Thursday, November 5, 2009

Subscription Game Item Shops Are The Third Trammel

The original Trammel was an alternate version of the Ultima Online world that did not permit free-for-all PVP with the victor free to loot all of their ganking victims' stuff. History tells us that, finally given the option to vote with their feet, players overwhelmingly chose to go "ganking optional" and we have never seen FFA PVP with full looting in an AAA MMORPG since. I'm sure there are folks who were (and are) unhappy about the changes in the genre that resulted, but the numbers who were actually willing to cancel their subscriptions for lack of ganking were dwarfed by the numbers who were staying away from the unrestrained griefing.

I would argue that WoW's solo quest system was the second Trammel. There are many arguments that the shift towards "massively single player" gaming have hurt the genre, but we haven't seen forced grouping in an AAA MMORPG since. Again, the number of players who are actually willing to cancel their subscriptions were dwarfed by the number of people who were able to enter the genre for the first time because they were no longer required to play in chunks of time long enough to make looking for a group worthwhile.

If that's the case, the rise of the item store, downloadable content, not-so-micro-transactions, etc may be the third coming of Trammel. Personally, I believe that item shops create an inherent conflict of interest; the game developers have a financial incentive not to make design decisions that would hurt item sales, where previously their sole incentive is to create a game that people want to play. Unfortunately, like FFA PVP'ers and forced groupers of the past, my vote doesn't really matter.

I play three major MMORPG's: WoW, EQ2, and LOTRO. All now offer things that I would otherwise want to obtain via some form of added transaction. Where would I go if I did want to exercise my supposed right to "vote" against the RMT model? Even single player console games have paid downloadable content these days. Very few players will be willing to give up on gaming altogether, and those few lost purchases will be more than offset by the vast amounts of money players will happily spend in item shops.

With WoW finally on board, along with most recent and upcoming games, the pure subscription game is most likely dead. Item shops, like optional ganking and solo leveling, are now a standard feature of the AAA MMORPG.


  1. Yes this seems bang on to me.

    It's simple business: the amount of lost revenue caused by outraged purists cancelling in disgust is close to zero - partly as you say because there are a lack of alternatives. (Brian Green did mention that Meridian 59 is still sub-based without item shops so there's one option).

    On the other hand a lot of people will buy a pet. Or pretty much anything else as I discovered recently looking at the DDO store. There's not only hair dye but you can actually get hair dye remover if not content on wasting real money on silly fluff you want to waste more to de-fluff your character!

  2. We might end up like with Fallout 3.

    The game itself costs the usual bucks, while the "DLC" content costs quite a lot extra, for comparatively weak and not much content.

    I seem they greatly build on the fact that people are likely to spend some 5-10 bucks more easily and more often than say 50 bucks at once.

    In the end they will pay more, just more regularly and in smaller amounts. But in summa, much more than before. :(

  3. I agre with you that item shops are inevitable and I too am slightly worried about the impact on game design. There is ample precedent in Asia of item shop games becoming awful grind fests where you are forced to buy items just to bypass the grind.

    DDO give me hope. It's item shop implementation is not abusive and there is little evidence so far of the game turning into a grind fest.

    My hope is that competition between mmorpg titles will deter any AAA from implementing a really abusive item shop.

  4. DDO likewise gives me hope that it isn't alwyas a bad thing but I think you are spot on that "pure" subscription games are a thing of the past (for now)

  5. Personally I prefer lifetime subs anyways. I can't stand having to budget for gaming constantly.

  6. That is a really elegant metaphor that I really love. A lot of players don't know about the first trammel. That is why we still get a lot of "PvP is the real way to play" argument.

    That, of course, isn't the topic at hand but I love to bring it up. I'm pretty much in agreement here. The only way to vote with our feet is to not play. The items at this time though are largely harmless. We ignore them since they don't change the core game play experience.

    I do think that they cost us things we would have previously gotten for free. How many item models do we lose to the item store?

  7. I don't play DDO, but from what I understand if you have a DDO subscription you bypass most of what is in the DDO store and get some free DDO store credits (each month) which are enough to buy most of the items you bypass (i.e. the cosmetic items).

    Which makes DDO's subscription more like a "full pass" then other systems (i.e. I can pay a monthly WoW sub for as many months as I like, but I'll never get a free Lil K'T...but if I pay a DDO sub for enough month I'll eventually get whatever cosmetic item I want from the store).

    Hopefully someone that plays DDO can confirm or deny that...

  8. @ Stripes

    Yes, that's how it works.

  9. WoW has been phasing more and more RMT into the game for YEARS now. (Name changes, server transfers, alliance changes, etc). That pets are getting people up in arms cracks me up.

  10. @Andrew: Those are services; pets are products.

  11. We shall see if you are correct GA. My suspicion is that you are; I think at the end of the day if the choice is between RMT and giving up gaming people will take the RMT. The point that I was trying to drive home in my post is that there are a lot of naive people out there who don't think that's the case. Who think that somehow or another RMTs, for the lack a better word, can be "corralled" (and, just coincidentally, corralled at whatever specific point happens to subjectively bother them.) People keep huffing and puffing about epics but I don't believe it. I believe that when epics come along people will cave there too.

    Carra in a comment to my post wrote "They'll stop offering microtransactions if the playerbase drops beneath a point where offering microtransactions returns them less money then not offering them."

    Exactly. I just happen to think that this point is a lot further out on the curve than most people do. If Blizzard has to give up the 5% hardcore raiders for the 20% gain in casuals they will do it.

  12. I definitely see what you are saying, Elnia.

    I hate micro transactions. The minute the game I used to play, Ragnarok Online, opened an in-game item shop I stopped playing. Of course, it helped that the game was on it's way out anyway.

    However, despite my dislike and distrust of game item shops I am still subscribed to WoW. Now, I have a new line in the sand-- I won't buy anything from an item shop, but I'll still play the game. However, if they add epic items to the item shop would I be willing to cross that line again?

  13. What about EVE Online? The only RMT it has is still just for subscription time, AND it's an FFA full-loot PvP game.

  14. @Stripes, from what I've seen in game I believe that is correct. The subscription is a full pass. Don't buy it until you feel you want more content though. There is plenty for me without it so far.

  15. Comments locked due to daily spammers (posting in various other languages). Sorry guys. :(