Profits and Prophecies: DDO and EQ2, and their money-making schemes.

By all accounts Free to Play (F2P) Dungeons and Dragons Online has been a roaring success. In my own investigations I have found multiple packed low level instances filled to the brim with folks asking foolish newbie questions. Counter-intuitively, DDO subscriptions are up 40%, presumably because the F2P model allowed players enough time and content to get a bit hooked, and be sure they liked what they’d be getting. Myself, I am sticking with an F2P account, though I confess I spent some money to buy enough Turbine Points to unlock the Warforged and Monk, and grab a couple of adventure packs. I shall be endeavouring not to spend any further cash, and perhaps the free points you get during gameplay and the free content will be enough to keep me in adventures for now.

To my mind DDO has been brought back from the dead, with a second chance at glory. It had a lacklustre launch with insufficient promotion, never really making the splash it deserved. An awful lot like Everquest 2, in fact. Both games have been hiding in WoW’s shadow for far too long. I can only hope that the influx of money to Turbine will be put to good use feeding an ever-expanding DDO live-team. I’ll give Turbine one hint: If you’ll finally sort out Gnomes, and their Dragonmark, I’d be willing to spend a few points on unlocking that.

There was a time when EQ2 also sold adventure packs. Sundered Splitpaw, Bloodlines, and the Fallen Dynasty (the Isle of Mara) were all sold as online-only mini expansions for the price of $7.99 (if memory serves me right) These days they come as part of your core install, and they were sizable chunks of content worth their asking price. At some point, SOE realised that they could get that much money for a single appearance-only hat, which took a lot less effort. There have been no adventure packs since Legends of Norrath and the Station Cash shop opened.

Recently there has been a great deal of unhappiness with a new development in EQ2’s love affair with RMT (Real Money Transactions). In the next set of Legends of Norrath cards, there will be a loot card which grants one-time access to a special dungeon. Given how difficult it will be for anyone to get that card, it must be pretty awesome in that dungeon.

In DDO when you buy an adventure pack, which grants you access to a set of dungeons forever, you know exactly how much it will cost you. Everquest 2 expects you to gamble, buying packs of cards until you are lucky enough to get the one you want. I do not know the exact odds, but my experiences with getting loot cards from my free packs suggests you would need to buy a great number to stand a good chance of getting the specific loot card which opens the dungeon. This will restrict the number of people who get to experience this dungeon to the extremely lucky, and the obsessively addicted.

It is about time that Everquest 2 ended the charade that most people buy Legends of Norrath to play the card game. They do it for the loot cards, and it is a cynical exploitive way for SOE to make money. They should just remove loot cards from LoN, add them to the shop, and sell them honestly with upfront pricing, rather than forcing its customers to buy lottery tickets in the hopes of getting to experience new content. It should be noted that EQ2 also has a subscription fee. I do not think that having both extreme RMT AND a mandatory subscription charge is sustainable. I’d be happy for the RMT to go away, but I think that is not the way the MMO winds are blowing these days

Given the success of Free Realms, I have a feeling that EQ2 may be making the leap to being Free to Play, supported by RMT, with an optional subscription like Free Realms and DDO have. The streaming technology used by Free Realms has been adapted for use in EQ2 (and was responsible for the dreadful memory issues many people experienced after Live Update 53), and will be enabled at the time of the next expansion to make for a smoother new player experience. We have been promised that there will, at that time, be a great influx of new players, and I doubt that’s going to happen just because they get to start in Halas. My prediction is that Everquest 2 is going F2P. Feel free to poke fun at me if I turn out to be wrong.

Update 29th July, 2010: In the end, EQ2 did go F2P, though not in the way I hoped for. You can read about that here.

1 comment to Profits and Prophecies: DDO and EQ2, and their money-making schemes.

  • Longasc

    I think that DDO was not that bad – though I personally did not really get into it, and do not even have it on my harddrive anymore.

    The game was never promoted – next to nobody here in Germany knows it exists, nobody talked about it.
    The game improved over time for sure, but it is still the same game as at launch. But now it is alive, successful and kicking.

    Was it only F2P that breathed new life into the game that was seen as a fail and got ignored by most people?

    Despite the recent fuss about the “offers wall”, DDO has a working strategy. People do not feel cheated or like getting charged extra.

    Right now Blizzard pulled the 25 bucks pony stunt. Guild Wars sold another set of customes for around 9-10 bucks. I cannot shake of the fear that this is the future and the coolest stuff gets reserved for the shop.

    In this case everyone pays… more. And we go full circle: Back to the hated item shop, that now finally becomes fashionable again.

    The honorable “sell a Guild Wars Chapter every half/full year for 40-50 bucks” pay for content model will not get copied as long as BOX+SUB+ITEM SHOP models are working! :(