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1:30pm on Sunday, 19th May, 2013:

Changing Rhetoric


The rhetoric justifying the coverage of what you can pay for in otherwise free-to-play MMOs is gradually changing.

When most MMO players were achievers, developers could sell anything that had no tangible, gameplay effect: costmetic-only "vanity" items (such as fancy pets) and services (such as name changes). Since last year (in the West — the Far East got here a while ago), when the tipping point was reached and socialisers asserted their dominance, the floodgates have opened. We're now seeing charges for goods and services across the board, in multiple dimensions. Three of these dimensions seem to be of particular appeal.

The first such dimension is whether what is sold has any gameplay effect or not. There are gradations of this, including:

The second main dimension is how long the effects last. Popular ones are:

The third main dimension concerns probabilities:

Achievers are fine with no-gameplay or deferred-gameplay effects, although the deferred-gameplay would have to be relatively short (a month at most). They are agnostic about how long effects last. They're OK with the first two kinds of probability, but would need to be persuaded that the second one genuinely was equal.

The other player types are fine with all the options, at least in terms of playing for fun. They may dislike them for other reasons, such as expense (if they feel they're being nickel-and-dimed), fairness (if they feel their experience is being deliberately crippled to make them pay to uncripple it) or morality (if they feel that a grab-bag mechanism is just plain, simple gambling) however they won't object to any of them for spoiling the game. Achievers will object. Achievers regard anything too far along the gameplay or probability dimensions as being pay-to-win. The only way they would accept it is if the total amount any player could spend on such items per character were capped per month — in other words, if it were a subscription or similar.

Now the shift we've seen of late is in the attitudes of longer-term players who used to be achievers but are now pretty well socialisers (which is what achievers transition to in the main sequence of player type development). They still consider themselves to be achievers, but now find themselves wanting to buy things that previously they wouldn't have done. They accept the argument against pay-to-win in player-versus-player, because that's pretty clear-cut — it has competition. However, the shift lies in their attitudes to player-versus-environment, which is now not seen as being competitive.

Well, PvE is competitive — if you're an achiever. If you're not, well of course you won't see it that way. If you are, though, you'll compare your progress and achievements to those of other players and you'll resent it if those players "cheat" by paying for advantages. If you can easily identify players who are (in your terms) losers, you may be able to stomach it , but only if everyone else doesn't treat them as winners; unfortunately for you, non-achievers will do just that.

So, what we're now seeing with MMOs is the effect of the natural evolution of achievers into socialisers. Most long-term MMO players have made the transition or are making it, so there's lots of money to be made here (at least while they consider their money well-spent). There are two long-term problems with it. though.

The first, which isn't all that great, is that MMOs are losing gamers. People who actually like games aren't going to stick with MMOs. These are mainly individuals who are transitioning from player to designer. They're going to be playing other games (mainly single-player RPGs, I suspect), perhaps coming back to a new MMO as a content locust for a short while before leaving it. These people aren't going to make a dent in MMO numbers because amortised across all MMOs there aren't enough of them; however, they're important because they are the cutting edge. They embody the future of games, because they understand them. Addressing their needs may be expensive in terms of what a developer gets back directly, but the reward lies in what spins off.

The second long-term problem concerns new achievers. If you're a newbie achiever looking for an MMO that suits your needs right now, you're going to have trouble finding one. You'll try one of the big names, find it's "unfair", and after a while give up. You're going to become lost to the MMO industry. You'll get your games kicks elsewhere. All those P2W-uneasy achievers who 5 years from now were eventually going to transform into P2W-accepting socialisers aren't going to do so because today they were put off while they were achievers. MMOs will become things their parents played, but not what they play — rather like how today's players regard MUDs (those of them who have even heard of MUDs, that is).

Oh well, short-term gain always wins over long-term vision, so this comes as no surprise. What I expect will eventually happen is that there'll be a design revolution as the gamers create something for all those would-be achievers who are treading water waiting for something to play. Either that, or MMOs will be developed that are sustainable using non-P2W (in achiever terms) F2P to pick up all those loose achievers.

Yeah, right, like that happened in Korea...

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Copyright © 2013 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).