The Eternal Payment Model Debate: part 284

There was a pretty vibrant discussion between MMO bloggers on Twitter over the weekend on the subject of pay-to-win. I know I’ve already delivered my final word on MMO payment systems and I really intended to keep to that because, let’s be honest, F2P has won as the dominant model. But you guys, people are being so wrong on the internet.

To be fair the current discussion is less about free-to-play in general and more about the concept of “pay-to-win”. Specifically, I recently learned that to a growing number of people the P2W model is totally acceptable now. I dislike this.

What is best in life

I think some of the conflict between bloggers on this topic comes from the fact that MMOs don’t have a consistent win condition. It varies wildly from game to game, and from player to player. Perhaps you feel that you’ve won an MMO by completing the hardest group content, or maybe you’re an ArcheAge player and you “win” by being dominant in PvP.

I like collecting cosmetic items, and I evaluate my gaming success by getting the “best” hats and mounts and such. For me, the common practice of locking the premium cosmetic items in a cash shop is already “pay-to-win”. RIFT did this shortly after going free-to-play, and it was the primary reason I quit playing. The game went from having quest chains and reputation grinds and time-sensitive holiday events to .. lockboxes. It wasn’t even pay to win, it was “pay to gamble and maybe win”. Ugh.

And I guess that’s my underlying problem with the P2W model: it encourages predatory shenanigans by publishers to separate us from our money without us even noticing. I mean, that’s the fundamental principle of free to play, right? We’re supposed to make so many little payments that we don’t notice that we’re spending more than we would with a subscription. Over the entire playerbase, free to play is more expensive than subscription. If it wasn’t, then these huge companies with very well-educated finance departments would look at the numbers and go back to the subscription model.

A common reply at this point is something like, “well I don’t pay anything so who cares if that player over there pays twice what I do”. And I guess that’s fine, but .. for me personally I just am not comfortable knowing that some of my fellow players are getting screwed over by lockboxes so I can play a game for free. That doesn’t seem very neighborly, and being neighborly is one of the reasons I like the MMO genre in the first place.

(Amusingly enough I saw one supporter of pay-to-win say that those against it border on.. GAMING SOCIALISM. Check under your bed, folks!)

“Who gives a shit?”

The “who gives a shit” counter-argument seems to come up a lot in these discussions, and I’m not sure why.

I mean first, I’m an MMO blogger. Having opinions about game mechanics is kind of my gig. Not caring about stuff sounds cool I guess, but it doesn’t make for a very interesting post.

But primarily I care about this topic because what we do now will influence the games of the future. The audience is not the sole pilot of the game industry, but we do get to contribute to its trajectory. Think about this: three years ago when people were talking about Guild Wars 2’s F2P model the dominant line of thought was “free to play is fine as long as it’s not pay to win”. Now it’s changed to “pay to win is fine as long as I can pay”. What a difference a few years makes, huh? I wonder what we’ll be so accepting of next year.

And listen, I’m not saying that I want to burst through the walls of anyone who likes pay to win, Koolaid Man style, and smash their computer or something. Have fun, play your games, rock out. There is room for different opinions here, on both sides of the aisle.

WildStar and the Mixed Blessing of Free to Play
May28

WildStar and the Mixed Blessing of Free to Play

Carbine Studios announced today that WildStar is going free-to-play, and I just don’t how I feel about it.

On the one hand WS is a legitimately great game that never really found its audience, probably because technically they stopped playing hardcore MMOs around 2009. If WildStar had launched at the same time as RIFT I think it would have been very successful. The game has a lot of charm, some cool mechanics, and a housing system that is one of the best in the biz.

I really enjoyed my time in WildStar and to be honest its failure to maintain its playerbase made me pretty maudlin about MMOs for a while, even though I too was one of those missing players. I love challenging group content, but I just don’t have the mental energy at this point in my life to do it every night, or the static group to pull it off. (And I definitely am not interested in leading such a group or guild, which is generally how these things end up.)

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I suppose that most of us found ourselves in the same situation — fans of the game in theory, but not able to make the effort in practice. WS has been consistently losing half of its players each reported quarter since launch, and it’s a real shame that such a cute game has been languishing.

Enter today’s news that WildStar is going free-to-play. This should be the kick that WildStar needs, right? A fresh influx of players, right as dissatisfaction with Warlords of Draenor is at an all-time high, will do wonders for the game. Their free-to-play plan looks friendly and not punitive. Carbine Studios folks on Twitter seem thrilled by this turn of events.

And yet… well, dear reader, you know how I feel about free-to-play.

I don’t play F2P MMOs, and on the rare occasion that I do play a F2P game it usually manages to extract way more money from me than I intentionally meant to spend, to the point where I feel angry at myself later once I add it up. (Hearthstone, I’m looking at you.) It’s a standard rule of advertising that anything with “free” in the name is not actually free.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the weird, piecemeal economy that seems to be gaining a foothold in modern times, and I can’t help but feel that in a world where we are all “independent contractors” working multiple gigs from home or driving Uber cars or renting out our extra room over Airbnb… well, free to play MMOs just feels like another part of that. It’s a predatory payment model.

So we have a game that I think is great, but at this point the only way it can survive is going free-to-play. But free-to-play is terrible! Now what?!

One thing I do know for sure: I hope folks who were put off by the subscription take this opportunity to check out WildStar.

Five Weird Things About Day-to-Day Life in America (from a Canadian)

From the non-North American perspective there probably doesn’t appear to be a lot of difference between Canada and America. The two countries are a similar age and have similar demographics. Canada tends to reflect the same political shifts as the US and I can tell you from experience that when you live next door to the largest cultural exporter in the world, you end up sharing a lot of the same things.

Moving from Vancouver to Seattle hasn’t been a huge culture shock, but there are definitely differences between the two countries. Here are a few of the weird things about life in America that possibly only foreigners would notice.

1. American money all looks the same.

So, I realize this is not news to anyone but once you actually have to use cash to pay for things on a daily basis, the similarity of the money becomes obvious and irritating. My first few weeks in Seattle I was constantly handing bills to taxi drivers and shop clerks only to rip it back out of their hands when I realized that it was the wrong denomination.

I know that US $10 bills are slightly orange now, but it’s not that helpful. Most other countries in the world use bills with bright colors and crazy birds and ladies waving festive flags. In Canada, each denomination is even a slightly different size! US money doesn’t even have the plastic windows and futuristic watermarks that I’m used to — it’s just green and boring. Forever.

2. American point-of-sale payment options are confusing.

If you want to avoid the sea of green that is cash, just pay for everything with cards. Oh wait, that’s confusing too! I have an American credit card and a debit card and it seems to me to be completely random whether I have to sign or use a PIN or in some cases do absolutely nothing to authorize payment with either card. Also for some inscrutable reason I can select “credit” with my debit card and it works the exact same way except it takes longer to be processed through my bank account. Why does this exist?

I do have to give America props on one front here though: I was amazed to learn that you can buy things online with your bank debit card. Canada needs to get on that.

3. Doctors are nicer here.

Keep in mind that I am basing this supposition off a tiny sample size of 1 patient and two doctors, but so far they’ve been way nicer than any doctor I’ve had back home. I can’t help but feel as though it’s in part because medical services are more of a business here, and so I’m as much a customer as a patient. I am not maligning any of the intentions or competencies of medical professionals here in the US, but I guess good customer service is an important element in any customer-facing, for-profit industry.

Also, again based on my limited sample size, US doctors like to write prescriptions for anything except antibiotics, which they guard with ruthless efficiency. Canada is the opposite — a course of Amoxicillin is available in 10 minutes in a walk-in clinic but other medications are treated with more care.

4. America is not a tax-free paradise.

Canada and possibly most of the rest of the world tends to view America as a land where corporations rule and people come to get rich or die trying. (There is a reason why “Canadian Brain Drain” is in Wikipedia.) Higher wages, less taxes, innovations a-go-go.. right? Wrong! Washington state has no income tax, so imagine my surprise when I got my first paycheque (yes, Canadian spelling, handle it) and I was being taxed at almost the same rate I was before in Canada.

I really think you permanent American types should look into this — I am totally boggled how you can pay almost equivalent taxes to Canada and still not have a useful universal medical system.

5. Food delivery website technology is nuts.

America is winning the food delivery website technology war, hands down.

Occasionally in both Canada and the U.S. I use one of those delivery websites that consolidates orders from a number of different restaurants. When you place an order in Canada you’ll get an order confirmation number and an estimated delivery time that is probably incorrect.

In Seattle, once you place an order you’ll often get a dynamic display of what your food is doing (like literally “we are cooking your food RIGHT NOW”). You’ll probably get the name and photo of your delivery driver, which allows you to properly empathize when you realize that they are equipped with a GPS tracking device so you can see their every move. Yell at your monitor while they go the wrong way at an intersection. Bite your nails in suspense as you watch their tracking dot wander around your apartment complex looking for the front door!

While I kind of enjoy all the tech features as a gadget nerd, I feel bad for the poor folks working for tips while their every step is displayed on the internet.

That Retro Healing Spirit is Alive in FFXIV
May26

That Retro Healing Spirit is Alive in FFXIV

I have been running dungeons almost non-stop since hitting 50 in Final Fantasy 14, which isn’t very surprising because at this point there are so many of them. I want to run lowbie and story dungeons for tokens to improve my gear, I want to run higher level dungeons to work on my relic weapon and finish the post-50 story. Just unlocking the first 25-man dungeon requires days of running mini-dungeons.

(Yes, I know that the expansion is out in a month and then very little of this will matter. I don’t care.)

I am still very inexperienced in the general scheme of things, but I have run enough dungeons now to know that I really enjoy the healing model in FFXIV. I couldn’t put my finger on why, exactly, until I realized that it reminds me of all of the best bits of healing in Vanilla WoW.

Now, let’s get something straight: I’m not going to argue that difficult things are always better. (Just ask those of us who ran Cataclysm heroics right out of the gate.) However it seems to me that healing in MMOs as of late has turned into a festival of spamming spells. You hit your buttons very fast because the mob is dealing an extreme amount of damage and if you blink at the wrong time the tank is dead. Flash heal! Flash heal! Flash heal!

FFXIV on the other hand has that looooong 2.5 second global cooldown, which slows the pace of combat. Healing becomes less about shooting a firehose of HP at the tank and more about managing mana and aggro. (Healing aggro is intense in this game.) It’s the “work smarter, not harder” model of healing.

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HAVE I MENTIONED LATELY HOW PRETTY MY CHARACTER IS?

I sincerely missed having the option to downlevel spells, so you only have to cast a low rank of heal once your gear has a lot of spell power. I missed coming up with tricks to conserve mana. I can try and skillfully cast my heal-over-time without getting any aggro, or I can cast it specifically to get aggro so I can round up adds and drag them to the tank. There is room for finesse, and it’s delightful.

Now to be fair I don’t know how much of this is a product of my gear level and the content I’m doing. I can only imagine that cutting edge raiders still need that firehose of HP, and of course the tricky thing about mana conservation is that it becomes less of a game element as you get better gear. I assume Scholars have a similar experience, but I’ve only healed with a White Mage.

Modern games often streamline the player experience until it loses all its rough edges. That’s all well and good, and sometimes it’s what I want too! But the problem with removing extraneous options is that it also removes the opportunity for considered play. You have very few tools, and you just use them as often as possible.

My favorite individual fights as a healer, on the other hand, are the ones where I feel as though I’m playing a piano: all of the right notes at the right time, sometimes quiet and sometimes forte.

Cat Context 75: Assassin’s Creed, Konami vs. P.T., Mad Max
May20

Cat Context 75: Assassin’s Creed, Konami vs. P.T., Mad Max

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This week Liore, Ellyndrial, and Arolaide sit down to talk about the Victorian hats of the Assassin’s Creed announcement, Konami’s hissy fit over P.T., and Australian wasteland mutants.

Assassin’s Creed announced that their next game will feature a playable character who is a woman (gasp!), but it may be too little too late. And, really, couldn’t we all use a year off from AC anyway? Elly laments that there was never an AC game with Desmond as the main character, which sends Aro into a fit of lore rants about gods and DNA and the end of the world. Liore is confused as usual because she thought the AC games were about stabbing people and stuff.

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Konami is on a rampage when it comes to P.T., and we are not impressed. Liore hopes this is the catalyst to finally get people talking about DRM, while Elly raises the good point that Steam is DRM but we apparently manage to put up with that. When is it okay for a publisher to yank access to a game?

Later, Liore gives a brief review of Mad Max: Fury Road. It mostly sounds like gleeful giggling and whooshing noises.

Also Liore wants it to be known that she dissed superhero movies before it was cool! Elly takes a break from new fatherhood by playing a .. game that is obliquely about fatherhood! And don’t make Aro dinosaur, you guys!

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