I’ve meant to give some response to this topic since the end of June. So yeah, I’m a little behind. I brought it on myself by indicating I might have post-responses to too many other posts whilst in the midst of a crazy busy patch at work. But let’s see how we go. Maybe I’ll get caught up.

… Maybe.

Unrealistic Expectations

Bhagpuss put together a great write-up by the same name, consolidating opinion posts that largely came in response to the growing dissatisfaction, if not outright anger, surrounding WoW. It came to something of a head when Cabot Animations released This is World of Warcraft, with the formerly very Blizzard-friendly studio really not pulling any punches.

This is less a response to Bhagpuss’ own points, rather to some of those collated.

Unrealistic Expectation #1: Remove cash shops! (But also don’t increase sub-prices!)

The argument here essentially runs that MMO subscription fees haven’t increased since they were introduced. Or at least — they certainly haven’t increased alongside inflation. But… People still get mad about microtransactions without being willing (despite claims to the contrary) to pay higher subscription fees.

This is a topic I looked at in the context of the box price of games and monetisation and found that: In real dollar terms, that means we’ve had an almost 11% reduction in cost to purchase a day-1 title vs an increase in cost to develop a modern AAA title by 46.8%.1

Of course, this was only a rudimentary analysis. It didn’t look at the increase in the addressable market or the resulting increase in overall revenues through the power of volume. But I was sympathetic — when considering game developers as business entities — to the ‘need’ for microtransactions to supplement their incomes.

In the context of MMOs — I think the missing piece of the puzzle here is likely the progress made in server hosting. Gone are the days of needing to self-host with on-premise or otherwise similarly dedicated data centres. Hyperscalers like Amazon’s AWS or Microsoft’s Azure services can do this relatively inexpensively.2

Whether that’s enough to offset inflation or the increased headcounts typically associated with MMO projects these days, well, possibly not.

In any case — my problem with cosmetic microtransactions is simple. It disincentivises developers from making ‘things’ (be it armour appearances, mounts, or whatever) available to the player by simply playing the game look as good as those available for purchase.

That’s it. That’s my whole problem.

Would I pay more in subscription to see them removed and have these things brought back into acquisition by play?

Yeah- I would. No question. But I have to caveat that I would also rarely play more than one subscription MMO at a time. And I’d be much more on top of cancelling a subscription the moment I was no longer totally engrossed.

Add impacts like that to those who, in reality, wouldn’t be willing to pay extra full stop, and I can see why this wouldn’t necessarily make the most business sense to contemplate such a trade.

Ultimately, I don’t have too much of a problem framing this as an unrealistic expectation. Which is in contrast to the next one, which I do think the collective has framed incorrectly.

Unrealistic Expectation #2: Don’t change anything! Ever! (But also remain fun! Forever!)

Ironically given this is the one I actually disagree with — I think this section will be much more succinct. I reject this premise entirely.

From what I can tell — the belief that this expectation exists is largely based on the demand for and success of WoW Classic. My alternate interpretation is this: It isn’t that people don’t like their game to change, but rather they don’t like the specific ways in which their game has changed.

Updates bring big numbers. Undeniably so. People sometimes get mad when they’re delayed. The recent WoW 9.1 update says ‘Hi!’. So I’m not even sure how the original hypothesis here was ever given any credence.

Change is good. Or at least- it has the potential to be.

For myself, I think I covered what I want in my Quitting WoW — but to summarise?

Stop throwing everything away with each expansion. Iterate. Evolve what you have- make things better than they were to start with.

If I was to add anything else to that request though; it would be to put player enjoyment back as the central design tenet. It clearly isn’t at the moment.

Footnotes

  1. This was calculated for PC game releases primarily, back in 2019 before (in particular) next-gen console releases *did* take a significant jump in day-1 pricing.
  2. While hardly rock-solid evidence, it does seem possible even WoW made the switch to AWS in 2020.

Naithin

Gamer, reader, writer, husband and father of two boys. Former WoW and Gaming blogger, making a return to the fold to share my love of all things looty.

2 Comments

bhagpuss · July 10, 2021 at 4:40 am

The question of whether developers really have player enjoyment as a central design tenet is a very interesting one. Where new mmorpgs are concerned, that does seem to be the primary goal, at least for the big-name releases from the majors. You can generally see it happening quite overtly in the alpha/beta process now we normally get such wide access to those stages. Whole systems get re-written or even thrown out. Amazon all but rewrote New World from the ground up after the first closed beta and I definitely believe that was as a result of player feedback focused on what was and wasn’t enjoyable.

The problem seems to come after the game is released (whatever that means these days) and moves into “games as a service” territory. From then on the focus often appears to shift to a) keeping players from going somewhere else and b) getting them to spend money. It arguably happens less in games that both operate an optional sub with features attractive enough to seem worth it and also produce regular expansions or DLC that have to be purchased individually, although even in those games people complain about being gouged. You can see, though, how a combination of those two income streams could be both profitable and good value for customers.

It’s the games that rely almost entirely on cash shops that seem to end up with a lot of coercive gameplay and a dearth of really good in-game options for things like cosmetics and quality-of-life resources. Those are precisely the things you’re supposed to buy in the cash shop so it makes little sense to give them away. That said, when I played Riders of Icarus, a completely free title, they gave away some of the best cosmetics I’ve ever seen all the time, so it doesn’t have to work that way.

If you did do away with cash shop cosmetics and services altogether, though, and return all of that design and development time to the game itself, how much do you reckon a subscription would need to be to cover the difference and keep the game running successfully? I might pay $20 a month for a game I liked that did that really well but I’m not sure I’d go beyond that. I believe when the SOE All Access plan first started I used to pay $29.99 a month for it. A year’s All Access sub these days costs me less than $100. Yes, it has fewer titles, but they’re all good ones and how many mmorpgs can you play concurrently anyway?

Going back to the original point, though, how confident are we that the decision-makers will ever have player enjoyment in their sights. The people doing the design work may well be trying to make things as appealing and satisfying for players as possible but they’re going to be working to a brief given to them by people who most likely don’t play the games themselves and don’t have much respect for those who do. I suspect that any game that made a switch from a cash shop set-up to a subscription-required one would be doing so with more regard to the potential profitability of the move than with any altruism in favor of player enjoyment. I don’t think I’d risk my money on it until I’d seen it running for a few months and heard some feedback.

    Naithin · July 10, 2021 at 4:59 am

    I agree that new and in-development MMO games tend to put a higher weighting toward player enjoyment. I think they simply have to.

    In most cases with an MMO, you not only have to convince other players your game is as good as the one they’re already playing but that it’s good enough to warrant (even temporarily) uprooting you from your comfort zone — your established characters, guild, etc — on top of the box price.

    I agree with everything else you’ve said as well, actually. And certainly WoW Retail has of late started tipping the balance far enough that those who perhaps would have steadfastly insisted WoW was part of their gaming identity are willing to sniff around at what else is out there, be it something new or even just something else already established that appears to have a healthier attitude toward its player base than the one you detail. e.g., FFXIV.

    To the ‘What would I pay?’ question — $20 for sure. I think I would even go up to $30 but my expectations of a title charging $30/mo go up exponentially, to places even I would deem to be unrealistic.

    Hmm, or maybe not.

    I’m casting my mind back to Asheron’s Call (which had a sub of $9.99/mo, which incidentally is only ~$16 in today’s terms) and had updates on a monthly cadence.

    They weren’t always huge updates on the scale of WoW’s 9.1 — but without fail, for many years, every month the story would move forward. New dungeons would be delivered. Seasons might change.

    I would want to see something like that for my money at the $30 end of the spectrum.

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