Peace on Earth and RMT to Games Companies

We are approaching the time of year when for many people in the western world, Christian or not, thoughts turn to charity. How can we use our hard earned money to help other people and make the world a better place?

Among the many good causes who’d like a slice of that pie, this week sees a couple more game companies throwing their hats into the ring. (I feel like it’s RMT week or something.)

Say you love her, buy her a minipet (on WoW)

There were a couple of big(ish) WoW news items that came up yesterday. People seem to be mostly ignoring the fact that you’ll soon be able to earn arena points from winning battlegrounds which is a pretty big climbdown on Blizzard’s part, in favour of the minipets added to the Blizzard shop.

So, for $10/£9 (this is an extortionate exchange rate for us, by the way) you can now buy yourself a funky minipet with special moves to add to your collection. Or, smartly, they have made it very easy to buy one as a gift for someone else who plays Warcraft. Is letting people buy minipets going to break the game? Nope. It’s not functionally all that different than giving them away with rare cards in the CCG. It is, however, another step towards a fully fledged item store. Maybe they just weren’t making enough money. I think they are smart enough to avoid selling items that will affect gameplay but the temptation to see if they could push their players just a little further is always going to be there.

It also raises questions along the lines of “How much is a minipet worth anyway?” For the price of both minipets you could snag yourself a copy of Torchlight, for example. The answer of course is that it’s worth whatever people are willing to pay and from forums I frequent, I see a lot of people enthusiastically buying the new pets either for themselves or for partners/friends. The pets themselves are undoubtedly high quality, as such things go, with their special emotes and animations.

They plan to add more pets to the shop as time goes on. I wonder if they’ll go as far as a ‘pet of the month’ club where you just increase your sub to cover the monthly minipet too. I suspect a lot of players would spring for that.

Free Realms not so free after all

Player vs Developer spotted an announcement buried deep in an interview about Free Realms about a shift in philosophy for that game also. Previously, a large part of the game was free to play. If you picked up a monthly sub you got access to more powerful and interesting classes to play, and access to extra quests and activities. In addition they had an item shop selling many of the usual suspects (pets, cosmetic items, potions, equipment).

In early November (ie. nowish, I guess) that’s all set to change. The game is now only free to play up to level 5 in any career, although that now includes the jobs which had previously been locked to subscribers. But if you want to keep playing after that, you have to subscribe. Naturally the cash shop will remain available. Pre-existing characters will still be allowed to level up to 20 on the previously free jobs.

I can only assume that they feel they’ll make more money from switching to a full subscription game. Maybe the free to play wasn’t working out as well as they’d hoped? (I suspect the issue is to do with targetting kids as their main audience, they’re just not a market with much disposable income to spend on cosmetic gear and pets.)

Why choose between subscriptions and RMT when you can have both?

What both of these announcements have in common is that they show that the big western AAA MMOs are playing around with different payment methods and seem to be settling on the one which is least advantageous to players.

To whit: they’re going with a mandatory subscription, possibly a mandatory box sale for the initial game and expansions, and also throwing in an item store.

We’ve seen it in Champions Online, we’ve seen it in EQ2, we’ve seen it in WoW (they’re just more explicitly selling cosmetic items now), and if the model sticks, they probably won’t be the last ones down the line.

It’s widely held that some of the indie games have more favourable RMT schemes, such as Wizard 101 and Puzzle Pirates. Ultimately, I think they’re going to be the outliers though. STO is likely to use a similar scheme to Champions given that it’s coming from the same company. And who knows yet what Bioware will decide to do with their Star Wars game?

And that leaves Dungeons and Dragons Online, where the free to play model seems so far to be working for them very well (unless you’re in Europe). So well, in fact, that they’ve just opened another server. Have they just monetized better by charging for instances? Will anyone else follow their lead?

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16 thoughts on “Peace on Earth and RMT to Games Companies

  1. In DDO I think you can also earn some of the bought stuff through drops, so it’s a bit mix and match. And it’s a more casual game anyway.

    I am fairly dubious about RMT because money is tight for me. And because I’m used to knowing how much my MMO will cost each month.

    But – it’s been fine for the fluff packs in City of Heroes, and here I am paying extra in LotRO for the adventurers’ pack for storage I could probably do without. But I won’t buy the bag of extras for another £5, mostly because of what’s included in it.

    For me RMT can only work infrequently and for fluff. If the bag was full of all the game’s horses, I’d probably have bought it ;p

  2. “And that leaves Dungeons and Dragons Online, where the free to play model seems so far to be working for them very well (unless you’re in Europe)”

    Actually it works very well for them regarding Europeans.

    Previously Europeans joined Codemasters version of the game and Turbine got nothing.

    Now Europeans join Turbine’s version of the game because Codemasters could not assume the F2P model because of legal wrangling between Turbine and Atari.

    • Yes, but now you’re playing on US servers with US lag, plus they’ve split the playerbase of players who might have been available on your timezone between the codemasters servers and the turbine ones. So it’s not really as good.

      • I’m not saying it’s good for us. Codemasters is a UK company and I’d like to see them do well. I think they’ve been shafted here.

        It’s good for Turbine because they are getting customers who in the normal run of things would have used a different DDO provider. It’s free money, basically they have annexed all the new DDO players in Codemasters’ turf because CM is hamstrung by this rotten court case.

        For Turbine it’s free money.

  3. I’m not all that sure RMT and Cash Item Shops can be well-implemented after the fact… especially if you already charged people for the boxed game, and ALSO charge subscriptions.

    For one thing, box+sub, just box, or F2P all have very different playing patterns they want to encourage, right out of the.. um… box.

    If you have a box + sub, and now there’s a cash shop which wants yet more money for items (rather than say, server transfers, although they’re both virtual goods/services), the instant reaction is (well in my unscientific view anyway) resentment. Hey, I ALREADY paid for your box, I pay your subs, and now you want me to pay more for ITEMS? Whereas somehow, server transfer, being a service, doesn’t seem *as* bad.

    If I already bought the box and expect to play happily forever, and then tack on things in the cash shop that are amenities, and not exactly items (GW, I’m looking at you), that does still cause some grumbling, especially if you’re just feeling out pricing for the first time.

    …as I’ve been observing, if I’m playing a F2P model that is F2P from the *ground up*, things are so monetised into the design itself that somehow, the first two scenarios I listed are much less likely…among players who don’t immediately leave, anyway.

    On a personal level, for a boxed and subscription game to install cash shop items looks like a huge rip-off, and makes me inclined to avoid the wares of any company that uses that model.

  4. It doesn’t matter if it’s a gold seller or an item store. It’s a rip off and as long as we are buying their stuff they will be around.

    A few weeks ago Blizzard said “don’t buy gold.”

    I say: “Don’t buy pets.”

    People will continue to buy both…

  5. I don’t particularly mind this, in principle. At least the money is (or should be) going towards developing the game. CoH’s lead designer explicitly said that they were able to bring villain epic archetypes in ahead of schedule due to the extra income from their first paid-for costume pack.
    I guess it comes down to whether you feel you’re getting entertainment or enjoyment in return for the money you choose to spend. A bit like buying all your favourite band’s albums (subscribing to a game), paying to see them live (buying the expansion set), maybe buying a T shirt at the gig (paying for costume packs, pets etc).

    • For Blizzard this only brings in more money for the shareholder. They already have more money than they can spend.

      More money doesn’t automatically mean that you will be able to speed up development, especially not if you already have enough money.

      (I don’t say they should speed up things or that they should spend more money.)

    • That’s a good point, some people will really enjoy the chance to collect more stuff for something they like and will be happy to pay to get something cool to show off their fandom.

      I had been thinking more of going to the cinema to see a film and getting gouged on prices for drinks and snacks because you’re a captive audience.

      But I like the band analogy.

  6. Turbine was especially busy at experimenting with various payment options.

    But what worked and works for DDO does not have to apply for other games as well.

    (besides that, I wonder that people suddenly love DDO now, it is not that different besides the payment scheme. And I know that many people quit in the early days because of the constant need for grouping in later areas and just because they got bored for this or that reason… I am amazed that the game still seems to be going strong. But it could turn out like Free Realms and lose a lot of steam. I am not commenting on Sony’s fatal and fundamental change of the payment scheme which will negatively affect their game very soon.)

    They are heading a bit towards a pay for content approach of their subscription game, LOTRO, too. The extra shared bank storage is a game mechanic, but they implemented it in a way that you can or rather MUST buy it, pay for it.

    While the raids and the skirmish system are probably more than they added in their book updates that added the Evendim and Forochel areas, one must remember that these areas were totally for free and not part of various rather complex “pay this for that and get that discount” schemes. The same also happened in Guild Wars, which was initially totally micro-transaction free, the Sorrow’s Furnace area was a massive update for free. They never ever produced something of similar scale and quality for free. The much small “BMP” (Bonus Mission Package) was part of a promotion and was later sold through the store, as were extra storage pane (=more chests, basically) suddenly available for quite some not so “micro” money.

    The innocent and cute xmas presents, also connected to charity for PR’s sake, opened the doors to the item mall that will become less and less innocent.

    Basically, they try how far they can go. Greed usually tries till it burns its fingers. And this is sad, we seem to live in an area where MARKETING and PAYMENT SCHEMES are all the new buzz and hype, especially micro-transactions.

    I would say they should rather make cool games and then be smart enough to find the fitting and proper payment scheme for it.

    Adding RMT on top of subscription based games is an alarming trend and if it is good for anyone, only for the developers, for sure not for the greater good of the players.

  7. I will talk more about this in my soon to be published post but a significant issue for me now is trust. The problem it seems to me is the assumption that players don’t care about funding when in fact they do. At least I do. I think it’s unethical to be changing funding models in the middle of the game because that is in essence bait and switch.

    Honestly, this development is not only making me reconsider my commitment to WoW it’s making me reconsider my commitment to gaming period. Chaos is not entertaining to me; if there is nothing I can rely on I’d rather go back to single player where I know what I’m buying from the start. Single player is more limiting but it’s also more certain and certainty has value to me.

    • Aye, I’m more of a single player gamer m’self. That said, I know exactly what I’m getting with games that let me buy content, like W101, Puzzle Pirates, DDO or the granddaddy Guild Wars. That’s why they have some of my money, while Sony and Blizzard are still on my black list.

    • Single player games are also increasingly getting downloadable content as part of the ongoing deal (I know dragon age claims they have 2 years worth of DLC that they’re going to release every few months.)

  8. Which would you prefer though? This, or them losing the item shop and raising subs to $20-25 us a month?

    The reason why they do this is because the base sub fee hasn’t changed in ten years. Development costs keep rising, and I’m guessing they think item malls are going to be less harmful than rising sub prices on everyone in terms of player retention.

    • I, personally, wouldn’t mind a $25 monthly fee. It would still be a bargain compared to cinema or other stuff.

      On the other side I played Magic: the Gathering and I couldn’t resist. I spent a few thousands on cards until I quit, twice. I will never touch that great game (M:TG) again, that’s the only way I can keep this under control. I can leave, but I can’t resist. :-)

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