Thursday, November 05, 2009

Micro-Transactions

Blizzard has officially launched a micro-transaction shop for WoW, directly selling non-combat pets for real money. I am rather disappointed in them.

I don't really like micro-transactions. Maybe it's naive, but I prefer to have a very simple relationship with game companies. They make a good game, I give them money for that game, and they use that money to make more good games. They don't try to play tricks, to nickel-and-dime their costumers, to expend effort on "capturing consumer surplus". I'd rather they spend their time and effort on making better games.

I suppose this attitude is somewhat inconsistent with the other forms of quasi-RMT, like pets from the CCG or Collector's Editions. But incentives to purchase another product seem different, and more reasonable, in a way that directly selling the virtual item is not. And the cost for paid services like Server Transfers and Race/Faction/Gender changes always seemed like a means to decrease demand for desired meta-services, rather than acting as a money maker.

In a lot of ways, this feels like the moment where Blizzard "jumps the shark", when they go from being "Blizzard Entertainment" to just another of Activision's studios. For me, the two games of Blizzard that impressed me the most were Starcraft:Ghost and Warcraft Adventures. Two games that were never released; that were canceled because they weren't up to standards. Both those games were quite anticipated, and would have made a ton of money, probably far more than this microtransaction shop will bring in. Canceling them was a bold move, showing a willingness to prize long-term quality over short-term profit.

With this microtransaction store, Blizzard is making the opposite choice: choosing small profits over making a better game. They're still a good studio, and I don't doubt that Cataclysm, Starcraft 2, and Diablo 3 will be decent games. But I think Blizzard has lost something which made it special, and has been brought down to being "just another game company."

33 comments:

aaron said...

I think you're way off the mark. Pets and mounts are vanity items that have no bearing on character ability. If they choose to make some money off this, so be it. They also potentially just lost the Chinese market. It's not like the pets are a mark of achievement, they are bought.

Blizzard was very up front about not providing armour/weapons etc for money.

Until they do, I think you are jumping the gun.

Rohan said...

And I think you misread my post. Did I say anything at all about vanity vs useful items? Or even imply that was an issue at all for me?

Perhaps your comment says more about what you expected to read, rather than what was actually written.

Crucifer said...

What dismays me the most is that Blizzard launches its pet store with a "charity" pet. I have no problems with Blizzard launching a pet shop, but please don't hide behind the notion that its for charity.

Larísa said...

Yeah. I know it's a bit irrational and emo. But when I read about the change I felt a snap inside me. It was my pink, ponding little gnomish fangirl heart that shattered. Something happened there. They crossed a line and WoW just won't be the same again. A good game. But not quite what it was. A purely emo reaction. All companies are supposed to make money, right? But somehow this was the moment when the profit interests definitely took over the design/player pleasure interests.
Leaving me as a lost, sad little gnome. I won't stop playing now. But it's a nail in the inevitable coffin.

Rohan said...

Exactly, Larisa!

East Coast Insider said...

Can't you say that about their card game? Or Blizzcon? Couldn't those resources have been devoted to improving WoW instead of a) providing rewards outside of in-game content or b) having a rock show for touting their own greatness?

I don't want to say you're not entitled to your opinions, but I think a lot of users (myself included) hold Blizzard to such a high standard that little things such as this are interpreted as "the beginning of the end" rather than just another way to provide users vanity content outside of card decks and conventions.

Calling them "just another company" because they've given users another way to opt in to giving them money for non-performance equipment seems like Chicken Little saying that the sky is falling.

Gevlon said...

The fundamental problem here is your definition of "better game". Blizzard IS making the game "better" to the target audience. Mindless socials who want to show off silly pets.

A better designed dungeon is waste of money. Only you, me and other 1% of the playerbase would like it. The rest would just whine until they can AOE the whole thing down.

You are not a mainstream idiot, so you can't find fun in the mainstream.

Anonymous said...

I'll say what frustrates me the most about this pet store is that the charity donations only go through a finite time. It's pretty clear that Bliz is only doing the charity part as a front to make more money in the long run, which annoys me to no end. If they actually cared about said charity (which by all accounts I've seen seems to be a good one), they would place no date restriction on their donations.

I'll agree with Larissa that this is essentially the first (or middle, or last) nail in the coffin for a company that has garnered so much of its respectability upon its fairness and general transparency to the gamers in its community. Unfortunately, it does appear that at this point marketability has won out over integrity as a company.

ToyChristopher said...

I hate microtransactions and I feel the same way. It might not confer an ingame advantage but these pets you can buy clearly have more time spent on them then most ingame vanity pets. And why wouldn't they since you have to pay cash to get them? Some people seriously play this game to collect pets and now they can't be on equal footing with others unless they spend 20 dollars.

IDK, like you I feel like Blizzard has turned a corner. On the other hand it looks like it is going to be impossible to play any mmo (or video game at all) that doesn't have microtransactions.

Kring said...

The game is not just about dps for everyone. Fore some people vanity items are more important than weapons.

> Blizzard was very up front about
> not providing armour/weapons etc
> for money.
>
> Until they do, I think you are
> jumping the gun.

Yes, as long as they don't charge me twice for the part of the game I enjoy, everything is ok...

Ard The Paladin said...

There is only one reason WoW exists and that is to make as much money as possible for Blizzard. That sounds really bitter but it's essentially true. Ford don't make cars so you can be comfy or safe or even get from A to B. They make cars to make money.

The thing with the pet store is that it's really apparent. Some guy worked for a day (costing Blizz maybe $250 and if 1 in 10 players buy just one pet they've already made 5 million or so. Sure some people asked for other ways to obtain pets but on the whole it's just easy money for Blizzard :)

Ephemeron said...

I don't really like micro-transactions. Maybe it's naive, but I prefer to have a very simple relationship with game companies. They make a good game, I give them money for that game, and they use that money to make more good games.

Then just don't use the Pet Store. It is, after all, completely optional and not required to enjoy Warcraft in any way.

If you prefer your relationship with Blizzard to be simple, just keep paying your monthly fees, buy an occasional expansion, and rest in knowledge that your money goes to make more good games. And if they happen to make some extra money on the side, is it really such a bad thing?

Merlot said...

"But I think Blizzard has lost something which made it special, and has been brought down to being "just another game company."

I think at this stage in its lifecycle, WoW *is* just another game. Blizzard appears to have started diverting resources into development of their 'next-gen' mmo. I'm not surprised we are seeing them focus now on more revenue streams in an attempt to keep the game well-funded through its inevitable decline (name, gender, race and faction changes, while you may view them differently, are just other facets of the same strategy I believe).

Anonymous said...

When MMO-Champ datamined the Pandaren monk pet about a month back, I was very excited to to get one for myself. Imagine my chagrin when I see that I have to pay cash it.
Other than that, I don't really care about the Pet Store. Other than a few e-peen achievements there is nothing that this store could offer to my gaming experience.

Hatch said...

It is definitely a shark-jump. But the bottom line is, as long as it's just vanity stuff, it doesn't effect you in any way. I don't see why it really matters. If you want the pets, buy them. If you refuse to spend $10, then obviously you didn't want them that much, since they aren't worth $10 to you. So then, why should you care? You don't really want the items, so these microtransactions have no effect on you.

And they are purely additive. They took nothing away from your game. They simply added another option, just like race changes, and if you don't want to pay for them, then the addition had no negative consequences for you.

I too hate the idea of being nickel-and-dimed, but though this is certainly the most cynical money-grubbing move they've made, most likely at the behest of Activision, it hasn't crossed the line to where it sullies the game itself, at least for me.

Matt said...

Smells like Activision

James said...

Saying "Blizzard has started choosing profits instead of making a better game," is putting words and motives into someone else's mouth. It could be argued that their motives are indeed to make a better game, but to do so may require more money (for better programmers, professional voice actors, new technologies, whatever.) And really, the pets being sold are some of the best designed pets in the game - maybe a sign of things to come?

That being said, how different is this from selling t-shirts or models, really? You buy t-shirts to look good; you buy models to look good on the mantle; you buy in-game pets for your character to look good. Just because something might be "for reals" instead of in-game, it doesn't mean the principles behind it are that dissimilar. It's all for vanity, real life or virtual.

I know you didn't say anything about useful vs. vanity, but I think that's where a much more significant [and evidently fine] line is. When you start having to pay for gameplay/gear/content, that is when Blizzard has truely compromised it's principles.

Kring said...

> And really, the pets being sold
> are some of the best designed pets
> in the game - maybe a sign of
> things to come?

Yes.

Definitely.

The free stuff will be less and less amazing to give people a reason to buy the premium stuff for an additional fee.

BluezMan said...

Essentially, the life is being sucked out of the game, just like Dungeons & Dragons.... just so the parent company can buy their child one more Mercedes.

MichaelHaar said...

Meh. Micro Transactions are the order of the day. And at the end of the day game companies are businesses first and creative studios second.

/shrug

I will politely pass on the pets and continue to just pay my monthly subscription.

Not to mention that part of the proceeds go Make a Wish, so it ain't 100% Activision yet. :)

Algorython said...

I guess I'm a mainstream idiot, then. I like to summon my little monk friend to keep me company when I'm fishing up dragonfin for my Grand Crusader attempts.

I know that QQ and outrage are the rule, rather than the exception in the WoW playerbase, but I'm still amazed at the nerd rage over such a trivial thing.

Last time I checked, there were no toll booths outside the ICC portals on the PTR, so I'd say the sky is not yet falling.

@Rohan
You posted an unnecessarily snarky response to aaron's (reasonable to me) comment, but I don't get your point either. From your response to Larisa, I'd guess that you're trying to say "this makes me irrational and emo, therefor Blizzard is bad", but after reading this blog for a long time I doubt that. So what is it?

James said...

@Kring

"Yes.
Definitely."

The free stuff will be less and less amazing to give people a reason to buy the premium stuff for an additional fee."

Just because it's a possible outcome, there's also nothing definite about it.

I also don't think that vanity pets necessarily qualify as "premium content". Especially when it has no bearing on function.

As I've already stated, there has been no change in Blizzard's operating philosophies or principles with these in-game pets. You have to pay for t-shirts, you have to pay for collector's editions, etc. Point being - you already have to pay for extras (which have no bearing on in-game function); and it's been that way for a long time.

This is no different and is no indication that it will change any time soon, if at all.

kadaan said...

I felt hurt at first as well, because I'm very anti-RMT (Although I was 100% anti-subscription fee before WoW, which is why I never played EQ.)

But really? This has been around for years now in the form of the CCG, or Blizzcon. Spectral Tiger anyone? $250 Blizzcon '08 bear mounts? Look up Murky on ebay sometime too. How about the DirecTV online stream that 90% of people who bought it did so only for the pet?

Blizzard has helped out the Make A Wish foundation before, and I remember reading about them bringing in kids from the program onto their campus and even let them design a quest. It wouldn't surprise me if the cutoff is tax-related and that's why it ends at the end of the year. Maybe I'm naive, but I still believe Blizzard is a 'good' company who believes that making customers/the community happy is a better way to make money than to go the Activision way of pumping out crap and trying to sell it fast.

May want to make sure that _we_ aren't jumping the shark, and not Blizzard :P.

arrowrest said...

I have to disagree with the notion that somehow this means Blizzard is choosing small profits over a better game. These are not microtransactions that affect a player's ability to play the game. They are no different than the vanity mounts and pets available from the collector's editions or the trading card games. Blizzard is simply delivering them directly rather than as a code in a box.

In addition, revenue streams from all of Blizzard products, whether novels, trading cards, comics, or the game itself all contribute to the bottom line so the company can make better games. The revenue from these vanity pets does not go into a separate box that game developers are forbidden from accessing.

As for the charity aspect of it all, if only 5% of the subscribers buy this, that's almost $3,000,000 for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. That's a good deal.

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way, I'm highly disappointed in Blizzard. Micro-transactions started before the pet store though, and I wouldn't call them micro.

First paid character name? $5, I believe. Server transfer? $25. Sex change, race change, faction change, character recustomation? None of them are cheap either, and for simple and near fully automated procedures.

They're getting every fiver and tenner they can out of their customers, not just their nickels and dimes.

Rohan said...

First paid character name? $5, I believe. Server transfer? $25. Sex change, race change, faction change, character recustomation? None of them are cheap either, and for simple and near fully automated procedures.

I don't think these are the same. In my view, the price here is mainly to decrease demand. These are extra actions to correct mistakes. Blizzard doesn't want people transferring servers willy-nilly, they want it to be an action that is not undertaken lightly.

So the price here acts like a speed-bump. You're not going to transfer servers or race change unless you're really unhappy. The price acts as a large barrier, preventing (most) people from excessively using these services.

It's very hard to come up with a mechanism to make an action "rare". A lot of the time it seems like the choice is between not allowing the action at all, or people taking the action as often as physically possible. Real money prices are such a mechanism, but they are inappropriate for a lot of purposes. However, I think real money prices are an appropriate mechanism to control these meta-services like Faction or Server Transfers.

Anonymous said...

I must admit that I too was disappointed when I first heard about the Pet Store for many of the reasons Rohan and others have already stated.

With the introduction of microtransactions, it definately feels like Blizzard has crossed a line. Even though I'm certainly aware of the fact that Blizzard is in the business of making money, until now, it always felt that making money was somehow secondary or incidental to Blizzard's products because of their reputation and perceived ability to remain "above it all" compared to the transparent, money-grubbing tactics of other game studios.

I must admit I also feel somewhat conflicted because objectively, this is a good business move for Blizzard as it keeps a game that is almost five years old as profitable as ever. Although I think Blizzard's scheme with the Pandaren Monk is a bit dubious (Blizzard will donate HALF of the proceeds from the pet to Make-A-Wish ONLY through the end of this year) as those on the fence about purchasing that particular pet have a pretty good justification for taking the plunge.

Ultimately, I just hope this doesn't put Blizzard on a slippery slope that will ultimately cause Blizzard to sacrifice quality gameplay for profitability. But I'm worried.

Polecat said...

Oddly, while I can see your perspective on this, I don't agree with it. It strikes me more as a realization that a new "format" is taking hold, and Blizzard tenatively testing the waters to see how it'll go. 2 pets in a store is rather mild compared to what DDO did (They changed from a subscription game to a "tier" payment style. You either pay a subscription, OR you buy everything separately in an a'la carte method. Regardless of which, you still have to pay real money for tangible in game benefits and boosts including XP and health boosts.).

In all honesty, I think this is possibly in response to the fact that the Microtransaction format has literally become the dominant method overseas, and steadily gaining ground in the US (see just about Any Korean MMO these days, as well as the growing popularity of stuff in games like DDO since it's format change, Free Realms, Wizardry 101, and Champions Online among others).

In the end I see it less of a "Jumping the shark", and more the standard bearer realizing the tides have shifted and if they want to stay the powerhouse they are, they need to shift a bit themselves with it.

sskirby said...

If the store is profitable, you won't need to *divert* resources from the development of WoW because it'll simply pay for itself. If it's not profitable, then it will be discontinued.

In fact, if the online store is successful and the pets can only be used in WoW, wouldn't that be incentive for Blizz to make sure that the game is good to keep people around and buying the pets?

Andrew said...

This statement is way off base:

"With this microtransaction store, Blizzard is making the opposite choice: choosing small profits over making a better game. "

You're stating that RMT-based payment models are at odds with making good games, and that's simply not true. The payment model a game uses has NOTHING to do with the quality of its content and systems.... the two are utterly separate concepts.

Andrew said...

(I should not that I think that forcing users to have a subscription to play a game PLUS having RMT on the side is an awful payment scheme, but that has nothing to do with the quality of the game.)

Christian Griffin said...

While I am slightly disappointed in the company as a whole, I don't think that this one little incident has sufficient cause to doubt that Cataclysm, D3, and SC2 will be 'bad'. In fact, they have nothing to do with each other whatsoever. Despite Blizzard's possible money-grubbing, anyone who's played through Wrath, especially the Icecrown content, will know that they weave a compelling story and know how to create a good game. I hardly think that creating a virtual item store somehow diminishes that.

Anonymous said...

Wow has always had micro transactions.. what do you think name changes are? server transfers? faction change? character re-customization?

It's all one in the same. No need to worry. Now if they start selling gear or gold for real money, then it should be an issue. For me atleast.