I’ve written about capturing RMT demand before, and how Puzzle Pirates does it right. I’ve also written about how publishers are whining about used game sales.
What if a Guild Wars-like MMO business model not only allowed account sales, but facilitated them?
This is the culmination of a few thoughts. One, there’s my comment over there that made me think that I should probably expand on the idea here. Two, there’s my perpetual dislike of the subscription model of gaming. Three, I’m one of “those people” who loves the secondhand game market.
Ever since my NES days, I’ve purchased used games… probably more often than I buy them new. I’m cheap, and I refuse to pay the inflated sticker prices for most games. (The exception that proved the rule was the Street Fighter 2 Turbo SNES cart that a friend and I purchased new… for $70. Never again.) If there’s a game that I want new, I wait for it on sale. If I can get it used and in good condition, I’ll most likely go that route (usually via eBay).
I can hear the poor widdle publishers gnashing their teeth. To which I say, suck it up. If your games were priced competitively, say $20 instead of $40+ (the Playstation Platinum Hits versions are fantastic for this), I’d probably buy them new. Since they are not, if the original buyer gets $20 of value out of the game ($40 retail – $20 resell), and I get $20 out of it by buying from them, We the Market have effectively repriced them for you. Do you know the proper response for that? Reduce your price, then we both buy the game new. It’s not rocket science.
Yes, this might mean reducing stupidly high dev budgets, altering business plans, developing from capital rather than debt, and operating on a decent schedule without death marches and feature creep. Discipline, in other words; financial, schedule and personal (and personnel). Make excellent games, treat your emloyees right, stop chasing the graphics fairy, and give players high value for their dollar.
So what of the MMO world? There is a grey/black market for account sales. I’m not going to promote any site that offers such, but it isn’t hard to find them. This, to me, is analogous to the used game market. The initial customer is tired of the game, and wants to get some value out of what they have left. They have no intention of picking up the game again. They should be able to resell it to someone who will get use out of it.
The GW flavored MMO, as a commodity that happens to have a value added mini “service” (cleverly masking an online verification antipiracy function), could easily behave like an offline cart that has optional online multiplayer. The verification antipiracy scheme ties the ability to play to an account with the publisher. If I, the player, no longer want that privilege of playing, I should be able to sell my account along with the game.
It’s just a shifting of legal rights and responsibilities from one party to another. As long as all parties are amenable to such a change, a relatively simple one, there should be no problem. As it stands, the only thing in the way is the publisher’s greed, evidenced by their demand that any customer pay full price. Again, the market is repricing things for them, and doing business anyway.
Now, to be fair, much of the “account selling” is actually “selling” high level characters or loot. That’s another topic; here I’m just talking about selling the account itself (and any bonuses purchased for the account included, like extra character slots in GW), with characters and loot wiped clean, with all permissions reset. That’s a key point, actually. Used console games might have saved games on board (typically GBA/DS games these days, as the PS/PS2/PS3 generation games typically have save cards), but most are just the game. Selling an MMO account should approximate that, by selling the game (functionally, the account), not the save states (characters).
Of course, the simplest solution is to reduce prices. If an account transfer would cost $15 or so, but buying into the game itself was $20, it would often make sense just to start fresh. We’ve seen some of this sort of price deflation in Guild Wars, where the game was once $50+ retail, but has dropped in price. This is probably the best way to handle it, but I still argue that prices need to be lower to start with and/or drop in price earlier and further.
There’s a fine balance to be found between supply and demand, but paying attention to the secondary market is key to adequately pricing your games (or repricing them once the suckers early adopters have bought in). More often than not, the secondary market shows the sustainable level of demand. Early adopters are nice, but not terribly useful for long-term planning. Ignoring it and/or fighting the demand for used games is counterproductive to understanding the market, and can wind up backfiring.
Of course, in all this I’m assuming that a company has an interest in long-range planning, as well as long term success of a given game. They may not, indeed, have such an interest. A company that does not is one that will ultimately fail, but they do exist. Churn and burn is deeply ingrained into the game industry, even more so than most elements of a consumer-driven society.