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


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.

Why the mobile auction house will be good for WoW.

For all that Larisa rails against Blizzard’s hapless PR and Marketing department, they’ve been smart with their press release schedule. Have you noticed there has been at least one cool piece of news per week recently (whether it is about Cataclysm or SC2 or Blizzcon) that has made the news cycle? I’m curious as to how long they’ll be able to keep up the pace.

This week, tentative moves into RMT took a new twist when Blizzard announced the trial of a new service for Warcraft. For $2.99 per month, a WoW player will be able to access the Auction House remotely, either from the web or from an iDevice. And there will also be more mobile functionality even for non premium subscribers. In particular, lots of people will enjoy being able to see immediately when an item has sold.

Free Features

  • Browse the Auction House
  • Get real-time notifications when your auctions sell or expire
  • Get real-time notifications when you win auctions or when you are outbid
  • View your characters’ current gold
  • View the status of your auctions and search for similar auctions
  • View the items you can sell in your bags, bank, and mailbox
  • View the status of auctions you are bidding on
  • View the items you’ve sold in the Auction House
  • View your expired auctions
  • View the status of auctions you created
  • View your successful auctions

Subscription Features

  • Bid on auctions
  • Buy out auctions
  • Create auctions from items in your bags, bank, and mailbox
  • Collect gold from successful auctions
  • Collect gold from unsuccessful bids
  • Collect all outstanding gold with a single click
  • Cancel your auctions
  • Relist items for sale from your expired auctions

So who might be the customer for this new service? Up until now, we have managed just fine with logging into the game client to buy and sell as part of our regular game sessions. But I’ve thought of a few use cases, example of how people might want to use this.

1. The working raider

It can be difficult to balance a raid schedule with a work schedule. Many raids start early in the evening, early enough that the working stiffs barely have time to rush home, grab something to eat, log in and be ready to raid. And now imagine that you are at work, you can see on your guild bboard that you are in the line up for tonight’s raid, but you can’t remember whether you bought consumables or not. Do you have the right flasks, do you have spare materials for any raid crafting you might need to do?

With this feature, instead of fretting and then having to rush around like a crazy when you do get home in the evening, you could just check your character’s bags and log into the auction house and buy anything you need for the evening in advance. That will be worth $2.99 per month to a lot of people. (This will also be great news for alchemists and any other crafter or gatherer who sells consumables.)

Clearly you can avoid the need to do this if you are either very organised or have a helpful guild bank. But being able to pay for the convenience of not NEEDING to be organised is what spare income is for. For this type of player, this is a great service and I’m 100% behind it.

In fact, I’m looking forwards to being able to check Spinks’ bags for consumables remotely even without the auction house functionality.

2. The altmeister

If you have a lot of alts spread across different servers, it can be difficult to keep up with their various needs and profits. Being able to access the auction house remotely will make it very easy to check AHs across several different servers. You could buy a shiny epic for one alt, sell some cut gems from another, and never need to tediously log in and out of several different servers. Plus of course, you could do it all from your iDevice or from work (if you don’t get caught.) Intriguingly, this might also make it easier to flip items from Horde to Alliance or vice versa depending on whether it’s possible to be logged into the AH for two different alts at the same time.

Again, this service provides a way to pay for convenience. And also, messing around with alt AH shenanigans could be a good time waster during the day, filling the Farmville niche. I’ll come back to this because I think that Blizzard could take the offline minigame idea further without harming the game in any way.

3. The pro trader

This is the category where bloggers have been most outspoken. Would having constant access to the auction house provide an in game advantage to ‘pro traders’? Could people use it to manipulate the market more easily than they currently do?

I’m not yet convinced about this one. Blizzard have said that they will restrict the number of trades you can make per day via the remote interface, presumably to stop people buying out the whole AH and relisting it every 30 minutes. Similarly, repeatedly cancelling and relisting thousands of inscription glyphs is not the type of operation that this will support.

People selling high ticket items will still be more likely to set them to run out during prime time, so sniping auctions is a limited market. Arbitrage in general requires sellers to set low prices because they don’t know the market rate. There will always be some people who do this, but clearly the more people looking for bargains, the quicker the prices will be normalised.

So yes, if you make most of your income by looking for arbitrage options on the AH, then you will gain some advantage from the remote access option. But even then, most auctions will be listed during prime time (since this is when most people play) which is when most of the action will continue to happen.

The Big Unknowns

We don’t yet know how addons will interact with this remote functionality. This will have a huge effect on how much advantage there is, especially if remote addons can have more functionality than in-game ones.

If you can search the AH from a web interface, then presumably someone can write plugins to scan data, set buy orders, calculate complex up to date graphs showing which crafted items to make, and snipe auctions.

We don’t yet know what Blizzard’s plans are for cross server mail. Blues have mentioned in the past that they like the idea of being able to send heirloom (bind on account) items across servers. Clearly a BoA item cannot be sold on the AH, at least not at the moment. But if they were to implement cross server mail and relax restrictions on what can be sent, then it would be possible to arbitrage between auction houses. This is the sort of future where remote access might be a huge advantage, purely from a convenience point of view. Being able to quickly scan several different auction houses without having to physically log in and out of servers would be a definite advantage.

How many people will take up this service? If remote AH access gets very popular, then it can potentially change how people use the auction house. At the moment, most auctions are set up with fixed buyouts. Players are impatient and have preferred to pay a buyout to have their item right now rather than bid and wait. But if a lot of people prefer to bid during the day and don’t mind bidding against each other, then we may see a move to more open auctions. If that happens, then although most auctions will be set to run out during prime time (if the sellers have any brains), there will be more of an advantage to remote access for bidding on auctions that do not.

Thumbs up for RMT for services!

I have always preferred the idea of paying a subscription premium for extra services rather than buying virtual goods. This is a great example of the type of MMO service that is feasible, will be of huge interest to a segment of the player base, and still does not have a big impact on the game.

I think that in particular, working people who raid will very much enjoy the option of being able to quickly pick up some raid consumables while at work so that they can save some time in the evening.

Buyers in general will benefit from more trades taking place on the auction house. It encourages more sellers to list. More active traders/ arbitragers keep the prices normalised. I don’t see much of a downside and I’d like to see more MMO companies experimenting in future with this field.

Imagine a Farmville type of game for herbalists, for example, where instead of gathering you could choose to keep a little offline herb garden to tend during the day and harvest in the evening. The herbs produced could be capped and it might provide a neat alternative to gathering for crafters who have time during the day to do it, but not when they are at home.

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?

Dragon Age Journeys, and RMT

I was going to write up a post about guild culture, but I was horribly distracted by Dragon Age Journeys which is a) really good and b) does things I didn’t even know you could do in flash games. Imagine a fully featured little RPG with several hours of gameplay where you can level up, pick talents, recruit a party, do quests, explore dungeons, get achievements, unlock items to download to the full Dragon Age game later, and it has a neat little fighting minigame built in. Highly recommended. And free.

(I finished my first play through as a sword/shield warrior which worked like a charm, especially once I got the ability to have a passive threat aura.)

With an eye to the future, they ask a few questions in a survey at the end about whether people would be willing to pay for future chapters. And this highlights one of the strong points of RMT in my mind, which is that if you feel something is worth money, you can pay for it. I’d have no qualms about paying for another chapter of Dragon Age Journeys, and a few hours of gaming entertainment is definitely worth something to me.

But therein also lies the other issue with RMT in MMOs. How do you value a virtual object? How much is it actually worth to you? So for example, I’d have no issue with paying for content but I’d be disinterested in cosmetic items — how many hats does one character need anyway. Other people might value these things in a completely opposite way. Ideally, all players who were willing to pay for content would be able to pay what they felt it was worth to them. Even if I only think the hat is worth 10p, that’s still 10p more than the company would have gotten otherwise, and if some more fashion conscious player wants to pay £5 for the same item, then so much the better.

Aside from complaints about unfair pricing structures, there’s been a great example this week of ‘pay what you want’ pricing in action. 2D BOY had a special birthday sale for World of Goo, their smart,  utterly charming and award winning physics-based puzzle game (I paid full price when I bought mine and felt it was worth every penny). The price was … whatever people wanted to pay. In the link above, they dissect the results.

Short form: The sale was a massive success. It generated thousands of new sales for a product that is a year old. Even if most of those people paid way less than the full price, that’s money the company would not otherwise have got and all the work in producing the game was already done. It’s definitely food for thought. They also reveal some of the results of an associated survey which show that people actually don’t pay what they think the game is worth, they pay what they feel they can afford. (ie. the amount people spend doesn’t necessarily reflect how much they wanted the game or valued it.)

If anyone wants to try World of Goo and take advantage of the ‘pay what you want’ sale, the sale is still on until tomorrow (Oct 25th). If you like puzzle games, you will probably love it.  There’s a demo about halfway down the page.

Virtual goods vs virtual services (how to get RMT right)

RMT (real money transactions) is currently the hot new charging strategy for MMOs which are not WoW but want to take players to the cleaners anyway. By new, what I really mean is not very new, I think EQ2 has had servers where you could buy items for cash for awhile.

So, the idea is that instead of (or as well as) paying for a subscription, you can also buy various items and/or consumables for your characters by paying extra. So you have more choice over how you spend your cash to tailor your in game experience. And you might be able to pay for your game time in more easily manageable lumps also.

Ixobelle sums up neatly some main objections to the scheme. Do players really want to be nickled and dimed all the time, or would they be happier with a flat rate, even if it means paying the same as people who play many more hours?

The upside is that theoretically you only pay for what you use. If you feel that the flat rate is just a way for casuals to subsidise the hardcore, you don’t have to buy in to it. Also, the appeal to companies is that it’s much easier to get people to sign up to a free game, and theory is that 5% who get hardcore and spend through the roof will subsidise those who don’t. So someone still subsidises someone else, just in RMT you actually can be a freeloader. For example, in this interview with the CEO of the company that runs Puzzle Pirates, he notes that only 10% of customers actually pay anything.

Maybe the idea is sound, but they’re using the wrong model

My main problem with the idea is that as a user is that I don’t want to buy bits and pieces for my online gaming as if I was in a supermarket. A virtual shopping basket full of bits of gear, access to extra careers, experience potions, and anything else the company cares to price up is just that bit too much hassle. And I have years of experience of supermarket shopping – years of experience in writing shopping lists in advance and then ignoring them in favour of some really good offer, years of experience in guesstimating how much I need to spend for a week’s shop and weighing up possible items to see if they fit. It’s not an exciting or engaging experience that I’m keen to keep repeating if I don’t have to.

I don’t want to log into the game and feel that I have to check what the hot deals are for RMT every day/ month so that I don’t miss any good bargains, I just don’t think it would add anything to the gameplay. If I want to do that, I can play on the AH.

An online game is simply not a bag of items. However much companies like to pretend that they are selling me virtual goods, I don’t think that’s the case. They’re selling me a virtual good which is tied to a service.

And in my books that means that they are selling an extra frill to an existing service.

So what if we abandon the supermarket model and look instead at … telephones? Mobile phones offer a network based service and there are tons and tons of options as to how you pick and choose which bits you want. Wouldn’t it be better if RMT games used that kind of pricing model? It can be complex, but I think it’s more intuitive for a service based offering.

If you want a high bandwidth monthly subscription with loads of internet usage and instant messages thrown in, you can sign up for that. If you are a very low volume user and prefer to pay as you go, you can buy a PAYG phone instead and pay by the minute. If you want an extra network service, you can add it to your monthly bill. You can even use your phonebill to pay for virtual goods online in some models (ie. buy them, and have it added to the bill).

But what you don’t have to do is keep paying a bit here and a bit there. Because telcos (telephone companies) know that customers find that a hassle. Also, they want you tied into their network. And gaming companies should want players to feel tied into their games – by choice I should add. They should not want you to be deciding at the end of every month whether you want to switch or not.

There are other advantages too which telcos have been quick to offer. Subscriptions where your calls are cheaper if you phone someone else on the same network. Subs where you can name five people and get cheaper calls to them. (ie. encouraging players to refer-a-friend*5 and then play with them, in gaming terms.) There have been deals where you could buy a second phone more cheaply, for a child, or to use as a spare.

The MMO industry could easily adapt those offers to gamers. We’re users on a network which happens to be a game.

And there’s more: what about players who are looking for a new game? Telcos offer bonuses to new subscribers, they’ll help you transfer your address books over, they may even let you transfer your number. And that’s only the start.

The downside is that mobile phone billing can get very complex – BUT once you have picked a deal, it’s easy to understand what you have paid for and what you are committed to if you go for a monthly subscription. I don’t know about you, but I wish devs would stop treating games as if they were supermarkets. They’re not. I don’t want virtual goods, what I want are virtual services.