Hello, I’m JVerb. I have played games since the NES and later SNES, so for about as long as I can remember, and plan on continuing to do so in the future. I play for entertainment, achievement and competitiveness. Highlights include two notable points: CAL-O in college for CS 1.6 and years in WOW as a guild raid leader and strategy caller. I have since quit WOW and played many other games in my free time.
I have always been into shooters since early forays into DOOM, Quake, and Rise of the Triad. For nearly as long, I have liked RTS games. I played a bit of Brood War and Blizzard’s early work and loved playing Starcraft 2 ladder games while I was active in it. I have dabbled in everything from the Japanese ‘Dating’ simulators to old-school Myst to Borderlands to iRacing to Star Citizen. In short, I don’t try to create boundaries or pigeon-hole myself to just one genre or experience.
With the above being stated, I don’t claim to be an expert in anything, and I don’t really have a focus of anything. Much like how I tend to play what interests me at the time, I will just write on issues that I see or have seen or expect to see in the gaming community at large.
Archeage: Micro-Transactions, Free-to-Play, and Pay-to-Win?
I played the Alpha, Beta, and live of Archeage, and did enjoy some of the grind and mechanics while it was new and novel. What the game did well was allow for style options at the cost of real money, like a lot of micro-transaction games. I did enjoy the small group PvP in an open world. I did enjoy the castle my guild held as one of the foremost on the server. I liked the people and social interactions, trolls being ignored, as it had been a while since my last MMORPG.
I thought the game did well, until I hit end-game. At end game, the sheer randomness of crafting the best items struck me as ‘Korean’. Not good, not bad, just in a few words very RNG (Random Number Generator) heavy and designed to be a difficult grind that is not for the faint of heart. Probability of crafting to the best items in the game with the highest rarity exceeded 1-in-several-million to billions in odds, and even in the Korean servers only a handful of ‘Mystic’ items were ever made. In leveling, I didn’t mind this so much as gear flowed in from quests and rewards for leveling. But as most end-games in MMORPGs, there is this distinct feeling of power creep from the more developed Korean version that had carried over to this English language release.
Not only that, but at this point micro-transactions were being used to give players additional chance at crafting better gear, upgrading quality of gear, and being economically profitable. Some say this is just RNG and only RNG. But XLGames and Trion both being companies in the business of making money and games with content, I feel there is something else at work.
Archeage is first billed as a free-to-play game. But with this comes the reality that land in the game is very limited, and you need to pay a subscription to own land. You could get very lucky and still make gold, but chances are that you need to pay to have any economic status or relevancy in the game. The most profitable people in the game were those who made money early and then crafted powerful items they were able to sell, but this again is a game of luck in itself. In free mode, a player would regenerate a certain amount of ‘labor’ while logged in with a lower cap of the maximum amount held, which limited the potential income. In pay mode, a player would earn labor while offline at a reduced rate with a higher maximum cap. Archeage is technically free-to-play, but not if you want to be competitive.
What is the revenue strategy for this game? Well as I see it, it is both voluntary subscription and micro-transaction based. This is fine, I don’t have a problem paying to play in a subscription, nor do I hate the idea of micro-transactions in some regards. What I loathed was the monetary strategy of using the RNG system in random loot boxes for ‘best-in-slot’ gliders, paying for slightly better chances of upgrading rarity of gear, and buying things that generate power creep.
What do I mean by this last statement? I mean an old fashion arms race between factions. Some servers did not get hit by this quite as badly, but most did experience this factor. Archeage is highly gear dependent. After nailing down cookie cutter builds that feature stalker’s mark and leech, or other combinations for the three-or-so other viable classes in end game, the game really isn’t about skill as much as it is about the gear on players. In fact, having a unique level weapon when max level was a new thing meant you could stomp over nearly all of the competition. By the time I left, my Celestial Delphinad Volcano bow was uncommon rather than hyper-rare to see.
To be competitive in PvP, the center piece of Archeage, you would need a weapon near the power of mine. There were some with better stats than mine that would be able to easily best me in toe-to-toe combat. To get a better weapon would mean grinding and spending money, real world cash mind you, well over and above for the chance of getting better. The next higher quality level Divine from a new bow is about 6 in 100,000 with better than 90% to 95% chance of breaking the weapon going from Celestial to Divine—I say again, TOTAL WEAPON DESTRUCTION. This is with the cash shop upgrade chance item included. Then again, one could get lucky and craft a divine or better weapon, but the chances are even more against you, near-as-to-makes-no-difference 2-in-a-billion-ish.
So, where did this otherwise enjoyable game go wrong? I would say it started in the design of the game. The core underlying mechanics paired with how the game is monetized. The game is intensely gear based and very RNG heavy. To offset this, the game offers items to better RNG odds. This, for the Archeage case study, is not sustainable. It is designed to take money for little or no return. The random boxes have much the same feel, but with slightly better odds ranging from 1-in-100 to 1-in-1000. Still 1000 boxes would total around 3,000 USD for the chance to own a best-in-slot glider. Worth it for very few, a burning money pit for most.
But best-in-slot is best-in-slot and some are willing to pay for near perfection, or at least what is needed to handily kill every enemy. In this case, Archeage did not force you to pay money; however, the system is very bias towards influencing you to spend a lot of money. It is not strictly pay-to-win, but in my opinion it is not far off the mark. Furthermore, this disjointed goal of F2P retaining players for as long as possible against the monetization plan of allowing power creep with some facets of P2W cannot be sustainable in the long term. It is not a healthy relationship between the developers, publisher, and players.
Why bring up Archeage and the F2P, P2W arguments? As time goes on, I expect more games to decide to monetize with micro-transactions rather than purely subscriptions or lump sum purchases for any MMO type of game. Stick with me next week when I go over a game that is built around micro-transactions in a game that does things a lot better than Archeage!