Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Not Believing Jack

I'm not doing much in EVE Online that's very interesting.  The fact that I hit 9.86 faction with the Minmatar Republic isn't as exiting as one or two major gold selling sites potentially ending sales of ISK.  Doing a major grind like that involves a lot of time playing the game doing repetitive tasks.  I might find the process interesting, but an outside observer?  Hardly.

That grind in many ways is built into games operating under the free-to-play model.  Unlike EVE, where I chose to do an insane standings grind for something I could basically get by joining faction warfare, a pretty intense grind is standard for F2P games.  If the grind is hard enough, players invested enough in the game will bypass the grind by spending money.  Depending on the articles available for purchase, some players will designate the game pay-to-win (P2W). 

That subject, how to avoid the P2W trap, is a subject of a presentation that Cryptic Studios CEO Jack Emmert will give at GDC Next the first week of November.  Massively pointed out this part of the description of the talk...
"With an F2P business, developers must carefully weigh business needs against game balance. Typically, players immediately question whether a game is actually pay-to-win and not truly free-to-play. This session tracks how Cryptic Studios has tackled this very difficult question in each of their current MMOs, and provides a method to address both concerns."
Commenters over at Massively are not buying the premise that Emmert knows how to do this. One even pointed out that weighing "business needs against game balance" isn't a good thing for game designers to do.  Game companies always have to consider the business implications of what they design.  I think players wouldn't object too much if told they can't have a feature because it costs too much to implement, if given a good technical reason why it costs so much.  Yes, I'm thinking of CCP trying to fix all the legacy systems like Crimewatch.  But when that reaches down to what will drop from mobs in order to make the cash shop more attractive, players start drawing the line.

As so happens, I'm currently playing a Cryptic game, Neverwinter.  So far, unlike all the other games I've played with a cash shop except EVE Online1, I've managed to not purchase anything from the cash store.  I admit I'm only level 27, but I've easily resisted the temptation to purchase a mount for $35 or $40.  Actually, once I found out the prices for a mount and took a look at the cash shop, I almost quit the game.  The cash shop definitely killed my desire to join a guild and become immersed in the world of Neverwinter, despite how much I like some of the game play and the systems.

So now I have a challenge.  Can I reach max level and get really cool things and not spend any real life money?  If I can, then I think Neverwinter isn't really P2W.  The only real roadblocks I see might come at end game, but I'm not an end game raider.  When I hit the level cap that usually means I'm about to quit a game anyway.

The experiment will probably take a long time to conduct.  EVE still takes precedence and I'm looking forward to the opening of EQNext Landmark this winter (hopefully in November or December).  And then after that is spring and Wildstar, which will probably kick Neverwinter to the curb.  But maybe I'll have something to report in a few months.  Because as we all know, we should judge game developers by their actions and not by their words.2


1.  I haven't purchased anything from the Nex Store, but I have purchased Fanfest streams, tickets, and in a couple of weeks character transfers.

2.  See also Warhammer Online.


  1. Heh, I too have been in Neverwinter a bit, and it isn't just the price of mounts, but also the lack of anything I think I would really need. Maybe some day I might want another character slot. So far not paying doesn't seem to put many constraints on you.

    I was reading somewhere that playing a F2P game without paying is the new hardcore challenge. In F2P, you no longer want to be "that guy on the horse" as Potshot once put it, because that just means you spent money. Now you want to be the guy who has done it all and not paid a dime.

  2. I reached max level with Great Weapon Fighter(the weakest class) in Neverwinter without buying anything from cash shop. So the game is not P2W per say. It is what to do after you reach max level is the question, because there are global events and group quests that reward all the good stuff and you either make a lot of friends or join a clan, because without good gear you will not make it there. Gear can be bought on AH, but that requires astral diamonds, which can be exchanged for Zen, which can be bought for real money. So this is how it becomes pay to win. Also by the time you hit max your gear will look the same as anyone else playing the same class, so if you want to look different you have to buy those skins from zen shop or do the same dance and shot at AH. To be honest, the game is fun to play, but once you hit max it stops being fun and becomes a gear/money grind.

    1. I'm enjoying the journey and exploring the different systems I'm not used to, so if it only gets bad after the point I normally quit a game I'm fine with that :)

  3. Whether an MMO is Pay-to-Win depends very much on your personal definition of winning. I spend a very great deal of time playing MMOs but I doubt anyone would consider what I do in them "winning". Consequently, for the kind of activities I enjoy there is usually almost no noticeable difference in what I can do in a F2P game compared to what I can do in a Sub game other than the F2P game is actually free.

    If someone ever makes an incredibly good-looking F2P game that charges per screenshot taken, *then* I might have a problem.

    1. Bhagpuss, I've long considered you've effectively won every MMO out there having taken the decision that you'll enjoy an unhurried journey with little interest in ever actually arriving.

  4. For me F2P is a somewhat self-defeating model.

    Once I've looked at the cash shop and decided I'm not going to be super-hardcore the game is marginalised for me in a way that I don't experience in sub games. Skill and effort can substitute for dollars in most of these games but it can't substitute for all three and there'll always be strong determined dedicated players who cheerfully dip into their wallets to get even further ahead.

    Now I'm no longer as hardcore as I like to think I am but the instincts are ingrained. I can't get invested in a game where the best I can hope to achieve is mediocrity.