Shadowrun Online – A Confusing Solution to a Common Problem

So apparently the free-to-play mmo issue has been solved! Let us all rejoice, for all of our problems have been solved!

Wait, what?

First, some background: The guys over at Cliffhanger Productions are trying to make a mmo based on Shadowrun, an old pen/paper RPG (and by old, I mean it’s older than me). From what I can tell it’s basically character classes from middle earth put into a future world, with some more awesome stuff added in. I won’t bother trying to be an expert on it, because I never played it. It sounds like it will be a really awesome game from what I’ve heard, so I’ll definitely check it out if I can.

But apparently, Shadowrun Online was purposed to be a f2p game, which got some of the backers concerned about the whole ‘pay to win’ problem in a lot of these games. So, Cliffhanger went ahead and put out the update I linked above, and now I’m here to tell you why this is all silly and won’t help.

Let’s quickly review how Cliffhanger ‘solved’ the free-to-play issue:

  • Implement a Guild Wars style payment method – you pay once and the game is yours, forever and ever and ever and ever and ever. No monthly payments.
  • Additional content and such will continue to be created post-launch, and will be sold as add-ons, again just like Guild Wars’ expansions. These add-ons will not be required to continue playing the game. This is being called the “campaign model”
  • The game will also be completely available to play for free from launch.
  • In order to prevent balancing problems between the free players and the paying players, they will be separated onto two different servers. I’ll be calling these the free server and the campaign server.
  • It will be possible for campaign players to switch between the servers, even if they started as a free player.
  • Campaign players will not be able to move premium items onto the free server.
  • For anyone still confused (I was) here’s their business model in image form from the projects update on kickstarter:
    Sounds good on paper, right? The devs get to eliminate the problem of balancing paying and non-paying players, set up a way to get paid now and as time goes on, and gets to work on stuff later on specifically for the guys paying them. So, whats the problem?

    Separating Your Player Base

    First and foremost, separating your free players from your campaign players is NOT a good idea. The game you have to play when trying to make money of a free mmo is converting free players into paying ones, and the best way to do that is to have your free players interacting with your paying ones. With both groups playing alongside each other, partying up and taking on challenges together, free players get to see what the reward is for paying and might even be tempted to do so themselves. Even when the campaign players go to the free server, they can’t show off the shiny sword of death they got on the campaign server. At best, having separate servers leaves no feelings between the two groups and neither side really cares what the other is doing. At worst, the free server starts to see the campaign one as snobby players who had to pay to get into the cool club; meanwhile the campaign players think the free ones are the freeloaders that don’t even deserve to be heard by the devs. Neither of those situations are good for the bottom line, so why force yourself into them?

    Secondly, server separation can create problems for people who join the game in groups. Say you’re part of a group rolling your way through mmos together and having a grand old time. You come across Shadowrun Online and decide to give it a try, and end up liking the game a lot. After a week or so, half of your group decides to cough up the dough and buy the game to gain access to the *gasp* campaign servers. The other half, however, maybe doesn’t have the spare cash to spend on the game, but still enjoy playing the free server. What happens now? Your entire group is no longer native to the same server, and even when the paying members move over, they can’t even bring along their cool stuff. If they can’t use all their cool stuff when playing with their friends…why did they even bother to pay for this game?

    Lastly, this will all cause problems down the road if the devs aren’t careful with their updates. Lets say the game launches, and a few update cycles down the road, much more content and items have been added to the game. Due to the basic problems of power creep (if you’re not familiar with the term, Extra Credits does a good job explaining it) the items added in the later expansions are going to overpower the items in the initial release, leaving them useless for the most part. Meanwhile, on the free server, a player has spent a long time playing without paying and has essentially reached the ‘end game’ of that server. On the free server, the original release is still in effect, so the end game the player is experiencing is the same as on the campaign server when it was first released. If that player suddenly decides they feel like buying the campaign and the updates, they are suddenly thrown onto a server where everything he has achieved thus far on the free server is rendered utterly useless. I don’t know about you guys, but I tend not to pay to become weaker…

    The Hard Part

    -Concerns about P2W are understandable with the current stat of many f2p games
    -Must identify what the real problem is and what’s causing it
    -Power is being introduced through microtransaction items
    -remove them in order to prevent pay to win, at least for now

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