Controversy Conference Call

WOW Bucks

It seems blizzard still isn’t happy with its Scrooge McDuck money pit and is aiming to fill it to the brim, maybe start making a flowing money river with its new cash shop service aimed at the rich and ignorant fans.

If this was a ftp game, at this price people would be losing their minds. Whenever another game says they are going for a cash shop of services and fluff like this everyone goes insane yet, none of that has ever approached the insanity that is Blizzards greedy practices. WOW does it and most seem overjoyed, some are even going so far as to claim this is not nearly enough…. You shitting me? Everyone just bends over, cops a paddling from the Blizzard marketing machine and then asks for another. What’s next now? What else can the get away with while still also charging a subscription? I’m guessing a lot of the housing functionality coming up with the new Expansion.

Such a price makes no sense. It is the price of a new release, a pile of Indies or games on sale. That’s many hours of entertainment there where this money could be going. Wow is all they know though, which is just so fucking sad if you think about it. I get that people really enjoy this hobby of ours, and I understand the attachment you can feel toward a mmo but $60 for a simplistic service where there are many valid free or cheaper alternatives to take instead, one that they actually just killed too. Then there is the fact you’re basically saying that the majority of the game isn’t worth engaging in.. although, that’s probably another argument.

There are many motivations for it but so far they really don’t make sense to me. It’s not going to entice people back because that’s a huge amount by itself. It’s not going to get new mmo players because they already bitch just about having a box price. It just seems for those already heavily invested and wanting more options at end game to stave off the boredom but, the thing is, without that time investment they would probably stay subscribed for less time.

If this was happening within a vacuum of blizzard games, or during the worship of the wow shrine in a basement somewhere then I’d be fine with this. Consider it another addition in their long line of taxes focused on the stupid but this isn’t happening within a vacuum, WoW and blizzard itself is not an island unto itself. The decisions blizzard makes for its product are very often repeated around the industry in some form or another. They shape the industry around them and having such blatantly overpriced account services as it shows to others that this might just be an appropriate model. It’s not though, only WoW is able to get away with this bullshit but we will probably see overpriced “services” for a long time because of it.

Now, I actually don’t have an issue with the  service type itself. The demand is there and there are many valid reasons for players to want it although it has many issues as well. I would prefer if a mmo was designed not to need these, that most of the game remained useful but in the usual linear path it suits fine I guess.. everything’s already obsolete in some way. There are better ways to go about it but I guess this is the path of least resistance for developers in an ageing game that would take far to much to overhaul into something more meaningful.

I don’t even have a problem with the price per se, it is the companies prerogative as to how much they are going to charge for whatever they have. I would never buy certain things because of that pricing but, it’s there for others and there are enough mindless masses there to buy it. What I do have an issue with is how this practice and the pricing of digital goods and services will have an impact on the industry. Premium Pricing for digital goods and services needs to be the exception, not the standard practice.

The Pantheon Pitch

There has been a lot of talk about this product, both positive and negative regarding its various features and the way they were being implemented. Throughout I’ve been sceptical, bordering on being a bitch and I think that will probably continue right up until it’s eventually abandoned, which will happen…. the crystal ball says so.

It was a very weird Pitch. Spawned from a couple vague promotional concept pieces and then a rather confused Kickstarter that neither looked interesting or set to bring anything new to the genre…. at all and that right there was the problem. The Cynic Diaries has a good post about why Pantheon failed as well as a few suggestions that could have improved its pitch and while I agree to a certain extent my opinion differs a little.

To be honest, I don’t think it failed because it lacked scope or ambition, or that it wasn’t as fantastic in its claims. The issue was that, in a realm where we have had a lot of Kickstarter mmo’s lately it just didn’t have a defined pitch that made it stand out. We have Shroud of Avatar focusing on some sort of community appeal with dialogue options, Camelot Unchained for all that AvA goodness, and Star citizen for well… a fun Eve.

Pantheon was just there shouting out that it was Hardcore, a notion they really didn’t bother to define and that encompasses a wide range of different interest that differ immensely between groups. There was nothing special about the project except for this vague ideal; nothing unique in how they were presenting it and nothing interesting about the mechanics they were presenting for this ideal. It was, and I guess still is a tired iteration of older mechanics without any sort of modernised interpretations or understanding of the why and how these things changed.

I listened to the recent Game on Podcast which interviewed Brad Mcquaid after this recent KickFail and it becomes quit obvious that this man is delusional. Delusional as to the appeal of his project, delusional about the appeal of these mechanics and delusional about why it failed… hard. That is not to say I would not want some of these older mechanics to come back, in fact we need them back but just not like this.

The thing he was a bit right about was creating a better source for those wanting to understand the project. Looking at the kickfail I really had no idea what the focus of this Frankenstein monster was going to be. A wealth of mechanics that neither should have been apart, or should have been incorporated but were stuck up the rung of stretch goals. Perhaps if they created and outline an improved the Pantheon Pitch it might have lived long enough to get the plans for this game more concrete, maybe even enough for some gameplay.

I don’t think so though.

Deep Down

It seems we are once again flying the feminist flag about character design, or lack thereof around this upcoming dungeon crawling title, The Deep Down. Now I understand why some people would once again, rallying against the lack of some sort of playable female character and of any important female characters. The responses given were also the same nonsense we usually hear when developers get questioned about their lack of female Characters: “Oh, it doesn’t fit with our made up story that could easily be changed to be more inclusive,” It would be too expansive to add an extra character model or devote time away from the male ones”, and, my personal favourite “that’s not our marketing demographic”.

That’s all bullshit. Most competent people with the minimum of available brain power understand this and it’s something that needs to change within the industry if it ever wants to gain a wider understanding in the popular media but do we really need to form a lynching mob for every single game and developer that doesn’t adhere to this new world diversity index.

Sometimes I truly believe you can be a little too politically correct. Railing against every game like this does make it look like one gigantic feminine agenda to have total control over inclusively. These arguments add to that growing demographic of male gamers contesting these change as a legitimate concern for the industry, against a change forced on everyone and every game. They are spouting a ridiculous hyperbole, that much is obvious. Diversity of stories from both sides is, and always has been the aim instead of world domination however arguing over every little slight makes it look like this hyperbole is true.

I just wish we could pick the battles a little better. That issue with the metal gear solid developer Hideo kojima and his super special comments needed to be debated. The ridiculous characterisation in the mmo Wildstar was another. Long running franchises that continue to not have meaningful female playable and npc characters and many more cases both from the games themselves and the treatment of female gamers from developers and the general population. There are a wealth of far more overt, covert and in your face (literally) issues that serve as a far better targets than The Deep Down… do we really need to go after every single one? I don’t mind being a bitch occasional and cooking up a nice rant but this is a little much.

11 thoughts on “Controversy Conference Call

  1. On the first point, I totally agree. WoW is allowed to get away with murder, and it’s because of all the effort that people have put in not going to waste. I believe the psychological term for this is Sunk Cost Fallacy, essentially the more you invest in something the harder it becomes to abandon it, and the more you accept and justify their stupid moves. Even when they start double dipping like crazy, there are many people who will justify it, call it just fine, because admitting it’s terrible is also admitting the game you’ve played for the last decade is the same terrible game, and that the past has been a waste. It’s like in poker, the more you throw down into the pot, the harder it is to fold your hand. A good position going sour is the easiest opportunities for smart players to take others money. That’s why when people leave WoW, they generally do so explosively and with a lot of anger. The cognitive dissonance is too much to handle. It’s now at the point where I’m not sure I really consider WoW players in the same boat as MMO players. Sure, there is some overlap, but the differences between the two groups are growing further and further apart.

    I also agree on your second and third points, but don’t really have much to add to them. Well said, each point.

    • @Ocho – I normally don’t respond critically to comments but having major issues ignoring this one so giving in…

      Sunk cost fallacy? Exists, but not relevant (it’s a “throwing good money after bad” economic scenario more than anything that helps to explain why politicians continue to allow budgets to expand on approved projects even past the point of sense or viability… it’s a function of irrationality and a better chance to PR spin afterward). Loss aversion? That’s more applicable and may be what you’re aiming for, where you don’t want to give up what you have for an uncertain future somewhere else. That isn’t irrationality, though, not exactly. It’s the reason why a GM will hold on to a player rather than trading for an equivalent (or even better) one… loss aversion (both in the GM and the fan base) indicates that if the new player fails the GM will take more blame than if the existing one fails if no trade is made… there isn’t a corresponding amount of blame for the trade note being made even if it should have been. An impartial observer might place that blame but they won’t get much support from the fan base.

      Otherwise, that comment is nothing but baseless assumptions and ridiculous generalizations (the “general” exit reaction from a player leaving WoW is explosive anger? Really?). WoW players are absolutely MMO players… we’re playing an MMO. We’re playing a SUBSCRIPTION MMO, though, with certainty of continuation and general consistency of experience and population. Feel free to differentiate that with the F2P/Kickstarter MMO crowd who seem to thrive on uncertainty and underdoggedness and hoping that a while comes along to offset their personal guppyness so the game can stay solvent… but no biggie either way, can always move to the next hotness for a few weeks if not, it’s all just instant gratification and minimal stickiness. The mercenary lifestyle may very well be the more rational one but in the same way that I’m somewhat partial to various brands in other areas, I’m partial to WoW for my MMO needs. I don’t think that means I’m broken but you’re of course entitled to think otherwise.

    • I definitely think part of it is that but then many also don’t follow those same patterns. Going back and forth at will, happily. To many such people these purchases are an investment. I don’t think the sunk cost fallacy can fully relate to such things just because it never had hobbies in mind for when spending money and then stopping. It was more to do with having a complete loss when, even in WoWs case you have a certain amount of assets there that you can cash out on.

  2. There are a lot of WoW players for whom WoW is their only MMO… possibly their only game. In my case, I play WoW because it pushes the buttons I need pushed, it’s familiar, it’s enjoyable and most of the people I’ve known in-game for 6 years are still playing. Could I get a decent and less expensive (maybe) experience moving to another game, including F2P ones? Sure… but I’d be losing more than I’m saving by making that move. Is $60 expensive? Sure, by any criteria, but comparing it to “if a F2P game did that” is a pointless argument… they can’t BECAUSE they’re F2P games. The F2P model is problematic from a revenue/survival standpoint, they can’t risk alienating players who might buy $1 or $2 items even if they aren’t the target market. WoW can, the core group of WoW players who exist in a world of $15 subscriptions and $25 mounts will, generally, view $60 as a cost to consider and either buy or not buy, there won’t be much judgment about the $60 itself. Why should there be? I had the option for a $4K technology package on my car last time I bought one. I didn’t ask them why it was that expensive, I didn’t criticize the manufacturer for the insane price, I just said no, that’s what normal people do when confronted with a poor value offering. The F2P, alternate option brigade are certainly being vocal about the $60, those who play WoW and those who don’t/haven’t, but they aren’t looking at it from the perspective of the target market that Blizzard is offering it to. We may not take advantage but if we want another 90 and $60 is within our price range, we’re buying and happy as hell that we now have that option.

    Hockey is a sport, an expensive one (potentially high hundreds or even thousands a year). Basketball is a sport, a relatively inexpensive one. That basketball exists and is probably as similar to hockey as most MMOs are to each other has little to no impact on hockey’s viability or popularity… hockey players don’t look at the relative value of basketball and switch over en mass. Why do people buy $30K cars when $10K cars exist and are virtually identical? Why do I have a $300 video card in my PC when a $150 one would give me good enough performance? How did Apple survive their niche premium days to become a dominant player in technology? That type of situation exists in pretty much any area of life that you can think of… except that while it’s allowed in most, it isn’t for video games, if some bloggers are to be taken at face value.

    Why’s there a perception in the video game world that these types of “I just prefer A even if it’s more expensive” don’t exist or, if they do, are somehow wrong or irrational? Possibly just the perspective of a F2P fan who wishes that half (or 2%) of the WoW player base would switch to their game so it’ll have a chance at survival? It has to be more than that, I just honestly don’t know what it is… video game commentators are some of the strangest I’ve seen from almost any angle (entitlement, irrationality, etc). What other company in the WORLD (gaming or no) engages with their customers the way Blizzard does with theirs? You’d think that would win them some karma points, not make them a perennial punching bag whose every comment/decision is met with an assumed hostility until (perhaps) proven otherwise (and often, even then).

    Microsoft doesn’t take 5% of this abuse and I can justify a $60 character boost a HELL of a lot more easily than I can a copy of Office costing $695 in a world with various free alternatives… how about you? It’s easy enough to say “I talk about video games, not office apps” but that just confirms that it’s the “video game” thing that’s the common link, not that it’s a particular personality type when it comes to the commenter. I don’t get it.

    • People spend money on the hobby they enjoy, I’m not arguing with that and whether that is a toy train set, Warhammer models or wow ponies is really up to the individual. When you have a long term connection such a cost is more of an investment.

      Comparing games and their practices against each other is a rather silly endeavour, I hinted at that at the end but didn’t really go into any depth about it. I really couldn’t care less what one game charges it’s customers for items. They are usually more self contained though, and island unto themselves with costing but wow just isn’t another mmo, another car company or software firm in a long line of others.

      This isn’t an issue solely the domain of the ftp crowd, the issue I have is that the price point of items and services in WoW are so often repeated around the industry. It’s quite obvious with the monthly subscription cost. Why 15 a month, because that’s what wow does. Looking into it further it’s no surprise that many companies have also copied the 20 price range for for their cash shop items and services. It’s this premium pricing being set for the industry that I have an issue with.

      SO it’s more like that 10000 car trying to charge 4k for an extra because that’s what the 30k car does, or those cheaper office alternatives also trying to charge a similar amount for some sort of functionality when that’s ridiculous. You neither have the same quality moniker nor the most most popular in the industry. You create a pricing range tailored to your product and if your a product aimed at gaining more of the playerbase, a greater cross-section of those looking for a cheaper alternative.
      Hmm.. so I actually have a problem with the lesser product attempting to charge people more. A part of that is I also have an issue with premium pricing for digital goods in general. I really despise the practice of design and marketing extras and such only to the whales that can afford it. I would much rather a price point designed for everyones budget, if they so like the product.

      Anyway, thanks for your comment

  3. I recently came back to WoW after a 6 month break and was horrified to see how prominent the cash shop had become. It’s gone from the occasional mount or pet that you buy from their website (A few had profits going directly to charities), to a full-blown F2P style store that is not only accessible in-game, but on the freakin’ character select screen as well!

    I don’t have an issue with the 90 service. I don’t even have a problem with the price point per se: it was meant to be streamlining the process for those people who are already spending that much to buy new accounts and transfer across their boosted toons (It happened with both Recruit a Friend and the Scroll of Resurrection). I just hate how much F2P is permeating into my subscription game.

    If the game has resorted to this when it’s still sitting pretty at 7 million+ subscribers, at what point will we start buying gold and gear from the cash shop because Blizzard want to milk the loyal player base for as much as possible?

    • I never realised it had gotten that bad… What’s the rationalisation for a such an extensive cash shop among the playerbase.

      I guess it hasn’t just been an explosion of ftp but more a gradual change. The frog in the water type analogy, heat it up slowly and the frog what notice until it’s boiled alive.

      Even with this though it isn’t a major reason behind the drop in numbers, I would think it’s only a minimal concern but maybe one that just adds to other issues.

      • Players seem to turn a blind eye to it because they’re still only selling cosmetic items. “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it,’ they say. It hasn’t gone as far as pay-to-win *yet*, but there are some that argue that the level 90 boost is the start of a slippery slope.

        (At least they’re not using a ‘special’ currency to trick you into feeling like you’re not spending ‘real’ money. Oh no, that bad boy just directly charges the credit card you have saved to your account)

        Your frog in the water analogy is spot on. I don’t know of anyone that has quit the game specifically because of the cash shop (Though when they announced the 90 boost, there were plenty crying on the forums that they were going to do just that), but I can definitely see it adding to people’s frustration with the game’s direction as a whole.

      • I don’t really like that “if you don’t like it don’t buy it” justification. I’m ok with the few rare pieces there, maybe special holiday items and consumables but when it’s more than that I have to question why I’m paying a subscription.

        nice ride although.. I could never justify spending that much on an in-game item. Would just rather get a full other game or two

  4. I think -that- is the thing we should be worried about here; that any other sub games to come out in the future will try double dipping as well.

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