Canadian Games Conference: Fee to Play

May 20th, 2011

Well I'm part-way through the second day at the Canadian Games Conference, and the presentation I gave with Craig yesterday went spectacularly well. I would have reported on it earlier but I was somewhat distracted by all the great after-hours activities...

If you missed the show - for shame! - here's a bit of a summary. I talked about the problems faced by marketing in today's MMO climate: how the subscription model works and how energy and convenience free to play models contrast with it. I also argued that marketing teams need to look at game communities as a whole rather than focus on getting money from each individual player: non-paying players keep paying players playing (and paying!). Craig followed up with some practical advice on the different types of things you can sell in a game, and explained how each of them might affect both revenue and the number of potential clients your game has. He described how efforts to monetize more players could also shrink the overall player base.

Our conclusion was simple: find a way to enable players to spend money rather than focusing on extracting money from them. Let them want to spend money rather than make them have to spend money. You'll have happier players as a result, and a happy player is a paying player!

Continue reading...

Posted by: Soulrift

Perpetually Rolling Alts? No thanks.

May 4th, 2011

I recently checked out the 15-day trial for Perpetuum, an MMORPG that strikes me as "EVE On Land". The similarities are unavoidable, as everything from combat to leveling up to the market is extremely EVE-inspired. However, the game falls short in a number of crucial places, so I don't think I'll be adding the game to the official lineup here at Soulrift.

The biggest thing that upset me was the character progression in the game. Like EVE, characters in Perpetuum gain skill points ("EP") over time. I liked that you gained EP which you could spend later rather than gained "training" for a queue of skills that was limited to 24 hours, meaning that you didn't have to baby-sit or plan ahead in Perpetuum the way you do in EVE. However, attributes in Perpetuum have a far far greater impact on the cost to train skills. There are also only 3 attributes: one for combat skills, one for industry skills, and one for social/merchant skills. The result is very simple: every account makes three alts: a combat alt, an industry alt, and a merchant alt.

I don't like having to make alts.

I like to play all the roles in the game, but I don't like having to make alts to do it. I'll make alts when I have to, in WoW-style themepark MMOs it's pretty standard practice. But the thing I love about Final Fantasy XI, XIV, and EVE is the fact that you don't need alts: your one character viably does it all. So when I created my Perpetuum character with a mix of combat and industrial skills, I wasn't expecting to so thoroughly gimp myself to the point of having to start over and lose all my progress.

Continue reading...

Posted by: Soulrift

Aesthetic Quality Assurance

November 1st, 2010

I'd like to welcome everyone to the first Professional Service offered at Soulrift: Aesthetic Quality Assurance. What is is? Aesthetic Quality Assurance (AQA) focuses on an early intervention strategy to ensure a quality game design from the first concept through to the finished product. Think of it this way: instead of putting your game out and hoping you get a good review score, wouldn't it be better to have those reviewers giving constructive feedback at an early stage of development when you can actually act upon it? AQA is the ultimate feedback element of any good Agile development method: constructive criticism from an unbiased agent with a wealth of experience upon which to draw.

AQA differs from standard Quality Assurance practices in that it focuses on the Aesthetic, rather than the technical, aspects of the game. A traditional QA team might be able to find the bugs in your game, but can they find the fun? A traditional QA team might make sure the game meets your publisher's technical requirements, but can they make sure the game meets your fans' requirements? Every AAA game that is trying to break the 85+ metacritic barrier can do so with a single simple addition to the team: an Aesthetic Quality Assurance officer.

A wide range of services are available at Soulrift to meet every team's needs. From a quick consultation to a lifecycle integrated agent, there's always something an AQA can do to make your game better. Don't wait for the critics to crush your dreams and think you can patch the game; those first impressions last a life time. Make the first impressions the best ones: Contact Soulrift to find out what an AQA Agent can do for you!

Address Inquiries to: Simon Ludgate

Posted by: Soulrift

Steam Sure Has Saved Me a Bundle

June 7th, 2010

This is largely a response to a news post at Gamasutra that described the psychology of Steam Bundles. Unfortunately, I don't have much experience with Steam bundles themselves other than having bought the Half Life 2 Silver bundle, which included the original HL and a number of original and "sourced-up" remakes that I never owned, having only played them at net cafés or friends' houses. With the exception of the Deathmatch games, I wanted everything in the bundle and got good use out of it all. Other bundles? Nope. Every other bundle I've seen either included too much junk or games I already had.

Rather, I want to address one of the points made in the original Gamasutra article, that of "sales." There's another psychological effect at play, one that doesn't seem to apply to most Americans, but has certainly caught on to Quebecers. I read an article long ago comparing "brand loyalty" versus "sales" marketing strategies, and for the life of me I wish I could find it again to prop my argument up with a reference. Basically, the article suggested that in some markets, the use of "prizes" and "contests" build brand loyalty which in turn drives sales of those products; in other areas, brand loyalty is extremely difficult to buy because consumers are only interested in getting the best "deal", no matter which brand meets the need. Moreover, in such areas where consumers are driven by a sales mentality, the sales mindset becomes so strong that they will often refuse to buy a product not on sale, since they know that, in a few weeks, it will go on sale. The drive to buy a product is rarely strong enough to encourage a non-sale purchase, but rather merely strong enough to buy a "less than the best" sale price.

As a very common home-grown example I grew up with, a box of 12 cans of soft drink will normally sell for $5.99, but will go on sale anywhere from $5/box to $2.50/box. Generally, the $3/box was the upper range of "normal price" and anything over that was expensive. If you were really feeling the pressure for some pop, you might break out the wallet at $3.33 or $3.49 a box, and $3.99 was the upper limit for those emergency "we're throwing a party and we need pop NOW" situations. Anything higher than $4 and you'd just go without.

The thing is, the frequency of sales on Steam has really driven home the same mentality in Steam games. When I saw the new expansion for Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising, I said: hey, great. I want that. Now I just have to wait for it to go on sale. I waited and, sure enough, it went on sale. Bam. 50% off. Steam's predictable sales cycle saved me $15, which is still a bit more than I'd have liked to pay; I'd rather have taken it for $10. Maybe there'll be a 66% off sale in a few months and I'll be going "tisk, I should have waited" but I guess even my patience has limits.

Continue reading...

Posted by: Soulrift

Ad Experiment Meets Feedback Failure

May 19th, 2010

Well, that Ad experiment has run its course, the $100 of free AdWords got devoured in a handful of days and ran out May 11th, long before I had a chance to fix my broken feedback form which, unfortunately, kept overwriting rather than appending. Oops. All that feedback lost. The conversion from new visitors to new ad clickers didn't work too well either, of the 200-odd people that visited the site from AdWords on other site, only 4 clicked through ads on this site, turning the (admitedly free) $100 investment in Ads into $1.38 of revenue. Not exactly a good investment, eh?

For what it's worth, I've gone ahead and updated the feedback form, so feel free to use it again. Regularly scheduled news and insights into the MMORPG industry will resume shortly!

Posted by: Soulrift

Trying out Google AdWords

May 8th, 2010

I've been running Google's AdSense on my site for a number of years now, though it's never generated enough income to actually get paid (you only get paid when you earn more than $100). I guess there just aren't that many people reading my site, and that doesn't entirely surprise me, considering I've never really advertised it.

Well, since I re-wrote the site considerably to use this new custom PHP display, I figured it was high time to actually get some real readers too. Google frequently mails out these "AdWords coupons" to get people started with their service, and I've just ignored them up until now, but I'm going to try one and see where it gets me. Rather than spend time setting some sort of elaborate tracking mechanism and since I'm not really as interested in mere "views" as I am in gaining "readers" I'm going to resort to a fairly low-tech feedback form. If you're reading this, please take a moment to fill it in; this is also a chance to tell me what sort of content you want to see!

Note: all information is optional, you're welcome to leave any of the fields blank.

Feedback form is now integrated into the main website!

Posted by: Soulrift

Upgraded to Expert!

May 4th, 2010

As you may or may not know, I also maintain a Blog at Gamasutra, the premier website for members of the game development community. I recently noticed my status has been upgraded from mere member to exalted expert blogger, which, I suppose, means that my musings have gained tremendous credibility!

In other news, a few quick-fire updates:

  • I finally rented and played Final Fantasy XIII. I'm not planning on reviewing it or anything here, but I did comment on the game's feel as an RPG on my Gamasutra Blog.
  • Warhammer Online seems to be winding up to some greatly exciting 1.3.5 patch. Trying to get a taste of that excitement myself, I tried playing my level 6 Magus, got my ass handed to me several times, and turned it right back off again.

    Continue reading...

Posted by: Soulrift

This is Soulrift

April 1st, 2009 is a blog covering high profile MMOs, and features reviews, insights, and discussion about the games and the design decisions which form them. Through this site I impart over a decade's worth of experience with the genre, as my history with MMOs dates back to the late 90's and Asheron's Call (or earlier, if you count MUDs, BBS's, and other text-based games). I have a particular interest in meta-game design theory, social game design, and the influence of marketing concerns on game design decisions. That said, I'm also good at picking out and elucidating upon the ephemeral notion of what makes a particular game "fun" and enjoy helping players pick the game that best suits their tastes. is a project I complete alone, with no editorial oversight or marketing department limiting my discussion of MMOs. Readers can rest assured that they will always find honest and truthful reporting. That said, I can only write about the games I play, and as I do this as a hobby I tend to only play the games I enjoy playing. You may find that articles congregate around whatever game most entertains me at the time; but if anyone wishes for coverage of another game, just let me know and I'll be happy to take a look and share my thoughts.

I can be contacted by email at any time via and I welcome feedback, comments, or other inquiries.

Enjoy the site!

Posted by: Soulrift

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