Friday, November 6, 2009

It's All Downhill From Here Baby!

At the risk of sounding dramatic, I'm afraid that WoW has finally taken the long, slippery downhill slope. You can probably guess what I referring to: Blizzard's new "microtransaction" model.

This is just one of Blizzard's many money-generating schemes but it's the latest and somehow, because it brings a new concept, the most unsettling. Before I get shouted at, I am well aware of several things: yes, I know that Blizzard is a business and their main purpose is to make profits; yes, no one is forcing anyone to buy anything; yes, other games have had microtransactions; yes, I know that it merely provides another option of acquiring pets and options are good.

I'm not against any of the above. What worries me is that this creates yet another precedent. I love change but only if it brings good things. To me, microtransactions in WoW start to stink like deterioration of the solid game that it has become. I have a suspicion that Activision has stuck its nose in this one too. Don't be naive to think that they don't have a say in how WoW evolves. These guys stand back in the shadows, all the while cooking new ways in which to milk their customers. And herein lies the problem: for a very long time, Blizzard treated us like fans. Now, we are slowly but surely turning into customers and nothing more.

There's nothing wrong with being a customer but I was expecting more of Blizzard, the company that has gotten more of my money than all other games combined and they made me pay over and over again because I wanted to.

I don't want to be the one who said "I told you so" but I'm seeing the signs and they're not good. Here's what I don't like about Blizzard/Activision's new/old business model.

I think server changes, faction changes, name changes, customizations, etc are a great idea. Although slightly controversial, all of these make people's lives a lot easier. I would love, for example, to move my orc shaman over to the Alliance side. Unfortunately, I can't. Why? Because I find the cost prohibitive. There's nothing "micro" about paying $30 for that. I mean, whoa! $30 is two months' subscription. Paid character transfer is $25. $10 for a name change. And so on. And now these wonderful new pets: only $10 each! A real bargain. Don't get me wrong, I could easily afford any of these so-called "services" since I have a job and I make a good salary. In good conscience though, and because I tend to be responsible with my hard-earned money, I can't justify spending all this money on top of my monthly subscription. I'm not saying that Blizzard should give these services away for free but perhaps they should at least try to pretend it's not all about the money. Make it more affordable: $5 for a faction/server change would be a lot more reasonable. Give long-time subscribers a bonus: say, a free change (faction, server, name or appearance) for every 12 months played (and paid). There are ways in which Blizzard could be perceived less as a money-grabbing whore.

Don't even get me started on the new pets. In fact, do get me started. Many people are thrilled by the prospect of being able to buy a cool pet with real cash. This way, they don't have to waste countless hours in game grinding for it. Right? Yes and no. $10 for a pet seems excessive, once again. Considering that the marginal cost for Blizzard to produce these pets is close to zero, they could at least have sold them at a more decent price. $0.99 or even $1.99 would be reasonable and I suspect a lot more people would buy them.

On top of everything, Blizzard has the nerve to pitch one of the new pets as a means of contributing to charity! Sadly, many people lose all sense of reason when they hear the word "charity". I'm all for charity but I would never trust an organization to manage my donated money. Now Blizzard is playing on people's sensibilities by pitching the Pandaren pet as a means to be charitable. Yeah, charitable with players' money. It's not like Blizzard is donating that money out of their own gilded coffers. I would have probably admired them if they had donated 100% of proceeds for both pets for the duration (2 months only). That would have been a nice gesture. This, however, is contemptible as far as I'm concerned. 50% for one pet, for 2 months. Truly grand. It's not like Blizzard is starving and can't afford the hit to their profits. If you truly wish to be charitable, take that $10 and donate it straight to the cause of your choice.

The future is promising. Expect to see more vanity pets, mounts, tabards, costumes and perhaps even items with stats in Blizzard's store. Who knows, perhaps even gold will be sold at some point, as I have lamented in one of my previous posts. What bugs me is that more developers will spend their time on items for the store rather than for in-game stuff. Let's not forget that WoW is not free: we still pay a hefty subscription for it. Instead of these pets, I would have prefered updated character models/textures, for example. But hey, it's all a business, right? Surely there are more ways to milk this cow.

Here's more food for thought. Many people, like myself, enjoy collecting vanity pets. There are achievements for this. Yes, these are all pixels but they provide another way to enjoy the game. What happens when a lot of these pets will be available only through purchasing? I'm sure that some will be happy to pay the $10 and get quick satisfaction instead of grinding for that pet. But there are better ways in which to make these pets available. How about through a nice chain quest? Or as a reward for certain achievements or milestones? Some of coolest ways to obtain pets include: the Sprite Darter Hatchling quest chain, the Mechanical Chicken chain quest, the Worg Pup and Smolderweb Hatchling quests, fishing for ultra-rare pets and a few others. That's one of the many reasons why we can't just buy "uber-epix" with real money. Although I wouldn't be surprised if that policy changed too, in the future.

The sad part is that people still fall for this scheme. There's high demand for micro- (or rather macro-) transactions and that's why Blizzard can get away with charging these ridiculous amounts for them. I'm not trying to convince anyone to stop spending their money on them. It's their money and their time; they can light their pipe with Benjamins for all I care. Here's my prediction though: the closer WoW gets to its demise, the more of these services we will see. Let's milk that cow dry before it dies!

Additional food for thought: Tobold has a similar view of this situation.


Anonymous said...

What I want to know is how is this really any different than what Blizzard has been doing for years?

I see much lamenting and gnashing of teeth, that OMG Blizz has finally sold out, that it's obvious that soon they'll be selling legendary weapons or something else, maybe your password or something.

But they've been doing just this for years. This is no different than giving away a grunty pet for buying blizzcon on PPV. No different than puting prize cards inside their little card game. And not different from giving you a pet for buying an overpriced version of the game.

So now they allow you to cut through all the crap and just buy the pet outright... The horror. How many people buy the TCG cards just to get prize cards? How many people got the Blizzcon PPV just for the murloc pet? How many sold thier souls to PepsiCo for a battle bot?

Unknown said...

Seems to be a lot of apocalyptic prophesying going on regarding the purchasable pets and the degradation of Blizzard's values. So far however, they have repeatedly stated they will not introduce game-changing items/perks for real-dollars. I've been reading a lot of, 'Just wait and see!', which so far just sounds like a balloon deflating..

And the charity issue is bizarre. Previously, no-one ever raised an eye-lid about Blizzard not donating to any charity. Not a peep about subscription costs, or the pay-for-service options. Yet they introduce 50% to charity and people start howling about how it, as though some great injustice has happened.

I enjoy speculation, but so far I've scarcely found anything reasonable regarding the pay-for-pet service.

Holiterra said...

I pretty much agree with the first poster. I don't see this any different than purchasing the Deluxe edition of WOTLK so you can get the Frost Wyrm Whelp, or purchasing loot cards in hopes that you score one of those elusive pets/mounts. I can think of a few people who only subscribed to Blizzcon for the 'cute little pet'.

Completely off the subject...
I really love your blog. I have a tendency to solo things with my Hunter too. I stumbled upon your blog a while ago, lost the url and found it again yesterday. I recently picked up another spec (BM) mainly to solo instances. I'm a Survival girl at heart but I like BM for soloing instances. Anyway yesterday I changed my BM spec your recommended Solo spec. Before doing that I downed the Fel Reaver too. Yep, I saw your post about it too. Afterwards I went into Shattered Halls to see how far I could get. I got fairly far; time to actually enchant/gem some of the new armor I got and take a stab at it again. ;)

Anonymous said...

10$ or 10€ for a pet is just stupidly expensive. At least special editions, cards and events give you something. Here... you get a pet like you can do with any other ingame pet and nothing else. But you have to pay for it. I would pay 50 cents -maybe- not a single cent more... for a pet.

Anonymous said...

Well, I for one completely agree with you, Darth. The way I see it is as soon as a game starts selling in-game things for actual cash when they didn't previously, you have a problem.

Yes, right now it's only minipets. But that still has an effect on the game, don't forget - if they count towards achievements, you can therefore pay to progress in the game in a sense.

As you say, it's a slippery slope. If or when they move onto selling gear, I'm going to start looking pretty critically at whether I want to stay in a game which does so, because that's against my morals really - people's gameplay should not be affected by how rich they are IRL.

Faction transfers, etc, I can live with, because you can't progress or gain an advantage from them; they're purely cosmetic. Minipets are on the line.


Anonymous said...

Even faction change and other cosmetic stuff are expensive as hell, in my opinion. But 10$ for a pet? Come on, be real. And now Blizzard is blocking EU customers from buying on US servers (I remember you that 10$ are 6.7€ and NOT 10€). Overall it's a very insne price for a pretty stupid advantage, imho.

Darth Solo said...

Well, I knew I was opening a can of worms with this post but this is simply what I feel. There are two sides to this coin: those who support microtransactions and those who don't. In a sense both parties are right because there are very good arguments for either side.

My feeling is that it's not necessarily Blizzard who is pushing microtransactions but rather the big daddy company. In either case, they are probably saying "Hmm, let's see how high we can price these services before people really start to get pissed off." I would rather have them say something like "Let's find a price which a vast majority of players would be comfortable paying." Instead, what we have is something that's priced beyond all decency for many people who would actually like to use these services.

Like I said, I would love to transfer a character over, perhaps change a name or two and even buy these pets but there's no way in hell I'm paying what they are asking for because frankly I think it's ridiculous.

veliaf hit the nail on the head when he said that we have a problem if these paid vanity items count towards an achievement. This means we have to pay in order to progress. I wouldn't be surprised if at some point they will introduce paid dungeons and/or raids, for example.

This discussion can go on forever without reaching any consensus. I just hope I'm wrong and it's not all doom and gloom.

@Holiterra thanks for the appreciation! Always warms my heart to hear good things from another fellow solo-er.

Anonymous said...

@Darth: Understand what your saying, but I guess this doesn't bother me because if you don't want to participate in any of these transactions, it has absolutely no impact on how you play the game. You can still do everything your doing now and enjoy the game just as much out of it. For people that want to get something extra out of it by changing up their game experience without starting a new toon, you've got name, race and faction changes. It's an added bonus, but really adds minimal value (you do get the racials change) especially considering that anyone can get the same thing with another toon. There are no special advantages out of it at all. If they were selling weapons or armor that gave people an edge, that would be a whole new ballgame.

frogi said...

Expect to see Thrall in the next Guitar Hero imo.

Holiterra said...

I'm hoping that you post more of your solo adventures. /nudge /hint Your posts have inspired me to start posting about mine more. I have lots of snapshots but rarely blog about it.

My 'tanking pet' is my gorilla, although I know there are some that are better. Well, I've always loved my gorilla's and they have always been by main companion. I've tried a lot of different types with my Hunters. :)

Re: Pets...
I suspected people would have strong views about the topic and that's fine. It's always interesting to read why people feel a certain way. We don't have to agree with each other on the matter, but I do respect your opinion.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you whole heartedly! It seems fair to say that it is nothing but a downward spiral from here on out :-(
I deplore feeling like just "another consumer" and that is exactly how I am begining to feel in regards to wOw.
Blizzard seems quite intent on leeching the "joy" out of the game via the route they seem to be taking - I guess only time shall tell...
Great post Darth - your blog is a pleasure to read ;-)

Unknown said...

I agree, its BS. What is next: T10 gear $50 per peice?

Anonymous said...

As long as it's superficial/cosmetic changes I'm fine with it personally.

Pets, Gender, Faction...whatever it's cool, if you have the cash more power to ya.

Not where I draw the line and have a problem is "ANY" kind of Mico/Cash Transaction that enhances abilities, skills, or items that are used by a character in game for defensive of offensive reasons. (basically gear lol)

I don't see a problem with the pet issue.

But like Darth says, it's IS a slippery slope...lets all hope Blizzard keeps it's footing! ;)

Regards to All


Louis said...

I come at this from a different perspective, I guess, Solo. Full disclosure: I bought the K.T. and three Pandarens as soon as my loader told me they were available. I gave the pets to long-time friends who value collecting them, for whatever reason, as a way to say 'thank you' for all the time and effort they've spent on me and my rogue and druid over the last several years.

What has happened here isn't the end of all things WoW, in my opinion. What's happened here is they've cut out the middle man a bit. Blizzard has allowed me to buy a couple of pets (meaningless items in-game, and entirely just for my fun and my friends enjoyment). They don't change the game in any way (in the way that being able to buy an in-game Frostmourne or Warglaives of Azziinoth would). This is just fun stuff.

You specifically mention the charity angle in a cynical light, but I propose you're not being cynical enough. Again, full disclosure: I didn't know that the pandarens were part of a charity drive setup.

See, most people never give to charity. Most people never even consider it. Most people aren't really going to go out and part with $5 for charity, though they think they will. They make up all sorts of reasons why they can't. Enter a classic advertising ploy, the value-added proposition. If you give people something for their trouble, e.g. a mini-pet, a souveneir towel, a Big Mac, whatever, then they'll go for it. They were spending the money anyway. Subconciously, they're letting BLIZZARD give up money for charity.

Should Blizz put more of that money toward the charity or whatever? I don't know, nor do I care: I've already got my value-add, and so do my friends.

Dalaila ShadowsongEU said...

@ Louis

I was going to give my 2cents but your insightful post made me think a bit more, trying to see the situation from different angles and with different perspectives, something that never hurts.

I now agree with your whole post and I thank you for bringing such an intelligent and mature post on a great blog like this one.

Hexapuma said...

There is a world of difference in selling "vanity pets" and pets acquired from cool quest chains - as well as gear. There is no way Blizz would open up that kind of trade. They might be businessmen but they are still ace game developers. They know and understand the difference...

Anonymous said...

Love your blog, read it all the time, but you are blowing this way out of proportion. Let them sell all the in game pets and pretty looking things they want, as long as it keeps the people who make my favorite game paid and working on making it better, then more power to them. As soon as they sell the first thing that gives anyone an advantage, then people can start crying and quitting.

Triggernet said...

One thing to consider about faction/server/name changes and such is that they *should* be prohibitive costs. If they weren't you can bet that people would be hoping around servers/factions using the cheap ability to their advantage to gain massive amounts of gold working the auction house. It would also encourage ninja's because they could easily mask who they are changing server/faction/name trivally. So, by making the cost that high, it encourages people to really think about whether they want to shift around. I don't want those changes to be trivial so I am glad the costs are high enough that every joe blow doesn't go out and change. Suddenly there's no stability in the communities because no one is who they used to be!

I do like your idea however of offering a change for certain periods of subscription, or some other nonbuyable measure. I do have 1 character I would like to move servers/factions but $50 is also prohibitive to me, but if I was offered a free server/faction change to cut out 1 of those costs, I would be way more likely to do it.

Anonymous said...

OMG the sky is falling, cats and dogs living together, mass chaos...

Blizz is not selling anything but a non-combat pet. Get over yourselves. Please.

I collect pets and mounts on my main toon. I will not be buying this. I'd rather spend my money on other things. The same reason that I don't have any collector's edition pets, TCG pets, or Grunty.

The reward for having alot of non-combat pets is - wait for it - another non-combat pet, that you can get without buying ANYTHING.


You don't get a title, a 310% mount, or any phat lewts.

Please get a grip people. Every blog I've read has been slippery slope this, slippery slop that with one exception. One blogger postulated that this could be a small step towards a F2P WoW when Blizz's next MMO comes out to avoid splitting the user base.

Out of all the WoW blogs, only one didn't hop on the nerdrage bandwagon.


Darth Solo said...

Whoa look at all the comments!
One thing is certain: people are firmly split down the middle regarding this issue. Here are some more thoughts...

Even if I will never buy a vanity pet with real money, it's the concept and the precedent that bother me mostly. Of course no one is forcing me or anyone else to buy anything, of course these pets (for now) don't make a difference in regards to progression but like a commenter mentioned, I'm a cynic and, to me, this is anything but a good sign. Just a gut feeling.

An interesting idea from the commenter below. At some point WoW may become indeed F2P (they have to milk it to the end) in which case microtransactions may well become Blizz's sole income from WoW. I wouldn't mind that. For now though, we are still paying a hefty subscription and the F2P model is somewhere in the distant future, presumably.

Regarding the possibility of F2P, here's another thought. If Blizz (or big daddy Activision) is serious about expanding this new business model, even if WoW becomes at some point F2P, you can bet your sweet ass that they will introduce it to the new MMO as well. Which would be very cool with me in fact, because that would be damn good reason not to buy into the addiction that the new game is almost sure to become.

Anonymous said...

So what if Blizzard sell items like pets and even mounts? Everyone will know what was grinded for and what was bought. As long as there,s no change to the challengeing parts of WoW I don't see why all the fuss.

And even if Blizzard were to expand their microtransactions to include gold then at least we would see the end of gold sellers who hack thousands of accounts everyday.

Darth Solo said...

They could start selling a lot more stuff. Besides pets, mounts, tabards and vanity clothes, they could sell heirloom items, epics, gold, special raids/instances, XP, character levels and even respecs. At some point it won't really be a matter of who has the most time and/or dedication to play the game but merely who can afford to spend more cash. Cool eh? At least it might get rid of some of the immature kiddies that spam trade chat with retarded "Anal" games.

Edge said...

When they do that, is the time to start QQing. I can pretty much guarantee they will never do it unless the game goes F2P. Wanna put a wager on that? They would lose a huge subscriber base in exchange for some microtransaction model with no guaranteed income. They would shoot themselves int he foot and go from the most played MMO to the least.

Seriously want to put some money on it, because I know they won't do it. I will happily come on here and eat my words if they do, but I know I won't have to.

Darth Solo said...

@Edge they won't do it all at once but gradually. That way, people get used to it and over time will accept more stuff like that. Indeed, let's hope that at one point it will become F2P.