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Tribes: Ascend: free-to-play fps with a twist
April 14, 2012 1:07 PM   Subscribe

Tribes: Ascend is a class-based sci-fi first-person shooter, and the successor to the much-loved Tribes series of games. What makes it unique is that there are no hitscan weapons, and players are able to jetpack, and frictionlessly glide (ski) over terrain. It is free to download for Windows as of April 12th, and so far the reception has been overwhelmingly positive.
posted by paradoxflow (43 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's a pretty fun game, but it can be really frustrating at times. The Tribes 2 shrike was so much fun and the shrike in this game is powerful but not really at all fun to fly. The free to play model is nice but turns the game into a grind if you don't want to spend money, after getting burnt out on grinding stuff in WoW I really hate that even FPS games are going there now. I hate how things like custom skins that used to be done for free by the players now have to be hugely restricted and cost money.

They just added Raindance to the available maps, best thing they have done in a while.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:13 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there a Mac or Linux version in the works, or are the creators sticking entirely with the Windows platform?
posted by zarq at 1:17 PM on April 14, 2012


Here is a match to watch if you want to get a sense of what the game is like.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:26 PM on April 14, 2012


It launched with hitscan weapons and only just got around to putting velocity inheritance in, and it was getting "overwhelmingly positive" coverage before those changes. I suspect people are glossing over the game's flaws out of love for the series.

One of the major innovations Tribes brought was paring down the TF class system to 3 weight classes with reconfigurable inventories. This being a F2P there are of course instead a vast system of perks and unlocks that you can grind or conveniently purchase.
posted by fartron at 1:36 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I would have picked this up if it had been a regular game you can buy, and then run a server for.

I want to play a game, not be monetized.
posted by Malor at 1:36 PM on April 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


i'm sorry but I don't see the hats

where are the hats
posted by mightygodking at 2:42 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


You forgot to say "rick."

The free to play model is nice but turns the game into a grind if you don't want to spend money, after getting burnt out on grinding stuff in WoW I really hate that even FPS games are going there now.

Oh god THIS. I think we're just beginning to see the backlash against F2P and DLC. I'm hoping that, once people get well and truly sick of being nickel and dime'd for petty little features and advancement, such will be the earth-scorching heat of the ire that it sets back the cause of user monetization by at least a decade.
posted by JHarris at 2:47 PM on April 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


I doubt it. You can make money and piss off your customers at the same time, just look at the cable TV industry, or facebook.

In order for these online games to be fun, you have to have other people to play against. A free to play game will have more people online to play against - which is one advantage.

Plus, you'll have a new generation of gamers who will have grown up playing on servers, who won't even know what the good 'ole days were like.
posted by delmoi at 3:00 PM on April 14, 2012


Been playing this for a few months now, and I'm pretty impressed. Never played on a ftp model and was very suspicious at first but gave it a go anyway since it was Tribes. A couple weeks or so in I went ahead and put down 30 bucks because I wanted to support the game. It's changed a lot since then, mostly for the better. Compared to $60 games I'd say this is a bargain.

The only thing you absolutely must pay money for currently are skins, which don't affect gameplay. Everything else can be purchased with experience: classes, weapons, nades, deployables, and upgrades thereof. Putting any money into the game whatsoever grants you a permanent 50% bonus to base xp on the ftp model, and boosters double that (so 10xp base + 15 xp + 30 xp).

Here's a very detailed post on the game from a competitive player to celebrate the games launch.
posted by whorl at 3:09 PM on April 14, 2012


What's the significance of the no-hitscan policy? Is it a networking limitation? A balancing issue? A "snipers are no fun" issue? Making dodging a more important component of the gameplay?
posted by straight at 3:14 PM on April 14, 2012


The game is really wide open with very little cover and you spend a lot of time in the air, if all you have to do to score a hit is point the crosshair right at someone it makes it way too easy.

The sniper rifles are, I believe, fast enough to be practically hitscan. Sniper is one of the hardest classes to pick up for a new player but is dominant in the right hands.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:19 PM on April 14, 2012


No hit-scan on most weapons is just how it's always been in tribes. You have to calculate when and where your shots will land with a disc launcher (and many others), allowing for some very amazing shots versus 'yep, he dead'.

Some weapons are still hitscan, namely sniper weapons. I don't like snipers.
posted by whorl at 3:20 PM on April 14, 2012


I'm having a hard time understanding some of these comments. It's like if Louis C.K. released an entirely self-contained clip comprising 80% of 'Live at the Beacon Theatre,' and then he got criticized for charging $5 and trying to "monetize" the last two jokes. You already got the vast majority of the performance for free, if you don't like it, don't buy it; but complaining about it is just weird. Especially (to take the analogy a bit further), if you could get the last 20% of the performance simply by watching the first season of Louie, which presumably you would enjoy.

When games first started "monetizing" I was quite dubious as well, as free-to-play has more often than not meant pay-to-win. However, when the different unlocks don't give any significant advantage I don't see the issue. The game is fantastic without paying a cent, and the classes you have immediate access to are generally considered some of the best. The way I see it, if I decide to support the game by paying a bit of money, it isn't to get a more complete experience but rather to support the developer of a product I enjoyed, just like I paid $5 for Louis C.K.'s standup.

Moreover, this business model for online games has been around for a long time, especially in Korea, and if the success of League of Legends is any indicator, it is only going to get more prevalent. Gamers generally don't hate this model as much, or associate it with Bioware/EA style DLC.
posted by paradoxflow at 3:47 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Enough with the money stuff, here's a very recent clip demonstrating how the roles are played. Currently there are nine classes with some customization in weapons/deployables.
posted by whorl at 3:59 PM on April 14, 2012


For what it's worth, I kicked in $5 for Mr. C.K.'s video too.

But I also despise being monetized. I don't think that really belongs in gaming as a thing. I want to know how much it will cost me up front, and I want to know that everyone in a multiplayer game has access to the exact same stuff I do. Otherwise, it isn't fair... if I'm kicking ass, it may be because I've bought better gear. If I'm losing badly, it may be because I didn't.

Whether or not that's actually true, it's always in my mind as a possibility, so it robs me of a lot of the enjoyment in a competitive game. If some people can buy or grind their way to better stuff, and then win because of that purchase or grinding, it's not a game I want anything to do with, period.
posted by Malor at 4:02 PM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The issue with the F2P business model is in the end the cost of the full game, if you just want to buy it and not mess around with grinding, gets ridiculous. $133 to get all of T:A.

The model would be fine with me if you could choose to play the free version or pay a normal retail price to have a full game, but the goal here is to over time squeeze out more money than in non-free games.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:03 PM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I should amend that: If some people can buy or grind their way to better stuff, including me, and then win because of that purchase or grinding, it's not a game I want anything to do with, period.
posted by Malor at 4:03 PM on April 14, 2012


Does level up improve versatility or efficacy? The first is cool, the second leads me to lose interest.
posted by TwelveTwo at 4:05 PM on April 14, 2012


The f2p also makes a lot of stuff like modding complicated. I never really played base Tribes back in the day, I played Renegades. I have no idea if mods are even going to be supported for this game because they totally complicate the business plan.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:07 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ranks (levels) are just numbers. You can see other players ranks in game, and every rank has it's own symbol and name.
posted by whorl at 4:10 PM on April 14, 2012


When I get grumbly about F2P, I ask myself "How long was I really going to play this anyway?" It's a pretty simple equation. If the core game is good enough that I can wait for unlocks, or pay, so much the better -- if it isn't, no harm done.
posted by lumensimus at 4:13 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The "free to play" model has been around for longer than people recognize. There's more than one approach to this model, although the one Tribes is using now with money-for-power is quickly becoming the most popular much to the chagrin of gaming purists.

The first model I recall seeing is the "shareware" model. Most people are familiar with this, although the heyday of shareware is definitely in the past. The goal of shareware was to spread a free version of the software which was crippled, time limited, or in the case of a game, only permitted so many levels. You could pay to unlock the full game and everyone was happy. Runescape runs on a similar model to this. The free to play (F2P) version of the game is fully playable and not a particularly small world at that. F2P players are limited to a portion of the existing servers/worlds, they only have access to a portion of the skills and crafts, and most game updates are heavily biased in favor of P2P content. The P2P players have access to all game worlds, many more skills, more equipment, and far more area in the game world. P2P players can play on F2P servers, although they are locked down to F2P items/skills on those servers. The only advantage a P2P player has over a F2P player on those servers is the fact that the P2P player has an easier time grinding up skills due to P2P server conveniences. This is at least how I recall it being years ago, things may have changed since then. I do know that the initial P2P experience was based largely on more game world and new skills. The added conveniences P2P players get have increased over time, but the balance of power is reasonably level. This model works great for the young player base, as it draws them in due to ease of access. Meanwhile, they can become a P2P player at any point they want to by purchasing monthly/yearly membership. If they run out of time and can't continue to play as a P2P player, they can go back to F2P and retain everything on their character. The only loss they suffer is loss of access to all P2P content. Again, this is my admittedly very dated experience.

The next model I recall seeing is the "DLC/Expansion" model. For single player games, this is ancient stuff. Expansion packs have been around for decades and DLC is the natural evolution of this. It works a lot like the shareware model, except DLC feels far more optional. The original game is the product, the DLC/expansions are there for people who enjoy it and want more. At least, that's how things used to be. The line is much murkier these days in MMOs where major expansions are sold separately yet the content involved is all but mandatory due to the game being designed for players to hit level caps/item caps/end of content within a shorter period of time. I'm not quite sure who to blame, although World of Warcraft is easily the most visible example of this. For another Blizzard game which runs on the expansion model, look at Diablo 2. The Lord of Destruction expansion is by no means mandatory, but the amount of content added means players are far more likely to play the expansion version which does not interact with original version players. DLC/expansion can be a very nice idea when implemented favorably, particularly with single player games. MMO style DLC tends to be a "Buy it or miss out on what all your friends are doing" decision. It's vicious, but the product purchased for the money consists of more game content, so people do tend to accept it better.

Then we hit where Tribes is. The "cash shop" model. Cash shops are notorious on F2P games. They were originally associated with Korean MMOs and quickly became popular with nearly any MMO developed in Asia. At first, the cash shop idea was one people liked because it was game-neutral. You could buy outfits for your avatar for real money and people would be jealous. This escalated into further appearances changes, such as in Maple Story where names could be highlighted, new expressions could be purchased, and mounts could be purchased. It was still fair because the mounts you could purchase weren't something you could use in fighting and any increased speed in safe areas was of minimal impact. Then many of these games realized a lot of their players might prefer some grinding, but they weren't going fast enough. They could sell coupons for increased experience gain over a time period. People would only buy a limited number of outfits, but the length of time it took to grind up to the top was so long that buying experience coupons was a continuous cash flow from players who would spend on them. Then the really sinister part reared its ugly head and enraged gaming purists. Cash shop equipment appeared and the players did wail and gnash their teeth with the exception of the ones who spent money who stood on top of the hill and boasted of their untouchable power. The impact was relatively minimal for some games. Any advantage from cash shop gear was small enough that skill would trump equipment. Other games gave in to this demon in entirety. A player who barely understood the game controls could still use the most elite cash shop gear and play Will It Blend with players who didn't spend money. Those who did not spend would always, always blend.

Now we see the evolution of money-for-power. Team Fortress 2 really popularized this one. Most items with actual impact on the game can be earned in-game. However, the amount of time and energy required to grind up these items is intimidating and the lure of spending money for power is great. In TF2, some items simply cannot be earned in-game, but the trading system is robust. Players who do not spend money can trade for items that require money, although it is by no means easy to access some things.

I have seen all of these models, and I will say this. The temptation for developers to move to money-for-power is strong. The money is there. There is a precarious balance between giving the spenders the power they want and ensuring the non-spenders are not left in the dust. Non-spenders create a larger player base which is difficult to obtain in a P2P environment as many "WoW-killer wannabe" MMOs will lament. Players who spend nothing may be seen as whining leeches, or they may be seen as part of a community which provides value for the real customer, the spender. I have noticed the most successful games always seem to offer just enough power for money that the advantage is clear, yet that power is just accessible enough that serious players who are set on becoming powerful will attain that even without spending money if that is not an option.

Monetized gaming is a vicious world, foreign and scary to some of us older players. Then again, video game prices have not really increased over the past twenty five years, even if inflation has effectively dropped game prices by half while development costs have skyrocketed. I still debate the merits of MMO business models, but I also understand that "Buy once play free forever" is something not many developers can offer, nor is it a strong business model on its own. In the end, I accept that the "cash shop" model effectively subsidizes the game for free players. If the game stands well enough on its own that it is enjoyable, I'll play it anyway. If the game is competitive yet the cash shop ruins the competitive balance so much that I feel permanently behind, I'll bail.

I just have one bit of advice for developers out there. If you're going to give in to the temptation to spoil your "whales" who are the big spenders on the game, make sure the game is good enough for F2P players to stick around. Seriously, I have seen so many MMOs that pursue this model recklessly only to find their player base dwindles to a level where it's sensible to keep the MMO open due to licensing and maintenance wages being lower than revenues, but it also eats up the time of valuable employees who could be put to better use on games that have more potential and can expand the company rather than stagnate until the life cycle runs out. As for those of you who "solve" this problem simply by cutting back on labor and resolving support tickets in a matter of months only to expand recklessly with poor foundations, I hope your company goes under and the competent ones burning out from excessive catch-up work run far away to someone more sensible and never look back.

Now that I have permanently solidified myself as a serious gaming geek (yet again), I'm going to go outside for a bit. Air and sunshine have yet to be totally monetized and I'm going to appreciate that.
posted by Saydur at 4:23 PM on April 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'd prefer to have just paid $60 dollars and be done with it too, if I could count on the game having the same population. Regardless of how I feel though, this model will make them a lot more money, and result in a lot more players and publicity. This is especially important as the Tribes franchise hasn't been on the map for a long time.

I agree with both Malor, and TwelveTwo, if someone can buy or grind their way to the point where they have a significant advantage then that isn't a game I'd want to play. Tribes: Ascent, thankfully, isn't like that. I'll elaborate.

Each class gets two traits they can choose from a list to improve their character. None of these give any increase to speed or damage or arrmor, and most are actually worse than those you get by default. Some examples would be a trait that reduces self-damage from explosions by 15%, or one that lets you pick up 20% more ammunition from drops. None of them are going to have a big impact on how well you do.

Similarly, in the basic three classes you get: the fastest character (Pathfinder), the character that does the most damage (Juggernaut), and arguably the best duelist character (Soldier). You don't need to buy the highest damage gun, or upgrade your speed before you can try to cap flags; right from the start you have everything you need.

As Saydur commented, the temptation is definitely there for developers to go "money-for-power" (or pay-to-win, as I call it), and even if a game isn't currently like that, they tend to become that way over time to continue making money. It's pretty insidious, and it can be hard to tell whether a game is or isn't pay-to-win for a new player.

For what it's worth, I wouldn't have posted it on MetaFilter if I thought it was money-for-power/pay-to-win.
posted by paradoxflow at 4:44 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The model would be fine with me if you could choose to play the free version or pay a normal retail price to have a full game, but the goal here is to over time squeeze out more money than in non-free games.

And some just want to have their cake and eat it too.
posted by Talez at 4:52 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd prefer to have just paid $60 dollars and be done with it too, if I could count on the game having the same population.

If that were the case, they'd probably use that model. Of course, there's the uncertainty of how long they'd need to provide support and central servers. The lure of initial revenue suffers from the looming threat of unknown continuous expenses. If there's no way to keep making money off the game, those expenses are a very unpleasant business burden.

Come up with a business model which produces a strong player base like the F2P model, pleases the "one time buyer" group, and still has the means to produce enough continuous revenue to justify support, and top it off with ensuring the game is at least somewhat enjoyable, and you will be wealthy and celebrated in gaming circles. Probably hated too, but that's because it is a universal axiom that a noticeable minority of gamers hate everything even if it is exactly what they want tailored to the finest detail.

Honestly, I approve of the Tribes model from what I have seen of it. I really like the idea of "Spend money one time and get a permanent bonus" which means you can "buy" it as a $5 game and be appreciated for it permanently even if you don't want to get involved with constant spending. It's a step in the right direction for monetizing games. Incentive to spend, implicit acceptance of one-time spenders, and a bit of balance against the worst of it.
posted by Saydur at 5:07 PM on April 14, 2012


Total Biscuit is right in saying that if they just put out a $60 boxed game in 2012 they would go under. It's a small company and there are a million games competing for attention. Spend $30 and get the gold and 30 day boost, and you will most likely get all the stuff you want anyway.

Anyway, this game has taken over most of my gaming life because I am really enjoying it, enough so to join the Tribescast team in providing coverage of its competitions. There's an all day tourney tomorrow (Sunday) featuring most of the North American competitive scene, which we plan to cast all day long until it's over.

(Are there enough people playing here to make a Metafilter show team? The Reddit vs 4chan show match drew the highest viewership ever. Wanna go take on Boing Boing or somebody?)
posted by First Post at 6:24 PM on April 14, 2012


It's like if Louis C.K. released an entirely self-contained clip comprising 80% of 'Live at the Beacon Theatre,' and then he got criticized for charging $5 and trying to "monetize" the last two jokes.

It's not at all like that. You can't just pay $5 (or $60) and be done with it. You repeatedly face the choice: Pay with money, or pay with your time. The game developer has an incentive to make "pay with time" as unpleasant as possible --- hence the grind. Further, the game is competitive: if the pay features give any advantage to gameplay, then it sparks an arms race where the player who paid the most wins.

I think this game would be a great place to try a "losers pay" model; that would seriously up the level of competition (but is it gambling? depends on your definition).
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:14 PM on April 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Total Biscuit is right in saying that if they just put out a $60 boxed game in 2012 they would go under. It's a small company and there are a million games competing for attention. Spend $30 and get the gold and 30 day boost, and you will most likely get all the stuff you want anyway.

These two points can be reconciled: state up front, cleanly, before the user downloads anything, what the purchases are, their prices, and their effects. Let the user know what they're getting into. Or else sell the boxed game for that $30.

I think this game would be a great place to try a "losers pay" model; that would seriously up the level of competition

It would also destroy any sense of sportsmanship. The incentive for hax for some people would become overpowering.
posted by JHarris at 10:12 PM on April 14, 2012


paradoxflow: None of these give any increase to speed or damage or arrmor, and most are actually worse than those you get by default. Some examples would be a trait that reduces self-damage from explosions by 15%, or one that lets you pick up 20% more ammunition from drops. None of them are going to have a big impact on how well you do.

Those things are not "worse than what you get by default." In a competitive multiplayer game, against evenly-matched opponents, tiny differences matter. And at high-level play, you can bet most of the players will be very close in skill. 15% less self-damage from explosions means rocket-jumping becomes a more viable strategy. Getting 20% more ammo means you can go 20% longer before you have to search out another ammo spawn point. I have no trouble believing that could result in an additional point by the end of even a short match.

Similarly, in the basic three classes you get: the fastest character (Pathfinder), the character that does the most damage (Juggernaut), and arguably the best duelist character (Soldier). You don't need to buy the highest damage gun, or upgrade your speed before you can try to cap flags; right from the start you have everything you need.

But in game design terms, those classes have strong negative points as well, which might just be opportunity cost, the lack of advantages in one area because you choose your advantage to be something else. Anything that lessen those disadvantages is a subtle unbalancing, and in highly competitive multiplayer play, those matter a lot.

And: is the game being play-balanced for players who buy no upgrades, or for players who have them all? One group or the other will get shafted, and I'd think it unlikely it'd be the ones paying.

Saydur: Come up with a business model which produces a strong player base like the F2P model, pleases the "one time buyer" group, and still has the means to produce enough continuous revenue to justify support, and top it off with ensuring the game is at least somewhat enjoyable, and you will be wealthy and celebrated in gaming circles.

You certainly would -- because that is a hard problem. Expenses are a burden regardless of the business -- that is the nature of business.
posted by JHarris at 3:07 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Those things are not "worse than what you get by default."

I think the point would be better made to say that those things are trade-offs from what you get by default.

You start off with two generally useful perks: Ultra Capacitor (which grants extra energy), and Determination (which grants extra health when you spawn if you just died without having killed or capped a flag in your last life). Only the latter can reasonably be said to be worse than the unlockable perks, because it's really only useful for newbies (but is a good set of training wheels).

All of the rest of the unlockable perks are, as far as I've seen so far, either on par with Ultra Capacitor, or worse. They exist not to be outright better across the board, but instead as options. If you want to be a vehicle-heavy player, there are vehicle-related ones that can be really useful. If you want to be rocket jumping across the map, you can do that. If you want to be a better flag capper, you can do that. But all of these things are trade-offs; take one, and you can't take another.

It is, as far as I can tell, perfectly legitimate for a high level player to still be using Ultra Capacitor, because it is the best choice for certain playstyles.

I started playing in the beta, but very very late -- literally, I went to PAX East, saw it, said "oh man, I loved Tribes / Tribes 2!", and went and downloaded it. So far, the "free to play" model has not been an issue. After a week or so of having a lot of fun with the game, I chose to throw $10 at it to support the developers, and used the in-game gold to buy one perk. I have no plans as of yet to do anything with the remaining gold, because I have not yet once felt like I was being held back by only having what I could unlock just by playing the game and having fun.

I was as worried as most about the free to play aspect, but I think if you're looking for an example of a game that is trying to suck the money out of players and overly monetize them, this ain't it.
posted by tocts at 8:30 AM on April 15, 2012


I was as worried as most about the free to play aspect, but I think if you're looking for an example of a game that is trying to suck the money out of players and overly monetize them, this ain't it.

No, respectfully, you are wrong, and the argument you are using is terribly short-sighted. I'm sorry to put it so bluntly, but that's the danger you run when you use an attempted closer like "this ain't it." There are two reasons you are wrong, and here they are with examples:

Over a decade ago people tried to get me interested in Magic: The Gathering. I told them I wouldn't want to play a game in which you had to lay out so much money to play. They told me you didn't need to, you could win with just a single deck of cards. They tried to convince me that money played no role in success. I hope it has become evident in hindsight that was a terrible argument.

Warhammer 40K, I watched a roommate sink hundreds of dollars into SPESS MAHREEN armies. He, and I, were told you didn't need to have lots of figures to wield a serviceable army. That is technically true. But it also means you are stuck to playing a certain way, forever. If you want to field a Predator instead of extra squads this time, you have to have bought the Predator vehicle, even if you aren't using it every game. If you want to play Eldar some time, you have to have purchased an entire Eldar army. You might not need more troops to win a single game, but it will make you overall a better player. That is objectionable, as time has demonstrated.

So, the first reason you are wrong: the point of play is not to win. That is the objective of a single game, but the reason you play overall isn't to win all your matches, it's to explore the gamespace. That is to say, to try out different strategies, which is the point of play in the long-run, you have to have more options, and in order to have them you have to pay the cash. If you don't lay out the dosh you are limited in what you can learn about how to play the game, you don't have the tools you need to

That is the second reason you are wrong: Exploration is what leads players to improve in the game, and thus paying more money does make you win more. Not just from expanded options, but you end up better for having fielded a more varied set of options. This is easy to overlook, indeed you have overlooked it, and this obscurity works firmly in the money-seeking developer's favor.

Note: Team Fortress 2 manages to get away with it a little because the game has so many options available without paying including nine full classes that each play substantially differently from the others, but yes, this argument applies to it too.
posted by JHarris at 10:15 AM on April 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


The end of my fourth paragraph should be: You don't have the tools you need to explore.
posted by JHarris at 10:17 AM on April 15, 2012


Over a decade ago people tried to get me interested in Magic: The Gathering.

M:tG is not free to play. It has never been free to play, aside from borrowing someone else's cards. And if someone tried to tell you, a decade ago, that you didn't need money to compete, they were telling you a lie that was obvious in 1993 when M:tG was released. I and everyone I knew who played in the mid-90's was well aware of this. Trying to liken games that are legitimately free to play (and completely unlockable with player effort) to a game that cannot be played at even the most basic level without investing money is disingenuous.

Warhammer 40K, I watched a roommate sink hundreds of dollars into SPESS MAHREEN armies.

Warhammer 40k is not free to play. It has never been free to play, aside from borrowing someone else's models. It also encompasses a lot more than just a game, in that there is a very large and interested modeling and painting community that cares as much (if not more) about the creative and modeling aspects of the franchise than they do the game that it is tied to. It has not been a surprise to anyone since the mid-80's that the rules to all of Games Workshops' games exist to give people a reason to buy their models. Again, trying to liken games that are legitimately free to play (and completely unlockable with player effort) to a game that cannot be played at even the most basic level without investing money is disingenuous.

So, the first reason you are wrong: the point of play is not to win [...] it's to explore the gamespace.

I simultaneously agree and disagree. Winning is not the point of the game. But, for me and many others, the point of a game is very simple: to enjoy myself while playing the game. And for me, that enjoyment requires that I feel like I'm being given a fair shot. It does not require that I feel like I have every single option open to me. And in the context of Tribes: Ascend, I've been enjoying myself immensely, despite the fact that the only money I've spent was because I believe in supporting developers, and the only thing I've used money to unlock is something I could have unlocked without it already had I wanted.

That is the second reason you are wrong: Exploration is what leads players to improve in the game, and thus paying more money does make you win more.

What leads players to improve in the game is playing the game. And funnily enough, when you play more of Tribes: Ascend, a side effect of enjoying yourself with the game is that you gain XP that can unlock absolutely anything in the game. There is nothing that you cannot get without paying.

Additionally, T:A happens to contain a training mode that allows you to try out any class or weapon in the game, regardless of whether you've unlocked it. They've made it incredibly easy to learn about the options if you have a desire to do so.

Team Fortress 2 manages to get away with it a little ...

TF2 seems like a terrible example of doing this well. I could be speaking of an older system of upgrades, because it has changed a few times and I'm not really playing TF2 anymore (just haven't been into it for a long while), but I played the game from basically the start. And the last I recall, getting the various options involved random drops. Seriously, random drops? (Or, some complicated crafting system to convert the crap you got to what you actually wanted). Comparatively, T:A is amazingly straightforward. If you want something, go look at its XP cost. That's what it costs. Go play the game. Earn XP. Get the thing you want without having to hope for it to randomly show up.

Look, I get from your comments in this thread that you have a severe dislike of free to play games. That's your prerogative. And I don't disagree it is a model that can lead to abuse. But this particular game is not, as far as I have seen so far, in any way abusive or cynical in its model. By being free to play, it guarantees a large player base, which means hopefully that it will have longevity and constant replayability. And you can do every damned thing in the game without paying a dime, if that's what you want to do. The only difference between a fully unlocked player who paid and one who got the unlocks via XP is that the paying player unlocked stuff quicker.

This is a far, far cry from some sort of Farmville-esque progress quest game asking people to pay to permanently get ahead.
posted by tocts at 11:15 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


M:tG is not free to play. It has never been free to play, aside from borrowing someone else's cards. And if someone tried to tell you, a decade ago, that you didn't need money to compete, they were telling you a lie that was obvious in 1993 when M:tG was released.

I don't think they lied so much as that they didn't see the implications of the business model. I could see them, though. If you think it was "obvious" then, then you forget the heady days when it was the big new game on the block, and a hundred other companies saw it as this huge revenue stream, selling simple colored pieces of cardboard at tremendous markup.

It's not free to play, but it still seems to be the same kind of thing. You haven't said why my analogy doesn't hold. You might not have to pay money to unlock things, but you do have to grind to do it -- you end up paying one way or another.

It also encompasses a lot more than just a game, in that there is a very large and interested modeling and painting community that cares as much (if not more) about the creative and modeling aspects of the franchise than they do the game that it is tied to.

Yeah, that community expectation exists mostly because Games Workshop sunk a lot of money into instilling that expectation in the minds of players. It is entirely their creature, in order to create social pressure on players to not play with third-party or makeshift pieces. It doesn't change the fact that you have to pay money, a lot of it, to explore their game, and that this is by design.

This is a far, far cry from some sort of Farmville-esque progress quest game asking people to pay to permanently get ahead.

Hold on now, social games are often "completely unlockable with player effort" in just the same way that Tribes Ascend is, they're just more upfront about the amount of time you have to wait that you could bypass for the low low price of $19.95. Tying an experience system to it is more an excuse to annoy players into forking over the cash than any genuine attempt at roleplaying mechanics.
posted by JHarris at 1:34 PM on April 15, 2012


If you think it was "obvious" then, then you forget the heady days ...

No, I remember them very well. It was not very long after M:tG came out that most people realized that money was the path to victory. That doesn't mean those same people stopped playing; the game is still fun, and a lot of people wanted to play it. But, few people were under any illusion that you couldn't buy your way to a better deck.

You haven't said why my analogy doesn't hold.

Yes, I have. M:tG and WH40k are games where step one to playing is, you buy something. Then, step two is, if you want to diversify your options, you buy more things. There is no point in either of these games where just playing the game for fun will result in you suddenly having more cards/figures/etc. Your analogy is seriously flawed.

Hold on now, social games are often "completely unlockable with player effort" in just the same way that Tribes Ascend is

I don't say this to play the "I'm not on Facebook" card, but, well, I'm not. The limited experience I've had with such games, though, indicated that it went above and beyond "you are slightly quicker to get new options", and went as far as, effectively, "pay money and you will have things non-payers will never have". And, in many cases, there seemed to be no upper maximum to the game -- so, even if what you were paying for was not strictly "exclusive", you were paying for a leg up that a non-payer could not ever catch up to.

T:A does not do this. There is nothing in it that requires money, and there is an upper ceiling on what can be unlocked. So, the most paying can do is get you things sooner. Eventually, non-payers will catch up, because you will run out of things to unlock.

Tying an experience system to it is more an excuse to annoy players into forking over the cash than any genuine attempt at roleplaying mechanics.

I don't think that's true, and on top of that, I have a feeling you misunderstand the role of money in T:A. Money can't actually buy you all the various upgrades to the items in the game. It can only unlock the ability for you to use them and to then put XP into them. If you unlock a class with money, you still have to play the game and gain XP to upgrade any of the base items of the class. If you unlock an item for a class with money, you still have to play the game and gain XP to improve that item.

You can argue either way to your heart's content whether having XP-based upgrades at all is a good idea to this sort of game. But, the requirement for gaining XP is not something that paying customers can avoid completely.
posted by tocts at 2:31 PM on April 15, 2012


Know what ticked me off? At the end of a very long and arduous download process, I was told I do not have a good-enough video card. My question: why couldn't you guys tell me at the beginning (when the same info was available)?

Just saying. ;-)
posted by pjmoy at 7:46 PM on April 15, 2012


tocts, you're the one that totally missed this. The only difference between Tribes:Ascend and Warhammer or MTG is that Tribes is giving you a starter deck/small army for free.

That's the ONLY substantial difference. Every other argument by JHarris applies. It's still a pay-to-have-more-options game, and over time, you will HAVE to pay (or put in ridiculous amounts of grinding time) to stay competitive. And the game will be constantly changed, not to make it a better game, but to make it a more profitable game.

This kind of arrangement has a special name for the customers: suckers.
posted by Malor at 9:37 PM on April 15, 2012


The only difference between Tribes:Ascend and Warhammer or MTG is that Tribes is giving you a starter deck/small army for free.

Incorrect. I state again: M:tG and WH40k require money to play at even the most basic level, and require money every single time you want to change how you play the game. T:A can be played from the most basic level all the way to having every option in existence without paying a dime. To continue to try to equate these models is again disingenuous.

... you will HAVE to pay (or put in ridiculous amounts of grinding time) ...

I was having fun in the game, and playing competitively (frequently in the top 5 scorers on my team, on winning and losing teams) on day one with the game, without a single upgrade. Within a little over a week, I've unlocked (via "grinding", a.k.a. "playing the game and having fun") almost everything in one class (Soldier) that I care about, and continue to be quite competitive. I also still play as a completely un-upgraded Pathfinder some of the time, and have had no problem whatsoever being competitive with it.

Anyone who is not paying could have accomplished the same -- I'm not some sort of FPS god. Anyone who is paying could have unlocked more stuff in that time period, but that's not exactly crazy talk -- if you want to play the game without ever paying, well, yes, there will be some stuff that takes you longer. The notion that you have to pay to unlock everything, though, is ludicrous. A lot of it you likely won't want (because different people play different ways), and even if you did want it all, you could pay $20 or $30 and unlock the majority of it, and have months before you ran out of options to try out, by which time you'd likely have gained enough XP to unlock the rest of the stuff you care about.

And the game will be constantly changed, not to make it a better game, but to make it a more profitable game.

Oh, cool, you have HiRez Studios' internal game development schedule and a list of planned future changes? Care to share?
posted by tocts at 4:27 AM on April 16, 2012


I was having fun in the game, and playing competitively (frequently in the top 5 scorers on my team, on winning and losing teams) on day one with the game, without a single upgrade. Within a little over a week, I've unlocked (via "grinding", a.k.a. "playing the game and having fun") almost everything in one class (Soldier) that I care about, and continue to be quite competitive.

Of course. And, meanwhile, people who aren't paying money and aren't grinding are falling behind. You did okay on Day 1 because everyone was equal. This is exactly the kind of game it should be. But now that you're putting in your grind time, the game is becoming unequal. Pretty soon, when noobs show up, they cough up, get stomped, or get forced into boring roles that nobody else wants to play.

Measuring a F2P game by the first week or two is genuinely stupid, tocts.
posted by Malor at 7:57 AM on April 16, 2012


And, meanwhile, people who aren't paying money and aren't grinding are falling behind.

The argument that has been repeatedly been made is that people could pay money, and immediately those who had not paid could not compete. From day one, anyone could pay to unlock classes and items. I did not do so. I played and had a good time against people who clearly had done so. I had no problem competing with those people. Unless you're arguing that nobody paid anything in the first week (and that's pretty obviously not true), there is no difference between me starting out a week back against people who decided to pay, and someone starting out today against people who decided to pay.

Additionally, you, like, JHarris, do not seem to comprehend the role of money in T:A. Everyone, no matter whether they pay or not, must "grind". Barring maybe 2 or 3 examples of items that have no upgrade path, items in the game have upgrades to them, and none of those upgrades can be purchased with money. They can only be gained by playing the game, gaining XP, and using that XP to upgrade the item in question. Money can only allow you to use a class or an item. It cannot upgrade them for you.

Thus, the existence of "grinding" better gear has nothing to do with "free to play", and is purely a result of the fact that the game is structured with XP-based upgrades. Because the game has upgrades that can only be gained by playing, yes, there will always be a disparity between a new player and a veteran*. And again, you can argue all you want about whether having XP-based upgrades at all is good or bad. But, that aspect of the game is a completely separate discussion from whether "free to play" with easier unlocking of options via money is a good idea.

Conflating the two (paying to unlock options vs. having to play the game to upgrade the options you have) is, to quote you, "genuinely stupid".

[* And as an interesting side note, there are ranks in the game that do not themselves give any benefit, but simply reflect how much XP you have gained by playing, which is a significantly better indicator of the quality of your gear than paying vs. non-paying (since paying only gives you breadth of gear, not better gear). And, as far as I can tell, that ranking is taken into account when the matchmaking service selects a bunch of players in the "awaiting game" queue to create a new game. So, it seems like Hi-Rez is in fact trying to make sure that players who have not played as much and have thus not gained XP to upgrade a lot are not thrown onto servers full of only players who have a ton of XP and thus a ton of upgrades. So, the notion that you're going to go to play the game and just spend the whole time as cannon fodder because you're the only newbie seems highly unlikely]
posted by tocts at 8:27 AM on April 16, 2012


Regardless of balance issues, it sucks to play a competitive game, see people do cool stuff, think "I want to do that" or "I want to drive that" or whatever, and be told, you can't unless you pay more money.

But I don't believe the balanced part either. Even if soldier and sniper are evenly balanced, if Player A has experience playing both classes but Player B has only played soldier, Player B is at a disadvantage because he doesn't really know exactly what snipers can or can't do (and just reading about it on a wiki is not the same thing).

Or what if the classes are balanced on average, but player B is personally much more comfortable and skillful in these sorts of games playing as a sniper? It's a competitive disadvantage to not be able to play using your best skillset.
posted by straight at 11:06 AM on April 17, 2012


Barring maybe 2 or 3 examples of items that have no upgrade path, items in the game have upgrades to them, and none of those upgrades can be purchased with money.

But you can pay to make the grinding faster, which over the long term amounts to the same thing.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:52 AM on April 17, 2012


And, meanwhile, people who aren't paying money and aren't grinding are falling behind.

I've spent a few hours with it over the last couple days. I never played any previous Tribes games; I've put who knows how many thousand hours into various FPSes in the last 15 years.

I can say with confidence that if the primary thing holding you back in Tribes is the differential introduced by unlockables, that's a really great problem to have. Because there's a great big pile of basic tactical and logistical stuff to get good at in this game. I'm not getting fragged by dudes with amazeballs weaponry who couldn't have taken me otherwise; I'm getting fragged by dudes who have a solid skillset, know the maps, and have encountered a whole bunch of times situations that I'm encountering for the first time.

I have reservations about a la carte gaming models, but this feels like an argument that requires one to start from a basis of not bothering to care at all if the game experience out of the box is fun to bother pursuing so avidly. The game is fun. The gameplay is interesting. The wide-open feel is a breath of fresh air compared to basically every other FPS experience I've had. Doing well is a challenge. The pacing of XP gain for initial weapon unlocks and upgrades is totally, totally reasonable in an incremental "ooh, I get something new" sort of way.

I may or may not dump any money into it in the long run. Right now I'm playing it for free and enjoying the hell out of it. Straining to condemn the business model while ignoring the actual game experience seems pretty goddam silly.
posted by cortex at 5:01 PM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


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