Commentary on F2P Vanguard

The news (mentioned earlier) that Vanguard will at long last be moving to a f2p model could not have been bigger, as far as I’m concerned. Lots of people won’t care, of course, but it matters to me that a game with the virtues of Vanguard survive, and I think going f2p stands the best chance of making that happen.

Of course, as when SOE makes any decision, the cries of “cash grab” began to go out immediately from the standard roster of SOE haters. The idea that somehow a “cash grab” is even possible with a game with numbers as low as Vanguard’s is really pretty freaking stupid on the face of it. Let’s not kid ourselves — Vanguard isn’t going to jump into the top tier of MMOs, or even the middle tier, with this move. I think it does have a shot at developing into a strong niche title, which is reasonably the best that SOE can hope. But even so, if you look at what might happen as a percentage increase over the current number of players Vanguard or amount of revenue that the game is generating, this move has the potential to break records. The number of active players could easily increase by ten or twenty times. Granted, this is an anomaly caused by how low the numbers currently are, but still.

I’m not going to rehash Vanguard’s terrible launch on the assumption that everyone reading will already know the story; if you don’t, just accept that it was legendarily bad, perhaps the worst MMO launch ever. Despite its shaky history, it’s a game that’s improved immeasurably since it launched over five years ago. I do not think that every change had been an improvement, but overall the net effect has been way, way into the positive. And I think it’s a game that has a lot of strengths that are rare in the MMO field these days. If SOE’s newly-recreated development team can focus on those strengths instead of simply trying to make it more friendly to the mass market, I think that players looking for that big open world might flock to it in modest numbers. I don’t think it has anything to do with “hardcore” versus “casual” people, either — plenty of casual people would enjoy a slower progression and time to explore the world of Telon at their leisure, and I think that can be done without watering the game down.

The biggest thing that Vanguard needs is simply a bigger population. It’s a game that would thrive on that; imagine Trengal Keep or any of its glorious open-world dungeons when there are three or four different parties down there at any given time. Even if the change isn’t as pronounced as I think there is reason to expect, this will be a big, big help with that. Plus, the move itself shows that SOE are serious about keeping Vanguard afloat — this kind of thing does cost money after all, and if they were content to let it simply continue its slide into oblivion, we wouldn’t be seeing it.

That aside, I think another motivation is for SOE to transition entirely away from the subscription-only model. With EverQuest Online Adventures sunsetting at the end of this month, and Vanguard going f2p in the summer, the only sub game SOE will have left is Planetside (as Wilhelm points out,) so don’t be shocked to hear an announcement of note there as well. We already know (as in, it’s been announced,) that Planetside 2 will be f2p, and I for one would be stunned if EverQuest Next wasn’t as well. Speaking of which, Vanguard could potentially serve as a testbed for new technological or microtransaction ideas that SOE might have in relation to EQ’s eventual successor. Because the bar for Vanguard is so low, SOE might feel it has more room to experiment than it did with its current flagship title, EQ2, which it pushed very tentatively into the f2p market.

Beyond that, I wouldn’t necessarily expect any hugely new ground to be broken in the f2p realm when details finally start to come out. But SOE did shake things up a little bit with the way they handled DC Universe Online, and that appears to be turning out rather well for them — it went from a game with a middling launch and a fast fade to PC Gamer’s MMO of the Year thanks to the move.

Bearing in mind that we have just about no details right now, if I were in charge of the project, and in the context of how SOE has handled their other f2p packages, here’s what I’d do to set things up. You can take these more as predictions than as “how Ardwulf would prefer to do things.”

  • My priorities for fixes would be the broken leveling rate (it needs to be slowed down to match the quest progression again) and itemization.
  • Primary world fixes would be addressing any remaining broken quests and polishing up the older starting areas, which in my opinion give players a much better feel for the game than the Isle of Dawn does. I wouldn’t redo them completely, but I’d tweak quests and quest rewards and maybe add a few quests where gaps exist, particularly for Diplomacy and Crafting.
  • There would be no restrictions regarding content for free players. Restricting access to chat channels would be hugely problematic in a game as group-centered as Vanguard, so you’d need some way around that, either with some kind of Silver upgrade that drops those restrictions or by just not having them in the first place.
  • The priority for substantial new content would be at the high end, where it’s needed insanely badly.
  • The Cleric, Fighter, Sorcerer and Rogue would be the free classes.
  • I’d make two or three races from each continent free. This probably means the Thestran, Kojani, Qaliathari and Mordebi humans, and probably the Half Elf (from Kojan) and Dwarf, High Elf or Halfling from Thestra.
  • Free players limited to two bag slots. Later SOE additions to the game junked up inventory substantially, but I don’t consider SOE’s bag slot purchases to be terribly onerous.
  • One or two character slots for free players. If there’s a Silver option, add two more and probably an extra bag slot.
  • Get rid of Randolph, or at least take away his flight ability. Its presence is an artifact from an earlier era, breaks the game in some important ways, and it at odds with the atmosphere of Telon. If he cold only fly during the holiday event, I’d be okay with that.

12 responses to “Commentary on F2P Vanguard

  1. First, I think Vanguard going F2P is great news! I’ve never played it but have watched just about every game play video I can find. I’d urge anyone remotely interested to check out some of the Vanguard videos, especially newer ones in HD. There is a fairly recent 6-part Let’s Play by user borgio22 that shows how nicely animated many of the mobs are in the low levels. I know the game had a terrible launch, but I really am surprised at how good a game it looks to be now (considering its age) and how overlooked it is in general.

    I’m certainly looking forward to giving the game a try….but…

    A lot depends on the model they use. I have not been impressed with the EQ2 model, to the point I had the game downloaded, installed, and created a character… but won’t be playing it. That is one of the worst F2P models other than some of the really bad cash shop grinders coming out of China. IMO, NCSoft has (surprisingly) taken the lead with their Truly Free Lineage II and Aion model. All the content, all the classes, etc. is available to everyone, with no having to buy classes, races, areas, etc. Assuming NCSoft don’t get carried away with the cash shops. SOE cash shops are already worse than anything NCSoft has done, although I haven’t checked out DCUO’s model.

    With almost every game using some form of F2P now (and yes, watch Rift and eventually TERA follow the same path, WAR probably won’t due to the license they have with Games Workshop), Vanguard really needs to be as open and available as possible. This would be an excellent chance for SOE to try using a similar truly free type model and see how it works out. If they don’t I expect Vanguard to stay much like it already is, an interesting game (apparently with a ton of good content) but very few players. I hope SOE will try something a bit different with it.

  2. I’m psyched too. I love Vanguard. I agree with your list for the most part, but I do like having my Randolph. As a primarily solo player these days I don’t have the means to earn a quest mount. …Of course, I suppose a cash shop might be able to help with that issue. I would gladly purchase something a bit less immersion-breaking.

  3. Leveling rate needs to be slowed down? Really? I’ve fairly recently leveled two character to around 20 and I thought it was pretty darn slow by modern standards. Alright, it’s not EQ-1999 two weeks to do level 8 slow (that was my dwarven cleric soloing, including two complete corpse losses with all gear, by the way) but I can’t agree it needs to be any slower!

    As for how bad the launch was, I think Anarchy Online’s was *much* worse and FFXIV’s was worse too. Both of those had to suspend billing for a number of months and AO was quite literally unplayable for a while. I was able to play Vanguard enjoyably immediately. It was buggy as hell but it ran and I was able to have fun from day one. I played nothing else for six months, in fact.

    Anyway, it’s fantastic news and I’m really looking forward to Telon full of people again. I will making a lot of saddlebags prior to launch – they were my moneymaker back in the day and my fox needs funds!

    • One idea for being rid of Randolph would be to offer a flying mount in the store with the same speed but less jarring to the lore. Then exchange Randolph for the new mount. I doubt this’ll be a priority, though.

  4. I think my biggest desire–and this is unequivocally non-hardcore or old school–is for more solo quests/content for post-40 characters. My main is pretty much stuck grinding in the 40s. That’s why I left again this last fall. And unlike EQ, quests in VG provide the much needed EXP to see that bar move to the right. Grinding is viable, but not like in EQ. My relatively new character in EQ is already level 51! And I’ve played my main in VG on and off (with a few alts in there) since launch!

  5. Yes, I must say that FFXIV’s launch was pretty terrible. The producer and other developers actually left the project.

  6. Enjoying EQ f2p immensely and am really looking forward to VG. I’ve only tried it a few times on a brief trial, but would definitely spend some time there when it goes free to play.

    The development and launch are storied and long past. What I saw a year or so ago definitely made me want to see more, but not worthy of a full sub. I hope the model doesn’t suck.

  7. Ardwulf,

    What you’re describing is basically the Sony FTP model brought to Vanguard, so Im guessing it’s what you’ll get.

    New high end content is problematic under the SOE model, as it’s a cost center, not a profit center as it would be under the Turbine model. Your best hope is enough new players come in to make it worth selling as a stand-alone expansion pack.

  8. @Ian: I believe I see what you’re saying between the two posts. It’s actually a really good point; essentially Turbine (say) is self-incentivizing the production of new content by making it a primary part of the revenue stream, whereas SOE is giving most of the content away for free.

    I’m still not convinced that this in itself is something that clearly makes the Turbine model better, especially given that SOE has a long history of pushing out content for free (in games other than Vanguard) and I’m even less convinced that it’ll be meaningful for Vanguard.

    • It doesnt make the Turbine model better, but it does make the Turbine model more likely to see new content, as Turbine make money selling content, and SOE make money selling appearance fluff.