The Elder Scrolls Online, Still Not Quite Getting it Right

Elder Scrolls Online

I’m picky. This should not come as a surprise to anybody by now, I’m very finicky about the way that I play the games I do. What this leads to, though, is a bunch of games that are just not designed for my playstyle, and that’s completely fine! That’s what makes gaming a great hobby, that not every game has to be made for everybody. However, when a game you really think and hope is made for you turns out not to be, it can be quite disappointing. This is kind of how I feel after trying out The Elder Scrolls Online.

Now, the last time I played Elder Scrolls Online, it was during the game’s beta, and I commented how I liked the look of the game, but felt that it just didn’t capture the “feel” of Elder Scrolls, that feeling of total freedom in a huge explorable world, chock full of so much lore that a full playthrough only scratches the surface. But I’m not one to judge a game fully in beta, especially one I *really* hope to like. So when Elder Scrolls Online flipped the switch to the buy-the-game-and-then-you-can-play-it model, I jumped on board with both feet.

Elder Scrolls Online, Fishing

I’m fishing! I have no idea why, but I can fish!

 

I should’ve trusted my initial instincts, though, which so far have been pretty spot-on. I jumped back into TESO, and due to streamers like the awesome CrazMadSci, I was pretty pumped to do so. There are immediate differences, the intro changed and dumps you right into your head city. I created a Redguard character in the Daggerfall Covenant, because Hammerfell is right next to High Rock, and after the intro I was dropped right into the city of Daggerfall! This is good. This feels open. You have the *option* of heading to the two intro islands or not, and options are good. Options are Elder Scrolls. Heck, in pretty much every TES game I’ve ever played I initially run off into a random direction, and when I get pretty powerful finally remember that “oh yeah, there’s a main story I could follow, too!”  Elder Scrolls is about options, not about linearity.

But it was also during the character creator that I found my first “huh?” moment. When creating a Redguard, I found that I could make their skin color… well… white. This immediately struck me as wrong. There aren’t any white Redguards! There could be light-brown skinned Redguards, sure, but not white. But… MMO. I get it. Also, a human race can join the Aldmeri Dominion? Generally, the only race other than elves that would be allowed into the Aldmeri Dominion are khajiit, because the high elves have basically tricked the khajiit over and over again over the millennia. To see *any* other race that’s not an elf take the Emperor’s throne would cause a reaction, and yet, human races can *join* the Dominion?! This makes no sense. But… MMO. I get it. It’s a bit of fracturing the lore to fit the game … it’s just too bad the lore is a tenet of the series… but whatever.

Elder Scrolls Online

Stros M’Kai, we meet again.

 

The skipping of the intro Islands, though? It lies, it’s not really an option. On the intro islands are collectible Skyshards that, if ignored, mean less skill points for your character. It’s an illusion of choice. Sure, you *could* not do them, but then you set yourself at a disadvantage with less skill points at your level until you come back to play them. So, fine, I did them. But I wasn’t happy about it.

My character sits at level 12 now, and making my way through Glenumbra from one quest chain ride leading right into the next quest chain ride (Grrrrr. It’s crazy, actually. I just finished up a quest chain to help rid a giant tree of… evil, I guess, and what did they tell me but “Oh! Someone stopped by while you were helping us! You should go find and help them!” This is about as far from options as one could get.) and I’ve been building him into what I love playing in Elder Scrolls, or pretty much any classless game that will allow me to, a leather-wearing, mace-and-shield wielding sneaking powerhouse that backs up his mace with healing magic. I’m almost ready for the first dungeon, I think, but when I see in chat people ask about DPS or tank or healing classes, I’m really not sure what I would fall into. DPS, as my armor gives me crit bonuses, I think? I use a shield, have taunt abilities, and heal myself, so maybe tank? I can heal others pretty well, too, so healer? I… have no idea, really. I’m all 3? Been pretty successful so far soloing, no problem keeping myself alive and beating down the enemy, but classifying myself in “standard” MMO terms? No idea.

And thus, if I can’t classify myself then others will judge me, as MMO players do. In fact, they already have a few times. The first time I tried to group up for the first dungeon I was *kicked out* of the group for my build. My DPS isn’t on par with pure-DPS players, my healing doesn’t stack up to healers, and I can’t tank like tanks can. Am I screwing myself over by not sticking to a trope? Basically, even though I’m playing the way I want, it’s quite possible I’m playing “wrong”. Any other Elder Scrolls game, I’m an unstoppable powerhouse and I have a blast. Here? I’m a noob, I’m a scrub. Not exactly a feeling that makes me want to log in.

Elder Scrolls Online

I have my mace, I have my shield, I’m wearing my leather. Come at me… nature!

 

It’s not all bad, though. Take a look at some of these screenshots! The game is drop dead gorgeous. Also, the quests themselves? Fascinating and well written stuff! Though not adding much to the overall story, they are quite Elder Scrollsy tableaus and are fun. Also, the few choices that I’ve made seem to have made differences. At the end of the Betnikh island chain, I pissed off the Captain of the ship I was sailing on so much that she kicked me off! She might’ve kicked me off anyway, again another illusion, but the choices *feel* pretty hefty, about as much heft as you can have in an MMO, I guess.

I don’t feel like these positives make up for the negatives, though. So once more I’m holding on to my initial assessment: The Elder Scrolls Online, though a very pretty WoW clone in it’s own right, does not live up to it’s Elder Scrolls pedigree. It’s too linear, it doesn’t respect and breaks it’s own hardcore lore just because, and they lie to the player that they can truly play the way they want to. If anything, playing TESO has made me want to research the lore a lot more, and even has given me cravings to jump back into the previous single player games!

Elder Scrolls Online

Dude, look at this place. Ballin’.

 

 

I may still level to cap, anyway, just because doing so might convince me to change my mind. I’m hoping it does, just because I hate being so disappointed with a game that labels itself as Elder Scrolls.

//Ocho

 

Advertisements

The Best MMO Payment Model Ever

Neverwinter, Payment model

We have experienced the MMO sphere from Ultima Online (or even before) all the way up to games that haven’t even been released yet. We’ve seen payment models ranging from open to all free to play cash shops, can’t subscribe if you wanted to (Neverwinter), to a paid box plus recurring subscription and a cash shop thrown on top of it (WoW). But which is the best? I hope, in this article, to expound on the positives and negatives of each kind of payment model and then using those traits come up with a new payment model to appease everyone. Impossible? Of course it is. But why not try?

First off, lets look at the three most widely used structures of payment models: Free-To-Play with a Cash Shop, Buy to Play with a Cash Shop, and Subscription.

Free-To-Play with Cash Shop

This is the model used by games such as Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Neverwinter, Star Trek Online, and many, many others.

Where it goes right:

The ability to draw in a very large player base.

– Ways to earn store credits through playing the game. A currency exchange, a static reward for completing larger accomplishments, etc.

– Easy to return to after an extended absence.

Where it goes wrong:

– Nickel and diming of items that would be used to show progress. Larger bag capacity, More bag slots, cosmetic changes, retrain tokens.

– Largely transient community. With no vested interest, the draw to stay with the one title isn’t that high.

– Game pushes you to use the store as that it their primary source of income.

Personally, I don’t mind games that are Free-To-Play. With some games even having a way to earn store credit by playing (STO, LotRO, NW), it turns the payment model into a game itself. However, the “payment model” game… is not that fun. I guess it would be if you are an auction-house tycoon and enjoy the manipulation of markets, but these F2P games usually put failsafes in to prevent it. Also, the earning of store credit feels like a separate game, and not part of the game itself.

The sheer number of players that Free-To-Play generates are an asset all unto themselves, though. If 80% of your income comes from 20% of your players, you’ll want to increase the base amount of players as much as possible. And then having more players around at all times gives more people to group with, more guild or fleet members, and makes a game feel “full”. Also, you’ll generally have more fun in F2P titles if you are capable of showing restraint and maturity. If you understand that you don’t need everything, that some items are just frivolous, and keep yourself from splurging, you’ll be just fine.

Buy-To-Play with Cash Shop

This is the model used for games like Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World where you pay for the game’s client and content and then have a cash shop included for more non-essentials, cosmetics and boosters.

Where it goes right:

– Has a very large playerbase

– Easy to Return to after an extended absence

– Gameplay and content is the main focus

Where it goes wrong:

– Community is not as transient as F2P, but people still take long breaks in between major content updates.

– Similar to single-player games. Once story is completed, the want to stay around reduces.

– Cash Shop still a focus in the game, though not as bad as F2P.

As elitist gamers are fond of saying, a payment wall tends to keep out the “riff-raff”. These “riff-raff” are, of course, present in every game, but having the wall throws a stigma to those that are just looking to be pains and cause trouble. This leads to friendlier communities, in a game that still has a very large playerbase. I’ve been playing a lot of GW2 and TSW lately, and both games feel ridiculously full. Players are still EVERYWHERE. Even if the majority are off fighting in the endgame, the starting levels are far from empty. In fact, a Buy-To-Play model even makes the timespan of when players join the game more spread out. It’s not all at once at launch, it’s over time as more reviews and sales causes players to jump in when it’s more convenient for them.

The cash shop, of course, is still there, and is still an eyesore, but it’s not at front-and-center. Finding the Cash Shop in The Secret World took me ages, as it’s hidden in the menu and there isn’t an on-screen big flashing button.  The more hidden it is, the more gameplay doesn’t revolve around it. This is a good thing.

Guild Wars, no pants, payment model

Subscription

This is the domain of the lucky World of Warcraft, EvE Online, and upcoming titles Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar (until they maybe change their mind soon after release, that is).

Where it goes right:

– Very faithful, but smaller community with long-time, experienced players.

– All content can be earned while playing the game.

– High payment walls keep out non-serious players, and remaining players are more passionate about the game.

Where it goes wrong:

– Cash shop still exists, but not by name and only for items like server transfers, name changes, expansions, and is outside of the game’s client.

– Starting new feels like a ghost town. Players are usually clustered in the highest levels and the starting zones feel “dead”.

– Content you don’t engage in and don’t want you still end up paying for, and is usually unavoidable.

I could keep going, but it’s not all bad. For the really serious gamer, it truly creates the most even playing field there is, one of time only. A comment on a previous article posits that the distinguishing character of subscriptions is that effort = reward, and only effort. You can’t buy your way to the top, you follow the same path as everyone else. If they have a fantastic piece of armor, you can get it too with enough effort. In subscription, then, is the only true PvP found, that of social standing. Dominance is by sheer effort.

In a perfect world, yes, that would be the case. However, as long as gold sellers exist and people keep using them, the playing field will never be even. In fact, due to the pure effort = reward system, the value attained from using gold sellers is more dramatic than it would be in a F2P title. So even in these games, RMT’s still occur, whether the players and developers like it or not.

The Best Payment Model Ever!!

So, combining all of these together, what do we have?

What we want:

– Lots of players. And the more faithful and spread out, the better.

– Easy to Return after an extended absence. New games happen, and we like to play them. Breaks are inevitable.

– All Content Earned Through Gameplay

– Effort being the primary source of Reward

What do we NOT want:

– An invasive cash shop that nickel’s and dimes us.

– Transient and immature players.

This image is credit of Star Trek Online forum member 'centersolace'. Awesome.

So?! WHAT IS IT ALREADY?!

Looking at all of the reasons and managing the negatives, the best payment model we could have is this:

A Buy-To-Play model base, with the ability to earn all content through gameplay. A store that would have to be around, since it’s BTP, but very non-invasive and optional.

This system sounds a lot like Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World, doesn’t it? Well, I agree that their payment structure is very well done, but both can be better. If we combine them together, we may have something. How about this?

Instead of the gold/gems exchange we have in GW2, why not have gems be a drop in the game, too. Random drops. Kill a mob, find a few gems. Complete a quest, get a few gems. In TSW, this would translate the same way, kill mobs, earn a couple points. Nothing drastic, of course, just here and there. Make it random, like a slot machine. If you play for a long time, put in the effort, they will add up.

Have an optional subscription, like TSW, that also gives store points. Then the store won’t be invasive, it’ll be a destination for people to spend. If they want the items sooner, they can spend and get it.

Content should be good enough to necessitate a fee. I like that GW2 is pumping out content left and right, but it feels overwhelming and insufficient at the same time. Why not release it in overall-story-progressing content packs? The whole Queen Jennah conflict with the crazy plant woman could be a featured paid top level story arc, for instance.

So what do you think? Think I’m on to something, or did I miss something entirely? Would this cause runaway inflation the likes of which has never been seen? Or will it help to be a stabilizing effect for in-game economies? Think this post is too long and want me to stop ranting?! Let me know!

And as always, thank you for reading.

// Ocho

Wild-Pay: Payment Models and Wildstar

Internet Fighting, SMBC

First and foremost I am not a news site, nor do I even pretend to be. So I’m not just going to rehash news that is already released on much better sites than mine. However, I will give you my commentary on the news…

This morning Carbine, the makers of the upcoming game Wildstar, which so far has enjoyed being the Internet’s MMO darling, announced the payment model for the upcoming game. This has been met with (Surprise!!!) a lot of commentary. Massively’s post on the subject has so far enjoyed an almost 2 comments per minute “discussion” on the ongoing battle of the merits of payment model. See what you have to look forward to, Everquest Next? I’d tread the topic very carefully if I were you.

On the one side, we have “The Purists”. Those that are die-hards in favor of the subscription model. That everything needs to be on a level footing in our games, and the only accomplishments achieved are from within the game’s interior. Only the

industrious need apply, as time is the only factor that should determine one’s gaming success. Want to play for free? Well you’re just a dirty freeloader and are what is wrong with the genre and is bringing about it’s downfall.

On the other side, we have “The Experimenters”. Those that enjoy the flexibility of cash-shops, free-to-play, buy-to-play, optional subs, and a multitude of playing options. They understand that not everyone has thousands of hours to play a game and feel being tied into a subscription, when there are plenty of fish in the sea, is a waste of money and a steep mental barrier. A subscription model is the past and we need to look to the future of payment models! Not every model is going to be perfect, but each one adds onto the mistakes of the past until one day we have the perfect payment model.

And, of course, there are all of those in-between gamers who like both, or neither, or who just like bashing the other side’s opinions in the comment-section-PvP-zone. They usually bring about the destruction of the never-ending conversation and


I am a full fledged Experimenter
. I LOVE the path that payment models have taken. I love all the options and choices given by the developers. I see that, from the developers standpoint, tradeoffs have to be made to keep a population up, that Free-To-Play generates more income for them, and without it they would most likely not survive. Maybe we here in the Western Hemisphere are starting to see gaming more like the Eastern Hemisphere has been doing for ages now. The Internet makes the world flat, afterall, and only the most ethnocentric of us deny that. Open up the gates to the park and charge for food, snacks, and rides!it fully devolves into name calling and attacks on the mass of one’s parental units.

Wildstar’s payment model was announced as follows: You buy the game by service or box for $60 and are given 30-days free. After that 30 days, you can either subscribe for an extra $15 per month, or buy CREDD for $20 or in-game gold to use or trade that is worth 30 days of playtime. Sleek, simple, and the infographic they have on it has to be seen. I especially like the fate of Player D.

I… I don’t think their model is going to work.

I don’t mean to bash those who determine their metrics, but I don’t see this as a lasting model for the future. It simply comes down to, in my understanding of the MMO community, the lack of players who are 1-game-only types. I know they are out there. I’m personally friends with a guy who is a huge Lord of the Rings Online fan and has been playing religiously since release. That’s awesome. But all of the 1-game types, they’re already in their 1-game and will be until it shuts down. The group Wildstar is hoping to attract are the already faithful, so that they become faithful to their title. “Leave your husband so you can marry me”. Right. Sure. Okay. The faithful are the ones the sub-model was designed for in the first place and was a perfect fit for World of Warcraft. Why? The MMO genre was really small at that point, but Warcraft as an IP was really popular. They brought a huge number of fans who had never played any other MMO, and who were probably spending more than $15/month on games anyway. Blizzard’s timing was impeccable and something we’ll probably never see again.

The model is also designed for grinders and end-game players. If you can grind the gold necessary to buy the CREDD, more power to you. If you’re a hardcore raider, this should come as second nature, and so shouldn’t be a problem.

So, the uber-faithful, and the hardcore raiders. In the Venn diagram of MMO gamers, these two groups overlap quite a bit. However, I’m going to go out on a limb here and assess that this really only makes up less than 15% of the gaming population, assuming you can make the already-faithful cheat on their current love. And so, as a long-term solution, past the 3-month MMO hump, when we will most likely be seeing other new shinies come out, I don’t see it as sustaining profit.

My suggestion: Buy to Play. Charge for the box, and keep those box prices up well past the game’s release. Since housing and cosmetics look to be playing a large role in Wildstar, have a cash-shop! Cosmetics and cash-shops go hand-in-hand quite nicely. Have an optional subscription in-game that awards points and goodies you can’t get from not-subscribing. House decorations, clothing options. A highly stylized and colorful world, people are going to clamor for the best looking outfits. Also, keep the CREDD! I love that idea. Create an exchange so that players can buy subscription time from others in-game! So, in other words, don’t go with the STO/Neverwinter/Guild Wars 2 method of an in-game gold/points currency. Just have the basic Buy-To-Play, Cash Shop, Subscription, and CREDD but allow gold to function between them. Then, make sure the game has an appropriate amount of gold-sinks so that it doesn’t inflate or deflate out of control.

This allows for all gamers to participate in the cash environment to their liking and won’t turn Wildstar into a niche, boutique title.

// Ocho

P.S. – This is one of my longer posts, so if you made it to the end, thank you sooo much! Have a cookie!