How does Project Gorgon make money?

I didn’t start making an MMO because I thought it was a good business idea. I did it because I want to run an MMO. I love maintaining a world, tuning it, watching it grow. I definitely don’t love making MMOs. I love running them. Unfortunately nobody else is making the right kind of MMO and then letting me run it for them, so here we are.

So given why I’m making an MMO, you can see why making money has sometimes been back-burner issue for me. Oh, I know that indie developers are told that “you have to think about how you’re going to make money first! It’s critical!” But honestly, in the big picture, that’s a bunch of horseshit.

I know how to make money: I’m an extremely good programmer if I do say so myself, and a competent game systems designer, and if my goal was to make money, I would get a fucking job. Telling an indie game developer to focus on money as their top priority is equivalent to telling them to either quit the indie scene, or to seriously delude themselves. Indies have more pressing things to worry about. For every sad tale of a great game that didn’t earn money, there’s 5000 indie games that simply suck.

(To rephrase that to avoid confusion: Yes, it can be damned hard to graft a financial plan on to a game after it’s done. But no, that’s not the #1 problem most indie game developers have. It’s even harder to graft fun onto a game after it’s done. That’s the first step, and the hardest. )

That said, I do need to make money with my MMO. And a fair amount of it, too. This game is CPU-intensive (unlike a 2D sprite-based MMO, it tracks three-dimensional physics, which is not cheap). And the server architecture is … uh… adequate for my needs, but not top-of-the-line. Let’s just say it that way. It will get better over time, but right now, I’m making up for crappy tech by throwing extra hardware at it.

You Can’t Skimp on the F2P…

On the other hand, I have to support free players. That’s just a fact of the market. And the biggest lesson I’ve learned from studying F2P games is that a “free” game can’t slam you face-first into a pay wall at a certain level. There’s so many MMOs out there that if your “free play” option doesn’t let people play to max level, that’s a huge negative mark.

But F2P Players Mostly Won’t Pay… Ever

The most egregious Zynga games are said to earn their money from just 2% of the player base. MMOs are generally less terrible than that, but from what I’ve heard, a big MMO that aims at even 20% paying players is being extremely optimistic.

And you can’t overly pressure people to pay, either. Most of those free players have no intention of ever paying, and if you pressure them too much, they just go elsewhere. It’s tempting to imagine that you can push them into eventually paying, but for most of them, you won’t. You have to accept that a lot of your players — a majority of them — will be freeloaders.

(Why do we even support F2P players, then? Well, because those precious paying customers usually start out as free players. But the bigger reason is that there are now so many MMOs that it’s hard to keep people around unless you have a compelling free-play option. And MMOs can’t afford to lose 80% of their community. Even a loss of 20% often makes a game feel like a ghost town.)

But aiming for 20% or more may not be so crazy in a niche game. I remember hearing a few years back about Iron Realms raking in a ton of cash… that was a real inspiration.  (They run PvP MUDs where you can buy item upgrades.) In niche games I think the old “80/20 rule” might get more skewed. The reason? People who play a niche game are going to be more invested, so they’re more likely to pay. If they were just screwing around, they’d go play a more mainstream F2P game.

However, even though my game is somewhat niche, I still think I need a compelling free-play experience. It’s not that niche.

The Two Parts of the Game

My plan is basically to split the game by skills: free players will have access to a bunch of skills, but not all of them. Paying players will have access to everything.

Free players will have access to (say) half the combat skills. They’ll also have all the auxiliary skills that make them fun — for instance, if they have the Sword skill, they can also access Calligraphy, which has important Sword buffs. The point is that their combat experience should be complete and fun.

As I’ve worked on the Kickstarter campaign, it’s become more and more clear that there’s really two key features to this game: the crazy “world interactions” stuff, and these big community dungeons, which still need lots of work but I think will be a lot of fun.

I want to shuffle free players toward those community dungeons — that way there’s plenty of people in there play with! So I’ll give free players a lot of interesting combat options and incentives to delve deep into the dungeons.

The “world interactions” part is the carrot to get you to pay. Some of the combat skills are locked, but also a bunch of crafting, gathering, information-collection, and utility skills are locked. Free players get just enough of that to support their combat skills — which is actually quite a lot of it, at least compared to a typical MMO.

Subscriptions!

So for the people who do pay, what are they buying? Well, I’d like to charge by the month. (I don’t care if it’s a “real” subscription that auto-renews or if you just re-pay every couple of months… in my head, if you pay for months of time, that’s a subscription.)

Subscriptions are great because I don’t have to nickel-and-dime you: if I can convince you to part with $4.99 a month, you can play all the game I’ve got. Enjoy. Done.

Sure, I’ll also have a la carte options for things like extra character slots. And I’ll have higher-tier subscriptions that give you benefits like offline skill advancement and access to special web tools for auctions and community. And maybe other stuff if I can think of it.

But the point is, for $4.99 a month you can access everything in the game. More money just gets you more convenience.

Optimizations Ahoy

Why $4.99? Well it sort of straddles the line of my demographic. I think my target player skews a bit older (and thus more affluent) than a teen, but I suspect a price like $10/month would seem too much for some players. But anyway, it’s just a guess at this point. I don’t even know the break-even point on the hardware yet.

Right now I think my server architecture will support about 800 simultaneous players per world-shard. Unfortunately my world-shards are expensive — they may cost as much as $2000/month per shard. (That’s a worst-case scenario, but I have to work with that for now since I don’t have better numbers.)

If you do the math there, you’ll see that for each of the 800 concurrent users, I need to earn $2.50 per month, or I won’t make $2000 to pay for the hardware. But if I’m expecting 20% of players to pay, that math doesn’t add up. If only 20% pay, I’d need $12.50 from each of them to break even on hardware.

Each concurrent user might represent 5-15 actual active players (that are taking turns logging in, so to speak)… so it’s not quite as grim as it seems, but there’s an awful lot of “ifs” in there, and a lot more costs besides hardware.

So I have to optimize. I can get the number of concurrent users higher and the overall CPU usage costs lower. That’s actually pretty easy to do — right now things are so un-optimized that it’d be like shooting fish in a barrel — but it takes a lot of time (1-2 months!), and I can’t do more than basic optimizations until all the gameplay is hammered out. Premature optimization is … a huge waste of time.

So yeah, I think I can get my monthly costs down to $500/month or less. That makes the math a lot more tenable. But I can’t prove that I can get the server down that low. Yeah, sure, I’ve done optimizations before, and I know what I’m doing, but there’s always that little gnawing worry.

All day, every day: “what if you can’t optimize it enough? What if your architecture just can’t turn a profit in a free-to-play world?”

Just… shut up, brain. I’ve got this. I’m a bad ass indie developer. This is cake. Just shut up and let me work! Hell, I’m still struggling to make the game fun. That part comes first. Then the money.

It’s just another joy of wearing so many hats. I get to wear the “producer’s worrying hat” along with all the rest.

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36 Responses to How does Project Gorgon make money?

  1. Jason says:

    $4.99 is a very reasonable price-point for a f2p game.

    I love f2p MMOs because as a parent with a full-time job I can’t find the time to justify $14.99 a month for any game. But, if there are incentives in the game that aren’t super expensive I’m more than happy to purchase them. Fluff sells in games and will sell in online stores.

  2. Eric Heimburg says:

    (Having second thoughts on the math now that I’m away from the PC and can’t edit it.) I should really not use concurrent players as a financial base number, since I don’t know how many players that is. I was think 5 to 15, but that’s the old rule of thumb for hardcore sub-only games like EverQuest. For F2P, I just don’t know. Could be that $2k a month is peanuts.

  3. Indy says:

    That sounds very similar to Runescape. Given that they’re now probably the 2nd largest MMO (that few people seem to have heard of, heh) that’s not a bad thing. One thing they do that drives subscription numbers is fairly frequent updates with more content for members.

  4. Helistar says:

    More money just gets you more convenience.
    Just be careful not to thread on crippleware terrain, something which LotRO has been slowly moving into. As you correctly say: there’s a lot of competition, and if a game annoys me I’ll definitely find another one where to spend my money.
    Also, don’t assume people will just not pay because they can play for free, I was a donor and subscriber to Mandake Linux for some time, even if that didn’t provide me with any advantage except a “donor” tag somewhere, since I could have downloaded the same iso as everyone else. I’m sure that for $4.99/month you could just sell the possibility to set your character title to “donor” and you’d find people ready to pay…..

    ……assuming your game is good, of course :)

  5. Brett says:

    @Jason – I agree with you, I think $4.99 is exceedingly reasonable and I would definitely be willing to spend that just to try out the extra skills.

    @Eric – I think I’ve spent more on IRE MUD games than I have on any other game or hobby since. In fact, my experiences there remain some of the most wonderful and profoundly affecting of my life, and have inspired most of my interest in virtual worlds and gaming. On a more practical note, I’m wondering if some aspects of their exceptionally well-tuned and shrewd business model might be worth looking into, if you haven’t already?

    While I’m not sure if things have changed, when I was playing you were able to buy ‘credits’ that could either be traded for game currency, used in the item shop to purchase customisation, convenience and combat-related upgrades, or ‘converted’ into lessons that could be used to unlock new abilities and skills. While you also earned a certain amount of lessons simply by levelling your character through gameplay, the total amount that was possible to earn this way was only barely enough to cover the essential abilities for combat. All skills were potentially ‘unlocked’ to a new player, but in order to progress your crafting and utility skills beyond a certain minimal level (or without gimping your combat ability) there was a need to purchase credits either through in-game currency or for real money.

    I wonder if something similar to that kind of ‘soft’ locking of skills might achieve much the same goals of encouraging players to pay if they really want to have all of the skills, but without a firm paywall blocking freeloading crafters and less combat oriented players from feeling that they can try out the game too?

  6. kalamona says:

    2 more unorthodox ideas. Im not a businessman though, these might be totally stupid ideas:

    1.
    User generated content. I mean real content, like new graphics, terrains and so on. Users (if they are know how to do) can send you models, creatures, even unity scenes containing dungeons, and so on. They also pay a little coin (10-100$) to let their work judged by the community (and this fee is here to prevent troll contents).

    If their creation ends up being in the game, they get refunded/get some money for it.

    Steam does something similar with its hats/props that people can make to TF2, and I think there is some MOBA with a similar mechanism (there was some problem that an user uploaded trademarked modls).

    2.
    Mini-kickstarter-like ideas. Like you list a bunch of ideas that are kinda easy to do, but are not really that important. Something like “in the lakes, there will be clams that can be looted for clam meat, and you can sometimes find a pearl too”. Small ideas like these. And you put a small price next to them, like “this idea costs 2000$ to make”. Imagine like 10-50 similar small ideas.

    Users can pay money to these ideas, and if it reaches the amount set, you will begin implementing it.

  7. kalamona says:

    Here is hof TF2 does user-generated content:
    http://www.teamfortress.com/workshop/

    I was trying to find the MOBA with the similar mechanism too, but didn’t succeeded. All I know that users were allowed to create weapons for heroes, and someone just stole some weapons from Aion, and uploaded those.

  8. Kujo says:

    Fleshing out your numbers here: 5-15*800 max ccu = 4000-12000 players per shard, which means you need 10%-3% to break even on server costs, and that entire range is within your projected percentage.

    Make sure you allow “gifting” of your purchased stuff. A person who loves the game buying perks for their friends is one of the reason that Zynga-style 2% happens; it’s not just 2% of players buying stuff for themselves.

  9. kalamona says:

    Okay, so I will stop spamming after this, but I found that MOBA I was referring to, it is Dota 2, also strong ties with steam, so the user-generated content policy is pretty similar too I guess:

    http://www.dota2.com/workshop/

  10. darkeye says:

    If you go the route of locking some skill-sets for free players, then it may be best to have another way to acquire them by paying cash for skill packs to unlock a bundle of skills permanently on that account, say $5 per skill pack. I think it might be a mistake to assume the majority won’t pay anything at all ever, even if all you get out of them is $5 or 10, the fact that they’d spend that and get something permanent, probably increases the stickability of the game.

    For me it’s certainly kept me playing Lotro, when I could subscribe for 1 month to remove the restrictions on traits/bags/gold, and then gradually over the years since F2P launched acquire permanent access to ALL the content in the game (having paid much less than $12 a month, even below $4.99 I’d say), and even if I’m not actively playing right now it is more enticing to return to it than to go to say EQ2 or AoC where I’ve not invested anything. So yeah a middle ‘pay-as-you-go’ option is just as important too.

  11. Rauxis says:

    my own angle: I want to play your game, I’m in a comfortable position job wise, but I won’t play a whole lot simply because I don’t have the time. At 60U$/year I’ll completely stop caring about “do I get enough play for my bucks”. So I hope this price point will make it possible for you to earn enough to support not only the shards but also yourself and continuing development.

    On a side note – I’m in HPC computing, and I’m a little bit surprised that 800 users/shard are the limit. That really smells like a LOT of idle CPU cycles

    Rauxis, chosen of CAT

  12. Jason says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but at one point didn’t you say you were using SmartFoxServer? If so, you can probably run more than one instance on your server box if you have multiple cores and sufficient RAM.

    Or, you could go virtual through a hosting service and not even worry about the true hardware beneath.

  13. Kiryn says:

    One danger of locking skills to paying customers only is that those customers have no idea whether those skills are fun before they pay for them. I’m certainly hesitant to pay a non-refundable fee to unlock a skillset if I’m just going to try it out, decide it isn’t fun, and stop using it right away.

    I saw the same thing in Free Realms and it drove me away from the game completely before they swapped up their business model to giving you ALL skillsets for free up to level 5, then making you pay to get any further. I can’t decide if that was an improvement, because now I know which skills are fun, but I HAVE to pay no matter which one I choose.

    I saw the same thing in Champions Online where their free to play system forces you to pay money to use many of the power archetypes. I was really interested in the power armor class, tried it out, didn’t really like the feel of it, and regretted wasting my money on it. I haven’t really touched the game since, as it really left a bad taste in my mouth.

    If skills need to be purchased, there really needs to be a better way to know whether it’ll be fun than a summary of the skillset and a description of its powers.

  14. How are you getting to $2000/month per shard?

  15. Eric says:

    Kiryn – yeah, it’s tricky… the trouble is, if you let people “test out” the skills it often comes across as being a tease to force you to pay. It’s a hard problem to manage expectations just right.

    Kujo – yeah after I posted that and wandered away, the numbers started making less and less sense in my head. Well, good to know that I’m covered in the worst-case scenario… IF the projected percent of paying players holds reasonably well.

    Robert Basler – the $2000 comes from a lot of things, and it gets pretty complicated, but the biggest cost is about $1000 for 10 dedicated Windows server boxes to run the physics engines for all the zones (40 zones, 4 per box). There’s lots of reasons to believe I won’t have to do that — for one, Unity 4 is supposed to support Linux, and if it does it halfway decently, I won’t need Windows servers at all, which makes things MUCH cheaper. But even if I stick with Windows servers, I think I can get more of them per box with some work. They’re RAM-bound right now, because my Windows server is a 32-bit Windows Server 2003 box. (That’s pretty much the only thing I could find for rent, though.) If I can find a 64-bit Windows Server box for a fair price, that should make things a lot cheaper.

    And even if not, I should be able to dramatically lower RAM usage — the problem is the Unity path-planning system is a hog. I can replace it with a third-party system, or write my own if necessary, and hopefully get the memory consumption way down.

    So I don’t think I’ll really need 10 Windows boxes, but when making a requirements estimate, I don’t dare use statements like “I can probably switch to Linux and it’s probably better and cheaper, and I can probably get RAM usage down”… those are just as much unknowns as anything else, and I’ve been bitten in the ass before. What I do know, for sure, is that if all else fails, I can at least run the game with a ridiculously large number of slaved servers. It’ll just cost an arm and a leg!

    (And for people mentioning cloud servers — I’m keeping my doors open there, but 24/7 cloud CPUs cost a lot MORE than dedicated CPUs at the moment, and for real-time games it’s hard to bring a dynamic cloud server online fast enough to avoid noticeable delays. (It can take minutes for a new cloud box to come online.) So I hope to use some cloud boxes in various ways, but dedicated boxes are actually a better fit for me.)

  16. Eric says:

    kalamona – I like the mini-kickstarter idea, been tossing around something like that. (It’s scary because it can easily be overdone, though: if you ask your players what they want, they will request things that improve them but don’t necessarily improve the game overall. That can make the game more and more obtuse and difficult to play, over time. But I can at least use it in moderation… just not for ALL development.)

    I’m not sure how the user-generated content idea would make money directly… it’d be cool, but my game’s not really set up to handle that. (I could do custom armor and custom monsters, but not custom dungeons.) In the small scale, though, this would cost MORE money — I’d need to review all the submissions and then reward the people whose stuff I use. I do like the idea of getting people to provide custom models, but there’s so many traps and scary pitfalls (like accidentally letting in copyrighted artwork, and then getting the crap sued out of me) that I’d only want to approach this in a very limited context, like say a periodic contest, as opposed to an always-on sort of submission system.

  17. Eric says:

    Brett – I do like the Iron Realms system… but I suspect it’s a little too pushy for the typical MMO player. It’s just my gut instinct, I don’t have any data to back that up, but I fear it would feel too restrictive. It’s also a lot more work to implement than a big on/off switch for “paying/not paying”… so… yeah, I dunno. A little scared to try that.

  18. My personal bias is strongly against the “optional” subscription model (so get your salt shaker ready). Up until the release of WoW’s expansion a few hours ago, I had max level characters in seven different MMO’s, five of which are or will be F2P retrofits (once they finish SWTOR’s relaunch). “Optional” subscriptions feel to me like the folks responsible really wanted to stick with the subscription model, but felt the non-subscription segment of the market was too large to ignore – it’s odd to hear you actually coming out and saying as much.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the hugest fan of the mandatory subscription either, not because of the quantity of money involved but because of the terms paying by the month dictates when and how I play the game. However, with a mandatory subscription your plan is to make a game worth paying $5 and my relatively easy job is to judge whether you have succeeded.

    Once you go with the “optional” subscription, your mission set splits. You don’t want going without the subscription to actually be a good option, but you don’t want to make life unpleasant for your potential customers either. Paradoxically, the less hobbled your non-subscription option is, the less it feels that I’m getting for my money if I do take the step up to the next tier – my heart says that you deserve some credit for all the work that you did on the free stuff, but my mind says that I’m being asked to pay $60/year (comparable to the full box for the no-sub GW2, and the approximate cost of current non-subscription options in LOTRO and DDO) for access to some skills I don’t seem to need anyway.

    Meanwhile, you get to spend your time coding what to do with people who have non-zero premium skills that they can’t access due to lapsed subscription status, and you incur all of the increased overhead associated with trolling when the barrier to entry is $0. If your costs per user really are anywhere near what you are thinking, I wonder if you’d be better off embracing your product’s quirky indy status and saying that it costs $5/month because servers cost money. At least that way your costs are only increasing as your revenue increases, where with the model you are discussing a bigger population may only drive you into the red that much faster.

  19. Tesh says:

    Paying for time *at all* is a “subscription” in my mind. I hate paying for time. I’ll happily pay for content, though. I’ve been happy with the Guild Wars model and the Wizard 101 piecemeal content sale model. I don’t need to be able to level to the cap for free (crippled, more or less), I just loathe playing when there’s a ticking meter looming over me.

    A tangential example: I’ll probably play SWTOR when it converts to F2P, but I’d have happily paid, say, $25 for a “light side” box that let me play any light side class with no restrictions (though I’d settle for racial restrictions for $15-20). There’s merit in “package deals” of an a la carte menu.

    Also interestingly, that one-man indie MMO “Love” is now free to play, after apparently having trouble selling under the initial sub-only model:

    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-09-07-the-age-of-free-love-the-mmo-has-begun

  20. Yeebo says:

    From GA, This:

    “Paradoxically, the less hobbled your non-subscription option is, the less it feels that I’m getting for my money if I do take the step up to the next tier – my heart says that you deserve some credit for all the work that you did on the free stuff, but my mind says that I’m being asked to pay $60/year (comparable to the full box for the no-sub GW2, and the approximate cost of current non-subscription options in LOTRO and DDO) for access to some skills I don’t seem to need anyway.”

    Give players access to the full game at low levels so that they will be entranced by it. Make them pay for higher level content. Lord of the Rings Online, Wizard 101, and Dungeons and Dragons Online all use that model and are making a ton of money from it. Contrast with Everquest II or Age of Conan where you can play nearly to the cap without paying a dime on a limited selection of classes, and I suspect the vast majority of players play part way to the cap on one of the free classes and eventually lose interest….for the very reason that the free classes aren’t as cool as the ones they could have paid for.

    Put a fantastic and flexible character development system front and forward. Let players get hooked as hell on the first 10-20% of your content. Make them sad that they can’t keep going on the rockstar PC they have developed once they hit your soft cap.

    The alternative is that you let players level skill restricted/ mediocre builds all the way to the level cap. How are they going to get hooked on your game if they can’t make the most fun characters (to their tastes) possible? And why would they care to play to the level cap on mediocre builds? Even if they love the builds you hand out for free, why would they care to pay for additional options that might not be as good as something they already know they like?

  21. bubble says:

    A long-winded path to a short opinion

    I’m mostly a solo player who likes to group up occasionally when i’m in the mood so for me what EQ was, was an infinitely* replayable single player RPG (emphasis on the RPG)(but played online) combined with an option to group when feeling sociable.

    (* not really infinite obviously but for a few years it *felt* like it could be)

    It felt like an infinitely replayable single player game because the numerous race/class combos provided *noticeably different enough* levelling paths – at least until you got to the level where the paths began to merge.

    I barely play mmos any more because they’ve gradually moved away from that unique paths model to one where it all feels the same. Also like most people who’ve played a lot of mmos i’ve had the idea of making one. That’s not feasible for me but in the process of trying to scale the idea down to a level that might be achievable while still appealing to a reasonable number of people i came back to what i originally liked most about EQ – an infinitely replayable single player RPG.

    One way of doing that is the Morrowind/Skyrim way, which is great but i could never make that much physical content so thinking smaller i can see three possible ways of doing it: the simplest is probably a survival game with one character, the second is where the replayability is tied to randomizable content which is jumbled up with each new game, the third is where a class choice is really a path choice and the same content reacts to the player differently depending on the initial choice.

    I’m currently tending mostly towards the third option, explicitly limiting myself to a very small world which i could conceivably put together – in my case i’m thinking a lake valley surrounded by wooded hills with six villages and a town – and then seeing if i can weave many separate stories within that small world based on initial class choice.

    For this to work – and as this idea solidified after reading some of your earlier posts i think this is where it ties back to your opening question – each class story has to be as class-y as possible.

    What i mean by class-y is that a class can be two things, 1) a set of mob-killing attributes and/or 2) a path through the game and a path is a story. Generally as these games have devolved to be solely about killing mobs the two things have become one and the same but they don’t have to be and i think that’s where there may be a niche in what is basically non-verbal role-playing.

    If i’m playing a fighter i want to spend a lot of my game time doing fightery things.
    If i’m playing a ranger i want to spend a lot of my game time doing rangery things.
    If i’m playing a rogue i want to spend a lot of my game time doing rogue-y things.
    etc
    and not just killing the same mobs but with slightly different spell effects.

    For a pure fighter killing mobs and being class-y would be mostly the same (and they’d need tobe the best at it for that reason imo) but for most others their main activity could be something completely different.

    Stepping back again if you think of a class as a proxy for *desired* play-style and that as a proxy for desired persona and that as a proxy for personality type you can see where RPGs get part of their appeal from and why a lot of fantasy archetypes are archetypesfor a reason. Most mmos have moved away from this so i see a potential niche in maximizing it i.e. non-verbal persona roleplay (which makes it particularly well suited to actual RP also).

    So the classes are the content and the world is the backdrop. For example in my single player version i’m currently thinking of the content (in d&d terms) 3-level chunks, (in mmo terms maybe 4 or 6 level chunkc) so a fighter might start in one of the villages and get inducted into the village militia for level 1-3 followed by a choice to go to the town and join the town watch for lvl 4-6 or a separate 4-6 line investigating the old cemetary which leads to some undead and a chain involving a newly started necromantic cult. A necro might start in the town as a novice at the wizard college who gets sucked into necromancy and after their level 1-3 chain in the town (carefully avoiding the watch and witch-hunters) their 4-6 chain starts by going to a village to speak to some (friendly) undead at an abandoned cemetary etc i.e. same / similar world content in physical terms: village, cemetary, undead, but different content in class-y terms.

    Applying that to an mmo if you take a class and view it as a story you list all the spells and abilities you want the class to have, lay them out and make the class “quests” involve gaining those abilities so each ability is basically a chapter in a story e.g.

    A necro might start with no skills as a novice mage with a strange book they found. The book tells them how to gain their first ability – speak with the dead – by performing a ritual at a graveyard at night (while avoiding the watch) and digging up a skull which will act as channel to their mentor.

    A ranger might start in a village with no skills next to Poacher Bob npc who trains and give them tasks involving trapping, stealth, tracking etc. When they’re more skilled they can switch to being a forester and more skilled again to ranger.

    Wizards might get a direct bonus to spell damage based on number of known spells so if there were 60 wizard spells they might get +5% damage if they know 10+, +10% if they know 20+ etc and also Lore. If their lore is 100+ they get +5%, 200+ +10% and / or the strength of their magical protection spell is directly proportional to their lore knowledge so Wizards spend a lot of their time looking for books, ruins, ancient demons which give spell knowledge and / or +lore.

    Aim each class at a personality or at least persona archetype and make each class path unique and fitting with an archetype.

    Expansions then become more classes or more optional paths for existing classes.

    In my single-player version of this i’d have npcs join the player but in mmo terms to make the game not entirely solo, class abilities would be level based, say at level 1, 4, 8 etc. At level 1 a necro would get the ability to learn ability a, b, c but not the abilities themselves. Once they had the abilities to get the next set they’d need to do some plain levelling too e.g. at the common dungeons.

    Also you could have a fame/infamy mechanic where fame/infamy is important to players and they get it from their class quests but also if they help other players complete there’s. If fighters *didn’t* get many class quests of their own this would create an incentive for fighters especially to group up with the other classes on the other class’s class quests to get fame/infamy points e.g. escorting a wizard on a quest – which would be very fighter-y – e.g. 3 points for completing a class quest, 1 point if you help excepts fighters who get 2.

    So
    - making unique paths through the same content which take a while and where particular people particularly like one of the paths
    - creating a small number of unique class/paths first
    - role-playing friendly
    - add more and extend more over time
    - non-verbal imaginary persona role-playing almost like active day-dreaming
    - crafting becomes a class choice e.g. blacksmith is a class, or a class option e.g. blacksmith as a fighter hybrid, alchemist as a wizard hybrid etc so there isn’t a crafting “system” as such. It’s part of various classes.

    Very long-winded i know but i’ve been thinking about this for a while partly as a result of your earlier posts and i think there’s a niche (and a subbable one too, if initially only at low levels) in there somewhere.

  22. bubble says:

    I forgot to add a critical point which is i don’t think WoW has n subscribers. I think WoW has 3n subscribers but most of them come and go and *come back again*. It’s the “come back again” element which makes games subbable imo.

  23. Jason says:

    @yeebo: I actually have to address this part:

    “Give players access to the full game at low levels so that they will be entranced by it. Make them pay for higher level content. Lord of the Rings Online, Wizard 101, and Dungeons and Dragons Online all use that model and are making a ton of money from it. Contrast with Everquest II or Age of Conan where you can play nearly to the cap without paying a dime on a limited selection of classes, and I suspect the vast majority of players play part way to the cap on one of the free classes and eventually lose interest….for the very reason that the free classes aren’t as cool as the ones they could have paid for.”

    As a player, I despise this type of game. In fact, I quit Lotro because of the way they implemented their f2p option. But I have actually spent money on EQ2 and STO and have played AoC (though I find it to be a boring game regardless of the f2p option beyond the first 20 levels).

    Ultimately I would rather play the game unhindered and be given the option to purchase additional OPTIONAL fluff and content. Give me a game worth of content, but then offer extra zones or dungeons, fluff clothing, mounts, etc and I’m more than happy to pay. Require me to pay to enjoy the core content of the game and I quit.

  24. mavis says:

    Tricky. The problem with skill selling is that each player only needs a couple. So if I’ve brought a coupel of skills and I like – suddenly – no more money from me.

    I seem to remember reading somewhere about the need to make things easy for people to access stuff – that putting an account creation screen between people and playing is a bad idea as you lose people. It might have been you – it feels like your sort of thought.

    To my mind hiding sets of skills behind a pay wall is like that – you are putting a barrier between people and getting them to commit to the idea of the skill.

    On the other hand – you’ve got to get the money somehow – and letting people use skills a little in game and then blocking them from further progress is jsut another form of barrier. Aseeing a skill at a low level does not really show you what it’s like overall….

    So could you add a game area where a player goes solo – gets there normal skills stripped off them – and can pick a skill(s) to use (I see it as a sort of dream land adventure). They get to play with high level skills in a very limited scenario sort of a tutorial lesson about each skill where they get to see it strut it’s funky stuff. And at the end of that – they get asked if they want to pay to keep the skill in the main game. Give a small general reward for these ‘dream quests’ back in the game – and people will want to play them for the experience which places a wide range of skills under peoples noses…..

    As I write this I see it presents a big burden on you – not only do you need to make the skills but each skill has to have there own ‘tutorial’ adventure So I suspect the burden is to heavy. On the other hand it strikes me as an interesting way of dangling the “skill” option in front of them.

  25. Ian Whitchurch says:

    SWGEmu have a similar set of issues, and they just ask people to give them money.

    They are raising about three times what they need to keep the servers running.

    Personally, I’d do four things.

    1. Sell fluff, including a title that says ‘Donor’, ‘Generous Donor’ and so on.

    2. Sell XP pots.

    3. Make Plex/SC cards transferable in game

    4. Enable a ‘Donate for new content’ function, where you will release Content X when donations for it hit Y.

  26. Ettesiun says:

    I do not know how long you hope your player will play, but also consider pay-once, play-forever funding plan. I will more gratefully pay 30$ to play forever – and maybe play only two months ! – that pay 5$/month. Give me reason to pay those 30$ and i would be grateful to do it – see gold tanks in World of Tanks, GW2, weapon in Tribes:Ascend etc… Let me buy the skills that seems so beautiful that I *need* it.

  27. Eric says:

    I’m honestly scared of doing a pay-once-play-forever type of plan. “Okay pay once and you can use all these skills forever! … wait, nobody new is paying this month? Well, sorry, got server bills to pay, time to shut the game down.” The “you-only-pay-once” model kinda requires a high turnover. Higher than subscription, anyway.

    It’s actually just a big psychological problem… for me! Instead of thinking every month, “what fun new things do I add to the game this month?” I’d be thinking “what can I add that will get people to pay this month?” That isn’t the fun activity I’ve been looking forward to.

    Now a “pay for pots” type system is a little different; nobody expects new kinds of consumables for sale every month — hopefully players will buy enough of them that I earn a nice profit each month, and often it’d be the same players getting more potions. So there’s repeat business for the same thing from the same player. But the down side is that there’s a strong incentive for me to make the game slower than optimal (in terms of fun pacing) unless you buy the consumables.

    All these comments really point out that there’s no payment system that will make everybody happy, not even in my target demographic, and I’m just going to have to experiment with different models to see what sticks. Which sucks, because it’s boring for me and can be frustrating for players, but I guess that’s what I need to do!

  28. Whorhay says:

    The only F2P game I’ve ever really bought into was that MMORTS browser game that whored on the Ultima franchise name, I think it’s Lord of Ultima Online or some such. It was absolute rubbish so far as it’s tie in to the Ultima IP. But the strategy of the game was actually pretty good or at least fun by my reckoning. I was spending about $7 a month on it for a “Minister pack” that let you automate and schedule a good bit of stuff. Even with that though the game was incredibly time intensive. The game play was pretty much all PvP, and I saw multiple large alliances fall apart days away from winning because of internal strife and sabotage. If I could play more games like that but didn’t take up every moment of my spare time I’d be getting out my wallet all over again.

  29. “I’m honestly scared of doing a pay-once-play-forever type of plan. “Okay pay once and you can use all these skills forever! … wait, nobody new is paying this month? Well, sorry, got server bills to pay, time to shut the game down.” The “you-only-pay-once” model kinda requires a high turnover. Higher than subscription, anyway.”

    This is precisely why for this particular game, I would respect you if you said “sorry, you can’t access the servers when you’re not paying”. I realize that how to trial is an issue – perhaps you could tightly cap the number of free people allowed through the queue onto the server? The thing I find most unfortunate about this whole exercise is all of the time you’re going to have to spend on payment model stuff rather than stuff that would improve the game for everyone.

  30. Vance Renadi says:

    I would pay a subscription to a game just to access the crafting skills provided they’re compelling, that’s my favorite part of games and if it’s something more than just straight a+b+c=Z I’m very much interested.

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  32. tad says:

    Three comments.

    Remember your audience. The reality is that 90% of the folks who will play this game will be AC and EQ vets who are looking for an old-school experience. These are people who are able to and willing to pay. The teenager who has grown up on WoW won’t know what to think of TGP and will quickly run for the hills.

    Don’t underestimate the power of the FTP folks to thrash the game. I am concerned – particularly in the crucial early months – over the fact that you have mixed servers: with both PTP & FTP. This seems counterintuitive – you want to give the best experince to people who are playing from the start – not have them encounter queues, full servers, spamming, etc. I’d suggest setting up servers just for PTP players and perhaps charging more for those servers (9.99).

    Lastly, if someone isn’t willing to pay after leveling to 20 or 30 so in a game (depending on the game), then they’re not willing to pay. Instead of splitting out skilltrees I’d just pick an appropriate level and say pay-up or go-home. Alternatively you can setup a time limit (2-3 weeks) but I think level caps work best.

    You’re an indie dev – people either need to support you or move on.

  33. Ken says:

    My 2 cents worth. Like it or not a lot of people who used to subscribe to games for $15/month do not do so any more. The industry has changed. Business models have to change to remain profitable. I think we have to look at why gamers stay with a game. The main thing that puts people off is not having other people to help them with difficult monsters. I think to keep everyone happy you have to make sure they can all learn all the skills and play all the race/skill combinations. The main difference between a f2p customer and a paying customer is the amount of time they have to play per week. So, you make it easier for paying customers to level up in the time they have. You can even make a graded subscription setup where someone paying $10/month gets more perks for leveling up.

    One interesting thing I have seen lately is a group that can be setup between players that allows them all to remain at the same level. Experience is shared so that people who are offline do not fall behind. This idea is a great way to give subscribers a good group to play with when they are around. If you make it so that only a subscriber can invite people to these groups then it becomes a powerful perk for them.

    The other big ticket item is nice looking outfits. Everquest has done something interesting here. Each item has an ornamentation slot. Anyone can loot ornaments but only subscribers can actually slot them. f2p players can pay a fee to unlock the slots.

    If the f2p players do not feel they are being held back in any way then they are more likely to hang around and help the game seem like it is populated.

  34. tad says:

    I’m going to re-iterate that I don’t think you gain anything from the FTP model for Project Gorgon except coding headaches. People are either going to love your game and be willing to pay for it or hate it and quit after ten minutes.

  35. Caldazar says:

    IRE Mud might seem interesting, but their credit system is very pay to win. A F2P player is very crippled there unless he invests a very large amount of time. Considering the scrutiny cash shops of f2p games experience these days, copying the model may result in a PR nightmare. Excluding buying stronger than through regular play obtainable items, the only things that can be done with credits in ire is converting em to ingame currency and buying skill level increases.

  36. tad says:

    There’s an interesting article on MMORPG
    http://www.mmorpg.com/showFeature.cfm/feature/6795/General-How-F2P-Is-Killing-Gaming-Part-Two.html

    I agree with the basic premise: F2P is killing MMOs. The problem is that the F2P model encourages player churn as opposed to a solid playerbase. As I’ve said before, this game won’t fly with the F2P model it is too different from what F2P players are looking for. You need a free trial but the game should be P2P and also P2Beta.