What is SOE planning?

From a Gamespot interview with Smed:

GS: One thing you didn’t change was the revenue model. Now, when I think of you, I think of you as a keen observer of what’s happening in the Asia markets… Do you see anything happening in the future with products at SOE that might build off of the billing and pay-model trends building in Asia?

JS: What I’m seeing over there is a trend toward more the upsell model. You can play a game without subscription, but maybe you’re buying cosmetic items, or maybe you’re purchasing a cheap subscription with a kind of “behind the velvet rope” [gamespace]. We’ve been trying to adopt a variant [subscription] model for an upcoming game we have coming out next year–I can’t really give you details about it.

But we’re also considering adding other models for the current set of games. We think the best strategy is to get these games into the hands of more people. We believe that the social bonding that occurs really makes them like the experience and want to come back for more. Then getting gamers over that subscription hurdle is–gotta be job number one for us after making great games.

So we think that [free-to-play] model could easily apply to other games. Is that going to happen to Star Wars? We have no plans for that, but let’s put it this way, if we’re very successful with this [upcoming] model, we could see making radical changes across the board. But we’ll just have to see.

GS: And you’d have to wait for that game to be released next year, right?

JS: Yes.

GS: Which is going to be a game that carries the more creative revenue model?

JS: It’s going to be a major new release from us next year. We [haven’t announced] time frame or anything like that, or what the game’s about, but it’s been in development for quite a while now and I can’t wait to reveal it. I’m excited about it, and my colleague in PR here has given me the sign to shut up about it!

What is this new revenue model and what is this new game they are working on? Any ideas? The only kind of alternate revenues I can think of is in-game advertising revenue, SOE selling items and cash, and pay per use.

“Next year” isn’t that far off either. Wonder what the game is?

Night elf escort services… mmmmmmm

“Star Wars Galaxies: The Moneysink Edition”

Pokémmo - “Gotta pay for 'em all!”"

Some day they will get to the point where they realize that people will pay money for a competitive advantage in game. If anyone knows of Warhammer 40K, for example, you know that for years Games Workshop has produced new miniatures that are not only cooler, but also slightly unbalanced when compared to existing forces. They have this perpetual cycle of “updates” that in part amounts to paying more money for the newest and best “force.” As mentioned elsewhere, somewhat akin to collectible card games, but less about the newest “edition” and more about the newest side to play/most powerful army.

From SOE’s message, I would not doubt that is the type of concept they are looking to tap into. The, “You can play with just one deck, but you’ll spend a shitload of money buying things ala cart to improve your chances,” model is now a pretty proven money maker if done right.

It all ties into the another fear I have against direct downloading (beyond the others stated in the twenty other threads on the topic here). I don’t want to be able to purchase “extras” ala cart, because I know they won’t be truly optional extras. They’ll be things you need to buy in order to stay competitive at the game.

I want my games to stay self-contained. They’ve already broken that model enough with expansion packs that mean original game owners won’t be able to find other players if they don’t upgrade.

What you describe is already a feature of MMO expansion packs - you’re right about people without no longer having access to the same population, but the reason the population shifts in the first place is because each expansion introduces a new level of mudflation in gear and/or intrinsic character power. With SOE this goes right back to Kunark in 2000 - characters could hunt in level-appropriate places in the new expansion and get gear over 50% more powerful immediately.

Whatever it is, it’ll no doubt be quite interesting from an academic standpoint. By embracing the secondary sales market with station exchange and this new moneymaking venture, Smed and SOE have clearly deprioritized making great games. They don’t go to work saying “how can I make this fun”, they go to work saying “how can I exploit this market to the fullest”. That’s great for maximizing shareholder value and more power to em, but it also means they won’t have me as a customer.

Heh, I dunno. Colleague with friends at SOE was heard to mutter… “Hm, I guess it’s not the superhero game. What the hell is it then, if it’s not the superhero game?”

More clues:

“We’re calling it the ‘velvet rope’ approach,” says John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment (SOE). “The core game will be free, but there will be certain services that you can get for a small fee. Basically, we think we can monetize the game that way and reach a much broader audience.”

In fact, Smedley doesn’t even plan on charging the usual $50 for the retail game itself, usually referred to as the “client.” It will be a small, gratis download.

“The goal here is to just give the game away, invite the gamers in, and get them playing,” he explains. “And then, as they get further and further into the game, start saying things like, 'Hey, here’s something you can buy if you’d like. Interested?”

The potpourri of choices might include an “item database” where the gamer could peruse the virtual items in the game and view the ones he doesn’t own yet, or a “Station Player” option that allows the gamer to see his character on a Web page and show it off to his friends. Or there might be a fee for teleporting between two major points in the online world rather than taking the time to “walk” there.

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr/columns/video_games_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001698964

Why would I prefer this kind of scheme over a flat monthly fee where I know exactly what my costs are? Because I can play for free if I resist buying stuff? WoW is only $15 a month.

If SOE gives me a game as good as WoW for free I will play and probably buy some stuff. It needs to be as good as WoW to get me to olay though.

Not that I think this is where they’re going, but here’s an interesting question (to me at least):

What if you could play WoW for free. But only as a priest or a druid and only horde side?

Would you? I can certainly see starting out that way and then paying for access to the other classes. But at the same time some people might be tempted to play completely free and just incidentally solve class/race population issues.

What if you could play free for 10 hours/month, but not more? Or up to level 30, and then each level you wanted to be able to gain after that was $10? Or the first character is free, but you can’t reroll it and you have to pay for more. (Assuming of course they could keep people from just making brand new accounts somehow.)

There’s all sorts of weird and potentially interesting ways to try to monetize a “free” game. Of course, I’m sure it will end up with the most mundane and annoying ones (“Want to enter the dungeon? That’ll be $1!” or “Sorry, you haven’t purchased the ability to wear rare or better quality gear. Would you like to pay $10 to equip those rare boots now?”)

Or there might be a fee for teleporting between two major points in the online world rather than taking the time to “walk” there.

I have nothing against the idea of being able to pay extra to avoid some grind. Time is money, after all. What I don’t like is the idea of making sure your grind as soul-crushing as possible so you’ll be able to sell the maximum number of teleport scrolls.

This strikes me as a terrible way to design a game.

The potpourri of choices might include an “item database” where the gamer could peruse the virtual items in the game and view the ones he doesn’t own yet

Fine, they already do things like this in EQ2.

[A] “Station Player” option that allows the gamer to see his character on a Web page and show it off to his friends.

Fine, they already do things like this in EQ2.

Or there might be a fee for teleporting between two major points in the online world rather than taking the time to “walk” there.

Ah, yes. Here it is. Pay more real world money to advance faster in the game. Perhaps there might also be a fee for being able to access “Weapon Master Liu - A trainer in high powered weaponry that allows you to kick the other players’ asses?”

Or there might be a fee for teleporting between two major points in the online world rather than taking the time to “walk” there.

Wow! Virtual subway tokens. Now, finally, online play can be as annoying as real life. Can’t wait to see how much they’ll charge to get that tall guy out from the seat in front of me at the movie theater.

If the game is competitive in any way, I’ll be annoyed competing with players who outspend me. It’s just like playing Magic: the Gathering.

I’m just imagining what Guild Wars would be like if you could buy weapons and new abilities. Would players like to compete in that kind of environment?