Today I have a special treat for you guys! Part One of an exclusive Q&A interview with Jason Winter. Some of you who tune into the TWIMMO show over at Gamebreaker.tv may be familiar with Jason’s work, as he is a regular on that website. Jason is also the former editor of Beckett Massive Online Gamer.
So sit back, chill and spend some time with us, as we get Jason’s take on many mmo related topics!
KTG: We were all pretty shocked to hear that the Mar/April edition of Massive Online gamer was gonna be its last, were you surprised by Beckett’s decision to stop printing the magazine or were you prepared, did you see some sort of writing on the wall??
JW: It wasn’t that big of a shock. Without getting into too many details, I could tell from the numbers – magazine sales, subscriptions, and ad revenue – that we were not in the best of places, and I’d been making a few small inquiries about job opportunities elsewhere for a while. That it finally happened, and that it was as sudden as it was, did jolt me a little bit – after I got the news, I just went home for the rest of the afternoon – but I’m grateful that Beckett kept me on for as long as they did and I really do miss some of the people I worked with. Emphasis on “some.” 🙂
KTG: What were some of the highlights of working and editing MOG for the past six years, and conversely what were some of the low points, if any?? (NOTE: Jason Informed me he was not editor for the entire six year run of the magazine, as he became involved with the magazine in mid-2008 as a freelance writer. Then in Sept. 2009, he was promoted to Associate Editor and moved to the Beckett offices in Dallas in January 2010, becoming full Editor of the magazine in August of that year.)
JW: What I really loved the most about it had to be when we’d get props from our readers. It really meant something to have someone take the time out to let you know what they thought about your work, especially when it was something I worked on personally. If you like anything you read, whether it’s on a website, magazine, over Twitter or Facebook, take a moment to let the creator know how you feel, or even just chat or leave comments. He or she will really appreciate it, trust me. Oh, and I had a great time when Sony Online Entertainment flew me (and other press) out to Vegas for Fan Faire this last year. Hey, I didn’t get that many perks, and that was a good one, even if I did totally flub the indoor skydiving.
As for the low points… well, let’s just say I do a little happy dance at 10:00 a.m. every Wednesday morning and leave it at that. A few people will get that.
KTG: What are some trends in the mmorpg industry over the span of editing and working in the magazine and website for the past few years that surprised, came out of left field maybe, or excited you about the future of the business?
JW: Even to just take the last 2-3 years into account, I’m surprised at how quickly players (and even I) have started to grouse about the “accepted” structure of an MMORPG: talk to a quest giver, get quest to kill/collect 10 whatevers, go back, rinse and repeat, quest up to max level, do endgame instances, and so on. Even more than the rise of F2P, I think this is what we’ll look back on as being the defining paradigm shift in the genre for years to come. We haven’t really had a big, shiny, mass-market game that breaks these conventions, not since WoW and its ilk hit the scene, but with games like Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World coming up, I think a lot of the “old guard” could be in for a shock. And if you’re developing a new MMO right now, you’d damn well better take that into account.
KTG: Maybe you have touched upon this in other places, but where do you stand on the whole f2p vs. p2p debate?
JW: It’s funny, but back when I first heard of the concept of an MMO, about 10 years ago, I thought it was stupid. “I have to buy a $50 game and then pay more to play it?” It was like if I bought Dungeons & Dragons books and then a representative from Wizards of the Coast came to my home every time I wanted to play and demanded a few bucks from me and my friends. It seemed to me that the money was in the subscriptions and continuing profits, not the box sales, so I thought MMO boxes should be very cheap – $15-$20 or so – or even free, and then you could charge up the hoozit for subscriptions.
OK, so I won’t say I saw all of this coming, but I thought it was the best model for the industry a while back. That said, there are, I think, three levels of F2P. No. 1: “Everything in the cash shop is available in game (with reasonable effort – i.e., not taking 50 hours to grind for something I could buy for $3)”; No. 2: “Everything stat-related in the cash shop is available in game (some cosmetics, mounts, and other nonessentials are cash-shop-exclusive)”; and No. 3: “Stat-related items that are better than what you can earn in-game are available only in the cash shop.”
I’m fine with #1 and #2. #3… not so much.
I get the notion of “It’s their game, they can run it however they want.” That’s true. And then it’s my right as a consumer to not play/but it. Obviously, enough people are OK with it that companies like Bigpoint can do business, and that’s fine. A new game that launches and wants to use system #3 is likely to meet with less criticism than a P2P game that switches to a #2 or #3 model. When you’re used to getting everything possible for your subscription fee, and that changes, it’s jarring, and we’re naturally predisposed to assume that the company is making the switch to increase its profits by squeezing more money out of its customers.
I spent a lot of time in the trading-card-game industry before coming to Beckett, and there are a lot of similarities between TCGs and MMOs. In effect, TCGs are P2P PvP MMOs with cash shops – the more you spend (on things that can only be obtained by spending money), the better your chance of winning. Yes, a good player with less money can beat a bad player with more money, but if skill (and luck) is equal, a player with $1,000 worth of cards will beat a player with $100 worth of cards 99 times out of 100.
I got out of TCGs in part because I didn’t want to feel like the only way to get good was to spend more. That’s part of what drew me to MMOs, the fact that I could pay my $15 a month and be just as good as anyone, that money had been taken out of the equation. There aren’t that many TCGs any more, not nearly as many as there were 10-15 years ago, and part of the reason is because other people came to this same conclusion and didn’t want to feel like they had to invest their savings in a game to become proficient at it. I’m hopeful that MMOs don’t go along the same path.
And I know that a common argument is “Well, if you only PvE, what do you care if someone spends a bunch on the cash shop? It’s not affecting you.” Maybe, maybe not. If developers start gearing their toughest content to only be doable by people who have spent a bunch in the cash shop – likely because those who do spend money on exclusive items complain in the forums, etc. about the top-level content being “too easy” – then it becomes more difficult, or nigh impossible, for players without those exclusive items to complete it, those players lose interest, and the game suffers. It’s the old adage of 20% of the people making 80% of the noise, and developers need to make sure they’re not letting their “whales” dictate the direction of the game for everyone.
That is all for now guys, check back tomorrow for part 2 of our talk with Jason, and I want to thank Jason in advance for taking time out of his busy week to chat!