Monday, March 12, 2012

A Closer look at Tutorials



So now Dust 514 is F2P. Its interesting how much how games have changed...and stayed the same. I can remember back in the day, long before the web, long before video games were a household word, where a "video game" consisted of two pages of BASIC text that could be found in a monthly "computer" magazine. You bought the magazine, cuz you were a nerd, and you took the magazine home and you jumped on your Commodore 64 or your TI99 and you TYPED IT IN! YOURSELF! Two pages of standard text spaced lines of basic code that you input into your computer line by line and hit "run". And if you typed it right?...You had a video game!! If you made an error? Well then you went and found it and fixed it. Today's digital watches have more power then the computers these games were played on. Graphics? Pffft...ascii graphics!! Or sprites if you were REALLY cutting edge.


But the games, technically...were free. No dlc, no patches, no updates. Ok, the magazine cost you money and the typing time if you really wanna pick nits. but otherwise it was free.

Today: Standard retail model (60 bucks plus maybe more for expansions)
Subscription model ( monthly fee plus maybe more for expansions...or maybe free expansions)
P2P model (dump in loot, play game, burn out loot, repeat)
F2P model (no cost, play game, hit max, dump in loot, play game past max, dump in more loot...or not)
then you got weird hybrids like Entropia (no cost, play game, either get REALLY lucky and make a million real world bucks and retire from gaming...more likely burn out gear, dump in loot, play game and grrrrrrrrrrrrind) The standard model burns out fast. Once retail goes live, game devs usually go on vacation, move on to next project or try to occasionally drop dlc to keep game going. The subscription model lasts, but only if the game happens to become a hit. Supporting the game is a no-brainer, as the constant flow of income covers any and all possible issues, from support to expansions and everything in between.
P2P, when done right, usually finds a diehard group of players, who in general, end up paying to cover the cost of the non paying players. sad, but true.

F2P... "yeah right... but the guy who pays ends up with the God Gunz and the rest of us take an ass whooping so this Daddy Warbucks can get his ego massage!! No way man, count me out!" Or everyone is equal, but the guy who pays ends up with the bad ass long black leather trench coat while the rest of us run around looking like the red shirt guy from Star Trek....and we all know he didn't make it back to the ship. So as long as it's an aesthetic issue, there is less chance for imbalance. Your clothes might look better then ours, but all our weapons are the same. See ya on the field. So how would this translate to the big picture? Player Count. The retail model is pretty easy to figure: 60 million units sold should mean about 60 million players or roughly 20 million per platform (ps3, xbox, pc) so no big shocks here. Once the market has been saturated, there really will be no big spikes in player count, because everyone who would be playing already is...Some who fall off might come back based on the occasional patch or update, but usually the game starts at a plateau and falls off over time to some baseline player count, just enough to keep the game going, but not enough to justify any major changes by the devs.

Subscription model? Less easy. This usually starts strong and retention depends on whether or not the devs actually carried through on the hype machine (SWTOR is a good example here) if so, word of mouth actually might increase player count. Or it could go the other way and player count starts to fall off. Occasional increases from the "retirees" with new updates or patches and possibly even additional new players based on longevity and positive word of mouth from new expansions. Essentially trying hard to emulate the success of WOW, which i think after all this time we can say is a successful game based on its model. P2P/F2P? Just plain indecipherable. The devs prolly won't broadcast their actual numbers both out of fear from competition and the worry that players might react to it in a negative way. Check the forums and you can usually try before you buy. Just look for the number of complaints or the 28 page long thread/debate on why a certain weapon or asset is OP and you can make a pretty educated guess as to what you are getting yourself into. Problem is, games with the P2P/F2P model tend toward the RPG genre. Which would be great if all P2P/F2P games were RPG games. And here is where we find ourselves. We are now entering the era of the P2P/F2P FPS, even more incredible? The P2P/F2P PFPS: The play to play/free to play Persistent First Person Shooter.

So what is this beast? An FPS with non stop real world consequences. And RPG elements as well!?
"So wait, this isn't COD? this isn't BF3? A stgep up from those? No really, what's the difference?"
RPG games have certain elements in them that have never been in FPS games. First and foremost, the dreaded D word: Degredation. This means that your gear, your armor, your vehicles. All of these degrade through consistent use. If you use it enough and don't repair it? It breaks! And in true RPG fasion, repairs cost. Either money or resources, maybe even an odd "loot" item here or there, but they cost. Whether you have enough in your bank to repair said item or whether you can squeak through one more match with your gear as it is in order to get a win (that will earn you enough money to repair everything) is the first link to the P2P/F2P model that is going to have the biggest impact on the casual gamer.

The casual gamer has been raised on a diet of COD and similar type gaming models. Nothing extra to think about, build your loadout and go. Even the win/loss issue is independent of the gamer. But with Dust, the casual gamer is going to have to THINK about what he or she is doing BEFORE doing it. The word is "logistics" and that logistics issue is too large for this discussion but merits a discussion of its own. As it stands, FPS loadouts are primitive at best: gun, grip, scope, add on. No big deal. But with Dust you need to really know your gear. Don't bring anything you can't afford to lose or repair and don't risk unnecessary gear for any reason. Ignoring the logistics of a game like Dust, a casual gamer may very well find themselves in a "deadlock" with not enough money to repair, not enough useful gear to use. Usually the devs put in an alternative way to earn money, but this is where the "grind" phrase kicks in, as that "ez mode" form of earning money is usually VERY low. Risk will be proportionate to reward. So the deadlocked player who wants to spend no money may be looking at DOZENS of $50 matches and sometimes possibly more then 20, before he has earned enough money to get back to square one. Will the casual gamer accept that and go nose to the grindstone? Probably not. More then likely they will dump in some money and go again, but this time its for real. Now if this is a casual SOLO gamer, he or she will begin to take the game just a tad more seriously, as they now have something both invested in it and something to lose. For the first time the casual gamer begins to understand the forum threads about "play the objective" , "your k/d never mattered" "TEAM TEAM TEAM!". Because now the fate of that casual gamer is tied to everyone else on his or her team. Lose enough matches in public random rooms? Deadlock again.

So now we can see the pattern that is afoot: the players that are not "playing smart" are going to run a very small margin of error before they either accept grind mode, dump in more loot, quit and delete or join a clan. But how can a casual gamer with smoking ruins for armor show up at some organized clan that has been around since day one (or even prior) and expect to be taken seriously? Oh the drama, oh the forum vaginations, oh the horror.

Unless of course, the devs go out of their way to spend a significant amount of time making sure that anyone playing this game knows up front, before they get into a match exactly HOW IT IS PLAYED. A video tutorial, a pdf, website, smoke signals, laser broadcasts to the retina, ANYTHING they can do prior to game release to define EVERY single aspect of the game is possibly the number one thing they could do to make the game successful at retail. I don't mean flashy edits of hype hype hype. I mean: "This is your war barge. This is what it does. This is what it has equipped. This is what it is capable of. This is it's intended role. This/these are its weaknesses" And more and more and more for EVERY single asset that will be availible for the first month post retail. Make sure the casual gamers know what the objectives look like, what the armor does, weapons, health packs, repair kits, monetary costs, etc. ALL of it. If they hold back on any of it two things will happen: 1) Smart clans will use it to their advantage. And 2) Casual gamers will feel like you tricked them.

Any gamer that feels "tricked" by playing your game will cost you at minimum..five future players. Because there will be no way to stop that player from spreading the word. And trust me, they will spread the word.
There is no physical way in heaven or earth to balance player skill. None. Nada. Can't be done.
But you can level the playing field slightly with as much USEFUL non-hype oriented tactical information about the game prior to its release. Not the bells and whistles but the nitty gritty: If there is a battleroom to prepare for fights? Do an ENTIRE video about just the prep part of the software. Make sure folks can use the tac map, use the formation set up, whatever it is of value in that battleroom, do an entire video of every single part of it. and don't gloss over it. Put it all on deck. The more people who see that video, the less casual gamers will be underprepared on day one when they face a group of twenty-four that happens to be two, twelve man clans that already know what they are going to do. With the inclusion of keyboard/mouse we must assume a higher level of input means a higher level of logistics. The casual gamer is used to the very simple input of the ps3 controller. Left unexplained, the casuals will eventually figure out things like the War Room...if they stick around long enough to figure it out. If every casual gamer is as well versed on the War Room setup at retail as the clans will be, ten minutes after download we can expect they will be looking forward to the expectation of having an officer giving orders and following those orders. They will know what to do, how to utilize the software and will probably feel better about the outcome of the match, even if it is a loss. You can't throw them to the wolves and expect them to fend for themselves and have fun doing it. Unless you give them hope in the form of knowledge "OK, I know what do. I just couldn't do it last time, but this time...we can do it." With money involved, the casual gamer needs as much prep time as possible. In any other game it's a non-issue. But in turn, any nerfs performed after the fact to "purchased" gear will INFURIATE the buyer. If the clans are doing well, but the casuals are leaving in droves, the decision to nerf any particular item in the game could be considered a lawsuit worthy move. If you bought a car because it was an offroad car and then the car company comes along and removes the 4-wheel drive from it while you were sleeping...well you can see how that would go. I'd say it's a stretch, but stranger class actions have happened. The only way a nerf would come down is if the casuals demand it. And they would and will, once they spend money to play Dust but can't.

So I dare say the devs OWE the casual gamers as many EXPLICIT videos of every single aspect of Dust available. To do otherwise will result in a debacle. And since the game lives and dies by player count and the hope is that the casual gamer will in time become a hardcore clan player, thereby increasing the quality of the overall game, the clans should be asking for this as much for them as for the casual gamer. Not because it helps the clans, but because it helps the game.

6 comments:

  1. there are so many good points in this article. props for such a worthy read.

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  2. I enjoyed this read, and agree with you. I wouldn't use the word "owe", but it is a necessity for the game, and to not have a tutorial would seriously hurt the game.
    "oh the forum vaginations" That sentence tickled me.

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  3. we seriously need to post this everywhere.

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