Why’s It All About Money Now?

Money - Dollars

There's more to life than money

I’ve been playing MMOs for over a decade and, as the years pass, I’ve starting to notice an uncomfortable trend of monetizing every aspect of our gaming. Bloggers have widely debated the pros and cons of subscription models versus free-to-play (aka micro payments) and that’s all fair and well yet, unfortunately, what we seem to be seeing now is the horrendous amalgamation of them both. More and more MMOs are now looking to offer a rather unpleasant combination of not only monthly subscriptions and additional purchasable one-off “extras” but also enhanced premium services. How come everything is all about money now?

Of course, even though they’re not the only ones, I’m referring to Blizzard’s recent announcement that they plan on adding a premium service which will allow players to group with RealID friends cross server using the Dungeon Finder tool. Although I can accept (and even indulge myself) in purchasable vanity extras like the sparkly pony or pets and deal with things like the extra Remote subscription (as it offers nothing that you can’t do normally), I think I have to draw the line at offering unique in-game facilities, unachievable without paying, that can theoretically have a dramatic impact on one’s gaming experience.

Perhaps the most grotesque thing about it though is that Blizzard are leveraging the poor reputation that the WoW community has to their monetary advantage. They’re basically admitting that the whole PUG Dungeon Finder system is flawed and that by allowing people to find, make and group with competent friends cross-server is the way out of it. So essentially now you can create your very own clique of “good” players and friends, from any server, and never have the need to group with strangers ever again. For a price of course.

I recently mentioned on Twitter my desire to stop playing RIFT and return to World of Warcraft but, thinking about these announcements, I’m not sure I want to do it. At the risk of sounding melodramatic about it all, I morally object to this kind of monetary segmentation in MMOs and simply how everything now boils down to cash. I do think WoW is a great game but, honestly, I am tired of being constantly reminded about money every time I play (it’s worth pointing out that Blizzard aren’t the only offenders here).

I play MMOs to escape real life and enjoy some moments of fantasy and it’s becoming increasingly hard to do this as more and more companies are making rather blatant attempts to take our cash. What’s wrong with simply wanting to pay a reasonable and fair monthly subscription fee and then being left alone to enjoy the product? Why are we constantly being hassled and bombarded with purchasable extras?

Ultimately I can’t help but feel that the more companies like Blizzard lose subscribers and players to other games, the more they are trying to compensate for the lost revenue by squeezing additional cash out of their existing player base. It’s simply the wrong attitude to take as what they should be addressing are the core reasons why players are leaving in the first place.

-Gordon

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50 Comments

  1. Longasc says:

    This trend has befallen the entire gaming industry. There are probably entire teams thinking about new ways to charge players. Be it Star Trek Online, LOTRO, WoW. Hell, Activision would love to have a subscription for Call of Duty.

    Guild Wars started without sub and any micro-transactions. Little by little they got added. The same happens on a grand scale right now. We have not yet reached the climax, funnily gaming gets a lot more expensive in our times where so many games go “FREE 2 PLAY”.

  2. Christopher says:

    It is part of a larger trend within the gaming industry. There was an article a few years ago I read where the big push that a lot of companies were going for with DLC and ‘premium’ packs was to (essentially) get everyone to pay as much as they were willing to pay.

    600K sub loss, followed by announcement that they’re trying to cycle expansions faster AND are rolling a premium sub (which I’m sure will be expanded as time goes on) makes me believe they think WoW is a mature product with little room for further growth, and if they can get more money out of existing subscribers, even if costs them some future ones, it’s worth it.

    Even the little guys do this. I played EvE for three years. You realize very quickly in that game that you’re crippled without an alt account. CCP actually optimizes the game to support dual-boxing, and offers discounts on starting up an alt account regularly.

    A lot of people won’t give out their real names to random people over the RDF, my tinfoil sense tells me these people so vastly outnumber those that will that this first step won’t be very major – RealID is probably the asinine thing Blizzard has ever rolled out. If they drop the RealID requirement (basically make it work just like normal friends list), allow cross-server chat (outside of the realID system), something akin to a guild channel, raids, and most importantly an option to only include other premium subscribers in RDF groups I can see it being a lot more popular. Even the last part, a lot of people will happily pay extra if the extra fee is perceived as creating a barrier that will keep most of the ’special’ people you find in RDF pugs away.

    Going forward though, I expect to see a lot more emphasis on features you pay extra for (be they expansions or premium services) than on raw sub numbers. Blizzard shifted their top talent to other projects long ago, and activity numbers have been declining since 2008. It’s pretty obvious that even though WoW is still a huge cash cow it’s hasn’t been their main priority in years now.

    • Gordon says:

      Great comment and totally agree. I think WoW truly is starting to hit a glass ceiling now and, it seems, Blizzards way out of it is by trying to squeeze more out of its current player base. I doubt the financial people are too happy that 600k people have left so soon after an expansion several years in the making. The retention rate and value of players seems to have dropped dramatically for WoW recently.

  3. It’s always been about the money, Gordon. Games are first and foremost a business, even the smaller games. My decision to shut down Near Death Studios was entirely motivated by finances; I didn’t want to pay $800 corporate taxes with no income.

    It’s a combination of factors that have made the money focus more apparent now. Perhaps the biggest thing is that WoW is starting to decline, so they’re looking for ways to keep the gravy train going. A lot of other games were funded on the promise of getting a large portion of WoW’s population, but they’ve failed, so developers are looking for ways to make more money with less people. As I’ve posted several times before on my blog, the microtransaction business model makes a lot more sense if you aren’t the biggest fish in the sea. And, honestly, it’s a lot more profitable.

    Online games originally charged by the minute. Then went flat rate. We’re returning to a period where we aren’t feeding every player “all you can eat” for a flat rate. I’m sure there will always be big-budget subscription games. But, the trick is to find a game you like with a business model you can live with. Just gotta accept that it’s not the cheapest thing you do all month. :)

  4. Kring says:

    > I think I have to draw the line at offering unique in-game
    > facilities, unachievable without paying, that can
    > theoretically have a dramatic impact on one’s gaming
    > experience.

    You’re looking at this through the eyes of a raider. The game already had a lot of unique in-game facilities, unachievable without paying. The “currency” is the ability to commit in advance multiple days per week of fixed playing time. The currency that already exists is “real life time”.

    Now they add a new currency which is “real life money”. And by the old saying, time is money, it doesn’t change that much.

    Sure, it sucks if you can’t get everything. But it’s not that big of a difference if your reason is “I don’t like to pay extra” or “I don’t like to commit to 3 raid days per week”.

    (And could you allow e-mail reminders for further comments, please?)

    • Gordon says:

      That’s true. I have always felt that time is a big barrier to MMO gaming however I suppose it is somewhat easier to stomach than being forced to pay for desirable extras in addition to the time.

      And yeah I’ll check out the email reminder feature ;) Been meaning to turn it on for a while actually…

  5. Epiny says:

    I’m with you on this Gordon. It’s weird though because I’m willing to pay $50 for a monthly sub if it was akin to EQ’s premium servers back in the day which in fact did offer unique rewards for the extra cost, but for some reason this premium service doesn’t sit right with me.

    I think it’s the same reason I don’t like micro transaction games, I feel like they are nickel and dimming me to death with “ala cart” purchases. I would rather just pay more for phenomenal service. Luckily I’m in love with Rift at the moment so I wont have to even consider WoW for some time.

    Something did dawn on me recently in Rift though. I think I may start playing on RP servers in the future. I just assume that their general chats aren’t as… “barrens” as normal servers.

    • bhagpuss says:

      General chat on Faeblight (my Guardian server) and Shadefallen (Defiant) is about as good as I’ve seen in any MMO. Intelligent discussion, helpful replies to sensible questions and full, grammatically correct sentences are the norm. There are exceptions, of course, but the standard is generally more than acceptable.

    • Gordon says:

      The RP servers on RIFT seem very good actually. I’ve bumped into a lot of people RPing and just love reading their conversations :P

  6. Stabs says:

    While Brian’s right and it’s all about the money the art of spinning a virtual escape is becoming severely compromised.

    Imagine sitting in a theatre watching MacBeth and you have a man come on carrying a placard inviting you to pay $5 to see Birnham Wood come to Dunsinane.

    I don’t mind paying more. What I mind, and what I think most people mind, is a constant barrage of small rather weaselly surcharges that get us thinking more about them than about the games we want to enjoy, the alternate worlds we want to lose ourselves in.

  7. Azuriel says:

    Anyone remember Battlefield 2142’s in-game advertisements five years ago? Not that I believe Blizzard would do something like that (they keep their art team to < 10 people to maintain consistency of style), but this is a long-run trend.

    The investor call said it all from Morhaime himself.

    ——-
    Michael Morhaime

    Okay, the World of Warcraft question was about basically the mix between value-added services and subscribership revenue which we don't break down. In terms of our philosophies on developing content, we think the most important thing is engagement. And so developing content that keeps our players engaged, there's no big priority. When we look at the types of value-added services to offer, we really try to create things that will help also drive engagement, and so things that players want. But that we want to have some barrier potentially so that everybody doesn't just go and get this thing as it could devalue the service or sometimes the value of the experience for everyone if there was no barrier. And so sort of, we try to create win-win type value-added services.

    [...] And so we have a lot of reasons for optimism going into the balance of the year. We still have Cataclysm in China that we're working to launch. That seems to be going very well. We also have additional new free content that we're working on, as well as additional value-added services. In addition, there are new territories that we will continue looking at. And we think that there continue to be opportunities for growth in new markets.
    —————————————————————

    More "value-added" services and increasing sub numbers (or at least stopping the hemorrhage) by releasing WoW where it has not already been released yet.

  8. Epiny says:

    I think someone brought up a good point. When WoW does finally come down of this high it’s been riding for so long I think it’s going to happen alot faster than most people are predicting.

    A huge factor that keeps pulling the casuals, which is the bulk of the market, back into WoW is that they have friends still their. Once a sizable portion of those casual friends find a new home people will follow. I love Blizzard, always have, but I really hope this is the year. I doubt it though, nothing sounds good enough to lure those casuals away from their hard earned long time valued characters.

    • Patti says:

      Absolutely true about the social aspect. I think many, many casuals are fed up and bored with WoW, but continue to pay that subscription fee so they can still “hang out” with in-game friends. That will change as friends move on and discover new games.

    • Gordon says:

      I also think Blizzard are quite shrewd though and are probably predicting a rapid decline… right about the same time they plan on launching Titan :P

  9. silvermute says:

    There seems to be a lot of “small crack in bathroom ceiling = false vacuum phase-change and end of the universe” reasoning going on here (possibly related to the schadenfruede that seems to kick in when anything to do with Blizzard’s alleged impending demise is mentioned).

    The alternative perspective is that this will be a service of value to a limited subset of players (who have already, or may be considering coughing up for server transfers) that has precisely zero impact on the vast majority. As far as I can see, it will in no way affect how the game plays and will offer no competitive advantage. And FSM forbid that a company might even suggest that they try and make money for a service…

  10. Nils says:

    I agree. I don’t play MMORPG to ‘compete’ with my real-life friends and even if I did it, I’d feel like cheating, if I used mere money to do it.

    I’m all for a 100 € monthly fee, but leave me be after that, k ?

  11. bhagpuss says:

    MMO(RPG)s are still a young, developing medium. Everything is in flux. Where we are now won’t be where we are in five years or ten years time.

    A year ago it looked as though the direction of travel was wholly towards F2P/Microtransactions, yet what’s been the most successful launch of 2011? A pure subscription-based game with no cash shop; Rift.

    I’m quite happy with the current state of the market. There’s plenty of choice, both in games and payment models. I’m confident there will always be something that works for me in the genre. The more growth the sector enjoys, the better that chance gets.

    • Dril says:

      Disagreed; Rift was a success because it lured people away from (primarily) EQ2, along with the usual “tourists” from other games (including but not limited to WoW.) It hasn’t brought very many new people in, and spreading the same number of people over more games is more stagnation than development. Profitable stagnation? Maybe. But stagnation nonetheless.

      • UnSub says:

        The problem with defining “most successful” launch is that it is hugely subjective without any of the numbers behind it. I could say that DCUO had the most “successful” launch of the year, given it was SOE’s fastest ever selling title (not highest; fastest in terms of units shifted) and launched during a period that’s normally a dead zone for gaming.

        However, I could also say that DCUO had the worst launch of the year, given that (like RIFT) server merges are now on the table and player abandonment is partially driven by things that should have been caught during beta testing. With real numbers to compare it to – and most importantly, return on investment – success and failure are mostly subjective states.

        I agree that the “WoW lost 600k players” is massively overblown; it is still the most massively profitable game ever created and could lose half their player base yet still be miles ahead of everyone else. It’s also important about where WoW lost those players – were they in Western markets? Eastern markets? Topline figures don’t tell the whole story.

    • Gordon says:

      “A year ago it looked as though the direction of travel was wholly towards F2P/Microtransactions, yet what’s been the most successful launch of 2011? A pure subscription-based game with no cash shop; Rift.”

      I’ve always maintained that people are attracted to quality and all developers need to do it make “good games”. The problem with so many MMO releases – just look at everything Cryptic does – is that they simply aren’t good enough to attract enough players so the owners plug the money gaps through added value extras and services. I mean we all forget that WoW was successful because it was so well crafted and was of such a high quality.

  12. Straw Fellow says:

    As much as I am actually kind of cheering for WoW to fall (not because I hate it, but for market reasons) I don’t actually think that behemoth is going anywhere for a while. If it does, color me surprised.

    That being said, I think I’m actually alright with the idea of a “premium” subscription. This feature doesn’t really affect me, because I use RealID for RL friends, and I tend to play on the same server as them anyway if I can. And if I can’t, well, we can just go to the movies. I find that list is really only good for real life friends anyway, mainly because I’m uncomfortable sharing my name publicly.

    For those who are fine with that, well, the premium subscription is going to run you more than a server transfer will eventually. If two people’s servers mean that much to them that they both don’t want to switch, this is the answer.

    (Mind you, I’m only guessing if it’s going to be a premium subscription. From what I’ve read so far it might be a one time fee.)

    But if they do have this, say, at 20 bucks a month, I wouldn’t mind as long as they keep adding features to it without raising the cost more. Yeah, it’s a straight up grab for cash, but I would never consider it unless they start making it worth the extra cost. But it being available doesn’t bother me at all. Much like sparkly ponies, it doesn’t change my gaming experience.

  13. Barrista says:

    What does Blizzard do when they see something successful in another game? They borrow it, but they call it something different.

    I see this as basically moving towards a LotRO pricing plan, but not blatantly calling it that. Many people who play WoW seem to think that free2play or cash shops are things MMO’s which aren’t as good as WoW. Maybe by slowly steering in that direction without blatantly saying so, they are keeping the people who wish to maintain their rose-colored glasses.

  14. Epiny says:

    The thing is this COULD change your gaming experience. I have friends on 5 different servers in WoW. If none are online on my home server I would use the LFD, I queue as a Tank or Healer. Now I could just group with friends from other servers.

    This COULD increase LFD wait times, thus affecting YOUR play.

    • Silvermute says:

      A worldwide fascination with George Foreman Grills COULD lead to excessive electricity demand that COULD cause outages that COULD make it impossible for me to play.

      Once you start stringing unknown probabilities together, your argument becomes a little hard to sustain, especially in the total absence of evidence. A gamer’s Pascal’s Wager.

      • Epiny says:

        Analogies are bad because people will argue that and not your point.

        This has the potential to affect LFD wait times… considering that Call to Arms was just implemented it seems like something you would consider. I mean… Call to Arms COULD cause more people to tank Pugs which COULD reduce the wait… but you know theorizing anything is just bad…

      • Gordon says:

        I’m in awe of anyone who manages to use a George Foreman Grill analogy :D

    • Gordon says:

      Indeed. It’s far more intrusive than the sparkly pony or vanity pets.

  15. Luke says:

    The feature sounds cool, however why don’t to change the server and play with friends on the same? – Leveling with friends is fun as well :)

    The other thing, micro-transaction – lets face it.. some wow players are freak.. no offence freaks ;) .. – addicted players are capable to spend much more money on additional features and perks than normal user.. This is only my point of view but, I think Blizzard is going to implement micro-transactions and make Wow free of “charges”.. but in fact people will be spending way more on it to keep up with freaks.. again no offence freaks ;) .. the same time they will reduce maintenance time on servers..

    less players but more money at the same time.
    perfect deal.

  16. ironyca says:

    What I don’t understand is why some people are not even advocating what is in their own best interest.

    Why are some players so ready to pull out their wallet and pay -extra-, when we should have been handed this for the sub?
    Why are players voting for Blizzard’s cause, and not their own?

    Even though this “premium” feature will not affect me, I’m sure some premiums will down the line, and then it’s too late.
    I’m interested in getting WoW for the best price possible (also in the future), but some people seem more interested in paying more for the same…. strange….

    • Straw Fellow says:

      “What I don’t understand is why some people are not even advocating what is in their own best interest.”

      Because firstly, the service is optional. If I don’t like it, it’s in my best interests not to pay for it. Whether or not they actually keep the feature or give it for free is not my concern as I wouldn’t ever use it.

      Secondly, even if I would use it and want it to be free, despite complaining they are going to do it anyway. And people will buy it, and use it, and eventually we’ll become used to it and it’ll be just like the complaints over the sparkly pony.

      I’m interested in how you used the word voting, because unless Blizzard feels like they will lose a significant amount of their playerbase because of this (I.E. the RealID fiasco) we have no say in this. People will quit, yes. But will they recoup their losses? Oh yes. They are a company, and the bottom line is what matters. We may vote with our wallets, but right now the blogging community is a miniscule force in their subscriber base.

    • Gordon says:

      Also it raises the whole argument of what should or should not be included in the monthly subscription. I mean, how long before Blizzard stop releasing new patch content for free?

  17. Syl says:

    “It’s simply the wrong attitude to take as what they should be addressing are the core reasons why players are leaving in the first place.”

    They seem rather big at not getting this ‘why’ – the monetizing trend is only one aspect of the entire, failed reaction. apparently they also understand that they need to create content even faster and throw in even more free goodies, more achievements and more repeatables to keep us interested. quantity over quality, it seems.

    • Epiny says:

      I really think they have two goals in mind with their current changes. Give the casual players who haven’t experienced alot of content something to do, and tide over the hardcore playerbase until we can get Titan out.

    • Gordon says:

      Absolutely. They should be looking at the reasons why folk are going to other games and then try to improve WoW to attract them back, not squeeze the existing player base!

  18. Tesh says:

    “What’s wrong with simply wanting to pay a reasonable and fair monthly subscription fee and then being left alone to enjoy the product?”

    Let me turn that on its ear. What’s so wrong with wanting to pay a single price and never be bothered for money again? Subscriptions still piss me off.

    • Epiny says:

      Subscriptions didn’t use to bother me. When I first started playing EQ and I was shocked at having to pay a monthly fee to play a game I came to realize that I was paying for the ongoing improvement and future features being added to Norrath.

      We have GM ran events, not this automated crap you see in WoW. The GM’s actually ran the events like a DM would in ways. Quests were added, changed, and bugs were fixed. The cost of the expansions paid for the cost to create the game, the monthly fee covered the cost of the on going changes.

      Sony then announced their “prememium” server where you paid, I think it was 19.99 a month for better service and exclusive content. This upset me at first because I felt this was the type of service I was entitled to with my… what was it 12.99?

      Now it feels like my monthly fee only pays for the bug fixes and server maintance. It feels like I’m paying for the grounds keeper to ensure everything works but never improve the game. I pay a flat fee but you’re going to charge me extra everytime you come up with a little feature?

      I’m an old school MMO gamer and I understand that my way of thinking is with the outdated minority. I however am very much applying my ‘vote with your wallet’ ballet here and not subing to WoW… ever again.

      • Tesh says:

        “I came to realize that I was paying for the ongoing improvement and future features being added to Norrath.”

        Ah, but was that a realization or a rationalization? They never tell us exactly where our money goes. That’s in their best interest; if we just get used to the recurring fees, we stop asking if they are worth it.

      • Gordon says:

        “Now it feels like my monthly fee only pays for the bug fixes and server maintance.”

        That’s exactly how I’m starting to feel too. It’s as if the player is becoming more and more like an addicted cash machine resource to the games companies rather than a valued fan or part of their community.

    • Gordon says:

      Ahhh, darn your logic, Tesh :D Yes, you’ve got a valid point. I suppose though I can appreciate the need to pay ongoing costs for a game that operates solely online and, as a result, has certain overheads. I can stomach and accept that.

  19. Prodigy says:

    short answer is: We let them.

  20. Wolfshead says:

    Since the release of WoW, MMOs have been all about the money. WoW’s core design tenet was to make MMO’s more accessible to a wider demographic and bring in more profits.

    For the first couple of years WoW was such a new experience for many people that nobody noticed Blizzard’s lust for money and how it affected many of the design decisions.

    Now that WoW is an aging MMO, Blizzard is desperate to extract every ounce of gold they can before they kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Blizzard are the true “min/maxers” — they put the least amount of effort to keep the most amount of people subscribing. So the result is they will continue to sacrifice the health of their MMO and make bad design decisions because in the end it’s all about pandering to the Activision/Blizzard shareholders.

    Oh and WoW players, I hope you enjoy the new Blizzard MMO that will be released in another 3 years. You paid for it!

    • Dril says:

      Methinks you’re blinded by WoW’s recent years (and your hatred of them) to actually analyse its earlier years with any amount of objectivity. WoW was fairly obviously designed to be the successor to Warcraft 3 in terms of both design and lore; it was easy to learn, hard to master. A lot of the decisions pre-Wrath were, I feel, far more about building on the original game, not changing it to make it more accessible (as a side note: it’s very interesting that their huge growth in the West was mainly during Classic and TBC, when they designed for the game itself, not for the idealised view of an infinitely accessible, infinitely money-spinning cash cow.)

      Of course, that’s not to say I disagree with your comment, merely the timeframe it describes. Wrath’s release (well, probably ToC’s release really) marked the present era of pandering to the mass-market for profits, and by and large I agree that it is to the detriment of both the players and the game’s quality.

      “Oh and WoW players, I hope you enjoy the new Blizzard MMO that will be released in another 3 years. You paid for it!”

      The point, relevance, newness or indeed noteworthiness of that comment is what, exactly?

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