Monday, July 12, 2010

Eve Online Unlimited!

The announcement a while back that Lord of the Rings Online was going free to play took me by surprise. After all, unlike Dungeons & Dragons Online which went to the free to play model last year LotRO was doing quite well with a subscriber base higher than Eve's and in the top 3 of traditional pay to play MMOs in terms of quality and subscribers.

When DDO went I pondered briefly what Eve Online as a micro-transaction based game would look like:

I can see existing account services like character transfers and avatar changes remaining but they would be low money makers I suspect.

Perhaps some customization options like more character avatar upgrades or perhaps custom ship skins. Could the player community agree to some ships being available in a microtransation store?

Maybe allowing players to buy Loyalty Points in bulk. They can use the LPs to buy from the Loyalty Point Stores items not available to be built from blueprints and then turn around and sell them on the market for ISK to get whatever they want.

Do we allow certain ship classes to be available only through LP stores?
At the time, I didn't take it seriously but a couple other events combined with successful LotRO going free to play has me taking a second serious look at the issue. These other events are:

- PLEX becoming true transferable commodities,
- Free ship for no apparent reason
- The 100,000 skill point allotment for the extended downtime.

Now the PLEX thing is just a niggling thought about how its already acceptable in Eve to purchase something outside of your normal subscription and then sell it for ISK, a micro-transaction to improve your in game status with real life money. It would nothing to further that model with other purchasable items whether they be cosmetic or actually useful.

Which brings me to the ship. When the Apothesis and Zephyr free ships were released, every character got one (actually, unsure about the Zephyr). But the Primae was one per account using the new Redeem functionality they added a while back. This allowed you to choose the character to get the ship and kept it limited to one per account. Hmmm... great delivery mechanism for purchased items wouldn't you say?

And then the free skillpoints. I'm not an expert on the design of the Eve client but they just didn't whip up the tools to pool and distribute skill points just for the 100,000 free point gift. That functionality had to be in the pipeline and already tested prior to that announcement even that downtime event. The question is why?

Now, some including myself have speculated its a method for eliminating the hated learning skills and redistributing allotted skill points for veteran players but could it not also be a method for distributing purchased skill points? I approximately gain a million skillpoints a month, why not sell them for 15 bucks?

Wild Speculation Time
So if I was an evil soulless marketing demon in charge of turning Eve Online into Eve Online Unlimited (with new and improved space lazors!) and I had the tools listed above available to me, this is how I would do it.

1) Remove subscription fee. People will think they have more money to spend on the game and end up spending more. Plus you bring in hordes of new people eager to try the game out.

2) Give the skills for Tech 1 frigates and weapons away for free, but they still need to train them. This is the free to play basic and allows people to potentially go anywhere and participate in the end game without spending a dime.

3) Take all other skills off the NPC market. Move them to a item shop where they must be purchased in micro-transaction style with "CCPoints". Rank level 1 skills are cheap (e.g. 50 cents), middle skills like battleships around a couple dollars, and the capital skills up to $10. So a character in order to get Tech 1 battleship with tech 1 weapons can do so in about $30-40 dollars (about 3 months of playing time in subscription model) but to get to tech 2 levels requires a lot more money. Training time remain to "gate development".

4) Also in item ship are purchasable skill points (1 million for $20), limited ships that can't be built like the Alliance prizes at premium prices to keep them special (e.g. Freki for $50), decorative items like please yachts, unique anchorable "starbases", special hanger environments, etc etc etc. Some stuff useful in war, others just ornaments.

5) You could even go so far as having alliance level purchases by allowing players to pool CCPoints and buy different station models for outposts, stargate skins to denote borders, etc. Obviously very expensive and no help in alliance warfare. E-peen items on a group scale because its easy to get a few hundred players to throw in a couple bucks each... time and time again.

DISCLAIMER: I'm not advocating changing Eve in this manner. I'd much prefer a subscription model to a game that the developer concentrate on improving in the PvP manner and not in the "Oh look, my ship has a yellow paint job!! TEE HEE!" manner. But I think the decision makers at CCP might have a different vision than I do and its best we be prepared for it.

10 comments:

  1. Oh I'm ready for it... my hands are inches from the yellow and black handles if something like this happens.

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  2. The problem I have with microtransactions is when the game suddenly becomes split between those with a lot of disposable income, and those without.

    Right now it's $15/month to play and that gets you access to pretty much everything you could possibly want.

    I don't mind switching from a flat $15/month to some pile of microtransactions that adds up to roughly $15/month anyway and still gets you access to everything you could possibly want.

    But frequently you wind up in a place where the "free" version of the game is severely limited somehow - no T2 ships or something. And there'll be a very distinct advantage to spending more money in-game - T3 ships cost lots of cash, for example.

    So then you wind up with a bunch of people stuck in T1 ships because they can't afford to pay real cash for anything better... And a bunch of folks with huge disposable income flying around in titans and T3s just because they can afford it.

    Which unbalances the playing field... So a corporation with more disposable income is going to have bigger/tougher/more ships than a corporation full of free players. Which means that if you want to be able to compete in the game, you wind up having to spend more than $15/month.

    Which is usually the idea anyway. The publishers want to squeeze more money out of their players.

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  3. I guess it is not feasible right now for CCP. They have just too many accounts hanging around PAYING without PLAYING. Because of the skill system a lot of casual players pay the 14€/month to get their skills up even so it is not reflecting their real playtime. In a free to play world these people would instantly stop buying anything noteworthy.

    But then again CCP has a lot of tools at their disposal lately that are needed for that f2p model and they lack a good sense for business plans and models. The whole idea of dust will rise and fall like all the other shooters in the last decade, then taking the whole functionality with it.

    So maybe we get to see that F2P model in action when Dust pulls EvE down like an anchor around its neck.

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  4. Oh my God. This is pure evil. KILL IT WITH FIRE.

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  5. CCP currently have one of the most loyal playerbases, paying one of the higher monthly subscriptions out there. They've built this loyal playerbase incrementally over the years, and they're unlikely to throw that away with a punt on free to play.

    Are you sure about your figures on LOTRO? Specifically that it had a higher playerbase than EVE - was that the current figure, or the figure when it was popular after launch? Was that figure trending up, or down? I'll put my ISK on down.

    I thought the free skillpoints were part of their plan for getting rid of the necessity to train learning skills, a barrier for new players who don't enjoy "learning to learn" when they could be learning to fly spaceships and shoot autocannons. Removing skills from the game would necessitate a way to reimburse players for the points that they'd invested.

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  6. The #1 reason why CCP wouldn't do this is they'd almost immediately see their subscribers drop by roughly half. With such a high percentage of players counting as 2+ "subscribers" because of the way in which CCP incentives paying for multiple accounts, allowing any form of F2P would decimate their inflated numbers and immediately make the game look far less healthy.

    @Ephemeriis:

    "The problem I have with microtransactions is when the game suddenly becomes split between those with a lot of disposable income, and those without."

    What are you talking about? This doesn't happen in properly designed F2P games like Wizard101 and DDO and is just useless fearmongering.

    Besides, EVE Online already skews way more towards more RL money = more in-game power than most games: the multi-account policy combined with PLEX allows rich RL players to get a leg up on not-so-well-off RL players if they so desire.

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  7. "The #1 reason why CCP wouldn't do this is they'd almost immediately see their subscribers drop by roughly half. With such a high percentage of players counting as 2+ "subscribers" because of the way in which CCP incentives paying for multiple accounts, allowing any form of F2P would decimate their inflated numbers and immediately make the game look far less healthy."

    I don't see how what I posted would see a drop in number of subscribers by half. Well, technically they would lose all subscribers unless they had a hybrid model I suppose.

    But let's assume pay to play only: In order to train the two characters I am right now, I would still need to pay for the skill books under my 'proposed' model thus in theory maintaining the 'subscription' to CCP. Only if I stop training a character but still use it does CCP lose the income from a 'subscription'.

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  8. Very enjoyable article but I don't see CCP ever going for the free model. Aside from the fact that a game like Eve is a lot harder to incremently monetize than LOTRO I think the community would just go insane :)

    CCP would also stand to lose a lot of money unless they undertook drastic measures like making people real cash for cloning and insurance etc but that would probably piss everyone off :P

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  9. I have thought about this and have concluded that something like this would be the final dagger that will kill this game.
    But I am kinda of afraid they might do it after the forum support of the free skill points. It was easy SP, and people already spend tons of RL cash on ISK whether it is legally or illegally.

    Count me as canceled accounts if they change to a system like that, I won't compete with rich kids and mommy's credit card.

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  10. The Zephyr was also a 1 per account item, using the same redeem item system the Primae uses.
    Also using the existing redeeming system was the Interbus shuttle, which resolved to 1 per _new_ account created from the retail gamebox.

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