Per-Player Revenue (ARPU) for MMOs


Yesterday SuperData Research posted the monthly ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) for 10 major MMO free-to-play (F2P) titles.

ARPU for 10 Major MMO Titles, per SuperData Research

It’s a fascinating article. What jumps out to me is that the ARPU’s are significantly less than a monthly subscription of $15 – the closest was World of Tanks (WoT) at 30% of that amount.

My guildee Sujitsu tweeted a hilarious set of conclusions based on the above table:

As CrossleyColor tweeted, Guild Wars 2 (GW2) is technically not a pure F2P game, given that it’s buy-to-play (B2P). The $3.88 figure for GW2 is probably based on post-purchase spending, because the $60 purchase price would jack up the monthly ARPU.

One of the big questions raised in the article is whether it’s best to go for quantity of players versus ARPU. Of course, in an ideal situation, the answer is both. To date, World of Warcraft (WoW) is really the only title that has had both a high active player base (7+ MM) and high ARPU ($100+ annually). Although I believe that the WoW phenomenon is not reproducible for a new MMO, by Blizzard or anyone else, as the market has evolved and shifted dramatically over the past decade.

League of Legends (LoL) has been enormously successful at scaling its player base, so even though Riot Games is #10 in the list, they’re generating significant revenue and the industry consensus is that they are killing it in terms of profitable growth. It is interesting that the $1.32 in monthly revenue per active player must be sufficient to more than cover all the costs of doing business: game development, marketing, production environment hosting and bandwidth, etc. As TriumphSP tweeted, this article didn’t provide those costs.

GW2 is in the top 3, and I credit ArenaNet for devising a monetization scheme that does not punish players who opt not to pay, after the initial purchase price. Both paying and non-paying customers have a positive experience in GW2.

I’m not at all surprised to see WoT top the list – Wargaming has done a very savvy job of designing game mechanics that incent players to fork over real money:

  • Easing the grind for new tanks
  • Developing crews that are highly skilled
  • Acquiring a monthly subscription for 50% higher income and experience
  • Sadly, being able to pay for bullets that are superior at armor-piercing, and while these can be paid for with in-game credits, the extent to which you can accumulate in-game credits tends to be correlated with how much real money you spend

Any F2P developer designing their monetization schemes should take a long look at what Wargaming has done, because many of the above concepts could be modified and applied to non-shooter games.

The WoT community often strongly defends WoT as a high skill-cap game – which I agree with – and that it is not Pay-to-Win (P2W), but the reality is paying real money does provide advantage relative to non-paying players.

I will confess that I’m what the gaming and casino industries classify as a “whale” – I’m in the low single-digit percentage of customers who accounts for 90+% of the revenue. I’ve been averaging over $30 per month playing WoT. As a full-time working stiff, spending the money is worth it to me to ease the grind. After the initial purchase $60 purchase price for GW2, I averaged over $10 per month, mostly to buy gems to sell for in-game currency to pay for gear-related improvements.

How much do you spent on a monthly basis on your F2P MMOs?

EDIT (2014/04/12): fixed mistakes, per Brian Green’s comment.

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Posted in Business Analysis, Guild Wars 2, League of Legends, World of Tanks

You Tell Me: Is Elder Scrolls Online Must-Play, Should-Play, or Pass?


I lasted all of one hour, if that, in the Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) Beta.

Simply put, I disliked the UI, I didn’t like the feel of the combat, and the experience seemed disconnected from other players. It was the worst first impression of an MMORPG that I had since Age of Wushu, and that’s really saying something. It turns out that a lot of others players had the same initial reaction to ESO.

For context, I didn’t play Skyrim or any of the Elder Scrolls games, so I have neither an attachment nor an opinion on the IP.

Over the past 2 years I have been extremely selective about which games I play, because:

  1. I’ve been disappointed with a lot of the games in MMORPG space since 2008
  2. My free time is limited – my job as a digital product manager has kept me busy in RL
  3. I tend to stick with games I enjoy and find challenging. Over the past year the game that has kept me most entertained has been World of Tanks (WoT), because it is a high skill-cap PVP game, and Guild Wars 2 (GW2)

I don’t want to waste my time on games that I don’t think are going to stick, for me or the community. I’ve found that it’s useless to be the last person on the island (e.g. with WAR), when most of your guildees and friends have moved on. Therefore, I have passed on a lot of recent games, e.g. PlanetSide 2, Defiance, Neverwinter, Final Fantasy XIV, etc.

I played WildStar Beta a bit, leveling a Medic, Warrior, and Stalker to about level 6-7, to get a feel for the basic game and combat mechanics, and I had a solid impression of that game. So based on my (limited) Beta experiences, my plan has been to pass on ESO and play WildStar.

There was a recent post on Massively that made me wonder whether that plan makes sense:

As I have found playing both ESO and Wildstar up to level 12 now:

Wildstar is animation-savvy and artistically appealing, so the game makes a strong first impression…  then, for people like me, the shine wears off within hours and the actual gameplay becomes a chore. With ESO, its struggle to both maintain and diverge from an Elder Scrolls formula, along with its animations (and the awful tutorial zone) makes a very weak impression out of the gate, but once you get to the main game world, you discover 50 new interesting things every hour and they never stop coming, and the world starts to feel alive and even bountiful

Wildstar delivers a great first impression but falters. ESO stumbles first and excels second.

I keep hearing on social media that Cyrodil RVR/PVP is fantastic, and the build customization for characters is really high. So you tell me, is ESO a must-play game, should-play, or a game I should pass on, given what you know about my preferences: love PVP, PVE is fun only if it’s meaningfully challenging.

P.S. When I took a break from WoT in November, my WN8 rating for my last 1000 battles was at 2349 – literally 1 point under the “Unicum” threshold, which represents the cream of the crop statistically.

Over the past 2 months I’ve been averaging a WN8 rating of 2600+, and my account WN8 rating is closing in on 2000. It’s satisfying to know I can play at a Unicum level without ever having used premium ammo (aka gold ammo).

Taugrim's WoT WN8 Rating per WotLabs

Taugrim’s WoT WN8 Rating per WotLabs

If you have WoT installed, you can download my replays. Onward, upwards!

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Posted in Elder Scrolls Online, Game Design, Guild Wars 2, PVP, WildStar, World of Tanks

What is the One Thing You’d Change in Your Favorite MMO?


What is the one thing you’d change in your favorite MMO?

Here’s my take for 2 excellent games I played over the past year: World of Tanks (WoT) and Guild Wars 2 (GW2).

What I’d change in World of Tanks

I’d remove “premium ammo” from the game.

WoT has game mechanics which collectively create a high skill cap – player skill truly matters. One of the most important game mechanics is penetration, i.e. piercing the armor of a target to deal HP damage. Unfortunately, the use of premium ammo trivializes penetration.

Take for example an IS-4 firing at another IS-4, with the target tank properly angled to minimize the probability of penetration. Here are the heatmaps, one with premium ammo and the other with normal ammo:

Penetration heatmap for an IS-4 firing at an IS-4 with normal mmo

Penetration heatmap for an IS-4 firing at an IS-4 with normal mmo

Penetration heatmap for an IS-4 firing at an IS-4 with with premium mmo

Penetration heatmap for an IS-4 firing at an IS-4 with with premium mmo

As you can see, with premium ammo makes penetration easy-mode (the target’s armor is green), because the penetration value is 82 points higher (340 vs 258).

Let’s consider another example: a T-62A firing at an IS-4. The penetration differential between premium and normal ammo for a T-62A is 66 (330 vs 264).

Penetration heatmap for a T-62A firing at an IS-4 with normal mmo

Penetration heatmap for a T-62A firing at an IS-4 with normal mmo

Penetration heatmap for a T-62A firing at an IS-4 with premium mmo

Penetration heatmap for a T-62A firing at an IS-4 with premium mmo

Even with a lower penetration differential of 66 instead of 82, it’s still clear that firing premium ammo trivializes penetration.

I’ve been able to tell the difference in penetration even with differentials around 20, and premium ammo tends to provide an increase of 60+. One category of premium ammo (ACPR) is supposed to have more penetration decay over distance than AP ammo, but net-net is that premium ammo is still win. StranaMechty provided a detailed analysis on decay based on the game’s configuration data.

Some veteran players try to justify the presence of premium ammo by pointing out that it’s purchaseable with in-game currency, whereas it used to be purchaseable only with gold, i.e. real money. While that is true, for the following situations, a player may not be able to afford much or any premium ammo

  • The player is not paying for a premium subscription, which costs real money
  • The player has not purchased a premium tank, which costs real money
  • The player is newer to the game (< 5000 battles) and is saving money to buy new tanks and new equipment

Simply put, the presence of premium ammo favors paying customers and veteran players. Veterans already have the benefit of experience, and that’s enough of an advantage in a high skill cap game.

What I’d change in Guild Wars 2

I’d scrap the endgame gear system and acquisition.

The process of acquiring one full set of Ascended gear for one character is grindy as heck. The irony is that GW2 was positioned as having no gear treadmill pre-launch in the memorable ArenaNet blog article Is It Fun (bold emphasis mine):

When your game systems are designed to achieve the prime motivation of a subscription-based MMO…the best stat gear requiring crazy amounts of time to earn, etc.

Fun impacts loot collection. The rarest items in the game are not more powerful than other items, so you don’t need them to be the best. The rarest items have unique looks to help your character feel that sense of accomplishment, but it’s not required to play the game. We don’t need to make mandatory gear treadmills, we make all of it optional, so those who find it fun to chase this prestigious gear can do so, but those who don’t are just as powerful and get to have fun too.

There is no simple fix unfortunately. Ascended gear is deeply embedded in the game’s crafting, rewards for daily/weekly/monthly quests, and Fractals.

In my opinion, AN has been trying to solve for keeping players actively engaged and playing on a consistent basis. When player activity began to drop in the months after launch, my guess is that AN had a kneejerk reaction and Ascended gear was introduced into the game.

The underlying problem is that GW2 launched without meaningful horizontal progression at endgame, the kinds of things I’ve been talking about on this blog (Why Games Should Scale Horizontally Instead of Vertically and Why PVE Content Shouldn’t Be a Coral Reef), and as a result players complained about the lack of progression. And so we now have Ascended gear.

Players debate the value of Ascended gear over Exotic gear, but the general consensus is that Ascended gear provides a 5% increase in stats, with the weapons providing a larger benefit due to the increased weapon damage. Skilled players I’ve talked to in [oPP] (OverPowered People, a WvW guild on Blackgate) have told me that they believe it makes a noticeable difference, and that makes intuitive sense to me.

So that’s my take. What would you change in your favorite MMOs?

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Posted in Game Design, Guild Wars 2, PVP, WildStar, World of Tanks

Stranger Than Fiction: The Ouster and Possible Return of the CEO of Red 5 Studios


Back in October, a reader suggested I check out Firefall, an open world MMO shooter. At the time my curiosity with shooters had picked up after playing the pseudo-shooter World of Tanks. I spent a few hours playing Firefall but lost interest as there didn’t seem to be much to do. These days, if a game isn’t compelling to me from the get-go, I don’t invest more time in it. The juice isn’t worth the squeeze.

What I didn’t know was the history of the game and the nutty things going on inside Firefall’s developer, Red 5 Studios. Last month, a Red 5 employee took to Reddit to post a richly detailed post on why the CEO was removed by Red 5.

Among the many gems in that thread were tidbits like this:

Red 5 staff was informed about PvP being cut through the same forum thread the players were

The whole Reddit thread and comments are worth reading, even if you have no interest in Firefall or Red 5. I find it fascinating that so much time/money was spent on things that weren’t meaningfully aligned with advancing Firefall or the game development capabilities of the studio.

One insight I gleaned from the thread is that GlassDoor.com is a good resource to hear what employees think of their company. (I’ve previously used it for compensation benchmarking.) Granted, as with any online reviews you have to take what the reviewers say with a grain of salt.

The story doesn’t end there. The former CEO tweeted this today:

Crazy stuff!

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Posted in Business Analysis, Firefall, Game Design

Belated Happy 2014 to Y’all


Prior to today, I hadn’t posted an article in months, and I’ve been mulling over a change in blogging philosophy.

My tendency with writing is to wait until I have specific insights and detailed thoughts that I want to share, e.g. my articles on game mechanics such as Why PVE Content Shouldn’t be a Coral Reef and class-specific guides such as my M*A*S*H melee healing cleric for RIFT. This is reflection of my personality – I tend towards perfectionism and I strive to “add value” to the community.

That said, that style of blogging doesn’t mesh particularly well when I’m busy in real life and my free time is limited but there are gaming topics that I want to dialogue with y’all about. Therefore, I’m going to change my approach in 2014 and post shorter-length pieces. As I’ve always said, I get as much value and enjoyment out of hearing your opinions as I do in providing mine, so I look forward to hearing from you!

Cheers,
Taugrim

P.S. I realize the irony of this post, given the long-ass article on WildStar and Action Combat that preceded this one. :)

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Posted in Blog Musings
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