Should Vanguard Go F2P?

This started as a comments discussion on The Ancient Gaming Noob’s page about EQ2’s move to F2P, and is quickly expanding.  And my general rule is: your blog, you get the last word.  Its a reasonable assumption, and I think Wilhelm made his points well.  But I want to continue to expand my thoughts on the subject.  And here, I get the last word! Bwahaha!

@HZ – But you’re missing the point. That there is little in the way of downside is nice, but there is no real pay off likely for investing in Vanguard. And without a pay off, what is the point?

Do you really believe that if Vanguard went to this new model, that it would attract enough new players to not only pay for all the work and additional overhead, but would also make a profit on top of that.

…Vanguard, like a lot of games, has a small, loyal following, but it is never going to have more than that. Be happy that SOE keeps it alive at all.

…The game is not poised for success, lacking only in customers. It is a basket case and, having gone back to play it again in April, it still feels about like it did on day one.*

I don’t really care at this point whether or not Sony keeps it or tosses it, because I’m not a subscriber, and I won’t be unless something changes.  Not that I hate Vanguard (there’s few, okay, maybe no MMO’s that I just plain hate) but its not worth $15 a month – primarily because of the lack of playerbase.  This was, as I see it, the same problem that DDO faced before it went F2P.

Basically the quote above makes three assumptions to reach its conclusion.  We’ll take them one at a time:

Assumption #1:  Transitioning Vanguard to F2P requires a significant investment of time, money, and energy.

I believe this is a false assumption.  What resources are needed to make Vanguard F2P?  We can be reasonably certain that Sony did not decide to make the jump to F2P for EQ2 until they saw the success of DDO.  And DDO’s success was not certain until signaled by Turbines willingness to move LotRO to F2P.  That move came less than two months ago – and EQ2 F2P is already up and running as an Alpha, with Beta coming in 3 weeks time.  If Sony can roll out an entire reboot of EQ2 in that time period, there can be no real argument for what little work would need to go into Vanguard.  Even with far less developers supporting it!

Assumption #2:  Sony would only undertake this venture if it guarenteed profitability for Vanguard

The game is on the ropes, and we all know that.  Current players on the official forums have noted that the game has even less developer support than Matrix Online did before they axed it.  It looks like there may soon be a server merge down to one server, etc.  But Sony – well, say what you will about them, they have a long history of keeping games afloat long after their profitability has passed as a gift to gamers.  A good example would be EQOA.  The PS2 variant of Everquest that I cut my MMO teeth on in 2003 is still up, running, and live.  You cannot in any way convince me that there are enough people there for the game to be profitable, yet it trudges onwards.  So what does Sony have to lose in Vanguard by making a change?  Is it somehow possible that Vanguard would make *less* money if it went F2P?  I can’t imagine that it would.  And even if it did – Sony is already losing money on it, so, what’s the big deal?

Assumption #3:  Vanguard is still only a half-completed game, without the polish and content of DDO

Whew.  I’m not sure what to do with this one.  It was buggy at times when I last played, which was GU #4, but that was over two years ago, and even then, it wasn’t buggy enough that I cancelled my sub because of it, and I CTD more often in EVE than I ever did in Vanguard…

As for content – the one thing I never lacked for in Vanguard was content.  Our little group of three actually was divided for awhile on what content we should be tackling because we had so many choices.  Some of the dungeons, in particular the outdoors one for level ~15 on Qalia, was magnificent.  And you already have prebuilt avenues for revenue in the game – player owned housing, player owned boats, flying mounts, etc.  Each continent is really self contained for quests, etc.  So you could even limit the game that way as well.

So I cannot in any way characterize the game as a basket case.  It works, it works well, and its fun to play and gorgeous to look at.  Furthermore, I can’t imagine that DDO was “poised for success” when it went F2P.  The complaints about DDO were numerous and serious enough that its one of the only major MMO’s that I’ve never tried even on a trial basis!  Amazing isn’t it how those complaints were reduced in light of opening the gates for free play?  We can easily blow downsides out of proportion when we can’t find ways to work around them or live with them – and that can only happen if you are playing the game.  With Vanguards content and player options, I would think there would be enough upside there to entice players into at trying it – not unlike many people’s feelings about DDO when it made this transition.

Bottom Line:  I don’t buy into the assumptions.

I think there are some reasons why Sony decided not to go F2P with Vanguard – probably biggest among them being whatever Live Gamers contract they had for the Exchange in Vanguard.  Perhaps they are still thinking that the games hardware requirements are too steep to intice a large audience.  This may have some truth to it, but I think the game’s requirements are no longer as steep as they once were, given the advances in graphics and core processors in the last couple of years.   But I could still respect that as a legitimate concern in the process.

I think another reason is that Sony didn’t feel like they needed to test the waters, because they felt Turbine had already done this for them.  So they went ahead and jumped in the deep end of the F2P pool.  That may come back to haunt them later on.  Ultimately though I think that this is an issue of corporate shortsightedness.  There is nothing to be lost really by making Vanguard F2P, but they don’t think they will lose anything from EQ2 either.  That too, may be problematic.  Why?

From my viewpoint this is kind of a loss for Sony.  Their flagship game, that I have spent over $100 on this year just made a move that will insure that I don’t spend any money on it next year.  While their game that I would enjoy shelling out for a silver membership + some cash shop upgrades continues to remain out of reach.  The loss for Sony is our gain though, for the time being.  I fully intend to play the heck out of a free EQ2 this fall.  And who knows, maybe if  successful, it will entice them to open up Vanguard as well.

* TAGN is one of my favorite bloggers.  I’ve used his comments as a jumping off point for this post, but I have respect for him and do not intend this as a personal attack.

7 thoughts on “Should Vanguard Go F2P?

  1. We Disagree on point one, but I think you missed an additional aspect to this. Any company with talented people and an ounce of vision can always come up with more good ideas than they can possibly fund and accomplish.

    So it isn’t just a matter of how much time it would cost to do this for Vanguard, but what else would they not be doing. SOE, unlike Turbine, has a lot of projects going and a number of games that are more profitable, or potentially more profitable, than Vanguard. SOE’s behavior over the last year indicates that their own interest in Vanguard is low relative to other projects, so that no matter the cost (which neither you nor I can estimate), the likelihood of them starting any new initiative for Vanguard seems pretty pretty low as well.

    And, while we’re here, expense is more than just the time an engineer needs to implement. There has to be a major marketing campaign to launch a revenue model change like this and to sustain it over time. There is a big dollar commitment in that. Would SOE be willing to put down that money for Vanguard? Or would they rather go with their flagship product?

    I’m not sure where you’re head is on assumption 2, but what other incentive would there to be to do this unless it made the game more money? And not just a bit more, but enough more to cover the work, the marketing, and show a good return on those investments. Any business that doesn’t think like that doesn’t stay in business. We’ve seen SOE close down MxO, so I’m pretty sure that they’re in a state of mind these days to not hand out charity any more. Buying Vanguard made no sense back then, but SOE has changed bosses since. And SCEA is a lot more focused on games and the bottom line than the Sony Pictures group that SOE used to report to.

    Finally on this point, part of this exercise is to measure the viability of the model of converting a subscription MMO to F2P. Just because DDO succeeded does not mean it is an automatic, universal good idea, nor does it mean any company can pull it off. Every company has its own internal issues that make things come out different. Vanguard, with its history, size, system requirements, and low population does not make the best incubator for this experiment. This is the make or break experiment for SOE. If it turns out to be a total win, I could see, maybe, Vanguard getting this model at some future point. But to be the lead project for it, no. As you said, there isn’t much to lose on it, but the upside is also too small.

    On assumption 3, that is not exactly what I said. I said that SOE did not get a finished product to start adding content to when they bought it. They spent the first year mostly fixing the game and new content thus came slowly. That content is still a far cry from what EQ2 or EQ offers, so if content is a decision item, Vanguard loses.

    Polish, which you mentioned… well… I’m sticking with Vanguard losing on that front relative to almost any game that would be seen as a competitor.

    Content is not just an abundance of landmass with encounters strewn about it. Vanguard exists in a world where it must compete with EQ, EQ2, WoW, LOTRO, DDO, and a whole pile of F2P games and the expectations those games set. When I was back there rolling up a new character in April, the game really felt rough. It needs a lot of work on things like an engaging new player experience. It needs a better map. It needs to be a smaller download. It needs less hideous character models. It needs to look better at reasonable graphical settings. Frankly, it needs less races. The game reflects a jumble of ideas that Brad McQuaid thought were important, the essential one being that whole “hardcore” view of the world.

    But that all goes back to points one and two. If you’re going to bother to invest, you had better invest for for success. There is no point in doing it half-assed if that assures failure, and failure is getting anything less than a good return on your time and effort.

    SOE has a reasonable chance of success with EQ2. I would contend that it does not have anything like a reasonable chance of success with Vanguard.

    (And, as you said, this isn’t any sort of attack, but an attempt to get the ideas around this out to discuss. It is an interesting topic and gives a lot to think on.)

    1. Re: point 1 comments. I do concede what you are saying about investing resources. But that was because I assumed SOE would not allocate any additional resources beyond what is already in place, at least in terms of development teams. In terms of advertising, what are they doing with EQ2X beyond free press from Massively and space on their own websites? I don’t see them investing alot of extra cash in this venture (EQ2X) either. But you are right, we don’t have the numbers, so…

      Re: point 2 comments – I would say that SOE is not concerned about bottom line. They have 3 major MMO’s at this point costing them money, they were in the red last fiscal year – and yet they did not close them down. Does that sound like a bottom line company? The real reason to do this is what you outlined above – going F2P is not auto-success. They should try it on a smaller scale first, and Vanguard provides that. Once it goes F2P, its competitors are 2nd rate pure F2P titles, LotRO (which while popular also has a huge “I hate it” base), and DDO (which is different enough to make one wonder what direct competition their might be). Now EQ2 has to compete against itself!

      Re: point 3 comments – I think I’m gonna have to shell out $15 and go back. I remember the game differently but it sounds like you’ve been in it more recently. I remember excellent character models, beautiful graphics on mid-range settings, etc. Maybe its time to see if nostalgia is clouding my vision!

      I conclude that SOE does have reasonable chance of success with EQ2, but that using Vanguard as a testbed would improve those chances, with little downside. Good discussion all around though. And I’ll also concede I’m mostly just be interested in this because of personal bias – I want Vanguard to be F2P, whether Sony gets anything out of it or not!

  2. Ghanur

    SOE does have real numbers on cash-shop activities for some time now – they are selling lots of items for EQ2 already.

    My guess is, they think those numbers are good enough to ‘risk’ going F2P.

    Vanguard, on the other hand, seems to have a far to low a customer base to be a viable F2P/Cash-Shop game.

    1. If I’m reading that right, it seems like we were both correct. Management and developers want a spark of life for the game, but acknowledge they are not willing to invest the resources. Developers and players believe that going F2P would provide that spark and think that given the state the game, there isn’t that much to lose by trying. And of course, management will win that argument. ::sigh::

  3. The only real problem I ever found with Vanguard after the first few months was the low population. If that problem was corrected, I’d go back in a heartbeat.

    As it is, however, Vanguard is a game on life support, regardless of what Smedley says.

    1. Riceman, I’d have to agree. If a game is not on life support, you have devs working on it. If you don’t have devs working on it, its on life support, whether its making money or not.

      My experience in Vanguard jives with your own. I am planning on a station pass in the next month or two – I want to see if the server merges have had an impact and if I can find a group to run with.

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