Thursday, January 26, 2012

You are not the player, you are the content

Below you can find my results within the World of Tanks game using an ISU-152 tank destroyer with and without the BL-10 cannon (with BL = all - without):
The difference is stunning. By upgrading the cannon my damage and kills doubled, my win chance increased from way below average to slightly above average and my XP/battle (XP needed for further upgrades) also increased significantly.

No doubt that this game is extremely gear dependent. OK, who cares, you get the BL-10 and enjoy! Except in the game experience is locked to the tank. You can only research the BL-10 by playing the tank without it. The BL-10 costs 55000 XP and it's heavy so you must first research a new suspension to be able to install it. That's another 15000XP. To collect 70K XP with my XP/battle you need to play 150 matches.

Or, you can just pay some real money and convert the experience of other tanks (which are already researched or even item-shop bought). From the fact that I had only 42K XP when I stopped using the old cannon, you can guess that I paid. On the top of the "subscription" that already increased my XP gain by 50% without it I'd have to play 225 battles with the old cannon.

OK, you might think that this system is the trick of the developers to force you into paying. However they could do it much more easily: the first 4 tiers of tanks are free to play, but you must pay to advance. Just like you can freely play the first 20 levels of WoW and must pay to continue.

However this system is not a demo mode, like the first 20 levels of WoW. Not only it allows evasion (after all, you could play 225 battles), but also frustrating which isn't the best way to get new customers. Imagine that on the trial account you could only play battlegrounds, naked. I doubt WoW would get many new players. Also a player who can't pay just ignores the game, while the one who hated it will make bad word of mouth. So why do microtransaction games allow freeloaders to linger and use server resources while frustrate them at the same time, alienating them from the game?

Because they are not players. They are the content. Their purpose in the game is to suck, therefore provide amusement to the real players: the ones who pay. The real players are having fun both killing them and being ahead of them on the meters. It's much more clever than PvE nerfs: everyone knew that WotLK "heroics" were faceroll, so the players said "meh I had to grind another 3 HCs for points" instead of "Yay I defeated those huge monsters!". Even those players said and believed that who were boosted and couldn't do even the WotLK "heroics" with 4 like-skilled fellows. On the other hand the player of World of Tanks who kills an ISU-152 without BL-10 with his Type59 tank could not know that his target couldn't fight back, he was tricked into believing that he is awesome, since other ISUs (ones ran by paying players) could kill him.

This is the reason why Free to Play increase the income of the companies. Most players are socials who just want to feel awesome. They can't pass challenges, they want easy wins, but in the same time they don't want grinds that are observed easy by peers. Free to play allows creating "NPCs" that look and act like players, but they are still just NPCs whose strength was designed to be easily defeatable by most players.


Anonymous said...

Wargaming is very clever in their design. They mix the matches you get into with higher and lower tiered tanks to make the player believe they should go and grind the tank that is "pwning" them.

They also as you described make the stock tanks below average requiring you to upgrade them to perform average. The grind to perform average increases drastically as you move up tiers. You are faced with either alot of losses or you simply pay.

Around tier 6 many people either decide to pay or stick with an old favourite tank. The other thing driving the players to pay is looking for more strategic clan wars which almost all require the player to pay.

Basically they hit the socials looking to pwn and the Hardcore looking for smart enemies and allies.

Personally I just play my Marder 2 and T2 medium. Sitting about 1.1 kill/battle on the Marder 2.

Anonymous said...

I would be very interested to see your analysis of League of Legends, which very pointedly avoids a lot of the free-to-play tropes you've been writing about lately and yet is phenomenally successful.

Gabesz said...

So a free-to-play game, where you can "pwn" without paying is a fail? We will see soon, there are some games in this category.

TBTSan said...

I'm a content (as others are for me).

With my fresh Ferdinant I have a month (30 days* 2k exp/day) of few plays per day with that "starting" gun till I'll get max gun.
No reason to rush or pay (by the way I could get it right now with free exp accumulated, not converted, but no rush).

Grim said...

LoL doesn't have much to analyze from a financial standpoint. It is an intense, casual-friendly team game, that sells cosmetic stuff.

It is rather similar to the TF2 formula.

Step 1: Make a game that is genuinely fun to play.
Step 2: Make sure its a team game, so that people can blame someone else when they lose and feel good about themselves when they win.
Step 3: Make sure playing good doesn't get in the way of having fun too much (there is no "guarding a control point" in LoL, you only defend when someone is actually attacking)
Step 4: Dumb the mechanics down enough to allow everyone to play (LoL is dumbed down DotA; DotA being infamous for the vertical learning curve)
Step 5: Now you have tons of fun peeps playing the game, sell them cosmetic bullshit.
Step 6: Profit

Bobbins said...

In world of tanks you don't know how much upgrades the other players have so if you suck it will always be because the other player has a higher tier tank or better upgrades. That too drives people to advance and spend money, they feel that they 'lost' because the other players had an advantage.

PS As was noted in your article a higher tier tank may be worse off than a lower tier one. You can also visually identify some upgrades on other tanks.

Samus said...

Do you think they could secretly replace a large portion of players with bots, and pretend they are just bad players?

You said yourself a large portion of actual players are indistinguishable from bots. The real players would never know.

Assuming your bots were suitably unskilled, this would allow the majority of players to believe they are "above average," and would keep them from quitting.

Anonymous said...

@Samus: If they managed to write good enough bots, sure. The issue being that bots can be spotted very easily in most cases. But why would they want to do that? If they allow everyone to pwn, nobody pays up. It is in the company's interest to make you lose by putting you up against others who have better guns, to force you to pay.

Anonymous said...

I can clearly state from knowing some socials that many of them actually pay. While your statement may still hold true, I am quite sure that the success lies in another way (that I am partly affected by as well): If you calculate the sum of all you would have to pay to achieve 100% you would come out way above typical 50 € + monthly 10-13€, just because there is so much more to buy.
I played League of Legends and I sure did spend way more than 50 € while I know that many people spent way more on it (like my brother). Hence the idea was: Hey this game is free, pay some money and it will be easier/more fun etc. So you don't need to but CAN buy.

Is a player that doesn't pay only content in a LOL case? Not necessariliy, I met players that never spent a single euro while still being extremely good (and met the opposite). The worst players were those that did pay for "social content" (like Legendary skins: expesnive, "cool looking" but no real use, like vanity pets).

So I don't agree 100%: I believe most money just comes from socials being "cool" (as in WoW). At least that's what my League of Legends experience tells me.

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