Billing Models for MMO’s: Why does it have to be one way?

Billing Models for MMO’s

Why Does it Have to be One Way?

Another Eye-Bleeding Post by Ryahl

In a previous post, I examined the western subscription model for MMO’s and discovered that the model peaked in 2004.  There is unquestionably an upswell in favor of Free to Play (F2P) and a number of titles have gone Free to Play in recent years.  Industry leaders are on the record stating that F2P is the future of MMO’s and at least one planned AAA MMO intended to launch F2P.  However, the F2P model itself is greeted with some trepidation from fans of the subscription model who view it as either a money grab or a form of buy to win, neither of which is deemed palatable.

In this post, I want to review various billing options available to MMO’s and offer an assessment of strengths and weaknesses of each.  From that, I will pull together something I refer to as the “box plus” model, which synthesizes the various billing options into a multifaceted subscriber model.  In a future post I will use an existing MMO as an example in a hypothetical conversion to the Box+ model.

The Many Ways to Take My Money

There are a number of potential revenue models for game companies.  However, no specific model is perfect, each comes with its own problems.  Additionally, each model appeals to some gamers and turns off others.  Not all of these revenue options have been tried by MMO’s and I won’t review all possible options (for instance, billing by the minute has been dead for over a decade and there is probably no reason to bring that one back).

  1. The Monthly Subscription – this is the tried and true model for the western MMO market.  Developers like it for reasons I addressed in the last post.  The downsides are that it appeals to a very small number of consumers.  It does not appeal to eastern and younger players.  Additionally, the very switching cost that used to be a strength of this model seems to work against initial buy-in.  However, it appeals to some consumers and remains the staple premium buy in western model.
  2. Buy the box – this is the classic PC game model.  You buy the box, you get the game.  It is the approach used by Arena Net for Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2.  It is also the approach used by Blizzard for Diablo 3 (not exactly an MMO) and by most cooperative and single player PC games.  While these are not MMO titles, they increasingly offer persistent online multi-player options, they are converging into the MMO market.  It appeals to a broader audience than the subscription model.  Additionally, it remains the premier way in western markets to reach customers.  Retailers, and increasingly digital outlets (like Steam or Amazon) provide ideal channels to reach new customers, assuming you keep a new box available.  The downside is that the developer only sees a fraction of the revenue from box sales, box sales produce spikey revenue streams and demand for box sales tends to be measured in weeks (although Steam is improving this).
  3. Micro-Transactions – This is the model used in many eastern games and is increasingly a part of the western MMO market.  It carries a natural appeal of a la carte transactions, you buy what you want and no more.  It offers developers the ability to smooth out their revenue streams more than the box model, but is spikier than the subscription model.  Western customers tend to be very antagonistic to models which appear to promote a “buy to win” model, leading to a western implementation primarily geared at cosmetic purchases.  Additionally, this model tends to promote free riding, in which a handful of players subsidize the plurality of players.  Further, these free riding accounts are disproportionately the province of gold farmers, botters and other parties generally disdained by both subscribers and developers.  Finally, the lack of a purchase may lend itself to a player base that has little compulsion to “play nice.”
  4. Advertising – This is not heavily used in MMO’s.  Funcom attempted to use this model with Anarchy Online, but that was an earlier era of online advertising.  This model is heavily used by apps and is generally associated with free to play game models outside the MMO.
  5. Taxation of Real Money Transactions – This has rarely appeared in MMO’s, but has some history.  Sony attempted to use this model as a supplemental revenue (on limited servers) with EQ2 and Blizzard is taking advantage of this model in Diablo 3.  CCP has a form of this in place with EVE as well.

The reality is that these are not independent choices and developers mix and match some of these options already.  Funcom was one of the first to pursue a form of Free to Play with their Froob model.  This model is essentially a trial of the original box version of the game and was tied in with AO’s early experimentation with in-game advertising.   Funcom has also turned their Age of Conan game into a F2P offering.  Turbine largely reversed their fortunes, experiencing revenue upswings and revitalization with their F2P moves for Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons online games.  Sony Online Entertainment has progressively migrated their MMO portfolio under the “free to play your way” tag line.  Similar transitions have occurred with City of Heroes and Star Trek Online.

When Star Wars; the Old Republic completes their F2P transition later this year, it appears that only RIFT, the Secret World and industry behemoth World of Warcraft will be the only remaining purely subscription based game.  While all three feature a form of free trial, none offer as of this posting a F2P hybrid plan and they have not indicated any intention of moving to one in the near term.  Further, while they also all offer some form of micro-transaction, this is merely for cosmetic purposes and does not (as yet) provide access to the game itself.

No one wants to be the redheaded step customer

Only Turbine stands out as treating micro-transactions and subscriptions as equal customers.  However, Turbine’s model has only been deployed in MMO titles that no longer generate new box sales in retail channels.  In the Turbine model, the free to play customer can unlock virtually every feature that a subscriber gets.  The F2P simply micro-transactions their way, gradually unlocking bag-space, bank-space, skirmishes, zones, mission packs. etc.  In the Turbine model, the F2P player is only limited by their purchase commitment.

Sadly, this has not been the case in every other F2P transition.  Funcom treats F2P with AOC as a somewhat advanced Froob model.  You have some micro-transaction unlocks, but generally F2P is a trial model, not a revenue model.  The SOE “free to play your way” is only your way if you desire reduced gear, ability and advancement options.  For example, while Vanguard: Saga of Heroes has some positive vibes around their dungeon design, a free to play player would be unable to equip dungeon gear dropped in said dungeons (or possibly progress through them lacking gear to complete them).

Other MMO developers follow similar patterns to SOE.  City of Heroes restricts their Incarnate system to subscribers.  Star Trek Online places caps on the maximum unlocks in their a la carte model, the full feature product is only available via subscription.

If your free to play option does not allow for full product access (via a la carte transactions), you don’t have a free to play option.  You have a subscription teaser.

Effectively, F2P isn’t, of course.  Obviously it’s not free, but it also doesn’t offer much “to play.”  The F2P customer is a lesser customer in virtually every MMO system and the only way for them to become a full customer is to subscribe (thus losing nearly everything they sunk into micro-transactions).  If F2P is to truly be the future of the MMO, then a fully vested F2P customer should have just as much product as a subscriber.  The path to access should differ, the destination should not.

 Introducing Box+, a Better Alternative to F2P

The idea developed in this section, Box +, cribs largely from the best elements of the different revenue models out there to date.  Additionally, this approach seeks to maintain a reason to offer subscriptions and a reason for people to consider subscriptions.  However, the under-pinning of this system is a fundamental change in the way the MMO is packaged.  Ultimately it breaks down to distinguishing the product from the service (a difficult task at best for a product you ultimately rent).  There are several assumptions that drive my thinking with Box+.

  • Developers need to make money and they need to be profitable.  Going broke is a good recipe for all of us to lose our favorite hobbies.  If you like a game, you should plop down some dollars, euros or what have you.
  • There is a convergence between traditional non-MMO games (which increasingly offer constant online match-making and game-play services at no or reduced costs), eastern MMO’s (which usually begin as F2P and become subscription imports when they arrive in the west), online social games (the myriad Facebook games and the like) and the classic subscription MMO.
  • The sale of boxes (real or virtual) is a critical element in reaching new customers (at least in the west).  In particular, the rise of STEAM makes it such that keeping a box presence should be a must in any MMO marketing plan.  Additionally, buying the box SHOULD mean something to the customer.
  • Western players eschew buy to win.  However, western players are increasingly comfortable with downloadable content at a price.  DLC need not be merely cosmetic, but anything with oomph needs to be balanced in its access.
  • Truly free players may be good for generating word of mouth, but they also bring about a number of problems.  Additionally, it behooves developers to find a way to make some money off of those who won’t pay (see point #1).

The staple of the Box+ model is the sale of the box.  The box should be bundled with an amount of game play equitable to RPG’s.  Additionally, the box should include free access to most of the game elements that players associate as free to play with comparable match-making services.  The remainder of the game product should be bundled into micro-transactions.  The micro-transaction package for the box should equate to roughly what a subscriber pays if they buy the box and subscribe for 6-8 months.  A la carte players (the box only model) need to purchase mid-cycle content updates which should be priced as if they were DLC in a comparative format ($5 for minor DLC packs $15 or more for larger packs).

The Box+ model should feel familiar to traditional non-subscription based customers, subscription based customers and F2P consumers.

The subscriber gets everything with the box+ subscription.  Additionally, as a subscriber, they receive the mid-cycle content updates as a part of their subscription.  Finally, to sweeten the deal, developers should cater to subscribers by offering services for free, while charging box customers for the same service.  As an example: faster queue times for server access, faster queue times for dungeon/raid finders, faster queuing for PVP match-making services, priority customer service (perhaps dedicated customer service reps), free access to a tablet app, free server transfers, free name changes, etc.  These same services should be charged, a la carte, for non-subscribers.

The a la carte player might even be denied access to some of the services tied to the subscriber bundle, but both types of players should have equivalent potential access to the product.  Additionally, in this system, the price of the subscription may need to rewind.  It’s possible that the $10 or $12.50 point was an important psychological point for subscriptions,  Note the market hasn’t grown (WoW has) since the industry settled on $15 for a sub.

Free to play should be an option.  F2P players should have very limited access to core content.  F2P players should be stored on separate instances from your box and subscription customers (without rare encounters and without rare itemization).  Box and subscribers who have F2p friends should be able to send messages to F2P and F2P should be able to send messages to box and subscriber friends.  Otherwise F2P should only communicate with F2P.  F2P customers can ascend to box customers with a three or four gate purchase.  At the completion of that set of purchases, the F2P player should have “bought the box” (in chunks) and thus become a Box a la carte customer.

As an example, the F2P player might receive the outdoor zones, basic classes and side quests as a free option.  They could buy added classes (or a full skill set), adventuring zone quests and the primary story-line quests (with dungeons perhaps) as a three step gated purchase.  Upon completion of these three purchases, the F2P transitions to a box-owner and relocates to the dimension/instances of your purchasing customers.  They also now have all of the product features that come with the basic box (the third gated purchase should finish off all box features).  From this point on, they can purchase a la carte upgrades exactly the same as someone who bought the box at a retail channel.

Developers should look at embedded advertising to F2P players.  Loading screens, UI elements and the like should be considered.  Google Ad Sense and a host of existing advertising packages are out there and they should be leveraged rather than trying to build your own advertising solutions.  F2P players are increasingly familiar with this through tablet apps, embedded ads in their F2P MMO’s shouldn’t be a major obstacle.  However, developers should clearly divide ad revenue F2P from box and subscription customers.  I suspect the backlash would greatly exceed the revenue potential.

The In-Game Store

Developers should include an in-game store for cosmetic items.  Apparel, hairstyles, body types, face changes, etc.  This is an area that can be thoroughly developed.  Once the game has been out nine or more months, developers should consider adding XP-potions to the mix.  At this point in the game, the XP-potion is less “buy to win” than it is “buy to catch up.”

The in-game store should be available to all types of customers.  For F2P customers, in-game purchases should be a separate aside to the gated box purchase described above.  Additionally, subscribers should get a small monthly stipend to the in-game store.  Rather than an open-ended wallet, consider capping the in-game credit to $5 (or equivalent).  Any amount spent by a subscriber comes from their stipend first before tapping their real purchases.  At the end of the month, the stipend resets to its base value of $5.  The point here isn’t to convince susbcribers to make purchases with real dollars, the point is to (a) reward them for subscribing and (b) become walking billboards for whatever is new in the in-game store.  Since the stipend resets each month, the onus for the subscriber will be to spend all or most of their credit each month.

The Box+ MMO Revenue Model

A Visualization of the Box+ Model

Think in terms of Cycles

To make this work, developers need to find a way to sell a new box roughly every year.  That’s your expansion path.  Box players should buy the expansion, which should be assembled using the same logic as the initial box (the purchase gets you X, micro transactions or subscription get you Y).  Subscribers also buy the box, but then get everything in the expansion box as an element of their expansion.

The update of the game each year becomes the major cyclical element refreshing your title in retail channels.  Additionally, the box presence in retail channels can be stimulated mid-cycle using promotional pricing (something STEAM has turned into an art).

Developers should plan for mid-cycle updates (DLC).  SOE attempted something like this with Adventure Packs in EQ2 offering Bloodline Chronicles, Splitpaw Saga and the Fallen Dynasty.  These were $15 or so DLC packs with new content.  The Adventure Pack idea failed at the time because subscribers were accustomed to receiving mid-cycle updates as a part of their expansion.  To keep things palatable, SOE had to make Adventure Packs not “too powerful” to prevent them from seeming like something that had to be bought.  Doing so made them undesirable for the most part and the idea was cancelled several years back.

Adventure Packs need to come back into the mix, the Box+ model is the perfect approach for this.  They should range in size and desirability based on the designers goals, which should not be a problem in the Box+ model.  Subscribers get Adventure Packs free, as they are accustomed.  Box players buy them as DLC.  Developers can bundle content updates into quarterly or monthly packages based on their budgets.  Consumers benefit from getting bigger, more robust mid-cycle additions to their gaming.  Subscribers get an added incentive to retain a sub (benefiting the developer in the process).  Win, win is good business.

 

 

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An Obituary for the Subscription MMO

An Obituary for the Subscription MMO

Another Eye-Bleeding Post by Ryahl

In a recent editorial, I argued that we (the fans) were not tired of MMO’s.  That editorial itself was a response to a Gamespy MMO asking if we have simply outgrown MMO’s.  Lief’s piece argued that the nature of the Internet and the rise of social multiplayer games had largely turned the MMO into an irrelevant genre.  My counter was that MMO’s today are not what they were ten years ago and that’s why the subscription model isn’t working.

Both of us agree that the subscription MMO segment is in a bleak state, we disagree primarily on the causes.  The Gamespy article is a part of the industry discussion that new subscription games are struggling and free to play might be the answer.  This comes on the heels of a industry pioneers discussing and leaders heralding the benefits of Free to Play.  In addition, one of the more anticipated titles of 2011, Star Wars: the Old Republic is being directed towards Free to Play as have most of the SOE MMO portfolio.  At this moment, speculation mounts that Funcom’s the Secret World is the next to head to F2P.  For that matter, Turbine has largely reinvigorated itself by embracing free to play with their Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online titles.

With that established, I’d like to place this into my own personal context.  I started playing subscription MMO’s with Everquest back in the summer of 1999.  Since that time I have maintained a subscription to an MMO (and on rare occasions, two) ever since.  That’s roughly 150 months of concurrent subscriptions and I’m content with the purchases.  Over time I have seen most of the main entrants in the field, watched some wax and wane and others come and go.  Interestingly, I’m also still largely playing MMO’s with some of the same people I met online in those early years.

What’s up with Subscriptions?

While subscription based gaming predates the MMO, subscription based MMO’s have been the standard in the western markets since Ultima Online’s largely pioneered the transition from MUD to MMO.  The other first generation MMO’s, Everquest and Asheron’s Call each grew the market and helped establish the MMO segment as one of the more attractive emerging gaming segments.

There are two reasons that developers, quite naturally, are predisposed to subscription MMO’s.  First, MMO’s initially provided extremely stable income.  The second reason is that the margins on MMO operations have become quite phenomenal.

Stable Income is Good Income

At their inception, MMO’s produced revenue streams that grew for some time before leveling out.  Once they leveled out, they typically sustained their earnings level for some time.  Consider the following information on subscription growth for early MMO’s.

  • UO grew subscribers for nearly 36-consecutive months
  • EQ grew subscribers for 18-consecutive months
  • AC grew susbcribers for 12-consecutive months
  • DAOC grew subscribers for 12-consecutive months
  • WoW follows this model, growing western subs for 36-consecutive months

When you consider that the alternative, box sale model, largely dissipates within the first six weeks from launch.  The idea of having a title that brings new consumers to your product for at least a year and potentially three years is certainly attractive.

But it gets even better.  Once these titles hit their peak, they largely sustained their subscription levels for several additional years.  Continuing our focus on these first MMO’s:

  • EQ sustained 400,000 subscriptions from 2001 to 2006
  • UO sustained 200,000 subscriptions from 2001 to 2004
  • DAoC sustained 200,000 subscriptions from 2002 to 2005
  • FFXI sustained 500,000 subscriptions from 2003 to 2009
  • WoW sustained 5,000,000 western subscriptions from 2008 to 2011

So, the MMO market was lucrative because it defied normal video game market dynamics (short shelf life) and provided ongoing revenue streams.  When you consider a subscription of $12.50 a month (taking a mid-point of the $10/month early subscriptions and the $15/month modern ones) sustaining 200,000 subs meant a relatively stable $30mm annual revenue stream for 24-36 months.  For those familiar with calculating the net present value (NPV) of a project, it’s not surprising that MMO’s became a darling of investment capital.

Profit = Volume * Margin

So, the last section demonstrated that the revenue streams for early MMO’s provided an attractive monetary stream.  Maybe not enough to generate a Facebook level of excitement, but certainly big enough dollars to find interested investors.  But the story gets even better!

MMO’s are high margin products.  Consider, for a moment, the original projections for Funcom’s The Secret World.  In the lesser of two scenarios, had TSW sold 1mm copies and only retained 280,000 subscribers, Funcom projected $100mm first year revenue with a 43% profit margin.  Bear in mind that developers may only see 20-25% of net sales from their boxes.  A good chunk of that projected $100mm derives form the subscriptions (about 25%), direct sales (digital sales from Funcom direct) and in-game items (projected at about 35% of subscriptions).

While MMO’s are increasingly costly to make, they aren’t as costly to operate.  This was a key point in the recent Funcom investor disclosure, the costs to operate TSW in 2012 are notably cheaper than the costs to operate Age of Conan which launched in 2008.  Realize that TSW intends to kick out content in monthly updates and it uses external voice talent for a number of its game elements and you have to wonder what’s driving that “costs less to operate” statement.

It turns out that the answer lies in the technology.  Computers and bandwidth, once a significant operating cost for MMO’s have become tremendously more efficient in the last decade.  Substantially, it turns out, is probably an understatement.  Ciena references Dan Rayburn who quite succinctly notes:

 To put the rate of pricing decline in terms everyone can understand, today Netflix pays about five cents to stream a movie over the Internet. If Netflix tried to do this in 1998, at the same quality they are doing it today, it would of cost them $270 per movie. Of course, in 1998 no one was capable of getting a 3Mbps stream, but even if Netflix only encoded their videos for 37Kbps in 1998, it still would have cost them $4.80 to stream one movie.

The backbone of the MMO has become dramatically cheaper over time.  Additionally, there are more options available today making near-constant uptime, secure, low cost persistent online communities relatively easy to realize.  Consider the case of Runescape.

 RuneScape is run on commodity hardware.  All our own proprietary web serving technologies, file systems, databases etc. have allowed us incredible scale and tremendously high margins because they are so efficient.  I think we’re probably the most efficient game in terms of infrastructure and servers costs in the entire industry.  Which is great when it comes to scale, because that’s what MMOs are all about.

So, over the course of a decade, margins for operating MMO’s improved, shelf-life cycles extended and revenue streams remained stable for a matters of years.  A high margin, relatively safe revenue stream is the kind of thing that gives CFO’s pretty explicit dreams. The subscription MMO clearly was a thing of beauty from a financial perspective.

A Funeral without an Obituary?

The subscription MMO market entered hospice care in 2008.  While some are calling Free to Play the future of MMO’s, the future is probably already here… and perhaps should have been here a few years ago.

If you look at MMOData.net and check out “Total Active Subscriptions” it appears that the MMO market saturated somewhere around 2009.  Subscriptions apparently peak and begin tapering off a bit as we moved through 2011.  That, however, is a misleading picture.

MMO Market Segment Growth and Share by Title

Growth in the MMO Segment and Market share per title. Source: MMOData.net

You just made those numbers up, didn’t you?

Spoiler:

I am using data from Ibe Van Geel’s work at MMOData.net.  I prepared this data using his subscription information.  Titles included had to meet the following criteria:

  1. They had to use and be reported using western subscription models.  Lineage, Aion and others can’t be included.  Arguably, though, they represent the future business model for MMO’s so they will be touched on in the next editorial.
  2. They needed to peak over 100,000 and hold those subscribers for at least a six month window.
  3. I tracked data in six-month blocks
  4. If a data point was not provided at a specific six month interval, an estimate was created along the linear trend between the two existing data points
  5. Titles which do not report, but are still in operation, near the end of the series are listed as 75k users.
While exact details of subscription information is virtually impossible to access, Ibe Van Geel (and SirBruce before him) does a reasonably good job of providing transparency in his methodology.  The data points are all best estimates and thus, certainly wrong to some degree, but for the purposes of this examination the trends matter more than the details.  It seems unlikely that his data is missing the broader trend.
Industry life cycle

Industry life cycle

The MMO market grew at a pretty amazing rate between 2004 and 2008.  It does appear to have tapered out from 2008 to 2012, but it’s sustaining (or nearly sustaining) its peak.  Students of business should note the oddly similar shape between the MMO segment and the classic industry life cycle pictured on the right.

From this, it’s pretty apparent why you are hearing discussion of the future.  We appear to have hit the market peak and it’s time to look for the next business model.  I submit, though, that the peak already happened and we have been well into the decline of this segment for some time.

The problem with the data is the elephant in the room: World of Warcraft (WoW).

WoW entered the market as an established gaming IP with a rabid pre-existing fan base due to the success of their Warcraft, Diablo and Starcraft IP’s.  WoW is ultimately responsible for the bulk of the growth in the subscription MMO segment.  WoW managed to co-opt most existing MMO customers and WoW converted a number of the customers of its existing IP’s into WoW subscribers.  While WoW is beginning to show some signs of weakness, it is still far and away the market leader.  Indeed, the remaining large MMO titles do not combine to match WoW’s western market share!

MMO Segment Growth Without WoW

MMO Segment Growth Without WoW. Source: MMODAta.net

If you remove WoW from the industry, the picture looks starkly different.  Apparently, the MMO industry peaked in 2004 at around 2 million subscribers.  WoW grew the market an additional 5 million western subscribers.

However, no title since that time has brought and converted new consumers to the subscription model.  For the most part, new competitors entering the market simply diminish the existing market share of the other competitors.  It’s quite likely that these new entrants briefly grab subscribers from WoW, but given the overall market shape and WoW’s sustained western subscriber base, any such defections are eventually offset by that player (or other players) returning to WoW.

If we consider 200,000 to be the magic number for MMO subscribers, there appears to be room in this industry for about ten subscription titles and, of course, WoW.  That we are running with approximately fifteen such titles suggests we are seeing segment cannibalization, which would explain the number of titles changing to free to play this  year.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the life pattern for the MMO has changed.  Recall that the initial generation MMO’s enjoyed 12+ months of subscription growth followed by 18+ months of sustained volume.  That has not been the pattern for MMO’s launching from 2008 and on.

 

MMO Launches from 2008 tp 2011

Six months from launch: MMO’s from 2008 to 2011. Source, MMOData.net

The grow and sustain pattern, once the hallmark of this market segment, has disappeared.  It has been replaced with a spike and dive model.  Looking only at the four most successful (as it were) launches in the last four years, the results are markedly abnormal for the old industry (several other titles, such as FFXIV simply failed outright).  Three of the four titles showed an initial spike with a rapid decay.  Only TOR evidenced some initial growth.  However, TOR has been unable to sustain that growth for more than a quarter.  Further, within six months TOR has dropped to under it’s launch sales level.  This isn’t a statement about TOR, it’s a statement about the sector.  When a prized IP can’t pull off the build and sustain model, the problem may not be the game it may be the model.  The twelve months to grow and eighteen to sustain is a thing of the past.  It has been replaced by the spike and dive model that actually describes the normal PC game sales trajectory.

The King is Dead, Long Live the King!

I’m a fan of subscription MMO’s, hopefully I made that clear at the opening.  However, my experiences in the market are actually remarkably in line with the general trends.  I used to subscribe to a game for a solid year, sometimes longer.  The last three MMO’s I have subscribed to (with intent to remain) held me for less than a year (three months for the one prior to TSW).

It would seem that the market for subscription MMO’s is truly dead.  Over the past years, only three titles in the MMOData set evidence first generation grow-sustain patterns.  WoW is certainly the most succesful, which may be finally entering its decline phase (Mists of Panderia may change that).  Dofus, which I admit to having never heard of until preparing this post.  However, Dofus appears to be a hybrid subscribe or F2P model and thus may best represent the shape of the new industry and less the vestiges of the old.

The stand-out is EVE Online.  EVE is noteworthy in that it has grown its subscriber base longer than any first generation MMO and sustained a healthy subscription level even in the face of market saturation.  EVE, though, also represents the one remaining large scale sand box MMO, it may in fact simply be the WoW of a smaller market segment (with UO, Tales of the Desert and some of the other sandbox titles).

I Wish I Knew How to Quit You

Moving away from subscription based MMO’s is proving difficult, though.  First, no single publisher has been willing to bet the farm on the transition.  Allegedly, the failed Project Copernicus would have been the first such title, but its fail to launch is an entirely different story.

To date, western MMO’s launch as subscription only and then convert to F2P once the subscriber model fails.  Thus, western consumers understandably consider a non-subscription model to be a failure, developers are working hard to teach that lesson (and it’s the wrong lesson).

Second, for the most part, the transition to F2P has treated F2P as a second class citizen.  If you look at the SOE F2P platform, it’s clear that F2P is simply a lesser customer.  SOE uses F2P as a subscription tease, if you hang around long enough you need to subscribe.  While there are some things you can a la carte purchase, making the most of your account requires the subscription.  Thus, the customer continues to learn that F2P means substandard.  Who really wants to be the red-headed step-customer?

There are noteworthy exceptions.  Turbine’s approach to F2P really offers a two purchase model choice.  Subscribers get everything for a monthly fee, F2P players can a la carte their way to pretty much every feature in the game.  Arena Net has successfully built an MMO-like product and is planning on launching a full blown MMO using the traditional PC game “buy the box, get it all” approach.

In my next post, I want to spend more time on what F2P is and what it could be.  I think there is a place for the subscription MMO, even alongside the F2P model.  However, I think doing it right reqiures treating all of your purchase models equitably.  This entails design decisions that probably need to be in place before development begins and it requires finding equitable trade-offs in the various pricing plans.  That, though, is fodder for a different discussion.

(Edit:  If you made it though all that, you are now rewarded, with the followup article!  A look at the Box+ subscription model!)

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More on Funcom Financials

Continuing Examination: Funcom financials

Layoff May Happen: Are they now an acquisition target?

This post continues our discussion of Funcom financials which began in Unrealized Expectations for the Secret World.

Looking at the Q1FY12 Funcom financials, their current ratio dropped pretty heavily from Q1-11 to Q1-12. However, that’s (a) expected given the information above and (b) they are still running a 1.32 current, which is more than enough to carry current liabilities.

They show a Q1 Debt percentage of 38.4% for 2012 compared to a 22% for 2011 (Q1 to Q1 figures). Yes, that’s a jump in borrowing. No, it’s not exactly an alarming rise.  Nearly the entirety of this is the jump in short-term liabilities leading to the reduced current ratio. It’s expected in a launch and they have facilities in place to assist here.

Those balance sheet actions are somewhat offset by the equity release on 20-Jun. The 60mm NOK (about $10mm USD) brings the equity portion of the balance sheet more into line. While this did dilute share value (somewhat influencing the drop-off in share price), they did a pretty good job of timing the issuance at/near a market high. The issuance was listed as substantially oversubscribed, indicating there was (in June) a higher demand for the stock than the number of issues offered.

Additionally, there are likely layoffs coming.   Those cuts will likely be largely CS and QA. The latter is to be expected post-launch, the forthcoming content will not require the QA levels the beta did. The former is expected given underwhelming sales. That’s part of the overhead SGA costs that scale down that Cato1999 references.

There are significant concerns with Funcom financials, but as I have already noted, those problems largely predate TSW. While losses did mount in Q4-11 and Q1-12. The increase in losses were generally one-time items (the launch of TSW). However:

  1. There are multiple consecutive quarters of losses in the Funcom financials. That’s never sustainable.
  2. The injection of equity financing will increase likelihood of demands for radical internal change. In particular, private equity partners are known for their “tear em up and sell em off” approach.
  3. The dilution of share value coupled with the market response to the 10-Aug issuance presses Funcom share prices to five-year lows. While the share prices have rebounded nicely this week, they remain deeply distressed.

It is not impossible, given this scenario, that they become an M&A candidate. Not just because a tech sector analyst mentioned it, but because a company with three cash-flow positive (albeit weak) products and a depressed market cap is an interesting buy. Further, in addition to their portfolio, Funcom is certainly one of the most innovative development houses in the industry. Additionally, their single server technology (assuming it’s theirs) along with the Dreamworld engine would have value in a sale. On top of that, the equity financing increases the urgency to restructure, fix, or sell fast.

Finally, other news indicates that NCSoft and Private Equity firm Provident are looking at game company acquisitions.

Provident is apparently going after EA. NCSoft is currently mum. If the former rumors are true, it’s unlikely that NCSoft will get into a bidding war for EA (but not impossible).

Even if NCSoft isn’t chasing down Funcom. M&A’s tend to come in waves and the early acquisitions are often those with weaker positions.

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Unrealized Expectations: Sales of the Secret World and Funcom’s Investor Disclosures

Unrealized Expectations at Funcom

Sale of the Secret World and Investor Disclosures

Update: New information on this story appears in our continuing discussion of Funcom’s financials.

The Story Continues in: An Obituary for the Subscription MMO

I need to begin this post with a caveat.  I am a big fan of The Secret World.  I like the game, I’m having more fun in an MMO than I have had in some time.  Considering that I started playing TSW sometime back in the closed beta, that’s a lot of logged hours with no diminishing satisfaction with the game.  It’s been literally years since a title has done that for me.  I also bought a lifetime subscription, in advance, so I want to see the game succeed.  These things certainly favorably bias my perception of the current state of things and my perceptions of where things are going.

Funcom: August stock prices

NOTE – These prices are in NOK, not USD
Funcom stock prices.
Closing prices for the month of August, 2012.

However, I am not just a fan who wants to see a game succeed.  In the not-so-secret real world, I actually engage in business analysis professionally.  Most of my work is in the domain of business strategy and I have some published research on the intersection between gaming and business.  So, the recent disclosures regarding the unrealized sales expectations of the Secret World hits a few personal buttons.  This post is more from the latter category.

The news cycle has been quite abuzz regarding the press release.  Indeed, Yahoo Finance indicates that the stock price for Funcom took quite the beating immediately following the release.

It should be noted, though, that the trading range for Monday 13-Aug was fairly tight, with stock prices moving between 3.40 and 3.10 NOK.  Although it did, once again, close at a low.

At this point, the language starting to surround The Secret World is that it’s a flop.  Indeed, the Blog Rock, Paper Shotgun, today referred to The Secret World:

 I don’t know what to say, really. Like SWTOR, TSW seemed a bit too late in the day, arriving after Moby Subscription had been slain, and I doubt I was alone in being put off by the dry combat (the narrative stuff seemed appealing, but I didn’t want to wade through hours of what, from the beta, wasn’t terribly engaging shooty-bang just to hear the dialogue). Unlike SWTOR, TSW wasn’t slavishly copying the competition and had high aspirations even if couldn’t necessarily realise them, so it’s tragic to see Funcom suffer. Hopefully they can bounce back, and will pour their energies into games that don’t require hundreds of thousands of subscribers to turn a profit.

Similarly, StockLink iMarkedet writer Asgeir Nilsen reports that technology analyst Espen Torgersen considers the game to have flopped.

I do not think the Board of Funcom can go out in the market to make an issue now. I think this would have been unwise. I think probably kind of M & A-run and that kind of stands highest on the agenda right now. Then, to restructure the company so as to buy time

Unrealized or Unrealistic Expectations?

Funcom: Weekly stock prices 15-Aug, 2011 to 13-Aug, 2012

Note: Prices are in NOK, not USD
Funcom: Weekly stock prices 15-Aug, 2011 to 13-Aug, 2012

To be fair, the stock market reaction is not unusual.  There was quite a run up in the price of the stock.  Records at Yahoo Finance indicate that the stock price appreciated from 7.59 to 23.90 NOK between December, 2011 and April, 2012 .

Most of this run-up is speculative based upon the perceived potential of the Secret World.  Additionally, at this same time it was becoming increasingly evident that EA’s Star Wars: the Old Republic was failing, it is inevitable that some would speculate that EA’s failure could become Funcom’s game.

Funcom added to these expectations in their 25-May financial projections.  There were several pieces of news in their Q1 projections.  First, both Anarchy Online and Age of Conan were cash-flow positive.  Second, while company earnings had been negative for several quarters, there were some signs that the losses were beginning to subside even without TSW revenue.  Finally, there had been over a million beta sign-ups for the Secret World.  So, while Funcom’s recent financial past was bleak, signs pointed to a better future.

What were the projections for the Secret World?

In that same report, Funcom sets forward to scenarios they believed were likely for the launch of the Secret World.

    1. Conan-like” scenario.  Sales of 1,050,000 in year one.  Poor retention rates of around 280,000 concurrent subscribers.  This would have resulted in $100mm first year revenue and a 43% profit margin.
    2. Target” scenario.  Sales 130% of AoC (1,365,000 units).  Healthy retention of 490,000 subscribers and an additional 35% of subscriptions from in-game sales.  This would have generated $157mm in first year revenue with a 53% profit margin.

So, armed with this information, Funcom’s stock remained strong right up until the launch of the Secret World.  However, the stock price began a fall-off almost immediately.  Initially, this was tied to the surprise resignation of CEO Arne Aas, with former COO Ole Schreiner stepping into the CEO suite.  This resignation, on 2-Jul predates the rundown from 16 to 6.99 NOK two weeks later.  Sudden, unannounced, changes in CEO’s are not commonplace and not a sign that things are going well.

I have always had a problem with the expectations for The Secret World.  I believe the product has performed well, the development team has delivered and the game has the ability to thrive.  I do not, however, believe this game was to be a World of Warcraft level title.  Nor did I believe that this would be a million plus sale product.  There are a number of converging elements that work against both of the posted scenarios.

  • This is a modern fantasy, horror title in an industry predominated by high fantasy  products.  While this does potentially offer a strong differentiator, it’s also an untested differentiator.  Will customers flock to a world without elves?
  • This is an M-rated product, which precludes certain promotional medium.  While that did not hinder Age of Conan’s ability to sell one million units, it does restrict the upper bound of the game’s sales potential.
  • The game followed the launch of Age of Conan, which was a flop.  Not only was AoC a flop at launch, but it did immeasurable damage to the Funcom brand name.  There was a lot of hate and resentment visible towards the Funcom brand and a lot of that turned into very unfair early negative buzz about the Secret World.
  • On top of that, for whatever reason, there was an immense negative buzz developed about game play in the Secret World.  Ranging from complaints about character customization, combat animations and other issues, it was clear from early on that something was afoul in market perceptions of the forthcoming product.
  • The Secret World is NOT an easy game.  It’s challenging and complex in an industry where content is generally spoon fed.  To mine a quote, “no one has ever gone broke underestimating human intelligence.”
  • TSW was launching as a subscription based product.  Putting aside the discussion of whether subscription models are dead for another post, it is fair to say that the subscription based PC Game market is smaller than the PC Game market simply by being a subset of that market.  A subscription model reduces the potential size of your total market.

None of these things, taken alone, were insurmountable obstacles.  The problem, though, is that these are not independent facts, there are interactions between them that matter.

There are plenty of m-rated, modern fantasy/horror games out there that sell, and sell well.  However, none of them are subscription based.  This introduces two interactions.  First, will the fantasy/horror players pay for subscriptions when they have not in the past (e.g. can you convert new customers a la WoW).  Second, will your existing consumers buy into a new genre?

The MMO market is not, in general, a high difficulty market.  The game play tends towards the easy side and the game design has become increasingly linear in past years.  While there are “hard” games out there that do well (EVE comes to mind), they do not generally dominate market positions.

On top of that, Funcom has a history and one that isn’t doing them any favors.  Anarchy Online, while a brilliant game, had a horrid launch.  Age of Conan had a smoke and mirrors launch where the shine of Tortage quickly dissipated into “where did the content go?” when players left the newbie experience.  While both AO and AOC have evolved into stable, content rich products, they hurt the brand at launch.  You never get a second chance at launch and you have a hard time undoing deeply negative impressions.  TSW was working uphill on marketing because of the sins of its kindred.  Fair or not, that’s how consumer minds work.

I have always seen TSW as a ‘niche’ MMO.  It’s the term I used repeatedly in beta and it’s the term I still use.  TSW is a great game.  It plays well, it’s fun, it’s engrossing.  But it’s not mass market.  I see this as more of an EVE type game.  While there are problems tracking MMO subscription data, MMOData.net suggests that EVE grew to 450k.  EVE did not sell a million boxes, initially.  Indeed, unlike the standard MMO model, EVE appears to have grown their customers over time by offering a superior, differentiated product.

That’s the game I perceive TSW to be.  It’s hard, it’s different and it’s innovative on a number of fronts.  Contrary to what fans will tell you on boards, that’s not always what they want.  They claim it, but they often buy what they know (risk aversion).  Games that break the mold usually have to grow into their business model, they don’t get to start that way.

Indeed, my perceptions seem to be what Funcom is now acknowledging.  The people playing the game seem happy.  The first update was quite successful.  We are past the free month period and while populations have dropped, the server populations are still very robust.  Their are lots of players still enjoying the content.

TSW does not appear to be going the way of recent MMO flops like Warhammer Online, Star Wars the Old Republic, or Final Fantasy XIV.  It didn’t sell to projection, but it’s retention rates seem high and satisfaction levels remain quite high.  That last gem was the bright spot in the Funcom investor relations release.  It’s been overshadowed in the gloom and doom, but it’s an important sign of where things are really going.

It’s all the fault of the critics, right?

That was a central point in the Funcom investor relations release.  Sales were below both scenario expectations and they attribute this, at least in part to “the aggregated score for The Secret World of 72 out of 100, which is to be considered low…”  Do critical reviews matter?

It turns out there is some empirical evidence that they do.  Uzzi and Spiro used critical reviews and box office revenues as separate performance variables in a related entertainment industry.  While their study is not about the voracity of reviews, it is worth noting that in their study (across decades of data), there is a very strong positive correlation between reviews and financial performance for Broadway musicals.  That’s not a 1:1 correlation, there are some high revenue shows that are panned by critics and there are some critical raves that fail to draw customers.  But, on the whole, reviews and revenues go hand in hand.

There are two cavaets here.  First, this isn’t a proven causal relationship (e.g. reviews cause sales) and second, it’s a different industry.  But the industries are related on the entertainment side.  Additionally, it’s not necessarily an issue of whether reviews cause revenues.  It could simply be that reviews are, at least in part, an indicator of the buzz surrounding an entertainment title.  If that’s the case, they are a useful leading indicator even if the review itself doesn’t create sales.

Like it or not, critical reviews do matter.  Whether its because reviews directly influence customers or whether its because reviews reflect market sentiment, reviews and sales seem to correlate.  So, when a venue like G4 pans the Secret World, even when the review is biased heavily by clearly beta state content, it doesn’t reflect well for the prospects of the product.

So, is the Sky Falling, or what?

On the whole, I would say that the cries of the demise of the Secret World are exceptionally premature.  There are a lot of people who want TSW to fail and they have used this story to jump from the pre-release fail stories to the “it’ll go F2P now for sure” bandwagon.  However, I see little that immediately suggests TSW is in trouble.

As I noted earlier, populations appear to be quite strong.  There are dozens of people in Agartha every evening.  The Looking for Group channels are going strong.  The new marketplace (bugs and all) is crammed full of items.  TSW does not appear to be heading down the TOR/WAR path.

On the other hand, that stock price is alarming.  A massive drop in stock prices usually triggers debt covenants which can, in turn, greatly impede a companies ability to operate until it restores its equity balance.  There are reasonable questions to be answered as to the cash position of the company going forwards.  However, these problems precede TSW.

The problems at Funcom are not the failure of TSW.  Rather, it seems that TSW fails by the criteria of not being a Hail Mary which single-handedly resolves a company’s historically poor financial condition.  TSW seems poised to be a profit center for the company and a strong part of Funcom’s financial restructuring.

There will be layoffs, there were going to be layoffs.  First, game companies overstaff near the end of development, some of that will go – and they were going to go.  Second, they did project too many sales and that will certainly lead to some cuts in customer service.  If you expected 1mm customers and only have 500,000 you don’t need as many CSR’s to handle issues.  Third, there will likely be some cash flow cuts – not as a reflection of the failure of TSW, but as a reflection of the failure of TSW to stem an already leaky ship.

As Torgersen notes, Funcom is actually attractive for “probably kind of M&A run.”  There are a couple of established MMO houses that would love to have a ‘failure’ like TSW in their portfolio.

Fans of TSW should be watchful, but not wary.  If you like the game, by all means keep paying and playing.  Not doing so pretty much guarantees the worst will happen.  However, until you start hearing stories about senior producers, developers and managers of The Secret World departing or leaving the team, as has been the case with certain competitors, you shouldn’t consider the ship sunk!

 The Story Continues in: An Obituary for the Subscription MMO

 

 Read Ryahl's other Editorials at TSWGuides' Editorial  Page.
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Major Site Updates

With the release of Issue #1, Carter Unleashed, we have taken the opportunity to do a bit of tidying up at the TSWGuides.com.  We would like to draw your attention to the above menu bar and note changes to the following links:

1. The 1.1. Patch guide.  Lots of information on the 1.1. patch, including full walk through (with spoiler text) for every new quest in the patch.

2.  Our new Builds page.  This replaces our old builds page, so update your bookmarks.  We have incorporated a table format to make it easier to find the type of build you want.

3.  Our updated Crafting page.  We now have a bit more information on crafting in general and have updated the tables to reflect recipes that have been discovered since launch.

4.  Dungeons.  We have begun tracking damage taken vs. defensive stats for the elite dungeons.  You will find new tables in the overview for each dungeon.  We also have video walk throughs for the first few elites.

5.  Mod List.  We keep a repository of mods added, links here take you straight to the mod hosting site.

6.  Quests.  This page is getting a bit more organized.  In addition to an alphabetical listing of the investigation missions, we have a table for all of the Romanian repeatable quests.  The table also tracks which quests reward glyph and signet bags!

7.  Signet Guide.  A new page for the site.  Exactly what the title says, information on signets!

8.  Lore Objects.  Updated and tabulated.  Includes the bit of Romanian lore we have uncovered.

 

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TSW Lore

TSW Lore

Locations for Lore Updates

Welcome to our new and improved TSW Lore page.

The new page takes advantage of embedded Google docs and is more consistent with the layout for our Builds and Mods pages.  Unfortunately, this means we lose the user comments from our previous pages.  But, this gives us a single, centralized comment area making things easier to keep up to date.

In the table below, you will find our entire outdoor TSW Lore database.  Dungeon lore locations can be found in the respective dungeon overview.

TSW Lore locations are sorted into tabs based on their primary locations.  This is more consistent with the way TSW records items into your lore guide.

The exception is that we have placed “peoples” in the region their lore is obtained.  So, Wabanaki lore is in Maine, Marya lore in Egypt and Draculesti lore in Romania.

Additionally, we have split the global lore into two components.  TSW Lore that relates to one of the secret societies (the three factions, Orochi, Phoenecians, Kingdom, etc.) lands on one tab with the game wide global lore (Buzzing, the Filth, etc.) receiving its own tab.

TSW Lore locations that are completely filled out are ones that I have picked up myself.  If a reader has commented on the location, but I have not yet obtained it, I have it listed as a note.  As soon as I pick it up, I complete the full table and credit the submitter for the find.

There is one big problem with the lore table though.  I got a bit lazy assembling the Romania lore.  Instead of keeping a table, I simply annotated my in-game map.  Unfortunately, at times I omitted the lore # in the annotation.  If readers can correct this, I will happily credit the submission.

The table is not yet complete.  If you find lore that I don’t have tabled, please submit it as a comment below. Once I get a chance to verify it, we’ll add it to the lore list and credit you for your discovery.  Additionally, readers are encouraged to check out the comments themselves.  Lore tends to be one of many projects I juggle and there are sometimes lags between reader comments and table updates.

The TSW Lore Listing

 

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Information for our International audience

When we started putting the TSWGuides.com site information together, we never imagined we would have as many, or as diverse, of a readership.  The actual numbers and diversity of our audience continue to astound and humble us.  We very much appreciate your readership.

We understand that our international audience speak an array of languages and that, sometimes, there is difficulty following this site.  We are trying to make the site international friendly.  Some of the things we are doing include:
1.  There is an auto-translate widget.  On the right side of the screen there is a pop-out window with widgets.  The very first widget allows you to translate the current page into any of .the languages supported by Google translate.
2.  We are also aware that some terms don’t translate well.  Game specific terminology, for instance, often becomes horribly misrepresented in translation.  To that end, we are beginning to work in support features for our builds:
  • You can take the ability names from any of our builds and use a searchable build page.  For, example, the Drakashi wheel, has a search panel.  Additionally, Drakashi has modeled his UI to identically match the TSW wheel.  This should help with identifying names of abilities.
  • We are beginning to incorporate “import” links for our builds.  People who use Viper’s Deck Manager modification can import and export builds.  Once again, the Drakashi wheel deck builder is compatible with Viper.  
These are fairly small steps, but they are steps all the same.  TSW Guides has a very small staff, Aela and myself primarily, and we are limited in the number of projects we can simultaneously manage.  We do recognize the international audience of a game like TSW and we are interested in improving our features.  To that end, we welcome suggestions.  Please use the comments button below if you have ideas we might incorporate.
Thank you for reading TSWGuides.com
Ryahl
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TSW Guide to Signets

TSW Guide to Signets

Locations and Quests

Signets are items in TSW that can be applied to Q10 gear.  These apply an effect to the item in manner of either a proc or item boost.  Dropped signets are acquired at a green level.  In order to acquire blue or purple signets, you must combine 10 of one type of signet in your crafting interface.  Once you apply a signet to a piece of gear, it can not be removed.  Currently, signets represent the “long haul” for gear progression.  A single purple signet requires 100 green signets of a single type.

Signets are divided into Head & Weapon, Head, Major and Minor slots.  

Signets can be acquired in a number of ways.
(1) Random drops off mobs, from dungeons, and lairs.
(2) Rewards from Quests.

I have confirmed that blue signets are rewards from signet bags (quest rewards).  This means it is even more critical to do your signet quests on recycle.

TSWGuides'  Blue Signet drop from Quest Signet Bag

Besieged Farmlands

  • Foul Banquet
  • Ripples
  • The Girl who kicked the Vampire’s nest

Shadowy Forest

It is unclear, at this time, whether signets are always rewarded by these quests or if these quests have a random chance of giving a reward.  However, in every case where one of us has gotten a signet, the other person has as well at the same time.

 

The other locations you can aquire signets are via farming.  Some farming locations are:

(Zone – Around Coordinates – Area – Special Signet Drop)

  • Kingsmouth – 885, 650 – Kingsmouth Municipal Airport
  • Savage Coast – 550, 190 – Suicide Buff
  • Blue Mountain – 600, 500 – The Quarry (Best spot for minor signetfarming)
  • Scorched Desert – 170, 650 – Sol Glorificus
  • City of the Sun God – 500, 620 – The Reformatory
  • Besieged Farmlands – 850, 1250 – St. Haralambie
  • Besieged Farmlands – 982, 480 – Cucuvea’s Tree
  • Besieged Farmlands – 254, 703 – Mara’s Field – Resilience, Reinforcement
  • Besieged Farmlands – 380, 1080 – Observatory – Resilience, Reinforcement
  • Besieged Farmlands – 640, 900 – Giant’s Table
  • Shadowy Forest – 540, 421 – Hell’s Row
  • Shadowy Forest – 790, 590 – Chapel of the Prince
  • Shadowy Forest – 910, 460 – Mirewood – Violence
  • Carpathian Fangs – 1112, 290 – Monastery of the First Mother – Fury
  • Carpathian Fangs – 720, 360 – Roman Baths – Vigour
  • Carpathian Fangs – 940, 730 – Red Hand Compound – Corruption
  • Carpathian Fangs – 770, 530 – Zana Springs – Laceration, Valour

 

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TSW Mod Listing

TSW Mod Listing

A repository hosted by TSW Guides.

Below is a TSW Mod List.  We try to provide a link to multiple TSW Mod providers if such exists (e.g. a mod uploaded to both Curse and SecretUI).  We anticipate adding provider links, topic categories, and many more mods in the days to come!



NOTE: These TSW mods are not created or hosted by TSWGuides.  We maintain this listing simply to help sort between the different providers out there.  We are not held responsible for the performance or failures of any TSW mod on this list.

Mods are flash files that the player can load into their TSW directory.  The Mod will enhance the user interface by adding new customization options, or new features.  Players should take care to follow the readme.txt instructions for any Mod before installing.

Mods are not required to play The Secret World, however, in our experience we have found a number of these mods greatly improve the game-play experience.

If you feel we are missing any mods from this list, please comment to this page and we will be sure and include it to the listing.

Topbar Information Overload




Topbar Information Overload
Topbar Information Overload

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Update Notes for Version 1.1 (testlive edition)

Update version 1.1 Notes
**These notes do not necessarily reflect the final version that will be deployed on Live**

GENERAL
* The “Burn, Baby, Burn” achievement should now be correctly awarded.
* Your character can now be rotated on the character selection screen.
* London : For the truly rapacious, tacos are now sold in packs of 10 and 50. Tacos can now also be stacked up to 100 per inventory slot.
* Fixed an issue with auto run being reset periodically.
* Switching to walk now disables sprint.
* Corrected an issue where ranking up would sometimes not trigger if you earned the exact amount of xp to rank up.
* Fixed a rubberbanding issue in Kingsmouth sewers.
* London : Konrad Engel now correctly chats on the topic of The Templars.
* London : Fixed an issue where some male npcs had female voices.
* Atentist Garb no longer causes character’s eyebrows to change to orange.
* Fixed an issue that caused players to receive the Log into Facebook popup every login.

AUDIO
* NPC emotes should now have sound again.
* Adjusted the volume of the intro movies.
* Fixed an issue when a not-patched sound didn’t play until the game client been restarted.
* Adjusted volume of ingame sound and music while the browser is open.

CABALS
* You now need to be secret society rank 2 to create a guild.

CLIENT
* Fixed the cause of a crash.
* Added a camera sensitivity option.

COMBAT
* Active Dodge will no longer go on cooldown anyway if you attempt to use it in an area where you cannot use it.
* Eating a taco will no longer cause you to stop sprinting.
* Fixed an issue where some abilities could cause friendly npcs to hate you.
* Updated all Barrier’s, Leech’s, DoT’s, and HoT’s to have dynamic tooltip values.
* Fixed a bug with dashing.
* Updated several combat ability animations.
* Blade – Reduced the damage dealt by the Crimson Theatre ability.
* Blade – Fatal Flourish’s tooltip has been updated to state it will stack 5 times.
* Blade – Seven and Half Samurai now correctly effects Focus attacks.
* Blood – Blood spike description has been changed to 5 secs instead of 8 secs.
* Chaos – Corrected the tooltip for Backlash.
* Chaos – Equipping the passive Entropy will no longer play a visual effect.
* Chaos – Deconstruct now properly applies secondary resources when a target is beneath 35% health.
* Chaos – Karma is now affecting up to 5 targets with both the damage and the debuff.
* Chaos – Reduced the value of the heal effect given by Karma.
* Elementalism – Updated the tooltip of Short Fuse to properly display cooldown.
* Elementalism – Updated the tooltip for Live Wire.
* Fist – Updated tooltip for Berserk, to correctly show ability information.
* Fist – The animation for Tear’Em Up now plays each time the ability is used.
* Fist – Updated ability to ensure that Creature Comfort properly applies Character Skill Warmth.
* Fist – Updated tooltip for Hot Iron.
* Hammer – Hell to Pay is a column attack, as intended.
* Hammer – Updated Grip Whip’s animation.
* Hammer – The punishment skill is now working as intended.
* Pistols – Area Drone will no longer appear to move with your character.
* Pistols – Updated all consumers to ensure that the Seal the Deal passive properly applies its buff when intended.
* Shotgun – The Shotgun skill passive Point Blank has been renamed to “CQC”.
* Shotgun – Defensive Turret properly procs Reinforcement on players within the area.
* Shotgun – Riot Act was updated to ensure it applies based on a single targets resources.
* Shotgun – Removed the incorrect Impaired data from the Point Blank ability.

CRAFTING
* Players can no longer attempt to attach the same glyph to a weapon that is already on the weapon.
* If you craft a Gadget and have a similar gadget in your inventory already, you will now actually receive the second gadget when your materials are consumed.
* Fixed an issue where moulds could not be created from the Soul Crusher weapon.
* Tooltip description added to Gadget toolkits.
* Nightmare drops will now correctly disassemble into Sacred-level materials.

DUNGEONS
* XP rewards from killing dungeon mobs has been reduced.
* The Hell Raised Nightmare lockout tooltip now has a title and description.

ITEMS
* Templar Crusader outfit on the deck tab now looks like the actual clothing.
* Tartarusian Ingot is now a belt-slot talisman, as intended.
* Scale of Zipacna now has Block rating, as intended.
* Several glyphs that were selling for 1 PAX have had their prices corrected.
* Signet of Rejuvenation and Fortification will trigger more reliably.
* Fixed several issues where clothing would clip your character or other clothing.
* Corrected names on moccasin clothing items.
* Players can no longer consume the Elixir of Life when already at full health.
* Corrected the amount of critical power that Calabi-Yau Manifold gives.
* Clarified description text of the Loyal Hound.
* Elixir of Life will now display correct combat log information when used.
* Updated description of Temple Cat, Ferocious Wolf, and Loyal Hound to state that the bonuses no longer get applied after gaining 3,000,000 XP.
* Descriptions on the following items have been changed:
- Sinner’s Blood
- Ankh Bracelet
- Baal’s Pigment
- Hell’s Ashes
- Revival Medallion
- Solar Band

GUI
* Added an interaction gui (popup showing that you can use objects).
* Gear manager builds are now updatable without having to first delete the previous build.
* Making a new map marker with a very long name will no longer cause an error message when the map loads.
* The key will no longer initiate deletion of characters in the login GUI. You now have to click the “DELETE CHARACTER” button with the mouse.
* The gear cursors no longer appear on patrollers, or other civilians standing around.
* Fixed an issue where subtitles would sometimes not be positioned correctly on the screen.
* Pressing “shift+esc” (default binding) will now close most open GUI elements. Useful if you’re suddenly attacked while having a lot of GUI’s open.
* Highlighting of the selected player in the Raid GUI now looks correct.
* Fixed several issues with resizing and positioning the Raid GUI.
* Dialog boxes now close when camping.
* Removed some hub lore achievements, as they were outdated.
* Deck descriptions are no longer editable.
* Resolved an issue where the animations for getting Anima Points, Skill Points, and Mission Completion Notifications would repeat several times.
* The Ignored list now shows total amount of characters.
* Scrollbar and list now updates position correctly when friends have been removed.
* Splitting items in the crafting ui now works the same way as splitting items in your inventory.
* Scaled inventory windows now work properly with drag/drop.
* Hover info no longer stays onscreen when clicking rapidly on different items.
* Items that cannot be sold do not show up in vendor’s lists anymore.
* Guild window now closes when leaving/being kicked from the guild.
* Resolved several issues with resizing data table columns in guis.
* Fixed some issues with the chat text filter.
* Need/Greed windows no longer disappear if you resurrect to a point where you should still be allowed to loot the items.
* Entering special characters required for German, French and other languages in chat should now work correctly.
* Characters who reach faction rank 13 should no longer see a tag of a different faction as their next possible rank.
* Fixed an issue where the progress bar in the faction rank window would cease to function after rank 1.
* Corrected the display of the number of online and total cabal members.
* Switch mission dialog will now be closed when logging out as well as teleporting.
* There is now a prompt letting you know that an item cannot be traded.
* Hovering over the randomize icons in character creation now gives a tooltip.
* Scrolling down the faction rank window no longer causes parts of it to disappear.
* The buttons on Gear Manager no longer expand when holding down the buttons.
* The hitzone for the button in the gear manager now works properly.
* You can now drag abilities by clicking on their icons in the ability search.
* The mission switching GUI no longer remains onscreen after the player logs out.

MISSIONS
* Into Darkness – Illuminati now also get to keep their headlamp.
* New York : Questions and Answers – Warehouse workers have proper health values.
* New York : Mainframe – There is now a confirmation prompt to enter the Orochi Office.
* London : Updated lighting and visuals in Tabula Rasa.

City of the Sun God
* From Below – Adjusted the assault encounter.
* A Flight of Locusts – Adjusted the end boss difficulty.
* Modest Proposal – Fixed the assault timers. Assaults should be easier now.
* The Hell Commander at the end of “Dust Devils” is now harder to beat and has been scaled up slightly.
* Halls of Lost Records – Fixed some misaligned lasers.

Kingsmouth
* Improved the visibility of the Siren’s Song effect while in the sewers during the mission Dawning of an Endless Night.
* Appetite for Destruction – Monsters attacks no longer come from within the walls.
* Men in Black Vans – Corrected the spelling of the employee’s name on the ID card.
* Rolls Downhill – Courier dialogue is slightly easier to hear now.

The Besieged Farmlands
* End Games – Mission will resolve correctly when reaching Transylvania.
* Mortal Sins – Tier 4 goal now has a map marker.
* Cucuvea’s animations during the story mission cinematic were adjusted.

The Blue Mountain
* Water textures no longer bounce up and down.

The Savage Coast
* Ak’ab workers in Savage Coast are all sized consistently.
* Players are no longer forced to respawn outside after dying 2 times in the cave during the mission Ami Legend.
* Taking the Purple – Ambushers should spawn properly during tier 2.
* In Cold Blood – Guards no longer turn and run through the door.
* The Rec Centre Cannot Hold – The Flesh Clump will no longer reset when multiple players interact with it at the same time.
* Pets are no longer killed by the Innsmouth Academy door wards.
* The Player, Not the Piece – All staked draug now display a visual effect when staked. Your cursor will change to a cog wheel, indicating interaction can take place, when you mouse over all parts of the pyre.
* Gravity – Players can now open the will and see the pop-up.
* Players who lose the demonic resonator will now be able to reacquire it during any stage of Infernal Vibrations.
* Life Imitating Art – Removed the fullscreen visual effect from this mission.
* Scavenging Wendigo no longer climbs trees.
* A Reasonable Man – Zombies now properly jump off the cliff.
* Winter’s Legacy should no longer contain incorrect faction report text.
* Breakfast of Champignons – The fullscreen effect now vanishes after completing the mission.
* The Akab local environment no longer extends into the graveyard behind the black house.
* Crustacean Curse should now properly award XP upon completion.

The Scorched Desert
* Cinematics from From Oxford, With Love tier 1 and Black Sun, Red Sand tier 4 can no longer be triggered at the same time and overlap each other.
* The Last Legion -Cinematic and legion spawning are now triggered correctly.
* A Lion in the Streets – Fixed an issue where the presence of additional Marrowchewers could make this encounter more difficult than intended.
* Fixed some issues with Rib-Hadda’s fight.
* Corrected some pathing issues with Berihun. It should no longer be possible to die during the cinematic with Berihun during tier 3 by being spotted just before watching the cinematic.
* Not by Bread Alone – Goal is now updated by walking into the camp, not by clicking on an npc.
* A Lion in the Streets – You can no longer trigger a second Great-jinn to fight by rushing to the second appearance too quickly.
* The Big Terrible Picture – The Infancy fire now extinguishes correctly.
* The Big Terrible Picture – The mission no longer displays a placeholder name in the beginning of the cinematic.
* Black Sun, Red Sand – The player is able to see the Ancient Tomb Guardian’s ability circle much clearer when standing on sand.

The Shadowy Forest
* The Silver Egg now indicates which mission it is used in. The Silver Egg can no longer be deleted.
* Mortal Sins – Players should now be able to return into the tomb if they are under the ‘Gather Essence’ goal on tier 20.
* Mortal Sins – Only one player at a time can interact with the letter now, and when the puzzle is started for a player other players must wait until the puzzle is completed or reset before they can attempt it.
* Fungal Becoming – Nightmare buff tooltip for Fungal Becoming now states the correct value.
* The Mushroom spawn ability from the Fungal becoming should no longer display placeholder text.
* Forget-me-not – The mission should now be classified with the rest of the Shadowy Forest missions once it goes in the Finished Missions section of the journal.
* Blood and Fire – Fixed an issue with the Hemitneter’s Clasp that would prevent players from restarting the mission during tier 1.
* Who Comes and Goes – Goal text now asks the player to ‘Find the Abandoned Tunnel’.
* The Amazing Brothers Blaga – There is now a large bounded area marked for the region to search in.
* An Errant Knight – The Wooden knight now has an icon.
* Head of the Draculesti – Changed item display name from ‘Severed stone bust’ to ‘Severed stone head’.
* Six Feet Under – The tooltip on the Signal Tracker has had updated use information added to it.
* Six Feet Under – The Signal Tracker item will go now go on cooldown upon usage to present some form of feedback upon activation.
* Six Feet Under – The Signal Flare effect should now display long enough for the duration of the events.

PVP
* Fixed an issue where PVP status for El Dorado was not showing the correct info on the gui.
* Full screen effects (such as anima form) will now vanish upon going into a minigame.
* The rain in Stonehenge has been removed.

GENERAL
* Fixed several locations in The Blue Mountain and The Shadowy Forest where it was possible to become stuck on terrain and objects.
* Fixed a crash that happened when exiting the game.
* The preorder cat pet now has a turning animation.
* Removed the revision number check that was preventing the loading of custom UI files if the number didn’t match that of the original file in the “Default” folder.
* Fixed loading of custom .swf files from the Gui/Customized folder. Putting them in Gui/Default is no longer required, and not recommended.

MISSION
City of the Sun God
* The Voice of Aten Boss Fight difficulty has been reduced.
* The endless assault before the Voice of Aten has been removed. The pulls should now be much clearer and easier to get through.
* The Eye of Horus – It will now be possible to interact with the Altar of Bindings during Tier 2 and Tier 3. It will be possible to get a new Eye of Horus if yours was deleted.
* The pneumatic diggers should now deal more damages to the nearby cultists.
* Sparked to Life – The mounted torches outside the temple will no longer be overlapping.

NEW!
* Several new missions have been added!
City of the Sun God – The 3rd Age
The Savage Coast – Hell and Bach
The Savage Coast – Crime and Punishment
The Blue Mountain – Funeral Crashers

GENERAL
* Enjoying a taco will now also be a feast for the eyes.
* Corrected an issue where attacks with zero damage were displayed in your combat log.
* Fixed a community server crash.
* Fixed an issue that could cause agroed npcs to not reset properly.
* Fixed an issue on Testlive where the multislot dressing room menu was not shown.
* The forums button on the launcher will now direct the player to the correct forums site.
* Achievements : Renamed exploration sub-achievement The Citadel to Al-Ghasr.
* Clothing: London: All new hats for men and women are now for sale in Ealdwic Station!
* Clothing: London: Women’s short T-shirts and hand wraps are now available from Pangaea’s Expedition and Streetwear clothing lines.
* Moved the lore object The Sentinels 5 in the City of the Sun God to be in a more accessible location.
* Agartha – Falling off the branch at The Slaughterhouse entrance will now send you back up to a branch.
* The mission achievement for A Farewell to Arms now has its proper name.
* Combat music will no longer play over cinematics.
* Blue Mountain – Removed a duplicate Lore piece near the Blue Ridge Mine and relocated an unreachable Lore piece.
* Fixed an issue that prevented players from using the Agartha entrance to Blue Mountain even if they had entered Agartha from Blue Muontain before.

CHAT
* You should now be able to see /say and /shout text from other players while on the same server and playfield.
* Players can now see each other’s messages in custom chat channels.

COMBAT
* Assault Rifle – Leech Therapy now correctly causes the player and surrounding friendlies to receive healing.
* Assault Rifle – Lucky Bullet now procs on the 7th hit, as intended.
* Assault Rifle – Experience now increases leech effects as intended.
* Blade – Brandish now properly triggers Two Cuts.
* Blood – Contaminate no longer claims to be cast by the player healing.
* Chaos – Cry Havoc’s tooltip is showing the correct amount of damage done to the target.
* Chaos – The Probability buff now has a proper tooltip description when triggered.
* Chaos – Strange Attractor now has a better tooltip description on its hostile effect.
* Elementalism – Blaze now applies Crit when used in conjunction with Anima Charge and High Voltage.
* Fists – Pack Leader’s buff has a proper tooltip description.
* Fists – Gore’s DoT debuff now has a proper tooltip description.
* Pistols – Updated Cleansing Drone’s targeting to ensure only friendly targets within the radius are affected.
* Shotgun – Close Quarters will now be applied to large bosses.
* Shotgun – Riot Act now does an AoE damage.
* Fixed an issue with Crit chance and Evade chance, to make them properly recognize attacker and defender.

DUNGEONS
* All repeatable dungeon missions (marked “Revisited”) have had their XP reduced to more accurately reflect completion time.
* All mobs in all dungeons should drop appropriate gear.
* The Ankh – Updated the stats on dungeon boss loot to be more in line with crafted items.
* Some adjustments were made for balance purposes in the Nightmare dungeons Hell Fallen and The Ankh.
* Hell Raised – Environment spells will no longer trigger player passives.
* Hell Raised – Machine Tyrant (Nightmare) should now be at the appropriate (super hard) difficulty level.
* Hell Raised Nightmare – ‘Lifeburn’ dot has had its tooltip clarified to indicate that Cleansing only removes a single stack of this effect.
* Hell Raised Nightmare – Lightning flashes in the sky now give a more nightmarish feel to Hell Raised Nightmare.
* Hell Eternal – Environment spells will no longer trigger player passives.
* The Facility – Black Hole is no longer permanently knocking players to the ground.
* Added a minimap to The Polaris.

GUI
* Custom Modules, CharPrefs, LoginPrefs and MainPrefs XML files will now be loaded up to 3 levels below the Gui/Customized folder, allowing the installation of multiple mods that modify those without manually editing the files.
* The gear manager window now has a scroll bar on it when you have more than the default 8 slots.
* Shared gear manager builds will now correctly appear on your ui.
* Added onscreen messages for hitting cap of skill/anima points, and for when you are over the cap and cannot gain any more.

ITEMS
* Blue glyph kits have been added to all Transylvanian playfield token vendors.
* Eyes of Fire talisman now grants the stacking buff.
* Players should be able to receive clothing items from the Item Shop even if their inventory is full.
* Stimulant and Kickback Gadget effects will no longer overwrite each other.
* Nightwatch Dealers in each faction hub now sell weapons and equipment to truly heroic individuals.
* Increased buff amount from gadgets to match their descriptions.

MISSIONS
* Dawning of an Endless Night – If the client crashes or disconnects while rejecting The Gift, your character will now be able to swim safely back to reality.
* Dawning of an Endless Night – Removed the waymarker on tier 7.
* New York : Mainframe – The buff will no longer disappear on death in tier 4.
* When you fail a mission goal while interacting with a mission object, the interaction will be properly interrupted and won’t complete despite failing the goal.

Besieged Farmlands
* Sins of the Father – Mission can now be completed even if certain mission goals are done out of order.
* Sins of the Father – The turrets killing the boss will count for the mission’s completion.

Blue Mountain
* Scavengers – Fixed an issue that prevented players from completing Tier 5.
* The Haunting – Exiting the instance with the Agartha Conduit during certain events will no longer break the solo dungeon.
* Off the Menu – To prevent confusion, players can now lure the Bone Cracker by staying on top of the cliff or on top of his nest (previously players had to stand on top of the nest to lure him).

Carpathian Fangs
* Icebreaker – Icebreaker is now a bit more group compatible. In response, the zombies have unionized.
* Icebreaker now has proper waypoints.
* Tipping Point should now have a proper waymarker.
* The tracking device used in ‘The Girl is Gone’ now has the correct waypoint.
* Players should no longer be able to get stuck behind a particular set of bookshelves in Dracula’s Castle.
* Examining the bodies during Frostbitten will now provide team credit.
* Several media popups involved in A History of Violins will no longer provide team credit.
* Defeating The Gray should now provide team credit.
* The handwritten note found in Cabin Fever now provides team credit. Team members may review the media popup in their journal.
* Mara’s appearance is now consistent between the cinematic and encounter in Mortal Sins.

City of the Sun God
* The Stained Oasis – Goal Marker for Tier 3 should now display at the correct location.
* Eye of Horus – Keeper Sh’ar and Keeper Garran should respawn properly after being killed.
* Halls of Lost Records – The Goal Marker for Tier 2 has been adjusted.
* Halls of Lost Records – The Goal Marker for Tier 6 will now display properly.
* Halls of Lost Records – The defense mechanism inside the Room of Sekhmet now has more ways to reset. It will also reset if everyone leaves the room.
* The Lava crack in The Gauntlet should now burn as lava it is intended to burn.
* Dust Devil – The Goal Marker for Tier 3 has been changed to its intended location.
* Buried in Sand – Rewards should now be obtained upon completing the mission.
* Mummy Massacre – The amount of mummies to kill in order to lure the leader out has been reduced.
* Mummy Issues – The Tablet Pieces dropped by the Messengers can now only be picked up while doing the mission.
* Mummy Issues – Tier 1 The Temple key needed to unlock the door to the scribe’s room should now be more visible.
* The Eye of Horus – Keeper Garran and Keeper Sh’ar should no longer skip their respawn time.
* The Way of Things – Tier 2, 3 and 4 rituals have been made more multiplayer friendly and should now be resetting if all the players leave their specific areas.
* The particle for the Ritual of Flame will also stop by itself after a while, as well as when the ritual resets.

Kingsmouth
* Zen and the Art of Weapon Maintenance – Players can continue to interact with mission objects to get materials and will be able to continue the mission even if deleting/disassembling weapons and materials.

The Savage Coast
* The Man in the Ebony Tower should now be properly repeatable.
* Jacob Smythe should no longer go on unannounced vacations.

Scorched Desert
* Signal Effect – Players are now able to copy and paste out of the the G.H.O.S.T. interface.
* The Last Legion encounter should now solve the mission for anyone who hits Legatus Aulus.
* The Last Legion npc Primus Pilus is now flagged as a mission target for tier 3.

The Shadowy Forest
* The Draculesti – The mission should now reward experience upon completion of each tier, up to the designated total.
* Last Dance of the Pădurii – The Humming Music Box will remain in the players inventory when the mission is paused, until it is completed.
* Last Dance of the Pădurii – Muma Pădurii should no longer attack from range – she now fights like other Padurii. Interacting with the Humming runestone is no longer necessary to counteract that.
* The Cellar Door – The mission should now reward experience upon completion of each tier, up to the designated total.
* Flight of the Sinners – The Rotten Corpse in the mission GUI has been renamed to Charred Corpse.
* Cruel Nature – Gather Rope goal marker radius is now larger and more visible on the map.
* A Wreath of Roses – Goal markers radius are now larger and more visible on the map.
* The Padurii/Minion system has been revised. Players should be unable to separate a spirit minion from it’s master unless they slow them down. The Spirits are very susceptible to movement impairing effects.

NPCS
* City of the Sun God – Marrowplague Hive Worker’s Nesting ability will no longer display temporary names.

PVP
* PVP rewards now have crafting data.

TRADEPOST/BANK/MAIL
* Players are no longer able to send blank mail.
* When a player deletes an item from the cabal bank, the item will disappear for him/her from the guild bank right away. Other players will still only see the change after they reopen the cabal bank.
* You will now get a confirmation dialog when moving items into the cabal bank without having the permissions to remove it again.

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