Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Demand for Instant WoW-90's

Blizzard says that their instant level 90 service was not priced to maximize profit by selling the maximum number of character upgrades.  These economic arguments feel like an oversimplification of what's going on here.

First, some numbers and context.  World of Warcraft's instant level 90 (the current level cap, soon to be the entry level for the next expansion) service was obviously going to be available for direct purchase, and this week we learned that the price tag would be $60.  This is not quite the maximum possible price they could have charged - that would have been $75-95 - but it's pretty close. 

($10 for a new copy of WoW to register to your existing account, $40 for the new expansion and the instant level 90, $25 to transfer that new character over within your account so you can cancel the new subscription.  I'm not sure if you will need to purchase Pandaria before you can buy Warlords for the level 90, thus the possible extra $20.) 

Why are we playing again?
Blizzard's comment has two interesting pieces.  First, they assert that they are protecting the value of having leveled the old fashioned way, claiming that no one would level anymore if the service cost only a nominal fee (such as $10).  This seems like an overly economic look at time spent playing a video game.  Economics would argue that you have to be very poor before it makes sense to grind for 60-100 hours to save $10, in the process probably paying at least one $15 subscription fee. 

The problem with this argument is that obtaining the end reward - a max level character - is not the only reason for playing the game.  Many people who choose to level a new character will do so because playing that character is fun.   When EQ2 offered a similar service COMPLETELY FREE as an introductory promotion, I went back and forth on whether to use the thing at all, and ultimately clicked the upgrade button on a crafting alt that I don't think I've even logged into since.  There's no point in paying to get out of leveling the character - I just won't play it at all. 

So who will pay?

Charging the folks who need the service
These services exist and make sense because that leveling game - generally a solo experience for a variety of reasons I discussed when talking about the EQ2 service - is not for everyone.  If the reason you want a new character is to play that character in a group with your friends, the experience of playing the game is no longer part of your entertainment.  There may be some people who come back and don't want to see any of the old content for any reason (they will get one level 90 with the expansion box), but the primary reason to need an instant level 90 is to remove this entry barrier.

Which brings us back to Blizzard's statement that the service is not set at the price that will maximize profit by selling the most upgrades.  $60 is high enough to discourage impulse purchases and might discourage players from bumping up multiple alts (bearing in mind that basically all active WoW players will pay for one of these upgrades with the expansion box).  My question is whether the decreased number of sales will be largely offset by the higher sale price. People who have invested hundreds of hours in raiding and plan to continue to do so are going to purchase the upgrades whether they cost $10 or $60.  Maximizing the revenue from these folks may end up outweighing the lost revenue from impulse purchasers. 

Blizzard may have other reasons for wanting to discourage these upgrades - they make it easy to shed an unpopular identity, and they might hurt long-term retention by removing players' reason to play the game.  I'm just not so convinced that their stated pricing economics is the true story behind this decision.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Burned Alive

The action genre in general, and super heroes in particular, tend to gloss over the fate of minions.  When you're shooting ray guns it's easy to handwave that this is non-lethal because Star Trek thought of setting phasers to stun decades ago.  If your character is a martial artist then you can imagine that they aren't hitting people hard enough to kill them.  If you are using guns and high explosives then people are probably dying, but that's sort of a genre thing.  And then there's the Human Torch.

Burning bodies everywhere - and strangely that doesn't stop the remaining muggers from continuing the attack
Fire as an attack type is pretty common in MMO's.  It's a staple of mages of all types, but then I suppose you're free to handwave and say that it's magical fire or whatnot.  Or perhaps there is a convenient stream of aliens, robots, and other foes who are at least able to fight back. 

Whatever the other excuses, something about having a game in a modern setting and facing thugs, mafia, and ninjas and setting them all on fire feels a bit off.  These mobs would be dying, horribly, and Johnny Storm is cracking jokes about it, presumably because his dialog is the same when roasting Doombots, demons, and dinosaurs.  He's a well implemented character, someone I did not expect to like and have enjoyed playing.  I don't think of myself as overly sensitive to violence etc.  Still, the images on the screen just seem a bit unfortunate.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Parlimentary Forum

Things have been quieter than usual on the blog as PVD headquarters relocated across the Atlantic to the United Kingdom.  Thanks to Spinks and Roger from Contains Moderate Peril for answering some random questions about telecommunications as I got ready for the move.  I suppose I should be dreading whatever Blizzard is going to demand that I do to verify my identity the next time I try to use my account, but otherwise things here are going relatively smoothly.  Server maintenance and developer events are most likely going to land on inconvenient hours in this time zone, but I knew that going in and I guess someone always ends up with the short end of the stick.

Amongst various British customs that I find amusing, the British Prime Minister regularly holds live televised Q+A sessions with the British House of Commons.  It's oddly like the MMO forums.  The people asking the questions are not afraid to phrase a complaint in the form of a question, to include random and obscure issues that have nothing to do with the rest of the conversation.  The PM, like a good MMO community team member, is going to give answers that make his government look good regardless of whether he agrees or anything is going to change.  They don't appear to have image macros, response memes, and leet speak, but I suspect this is only because those hadn't been invented at the time of the Magna Carta. 

I don't know whether this means that MMO forums are more respectable than I realized, or the British Parliament is less so. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

To Vote Against Monetizing Nuisance

When it comes to the era of non-subscription MMO's, I'm more worried about monetizing nuisance than so-called "pay to win".  The game either is or is not fun on its own merits, and for me personally it doesn't matter whether someone else is able to pay to get out of it.  By contrast, non-subscription titles are far more likely to create inconveniences and nuisances and charge to alleviate these problems.  This approach bothers me because it affects the quality of the game experience even if I am willing to pay the fees.

Case in point is Marvel Heroes' new "runeword" system.  Largely copied from Diablo II, the idea is to collect random runes and enhance gear with them.  The issue is where to store these items.  DII implemented a total of 33 Runes during its run, but Marvel Heroes has chosen to launch their system with 38 runes and plans for "dozens" more in the future.  Runes stack with other like runes (though this prevents you from dropping them on the ground to trade with other players - supposedly to be fixed in a patch later this month) but that doesn't do you much good once you've got 72+ different types of runes to stack. 

The money in the system then, is in selling players crafting storage tabs in which to place all this new clutter.  The price tag is for the most part reasonable - roughly $3 buys you a crafting stash tab that should solve your problem for the foreseeable future.  From a rational perspective, unless you intend to just donate all of the runes to vendors for exp and credits (not a horrible idea in the short term for all but the rarest of runes), it's a no-brainer of a purchase.  No doubt the developers sold a bunch of these things this weekend.  And that's what concerns me. 

The metrics are going to say clearly come Monday morning that adding over three dozen drops to the game dramatically increased their revenue on crafting storage tabs.  By making this purchase - a purchase that is well within my means - I'm sending a message that every patch should add another several dozen drops (I'm not making that number up, the FAQ on the feature says that "dozens" plural of new stones are planned) and rewarding the developers for a decision that in my view adds clutter without adding fun or interesting gameplay. 

The subscription MMO era was not without its dirty little secrets - the whole daily quest system was invented to make repeatable content take more real world days and thus more real world subscription dollars.  Even so, I'd suggest that having a single payment model enforced a constraint that the game in its one pay-or-not state had to be fun.  The monetary reward for doing something obnoxious - say, adding dozens of additional runes in the future rather than new recipes that use the existing runes - was less direct.  With the new model, you can pay to store the stuff but there's no way to pay not to have dozens of items that are designed to be stored cluttering your inventory with each new patch.