Saturday, March 26, 2011

Change of Venue

OK, the point of this post is, first of all, to say that I am expanding what I am going to cover in this blog a bit. How? I am going to begin to post about what's going on in gaming in general with specific regard to what I consider truly “classic”. Why? Because I want to.

Up until now I have just used this blog to talk about Console Classix. It's not a bad subject. In fact, I love it. However, CC isn't the only thing going on in the gaming industry. It's not even the only thing going on in the classic gaming industry. Those are things I want to talk about because it will reveal a bit more about me and my feelings on what makes games truly classic. Past, present and even future. Why do my feelings matter? I'm the president of one of the coolest classic gaming companies ever! (OK, so that doesn't make my opinion any more important than anyone else's. Still, it's cool to say at parties.)

So, first of all most classic gamers (at least the ones I know of) enjoy good games from whatever time period they come from. They love games like Yar's Revenge, Link to the Past, Final Fantasy Tactics right up to Force Unleashed. Classic gaming isn't a time period it's a matter of quality and gaming philosophy. Most of them are also very “cross-platform” playing games for whatever system they happen to run on, including PC games. I mention this only to explain that my subject here is about good gaming, games that are going to become “classics” and what makes games good/classic.

The first subject for all this: Free to play MMOs

“WHAT?” you ask. “How does this tie in with classic gaming in any way shape or form?” It's very simple. The industry is changing. Free to play MMOs have already begun to change the gaming landscape. At the moment it may not seem “classic” because it's going on right now and we can see it happening, but, in time, it will touch the entire industry.

Think back to the days of the Atari 2600. The goal of the games was simple: get the most points. That honestly sums up most of the early Atari games, but then things stared to change. In 1979 we got Adventure. You had to get items, solve puzzles and accomplish something tangible. You were trying to beat the game, not just your buddy's score. Today, many may not think of this shift as extreme, but it was. Game consoles turned on this very point. They became something other than “home arcade” systems. Space Invaders was a huge arcade hit that then made the transition (albeit poorly) to the home arcade. The Legend of Zelda was a huge hit in it's own right. It didn't get numbers from arcade popularity, it was hit for the home console all by itself.

Now the landscape is shifting around the Free-To-Play concept and it's likely to change the entire gaming industry. The reason is simple. Nothing will get you into a game better than an unlimited free sample. If you truly enjoy the game it's only a matter time before you put money in it. We've already seen companies like Frogster build very successful business empires with FTP games like Runes of Magic. Turbine pulled LOTRO and DDO out of the financial fire by converting over to FTP. Just recently Cryptic switched Champions Online over to a FTP model and managed to increase it's profits by over one thousand percent. (Yes that's 1000%)

I know a lot of people out there are screaming at the top of their lungs “Yea, but those games suck!” However, they certainly aren't looking at it from an objective point of view. Between them these games have millions of players. More importantly they are very profitable. “What? Profitable? I thought this was supposed to be about how classic a game was, not how profitable!” Well, that's true, but here the two run hand in hand. Players vote with their money. It's one thing to say you enjoy a game, it's another to drop five bucks in it. The profitability of these companies really represents what gamers want and enjoy. It's the fact that these games are financially successful that is changing the industry.

You have to consider the fact that DC Universe Online was released in a landscape of direct free competition. You may feel that no self-respecting player would play CO rather than DCUO, but not everyone feels that way. Now DCOU has got to prove, not only that it's worth $15 a month, but that it's worth that much more than CO. No matter how you feel about it personally I'll bet you that the head cats at Sony we're jumping up and down with joy when CO went FTP.

Now, imagine DCUO had opened with a FTP model. (I can hear hissing in the crowd already, but hear me out.) If DCUO is really worth the $15 a month then they would have no problems. They could have setup micro-transactions and offer a better deal for monthly subscribers. Now, I know some users hate this model. The only reason I can think of is because teenage boys that still live with their parents will shell out $100 a month to get on top and that's not fair to the rest of us. I agree with that totally.

However, Craft of the Gods (I know, you've never heard of it....) offers what I feel is the perfect solution. They offer servers for each payment model. If you are a subscriber you can make characters on any of the servers. FTP players can only create characters on FTP servers. The advantages with this model are numerous.

First, you can sample the game as long as you want before you decide to buy. That means publishers will have to focus on making a good game more than on making a good ad campaign. Second, if you think the game is worth five bucks a month and not fifteen you can pay the five. This puts money in the developers pocket and let's you pay on your own terms. Third, if you do decide to buy the game you can play in a private environment with other subscribers. Forth, if you are the only one of your online friends that wants to pay for it you can still game with them on the free servers.

One of the things that FTP brings to the table is options. You can try the game before you buy it and you can decide on a month by month basis what the game is worth to you. I think this is going to be a good thing for the industry. How many great games have never really made it because their advertising was weak. Imagine if players had been able to sample every Nintedo game that ever came out before they bough them. Some profits would have been lost and others gained. Good companies that went under might have survived (plus some stinkers might have gone under quicker.)

Some of you may be wondering how this relates to console gaming, but it's not hard to see if you look. Already we are seeing free demos pop up and it's only a matter of time before we get free to play online games for them. (In fact we may already be seeing those. I haven't kept up as well as I should have.) This brings me to the point that Farmville is, in fact, a FTPMMO, but I'll save that for another time.

So, FTP, personally I love it. I think in many ways it's already the present and is sure to be a big deal in the future. Players are just going to have to accept it and look at ways to eliminate the problems they see in the model. The FTP model itself isn't going anywhere.


  1. Great Post!

    I would agree that demos are one of the best things that has happened to the game industry. But, I can not see how a subscription service could work on anything other than a MMO. It also seems like your idea "pay five instead of fifteen" would end up looking a lot like Farmville, and I consider Farmville to be the worst thing to happen to gaming since online piracy.

    I might have your ideas slightly confused, but I do like the discussion!

  2. OK, I am going to address your last point first. I want to open by saying that I don't care for Farmville at all. I have never played it and I have no intention of doing so. That having been said, I can't for a moment consider it a bad thing for the industry.

    What is the goal of the gaming industry? To get people playing. If you and I say that a game is bad for the industry simply because we can't stand the game personally, we are being far too subjective. Look at what Farmville managed to accomplish. They took a very simple idea, put it together running on a very simple engine and got MILLIONS of people playing together online. They also managed to do all this and make a profit.

    As I mentioned before, players vote with their money. The people have responded with an overwhelming “We LOVE Farmville!” How can you or I say they are wrong? In my opinion this is to take a very shortsighted view. However, it's a view that many gamers take at the moment. The general feeling I get is that gamers feel like if the industry sees the profit potential of games like Farmville they aren't going to produce anything else. I disagree completely.

    First we have to look a the fact that Farmville is an MMO. You don't have to like that fact, but you have to accept it. It is, no matter how you look at it, Massive, Multi-player and Online. Who knows how many people's first MMO experience was Farmville?

    Why does this matter to the industry? Think of the reputation MMO gamers have. When most people think MMO gamer they think sad, lonely, no girlfriend. Well, now millions of people have cut their teeth on Farmville. They are now MMO gamers whether they consider themselves that or not. These players have been sucked into MMO space and may very well move from Farmville all the way to World of Warcraft or what have you. More money in the industry means more development, and that means more games.

    Don't think for a moment that the makers of Farmville would pass up the chance to make a game that you or I would play. If they could figure out how to deliver what we want in the form of a Facebook game they would do it ASAP. Up to this point I haven't seen a single Facebook game that has tempted me, but I don't rule out the possibility.

    Leaving Farmville behind we can look at games like Runes of Magic and Champions Online. These games offer players the chance to get into MMO gaming for free. The simple truth is that free equals more players. More players in MMO space is a good thing for the MMO industry and I believe for the gaming industry in general.

    The subscription type service really only does work for MMOs and services like Console Classix. However, I think it's just a matter of time before we begin to see MMO type games on consoles. Obviously there are already MMOs in console space, but at the moment I feel they are more on the edge rather than mainstream. I expect this to change in the near future. For instance I think Bioware will certainly try to put SWTOR on the XboX at least. I feel that as more and more gamers come to MMO gaming more and more MMOs are going to come to the console. Still, only time will tell.

  3. "The only reason I can think of is because teenage boys that still live with their parents will shell out $100 a month to get on top and that's not fair to the rest of us." This was the reason for me not liking Farmville, not the actual gameplay. Just to make that clear.

    If that idea became widely used, I could imagine a FPS where people who buy the $100 (real money) gun always beating those playing for free/cheap.

    Your multiple server idea does seem to fix this problem, though.

    Hmmm. I now think you are right. I think that all I (and other online gamers) want, is an equal playing field. This new idea would create different fields, but equal within each field.

    Thanks for thinking beyond my short sightedness. You must be some president of one of the coolest classic gaming companies ever or something!

  4. I didn't mean to call you shortsighted personally, lol. Sorry if I came across that way.

    I can't claim the multiple server idea. I just ran into it when looking at free to play MMOs. I think it is an elegant solution. In my opinion it takes away any and all grounds of complaint. If you don't like the subscription model then play for free. If you don't like micro-transactions then subscribe. It won't satisfy everyone (haters got to hate), but it would go a long way toward giving people options.

    I like to think of myself as the president of one of the coolest classic gaming companies ever, lol.

    So, thank you!