A Video Double Feature, and More Vanguard F2P Commentary

I have two new videos up this week. First up is this week’s Norrathian Odyssey, in which we delve into customizing the EQ2 User Interface. Not with UI mods, but with the relatively powerful tools built right into the client. The vid’s been up for a couple of days but I haven’t gotten around to posting about it until now.

Next up is the new Ardwulf Presents, the first in a couple of weeks. Here I talk in a very rambly fashion about the Vanguard f2p model, and explain a bit about why it doesn’t bother me very much. You may want to either watch the video for my opinion on the matter, or read the borderline rant below.

There seems to be a lot of anger about the details of Vanguard’s freemium model, which I find both disappointing and a bit strange, since it’s a mild variation of SOE’s established and well-understood EQ2/EQ f2p model. So I wonder what folks expected out of it, and the way I keep reading a lot of the comments is that people are unhappy with not getting the whole game for free. That’s not a terribly fair interpretation, but the Vanguard model doesn’t differ very much from what we’ve seen in the past from SOE, which is presumably working very well for them since they’re leaving the subscription model that they help pioneer in favor of the new thing.

The way I see it, as with EQ2, you’re either going to play casually, in which case the free limitations don’t offer any very serious restrictions, or you’re going to be a serious player, in which case you ought to have no problem subscribing, since $15 a month in general offers very good value to people playing, say, more then ten hours a week. Where the model falls down somewhat is, as I have pointed out before, for players who fall somewhere between the two extremes, or who (like myself) oscillate between periods of heavy play and periods of minimal investment. But there are tradeoffs. Namely, that the SOE model that will soon be in use with most of their titles with relatively minor variations offers basically unlimited access to actual content, or at least to the vast majority of it.

The standard retort to this is to compare the SOE model to Turbine’s, usually noting that while you have to pay for content above about level 25 in LotRO, you can earn the store points through play. Which is true, but doing so beyond about that point is a gigantic pain in the ass, such that buying more than about one zone takes a massive amount of grinding in a game that is very grindy in other respects as well. I’m not dissing LotRO, here — it’s on my short list of games worth playing, and I’m still doing so (though only dabbling at the moment.) My point is that while the SOE model is neither perfect nor necessarily my own ideal choice for this kind of thing, it’s far less clear to me than it is to many other commentators that SOE’s approach is obviously inferior to anybody else’s. You can get at least as much quality play out of (for example) EQ2 while paying a similarly nonexistent amount of money. The points-for-play in the Turbine model is not relevant to this argument, since if you’re playing enough to get the points to unlock even just the content you need to level, you’re playing far more than enough to make that subscription a phenomenal value.

SOE is not a charity. While I would like them to make the Vanguard free package as attractive as possible for obvious reasons, they have absolutely no obligation to provide anything for free, much less basically unrestricted access to all the content in a game that’s content rich even without any updates for the better part of two years. Nor need they, or even should they, make it easy to access absolutely everything in the game without paying a cent. I’ve been over the ins and outs of their model several times already so I’m disinclined to do so in depth again, but I’ve hit on the highlights in this post.

The bottom line is that if the thoroughly anticipated details of the f2p model has unsold you on playing Vanguard, you were unlikely to come back anyway for anything other than a look around. That’s totally a fair call for anybody to make, but let’s not lay out some bullshit line of “I love Vanguard, but SOE’s model is so terribad that I will never return” in so doing. Because either it is bullshit or you’re just a fucking cheapskate.

5 responses to “A Video Double Feature, and More Vanguard F2P Commentary

  1. I’m not a cheapskate and have spent hundreds of dollars on games from GW, to LotRO, to Aion (subbed since release thru F2P), STO, etc. As another comment on the previous post mentioned, Vanguard needed to entice people to come play it. The model they went with (the mostly terrible one that kept me, and most others, away from EQ2 F2P) was not the way to go. While it was probably too late to try a B2P model (Guild Wars style), or even DCUO’s model, all they had to do was look at how one of their major competitors is handling changing their games from P2P; NCSoft. While I have no love for most of the company (especially NCWest division and their lies and terrible support), they are offering both Lineage 2 and Aion completely free, all content and such, because they know (and already have profited from) they’ll make more money from boosts and fluff items in the cash shop than trying to gimp players and force them into a subscription.

    Considering Vanguard’s apparent huge amount of content, depth of play, etc., SOE could have done the same and brought in enough players to not only support the game as is, but actually fix things and make new content (both L2 and Aion continue to release new expansions free of charge as they always have). A missed opportunity for SOE, as I don’t see this appealing to much of anyone other than some former players. Why play a gimped version of a rather old game compared to others that let you explore everything the game offers and pay as you want to support the devs, speed up leveling, or just get fluff items? This model offers pretty much nothing to bring in totally new players such as myself.

  2. I don’t expect anyone to give away anything for free. I do expect someone who is marketing a game as “free to play” to offer a viable non-subscription payment model.

    You’re absolutely correct that the Turbine model is one where you pay for content, unless you’re willing to grind for “wages” of pennies per hour in Turbine points. However, when I pay my $40 to Turbine, I get content that I can play on my own schedule, lasting me perhaps an entire year of occasional gameplay. When I want to pay for an SOE game, my choices are to tolerate restrictions that non-subscribers cannot lift for any price – for example, non-subscription DCUO players cannot carry enough cash on hand for a single full repair of max level gear, which is required to be allowed into the paid DLC – or go back to the subscription model where I’m free to pay to play on their billing cycle.

    SOE’s model is a great bargain if you’d like to come, consume their content, and leave without spending a dime. If you want to stay, you must subscribe, and if I wanted to subscribe I would have done so back when there wasn’t free to play. So no, nothing about SOE’s model in general or Vanguard in particular has really changed. It’s still a bit disappointing.

  3. The biggest problem I have with “the content is free” is that, to me, systems within the game ARE content. If you eliminate my ability to interact in the marketplace, that DIRECTLY affects my ability to play. I am NOT asking for things for free. I am asking for an incentive-based F2P rather than a pain- or restriction-based version.
    What does that mean? It means that you want people to actually sample ALL of your game, so they’ll pay you money (through whatever means you’re providing). Don’t limit access to the broker/auction house by putting in per-instance real-money requirements (broker tokens). DO limit how much you can sell at any one time (fairly harshly, even; say, no more than a dozen separate things at once). And then have me pay a small fee to unlock each additional increment/bag slot, per character.
    DON’T limit the equipment that can be used. DO offer ways to augment said equipment that are unique to the real-cash marketplace.
    DON’T say “no housing for you” — say, you can have only one of the smallest housing units. If you want more, you pay for them. If you’re going to have a “sub” option, then that sub option lifts all limits. Or, you can buy it a la carte, as I’ve been describing in examples here. Let me “taste” the system, and make me pay if I want more of it.
    And so forth. The sad reality is, SOE, by embracing a model that inflicts pain rather than creating incentives, by restricting rather than encouraging sampling their game, is leaving money on the table. Again.
    A real example: had I subbed to EQ2 a la the old sub model, I would have spent $15×6 =$90 for the first 6 months of this year. I bought SC on double or triple days and subbed using their now-eliminated option to sub with SC. Did I pay on average less for each sub? Yup. Of course, having subbed (which with the gold limit and broker tokens is the only way a marketplace-oriented person such as myself can play the game), I also now spent on housing — prestige houses, etc. I added it up — in all, I’ve spent $110 in the first 6 months of the year. So WITH the 2x/3x SC and the half-off day a while back, with my using SC bought under those conditions — they got MORE money out of me than they would have otherwise.
    However, they will get ZERO out of me once my current sub-time ends. If I can’t buy my sub with SC at a discount, then I simply won’t buy. And that in turn eliminates the money they would have gotten out of me for housing, etc items in the marketplace.
    It’s not hard. SOE can literally get MORE money than they would have under the old sub model — or they can do what they were doing before, let people buy gold subs at a discount using SC, and get MORE money from them for all the other items in the marketplace.
    Makes no difference to me. I can play LOTRO, which does reward behavior and create incentives, which I can play “my way”. I can play AION, which I’m actually enjoying, and that includes its rapidly-improving housing. I’d like to play Vanguard — but not under this matrix. Ditto to EQ2, with the SC-sub option removed.
    Am I asking for something for free? As the EQ2 example above indicates, no. I’m happy to spend money — but not to sub at $15/month. An incentive-based F2P model will bring in more money (as my own example establishes above) than a push-you-into-a-sub-by-restricting-your-options approach.
    Lastly, I object to this widespread “content” definition that eliminates “content” from it. Which is to say, being able to play the broker and make profit through that economic activity IS content — it ISN’T separable or different from a zone. They are BOTH content.

  4. If SOE want money out of non-subscribers, its a bad model.

    Green Armadillo nailed the problem.

  5. I want the Silver option form EQ2.

    In addition to our Station Access accounts, I have four Silver accounts for EQ2 and Mrs Bhagpuss has two. I wanted to be able to spend another $5 on each of those over at Vanguard and have the same there.

    Without that option I have no real interest in playing any more of Vanguard than I can already play on my SA account. Consequently, what with TSW, GW2, City of Steam and EQ2’s GU64 update all happening in the next 8 weeks, the only positive thing I can say about SOE’s choice of F2P model for Vanguard is that now I don’t have to stretch my gaming time quite as thinly I thought I did.