Well it’s part three in series of failed MMOs. Today I’ll be covering Allods Online
Allods Online was a free to play Russian franchise that featured powerful graphics and strong story archs. Allods Online on release had slightly better graphics than World of Warcraft, two factions, multiple races, multiple starting zones, and multiple classes. It represented the most dynamic and expensive free to play MMORPG on the market. To show an idea of cost the average MMO costs about $2M to make. Rift cost $50M to make. Allods with no box sales and no subscription cost $12M to make.
The game was a finished product and an amazing game to boot. The gameplay was enjoyable, the dungeon content was challenging and the PvP was balanced.
So what went wrong? Allods inevitable downfall as a competitor for DDO can be summed up in three points: (1) Greed, (2) Funding, (3) Market Data, (4) PvP.
(1) The Story of Greed
When Allods Online made its North American launch it did so without any flaws, a finished product, and a fairly large gamer base that was ever so increasingly growing. Rift sold 100,000 boxes on its launch which was considered a massive commercial success. Allods on the other hand had attracted over 500,000 gamers to their free to play model. Allods was a huge success amongst the casual gamer market that was in love with free to play games.
But the gamers were duped into what seemed like the perfect free to play game. On launch the store was fair. If you wanted a mount you purchased mount feed. Other things were included like pets, healing potions, mana potions, These items were not unpopular either and were sold at a reasonable rate. A person would buy credits with a minimum purchase value of $10. That’s about half as much as the cost of a subscription for any other game.
But the developers of Allods Online had sunk a lot of money into this game and wanted a lot more money back. After a month of being online Allods reworked their store to increase prices by almost 4x. People were upset about these ridiculous prices, but the worst was yet to come.
A fun game transformed into one that was almost unplayable without money. People’s leveling stats were reduced so that a new product, a temporary stat boost, would look more appealing to their gaming community. The people who continued to play the game bought the stat boost obviously upset while many people just quit the game completely.
Allods had lost a giant chunk of their gaming community in what felt like a vie for subscription money. My favorite part about the temporary buff is that they give it to you for about two hours and then strip it from you. That way you know the difference between what it’s like to have and not to have the buff.
Take for example if you died you received this massive 10minute curse that stacked in power. You either have to wait for it to wear off (in PvP as well). Of you could purchase a Holy Charm that would remove it. It is only recently that they removed Holy Charms.
In the end the store prices were fixed, but it was probably too late. The game had already alienated it’s game base by showing how it’s design can be driven by profits.
Releasing an MMO is a hard thing. Blizzard is the only game that was able to keep their funding and design in one company. In the end they “sold out” to Activision. This allowed it so that they could design without having to ever worry about money. However the downside to this is that as their distributor and financier they will start requesting things of them. People have already remarked after only a year of the Activision/Blizzard merger of how this has changed the game and it’s marketing.
Allods entered a similar arrangement except instead of just working with a single distributor for their game like Blizzard is they operated through four different distributors, all with different demands for the game. In the end their changes to the game that effected the inevitable move of their free to play player base revolved around decisions not even pertaining to them.
On launch Allods was distributing in Russia and North America. After launch financing was cut to the game developers as they were asked to prove profitability before they received any more financing. This of course is an awfully high standard for any business at all. A business is likely to be in the red (deficit) for the first year of operation. With funding cut off for future developments Allods was forced to act fast to save money.
They set out a directive to limit the development of new content that pretty much still exists today. As an example their latest event for St. Patrick’s Day was to have GMs stand in the main cities and give out free potions to people who dressed up their characters and danced with them for St. Patrick’s Day. Any other game is going to produce content releases.
Allods can’t keep people playing their game specifically because there ends up being nothing to do. Once you level up fully and do some of their dungeons you find very quickly that there isn’t much else to do. A game without anything fresh is something that might get replayed for nostalgia purposes… but not something you will occupy your time with.
(3) Market Data
When they did end up getting funding the question came to pass, who are they making this game for. Market data was not looking so good towards a North American market. In truth the free to play craze hasn’t caught on. This is largely because anything with free associated with it is going to be given the obvious signs of some sort of trap.
Allods Online in the end represents to the average American an affirmation of that. In a time when Allods Online was in deep troubles they immediately shifted the costs to their customers. With a subscription basis the subscription fee is more likely to go down than up when profits are dwindling.
It’s, I suppose, one of the ironies of business that you need a hook to increase revenues. Decreasing price is a way of encouraging people to choose your product over one that has a stronger image. Unfortunately increasing price without offering new services just reduces customers.
Market data suggested that their main focus should be South America and Asia. A general westerner perspective on these regions is that you are more likely to con these people. In truth this is a market of poorer people who take things in turn. That is they’ll take free entertainment and pay for other things when they can afford. People in North America prefer annual rates. Why else would the highest complaints in North America be about the price of gasoline which changes on a weekly basis.
Allods fails specifically because it could not create anything that a westerner would want to pay for. If the game had provided a normal leveling experience and sold quest packs, access to zones, PvP content, or special perks for quality of life then maybe it might have been successful. If you read my review of it from almost a year ago you’d see I actually enjoyed the game. Other free to play models modified content access, this one made the non-modified version of the game very unplayable.
(4) PvP = Player vs Payment
Generally speaking when a game has two factions it should have powerful PvP. This game just doesn’t have it at all. what it offered was a limited free for all arena system where basically everyone sort of just gangs up on non-guildmates. The other part of this is random encounters with your guild’s astral ship. This of course requires you to actually build an astral ship. The concept could have been cool. Firing guns off at each other and than teleporting to the enemy’s ship.
But this kind of mass PvP needs a lot of help from developers to work and requires some facilitation. I mean the world they developed is huge. Trying to randomly find enemy air ships just did not happen. If they had created an instanced battleground featuring sinking the other person’s air ship than it might have been more acceptable. In fact that’s a great Battleground idea for Blizzard to steal.
The game itself would have been better if there was a single faction. You could still have some PvP. The game already has PvP flags turned off and on as options. Once you hit a certain level the game teaches you to turn on PvP flags and you can have an open free for all situation, this arena PvP system and this battle ships type thing.
All of this of course could be done and would have made the game better. Having one faction means there’s a higher player base to do content with. If there’s no benefit game wise for separating factions than you shouldn’t. A lot of people hated the fact that LOTRO didn’t have a playable evil faction. Of course LOTRO has probably invested more into their lore than anyone else. Had LOTRO built a PvP system their story would have sucked.
And I should say that the storyline in Allods is actually quite amazing. If you are a fan of Russian literature then you would definitely enjoy this one. However it just doesn’t seem to make so much sense as a player vs player environment.
So here’s how the story goes.
You wake at the heat of a massive battle with the enemy faction. Your commander suits you up and you lead a group of adventurer’s to defeat the enemy when something evil shows up and kills everyone. You teleport to the low level area where you as a hero of said faction will go around helping people out with smaller tasks as you get leads from these people towards some larger encounter.
How hard would it be to re-iterate this story arch as a one-faction story? There is a growing habit by developers who are trying to emulate World of Warcraft’s success to make it
But did Allods actually fail?
Usually when I do this series I’m covering a game that either has its server’s shut up, is in a constant spiraling degression of players, or has been abandoned by it’s developers. Allods is really none of these. Allods is actually still quite successful, it’s still growing and it’s developers are still actively working on balancing the game and making the game funner to play. The game may be shrinking in North America which generally frowns on the free to play model, but it is growing in Asia, South America and Russia.
The game is in fact insanely popular outside of North America which contributes to it’s questionable status as whether it actually failed or not. One thing that can be said though is that the game is most definitely dead in North America.