Tagged with Lord of the Rings Online

Only a Hobby

I read stuff like this:

Biobreak: Turbine, Shark-jumping, and $50 horses

…and just sigh. Well, first I check it isn’t April 1st, and then I sigh. This, again?

For the click-averse, the basic deal is that Turbine would quite like some specifically NON-NEGATIVE feedback on a little cash shop proposal they’re mulling over for Lord of the Rings Online. In a highly meta act of knowing self-parody, it turns out to be a stick. With a wooden horse’s head on. Which you pretend to ride while going ‘Giddy-up!’, which increases travel-speed by +68% and which costs $50 worth of Turbine points. I have no idea how ‘Morale’ can even function in this context! So yes, not content to make your pretend elf ride a pretend real horse to an imaginary war in a made up landscape, that elf can now own and ride a pretend pretend horse! What next? Orcs who are actually Hobbits in disguise? Unhandled Exception: Fatal Brain Recursion Error!

I’m all for player engagement, and focus group feedback is probably a quite useful tool in any business endeavour. Turbine seems to agree as long as the feedback is OVERWHELMINGLY POSITIVE! DO NOT tell them it sucks, for that is not what they wish to hear! Otherwise, presumably, you’ll get deleted.

Barely concealed passive-aggressive contempt for the player-base aside, this elicits a particularly deep sigh from me, as I am one of the few remaining fans of F2P Cash Shop payment models, and this sort of nonsense isn’t helping my rapidly dwindling case, which I now feel compelled to restate below!

Well, fan is a strong word really. It is hard to understand how someone can get more excited over billing models than actual gameplay, content and so on. Haha! I don’t mean that I look at the back of the box, skip down until I see “No monthly fee!” and click my fingers and go, “That’s the one for me!” That would be bonkers! My appreciation for the current F2P style of things is somewhat more considered than that.

You see, in Soviet Russia back in the day, when the mighty subscription gods of old strode uncaring through the freshly hewn and still-molten MMO landscape, you didn’t get a lot of choice in the matter. You paid your $15 a month, or you buggered off, generally to one of the other three MMOs, who each also charged $15 a month. It meant a kind of enforced loyalty to a product which seems ridiculous when applied to any other field of commerce. Playing more than one MMO got quite financially punitive quite quickly. Imagine only being able to buy groceries from one supermarket in a given month!

Probably a flawed analogy now I think about utilities service contracts, but my point is that if you liked some parts of a game and not others, you still only had one option for expressing your dislike, to bugger off, or to not bugger off. Very binary! It probably made life more difficult for developers too, to judge what customers liked and didn’t, how to improve the product and so on, although back then it was very easy to get the impression that MMO developers didn’t much care about what actual players thought. Oh sure, you can canvas for opinion on the Official Forum, but we all know how that goes; to hell in a hand-basket very quickly at the hands of high-pitched textual shrieking by a very vocal minority, many of whom will simply scream without pause at you until you give up and go away, trembling. Eventually, the devs probably come to disregard the whole forum as an unpleasant baboon cage, leave it to a Community Manager with a fire hose, and go back to just guessing, which is Not Scientific!

Maybe I’m just a naive old dreamer, but I thought F2P was going to change that. By dividing the content up into smaller opt-in pieces, the popularity of each piece can be more accurately assessed. Players buy the bits they like, and don’t buy the bits they don’t like, which all sends a very direct kind of feedback, free of forum lobbyists and unrepresentative pressure¬† groups. Personally speaking, I tend to put down cash for content; new zones, more story and missions, that sort of thing. Similarly, I tend not to buy consumables, cosmetics, power-ups and shortcuts. I spend my cash to make a game I enjoy longer, not shorter. That’s just my own preferences, but in an F2P world, my message is being sent, and received, along with everyone else’s. Whether these are then being listened to and acted on is another matter though.

I also thought that F2P might free us from the more egregious extremes of The Grind treadmill. A monthly game must keep players playing for as many months as it can, because month-end is the only payday it can expect. Obviously, this leads to design which requires players to work for a very long time to accomplish their goals. By removing that time-based requirement, I thought, perhaps the basic nature of MMO gameplay can now be designed to not be quite so wretched? I am less sure what priorities exist in a F2P game though. I suppose you still need to keep players interested and invested for a long enough time to want to buy things, only now there are more unlock-based hurdles? More front-loading?

Early LotRO and DDO did seem to get it right, which makes “Hobbygate” so surprising. The core business seemed to be content unlocks, with some fluff and a few power boosts thrown in to bulk out the shop a bit. Ultimately, it worked out as a kind of part-work lifetime subscription, which indeed cumulatively cost a lot more than just dropping ¬£200¬† an actual lifetime sub, but it came in much more manageable chunks, and if you hated specific zones or dungeon packs, you could just opt out of those, which was nice. Under the old sub model, players who hated PvP or Raiding or whatever, still effectively had to buy those regardless, or not play at all.

Well, it seemed right for us anyway. Perhaps it wasn’t right for them, which is where F2P becomes an ongoing kind of debate. The MMO devs experiment with new goods and services, in order to survive and thrive (presumably some of them even enjoy creating this stuff, but I wouldn’t take that as a given), and then we decide which ones seem fair or are patently daft, and purchase accordingly. Like in every other industry or field of commerce, in fact. Internal marketplaces.

Regardless of the commercial priorities I always thought F2P was a good thing, because it put more of the decision-making in our hands. If they put a thing in the shop that you do not like, and this is the tricky bit, do not buy it. By not buying it, you’re sending a much more concrete message than a blog post like this one, which no-one will read, or a forum thread that devolves into anarchy and shrieking. Similarly, if you approve of a new thing in the shop, buy it! It’s not rocket surgery!

I suppose the big downside of F2P, and what angers so many, is that everyone else gets a say too, which is always inconvenient, since obviously everyone else is wrong and an idiot. Except you, dear reader, you’re great! Sparkleponies do get bought and the Hobbyhorse probably will sell a few too.

It’s up to us, all of us. Kicking up a fuss does help shift perceptions of course, perhaps swaying some potential customers, but paraphrasing that CCP bloke who came up with those Monocles; they’ll pay attention to what folks do, not say. They went on to only sell 68 monocles in the end (out of 100,000 or so potential customers) and gave up on the plan. I’m not sure all the in-game suicide bombings of Jita had much to add to that real life economic certainty. (I hear that that happens in Jita every day anyway?)

I tend to view all this sort of fuss as a kind of perverse kind of victory. I’ll see a hobby horse zoom past and think, “I was smart enough not to fall for that! High five, me!” and be a little bit smug knowing that for my 5000TP, I bought the entire Rohan and Isengard expansions in a sale instead, or more likely, that for my no TP at all, I quested my way to an Elfen Ambassador’s horse or whatever, which are just as good and don’t look make you look like you need an adult to help you with scissors. I really don’t mind so-called Whales subsidising my recreational time. Not one bit. And if the immersion-breaking gets too bad, well, I’ll just leave and find some MMO that takes itself just as seriously as I take it, which to be fair isn’t an awful lot! Thanks to F2P, I won’t even have to give a month’s notice when I quit!

The truth will be in the eating, as they say, and this is one of those interesting key social experiments where what people do and do not buy will matter a lot more than what they shriek about on this or any other blog. In a way, it’s Turbine’s job to come up with stuff like this. It’s our job to say yes or no, with our wallets. The hobby horse is plainly bonkers, to me, but luckily, I get to not buy one!

Tell you what though, we will all be here again, with a $75 ridable oliphant or something, and probably much sooner that we’d all like…

 

Anyway, it’s all academic, because I refuse to return to LotRO until I can buy my Hobbit a flying aircraft carrier, like out of the Avengers. For 495 TP, tops!

“Our shop-wizards would like to hear that this is a good idea.”

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Van Hemlock Episode 12

We return with more misreporting news, playing too many computer games and another glance into the strange world view that are our opinions.

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Van Hemlock Episode 10

Episode 10, in which our heroes show they can’t learn from past mistakes so are still playing far too many games and that the Internet is wrong and Jon is right.

End music is a treat for Crackdown fans because I’m feeling positive about All Points Bulletin. Bonus points if you recognise where the other piece comes from, but it is MMO related.

PS3 added trophies this month so we’re talking about achievements in games.

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Van Hemlock Episode 9

In which our heroes have played far too many games since last time, chip in on the download caps discussion and then one of us finally snaps and goes all Emo. Listen to find out which one!


Download MP3 File

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Van Hemlock Episode 8

In which our heroes prepare for war, have played a shockingly high number of games since the last show and then go off on a big ramble about games using existing IPs.

Eve Online Concurrency Numbers
Clear Skies, for the one person who managed to miss it.

Tabula Rasa, Guild Wars, Everquest, Everquest 2, Guildwars, Oblivion’s The Shivering Isles, Eve Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, Rockband.

Horror games:
Thief: Deadly Shadows, AvP 2, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, World of Darkness Online, Doom 3

MMOs with well known IPS.

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Van Hemlock Episode 6

In which our heroes ramble lots, talk about Tabula Rasa, Planetside, Last Chaos, Shaiya, Eve Online, getting a lifetime sub in Lord of the Rings Online and Grand Theft Auto IV.

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Van Hemlock Episode 5

In the news this week: Second Life protecting their name, Detecting people logging into local in Eve Online, Tabula Rasa getting a 6 months veteran reward, Eve Online deleted all NPC produced shuttles to help unlock the value of Tritanium, Ewe Boll not being allowed to make a World of Warcraft film (maybe). Bet they never make a film of that.

Age of Conan had a massive beta key giveaway so we’re talking about beta testing games. Eve had a good one for the Mac client, Pirates of the Burning Sea blamed it for overestimating the popularity and what are they actually for?

Lord of the Rings online has added Fishing. Why does every game add that, and why do we do it?

For the record this is the first appearance of the ice cream van. Wow those mics can pick up the outside well.

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Van Hemlock Episode 4

This episode we start by talking about numbers of players in games using the old Sir Bruce numbers.

This time we’ve been playing:
Lord of the Rings Online
Eve Online
Thief: Deadly Shadows
Gran Turismo Prologue
Crackdown
Test Drive Unlimited
God of War: Chains of Olympus

Finally we talk about advertising in Cities of Heroes

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Van Hemlock Episode 3

Episode number 3, more rambling and discussion that gets very close to being on topic in places. Topics covered this time:
Eve – who let the players be in control? Is that wise?
Warhammer online. Delayed?
Blizzard taking legal action against Glider
What happens if you delete every character in your game. Shadowbane?

Then we chat about what we’ve been playing:
Eve Online
Lord of the Rings Online
Burnout Paradise
Gran Turismo Prologue
The Orange Box
Guild Wars
Tabula Rasa

Next we have a couple of topics:
e-Sports. A brave presenter actually watches a TV show and survives to tell the tale!
Can RPGs still teach MMOs a lesson?

Finally, some more excellent music to end on. At least this one is from a game, right?

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Van Hemlock Episode 2

This episode we’re talking about Eve Online, World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online.

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