My game provides a useful service at a reasonable fee, your game gouges gamers with RMT shenanigans

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These are the new Everquest 2 mounts which went on sale this week at the innovative and market testing price of $25 (aka same as the WoW sparkle pony). (I hope openedge1 is going to keep up his campaign for people to give the money to charity instead.)

Reaction has been predictable. Some players love the idea and rushed out to buy them. Others worried that EQ2 is spending too much time copying WoW and not enough in more innovative ventures. Arkenor even dubbed the new mount Copykat. Both bloggers (and developers, evidently) realise that for better or worse, Blizzard has the power to set prices in the MMO sector so $25 is now the going rate for mounts.

Sera@Massively is big enough to own up that while she hated and despised the idea of the sparkle pony, when it turns up on a game that she plays and enjoys, she wants one too. I thought that was a very honest article to write, so props to her. And I think it encapsulates how a lot of gamers feel about RMT –  if a dev produces something we want at a price we’re willing to pay, we’ll buy. But not until then.

Also, watch how they have restricted which buffs each mount can give. Unlike in WoW where you buy one sparkle pony and all your alts can have one, in EQ2 you’ll have to get one for your melee and one for your casters. In fact, their site doesn’t make it clear whether you have to buy one for each alt anyway. Honestly? Sparkle pony is starting to look like good value, and that scares me.

The bought mount provides more advantages to the player in EQ2. Unlike in WoW (where the riding skill is the expensive part of owning a mount), buying the mount itself is the primary cost of owning one. And these particular EQ2 mounts also provide in-combat buffs for owners. The leads me to another facet of EQ2 which frankly boggles me, which is that you can ride mounts into combat … and use a switch on the UI to decide whether or not you can view it. So if I get this right, mounted combat is exactly the same as non-mounted (you could sneak up and backstab someone, for example) and there’s a toggle to decide if you see the mount or not. (Hence the combat buff from these ones.)

Surely mounted combat ought to be rather different from ground combat? Colour me confused that people don’t complain about this, and in fact they actually complained when the devs agreed that it was dumb and wanted to take it out.

Oddly enough, I don’t care about being able to turn off hat graphics. That’s the sort of thing you’d see in films or plays where a director makes that decision for better dramatic effect. But turning off the mount? I find that very bizarre.

Gaming News: Elections! Infinity Ward Respawns, DDO slams into a wall, and sparkly horses again

And it’s Sunday and time for some weekly news from the world of gaming (and possibly the world of the UK election but bear with me, we don’t do this very often.)

Election Debate PvP

This week marks the first time that leaders of the three main UK political parties have held a live television debate. It was very successful in the sense that it got a lot more people talking about politics. Our media went crazy for it, naturally. So did twitter.

The Guardian sums up US media reactions – which thought it was pretty staid compared to the US version. But I beg to differ. It was exciting in the same way that the first series of Big Brother was exciting; because the people taking part weren’t yet sure what they were getting into. And also, because as every DaoC player knows, PvP is always better when you have three sides (wait till they start ganging up on each other in the next two debates).

I did see a TV documentary about the history of TV debates and the reason this is the first one in the UK is because the incumbent prime ministers kept turning it down, Brown accepted. In any case, one of the Tory advisers said excitedly, “It’ll be like ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly!”. I preferred twitter’s version: “It’s like playing snog, marry, avoid.” (Twitter, btw, settled on ‘snog Clegg, marry Brown (?!), kill Cameron’).

Infinity Ward and Respawn

The studio which made chart topping Modern Warfare 2 continues to bleed more staff and is beginning to sound as though it is on a downward spiral. Gossip Gamer sums up, saying that the studio’s future is uncertain.

And meanwhile, the original two Infinity Ward developers who walked out have founded a new studio (Respawn Entertainment) and signed a deal for distribution with EA. Apparently EA also lent them some seed capital. There’s a Games Industry.biz interview with them here although you have to join the site to see it. They say that they anticipate making big blockbuster titles but haven’t decided on a project yet. MCV analyses their first press release.

I haven’t seen any reports yet that staff leaving Infinity Ward are joining Respawn but  … well duh. Of course those are the people they’ll want to recruit, and who probably will want to work with them again. EA are certainly getting some mileage out of gloating about Activision right now. How the wheel turns.

Bear in mind, this is (or was) the studio which created one of the biggest selling titles of all time. The fallout from this debate about who should own the IP of a franchise and what they do with it, will echo far across the industry.

DDO flirts with the offer wall

This is a great story.

Free to Play darling, Dungeons and Dragons Online surprised players this week by setting up an offer wall. This is the kind of thing people may be used to on facebook games, where you can sign up for various free offers from a variety of companies in return for some game points. Unfortunately these offer walls have a poor (and more to the point, well publicised) reputation, mostly from past abuses by Zynga.

Bloggers were shocked, if only because this implies that the much loved ‘pay for content’ F2P scheme which has been highly praised simply isn’t making enough money. Is this the slippery slope for all F2P games? Once you have one good avenue for cash, it’s never enough? You have to explore every monetisation method available?  And as if that wasn’t enough, there were also some privacy issues with the offer wall.

In any case, Turbine acted with remarkable swiftness and pulled the offer wall a couple of days later. That’s an impressive level of responsiveness, whichever way you cut it.

While you can make the point that lots of players would probably like the opportunity to get some game points ‘for free’ by signing up for offers, if the developer actually wanted to give away game points for free they would just do it. Nothing really comes ‘for free.’

Offer wall type schemes can easily manipulate the more naive players who aren’t savvy about stuff like giving away their mobile phone numbers etc – I don’t believe that this is something an ethical developer should be doing. Design your game and charge for it however you want, but don’t throw your customers (who may include minors) to the wolves.

And more on the sparkle pony

If anyone missed the story that Blizzard started selling a $25 mount for WoW this week, then I have a sparkleflyingbridge to sell you.

Predictably, the blogosphere went crazy. But not as crazy as you might expect. Although I was amused that openedge1 has a campaign for people to give their $25 to charity instead. (I don’t see why people shouldn’t spend their money on fun things without being made to feel like shit, though. They can always give money to charity as well.)

The post which caught my attention was Sera@Massively wondering why people go apeshit about some virtual goods schemes, but most people have been fairly positive about the sparkle pony. She calls hypocrisy. The main difference, to my mind, is that Blizzard has earned more trust from the player base by operating their polished and hugely  successful subscription game for years. It just will look different when a new game announces a cash shop just after launch, and before they’ve earned that level of trust.

I really think the key points to take away are:

  • People need to be really invested in a game to throw $25 on a mount, however cool. This only works at all because WoW is a good enough game to have earned those players. You can’t just throw up sparkle ponies on any MMO and expect that many people to throw that much money at you …
  • … or can you? There are a LOT of web based games which make decent money from selling virtual goods. Is the player base just getting used to it now?
  • Ignore everyone who says that this mount is purely cosmetic and doesn’t affect gameplay. It IS purely cosmetic, but this surely is a change in game design for Blizzard. It’s a change in how rewards can be offered, and the player base is right to wonder whether in future the best fluff will be reserved for those who will pay. (I leave the question open as to whether that’s fairer than reserving it for those who raid or grind hardcore.) And the magic circle is forever thrown open, which is sad for those of us who love our virtual worlds.
  • The budget people are spending on sparklyponies is most likely their mad money, which would have been spent on something fun and silly anyway. People spend their money on all sorts of shit in the real world, never mind the virtual one. (I am not trying to say that the new doctor who sonic screwdriver which my husband bought this week is shit, by the way, if you’re reading :) I’m looking forwards to zapping him with it when I need to wake him up).
  • We have no real way to evaluate how much a virtual good is ‘worth’, except by how much people are willing to pay. (This is probably true of real goods too, but it’s not as obvious how easy it would be for the producer to just change the price.) Comparing the price of the sparkle horse to beer, games (is a DS game really worth that much more than an iPhone game? Is a PS3 game worth more than a PC game?), or anything else is not answering the basic question, “Do people want this enough to spend $X on it,” to which the answer for many people is clearly yes.
  • People love sparkly flying ponies, oh yes they do.

Thought of the Day: Sparkly horses make quarterly earnings look great

Is it a coincidence that Activision announced that quarterly earnings for Q1 2010 were ahead of expectations (I was amused by EA’s comment) on the same day that Blizzard offered a sparkly pegasus mount for sale via the wow store? Methinks they just bumped up the next quarter’s earnings rather substantially too …

This is a significant (but hardly unpredictable) move on Blizzard’s part. Special awesome mounts used to be associated with hardcore raid or arena achievements. To put one into the cash shop that is prettier, sparklier, and more awesome than the raid achievements — yup, that’s a change of direction. Of course everyone will buy one. I only wonder whether they’ll make it time limited or not.

And to those pondering the costs, I suspect it actually compares reasonably to cash shop offerings from any other sub game. It flies, it runs, it’s available to every alt on the account and all future alts too, it goes as fast as the owner’s training will allow (up to 310% if you have access to that). And it’s a sparkly flying pegasus.

And bear in mind that the only reason so many people are willing to pony up (haha, I slay me) is because they’re already invested in the game, because the rest of the gaming experience offered is so high quality. Also, the more money they make out of this type of virtual fluff, the less likely they are to raise the sub fees.