” question.
I was stupid enough to think that was the only thing I had to do. I got redirected in my browser to ClickAndBuy home page after this. ClickAndBuy is the company that charges my credit card for LOTRO on behalf of Codemasters.
Since I had not noticed anything pointing out why I was redirected there I ignored that – which I should not have done. Two days later I get an email from ClickAndBuy that they have charged me for another subscription period…
When complaining to them that I had actually cancelled my subscription, they say that I have to log in at ClickAndBuy to cancel it.
So I decide to log in to Codemasters again to check the status of the account and it is active there! I cancel again, answer Yes to the “are you really sure?” question again and when I get redirected to ClickAndBuy home page I login there. I do find a subscription entry for LOTRO, which I cancel.
And now, when I log back in to the Codemasters account I see that the subscription is cancelled there also.
Maybe there was some place where it was written that the subscription had to be cancelled in two locations; if the ClickAndBuy option would be sufficient, why have have a cancel choice at all and not just a redirect to ClickAndBuy directly? This is the first time I had to go to two places to cancel one subscription. Would it have been too much to ask for big red letters to notify about the unusual procedure?
It was not any big money lost since I only had the 1-month recurring option in this case; usually I tend to go for the 3-month or 6-month options when subscribing to MMOs, but not in this case.
Oh well, live and learn.
This weekend I had some game time spent in three games, City of Heroes, Lord of the Rings Online and Runes of Magic. The latter two has the fantasy setting and the “kill ten boars” type of quests in common, while the first and last have a quite casual feeling in common.
In City of Heroes I decided to play my controller Frieda and found when logging on one of my in-game friends that do not play so often being there. We decided to team up and he brought one of his favourite characters at the moment, a werewolf type tanker at level 11.
Soon after teaming up I got a tell asking if I wanted to join a group of other 43s (Frieda was level 43). I said that I was sorry, but was already temed up with a friend playing a low level character. And the response was “bring him along also if you want, we have space for more”.
And this is one of the great things about this game – both that the ability is there for someone at a low level to easily team up with high level characters, but also that the community is often supportive for that type of team play. No arguments about have a specific profile for the character or being at a specific level. The more the merrier is rather the attitude often and which is one reason I really like this game.
Setting and accomplishing goals, even if no-one else knows about them, is an important part of the gaming experience I think. My current playlist consists of four different MMOs and the goals for each tend to vary a bit:
City of Heroes/Villains: My longest running game so far, 31 months and counting. While I have not experienced everything on the villain side, I have played through a large part of it and many times also. There is not really anything that keeps me playing for too long on that side, except to have some fun with friends who want to play on villain side. There is also a bit of a meta-goal: to get all my dominators to max level. A long time ago I set up a goal to get all the dominator pets and consequently I also created dominators covering all powerset options available. That goal was reached long ago. Dominators are still my favourite archetype and as long as there were other interesting content and goals to be set, I usually played it with a dominator.
Today I have 4 dominators at max level and 2 more around 40 (39 + 43). But without any other plausible goals on villain side may possibly not get the dominators to max level – I will certainly not grind my way there just to get some level.
On hero side it is easier, since I have not played that much and there are still zones and areas I have barely touched yet. However, with a controller at 41 this part may fade a bit. If I can jump into the game and team up with some friends I absolutely jump in and play, because that is an area CoX excels in. But there is little else currently driving my play.
Guild Wars: This game I think it absolutely brilliant in its design. Not only does it have excellent story content and very little grind type content. It also provides all sorts of added challenges and pieces to help set goals both for PvE and PvP. The story-driven content is very much in what is called cooperative missions, with some quests sprinkled in between them (and not grindy “kill X boars”). Each of the cooperative missions have a base requirement for completion, but also a master/bonus requirement, which typically is a bit harder to reach. There are also other types of missions which provides high score type gaming, PvP etc. Combine all that with the excellent skill system which provides a lot of freedom to mix and combine skills to fit the current challenge – there is no one size fits all. And if the story lines are completed that unlocks hard mode, which could be compared to heroic/elite mode of content in some other games – and that is all mission content and all zones.
Add to this a number of titles that can be strived for that actually have some meaning or a sense of accomplishment; e.g. survivor titles that is earned if the character does not die at all, protector titles for completing master levels of all cooperative missions, explorere titles for actually visiting and seeing a large part of the zones and the different areas in those zones. The game makes it very easy to set various goals and I always tend to have at least a few different ongoing goals. Finding motivation to play has not really been an issue – everything from experiencing the story arcs, exploring the beautiful world, trying out new some new skill combos or play styles, working towards some title etc.
The Chronicles of Spellborn: Two pieces are driving here – the neat combat system and the interesting setting and environment. The combat system is quite different from other MMOs – not the regular button-mashing type, but which requires a bit more presence and thought sometimes. In a way it pushes similar buttons (pardon the pun) that Guild Wars’ skill system does – provide room for improvement and encouraging some experiementation on that path.
The setting and the lore of the Spellborn world is another driving factor. Exploring and learning more about the world is absolutely a significant set of goals here. While the quest system does not have a huge amount of quests and some of them are of the “kill X boars” type, it also provides number of quests with enjoyable stories – perhaps exposng and learning more of the lore of the workd, or perhaps some comical twist. Perhaps because there are not so many quests those that are good and is worth remembering stand out easier. While I might rank Guild Wars higher in terms of quest quality I still think Spellborn does a farily good job. Even with some kill and fedex quests I still am interested in doing more, since the already completed quests have been good enough overall for me to want to go for more.
However, the whole split of the European market and some current bugs and misfeatures does dampen the will to play a bit right now. So I am waiting a bit to see what happens. I will still be paying for the game even if I not play; it has enough potential that I do not want this one to vanish due to lack of paying customers.
Lord of the Rings Online: This is my black sheep. The game is easily the prettiest MMO that I have seen and the epic story line seems nice and interesting enough. While there are a lot of different ways to advance your character in the game, too much of it feels like it is some kind of grind to get to the goals and getting there may not be that interesting. I certainly do not feel any sense of accomplishment for being awarded just having used a certain skill 500 times, or killed X number of some certain type of enemy, which I might almost do blind-folded as long as I remember which buttons to press.
I do want to like the game and and find things to drive my play time in there. But I struggle with this to find enough that do not feel grindy and feel worthwhile.
Lately I have been playing four different games: Chronicles of Spellborn, Lord of the Rings Online, City of Heroes and Guild Wars. Alternating between the games have worked out rather well so far and some direct comparisions are inevitable.
In Chronicles of Spellborn I currently play Wolf, a trickster (level 15) which is a rogue type class. Tricksters speciality is to use gadgets to trigger certain effects, e.g. cause enemies to loose concentration, additional damage etc. There are a number of different skills to distract enemies, become more evasive and also get increased damage if the enemy is backstabbed. One skill to aid there also is a teleport spell, which instantly transports you behind the currently faced enemy. It is a bit tricky to get right to get the full effect of a follow-up backstab. But all in all there is a number of neat skills to play around with.
Spellborn is played in a post-apocalypic world where the remains of civilisation lives on/in big chunks of rock with its own atmosphere, called shards. The shards float around in the Deadspell Storm. Starting characters start on the Parliament shard and from there continue to other shards, as well as travel back. Each shard has a number of zones. It is a fantastic setting and there is a lot of lore and learning about the world as one progresses with different quests.
The game itself is a bit different than many current MMOs; in particular the combat system takes a quite different approach. I think it is brilliant; it is fairly easy to understand, but will require practice to become good with it. While I thimk I probably suck a bit here in combat I find it fun to use and get quite happy the times when it actually flows quite well in combat.
While there is a number of traditional type of “kill X boars” and delivery type quests, some quest chains actually have some neat story elements in them and a mix of activities in them which are not always obvious. I have found these quite enjoyable and a number of them also tells a bit more about the world of Spellborn and its inhabitants. In the beginning quests do not give that much fame (experience points in Spellborn), but increases significantly after the first 8-9 levels.
Equipment itself does not really matter for you characters, it is mainly for looks. Some equipment have slots for sigils (similar to enhancements in City of Heroes) which effectively act as permanent boosters similar to what is added to equipment in other MMOs. The added boosts are not that big though as far as I have seen so far, so it will not make a big impact – at least not in the lower levels. Sigils are of two types – item sigils and skill sigils. The latter can be added to specific skills to boost just that skill, while item sigils will boost everything that is related to that boost.
There is a somewhat simplistic crafting system in place – if you loot a broken item you can visit a forge and ask for a recipe to repair the item. You will then get a list of necessary resources to collect/obtain to repair it. If you have all resources you can get the item repaired at the forge for a fee.
The game is a bit old school:ish and does lack some features that other recent games has, but in a way they also restore a bit of that you actually has to but a bit of effort in what you do and makes the game more involved and engaging than other click-push-button-kill-next-quest type MMOs. There is a fine line here between more involved/engaging and perhaps frustrating game play though.
The game currently has some shortcomings in its feature and there are some bugs in the quests and other places that causes some trouble. While most of the quests do not indicate that teams are needed, not everything is easily soloable. But much of the content that is challenging for a solo player is doable for a duo and likely easy for 3 persons. The max team size of 4 is only required for very few quests – at least as far as I have seen so far. This is pretty much only quests where one has to make an assult on a big camp of enemies and/or take out a boss in a camp or something similar.
There is also not so many people around in the game; or at least not noticeable. I do think though that it has increased somewhat lately.
Despite any shortcomings it is a game I want to log back in to and play; at least when I can set aside at least 1 1/2 – 2 hours for it.