Power to the players! The power of consumer voice, exit, and loyalty.

As players, we often feel powerless in the face of buffs, nerfs, and patches. The devs provide and we consume. But when a big player protest breaks out, as happened with EVE this weekend, it’s time to reconsider how much power the player base actually has. Turns out that it’s not insignificant at all.

List of ways in which WoW players showed displeasure with realID proposals last year:

List of ways in which EVE Online players have shown displeasure with new cash shop and associated disclosures this weekend:

  • massive complaint threads on official forums
  • in game protests
  • LOTS of angry blogposts
  • Mass unsubscriptions
  • (they’ve probably been doing most of the other things too, but I don’t follow the game closely enough to know)
  • Result: CCP convening emergency meeting of player council in Iceland this week to discuss plans for cash shop.

Conclusions

In both cases, the companies can have been in no doubt as to what players thought because they were being told loud and clear in as many forums as were available. It’s all very well to say “players always yell a lot when a new change comes down the pipes” (which is true) but there’s a point where a consumer facing company will have to buckle or lose more customers than it can afford.

Theories on consumer power show that there are three main ways for consumers to confront providers if they aren’t happy with the service. They’re called voice, exit and loyalty. And the easier it is to exit, the less likely people are to bother complaining (eg. people are more likely to complain if it’s a service they don’t want to leave, or don’t have an easy replacement for.)

voice: making your voice heard, probably in large numbers via group protest or forming consumer groups. It’s likely to be confrontational.

exit: Leave the service. Stop paying. Unsubscribe. Find another provider. Exits tend to be silent – other consumers can’t actually see them, they only know what the exiting consumers say/ claim to have done.

loyalty: This affects how consumers respond – loyal consumers will a) try to raise their voices before they exit and b) will try to persuade others to complain in a less combative way. But when that loyalty is dislodged, they’re likely to actively try to persuade other loyal players to rebel with them.

When we see a largescale player protest, all of these forms of confrontation come into play. And all of them are important. So it’s not true that companies only look to the bottom line and unsubscribing is the only action which ‘counts’. Attention grabbing antics like mass protests, huge threads, media coverage, and similar voiced excitement are at least as important to a consumer company as silent exits.

And if games can provide a forum for practicing real world skills and practicing being good workers and good consumers, let’s not forget that they can also let us practice being very angry and very effective consumers indeed :) Remember these lessons next time your government screws up.

On globalisation, consumerism, and F2P

(Even for me, that’s one heck of a subject line.)

What if developments in MMOs over the past few years really do model the real life experience in some ways? After all, virtual worlds are modelled on the real one … sort of.  Have gamers in virtual worlds been through their own virtual industrial revolution, and are heading on the road to  wherever it is that we are now in the real world?

Globalisation

Globalisation in MMOs, and specifically in WoW, happened when cross server transfers were enabled. Suddenly the population of a single server had much less of an impact on the progression of that server. Or to put this another way, there was a time when progression guilds took quite a strong interest in less progressed raiding guilds on their server and how they were doing. This might have been with a view to poaching players, but it was also because they knew that the server rose and fell together. There was an element of trying to foster the server community because progression guilds knew that earning a bit of goodwill with newer players now might result in better applications a few months down the line.

By the same token, if a raid guild on a server was well liked, non-raiders on the same server might share some pride in their achievements. I remember congratulating people I barely knew when their raid got C’thun down for the first time.

Servers now have become less relevant to a lot of players. Progression minded guilds and players think little of transferring servers or factions, advertise across servers and don’t feel the same sense of connection. Compare this with the way global industries set up call centres wherever the costs are cheapest and don’t feel such a strong connection to any local national interest.

You’ll still see some guilds, mostly more social ones, recruiting and training newer players off their own bat. If anyone remembers the post I wrote a few months back about running a TotC-25 to bring some less experienced raiders along, you might also be interested to know that some of them got the raiding bug and are keen to raid with our main crew in Cataclysm. Which is great because we’ll need the people.

Consumerism and F2P

Consumerism is a style of society in which people are defined less by their job and more by their purchasing power, and what they choose to buy. People are less interested in saving money (except if it means better consumption in future) or being thrifty with time or money, and more in having the newest latest most exciting items and experiences. We do see this as a trend in MMOs at the moment.

Players are less inclined to put all their focus into one alt on one game. Less inclined to define themselves as their main character or guild. Less inclined to pigeonhole themselves. Less inclined to put up with a long grind to get a minor benefit for one alt when they could get a new shiny more easily on another, possibly in a different game. And less inclined to value the achievements of people who do focus so much on one character – after all, look at how many options they have to give up to do that.

F2P games are bang in line with this type of play. A F2P game needs people to be constantly spending, so they need to offer a constant stream of new shiny items, which won’t last very long. This is the key — consumers like shopping. They like to have new and cool items to choose from. They bore quickly. They want to be seduced into making frequent purchases, not one-time permanent buys which would mean an item that never will be replaced. Consumables (by definition) are ideal candidates. If a player runs multiple alts then a F2P game can also try to lure them into buying shiny items for each alt separately. An item shop should frequently offer new things, time limited offers, anything to lure consumers through the virtual doors.

WoW in this context is actually pretty conservative with the cash shop options. They’re still good value compared to other games IF you have a lot of alts – the sparkle pony for example requires you to pay once and then all your alts can have one. Compare that with EQ2 which asks you to spend the same amount for every alt who wants the cool mount.

So it’s not necessarily about showing off to other players and keeping up with the Jones’, but might be just about being able to do a lot of shopping and choosing stuff you like for your own characters. Obviously the more money you pay, the more choices you have. Consuming is also a more solitary lifestyle. It’s all about your individual choices which you make privately with your own personal money, and less about having to fit in with the rest of the workforce. Again, this fits with the more solo friendly gameplay which MMOs are introducing.

The new breed of player may not be so interested in the endgame. Most of the F2P players won’t get that far – even if they stay interested in the game they’ll be cautious of committing too much time and money into it because that would restrict future options. This does not bode well for raiding as a playing style, at least not in its current form.

But can consumerism in games really support the sorts of communities that lead to long term growth? It’s a solo focussed mindset. And one effect of excessive consumption is that people can get jaded. The sparkle pony is new and exciting now, but how will it compare with future mounts, for example? Will there be a constant stream of people who will buy? In the real world there are also all sorts of issues to do with greater inequalities in society – in order for this to also be the case in MMOs, the cash shop would have to take on far more importance compared to in-game items.