Sunday, November 07, 2010

Pandaren Pet and F2P

One of the things mentioned at Blizzcon was that Blizzard donated $1.1 million from the sale of the Pandaren pet to the Make-A-Wish foundation. That's great for the Make-A-Wish foundation, but I'm not sure what it says for the viability of item shops.

$1.1 million sounds like a lot. Blizzard donated $5 from each Pandaren, so we can infer that 220,000 people bought a pet. Sounds like a lot. But Blizzard has approximately 4 million subscribers across North America and Europe. So just 5.5% of Blizzard's subscriber base were willing to pay for this pet, even though a significant portion of the money went to charity.

Blizzard would have to sell *27* items of equivalent appeal just to make the money they make from one month of subscriptions.

This is the part I just don't believe about F2P and item shops. Every indication I've seen suggests that only a tiny fraction of the potential audience is willing to pony up money if they aren't forced to.

I just don't think that games where 5% of the players support the game and the other 95% just leech can be financially stable enough to thrive.


  1. Your typical successful micro-transaction setup doesn't rely on the odd vanity pet, though. If you're not going to go subscription-less, you're going to have more than one option. The panda isn't the only pet they've sold.

    Beyond that, from what I understand about DDO and LotRO (neither of which I have any direct experience with), they don't just sell aesthetic options, they sell content. I'd put money on content being something more people are willing to pay more money for than a vanity pet.

  2. On other hand, we can look at the number of active TBC/WotLK/Cataclysm accounts, compare them to the number of active unupgraded vanilla accounts, and come to the conclusion that over 95% of WoW's playerbase is perfectly willing to pay extra money in order to unlock additional content.

    An plain old item shop might not work for WoW, but a DLC shop selling new instances, battlegrounds, daily quest hubs, events and factions could do very well indeed.

  3. Function vs flavor plays a big role in deciding if a player will pay. Some people would shell cash out for a lvl 20 suit of leveling armor to help boost them through the quest grind, but see a stupid minipet as both useless and annoying. Others want a sentimental gift, like a reminder of Ulduar and would buy a flying mount reskin or a boss pet.

    Also, if the game systems are fun then a player may be willing to pay for items related to that system even if the items aren't very good. The simple association to something they like makes the purchase worthwhile. Like collector's edition movies.

    As well, the layout of pricing plays a subconscious role in deciding how much a player will be willing to pay. Let's say gladiator tabards were free to 2200+ rating players, $5 for 1800+, and $10 to 1500+. I would bet that more $5 purchases would be placed than $10 purchases. Also, I would bet a large number of the purchasers would be at the minimum rating requirement. The $5 discount, despite it only being five bucks, would be a driving force for a sub-1800 player to play harder. In this case, a player who wouldn't be willing to pay $10 for a tabard can still contribute to Blizzard's wallet if they get their act together and boost their rating.

    And finally, no one is making Blizzard money from their MMOs except for Blizzard. Profit is profit, whether it's 1 or 100, pennies or dollars.

  4. You are neglecting the fact that Blizzard was only donating the $5 on pets sold between it's release date (Nov 4, 2009) and Dec 31, 2009. Based upon this info, we can assume the donations stopped on that date and all monies from then on went to Blizzard. So Blizz sold approximately 220,000 of this pet in two months. There's just no way to know how many pets have been sold since. However, I think 5% of the NA WoW population having bought the pet in the first two months is incredible.

  5. Depends on game quality. If it's a WoW-like graphical game with clients and low-lag server than it needs lot of money to develop. If it's a browser-based game where server response times don't matter, then it can be cheap enough to live on only 5% of players.

    Also, the pandaren was a worthless fluff. If they would sell legendary weapons, more people would pay up.

  6. I think you are right.

    The problem with every F2P game I've tried is that the item shop becomes necessary to keep up. I know people will come back and tell me it's not but just imagine WOW if potions and other raid buff items, and even Hierlooms were item shop purchases, or as in some games rentals.

    Then if you have any competitiveness in you at all the option is spend like a drunken sailr or go away quietly. I just went away quietly some of them were really good games but MMO's are frustrating enough without the added frustration of trying to keep up with people that have more cash to blow than you do.

  7. It's not quite fair comparing WoW+subscription vs DD0/LotRO+RMT. WoW has a HUGE (#1 mmo) playerbase paying for subscriptions. When DDO and LotRO changed models, they both most likely had very few active subscriptions. WoW is already saturating the market and they're not going to double their playerbase by going F2P. It wouldn't surprise me at all (I haven't seen any solid numbers) if DDO and LotRO saw a huge jump in their average daily concurrency (200%? 300%?) after changing models.

    I think subscriptions are the way to go for large MMOs with large playerbases. F2P is the way to go for smaller, more transient playerbase games that are fun to play for a while but aren't likely to hook millions of players for half a decade.

  8. @kadaan: This post was more looking at ratios of subscription profit vs micro-transaction, not absolute profit. The point isn't what creates a larger player base -- that's a whole other discussion -- but given a player base of size X, are they comparably profitable?

    Also, you say subscriptions are the way to go for large player bases but, unless the developer changes it's mind, it's the income model that come before the players. I doubt going from F2P to subscription once you have the playerbase would be anything like the opposite, which has proven to be quite successful in some cases.

  9. I believe that the primary reason for Blizzard sticking with the subscription model and not converting to F2P is a logistical one. Their servers are simply not prepared to handle a 10x increase in player numbers.

  10. I would argue that this is not a very good example to work by, for a number of reasons.

    The first reason is that it can't be claimed to be a true "F2P" example because there still is a subscription required. As a result, you have to consider that there's a LOT of players (quite possibly far more then the 220,000 that bought it during that timeframe) that while they would have purchased it, "morally" objected because they were paying a sub. If there was not a subscription, the purchasing rate would have likely been significantly higher.

    The second reason is as pointed out by Xaxziminrax. There's no other MMO out there that has the numbers WoW does. LotRO, back when it was still subscription-based, made a big deal when it had a few hundred thousand subscribers, and I remember Cryptic making a big deal when Champions and STO combined had a few hundred thousand as well. When your next competitor (not necessarily these guys) has less then 10% your playerbase, then you can't just directly compare them.

    The third reason is that you're also not fully counting the purchases. Remember that it was 5$ from a 10$ item that was donated. Assuming that all 220 thousand bought the pet not because part of the money was being donated, then the total income from those sales would have been $2.2 million. Still less then subscriptions, but also not an amount to sneeze at. And considering that I still imagine the largest chunk of subscription money to go towards basic maintenance, that $2.2 mil can be used to fund even more "fluff" that people enjoy greatly.

    Which brings me to point four: The pet store is not, and was not, designed intending to be used in the same way as most F2P item stores. For example, the prices of many items in the Pet Shop are set at a level to make them rarer, even though anyone can buy it. It's the equivalent of the Traveler's Mammoth. It's highly unlikely that the star horse really cost 25$ (per person they expected to buy it) to develop; they made it that much so that everyone didn't have it. The Pet Shop was designed to be a fun side thing, and not the core revenue stream like it would be in DDO/LotRO, or as a strong alternate revenue stream like in Champs/STO.

    So, I disagree with the assertion that because of the Pandaren, F2P shops simply cannot work.

  11. And yet everyone still doesn't get that the 220 million dollars donated was only from pets sold between Nov 4 and Dec 31, 2009.

  12. No people get it. But does it matter? Rohan's comparison doesn't matter if the donations continued; there's still a direct comparison of money earned from one pet ($2.2 mil, effectively, over 2 months), versus subscriptions ($120 mil, roughly, over 2 months).

    If you were talking selling this as a direct replacement for subscriptions, it doesn't compare (especially as income would eventually peter out as everyone who has it would have it). But as I mentioned, it's also still kind of a flawed comparison, since there's still a number of aspects not counted or taken into consideration.

    And if anything else, sales of the Pandaren probably went way down after Dec 31st, since I would imagine a lot of people bought it purely because it was going to charity.

  13. Every F2P model I've seen is only a half truth, which is, play the low level for free and pay for end game content.

    So its more like trial account.