Yet another OSG, Rock Age, has landed on Facebook. It’s currently still in Alpha, but I’ll be getting a review out sometime this week (right after I finish Verdonia). Also, tomorrow is the last day to submit something to the battle contest! Who doesn’t want to win free in-game currency?


Battle Narrative Contest

At long last, it’s time for another OSG1 Contest. OSG’s are filled with thousands of nameless soldiers dying for the glory of our empires. It is time to let their stories be told! Send in a combat report from any OSG along with a short story about the battle for a chance to win 2 Ultimate Game Cards worth $40 USD total, which you can use to purchase Travian Gold, Ikariam Ambrosia, Lord of Ultima Diamonds, or whatever your particular OSG’s currency is.

Submit your reports and stories by June 29th. On the 30th I’ll choose my favourite five, post them on the site, and then leave it to a public vote. The entry that has the most votes by July 7th wins! Send any entries to osg1_contest@hotmail.com

Stories will be selected based on epicness, humour, and clarity. Here’s my own example of an entry (though obviously I’m ineligible),

The troops of Gorogorosama had been sailing for hours to reach the gates of Oddessy Aztec, a city that was rumored to have a pretty large casche of sulphur waiting to be plundered. The heavy mortars were the first to fire, breaching holes in the mighty wall. A legion of Steam Giants poured out to defend the city and had Gorogorosama outnumbered, but they also had to contend with the storm of bullets rained down on them by Gorogorosama’s Carabineers. Aztec’s two doctors ran frantically back and forth across the battlefield trying to help all they could, but alas, there was no hope and Gorogorosama was victorious!


Alright, best of luck to everyone. I look forward to reading the tales of your conquests!


Pay to Play vs. Free to Play in Lord of Ultima

Pay to Play vs. Free to Play in Lord of Ultima
– by Goemon

One of the great things about OSGs is that they are free to play. Of course, the companies that make these games are just that- companies, and because of that they need a way to make money. Each of them has their own way of getting you to do this, but generally you get some kind of advantage in game in exchange for real world money. Pretty much, you can spend real cash to get in game gold or resources, or speed up construction.

Lord of Ultima gives players a chance to try out the premium content by handing out “samples” in the form of quest rewards or dungeon/boss loot. So pretty much, the marketing geniuses give you a taste of the good life for free, in hopes that you’ll like it so much you’ll continue to pay for it.

Free Lord of Ultima gives you a six slot building queue, which is actually pretty nice in comparison to other games (*cough*Desert Operations’ 1*cough*). So you can line up six orders and let the buildings construct themselves. BUT, if you pay for the building minister, your queue shoots up to 16. You can seriously set up several days worth of building orders and not have to worry about wasting any time. Building Minister for 48 hours is one such quest reward, and let me tell you, it is quite a luxury. I felt the loss of the Building Minister more than any other premium content- a convenient set it and forget concept if I’ve ever used one.

There is also a Defense Minister, which is essentially the same thing as the Building Minister except it bumps up the troop recruitment queue to 16. Also very handy to have around.
Lord of Ultima also peppers you with so-called “economic artifacts,” which is really just a fancy way of saying resources or gold. This is a very common quest reward that gives you X amount of wood, stone, iron, gold, or all of the above. I didn’t find this quite as cool as the Building Minister, but I can still see its purpose- founding a new city, for example, would be made much easier with a huge cache of resources to work with. A couple of the other artifacts advance recruitment or building queues up a certain amount of time. This pretty much serves to keep the player playing the game continually; i.e., rather than queuing up buildings and leaving for several hours. the player can just speed it up and keep playing the game right then and there.

There’s also Orbs of Peace, which prevent you from getting attacked. I haven’t had much use for that since I really only get plundered and have been able to defend myself just fine so far.

Did I enjoy using this premium content stuff? Yes. Do I wish I had access to it all the time? Also yes. Am I actually going to pay for any of them? Nope, but I’m sure many people will.

Link: If Mario Were Designed in 2010

I just stumbled upon this short article by Zack Hiwiller, “If Mario Was Designed in 2010” and had to share. Coincidentally, it touches on both the free-to-play mechanic and the so-called ‘social’ aspect of Facebook games. Enjoy!

Free-to-Play Alternatives

As I’ve discussed several time, a lot of Online Strategy Games employ the free-to-play model of monetization. For most players this means we get a great game and don’t have to pay a pence. For some dedicated players, it means they get to shell out a heavy amount of coin to get a lot of extra features, a good advantage over the rest of us, and keep the game company profitable, essentially paying for the rest of us. There’s an interesting article here that sheds further light on the concept.

The free-to-play model comes with some disadvantages as well, to both players and developers, and there are two issues that are quite prominenant specifically in OSG’s. First, the paying players gaining a significant advantage over everyone else. In a genre that’s so competive, a lot of players don’t like the idea of being out-spent instead of out-maneuvered. Second, since the players are always a potential customer (even the paying ones) some games tend to be constantly encouraging (or even begging) players to buy their in-game currency. This can grow very annoying if not done tastefully *cough*evony*cough*.

Given that game developers need to make a profit, are there alternatives to the Free-to-play model that might work better?

One-time Purchase
The most common strategy of a one-time purchase (just as with console games at the store, digital downloads on iTunes or Steam, etc.) could be applied to OSG’s as well. Instead of offering the game for free at all, OSG’s could require players to buy the game. Of course, a standard RTS has a much higher production value than an OSG, so this might be difficult to get players to buy in to and would have to be priced carefully. Further, as with MMO’s, OSG’s are perhaps more of a service than a product. Afterall, having “bought the game” does little good if the server has been shut down.

Alot of major MMO’s, specifically WOW, use the subscription model, which might work for an OSG as well. The most likely scenario would be that registration and the first week or so of a server would be free, but from then on every player would have to pay $5 a month or so to access his account. This would work better than the one-time purchase, since there would be no risk to the player that something they pay for is going to be shut down. Also, any single month of play would probably cost less than the one-time payment (attracting more customers) and yet still acts as a steady stream of income for the develor. Lord knows this has worked out well for Blizzard.

Another option would be to have an OSG be supported by advertisements. This is the way a lot of internet media works, and television uses this method as well. Granted, many games have banner ads on their site, but for a game to be entirely ad-supported it would likely require more prominent ads, such as a video commercial every time a player logs into his account or something along those lines. It would certainly be an annoyance, especially when trying to check quickly check the game at work, but if that meant all the plus-account features were activated and all players were on an even playing field, would it be worth it?

What are your thoughts? If you’re not a paying-player now, what method of monetization would you like to see your favorite OSG adapt? Would you “buy” an OSG to access the plus features forever and make sure everyone was at an equal level? Would you pay a subscription if it were priced right? Would you be willing to sit through a commercial each time you checked your account? Or would you rather leave things as they are and have a small group of players support the game and receive advantages? I’m looking forward to seeing what people think.


OSG Bang for your Buck

As you many know, most OSG’s employ the “free-to-play” strategy where the game itself is free, but players can spend money to gain advantages, usually in the form of more convenient features, increased production, etc. I was interested in which games offer the most for your money and did a little cross-game comparison. Be aware that this can’t necessarily be considered a 1:1 comparison due to the differences between games and the varying price of in-game-currency based on quantity.

+25% Production
Plus Account
Travian $0.83 $0.41
Wild Guns $1.90 $1.25
Ikariam $4.50 $1.25
Freesky $4.80
Lord of Ultima $1.70
Lords Online $14.00
Evony $20.00

I arrived at these figures by assuming the player is spending $25.00 USD, then extrapolating the closest Real Money to In-Game-Currency ratio. From there I found the cost of a Plus Account for 7 days, and the cost of a 25% production of ALL resources for 7 days. Again, not all of the games make this comparison easy. For example, Freesky only offers a 20% production increase for 3 days, so I simply multiplied the cost by 2.9. Further, some games like Evony offer “bonus packages” with every purchase of in-game currency, so if you really did spend $25 you would also receive some items to speed up construction or whatnot.

Honestly I was expecting to see the games much closer together. I was surprised by how cheap Travian is, and was also surprised by how expensive Evony is. Now, it can certainly be argued that in some games resource production isn’t as useful as in others, but nevertheless, since it’s something all these games share, it’s an interesting note of comparison.