Discord – When Business Model Keeps Me Away

Seems everyone is on the Discord bandwagon lately, including Belghast, who made a post about it. I installed it a while ago, fiddled with it a bit, and haven’t touched it since. There’s a couple of reasons for that.

One of them is simply that without external pressure like a raid group switching forcing me, I have inertia keeping me on Vent. It works fine for what I need, so why change? That’s not a slam on Discord as a product at all; I used it a bit and it worked really well.

The big reason?

The Business Model Confuses Me

Admittedly, I’m old school: I think a business should have a plan to make money when the business is created. That plan may take years to implement and turn profitable, but there should be one. Tech companies are notorious for going years with no plan to make money. Twitter only finally started making money this year, and it’s not an impressive amount for a company of its size. Venture capitalists hand out money to tech companies based on the idea that it might get huge, and that’ll somehow translate into profit.

Discord is one of those. The business model is to not charge for the service. There’s no ads. Their privacy policy is pretty good in terms of not selling info. The plan to charge for skins and stickers “eventually”, but there’s no indication of when that will be and there’s nothing at all now. This is a business that is making no attempt whatsoever to make money. Lots of people are fine with that. Belghast said this, in particular:

However deep down inside… I know that someone out there is having to foot the bill for our fun… and it kinda bothers me


The opposite is what bothers me. We seem to have become conditioned to things online being free, to the point of paying for stuff “bothering people”. But, someone has to pay for it in order for it to exist. Servers, developers, and related things aren’t free. This same thing came up in my previous post about Wildstar, with the idea that developers would work because of “passion”.

You know what’s better than passion? Paying the mortgage. Discord at least seems to have VC money, so I doubt people are working for free, but still. There’s a fundamental, huge problem here, that a lot of tech companies have faced:

If you train users that your service has no value, how do you charge them for it later?

Discord will face that problem at some point. When they do, they will either sink or swim. If they sink, I don’t want to have to switch again when what I had before Discord worked just fine for a pretty modest fee.

Free Is Not Really Free

Facebook's business model
“Free” typically isn’t

Facebook’s business model is also “free” to the people using it, but it makes sense. They have a clear plan to make money, they sell something, and it works. The catch? It’s not actually free. It costs $0. There’s a difference. You pay with personal information and with advertising. Given that I use Facebook quite a lot, that’s not a judgement on what you should or shouldn’t do. Just noting that it’s still not free.

F2P games are “free”, in the sense that they’re often built around exploitation of addiction, and the “free” users are being paid for by the money and misery suffered by the addicted users. You pay by being complacent in that exploitation, as the games are helped by having lots of players to keep the addicts interested and spending.

B2P games are not free, of course.  This is clearest model when it comes to making money, in that you’re selling something straight up. You might sell more things later, of course, but those are straightforward transactions.

Although something of value is changing hands here, the “free” ones tend to be crappy in comparison to the paid one. When I buy a new bed, they don’t ask to track what I do online or show up at my house with extra ads. It’s a straightforward transaction, after which they leave me alone. Same thing with something like a Vent server or my domain name. I pay them, they give it to me, we leave each other alone and go about our business.

“Free” never does that. Except for Discord, of course, which is truly free right now, except for the VCs paying the bills. That state of affairs can’t last, as it’s against the fundamental reasons that a business exists: to make profit for shareholders.

I’d rather they be more active about that part, and it would increase me interest in using their product. Right now, it’s really just taking advantage until they alter the terms of the deal, and praying they don’t alter them too badly.

I’d rather not get overly invested, spend effort, and then need to do it again if it turns out the new arrangement is worse than what I already have with Vent.

If NCSoft is going to kill Wildstar, they should do it now

Pretty terrible news for Wildstar fans on the bad news dumping ground day of Friday, with massive layoffs and the cancellation of the Chinese release. Everyone who has ever lost a job knows how much it sucks, and I hope everyone can bounce back quickly from it.

The worst news was probably the unconfirmed part. Although management gave the usual PR talk about being “committed to the game”, the scuttlebutt is that the game’s fate is sealed and sunset will happen in a couple months.

If we assume that’s true…

If You’re Killing It, Do It Now, FFS!

There is absolutely no reason to string people along if things are already decided. Don’t give your fans the PR crap. Don’t give your employees the PR crap. Just be honest about it.

I mean, what does anyone gain by deception at this point except a few dollars? The layoffs are so drastic, and include so many key, senior, public facing people, that major damage has been done to Wildstar’s ability to recruit and hold players. The die hards will stick around no matter what, but someone looking for a new MMO to try is not all that likely to try the one that looks like it’s about to get shut down. At best, Carbine and NCSoft are going to pull in a few bucks from people sticking it out and hoping things work out, or those who won’t leave until the lights go out (and even Pathfinder Online has a few of those, who are literally keeping the lights on).

It sucks the most for people who are still there though, because of the uncertainty. Should they look for new jobs? If they don’t, will they be gone in 3 months anyway? If they bail out now, are they abandoning the people still there? There’s no way to win in this situation, for staff. If the end date is put out into the open, they know for sure and can start the process of moving on.

As for fans? Well, they need time to mourn. Literally. If you look at the reactions, that’s how the fans feel.

There’s the people in denial, the people who are angry , the people who want to see the game sold/spun off, and so on. The uncertainty is bad for them too.

NCSoft <Slayer of MMOs>

There’s also the issue of NCSoft’s reputation, which is already not great because of how many games they’ve killed off. Now, except for City of Heroes, I tend to find that reputation unfair. In this case, especially, people are blaming NCSoft for a rumored shutdown as if they’re killing their baby without giving it a chance. They’re upset, and I get that, so I’m not trying to pick on them.

Rationally? NCSoft funded Wildstar in the first place. NCSoft kept paying the bills when the launch didn’t go well and revenue sank, severely. They kept paying during the F2P transition, which led to a bump (though apparently not a large enough one).

Here’s the thing. Wildstar came out in 2014. AFAIK, it’s never turned a profit. Sales were down to numbers that make it 1% of NCSoft’s business. If the F2P transition also failed to turn things around, exactly what is NCSoft at fault for, here?

NCSoft is a publicly traded corporation. It’s a business. It exists to make a profit. Indeed, profit (positive cash flow, to be more specific) is a requirement if you want to do things like pay employees on a continuing basis. At some point, it doesn’t make sense for NCSoft to keep funding a game that can’t make money, as that’s just taking money away from other games that can, or potentially could, if they fund a new development.

Is that cold? Yep. It’s business. If the market shows it doesn’t want something, someone has to justify to shareholders why it makes sense to keep dumping money into it.

All that said… stringing people along on the future is also bad for NCSoft’s reputation. If they intend to keep supporting it, they need to come out with a credible plan for how they intend to do that. Anything else won’t work, and just furthers the impression that they’re trying to pull some more money out of people by stringing them along on the future before dropping the axe.

They already have the somewhat unfair reputation as a remorseless MMO killing machine, but they really don’t need to add to it by this kind of shady practice.

Money Matters

In the end, money matters. Profit matters. A lot of upset fans have been preaching things like this:

And the same guy who, on a lifestream, said that the reason you make games is to make money. Apparently forgot that actual developers, unlike corporate henchmen, often also make games cause they are passionate about games and play games.


The worst is, his position is secure. He gets to keep his job. Passionate developers get fired. Olivar is right. This industry is sick. Then again people play right into their hands by supporting exploitative ftp models and dismissing sub models, the later which actually focusses on selling a game, instead of a manipulative cash shop.

Once again, not picking on anyone, as people are hurting. That said… no. To paraphrase Quark: “Passion and an empty sack is worth the sack.” (Also, The Oatmeal on Exposure.)

Data center owners and network uplink providers don’t take passion as currency. Landlords don’t take it either. Grocery stores don’t take it. It takes money to keep things going. That’s how business works. If Wildstar can’t make money, how does it stick around? “Passionate developers” get laid off because there’s no money to pay them, and expecting them to work for free because passion is exploitative and ridiculous.

Spinning it off to another studio (as some have suggested) doesn’t solve the problem. Who pays the bills for development and maintenance, if NCSoft isn’t doing it? What the game would actually need is a new publisher, and given the western MMO market landscape, who is going to do that for a game that didn’t find a big enough audience in a year and a half? How many MMOs have come back from this type of thing, aside from FFXIV? Any? I can’t see very many publishers being interested in picking up the bills, and who can blame them?

If you love Wildstar? You have my sympathies. Play it like there’s no tomorrow, because there probably won’t be. Also, here’s art I had made back when I was playing, because Engineer robots are adorable.

A commission I had done of Adith and Rhiss, my (and Rhiss') characters in Wildstar
A commission I had done of Adith and Rhiss, my (and Rhiss’) characters in Wildstar

I tried a new game system. I liked it. Now I have a problem.

This is a story in three parts.

1. I tried a new game system.

Our regular Sunday D&D 3.5 game took a couple of weeks off due to march break holidays and work schedules. Rather than do nothing, I decided to run a little “mini-campaign” (a two session story) in the same world as my previous 3.5 campaign had taken place in.

Only, I didn’t use 3.5. I decided to use Fate Core instead. Why? Mostly, because I’d heard about the system elsewhere, was curious, and figured the best way to learn was to go ahead and try playing it.

Also, though, it’s because for something that short, 3.5 is a pain.

  • Character creation for characters beyond level 1 is time consuming even if you know how to do it, and some of my players don’t.
  • People who had them wanted to use their characters from the previous game, and I thought that was great, but they’re 17th level. You can’t slot new people in and have them be useful unless they’re also high level, at which point no mundane story is going to challenge them.
  • Plus, there’s a lot of prep required with monster stats, loot, and such.

Switching systems eliminated a lot of that.

  • Fate Characters have a lot fewer statistics, and are thus easier to create. Getting your Aspects right is the hardest part, and that can (and should) be done as a group activity, so everybody could help everybody really easily. It didn’t require looking up class definitions or splatbook feats to do.
  • The power curve in Fate is much less steep than in 3.5, so those already existing people could be stronger than the newer folks without breaking the game. That said, making a new character gave me a chance to also remake those characters, giving them something extra for being already existing but bringing them somewhat back in line. (Playing D&D 5e would have also let me do this, because the power curve is somewhat flatter there too, especially with skills.)
  • Although there was extra prep work created by the system change as I tried to learn it, I wanted to do that anyway. Actually statting NPCs and monsters is easier, as the system is less complicated and meant to be run more quickly.

For those who are not familar, a Fate Core character doesn’t have stats like Strength. You have five “Aspects”, that are phrases that describe something about you. Deadpool’s description as the “Merc with the mouth” could be an aspect. You can use an aspect to give you a boost when it can help you (when being a mouthy merc would come in handy) by spending a fate point, and it can also be used by the DM to make your life more complicated/difficult (which earns you a fate point).

2. I liked it.

We’ve done one session so far, with another to go. That session went really well. I mean, none of us really knew what we were doing, but the system by design has people working together to determine outcomes and shape the story, rather than everything being dictated by the rules and the DM.

For example, you can “concede” a fight, effectively losing the battle. If you do so, the table then decides what that means. Did you run away? Were you knocked out cold? Did you roll down the open sewer grate and get swept off by smelly sewer water? Were you taken prisoner?

Everyone gets to help decide the outcome of that action, and that’s the direction the story takes. For those who have played games like D&D, you know that’s not typically how it works. You try and do something, roll the dice, and the DM tells you what happens.

The difference made for a very fun evening of storytelling. It also caused new things I’d never thought of to keep on appearing, as players started adding their own ideas, and coming up with explanations for why they could accept or reject a compel, do something in a given situation, or use a skill in a way I’d never thought of.

I mean, it wasn’t flawless. In particular, the setting I’m using was made for D&D, and is a super magical city based on D&D style Vancian magic. Fate Core has no magic system built in at all. So, we had to come up with something during character creation that would make spellcasting characters exist and work without totally overpowering everyone else (which they do in D&D 3.5, why repeat that mistake?). We did come up with something that’s worked so far, but it isn’t always that easy to understand.

Overall, though, the response was really positive and people seemed to be having fun. I know I did, and I’m eager to see how it goes this week when we have a larger group.

3. Now I have a problem.

Nothing I’ve said so far sounds like a problem, does it? Tried a new system, liked it, yay!

Except, I want to run another long campaign in the future. It’d be a continuation of the one I did before, because the actions of the PCs made some major, world changing things happen. A new group dealing with that would be very interesting.

The problem? I’m suddenly not sure what system I want to run it in.

Before this, there was really no doubt. It’d either be D&D 3.5 (or maybe Pathfinder, which is extremely similar to D&D 3.5, given it’s origins as a direct descendant). The new campaign is mostly/entirely the same players. They know the system already. The world was based on the rules of that system.

After this little experiment, I’m not so sure. I don’t really miss having to have a giant pile of stats for all kinds of characters in D&D, having to remember how everything works in 15 different source books (made worse with D&D tools shut down yet again), having to constantly look up the grapple rules because nobody can remember them, and all the other baggage that comes with it.

I didn’t really have any of those problems with Fate. We spent more time discussing what was happening in the world and less time discussing the rules, and that was despite us not knowing the rules very well. For the kind of game I want to run, it may just work out better to use a comparatively rules light system and let everyone tell a cool story, rather than another rules heavy system like I did last time.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love D&D. Sundays will go back to normal D&D time soon, and I have a biweekly Friday Pathfinder game that I also enjoy tremendously. The systems have served me very well. It’s just that until now, I hadn’t really thought about if another system would serve me better, and now I am.

That leaves me with a problem to solve before I can actually develop that campaign.