Why CoD Elite is great for gamers

Amidst all the complaints of cash grabbing and random exploitation of gamers levelled at Activision after the announcement of the CoD Elite subscription service, I wonder if anyone else thinks it’s a smart idea for what  could be a pretty good service.

I really like the idea of being easily able to find players who share similar interests. Don’t hate me! I just think it would be kind of fun to be able to run a battleground with other players who are fans of The Game of Thrones and discuss what’s likely to happen to Sansa and Arya in between rounds of PvP. Or easily find players who are from the same area so that we could get together for meetups more easily if we all get on.

One of the big unsolved problems in MMOs has always been how to find a good guild. Achievement-heads have gotten around this by defining a good guild as one where they can get lots of achievements, and then flocking to websites where guilds are defined by their achievement scores/ progression. More social players make contact with each other by chatting, by targeted ‘adverts’ on bboards and by getting recommendations from their friends. But there is always an element of luck involved.

But what if it was just easier to hook up with a bunch of fellow gamers who share similar interests/ location/ age/ criteria of your choice? What if it was easier to set up tournaments and events in the game just for your friend list?

The challenge of building a social network layer onto games isn’t a new one. Steam has an implementation, Blizzard toyed with Facebook associations before an outcry from players closed down that idea (incidentally, Facebook would have been free, anything they decide to implement for battle.net might not), various startups like raptr and xfire have experimented with these ideas as well.

But none of them have been as well integrated into a specific game as CoD Elite will be.

The first step with introducting a new paid service is to plan out a service that people will want to use. I think that Activision have hit this one for six, it could improve the game experience for a lot of current fans. The second step is to get them to actually pay – and in a world where other social networks tend to be free, that may be a harder sell.

And yet, those ‘free’ social networks are supported by advertising, by marketing demands which are tilted in favour of the bottom line and not of the users. Perhaps a pay-for social network which really is designed purely to serve the users’ needs isn’t a step we should be shying away from.

At the end of the day, you pays your money and you takes your choice. I commented recently that the way I’d prefer MMOs to earn more money from players is to offer more services and goods outside the game itself. I’d much rather pay for access to a cool social network than for cash shop goods and xp potions …

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.