The Cash Shop: Initial Details

The official PSO2 blog updated just recently with information concerning the cash shop, as well as a number of clarifications regarding the closed beta.

Also included in the post is a high-quality release of a new trailer that was shown during the 2nd Media Briefing.

Player Level Cap

The player level cap in the closed beta tests will not be lv30 after all. It’s now 20 again. This, I have to say, it a little disappointing. I was hoping to see how the classes would grow in those 10 levels instead of having access to the same set of skills as I had before. Am also rather hoping that the city area won’t be too difficult now, assuming it’s balanced for higher level players.

This is incidentally the only change. Everything else is still in-tact, which is good to know.

Arks Cash Details

First of, some of the key intentions regarding ths shop:

  • There will not be direct selling of items in any form
  • You will not be able to buy powerful items through the cash shop
  • There will not be a special level cap for those who pay

This, rather doesn’t rule out the possibility of indirectly selling items of course, but you won’t be able to just buy your way to the top gear either. The types of items that Sakai says that players should expect to see in the player shops are:

  • System things
    • Access to rooms – Update: It would this actually means access to more features in your rooms. You can go to your room without paying, apparently.Update Update: You can go to other people’s rooms without paying, but you need to pay to access your own.
    • Access to trade functions
    • Access to selling items in shops
    • Skill tree expansion (Not buying new skills, you’re buying essentially more builds as far as speculation seems to suggest)

These are more like add-ons for your account, so these are all one-time charges (updated information below). If you’re soured by this, remember that in the PSU free-to-play model you had to pay a subscription fee to do any of these things. Also remember that you’re not having to pay for the client this time (although PSU JP did drop the client fee eventually).
Incidentally, it seems some communication abilities may be locked until you buy some system items, which is apparently aimed at fighting bots, spammers, gold sellers and the other usual annoyances in MMOs. Of course, if subscriptions and client fees don’t keep them out (and they don’t), this certainly isn’t guaranteed to, but I don’t mind making life harder for them.
Update: Seems some of these system items will be timed, others will be permanent. There as no specifics as to what, however. That has the potential to be very bad news and I hope that Sega very carefully considers their options here.
I’m also hoping that they don’t intend on that skill tree extension item to be the only way to try out new builds, either. I want a means to reset my tree if I make a mistake.

  • Consumption Items
    • Scape Dolls
    • More powerful healing items
    • Other certain consumables

Scape dolls as a cash shop item? Oh dear. This will obviously impact soloers more than anything, as Moon Atomizers are purchaseable from NPCs (and will become dirt cheap by endgame) and Forces might get some form of resurrection skill at a later date. Remember however, that partying with randoms isn’t the handicap like it was in PSU. You’re not penalised for not getting the last hit in on enemies. You’re not missing out on drops as everyone only sees their own drops anyway, so by that logic playing with others is actually beneficial as monsters are dying more quickly, which means more rolls at obtaining items in less time.
Scape dolls were an item that I always felt impacted co-operation anyway. What is the point of helping team members back on their feet if they could instantly revive themselves as soon as they were incapacitated?

  • Efficiency, or Short-cut Items
    • Grind-rate Boosters
    • EXP boosters
    • Drop rate boosters

Standard cash-shop fare. I’ve already read reactionary posts getting upset about EXP and Drop-rate boosters. Would like to remind those people that said items were available in PSU even back when it had a subscription fee and client charge. No one gave a shit. Once again I’d also like to ask how exactly does it hinder you as a player? If another player is levelling up more quickly or is weilding better gear, it doesn’t impact your levelling rate. You are not competing with anyone in this game!

  • Character / Avatar stuff
    • Clothes, accessories and some hair styles
    • Some make-over options will be cash-shop

More usual cash shop stuff, really the more benign kind that no one really gets upset about seeing as it’s all vanity anyway.

There will be two lottery-style cash shop features, called “Arks Scratch”. The cheap version contains a larger variety of items including accessories, clothing and consumables. The more expensive one only contains clothing.

As a final note, many of the items acquired through the cash shop can be traded on the player market. Some can’t, but it seems all clothing is up for grabs at least.

So there you go, some actual information about the cash shop. It came in just after I criticised people’s concerns about the free-to-play system and it didn’t contradict anything I said. I see no pay-to-win in any of the items on offer, just the expected “pay to go a bit quicker” and “pay to dress up slightly differently”. Admittedly, some items may well give players who pay an easier time when soloing, but there’s little benefit to soloing in this game anyway.

Towards the Future

The very near future, at that! Sakai will be talking about the upcoming character creation demo due for release on the 5th of April.

The game’s release is still scheduled for some time early in the summer, but no specific date has been given yet. The smartphone version of the game is scheduled for release in the winter.

To finish off, a piece of artwork by Akikazu Mizuno.

[Sources: PSBlog, PSO-World, Bumped]

Free to Play!? Free to PANIC!!

The community reaction to the news of PSO2 being free to play has been a mixed one. Some are overjoyed by the news, others are, frankly, shitting their pants about it.

I’m not going to just dismiss the whole anti-F2P perspective in just one line though, oh no. This blog entry is about the various myths about Free To Play being a bad thing, as well as presenting why it’s actually a good thing.

P2P Keeps the idiots out.
Oh come on, have you ever been on trade chat in World of Warcraft? You may have heard of that game, it’s somewhat famous. It also has a subscription model. It’s actually somewhat offensive to attribute financial power to intelligence as well, but I’m not even going to enter that minefield.

Hm, yes. That subscription sure kept all those morons out.

Suffice to say, there really is no weight to this myth. Money is not a barrier to idiots, the only barrier to idiots in any MMO is to only play with friends or solo. You can always blacklist the ones that turn up in lobbies.

Free-to-play = Pay-to-win.

I don’t even know where this myth comes from, as I have honestly never played a single MMO which had a so-called “pay-to-win” system involved. However I’m doubtless that some did exist. Despite this, I can’t find any examples of a pay-to-win game and people don’t seem to give me any answers when I ask them.

It largely depends on what you define as “winning”. How do you win an endless random dungeon crawler like the Phantasy Star Online games are? How do you “beat” any MMO for that matter? You’re not competing against other players in PSO2, so I’m not sure how exactly you’re supposed to beat them, either.

Even if you could just buy items from the cash shop, how does this affect you in a game like PSO2? Oh they do a bit more damage than you, so what? This is not a game that depends on precise group mechanics, so you’re not getting kicked for doing crappy DPS. You’re also not penalised in EXP rewarded from monsters if you don’t do as much damage as them, so they’re not levelling faster than you. If anything they’re helping you level faster!

To conclude this section, I’m not convinced that there is actually any way to win in a game like PSO2, so I have no idea how the presence of a cash shop is going to create instant winners.

Free To Play means they’re definitely going to have some kind of Stamina system

My initial thoughts are people were just burned by Final Fantasy 14 or something, but of course that game had a whole truckload of issues aside the stamina system..

There will be no stamina system. Yes, Spiral Knights had one and that was a F2P MMO by Sega. Except it wasn’t made by Sega, it was made by Three Rings and published by Sega of America. Sega of Japan had nothing to do with it and those are the people who are going to be making and running PSO2.

To shatter a potential motivator for a stamina system in the first place, which is to limit a players bandwidth consumption to save money, you need to realise that bandwidth is actually a very small part of the cost of running an MMO. The bulk of the cost goes into paying for staff for support and maintenance, as well as developing new content.

Free-to-play games have terrible support!

So do almost all pay-to-play ones! The only exception I can think of would be World of Warcraft, whose support isn’t so much great in so much as it’s what support for all MMOs should be like. I couldn’t tell you why MMO support tends to be so bad, but whether it’s pay-to-play or not has no direct influence as far as I’ve observed.

A game cannot make profit out of the F2P model.

So why is it that so many games that were pay-to-play going free to play?

To name a few:

  • Age of Conan
  • Aion: The Tower Of Eternity
  • Champions Online
  • City of Heroes
  • DC Universe Online
  • Dungeons And Dragons Online
  • Everquest 2
  • Lord of the Rings Online
  • Phantasy Star Universe
  • Pirates of the Burning Sea.
  • Ragnarok Online
  • Star Trek Online

Naturally not all of these games have the exact same model. Some have  a premium mode subscription model which either lifts restrictions or adds bonuses, some want you to pay one time fees for extra content. They all have things in common though, they all offer the ability to play without paying a subscription. They also all used to demand a subscription to play at all. Many of these games are now actually more successful under the free-to-play model than they were under the subscription based model, the most famous example being Dungeons and Dragons Online.

Another fairly well-known game for being successful despite not charging a fee is Guild Wars by ArenaNet. Now hold on a minute, Guild Wars isn’t a real MMO I hear you say? Yeah, well, neither is PSO or PSU. In fact, Guild Wars is probably the closest thing to the Phantasy Star Online games that there is!
Think about it:

  • They both instance all the combat areas.
  • They both have lobbies in which you can interact with other players and merchants.
  • In both of them you have to form parties in lobbies before setting out on your adventures

Guild Wars has sold over 6 million units in its history. It is unarguably a successful game, so successful that a rather major sequel is in the works. This sequel, incidentally, will also be free to play.

It should be said that there is of course a slight difference between Guild Wars and the Phantasy Stars, in particular PSO2. You needed to pay for the Guild Wars client and will need to pay for the Guild Wars 2 client as well. As you know, PSO2 will be free to download on all platforms. I really do not think this will prove to be a significant difference, however. Players spend obscene amounts of money in the cash shop of Phantasy Star Universe, including some users who admitted to spending 100s of dollars to obtain clothes or weapon upgrades.

To conclude this section: Yes, you can make a profit from a free to play game and many companies do. In fact in the current market, it seems companies are better off doing so.

Why Subscriptions are a Bad Thing That Should Die.

The subscription-model for MMORPGs seems to be dying off and for that I’m glad. The subscription based model has a few glaring flaws with it from a player’s point of view, which I’m going to present in this section.

First off, a subscription at its base level is a commitment. You are saying to a company, “I will play your game for a pre-determined amount of time because I think it’s good enough. ” Trouble is, this commitment can end up locking you in somewhat. You’ve paid for a month, maybe 3 months, you better damn well play it enough to get your money’s worth or you’re gonna soon feel buyer’s remorse.

The subscription is also a method of exclusivity of sorts. When you pay to play an mmo, you may not be able to play another one. This can lead to situations where you’re having to choose between one MMO and the other, essentially meaning you’re paying to play just the one game.  Why do that? Don’t you want to try other MMOs? What if there are two or three that you enjoy? Do you really want to pay subscriptions for all three of them and try to get your moneys worth out of all of them? Free to play doesn’t have this problem.

You need to see it from the company’s point of view as well. You’re trying to get players to try your fantastic new MMO, but they’re already subscribed to others. A lot of others at that. The MMO market is filled to the brim with competition, all vying for those subscriptions. Most players can’t afford to just pay for more than one, so you’re having to convince them that your game is worth cancelling their other subscription for. This is difficult to do when players are invested in their other games, so it’s much easier to get them to try your game if it won’t cost them anything.

Speaking of “trying”, there’s another issue to the subscription model. So you’re interested in this one MMO, huh? Wanna try it? Cough up your credit card details, first. Don’t bring up free trials in MMOs, I know they do them. They’re also usually terrible trials that only allow you to play basic introductory content that gives you no real idea what the game is like. Especially seeing as MMOs nearly always come into their own in their respective endgames, not before.

Say you’re enjoying an MMO and you want friends to try it out! Oh dear, they look at it and are put off by, you guessed it, the subscription. Not a barrier in a F2P.

To conclude, from a player’s point of view subscriptions can lock you into just the one game and make it harder to try new games. From a company’s point of view, the market has become so saturated that players are much more likely to try your game out if it won’t cost them anything.

That’s all for now! Whilst writing this post, some actual details about the cash shop have been announced so now I get to write up about them.