The 151 Day Typo

A Non-Economic Tangent

Just a quick disclaimer that this post is only about economics in the sense that it is part of my attempt to process my thoughts and emotions regarding the current state of this game I care about so much.  I am legitimately concerned about the financial viability of the entire game based on the decisions being made by the powers that be.  There’s nothing more fundamental to the health of the in-game economy than the financial health of the game itself.

It has been a chaotic and frustrating few weeks.  The player base is increasingly agitated, the forums have moved from toxic to nuclear, and the number of previously passionate members of this community that slowly drift away grows each day.  However, let me be clear that I expect to play this game until another Star Wars MMO becomes a reality or the SWTOR servers are turned off.  To use an analogy that I crafted in a recent forum discussion, I feel like I’m trapped in a bad dream where I’m the lookout atop the Titanic and I can see the iceberg on the horizon.  I am frantically trying to tell everyone, or anyone, what I see coming, but no matter how loud I scream no one seems to hear me.  Everyone is going about their business, continuing on a path toward looming disaster.

So why write now? And what in the world does that title mean?

151 Days

On July 9th, 2015 BioWare posted a much anticipated developer blog entitled Operations and Flashpoints in Fallen Empire which confirmed the fears of many in the end-game PVE community by announcing:

We know that many players love our Operations and look forward to the introduction of new challenges, however with Knights of the Fallen Empire there will not be any new Operations.

With one sentence, BioWare struck a crippling blow to many raiding guilds in the game, but many of us have persevered too.  We still have no announcement regarding an expected time horizon for new end-game content, but guilds like mine have been trying to bring in new members and focusing on clearing old Operations that many of our members did not even attempt at their original level for varying reasons.

One of the biggest issues with the current state of end-game PVE though has been the persistent lack of Best-in-Slot (BiS) 224-rating gear drops in Nightmare Mode Operations.  The current state of Hard Mode Operations, including the new Priority Hard Mode each week, has allowed raid teams to largely gear up in 220-rating and 224-raiting gear by exclusively running the easiest Operations in the game repeatedly, specifically Eternity Vault and Karagga’s Palace.  I’ve cleared Hard Mode Eternity Vault during 4.0 with as few as six people in the group and received 224-rating gear for the effort because it was the Priority Hard Mode Operation just four weeks into 4.0 for some reason.  I’ve put a lot of effort into becoming a progression team DPS of reasonable quality but I’m far from elite, and this story can be found ad nauseum on Twitter from across the player base.

So while gear has been overly plentiful through the Priority Hard Mode mechanic, we have to choose between running Hard Mode Karagga’s Palace yet again this week for Best-in-Slot 224-rating gear, or go attempt Nightmare Mode Operations that are dropping only 220-rating gear.  The community has been clamoring since the very first day of early access for this to be fixed and for the statement made 151 days ago in that developer blog to be fulfilled:

Nightmare Mode will also be available for all the Operations that had it previously, and will reward the same as the highlighted Hard Mode, as well as the unique mounts and titles available currently.

And today, after 151 have passed since those words were originally disseminated to the player base in the middle of a disheartening announcement about an entire aspect of an MMO being left out of the largest expansion since this game launched, we have learned that there is in fact an issue with Nightmare Mode loot tables after all:

First, we discovered there is a bug with the percentage chance of a 224 rated item dropping in any of our Nightmare Operations. We plan to address this when we release Chapter 10 (Game Update 4.1) scheduled in February.

There are so many layers of agony in this brief quote.  First, the statement rings a bit hollow when you attach “discovery” to something that every member of the SWTOR raiding community has known for about six weeks.  However, fear not raid teams of SWTOR!  This known issue with the gear drops from the top end-game content (but not new end-game content remember) available in 4.0 will be resolved in approximately 8-10 weeks… seriously.

Let me be clear: it is a waste of time to fix this in February.  There is not a progression raid team in the game that will need 224-rating gear in February because of the ludicrous Priority Hard Mode system that’s been put in place.  I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be fixed, but it is nothing short of financial suicide to launch an expansion with zero new end-game PVE content, then introduce a new system that undercuts the gear progression aspect of the top tier of existing end-game PVE content, and put forth as a solution to fix the issue 16 weeks after the expansion went live.  Just let that soak in for a moment.

Now for the crescendo…

This statement [note: referencing quote before last] is in error and needs to be corrected. When running a Nightmare Operation, there is a chance that a 224 item can drop, but it is not a guaranteed drop like the highlighted Hard Mode is. Nightmare Mode Operations will still drop their unique mounts and titles, and once fixed there is a chance to get 224 gear from them. It is by design that the best and most consistent way to gear up in Operations is to run the highlighted Hard Mode each week. Although they did certainly want to make sure there was a chance for greater reward from Nightmare!

That’s right.  The fix that will be put in place 8-10 weeks from now will not actually return the Nightmare Mode gear drops to their logical gear rating.  Nor will it return the Nightmare Mode gear drops to what was written 151 days ago, because apparently one of the most talked about and despised developer blogs in the lead up to Knights of the Fallen Empire contained a typo.  Nightmare Mode Operations were apparently never intended to drop better gear than Priority Hard Mode Operations each week.

There’s no typo here, you read that right… The top tier Operations in the game, albeit recycled content from prior game updates, are by design supposed to drop inferior gear to operations like Hard Mode Karagga’s Palace and Hard Mode Eternity Vault that were being cleared on the first day of early access by teams with less than 8 players in them with gear from the prior content cycle.

This is not end-game progression.

This is an embarrassment that will decimate the game.

 

And the salt in the wound is the fact that it is apparently just a typo from 151 days ago, which is approximately how long the Nightmare Mode Operations will have been broken by the time they are “fixed” as well. At least they are consistent.

Conclusion

I needed to put some of these things in writing because it’s the only avenue I have to help process so much disappointment in a game that I care about so much.  Let me reiterate that I will play this game until another Star Wars MMO becomes a reality or the SWTOR servers are turned off.  I am not saying I’m unsubscribing because that isn’t the case.  I am not saying that everyone who plays the game shares my perspective, because that’s not the case.  I am saying that I see an iceberg and I don’t want to be one of the people taking a screenshot of my characters as the servers go offline because there’s not enough revenue left to support the game.  We don’t have to hit the iceberg, but BioWare is the one at the wheel.  I’d like to wake up from this bad dream where no one hears my screams warning of the iceberg ahead.

Andrew

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24 thoughts on “The 151 Day Typo

  1. I would hardly consider their current model to be financial suicide.

    1. Release an update a couple months before a hype-rejuvenating movie comes out.
    2. Oncy hype is dying down, launch double xp for two weeks coinciding with movie release to draw in new/returning players
    3. Once hype from THAT dies down launch the next update coinciding with a consistent subscription program to fund development up to the next expansion.

    Hardcore raiders, or raiders in general, tend not to constitute a large portion of the player base. For every one who has already cleared karagga’s palace there are probably ten who have never been inside. That passion for end game content can’t really be monetized, but conveniently timed updates and events can ensure they are able to coast on the strength of the IP for at least another year.

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    • There are around 190,000~ characters being recorded in Star Parse every week for raiding as of the new expansion. Not everyone uses the logger, or will have it loaded for every raid that they do. Even when you discount that many raiders are going on multiple raids a week [three characters per account], that’s still ~60,000 players that are using a third party program for raiding. I feel like there’s far more people that do the end game operations that people believe.

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      • The sad thing is, he’s going to be right soon enough. My prog raiding guild folded, then the one my partner and I formed after that also folded, and then the one we moved to folded. There are less and less “serious” raiders in this game every day because it’s a waste of our time and money. Casual players that want a pretty dress up box and a pretty interactive movie and don’t care about due content for a fair subscription price are cheaper and easier to accommodate on a skeleton staff and budget.

        I’ve been with this game off and on since very early beta and honestly it’s an unrecognizable shell of what it used to be. I came back to it from WoW because WoW was starting to edge down the linear quest, cutscene heavy, endgame content deprived route with WoD, and then KOTFE was released and I could have cried. I wish I knew what the MMORPG developer communities as a whole were thinking at the moment, because they sure aren’t focusing on their hardcore/progression/competitive raiding and pvp communities anymore. And I find that baffling since we’re the ones that stick with a game for the long haul, do the beta testing from a technical outlook, and, well, play an MMORPG as an MMORPG rather than a very large virtual dress up box.

        I guess it’s all dollars, it’s easier and cheaper to play the game for an audience that *wants* to be spoon fed, than to put in the hard yards designing an actual game with actual content for a bunch of “entitled” people who want an actual game to actually play themselves, that they are actually paying good money for…

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    • Monetizing end-game is why there’s a subscription, that’s the issue. They want the subscription revenue model without the content it was created to support. Normally you pay for story with one-time expac buy, sub pays for end-game.

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  2. First off, I fundamentally agree that offering inferior rewards from more challenging content is an odd and bad design choice. Still, I understand their desire to train players to run the spotlight HM for the best gear, especially knowing that there is no further NiM content to come…ever. The obvious solution is simply to offer equivalent rewards from NiM content as well as spotlight HM content, which is coincidentally what their initial post insinuated.

    That said, I think there is an aspect to their monetization strategy that you are glossing over. That is, I don’t think it is difficult to come up with a set of assumptions that validates the complete lack of focus on all things Operations and suggests a healthy game. The assumptions are simply:

    – A minority of players routinely engage in Operations: I had heard indirectly from a BioWare Dev that something like 70% of players had NEVER set foot in an Operation. This implies a very small minority who routinely raid. In other words, we assume that BioWare doesn’t care at all about the Operations-focused players.

    – The vast majority of players play this game for story and do so at a surprisingly slow rate. Going back to launch, I know BioWare was surprised by the initial surge to get to end game. I presume this knowledge was based on their expertise in RPG development. That is, they knew what THEIR typical RPG player looked like. Thus, we now assume these players are the vast majority of the player base. Players, who only consume 2-3 hours of content per week, but are loyal of subs, are a very attractive segment for BioWare to serve due to their higher profitability.

    – The added factor, which is much harder to measure, is the additional revenue players generate due to the Cartel Market. To be clear, I am talking about those who have purchased Cartel Coins with real world money, not people who have a lot of coins from refer-a-friend links. We have no way of knowing the actual spending habits of players and which segment the fall into. (More on this later.) Still, let’s assume – holding all else equal – the story-centric player is more likely to spend additional $ even though they only play 2-3 hours per week. Potentially, this makes sense as the reason they are only able to play 2-3 hours per week is because they are too busy with RL stuff like a well-paying job.

    – As players, I feel we struggle to understand ALL of the factors that lead player satisfaction or dissatisfaction, and what thresholds we individually have to change our behavior. For example, I’ve heard you say that you’ll be here till the bitter end; I will too. Within my raid group, we lament the lack of PvE content. However, several in my group are avid PvPers so as PvE becomes stagnant they are more likely to play PvP to fill the time. Similarly, while I prefer raiding there are still other things I aspire to do in this game, like finish all class stories. Thus, the assumption we make here is that even within the small minority of players who do raid, an even smaller minority exclusively raid and are likely to quit because of no focus on Operations.

    Given the actual data, we could build a regression model that considers all of these factors that influence subscriber behavior. Absent this, building a spreadsheet model putting actual numbers behind the assumptions I outlined would probably be very illuminating. To be clear, I’m not saying my assumptions are absolutely accurate, just that they are distinctly possible.

    All of this said, what concerns me is that their strategy seems to be:
    – Acquire new story-centric players
    – Lock them into to long-term subscriptions by offering compelling rewards

    I believe this leads to a game that is vastly different than the game I currently know so maybe I won’t be here till the bitter end. (This mainly looks like a game with little to no group content.)

    Finally (although worthy of an equally long rant), their Cartel Market strategy appears to be changing or rather because they have now increased the relative value of subscribing I suspect their revenue from the Cartel Market has dwindled. This concerns me as I suspect a very, very small percent of players spent a lot on Cartel Coins. In essence, a whale of a player might have been worth 10+ regular subscribers, but now this revenue stream seems to not be what it once was.

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    • That’s a lot, worthy of a guest post instead of a comment!

      You make good points, but I still don’t see a viable financial model for the game as you outline. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m yet to find a precedent for it. The closest thing to a precedent would be long-term subscribers to this game, but the quality and depth of the story content has been steadily decreasing since the original class stories and planet stories, so even that is a loose fit.

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      • I think that’s the thing really exciting/worrying about (what I perceive) SWTOR’s strategy to be: there isn’t a precedent.

        As far as a viable revenue model, I’m really not sure. I suspect the re-emphasis of subscriptions is how they hope to offset the loss in Cartel Market revenue. While I suspect the Cartel Market is generally fine, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had dipped by as much as ~10%. Thus, they don’t need a tremendous amount of new subs to offset this.

        Fundamentally, the thing I have taken away from all of BioWare’s actions over the past year is that they don’t value me enough as a subscriber. Or, more precisely my behaviors aren’t indicative of enough of the playerbase. Despite having spent numerous hours testing on the PTS, writing numerous guides and contributing in other ways to the broader SWTOR community, investing thousands of hours in this game since launch, and having spent thousands of dollars on the Cartel Market, I am not a player the seem interested in satisfying.

        Honestly, I am pretty indifferent to the subscription cost so perhaps they are the smart ones because it’s pretty unlikely any single issue like this will cause me to unsub even if my engagement with the game and community wanes.

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        • We have very similar customer profiles. My Cartel Coin spending in the past 12 months is about $2,000 compared to subscription cost of about $150, so the former is a much bigger loss to them and I’ve ceased spending money there.

          The impact of their decisions on the community are what they seem horrifyingly indifferent to. A website like dulfy.net was created for Ops guides and class guides, without end-game content what fan sites will exist? Who will podcast or blog or theory craft? I might play and might even subscribe, but if I start listening to other podcasts it opens me up to new games I might not have even considered if I was listening to exclusively SWTOR podcasts.

          The carry-on effects of their decisions seem to have no impact on those decisions. I just don’t see a viable financial model on their current path and will be shocked if EA’s next SEC filings don’t already show a large drop in subscribers.

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          • I completely agree with this. Their decisions and actions do not suggest that they want a thriving and involved community. Or rather that they are willing to ostracize what I perceive to be a very involved portion of the community. Since I’m a member of this portion of the community I find it particularly disappointing.

            On the topic of EA’s concern about the game, I do wonder how much money SWTOR specifically contributes. I’ve never dug into their financials, but I suspect it isn’t much. Have you been able to estimate the significance of it? Said another way considering Candy Crush averaged DAILY revenue of $5M a few years back, I suspect regardless of its profitability level EA is more concerned about finding a revenue stream like this rather than optimizing whatever is in its current portfolio.

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      • Also, don’t get me wrong in any post I am not defending BioWare, nor am I condoning their course of action. I am merely trying to offer additional points so that we may better understand it.

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    • My experience with guildies has also shown that a small portion of players devote a lot of money into the CM while mostly others sparingly use their monthly CCs or just buy off the GTN directly.

      As for their normal player-base consuming the story at a snail’s pace… my experience with both Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age Inquisition wasn’t like that. I would play a few hours every day but mainly due to real life restrictions. SWTOR launched during the holidays. Kids are off school and adults are on vacation or soon to be. They have the opportunity to devote a ton of time to the game and knock out their first class story. I am very curious to see if the initial adopters played through the other class stories or just stopped at one. Bioware was really depending on their multiple class stories to keep players around. End-game certainly wasn’t there at launch. PvP was unbalanced but OK, but definitely not the focus.

      I find it interesting that the game started out with 8 class stories, converged to 2 faction stories with RotHC, and finally ended up with 1 story for SoR (with 1 class mission) and KotFE (no story impact due to class). Definitely due to resources, but does imply to me that Bioware figured out that normal players weren’t going through all their class stories

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        • I go back and forth on this. Alex’s interview here fills me with confidence: http://www.swtornetwork.com/news/interview-with-bioware-stats-and-game-design-decisions/

          As does their recent hirings of big-name writers. Still, I have been in enough strategy meetings where people can find data to tell the story they want to tell. And, given the apparent autonomy BioWare Austin has with this game as well as what I presume is a pretty well defined and well understood cash flow I don’t imagine any of the more business savvy individuals who might suggest a different course of action for the game really care nor are they informed well enough.

          In other words, SWTOR’s going OK and, more importantly, its hitting the targets/expectations the studio set for it. It probably could be going better, but no one in a position to change its direction knows enough of what’s wrong or cares enough to do so.

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      • I suspect there is a small portion of people who spent a disproportionate amount on the Cartel Market. I do wonder if there is some correlation between people’s likelihood to buy Cartel Coins and any other measurable metric, such as: subscription length, weekly engagement, played content, etc.

        If I had to guess the only significant factor would be subscription length or some proxy for engagement. That is, I suspect someone who has been subscribed for more than 12 months is more likely to spend on Cartel Coins than someone who has been here 1 month. Assuming their strat (based on my earlier post) is to acquire new subs and lock them into long-term contracts, they are artificially increasing the number of players in this ideal segment. While I doubt this would work, it may.

        To reiterate my understanding of BioWare’s misunderstanding of their subs at launch. I believe BioWare thought that MMOers would be more than happy to go play another class/character rather than continue to play the same one they had. In other words, they expected higher replay value. Plus, they thought people would watch cut scenes and do ALL of the quests.

        Obviously, there will always be difference in how people consume content. Thus, I suppose the point I was making is that assuming we pay the same, BioWare would rather have the player who does NOT play 4+ per day as it is too costly to develop content to satisfy this market.

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        • I don’t disagree, but they’re fools if they don’t see the correlation between being willing to pay a monthly subscription and playing 4+ per day. They want the MMO revenue model without the MMO content creation model and that’s why it is not a viable financial model for the game (or any game).

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  3. I don’t PvE, so I don’t have a dog in this particular fight, but it’s a great illustration of how poorly BW’s designers understand their game. Admittedly it’s a very complex game, but let’s revisit some highlights:

    Remember how Crit was useless for essentially every spec for all of 2.0? I cannot believe this was intentional, not least because they left Crit on supposedly BiS token and PvP gear.

    Remember how the the weekly goal is lower in the crafting-focused conquests than the regular ones? They clearly had no clue that crafting was by far the easiest and most prolific source of points in the conquest system they designed, and it took them until 4.0 (over a year!) to implement a trivial fix.

    There’s also the ongoing companion redesign disaster, which at least they are working on.

    It seems like their goal with gear in 4.0 is to make the BiS gear hard to get so that they can string people out playing the old Ops for a while. However they clearly have no clue how relatively easy KP and EV are, so they keep making them the priority Op. The alternative is that they are deliberately trying to make HM more rewarding than NiM which I find hard to believe.

    I guess it’s not surprising these things get missed in the limited pre-release testing, what is surprising to me is how long it takes for seemingly simple fixes to be implemented.

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  4. Pingback: OotiniCast Episode 238 - OotiniCast | A Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) podcast

  5. With the way things are going with SWTOR my guess is that they won’t have the money to finish off all the chapters of KOTFE and the servers will get shut off late one night. We will see a tweet about the game being closed for good sometime in the late afternoon the next day. “Oh, BTW we are all working on this new project, come check it out!” will be Musco’s tweet on his personal page.

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