Funcom's sword-and-sorcery title has featured account microtransactions for a while now, in the form of server transfers and character name changes, but has pointedly avoided introducing a proper item store aside from the bonus expansion items. We went straight to the source to clear up the confusing question of whether Age of Conan does or does not feature an item shop. Executive producer and game director Craig "Silirrion" Morrison was kind enough to answer our questions regarding the Godslayer item packs as well as Funcom's future microtransaction plans.
Read all about it after the cut.
I think that's largely a subjective opinion based on what you term as a "cash shop." Selling "extra value" type of packs and items that allow players to pick up these bonus items shares many elements with having a fully fledged cash shop of sorts. We didn't though see these packs as the implementation of an item store. They were add-on sales for the expansion and an opportunity for us provide optional extras for those players who wanted them as a special set of promotions. I think we consider these particular offerings more as extra sales opportunities that provided some good value additions for our players. Given that they mostly also included subscription time we saw these as a chance to provide players with an extra incentive for making that commitment, so they were more along the lines of adding value to a subscription purchase decision rather than purely being individual micro-transactions. Of course you can easily argue that the difference there is mainly in presentation and the end result is the same, which in many ways is true. The difference for us was that these offers were used as an incentive for a different type of purchasing decision than you might find with an individual microtransaction.
If the items do constitute a cash shop, why are they buried in the account screen instead of easily accessible on the game's website or via an in-game interface?
Given the above, given that we saw these as being linked to purchase of subscription time, it was more relevant for them to be part of the account services.
If the items don't constitute a cash shop in Funcom's view, are there plans to add a cash shop or any sort of microtransaction items to Age of Conan? (I'm talking specifically about in-game items, I don't consider account services like renames and transfers to be microtransactions).
We don't have specific plans at this time, but I think we have never said "never" in that regard. We were one of the first companies to introduce a hybrid type system with Anarchy Online, and one of the first western companies to have a "paid points" type of system (also in Anarchy Online), so we will never dismiss an option when it comes to the business model. The key thing is picking the right model for your project at any given time. We won't stubbornly stick to one position if it doesn't make sense for the product, or any given stage of the product's life cycle.
Is Funcom happy with the subscription model or are you folks considering F2P/hybrid options?
I don't think those two things are mutually exclusive to be honest. We are happy with our current model, but also open to the fact that at some stage in the future it might make sense to move to a different model. I think it would be more likely that we explored some kind of hybrid model rather than a full free-to-play model. In fact I think you could say that there are very few western games that are truly only based on micro-transactions and you could argue virtually all of them are hybrid models. Whether that is some kind of VIP program, as is being planned for LoTRO, or a recurring monthly payment that provides a bundle of benefits, as you see in other games with that model. You could easily say they are all subscription games that offer an extensive free-play program, rather than a purely microtransaction-based free-to-play game. What is important is that you do what is right for your product.
Is RotGS, and the game in general, performing up to your expectations now that we're a few months out from the expansion's release?
Yes, we are happy that the expansion is meeting the goals that we set out for it in terms of performance. The review scores have been very good, and quite a few players have returned to check out the expansion. There are still a few areas we want to improve further, in particular in relation to the player progression, which is probably still a little too steep (which is being addressed in ongoing updates and is a major focus for us right now), so we would definitely say that so far we have been pleased with the positive reaction to the expansion. Most importantly players seem to be having fun with it, and enjoying all the new content. The beauty of having an MMO is that you also get to keep it going and making further improvements as you go along, so we get to address the areas that we think need to be improved further even after the expansion.
Thanks for your time.