Catching up with Unrealistic Expectations
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.
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.
- 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.
- While hardly rock-solid evidence, it does seem possible even WoW made the switch to AWS in 2020.