The Right Sort Of Microtransaction

The other week I purchased the paid faction change service from Blizzard for one of my World of Warcraft characters. As a few friends of mine started playing the game on the Alliance side, I decided to move my level 30 Warrior from Horde over to Alliance, going from my second favourite race, Undead, to my all time favourite race, Draenei, in the process. The entire thing cost me £20/€23/$32 and allowed me to choose a new Alliance race, gender and name.

After (This image would've worked so much better if a Before shot too)

After (This image would've worked so much better if I'd had a 'Before' shot)

The ability to change faction is only one of the paid services that Blizzard offers now and, along with purchasable pets, must give them a nice little source of microtransaction revenue. I’m assuming “microtransaction” is the right term here cause RMT is often associated with the illegal purchase of gold but, honest to God, I really have no idea. Whoever coined these phrases should be forced to continually write letters into the Oxford English Dictionary until they eventually relent and publish a concrete definition for us all to refer to. If nothing else, it would avoid awkward moments like this. Anyway, I digress.

I’ve gotta say that I’m very happy with the faction change service. The whole process was incredibly slick and painless and totally worth the money. Why? Simple maths. I earn 20 bucks in less than two hours work at my job yet my level 30 Warrior had a total play time of over 24 hours. Thus buying the transfer was basically the most economical thing for me to do.

Of course, some would argue that this sort of service should be free and, heck, well it would be nice but it’s not exactly on our list of “required” MMORPG features is it? Players can’t change side in game and thus Blizzard has established this service as being an additional “extra” for the game, something that’s outside of their pre-established remit. SOE, on the other hand, allows characters to change faction in Everquest 2 via quests so if they started charging for it, all hell would undoubtedly break loose. Of course they also provide free character recustomization whereas Blizzard charge for it so that it’s either a missed opportunity for the former or a rip-off from the latter.

But to the come to the point of my title, this is exactly the sort of the microtransaction that I don’t mind. In fact, I downright quite like it. It’s totally outside of the gameworld (and by that I mean it doesn’t affect other players or at least is very low impact) and completely optional. Players don’t expect to be able to shift faction in WoW and thus it doesn’t influence them much on a daily basis.

It also does what all good sort of microtransaction should and that is provide flexibility and choice. Of course, it’s still freedom within the walls of Blizzard but it’s better than nothing and I don’t mind paying for it.

P.S. Want an example of the wrong sort of microtransaction? Well, I was going to point out pretty much everything about Free Realms but that blasted Pandaren Monk keeps forcing its way to the front of my mind. £9/€10/$15 for a chubby little furball that occasional bows and makes odd noises? And I paid for it? I’m such a twat.

P.P.S. My wife doesn’t know about this and I’m not going to tell her. Everytime she catches me with my wallet out in front of the keyboard, my life flashes before my eyes. She thinks “virtual” goods of any sort are a complete waste of money and I think she’d probably be less mad if she caught me buying porn instead. And no, I’m not dumb enough to test that theory.

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  1. Fremskritt says:

    I never really understood the outcry against these services, like you say there completely optional. That’s why I’m not afraid of Blizzard adding any “bad” microtransactions either.

    I have used the realm transfer service quite a few times and the recustomization once, and I don’t regret it. They all increased my enjoyment of the game, but I can’t say they didn’t impact people. After all, I had to deal with guild stuff. That’s not really comparable to kicking ass with some uber mega weapon though.

    • Gordon says:

      Blizzard have slowly dipped their toe into the whole paid-services thing over the last few years and after starting to offer services like faction swapping and name changes they’re now offering purcashable pets. I honestly don’t think it will be long before we see a lot more in-game items available for sale and I’d bet they will include mounts and vanity items. Still, I think Blizzard have the good sense not to step over the line… although what that line is, I have no idea :)

  2. Rhii says:

    I totally agree with you…

    I have done two server transfers and one faction transfer myself (see my before and afters here and I recently got my boyfriend a server/faction transfer as a gift.

    I’m totally satisfied with what I paid for the service, and the enjoyment I got out of the renewed character. It’s money spent on something that actually means something: in this case, the ability to play a class that I love on my new server without having to start over from scratch. Worth it!

  3. Andrew says:

    I’ve always held up the WoW account services as examples of BAD microtransactions. Two main reasons:

    1) They aren’t micro. $20+ to tweak a flag in a database somewhere is ludicrous.
    2) They pretend to be something other than what they are – Blizz would rather these things not be considered microtransactions.

    Free Realms implementation of microtransactions is a billion times better than this stuff, and it – as you point out – is not a great system. DDO or W101 do it right.

    • Gordon says:

      True, it’s hardly micro :) I’m sure it won’t be long until we hear the phrase “megatransaction” in reference to these things :)

      I haven’t played DDO or W101 but I’ve heard good things about their transaction systems which gives me hope. Free Realms on the other hand has received a lot of negative feedback and SOE just seem to be milking it for as much as they can. I don’t mind the microtransaction system so long as it really is optional and not just another way of forcing a subscription fee out of me.

  4. I’m not sure I really consider this “microtransaction”. I know, quibbling about size words is never productive. But, I think of this as a value-added service with a sizable price tag. But, the fine meaning is not a big deal in this case.

    I’ll disagree that this is “the right sort”, though. Keep in mind I’m a big fan of microtransactions as a viable business model, especially for independent developers. There are a lot of issues with this particular service, from the lore of letting an individual swap sides casually to the possibility of gaining advantages from paying money in an otherwise subscription-based game. For example, some people have speculated that the first level 80 Goblin/Wargen characters in Cataclysm will be faction transfers. Or, the fact that getting certain things like the Dig Rat Stew recipe on the Alliance side required a lot of work and/or sacrifice on someone’s part. (Yeah, get off my damned lawn, etc, etc.)

    It’s starting to irritate me that subscription-based games are starting to charge for stuff that does give an obvious advantage. (LotRO’s “Adventure pack”, I’m looking at you!) I think that if you want to do both business models, you should be up front about it. Nature of the beast, though.

    • Gordon says:

      Oh I’ve no doubt that people will immediately try to change their whatever level 80 character into a Worgen or Goblin. Unless Blizzard decide to cap the service at level 70 temporarily, they will likely make a reasonable amount of money out of people changing race. Quite clever really, I suppose.

  5. Ramon says:

    I agree that DDO does a better job here. I’ve also recently bought a horse and some transport runes and marking ink in Runes of Magic. RoM also has a fantastic system, with real convenience being available for just a few €.

    Just think how much time you’d save if you’d had a mount in WoW from day one, and if you’d be able to teleport to any location you’ve ever visited by using a € 0.2 consumable. And you can even create portals to those places in RoM, so your friends can travel as well. All this from level 1.

    Then there’s experience and talent point potions that increase your leveling rate, and all sorts of housing items, some of them just decorative, some of them with stats effects.

    It’s a shame that at the high end, buying some of the items to pimp the proper equipment etc. is almost a necessity (you can upgrade equipment using runes, and you can copy the look of one piece of equipment to another piece of equipment). But then again, that would be a one-time investment of €20 or so, and you’ve probably played for half a year before reaching the sort of level that requires crazy gear.

    So RoM and DDO did a good job in my opinion, and I wonder how Allods Online will do, as that game looks totally gorgeous and has its own style.

  6. says:

    So does this mean you are a member of Revenge of Le Chuck now or are you perhaps looking for a Guild on Khadgar?

  7. Tesh says:

    In principle, yes, cosmetic changes are ripe for microtransactions, and certainly better than grinding up new characters. On the other hand, swapping servers is something that Guild Wars and Wizard 101 allow you to do completely for free (even without paying a subscription), quickly and painlessly (and repetitively if you feel like it) so I can’t really get behind that being a good idea to monetize.

    $20 isn’t cheap enough for me to call it a microtransaction, either, but that’s quibbling. I think the philosophy and the pricepoints are indeed intertwined, but I’d rather look at the actual offerings and whether they make sense to monetize before assigning a price.

    • Gordon says:

      Often it seems that the price of something, especially virtual, has very little connection to the effort or worth of an item. Andrew’s right when he says $30 is a lot for someone to change a flag in a DB but it does beg the question, how much should it be? $20? $10? How much is too much? And what about virtual pets and items in games? The purchase of them is completely automated and the supply is endless so any price attached to them could seem like too much.

      I guess ultimately it boils down to what the customer will actually pay – it’s a perception thing, nothing more. I actually worked on a project for a Paintball company a few years ago and they told us that they sold less tickets when they tried lowering their prices because people thought the low cost reflected a poor product. Odd stuff :)

  8. [...] game services such as faction changes and realm swaps are something different. We fly Spitfires spoke about this the other day. I don’t have a problem with Blizzard charging us for these services for two [...]

  9. Taeko says:

    And how do you know your wife doesn’t read your blog?

  10. [...] a topic I’ve talked about before, and others have spoken about them as [...]

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