Posts Tagged ‘business model’

I’ve written about finishing World of Warcraft before, and I’ve written about business models more than a few times.

Alternative Chat has a good blog post up ruminating a bit on the potential that Blizzard has to take the existing World of Warcraft and blow it up, starting over with all the bits they want and jettisoning the cruft of the last decade.  They did a version of this with the Cataclysm expansion, which I’ve also written about a few times.

So, I just wanted to put my finger in the stream again and post pretty much the same thing I noted in a comment over at Alt’s place, and something I’ve written here before…

If Blizzard really wants to shake things up and leave the old WoW behind for a brave new world, they should branch the game.  Cut everything that’s presently in the game off from the dev teams (save for bug fixing), package it up as a “buy to play” subscriptionless game in the vein of Guild Wars, and bravely stride off into WoW 2.0 as their premiere flagship subscription game.

It’ll never happen, just like Vanilla servers won’t happen and Pre-Cataclysm servers won’t happen, but hey, I can dream.

Edited to add:  This amuses me.  As Jay over at The Rampant Coyote points out, “Buy Once and Play” is making a minor comeback.  As if it’s something radical.  This industry is weird.  Even Forbes just can’t resist the satire.


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A couple of thoughts on subs and F2P business and MMOs, today guest starring Tobold, Spinks and Raph Koster.

Tobold’s I Would be Happier with Free2Play

Spinks’ WoW Thought for the Day

Raph Koster’s F2P vs. Subs

I’ve long been a proponent of making WoW F2P and even offline or in W/JRPG format simply because subscriptions never offer me enough value for me to bother with them.

…and yet, I have a 60-day time card that I’ve had for almost a year and a half and a handful of 30-day time codes from the WoW VISA card I use for big purchases and emergencies.  I have the time codes (and one unscratched card), ready to use, already paid for, but the flubbernuggin’ time-limited monetization scheme still doesn’t feel like good value to me.  I don’t want to use those codes since I have too much going on to devote sufficient time to playing to get good value out of them.  Similarly, I have a Steam code for 30 days each of FFXI and RIFT, but I haven’t activated either of them.  They are paid for, ready to go, but I hate the idea of locking myself into a monogamous game experience just so I can squeeze the most out of it as I can before the time stops ticking.

I hate gaming on the clock.

…and on the other hand, I’ll happily sink a little time into the newly F2P Star Trek Online every morning sending my Duty Officers off on missions and maybe run a story arc mission in the evening.  The cost of activation is really low, so I go play when I feel like it.  I’m considering spending $15 or so to get a new ship that I would then be able to use whenever I darn well please for as long as the servers are live.  That’s value I’ll pay for.  That’s how I approach Wizard 101, too; I bought Crowns to unlock areas that I’ll get to someday, and in the meantime, I’ll play when I feel like it.  I’ve spent money on Puzzle Pirates for the same reason; I bought a ship that I can sail around and pirate with, but I don’t have to keep paying just to play on the occasions when I make the time for it.  I’d readily pay for a single purchase SWTOR.

Would that translate to WoW?  In my case, absolutely.  I’d log in and do a few quests here and there, and toss them money to unlock a dungeon or the ability to make a Dwarf Druid or make my own guild comprised entirely of my own characters without the need to recruit other players or some sort of service that lets me bypass some of the extremely poorly paced crafting curve.  I’m definitely not averse to giving Blizzard money, I just want to pay for things that offer me good value.  WoW is still a fun game to play, even with all its warts and weirdness.  As it stands, though, I can’t exactly send them a financial message about the parts that I care about, which is one of the weaknesses of the subscription model.

…I can, however, offer to sell my time codes.  Anyone?  Maybe trade for some titles on my Steam Wish List?  Oh, and I still have some coupons and COGS and World of Goo if anyone wants them.  Nobody took me up on the snowflake contest, so I’ll just throw them to the winds.  (Another interesting take on value, perhaps…)

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What with all the fuss over LOTRO’s impending renaissance (or doom, depending on your crystal ball), I’ve been idly wondering what server segregation might do to assuage the fears of the fans of gated communities (M.o.B. is asking for some civility there; he’s not one of the snoots).  <snooty>One must keep the heathens out, after all; imagine what it might be like if they outnumbered the veteran “real players”.  They don’t even play the right way.  Maybe we should just autodelete all the noobs every week.  At the very least, we should tell them to go home.</snooty>

Puzzle Pirates has separate “subscription” and “microtransaction” servers, for instance, and it seems to serve them well enough.  Each server has its own community, politics and economy, though there is certainly cross-pollination on the master forums and players who play on multiple servers.  Incidentally, the microtransaction servers have been most profitable for Three Rings, though they happily maintain both flavors.  Players play on servers that match their finances; happy customers are a valuable asset.  Even if they aren’t subscribers.

On another hand, you could go with a “scarlet letter” approach, as I noted over at KTR, if you’re working with an integrated community, and make it visible to one and all how players are paying for their gaming.  Maybe that would make the Old Guard feel better, as they get their warm fuzzies by denigrating the little people.  <snooty>Sit in the back of the boat, you, you… casuals and tourists!  Respect my subscription-granted Authority!</snooty> I mean, we already have GearScore and Achievement segregation in WoW and other pecking order mechanics in other MMOs (“I can’t believe she’s wearing that gear, what a noob”), what’s the difference, right?

It really is interesting how these MMO things tinker with sociality.

Some also bemoan the rise of soloability, occasionally with similar utopian fervor.  In my mind, though, the continuing democratization of the business models and game designs of these MMOs is a Good Thing.  That’s how the free market works, ideally; innovation and experimentation provide for variety, and the most profitable ideas rise to the top.  Sometimes, they even prove to be the best ideas, too.  We’re not quite a meritocracy, but a varied market does tend to work better than One Size Fits All economic theory… ditto for game design.  I mean, Turbine couldn’t possibly be paying attention to the industry, could they?

But hey, it’s a free world, right?  If people want gated communities, they should be free to pay for them, right? Let the market decide, perhaps.  There’s money to be made making people feel special… especially if those people will pay handsomely (through the nose) for prestige (For the Horde!).  Conspicuous consumption, indeed; <snooty>what good are expensive toys if you can’t show them off and make other people feel inferior?  What good is it to be a member of the subscription elite if you can’t lord it over the inbred masses of free to play tourists?

Why play with other people if you can’t be better than them?  Even segregation only matters inasmuch as players know that there are other places they could be, but they don’t qualify because they aren’t as good as someone else because of how they pay for the game.</snooty>

Pfeh.  Lovely post-prejudice society we live in, eh?  It’s very interesting to see long-held but long-repressed opinions come out of the woodwork.  Funny how time and stress do that to people; candid opinions are far more informative than processed ones.  It’s especially curious to me that the prejudicial cancer of the LOTRO community is based on things that haven’t even happened yet.  As such, the real problem for the community isn’t really an undefined nonpresent boogeyman, but the attitudes already held by those already in the community.

It almost makes me wonder what the response would be to a zombie apocalypse.  Sometimes, it’s the survivors that are the monsters

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I’m sure that the Turbine announcement of LOTRO’s impending Free to Play mode will generate a fair dose of trolling out there over the weekend (“oh, noez, the game is dying!” or “yayz, the game is dying!” or “we’re going to be overrun by MMO tourist trolls!”), but I’m going to echo Ravious on this one and be optimistic overall.  I think it’s probably a wise move for the longevity of the game in a shifting market.  That said, I’m still not sure when or even if I’ll be revisiting the game.

I don’t quite have the humorously adversarial relationship with the game that Shamus does, but LOTRO and I, well, we have history.  Y’see, it’s the only video game that has the distinction of traumatizing my daughter.  The cave troll that busts out of the wall in the Dwarf starting story had her convinced that a monster would break through her bedroom wall.  Dumb daddy (me) lets her sit on my lap sometimes as I play games, but that wasn’t the… wisest time to let her in on the LoTR IP.  She and I slept on the couches in the front room for three weeks until I convinced her that the Dwarves had moved into our neighboring mountains and had made the trolls go away.

I love kid logic.

Anyway, LOTRO isn’t a bad game, but neither is it really the MMO that I’m looking for, or the LoTR game that I’d most like to spend time with.  (That honor goes to this title that I’ve had on my shelf for years… yeah, high priority.)  Sure, I’d like to spend some quality gaming time in Middle Earth, it’s just that I can’t do that in DIKUMMO games since I have to spend too much time grinding before I can just look around without fear of being torn asunder by grumpy trolls, dire pigs, giant spiders… or whatever.

Still, it’s more tempting now than before, and they have a better chance of earning money from me like DDO did.  I’ll chalk that up as a win for the LOTRO guys, and I wish them well.

Anyone calling the date for when WoW finally does the same thing?  All I see in my crystal ball is Bobby Kotick, and I’ve seen my share of trolls for the day.

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In Soviet Russia, item shop pwns you.

…and yes, I’ve read reports that the prices for Russians are an order of magnitude cheaper.  Funny, that.  One for the home team, I guess.

Guys, this is not how you monetize a microtransaction game.  I know capitalism is hard, just like math, but this… is an order of magnitude beyond ill-advised.  I thought it was an honest if spectacularly embarrassing mistake, but as it turns out, it’s more like a faceplant.

Ah, well.  I hear WoW is still a good game, for a subscription game.  (Imagine the italics there dripping with disdain.)  All those who have been whining about AO either in-game or on blogs will surely find Blizzard waiting with open arms.

In the meantime, I maintain that the art direction of Allods Online is solid, the core game is fun (if nothing revolutionary in the DIKU mainstream), and the ships and their mechanics look awesome.  The game is good, even great in places.  The business plan… not so much.  (Curiously, my precise reaction to WoW, come to think of it…)

Oh, and I can get a six-man (actually seven-man) ship in Puzzle Pirates for $5, and I can solo it.  Guess who gets my money?


Postscript:  I’m not trying to be snarky about those who, like BBB, tried Allods Online and found their interest waning.  It really just won’t scratch the same itch as WoW, especially for someone who is used to the endgame and doesn’t want to drag a character up through the leveling grind again.  That’s more a function of the age of games and how we get used to things, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

My ire here is mostly with the businesswonks of Allods Online, with a small slice reserved by those who are cheering for the game’s failure, including those who are blindly prejudiced against the business model.  This is a failure of execution, not concept.  DDO, W101 and Puzzle Pirates do it right.

The actual game devs have crafted some great work, for which I applaud them.

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Just a quick thought, this one.  I’ve been reading up on Allods Online, seeing what others have to say.  Consistent among them is the notion that AO is “good for a free to play game“, occasionally noted as being better than a subscription game.  As if the business model inherently makes a game better or worse.

Mark me as a dreamer, but I look forward to the day when games can be judged on their own merits, rather than being “good for being a member of some arbitrarily contemptible lower class” of game, whichever side of the holy wars one subscribes to.  This reason alone is enough to champion the increasing democratization of the business model.

Then again, I think racism, “solo vs. group”, “Democrat vs. Republican” and football rivalries are dumb, too.  *shrug*

Oh, and my dad can totally beat up your dad.  Neener, neener.

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Warhammer Online now has a “perpetual” free trial.  It joins the ranks of Wizard 101, Free Realms (which is now almost just like WAR, albeit having arrived from a different direction), Guild Wars, DDO and Puzzle Pirates in the short list of games that I think are starting to understand the market.  Of course, Guild Wars is still the frontrunner in the business model department, and Puzzle Pirates will likely remain the one I play most (it’s just so durn schedule friendly!), but this change by the WAR crew is exactly the tipping point that has me itching to download the game.

If it turns out well, I might even give them some money, like I did for W101 and Puzzle Pirates.  In the immortal words of Daniel James of Puzzle Pirates fame:

Money can’t buy you love, but love can bring you money. In software the only sustainable way to earn money is by first creating love, and then hoping that some folks want to demonstrate that love with their dollars.

I want to like WAR. I’ve been digging into the tabletop game, and it’s fascinating.  While there are some considerable differences, WAR looks interesting enough to take a look, and Public Quests look interesting as a mechanic.  They have offered me (and many others) a gift by changing their business model this way.  Time will tell if I love them enough to demonstrate it with dollars.  The chance of that went up from 0% to at least 33%, and that has to count for something.  Even marketers understand that math.

Of course, dearest Turbine and Blizzard, if either of you wanted to up the ante by offering me a lifetime sub to LOTRO or WoW for my birthday, I’d not turn you down.  I’d even promise to take lots of pretty screenshots and write about what you are doing right in your games.  (The records show that I’ve done plenty of complaining, so I can afford to balance it out.)

It is my birthday, after all, and turning up my nose at gifts would just be… improper.




Disclosure:  I know, I know, some would say that WAR is dying and should be taken out back and dumped on the Tabula Rasa heap.  Some might suggest I give money to someone more deserving.  There are definitely (largish) grains of truth in those opinions.

WAR will never be my “main” MMO.  Still, this is a Good Move for the business of MMOs, and hopefully a good one for WAR, and I want to let these people know that I approve.  If they don’t read my blog (slackers!), maybe I can send them a birthday card with a nice $10 bill or something.  Since, y’know, we’re supposed to vote with our wallet.

And, well… I’ve spent my fair share of money buying games that aren’t the biggest boys on the block, and that aren’t the greatest examples of game design.  Yet… they are fun enough to warrant an expenditure on my part as a reward for a job well done.  Call it my way of paying the tab after a decent, middle class night out to eat.  It’s not The Ritz, but it’s not Carl’s Jr.  I’m totally happy paying game devs for their work, I just want to do it on my terms.  That will never be paying for a subscription.

Heck, I even gave Braid $5.  If I can do that, I can lob some dollar love at the WAR guys.  Well, that is if their gift really is a fun bit of work, not something I’m going to send along as a White Elephant to someone else in a week…  and $10 is half of Torchlight or Machinarium…

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No, it’s not the Cataclysm, it’s the latest nerdragestorm about Blizzard’s cash cow.  For reference:

Blizzard Introduces Microtransactions (via Tobold)


Subscription Game Item Shops are the Third Trammel (via Green Armadillo at PvD)

So now Blizzard is TEH EBIL for taking another step into a larger MMO market, one where not everyone pays their $15 door fee and competes for epics and ego via state-sanctioned grinds.  This is the proverbial “straw” to break some camels’ backs.  (Never mind that the Refer-A-Friend program had a more significant impact on the wallet *and* gameplay.)  Yeah, democracy and the free market certainly suck.  (Must be why Bush and Obama tried to strangle them.  *rimshot*)

As Green Armadillo notes, markets change.  I’d say they mature, but too many gamers think that means boobs and blood.

What gets lost in the hyperbole is that in a mature market, savvy salescritters find ways to cater to all sorts of different customers.  Trammel didn’t destroy the “old school” servers where you had to walk to town uphill both ways with gankers stabbing your squishy bits and stealing your shinies every two steps.  The players voted with their feet and went elsewhere, yes, but those nasty, tricksy old servers were there for those who wanted them.  (Of course, with fewer “sheep” to prey on, wolves started on each other, and it’s never fun for a serial ganker to be on the receiving end.  Boo.  Hoo.)  The choice is still there, but now the market has a better way to get feedback from the players who are paying the bills.  That’s a Good Thing.  (Just like the increased granularity of the microtransaction model is a Good Thing for player-dev feedback design cycles and tight feedback loops.)

In the new, mature MMO market, there will still be subscription-only games.  There will be microtransaction-only games.  There will be hybrids.  There will be companies that offer different models on different servers, while offering the same game.  There will be companies who do a great job and companies who pull jerk moves.  Thing is, you can’t map “microtransaction” to Jerk and “subscription” to “Great” (or vice versa) any more than you can map people by their skin color or political affiliation (it doesn’t stop people from trying, of course).  No, there’s a whole range of business going on out there, and all sorts of Good and Bad game design that may or may not be directly related.

The democratization of the market (maturation, remember) should be embraced.  It fosters an open meritocracy where games can be judged by the content offered their characters, not by the color of their business model.  Customers can make decisions based on what they want to play and what they want to pay, and will have to look past whether a game is on “your team”, whether you’re with the “Hardcore Subbers”, “Casual Carebears”, “Mercenary Micros” or “RMT Raiders”.  Of course, that also asks something of the players.

It means players have to grow up, too.

If you like a game, play it.  If you like it enough, pay the devs for it.  If you don’t like it, leave it alone or vent about it to the world.  Whatever the case, stop letting the Joneses dictate whether or not you’re having fun.

To be sure, I can understand the hurt feelings that come when a game changes direction and goes where you don’t feel welcome any more.  I do have to wonder, though… if we’re constantly paying for these MMO things, always expecting them to use our money to work on the game, can we really expect it to always be the same as it was in the Old Days?

Games change.  People change.  It’s inevitable that some of those changes will not be in harmony.  When those moments of discord come, it’s actually OK to move on… and sometimes, it’s better to do so before you spend more money and emotional investment.  That way lies bitterness and continued resentment, which ultimately does absolutely nothing to the party who is the subject of ire.  Bearing a grudge is a burden on the bearer, not the target.

Witness the occasional blogger who just can’t seem to ignore reasons to hate a game they once loved, or who can’t leave a company alone, always waiting for them to make an error so they can pounce on it.  This is true in all things; the divorcee who gets lost in bashing their former soulmate, the apostate who denounces their former church, the spiteful ex-employee who burns bridges.

Life is change, as Remy of Ratatouille might note, and those who can’t learn to adapt and move with the changes are hurting themselves.  If the wave you’re on doesn’t suit you, find another one.  The ocean doesn’t care.  Life moves on.  Don’t get left behind, crying over changes that you had no control over.  Rather, take control of yourself, and do something else.

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WoW Data Point

This is just an interesting projected datapoint for Blizzard’s WoW revenue stream.  We don’t have access to their internal books, but taking a look at some of the data that is available, some market analysts have postulated some interesting numbers about WoW in China:

Gamasutra:  Asia Just 6% of WoW Revenue

That’s what, about half of WoW’s user base only contributing 6% of its revenue?  Interesting.

I could run a lot of tangents on that, but for now, I’ll just ask:  How do I get the Chinese setup over here?

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I can’t stand mustard or mayo on my sandwiches.  Almost every single catered party that I’ve had the misfortune to experience made the assumption that putting them on sandwiches is The Right Way.  It might be for somebody, but not for me, so more often than not, I simply don’t eat the sandwiches.  It’s not much of a loss to me (unless I paid for lunch as part of a package deal), but it is wasteful, and completely avoidable.  The caterer assumes that their way is the right way for everyone else, and winds up with a reality that doesn’t match their vision.

Similarly, I don’t like onions.  At all.  Almost every single homemade chili recipe uses onions, as do many, many other recipes.  Most “serious” cooks wouldn’t be caught dead cooking without onions.  I will not eat food with onions in it.

My sister and mother suffer from Celiac, a trouble with the intestines where wheat is damaging to eat.  Wheat.  “The Staff of Life” that almost every single recipe uses in one way or another.  Specifically, it’s gluten that is the problem, and that’s not just from wheat; gluten is nearly everywhere.  Celiac almost killed my sister, and it took many months to diagnose because doctors assumed she had “irritable bowel” or some such other handwaved and untreatable problem.  Luckily, she’s better now, but she has to be very careful about what she eats.

Many moons ago, a girl in my high school died because she ate a candy bar that had peanut oil in it, despite having no peanuts, and not advertising the oil.  The producers assumed it wouldn’t be a problem.

These days, food manufacturers are very careful to point out when peanuts are part of their product, or even part of the facility where their non-peanut products are produced.  Chex cereal recently reintroduced their Honey Nut Chex with a prominent label proclaiming that it’s “Gluten-Free”!  The assumptions are being challenged, and information is in a very real position to save lives.  The consumer is empowered, and can make intelligent decisions about where their money goes.

My utter contempt for onions and lesser disgust with mustard and mayo is far from life threatening.  It’s just a personal preference (albeit one with social ramifications, as gagging on a disguised onion can be a bit awkward).  Yet, it drives my consumer patterns just as my sister and mother are driven by their particular needs.  My concerns are mere quibbles compared to a potentially life threatening purchase.

And yet… consumer preferences do dictate the life and death of companies that cater to those preferences.  I do not patronize a restaurant that uses onions in all of their offerings.  I do not recommend caterers who assume that mustard and mayo must be used.  I go to Subway, Cafe Rio or Costa del Sol, where I can get food the way I want it, or I just forgo eating out entirely and spend my food money at the grocery store and do my own cooking.

Will my relatively paltry bankroll and less-than-highbrow tastes sink a company?  Not alone, no… but then, my consumption alone won’t keep a company afloat either.  Customer tastes usually need to be accounted for as a bit within a set of aggregated data.  Still, as a rule, there are plenty of companies that make a decent living by catering to variable tastes, like Subway or Blimpie.  There are also those that make a decent living with a one-size-fits-all, shut-up-and-give-me-your-$15 mentality.

There is room in a mature market for both types of company.  There is room for those who just want a vanilla product, whether it’s ice cream, clothing, a game or anything else.  There is room for those who want something a bit different.  Smart companies find ways to satisfy as many people as possible, to earn as much money as possible, presenting themselves in positive light to both sets of customers.  That’s the point of market segmentation, and giving the customer options.

Let the customer choose, and give them as many reasons as possible to choose your products.

This is why I am a big proponent of microtransaction models in the MMO genre.  I have no interest in a company-dictated grilled onion sandwich with mustard and mayo.  I do have interest in the game that makes no assumptions about what I want, and just gives me choices.  I’m a discerning customer.  It’s my money to spend, and I will do it how I please.

This is also why I don’t call for abolishing the sub model, since others have the right to their preferences.  I do call for a more mature market, though; one with clearer information, better clarity in what my dollar buys, and that offers me more choices than “take it or leave it”.  Such a binary choice does a disservice to the industry.

This is why I keep promoting ideas that offer players choices, and why I challenge assumptions about what “true MMOs” really are.  It’s why I’m tired of the DIKU model, and why I’m itching for something more than tired old mechanics and treadmills.  Yes, Blizzard and others can polish and make cosmetic alterations to tried and true systems, but it’s all just so much paint on a tired old foundation.  For those like me who have lost interest in the Way Things Are, more of the same isn’t going to drum up much interest, even if it’s polished to a high gloss.

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