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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.

Is polish fun? Is innovation fun? The curse of meaningful play

May 6, 2008 Comments off

Polish. Innovation. Two quite overused words when it comes to MMORPG discussions and which seem to become some general blunt weaponry to smack around with either to defend or attack some game in the genre.

Polish entered the stage with World of Warcraft and while at that point seemed to describe games whose properties were few annoying bugs and a number of game mechanics which did not completely suck and worked fairly well together. Which was a bit rare at that point, at least at the release of an MMORPG.

Now it seems to generally be used for the initial use, but with some added mesarement on how good the user of the word thinks a game is. E.g. World of Warcraft is more polished than insert-any-game-here.

How do you measure polish? What are the units? Is this polish measurement all that matters? If game a has 10 polish and game B has 12 polish, will players pick game B then? How much more polish matters?

If the game from a technical perspective works generally well and game mechanics are mostly positive experiences, then the game is “polished” enough to me. There is no “more polished” and even if there were, it does not really matter. Lack of “polish” can get int he way of the fun of the game, but more “polish” does not make the game more fun or better.

And innovation – people must have listened too much to Bill Gates and his crew who used the innovate word for way too many things in my opinion. And it is used as it is the only way to salvation for the MMORPG games. And when people are talking about innovation they are asking for things they think is more fun than what they are currently used to, once they see it and like it. Which is a quite different thing.

It seems every time a new game is released in the past few years a discussion with “Innovation” (or lack thereof), “clone” and similar words pop up. Age of Conan gets a bit of that now, Tabula Rasa and Pirates of the Burning Sea had that a few months ago and Warhammer Online and Chronicles of Spellborn will surely have that as well.

People are talking about “WoW clones” or “WoW killers”, perhaps saying that it is too much of the first and too little of the latter. Which is a bit #2 from the cow’s husband. What some people here, in particular many WoW players, are looking for is a “better WoW than WoW” referring to them as “WoW killers”, projecting some lack of complete satifaction with their game of choice, but without wanting to give up that unless it feels meaningful to do so. And it becomes meaningful if “everyone else” would jump on this killer game and it it would feel like a better WoW than WoW.

This is not just for WoW of course, but due to its market size there are more people in that situation and it may also accentuate the feeling of playing the “winner”, which also makes it more meaningful than other games for some.

While I think these are quite understandable and human reactions I think it may hurt the game market – they do not only have to be fun and functionally working properly (for the most part), but also have to fight a legacy with gaming hours spent in a meaningful way.