Devlog: The Business of Ships
In late 2012 we began discussions about transitioning Pirates of the Burning Sea from Flying Lab Software to a new company so that its development and operation could continue after the publishing deal with SOE came to an end. This gave us an excellent opportunity for frank discussion about the business strategy for PotBS, especially since its transition to Free to Play.
One thing that became abundantly clear from these discussions was that the strategy pursued by FLS immediately following the game’s transition to F2P simply was neither sufficient to sustain the game and its still-sizable development team, nor to provide opportunities for further growth. FLS did recognize that issues with the initial strategy were holding it back and around mid-2011 they began to implement changes that would put PotBS’s F2P strategy more in-line with successful games in the same space.
While FLS had additional projects underway to help maintain development on PotBS, the game’s revenues never reached a level that allowed the project to be independently sustained. And now with the game under Portalus’ control the need for an improved strategy is even more critical. While our team is smaller than what FLS had dedicated to PotBS, our sole focus as a company is on this one title.
If Pirates of the Burning Sea is to grow and we are to accomplish the major improvements that we have planned for the game, we as a company need to grow. To accomplish this we’re implementing a business strategy we feel will better maintain PotBS’s longevity and improve its ability to grow in a free to play marketplace.
We cannot achieve the necessary growth by returning to any past business models and it is for this reason we have taken a firm stance against rolling back to any previous point in PotBS’s history. Those models were tried under better business conditions than currently exist and they have proven unsuccessful. We believe our best option for achieving growth is by continuing the transition toward a strategy that takes better advantage of the unique opportunities that come from running both a Free to Play title and a game with an immensely important player-driven economy.
With that in mind, I would like to present the high-level view of our strategy. Content that we produce for the game will come in three distinct categories:
Free Tier – Content on this tier is accessible to all players without any purchase from Treasure Aisle. The majority of the game is currently at this tier, and while that provides an amazing value for new players, we cannot hope to sustain the game by focusing solely on this type of content. While all of the content in this tier will be available for free, we will also offer some of the content (such as ships) for sale as a convenience. Due to constraints in our team size and content pipelines a significant portion of new additions to this segment will come in the form of mechanics changes and new kinds of gameplay (similarly to Elections being added in Power & Prestige).
Partner Tier – This tier is all about introducing players to the paid content that we are making available, while still supporting the player-driven economy that is a major feature of PotBS. Players that purchase content from this tier have become partners with us in supporting the game, not just through their direct purchases but also by providing much-needed goods to their fellow players. Two examples of this content that is currently available in-game are the recipes for the San Fernando and Centurion ships. To ensure that our partners have a space to freely produce and sell their goods we pledge to not offer directly anything that is produced by content sold at this tier. Again as an example, we will not be selling San Fernando deeds directly on Treasure Aisle.
Premium Tier – Premium tier content represents the highest level of achievement for players of PotBS—something to strive towards, not necessarily something to be used on a daily basis. For this reason the content at this tier includes some kind of purchase from Treasure Aisle or the new Piece of Eight exchange, and generally requires other significant investments of effort and skill. Examples of Premium tier contnet avialable in-game right now include the First and Second rate ships as well as all of the ships featuring the new Prize Cannons.
Because we want the player economy to continue being a major force in PotBS we view the ideal distribution of content as 20% Free, 60% Partner, and 20% Premium. Currently the game’s content is out of line with this ideal, for example nearly 91% of ships are in the Free tier, as a result of recent patches 6% are Premium, and only 3% are in the Partner tier. Because of this disparity, and because of a general sense that there are simply too many ships in the game we are implementing a multi-patch strategy of contracting the number of ships in the Free tier while expanding the number of ships in the Premium and especially Partner tiers. In the next section I will discuss what that means for the upcoming third patch:
Our plans in the next game release are to begin the contraction of the ships available at the Free tier and continue to add ships to the Partner and Premium tiers. Starting with 2.13 there will be new ships added in each release, while simultaneously a few more ships will move into retirement (becoming obsolete). In 2.13 we will be adding 2 new Partner tier frigates, a Partner tier pirate frigate, a new Partner tier Free Trader ship, and a new Premium ship. More information will be coming on these ships later this week.
Concurrent with those new additions we are planning to retire all of the “heavy” variant ships (e.g. Hercules Heavy), with few exceptions. A list of the specific ships slotted for retirement will be published when 2.13 first reaches Test Server. Retiring ships may require balance adjustments to the associated ship variants as we contract the number of Free ships available. An example of associated ship variants would be the Hercules and its variants consisting of the Hercules Heavy, Hercules MC, Pirate Hercules and Hercules Sleek.
Beyond 2.13 we’ll continue to restructure some ships from the Free tier to the Partner tier. Our goal is to enhance the artwork with as many of these transitioned ships as possible so there are visual differences in the models, representing additional variations of the original model. When our art pipeline will allow it we would like to add entirely new models and continue to evolve ships as the centerpiece of the game.
This is the general plan for our upcoming ship development, I hope it provides some sense of direction and what might be expected in the releases to come regarding ships. We have many other concepts in the works for both ships and ship combat, but at this moment we felt we should focus on our strategy for ships as content and as major elements of the player economy. As development progresses on our other changes to both ships and ship combat we will provide additional devlogs to discuss them.