Case study: BDO’s business model

From my next post onward I’ll talk about playing games and having fun again instead of all this meta stuff, pinky promise. In fact I can hardly wait to talk about this:

MK11_Gang
It’s so good to see you again, old friends

First I’d like to get something out of the way though.

As you all know I’m a huge fan of Black Desert Online. If you’ve read my posts about it I assume you can understand why I enjoy it so much, even if the kinds of gameplay it offers might not be for you.

On the other hand, if your knowledge about the game mostly stems from what you’ve read somewhere else on the internet, for example in the comments over at Massively OP, you are probably under the impression that it’s a mismanaged, RNG-riddled, Pay to Win trainwreck, albeit a good looking one.

If that were true, and I were still supporting it financially despite of what I talked about in my last two posts, that’d make me quite the hypocrite, wouldn’t it? Maybe I am. I guess that’s in the eye of the beholder, as everything.

Anyway, today I’ll talk a bit about the game’s business model, and why I’m ok with it.

BDO_Shop
The shop front sure ain’t subtle

First of all, its monetization isn’t perfect. Far from it, actually. The game definitely encourages you to open your wallet, and I’d say you need to spend about 70-100 bucks total to be able to really enjoy the experience. In my opinion it’s totally worth that though. More than that even. There’s so much content to enjoy here, so much variety in things to do and classes to play, so much to explore; there just aren’t enough hours in the day to indulge in everything. It’s also still expanded and iterated upon on a weekly basis, years after launch. Pretty much every week’s patch notes have stuff in them that I’m happy about. Proper expansions have been huge, and always free of charge. I guess what I’m saying is, regardless of how much you actually decide to spend, you’ll definitely get a lot of bang for your buck here.

But let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of this business model, shall we?

Technically the game is Buy to Play. I say technically because buying it sets you back just 10 bucks, only half that during its quite regular discount periods. I realize that even at that price point it isn’t the same as F2P. Still, when I look at a game’s cash shop and ponder if I’m ok with it it makes a huge difference to me whether buying the game itself already costs 60 Euros, or just 5 or 10.

There’s an optional subscription called Value Pack. Many players say that you definitely need it, thus making it anything but optional. I do agree that it’s a big advantage to have every now and then, but I certainly don’t need it all the time. It gives a bunch of bonuses, the only really important of which is a reduction in marketplace sales tax. The math is a bit complicated, but the bottom line is that you get 85% of your item’s selling price with an active Value Pack, only 65% without. That is a pretty huge difference. The thing is, since I started playing the game I was gifted a total of twelve 7-day Value Packs just for logging in regularly, doing events and stuff. To this day I’ve only used up three of those to sell expensive goods I had stockpiled beforehand, so I don’t see me ever feel the need to actually buy a Value Pack for real money.

Of course the cash shop also sells all kinds of items we’ve already seen in most other such shops, if applicable. Costumes, weapon skins, pets, horse-, wagon- and ship-armor, furniture, consumable XP boosts, the works.

A big difference to most games I’ve played is that pretty much all those items do grant actual gameplay benefits here, which of course strongly reeks of P2W. And I guess it technically is. It doesn’t bother me though because once you understand how the game actually works you realize that most of these bonuses are negligible. Example: among other things costumes give a 10% bonus to combat XP. Not bad, but given the fact that you generally have bonuses amounting to at least 250% running whenever you actively grind for XP those additional 10% are but a drop in the bucket.

The item category that stands out are pets. You need some pets. Well, you can play without, but it won’t be much fun. What they do is pick up loot for you. Since you kill mobs by the thousands in this game, you really don’t want to pick up all that stuff by hand. New players get one pet as a login-reward pretty early on, but you’ll probably want to have more than one sooner rather than later.

BDO_Cat
Always by my side, wherever I go

I won’t go into detail about the game’s gear upgrading system again, I’ve already done that here and here. Suffice to say, there’s indeed a lot of RNG to it, and there are pretty severe consequences to failure on higher levels. Now, there are no items in the cash shop that actually increase your chances at a successful upgrade, but you can buy costumes and melt them down to Cron Stones. Those can be used while enhancing high grade gear to protect it from falling back one grade on failure. This is obviously pretty huge, and definitely P2W if you’re dead set on getting your gear to the highest tier of PvP-competitiveness. You’d have to pay a lot of money in order to do it this way though. I mean, a lot of money. Not dozens or hundreds, I’m talking thousands of Euros here.

And that doesn’t bother you? I hear you ask. Well, yes and no. Yes, I’d rather not have stuff like that in the game. Goes without saying, really. But also no, because if you’re willing and able to spend that much money just so the little numbers on your imaginary items are a bit higher than mine, more power to you. I’m serious. You and your peers basically keep the game afloat and development rolling single-handedly, which means that Lakisa and I don’t have to feel bad for playing countless hours without paying much for it. Also, we’ll never participate in Tier 3 node wars and stuff like that, so chances are you’ll never wield your shiny weapons against us anyway.

BDO_Lakisa&me
Besides, we’re far too good-looking for that kind of stuff

You see, the non-consensual part of the game’s PvP, despite of what you may have heard, is pretty much non-existent. I talked about how I had been ganked for the first time over a year ago. Since then it has happened to me just once more. Structured PvP, like the aforementioned node wars, is separated into tiers, with hard caps to attack power per tier. Bottom line is, you can engage in PvP and will still hardly ever be fighting significantly better geared players, unless you deliberately choose to. In consequence I really don’t care how those top geared players got their stuff. Yes, P2W still stinks, but it doesn’t ruin the game as a whole here like it would have done in, say, Battlefront II, hadn’t they reversed their course.

I obviously can’t go over each and every item on offer in the game’ shop, but this should suffice for a broad overview.

To summarize, I’m ok with BDO’s business model because it lets me play and enjoy an outstanding, content- and feature-rich virtual world for about the cost of a normal full-price game plus one paid expansion, and to me it’s worth much more than that. It has P2W aspects to it, but the way I see it those are pretty much irrelevant to all but the top 2% or less of players, and hence don’t affect me personally at all.

It sure isn’t perfect, but I actually enjoy spending money on the game every now and then. I don’t need to, I just want to. That’s saying something, isn’t it?

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