So first off, I want to apologize for the lack of blog last week. I was writing the post while waiting for my car to finish up at the dealership using a blogging app designed by our hosting company. And when I went to look up the LCS schedule at the end to make my game recommendations, poof. My blog post disappeared from the face of the planet. Oh well. Enough crying about it, let's get down to business.
Ubisoft has a little problem on their hands.
If you remember back to E3 last year, one of the many games Ubisoft announced was a competitive PVP game called For Honor. It was a neat concept in that it had 3 different potential factions: Knights vs Samurai vs Vikings. It's a weird mashup of Team Deathmatch and something like Dynasty Warriors... human players run around and cut down a shit ton of weaker computer controlled enemies... and occasionally run into stronger player-controlled heroes. It's an interesting idea, and the trailers looked really promising.
The game released back on Valentine's Day and had a really great following. A bunch of people started streaming it and doing reviews. The press was really positive. Mechanics were solid. Champions were different and well balanced. And most importantly, the game seemed to be fun. If you're curious, here's a "First Impressions video" from a YouTuber who does a lot of great MMO-style game videos.
But by the beginning of March, the game had lost over 50% of its player base (according to the number of concurrent players on Steam). So what the fuck happened? Well, some of it was the normal things that can plague games. Connection issues. Cheaters abusing all kinds of bugs. And an oddly large number of people AFK farming in matches. But a much larger monster was lurking below the surface, and it has reared its very ugly head.
That word alone can be enough to make a lot of gamers cringe. Depending on how they're handled by a developer/publisher can totally ruin a game experience if mishandled. After all, the abuse of microtransactions are pretty much single handedly what puts off a lot of gamers from checking out and trying Free-2-Play games. For every game like League of Legends that does microtransactions well, there are dozens and dozens of "Pay-2-Win" games that erode gamer trust in the platform.
So what did For Honor do?
First of all, I need to begin with the fact that For Honor is a $60 retail game. No Free-2-Play here. You buy in for a full retail experience. It also has a $30 season pass available. And for their approach to Microtransactions, For Honor opts for the "Team Fortress 2" approach: Cosmetic stuff. Costume upgrades, skins, character taunts/emotes, etc. But it also includes gear. And in 2 of the 3 game modes released so far for the game, this gear is purely cosmetic. But in the "Dominion" game type, the one shown off in all the trailers with the big impressive looking invading armies trying to take over castles, the gear will actually impact how your character performs. Which sounds a lot like Pay-2-Win...
So let's take a step back and look at how they work, because this is where the problems really begin. Everything in For Honor's in-game store can be purchased with a currency called Steel. You earn Steel by playing matches. So you can grind up all the stuff for the characters you want to play. Which sounds pretty awesome. So where do the microtransactions come in? Well, the thing is, in addition to being able to earn Steel, you can just outright buy it.
The problems began when players sat down and started doing the math. Not accounting for any DLC, it costs around 91,000 Steel to "unlock each character and all of their customizations in the base game." Right now there are 12 champions, so it would cost more than a MILLION steel to unlock everything in the game. That's cool enough, it gives players something to work toward, right? This is where things start getting ugly.
The average player, spending 1-2 hours a day, 5-7 days a week, can dependably make around 1000-1200 Steel a day. So to unlock everything currently available in the game for all champions, it would take a casual player more than 900 days of playing to unlock everything. Or a whopping 2.5 years. Ouch.
Ooooooooooooor... you could buy eight of the $100 Steel packs (you need 7.3 of these packs to be able to afford everything currently in the game)... So that means, for the game you paid $60 for (and potentially another $30 for the Season Pass), you would have to pay more than $700 to unlock all of the "cosmetic" items in the game.
A couple days after the community outrage began, Ubisoft responded in a method that just ended up pouring gas on the fire. Here's the quote from the game's director Damien Kieken:
“We never had an intention for you to unlock everything in the game,” Kieken said, before comparing the store items to what you would have in an RPG.
“In World of Warcraft, you would never try to unlock everything for all the characters of the whole game. Same for any MOBA, you’re not trying to unlock all the content for all the characters in the game.”
Kieken went on to say that before launch, the developer expected most players to only play one to three characters. This also proved to be the case in the real world. “The design is based around that. The cosmetic items are really for us the end-game content: the things we want you to unlock after playing for several weeks,” added Kieken.
Now, there are a few things I want to say here. There are absolutely a huge number of people who try to collect everything in games like World of Warcraft, and even moreso in MOBAs like DOTA2 and League of Legends. I have tons of friends who spend all of their free time in WoW when not raiding hunting down rare mounts and pets. Achievement Hunting in WoW is an incredibly popular thing too, which also requires visit every little nook and cranny of the game.
But I think one of the big take-aways here is that last comment. If this is what players can expect in the way of end-game content in For Honor, this game is in trouble already. And it sounds like the troubles are just beginning. The playerbase is practically in revolt. The game's reddit is full of people angry at Ubisoft for ruining the game.
On April 3rd, there is a planned boycott on the game, as players plan to not play the game for 24 hours to protest the way Ubisoft has been handling the game's microtransactions. They're looking to get more direct communications from Ubisoft about the problems and the future development of the game. There's actually a full list of demands from the playerbase. And this has already had an effect.
Ubisoft has already begun to respond, including making a patch that specific adjust some of the Steel rewards in the games, generally improving the rate at which the currency is earned in game. Ubisoft has scheduled a community live stream in order to address player concerns. They've also promised a weekly blog to keep players informed via "updates from our development team, go more in depth about our designs, address some of your concerns and explain what the team is working on at the moment."
It's a huge step in the right direction for Ubisoft to salvage some of the damage to their reputation. Some bridges have been burned, but players are giving Ubisoft a chance to respond. So what happens from here all depends on what Ubisoft says in their live stream. Players are on standby to go through with their April 3rd boycott. But say they might change their mind depending on how things look after they hear from Ubisoft.
This whole thing is an interesting look at how big companies handle PR and Community management. And is a good example of how players are getting fed up with the microtransaction shenanigans as developers and publishers try to explore ways to generate more income from games in an industry where prices haven't increased since the early 90's with the Super NES (while the cost of making games has skyrocketed).
So how do you feel about microtransactions? Free-2-Play games? How do you think Ubisoft is handling things? Are players over-reacting? Let us know in the comments below. (BTW, we plan to talk about DLC and Microtransactions on a show next month!)
** Chop's esports corner **
LCS is off this week as teams get ready for the playoffs. Missed some crazy games this past weekend. Like a surprisingly epic battle between First Place Team SoloMid and Last Place Team Liquid.
But I still want to encourage you to check out some esports. So here's the closest thing I can find to a big list of events potentially going on this weekend to check out. Looks like you have a lot of options. Heroes of the Storm. Overwatch. CS:GO. DOTA2. Hearthstone.