Pirates Of The Burning Sea Goes Free Chat

By Kieron Gillen on September 20th, 2010 at 9:46 am.

When news broke on Thursday about Pirates of the Burning sea going Free-to-play, we got in contact with Flying Lab Software and DEMANDED TIME FOR INTERVIEW-CHAT. They submitted, fearing our mighty wrath. WE THANK THEM FOR THEIR TIME. Er… anyway, here’s CEO Russell Williams and Head Of The Design Department Declan O’Connell talking about this move to go free-to-play before the end of the year, what’s been happening on the Burning Seas and why people who launch subs-only MMOs from now “haven’t gotten the memo”…

RPS: Firstly, the obvious. Why free to play? Why now?

Declan O’Connell: Subscription-access greatly limits the potential player-base of a game. You’re making money off of every player who is willing to pay $15 a month, but you don’t get those players who would play if it was $10 or $5 a month, or those who would pay piecemeal for things that grab their interest. You also only make $15 per account for which your hardcore players can find a use, when they might pay even more for extra features. That’s the money end.

We’re also immensely enthusiastic about PotBS, and we want it to be available to anyone who has an interest. Once players try the game, they tend to fall in love with it. We’d like to open it up to a broader audience so more people can enjoy the fruit of our labor for whatever they are willing to pay.

Russell Williams: As to why now, we didn’t choose this moment so much as this is how long it’s taken us to set everything in motion and to bring it together (while working on Power & Prestige). We would have loved to have been able to do this much earlier.

RPS: Could you explain how you plan to operate the free to play? What will actually be paid for? What sort of micropayments are you looking for?

Declan O’Connell: PVP is a major part of the game, so one of the most important choices we had to make was that free players will be able to compete just as effectively as those who pay for things. This means we sell convenience and prestige cosmetic items rather than things to give you an edge. XP accelerants, loot multipliers, clothing, pets, PVE allies; those sorts of things make up the bulk of the store at the moment. We’ve only put 1 piece of mission content behind a purchase (the Besieged Tortuga epic missions), but we plan to create new epic missions that we can sell as packs in the future.

When a player wants to buy from us, they purchase Burning Sea Notes, each worth several hundred Burning Sea Points (BSPs). These Notes are tradable in-game; players can buy and sell them in the Auction House, moving money around in the economy without adding to inflation. Currently, these notes are personal items that cannot be lost or destroyed in PVP or PVE. A player with more doubloons than they can spend on in-game goods could buy these notes from other players and have access to all the goods in the Treasure Aisle store without spending a dime.

We are also offering a Captain’s Club membership that gives players all the upgrades and slots given to a subscription account, for players who want to continue using the subscription model. They will also get bonus XP, faction gain, loot rolls, and a discount in the Treasure Aisle store as long as they maintain a membership.

RPS: Equally, how will it affect the current players. In terms of other people going FtP, there’s been various attempts to integrate this, from having separate servers for the two sorts of gamer to getting a load of free money per month to… well, other options. What’s your plan?

Russell Williams: We’re moving the entire game over to free-to-play. There’s really no downside to current players.

Declan O’Connell: They keep all the benefits and account options of a subscription, and may choose to continue paying monthly for the benefits of a Captain’s Club membership.

RPS: To be more specific, is this the end of the subs-first business model for new MMOs or is this actually about creating a second form of life for the game? As in, games would still debut as a subs model, and then switch to FtP down the line?

Russell Williams: It’s the end of subs-first. There will probably be another game or two that hasn’t gotten the memo and will launch subs-first, but I’ll bet it’s no more than 3.

RPS: For people who have perhaps played Pirates close to launch, what would you say are the key elements which will strike them as improved?

Russell Williams: One of the things I like to do is put our release notes for our post-launch builds into a single doc, and just start scrolling through it while I talk. It literally takes minutes, so it’s an overwhelming difference compared to what we launched with. But to hit the main points:

1) The sword fighting has undergone major improvements.
2) We’ve added an enormous amount of hand-crafted mission content.
3) More unique ports, rooms, and ship battle areas.
4) A new look to the open sea.
5) Port governance!
6) A new look and feel for the UI
7) The Skirmish PVP system
8) New epic missions
9) More ships
10) The Brawling fighting school
11) Huge numbers of tweaks to the balance and feel of combat as well as the rules for engaging on the open sea
12) More factions and rewards for building your reputation with them

And so on. And that’s just off the top of my head.

RPS: If our comment threads are any judge, there seems to suspicion of free to play games from many traditional gamers. What would you say to them?

Russell Williams: They’re right to be cautious. Many free-to-play games have been lackluster. They’re mostly games that didn’t do well in Asia that were thrown over the wall here with crazy aggressive upsell. But I think that as we start moving high quality games (like Turbine is doing) over to the model, people’s impressions will change.

Declan O’Connell: They should try the game and see for themselves. It’s going to be free, after all.

The problem with MMOs used to be that, basically, people would only sub to any one game at once due to money. With the money issue removed , the secondary limit has taken over – that of time. Is there enough total audience for all these free MMOs? Is there a limit to the number of free MMOs you can see people playing – because even if they only do the occasional weekend on a game, that’s still a lot of time.

RPS: In which case, out of this sweeping array of MMOs, why do you think people should play Pirates of the Burning Sea?

Russell Williams: It’s unique. There’s really nothing like it out there with the depth of our systems in our setting. It’s got best-in-class ship combat, and it’s designed to get you right into the action so if you’ve got an hour to spare, we can give you a great time.

I do think that removing the money issue will also encourage way more cross-pollination between games. As you say, if people only have enough money for one game, they pay the sub for that game and they’ve only got that game to play. And they’re going to play the game with the biggest grouping of their friends, which gives market leaders like WoW more stickiness. With free-to-play, they can play games that are new, different, and fun without having to turn their back on their existing communities and characters. I think it’s really going to help our industry move in a more positive direction than the culling we’ve seen in the last few years.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Pirates of The Burning Sea’s move to free-to-play is planned for Fall. There’s a 14-day trial available for the current version.

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26 Comments »

  1. Dzamir says:

    “XP accelerants, loot multipliers..” i don’t like games in which people that pays more gets more xp or more loot. In fact, they are ruining the PVP (more money = more experience and special items).

    • Dominic White says:

      No, getting more XP/loot doesn’t break the game. It means that they’re progressing a little faster than you, but they’re still on the same track that you’re moving along.

      Now, if they could buy special premium ships that can mount twice as many cannons? THAT would be unbalancing.

    • Harlander says:

      All allowing people to buy that sort of thing does is change the term in that equation from “time” to “money”, though.

    • bob_d says:

      The only real negative effect of the XP/money accelerator dynamic is that it means the game, by default, is even more grind-y and slow-paced than a normal subscription-based MMO, which is saying something.

    • heartlessgamer says:

      @bob_d

      The game was grindy to begin with. They are just now offering a way to buy your way past the grind.

  2. bill says:

    Can the women buy buttons for their shirts? There seems to be a chronic shortage!

    • Rich says:

      More likely the micro-payments will allow you to buy the removal of buttons.

  3. JonathanStrange says:

    Played this game very early on and enjoyed it a fair bit. Though it was still extremely rough around the edges, it was an entertaining shift from how most MMO play and the core gameplay was solid. Sorta like multiplayer ‘Sid Meier’s Pirates’ in terms of naval combat and the like, which is another old favorite game of mine.

    Now that it’s free no reason not to give it another shot when I’ve the time.

  4. cliffski says:

    When I play a game I want to be immersed into a game, and not feel like I’m shopping. I don’t want to eb pestered every 5 minutes to spend money to buy a new hat, or a bigger parrot.
    And The idea that people are getting a different game experience based on how much money they have isn’t appealing either.
    I like getting beaten by better players in online games. I don’t like getting ebaten just by players who are prepared to spend more money.

    I tried POTBS in beta. The reason they never saw any of my money is that it came accross as an identiit me-too MMO that had the same statuionary quest-dispensers, lack of any real feeling of immersion, and personality, and it felt like a tedious grind.
    No amount of price-model changes alters that.

    I am VERY happy to pay $15-20 or more a month to subscribe to an online game that offers something new and interesting. Anything involving raids, quests to slay X rats, and levelling up just does not appeal.
    Making this free to play actually makes me even less likely to play it. YMMV.

    • Dominic White says:

      “Making this free to play actually makes me even less likely to play it. YMMV.”

      Most peoples mileage WILL vary. It’s pretty solidly statistically proven now that going free-to-play brings in a lot more people than it drives away. For most, that initial barrier to entry (usually £30 for the box, then credit card to prove that you’re a viable customer, then $15 a month after the first month) is huge, especially if you’re not sure if it’s your kinda game anyway.

    • Rich says:

      I wouldn’t have even considered trying this if I had to go through the traditional paying system. I can never justify paying for a client, then a monthly subscription, when I only get to play about 3 or 4 hours of games a week.

      Now, out of the three big MMOs that have gone FTP recently, this is the one I’m most interested in.
      I’m not sure about micro-payments, especially for cosmetic stuff, but you never know.

    • Chris C says:

      @cliffski

      You played the game in beta? 2 and a half years ago? You should see what the game has become in that time.

    • SheffieldSteel says:

      Sorry, wait. Did someone say “traditional monthly subscription model”?

      It’s funny how times have changed. Personally I think that the “traditional” way to pay for a game is a big fee up-front, followed by nothing – unless I choose to pay extra for extras. So, to me it sounds like this game is returning to a traditional payment model.

  5. Hummdinger says:

    They say the notes are tradeable, but what about the already purchased content?

    Can Polly have a cracker, er, a new white owner?
    Can I sell my supersparklysword to someone else, too?
    Or my pegleg extension?
    What about my loot-a-boost?

    I would assume not, at which point their hint that hey even for free you might get to buy stuff just turns into beggarware, i.e. you beg for ingame currency / notes rather than barter for a special item.

    Or, something. They have to make money somehow, I guess, and non-imba-items or playerstuff is the only way to go.

  6. Xercies says:

    I really don’t like all these new games going free to play and i hope all MMOs don’t go on the bandwagon. To me most F2P is rubbish a bit ol grind and not really any world, because why would they cost the extra expense and if its F2P you have to put the expense down. And converting older games into F2P don’t work, games usually and this is from MMO developers get made for a certain type of thing so if yourgoing all out to do a F2P model but its harder to convert something that you pay monthly for to f2P I think.

    Just look at LOTRO the whole atmosphere of that game is totally destroyed because of the F2P malarky.

  7. Mike says:

    For ‘Fall’?

    FOR FALL?

  8. wererogue says:

    I forsee some kind of MMO common API, and something like OpenID/facebook connect, so that when you start a new MMO you can take some of what you’ve built in others (especially community) with you.

    That’s going to make a massive difference to people wanting to switch.

  9. Caecilius says:

    @cliffski

    “I like getting beaten by better players in online games. I don’t like getting ebaten just by players who are prepared to spend more money.”

    From a purely hypothetical point of view, your concern seems justified. If one can buy Burning Sea Notes in exchange for real money and then sell these Notes for doubloons (the in-game currency), then it is basically possible to buy doubloons for real money. Given enough real money then, a player will be able to buy lots of doubloons and use those doubloons to buy expensive ships that will give them a significant advantage over other players in PVP. Therefore, in theory at least, players who spend lots of real money will be able to buy a significant advantage over players who do not spend lots of real money. Therefore PVP is reduced to trial by bank balance and is therefore unenjoyable.

    There is one basic problem with this argument – namely that it is already possible to ‘purchase’ exactly the same advantage over other players. The only difference is that one has to spend time rather than money. If a player is prepared to spend a huge amount of time playing the game and building ships then they will be able to produce and replace ships that are significantly better than the ships that a player can produce and replace if they only spend, for example, and hour per day playing the game. Despite this, the most effective and feared players in PVP are not the ones with the most expensive ships but the ones who are known to be the most skillful. Indeed, the gap between cheap and expensive ships has been greatly reduced in the most recent patch, so that this is even less of a problem than it used to be. The impact of skill, discipline and leadership in PVP is far, far greater than the impact of an expensive ship over a cheap one.

    Whilst it is and will continue to be possible to buy an advantage over other players in PVP, so that the game is not perfectly fair in the way that an FPS is, the unfairness is worth it because it ensures that players’ losses and victories have greater meaning and value than they would otherwise have, thus increasing the excitement of the experience. The difficult part of making such loss-based systems enjoyable for lots of people is the balance between risk and advantage. If the advantage that can be purchased is too great then it becomes too difficult to overcome that advantage through superior skill. If the advantage that can be purchased is too small then people will not risk much in order to have that advantage. If the risk attached to the advantage is not significant enough then it does not add anything to the excitement of the experience. If the risk is too great then people will not take it. In my opinion, POTBS currently has a good balance between risk and advantage. F2P will do nothing to change that.

    • bob_d says:

      There are FTP browser-based games (e.g. Facebook games) that effectively allow players to simply buy better characters. The player expectations for those sorts of casual games is very different. I think most MMO designers know they can’t allow players to buy power in FTP games, however, as their players wouldn’t put up with it.

    • Redford says:

      There’s also a maximum limit to how much this advantage would give you. You can get the best ship, but in Pirates this isn’t even true since all ships have their strengths and weaknesses. A few well-coordinated scout ships could easily sink a ship of the line. In fact, a single expert scout ship could beat a ship of the line in single combat given the right situation. There is a limit to how much “being rich” can buy a person, especially in this game. Eventally, ship battles are all about skill, composition, and positioning, and no amout of db will save your life if you don’t know how to properly sail your fancy new schooner, get boarded, and then destroyed in crew combat.

  10. Sagan says:

    It’s strange. At the time that Pirates Of The Burning Sea got released I was of the opinion that it would fail quickly and shut down, simply because you can’t get the necessary audience without a high Metacritic rating.
    But they have managed to stay around for a long time, which is impressive, considering that more prominent games are gone now. Let’s hope, that the FTP model works for them. Because I would say that FTP has only been proven for MMOs that can afford a lot of advertising, and I’m not sure that they can.

  11. John Price says:

    when does free to play start when will i be able to play for free cuz my mounth pay ended and I don’t want to buy a new one for a few days so when does it start

  12. Deivas says:

    With WOW’s colossal failure with their recent 4.0.1 pre-Cat patch, there couldn’t be a better time to release a Free to Play PVP game like POTBS. I played this game at launch , and plan to play again once this release hits.

  13. DRAMALIA says:

    Just testing, thanks.