Vendetta Online's new Kickstarter Goal: a Free To Play tier.
Many opinions have swirled around our game since our recent elevation of profile in the gaming press, but none repeated more than the desire for Vendetta Online to be Free To Play.
As anyone familiar with our industry knows, there are challenges and trade-offs in moving from an existing subscription model to one with a different set of parameters. From the viewpoint of a small and independent game company, there is great risk if the subscriber revenue should drop off before another form of revenue appears to replace it. Of course, many benefits are also apparent, in the form of greater player counts, with a more lively and populous universe that results, along with potentially higher long-term revenues.
But perhaps the most singular risk is to the gameplay, the soul of any title. Games are a fragile thing, a trust between player and designer. To allow players in a game of chess to simply buy all the pieces they desire would shatter this trust and gut the whole notion of the game itself.
In some corners it is argued that we must accept this new reality, that our MMOs must be designed more as an extension of monetization metrics than for the sake of the actual gameplay. This has never sat well with me; I design for what I want to play, and an experience peppered with carefully positioned opportunities to spend money is not one I desire. Nor do the mechanics or results of Paying To Win fit within my game-view. Many of us seek these games as a means of escape, and little violates that like the pervasive artificiality of monetization, or direct gameplay advantages granted by an opponent's larger financial outlay.
Thus, we may look for a middle path..
Vendetta Online with a Free To Play tier.
If our Kickstarter succeeds, we will offer a free-to-play access tier before the end of the year, following roughly this design:
- Subscribers will still exist, entitled to the best game experience without limitations, including unfettered access to all current and future "endgame" constructs (ownership of stations, capships and territory, guild creation/command, high military rank, etc).
- "Free To Play" characters will have a relatively low/mid level cap, and will be prevented from creating guilds or any of the other endgame content mentioned above. For instance, within the upcoming RTS advancements in our battles, only subscribers would be able to hold command positions, while F2P players could not advance beyond lower enlisted ranks.
- Microtransactions, should they be added, would only be offered to F2P users. They would simply allow the F2P user to purchase access to equipment or features that would otherwise be available at their character level. Subscribers would have no such need, without any limitations on availability or level caps.
- Even with maximum use of purchasing power, F2P users would ultimately be capped well below that of subscribers, and would have no faster access to level or equipment, as their character level progress would not be impacted by purchasing power. Thus, subscribers will always have the best experience, as well as the entirely "level" playing field.
It's my hope that this will bring both groups of players the experience they want, within the same game universe at the same time. This is certainly not the optimal revenue strategy, but it's my hope that it will give us the best opportunity to evolve while retaining the desired game experience for everyone.
To emphasize one point from the above for the benefit of our existing players: the subscriber experience does not change versus what we have today. The only visible difference should be a greater population of players.
How Can the Kickstarter Help This?
As I mentioned earlier, it's very risky for a small, independent developer like ourselves to make a major paradigm shift in business model. The wrong misstep can sink a company and game. Having an additional block of capital, like that offered by this Kickstarter, could give us enough of a "bridge" to span drops in revenue from changes in player profile (subscribers becoming F2P, for instance) while we expand the player base and tweak the business model.
Why didn't the Kickstarter include this from the beginning?
Although we have been tentatively moving in this "tiered" direction for some time, I only budgeted the Kickstarter as just enough to give some certainty that I could deliver the gameplay changes promised for VO 1.9.
Using those funds both for that development, while also transitioning business models is a higher risk for us. But, given the feedback and expectations we've seen from today's player base as a result of the Kickstarter and Greenlight experience, I'm willing to give this a shot.
John "Incarnate" Bergman, Guild Software