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Developer Roundtable: Triple-A, Free-to-Play
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Developer Roundtable: Triple-A, Free-to-Play

February 4, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

What kind of in-game metrics and analytics tools do you use to measure your game's health?

TH: I think what's most interesting, from a developer standpoint versus a business view, is all of the game design metrics that we collect and that any F2P developer can collect. So yes, we look at retention rates, and monetization rates, and what's selling, but our designers have access to really, really detailed data on the strength of every weapon. They can look at, for instance, the kill-to-death ratio of the nine different classes in the game, and whether those ratios are actually bearing out in reality as we would expect from the game design.

With a single day's worth of data, our design team can see enough statistically relevant data to see if any design changes are working as intended or not. So that's really what's most exciting to the game design team.

Every match you play in Tribes, that data, in terms of how many kills, what weapon you used, how effective those weapons were, how effective your team was -- all of that is being captured in a persistent database, and our designers can use that data to improve the game.

MH: We have very extensive monitoring and metrics tools in PlanetSide 2 for us to figure out stuff like how many people logged in today, logged in yesterday, and percentages of falloff of people. Also every kill that happens, every death that happens, we track and we can filter that through a variety of tools to figure out balance -- figuring out which areas of the game people play and stick around with.

So yeah, data gathering and metrics for a game like this, where we're planning on making changes for years to come, being able to track all our metrics and what people are doing and what we can do to make people keep playing is really, really important.

BE: We designed our own proprietary telemetry system that logs pretty much every user action in the game, from where they click, to how well they do in each match, to how much they spend and when, to their average FPS. Our community of players also gives us regular feedback and has been a huge asset in the Closed and Open Beta phase.

How do you decide what to charge for and how much to charge? Is there a coherent philosophy behind your monetization design?

TH: The philosophy that we started with in Tribes was that we wanted it to be relatively less expensive in terms of time or money to unlock different classes, so that various roles on the battlefield would be filled up pretty quickly. Then, in terms of weapons, we wanted there to be more progression involved in terms of player time or money. So classes first, weapons second, just so there would be diversity on the battlefield. Beyond that, it's fairly metrics-driven, and we do a lot of experimentation in terms of price points.

MH: I think it's a feel thing. I don't think there's really a formula that you can plug stuff into to figure it out exactly. It has to do with how many items you're going to allow people to unlock. What sort of progression is involved in unlocking items? What's the gameplay associated with unlocking?

For us, as you're playing PlanetSide and getting kills and capturing bases and all that stuff, you're earning stuff that you need. You don't really need to go out of your way to do stuff that's not fun, or not part of the core game, to get the points that you use to unlock new items. So the very core of the entertainment experience of the game is also helping you progress your character and unlock new stuff.

But we set kind of a wide range of prices from things that are like 50 cents to, I think our highest-priced items right now are bundles that give you multiple items for around 10 bucks. At the end of the day, with a free-to-play game, the best possible thing you can do is make people feel good about the purchases that they're making. Make them feel they got a good value for what they're spending, and that they're supporting a game they enjoy. If you can accomplish those two things I think you can be successful in the free-to-play space.

BE: We're still working out how elastic our economy is, testing a variety of price points, value propositions, and rarity. We generally start with a theory on value, and the player confirms (through a purchase or not) the value of an item, and how much would they be willing to pay for it. Then we test the theory and analyze the results. Based on early Closed Beta data, we tuned our prices and content toward the results of these tests. Now that we're in Open Beta and seeing true user-buying habits, we've tweaked a few of our original theories, most notably by adding both temporary and permanent buying options.

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David Lee
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It's nice to get varying points of view within a relatively compact piece--nice job putting together good information from three developers.

Alex Boccia
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Tribes Ascend was my favorite game for over five months until it started succumbing the freemium imbalance around may of last year. I wish they would have just had us pay forty dollars for the game outright and the game balance could have stayed. I remember HiRez said they weren't going to sell weapons and then after a few months (the huge menu update) they started to. Planetside 2 has level barrier issues, such as squads being unable to take down large bombers because nobody has leveled high enough to get the proper anti-air weapons. Really disappointed that both of these otherwise great games settled for the freemium plan. I feel like they lost most of their original playerbase (i.e. me and 20 of my friends all bailed on Tribes when it went bad) and their design choices became heavily influenced by how it would benefit free to play, and not that players.

Kyle Redd
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I'm not sure Ascend would've been worth $40. It's a multiplayer-only game with a few basic game modes and only 10 maps or so - comparable to something like Team Fortress 2 (which originally cost $20 at launch). But I agree with pretty much everything else you wrote.

The Le
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I loved the Tribes franchise, but Tribes Ascend was "pay to win" mess that put a tremendous focus on Offense. I really wanted to like it, but there were far too many problems. Here's an honest review:
Part 1 Review:
Part 2 Review:

Kyle Redd
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"we wanted anything that you could unlock to really be sidegrades -- not necessarily better weapons, but just a different play style"

This bit by Todd Harris is really hard to believe. I put over a hundred hours into Tribes Ascend, and it was very obvious throughout that time that the different weapons were absolutely not "sidegrades" by any sense of the term. That's why, for example, the Sentinel's Falcon sidearm (which most players use) costs twice as much as his shotgun sidearm (which almost nobody uses). If the weapons are meant to be roughly equal, why would there be such wide variation in their prices?

Kaitlyn Kincaid
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wrt the comment by Todd Harris on being able to take f2p games to market earlier... yes and no.

I was in the T:A early beta. Back then we had XP and we had Tokens. Tokens unlocked classes and XP unlocked stuff inside that class, you earned both at the same time. When they changed their progression system, they converted all tokens to XP and had just the one system.

The issue was, because they had promised never to reset players XP, they suddenly had players with over 10,000,000 XP (to put that in perspective, at the time the most expensive item was 170k, and that has since been lowered to just 50k). There are players with so much XP from that one conversion that they will NEVER need to buy anything ever again.

Carrying over progression from beta to live has to be one of the most foolish ideas I've seen come out of a marketing department since I read the fine print on my cellphone contract. If your game is 100% solid enough that there are no possible progression exploits, no progression adjustments, no "cost" adjustments, nothing.... why are you still calling it a beta? And if you can not guarantee 100% security on those systems, you should not be allowing players to carry over progress.

Beta is a time for finding bugs, if you tell players that they can keep any progress from testing, then what incentive do they have to report exploits? None. Firefall (by Red5 Studios) had an XP exploit last year, it went un-patched for weeks and players made total use of it to advance themselves far faster than they should have. Not only does this mean fewer "xp booster" sales later, it invalidates their progression testing. Since players were advancing so much faster, R5 has less data to go on to see if their progression rate is accurate.

Beta->live carry over is a bad idea and needs to stop, in f2p and everywhere else

(NOTE: this applies to "beta", not "early access")