MMOs And The Power Of Capitalism

Money

I don't want to be a capitalist but I do want to be rich

I read an interesting post over at Tobold’s today about how Final Fantasy XIV is now entering it’s third free month of play. Apparently it’s not sold tremendously well and has had some bad press, so much so that Square Enix are visibly concerned about the future of the game. We know from past experiences that the first free month of any MMO is vital is generating momentum and sustaining a healthy player base so it’s no surprise that FFIX’s developers are crapping themselves at the prospect of a mass exodus of subscribers. Still, Tobold wonders Square Enix didn’t pick up on all of the problems earlier and try and do something about it before launch.

It’s a good question and, frankly, I think the answer boils down to hubris and cold, hard cash. Having never worked in the games industry I can only speak from an observers point of view but, considering what I’ve seen in other industries over the years, it seems like there’s a true sense of underestimating the customer in a lot of places. Businesses assume that people aren’t particularly fussy in what they spend their money on and although that’s probably true during periods of booming financial grow, it’s certainly not the case when people are feeling the pinch. Fact is, consumers are more picky about what they’re spending their money on now than ever before.

Of course, putting down bugs and problems in MMOs to arrogance is a huge generalisation and I’d bet that part of the decision was also financially motivated. And I don’t just mean the publishers running out of money to fund the project either but rather also that it’s a lot easier to ignore the cries of the beta tester than someone who’s actually voting with their wallet and when a subscription is at stake. Free open beta testers can highlighti ssues and complain about bugs as much as they want but I have no doubt that their feedback is valued a lot less than from those folk who are actually posed to fork out cash for the honour of playing.

Now I don’t have a huge amount of faith in the ideologies of capitalism but I’m feeling slightly warmer and fussier towards it all these days when we’re seeing moves by MMO games that are directly influenced by the customer. In an almost unbelievable way we, the players, are making these companies sit up and take notice of our feedback. Whether it be FFXIV giving out months of free play, or games like Champions Online 2 and Everquest 2 going Free-2-Play, it seems as if these guys are finally getting the message that we want good quality products at fair, reasonable prices.

Although I don’t necessarily agree with the black and white nature of capitalism, I do understand it’s business principle of survival of the fittest and I can’t help but appreciate at how it’s being played out in front of us with our MMOs. Recession removes our feeling of comfort and makes us all fussier consumers. My company has to be fight harder to earn it’s way meaning me, and all the other employees, have to work harder every day to ensure good quality and competitive value. As a knock on affect I’m a heck of a lot more aware about what I’m spending my cash on. Gone are the days of maintaining three MMO subscriptions a month and instead here are the days of waiting and reading reviews before buying absolutely anything. Bottom line is there’s now a lot less tolerance for subpar games in the MMOsphere than ever before.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed this little tête à tête about MMOs and capitalism. Tomorrow, why World of Warcraft reminds me of communist Russia.

-Gordon

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8 Comments

  1. Tesh says:

    I maintain that SWTOR shouldn’t release as a sub-only game. We’ll see how well it works for them. FFXIV has other problems, but subs aren’t a good idea in a growing market.

  2. According to http://gamrreview.vgchartz.com/sales/35106/final-fantasy-xiv-online/, FXIV has sold 400k. The site makes it sound like that’s only on the PC. But, that’s a fair showing. Not quite the millions-and-millions one might hope for to beat WoW and live up to the Final Fantasy name, but it’s a respectable showing. I think the big problems are expectations are skewed. It also sounds like FFXIV tried to deviate too much from the DIKU path and people find it lacking. Which is discouraging for those of us tired of that exact formula.

    Why do games launch with problems? Mostly, it’s money-related. But, Squeenix isn’t exactly hard up for cash last I heard. Other times the developers might not view the complaints as serious (call it hubris if you want, but you need to have some backbone if you want to make bold games). Or, the testers simply didn’t complain about some aspect because they were acclimated to the game over time as it evolved during closed testing; something a newbie would find confusing an old guard finds to be a neat feature.

    We’ll see how it goes. But, the tepid reaction to FFXIV isn’t exactly making me sanguine about the future of MMOs.

  3. Bhagpuss says:

    As a Tester of FFXIV I can assure you there was little BUT complaint on the forums. Hundreds of pages of it on some threads, particularly about the UI. All of it was ignored.

    FFXIV hasn’t tanked because it dared to deviate from the DIKU MUD format; FFXI already established a market for SE’s peculiar take on that format and FFXIV doesn’t deviate all that far from FFXI. It’s tanked because it is an unfinished mess with virtually no content.

    I also betaed Vanguard and in my opinion VG was orders of magnitude more “finished” by launch than FFXIV, and you know how well that turned out.

    Also, if 400k box sales (although I heard 660k reported elsewhere) is a “respectable showing”, the hit SE has taken to its share price is surprising. If they were to keep those subscribers then maybe it would be acceptable, but I think the rolling free months show just how scared they are to start charging because of the further damage their share price will suffer once the “subs-after-free-month” figures come out.

    • Gordon says:

      Thing is, box sales very often means nothing compared to subscribers. Just look at AoC which sold something like a million units then everyone left in droves after the first month. Longevity is what matters and Square Enix know it.

  4. Asmiroth says:

    Capitalism is the power of the market to decide fair value for a given product. What we’ve had in the past was the opposite, the product telling us what was fair value. When there’s only 2-3 games out, it’s hard for the consumer to have an impact. When you quite literally have dozens of games to spend your money on, well, it doesn’t bode well for the products that are lack luster.

    Funcom learned this lesson the hard way and have come miles to address it. Cryptic kicked out their mouthpieces (Bill, Craig et al.) and dumped piles of content into what they admitted were beta quality games. Turbine realized that they couldn’t compete at the per month racket and opted to let players pay when and what they want to play. The wind be shifting.

    EA has had the tar beaten out of them on each MMO they have tried to launch. APB, Earth and Beyond, Need for Speed, Sims, Motor City Online, Warhammer (ehh…), Majestic, UO2. Their Free-2-Play games have mostly had success though. It’s not that TOR will be a bad game it’s that the question is simply, is it a great enough game to warrant my money instead of another game?

    • Gordon says:

      “It’s not that TOR will be a bad game it’s that the question is simply, is it a great enough game to warrant my money instead of another game?”

      A very, very good question. I think 10, or even 5, years ago there wasn’t the competition so people basically had to play what was available if they wanted the MMO experience. Now there’s a lot of competition so it’s even harder for MMOs to make their mark.

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