Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
 
World of Microtransactions, and how we got there

If you consider what the most likely business model for future MMORPGs is, you might be surprised to realize that the most likely scenario is that you will pay for that future MMORPG three times: Once for buying the game, a second time in the form of a monthly subscription fee, and a third time in the form of microtransactions, buying virtual items for cash. At this point most people either just shrug, or start ranting with foam on their mouths. But what I want to do is to explore how we got into this situation, and why microtransactions in subscription MMORPGs are a logical consequence of our own behavior.

We start this journey with classical board games, games like Chess, Monopoly, or Risk. The outcome of these games is determined either by just skill, or by a mix of skill and luck. These are games of equal opportunity: The participating players all have exactly the same opportunities in the game. A player very much determined to win can try to increase his skill by playing the game a lot, or even studying tactics in books. But unless he cheats, he can not do extra turns while his buddy is getting a coke from the fridge, or buy extra play money for real dollars.

MMORPGs are different, they have never been games of equal opportunity. While some people might want to argue that MMORPGs are open the same number of hours per week to everybody, it is obvious that due to real life not every player can spend the same number of hours in the game. And as MMORPGs are games of continuous progress, the player who spends more hours in the game progresses further than the player who spends less. In addition to the direct effects of more playing hours, there is also an indirect effect: If you can play the consecutive blocks of hours, usually at prime time, required to participate in raiding, you will get extra epic rewards unattainable to people whose schedule doesn't allow raiding. Of course skill also plays a role in your raiding success, but a player with time to raid and lack of skill has a better chance to still leech some raid epics than a player with lots of skill and no time to raid. And raiding is not the only way to get rewards in the end game: There are alternative ways to get epics, and there are alternative rewards, like achievements, and many of these depend nearly exclusively on the number of hours played.

The influence of time spent on rewards and thus social status in MMORPGs has led to a curious reversal of how people regard time spent: In other forms of entertainment the time spent in the entertainment activity is a gain, in a MMORPG time spent is often considered a loss, a cost. If you paid $15 for a movie ticket, you'd be seriously annoyed if the movie lasted only 5 minutes, because you counted on having paid for something like 90 minutes of entertainment. In MMORPGs, if it would take 90 minutes of killing monsters to do a quest and get a reward instead of just 5 minutes, you'd complain about "the grind". Any time spent in a MMORPG in an activity that doesn't give a reward is considered pointless, and any addition of a reward even as silly as an "achievement" to a previously pointless activity will make players pursue it.

Thus people spend time playing Chess either to pass time in a fun way, or to get better at playing Chess. But they spend time in a MMORPG to get rewards in the fastest way possible. If time spent in game is a "cost", it not only makes sense to minimize time and maximize rewards, but it also suddenly makes sense to outsource the activity. Nobody pays somebody else to play Monopoly for him, because it just doesn't make sense. But people do pay others for powerleveling in MMORPGs, and they also pay others to farm gold for them. People tend to blame the gold farmers, but those only respond to a market demand. And it was always just a question of time when the game companies would respond to the same demand. The game companies can create unlimited amounts of virtual goods out of thin air, so they are at a natural advantage over gold farmers, who have to work (or steal) to get virtual goods. Plus game companies make the rules, and thus can sell items that can't be traded between players, another big advantage.

At first microtransactions were just used as an alternative business model for smaller games. Instead of paying an advance sum for the game, plus signing up for a monthly subscription, the game company offers you the game to download for free, and you can play for free as well. But then you'll encounter some obstacles to progress, and are offered a way out by buying virtual stuff from the item shop. If you consider time spent without virtual rewards in a game to be a loss, then it makes sense to buy a scroll that doubles your rate of advancement. It makes even more sense to buy the reward you could get by playing directly, even if that reward is just a mount or a pet. Then somebody noticed that the two business models of monthly subscriptions and microtransactions aren't mutually exclusive. Now games like Champions Online, and since recently even World of Warcraft, have both. This leads to the bizarre situation that at the same time you pay the game company money to be allowed to play their game, *plus* you pay them money so you don't have to play all that much, but get the reward without the "grind" of playing. It's like first paying to enter a movie theatre, and then paying a second time to see the movie in fast forward instead of at normal speed, so you get to the end faster.

There is no equivalent for this in board games, you can't pay to advance faster in Monopoly or Risk or Chess. Not only would the fun of playing very obviously be destroyed if people could pay to win, but also by paying to win players would cut short the entertainment time, and the opportunity to get better at the game, which was the purpose of playing these games in the first place. We need to ask ourselves why this is different in MMORPGs. If a game isn't fun, why don't we just stop playing, instead of paying a second or third time to make it through faster?

Many people have pointed out the negative consequence for game design: If the game company earns more money because you pay them to bypass tedious content, they are more likely to put in tedious content into the game to make you pay. What you end up with in the end are stupid Facebook games, which aren't fun at all to play, but offer you rewards for mindless clicks, and then let you pay money to avoid the mindless clicks. Is this how we want the future of MMORPGs to look? Now everybody blames the greedy game companies for this, but as RMT in games without microtransaction shows, the demand was there before the game companies responded to it. The fundamental flaw isn't company greed, but the attitude of the players who value the virtual rewards more than being entertained for some time, or getting better at playing. And the truly casual players, who just play for fun without running after various rewards and achievements, are actually less likely to buy virtual goods than those who believe that these virtual rewards mean something. If you never stepped onto the treadmill of virtual progress, you aren't paying to advance faster. The day we don't believe any more that the player with the shinier gear and more glamorous fluff is superior, both RMT and microtransactions will just wither and die. It is the relentless pursuit of rewards, the idolatry of purple pixels that got us here, not just company greed. As long as we value virtual rewards more than gameplay, game companies will happily sell us those rewards.
Comments:
Maybe collectible card games would be a good comparison.
 
Where do the cosmetic items fit into this Tobold? The pets and the costumes don't help people advance faster.
 
In theory, MT can even level the playing field. It can allow people who have less time so spend money to make their characters better without putting in the time. That's not such a bad deal theoretically. I find myself playing less as I have become busier with work lately. I wouldn't mind using a few bucks to keep up, in theory. However what is bound to happen is that these MT will tend to become a "raid requirement" and therefore even widen the gap between different classes of players. How many people get turned down for a slot because someone checks their gear and sees it's ungemmed, or unenchanted? What will happen when people start seeing people without "kickass potions" or such which could be bought for real life funds. I think it's a dangerous slope to go down, and that's why I will not ever buy an item of use. I don't have a problem with novelty mounts or pets, which have no impact on gameplay (other than to stand on and completely cover up the flight guy. WHAT THE HELL is with that? Cannot Blizz make a no mount zone or something around the flight guy? Sorry off topic) If they want raise the cost a buck or so across the board, fine, but to make you buy the game, subscribe, and still not have access to the full experience/rewards? That is going too far.
 
If the game company earns more money because you pay them to bypass tedious content, they are more likely to put in tedious content into the game to make you pay.
If people complain about parts of the game they don't like, let's make more of the game like that. Brilliant! I see no way how this could possibly backfire. The sad truth is that it probably won't until some credible competition arrives, and I have no idea what that could be.
 
I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments of this post.

I no longer play wow, because i found that with my limited play time - to get the adrenaline rush i was after involved running instances with a few friends but mostly pugs on 'speed mode' or racing to finish; because that seemed to be the best way to actually improve skills and be challenged.

I'm the sort of player who wholeheartedly loved WoW as a game before i ever played it (seeing others play and taking it seriously) and i would never pay for any kind of micro-transactions or purchase of gold.

I lost interest because the game no longer appeals to what i once enjoyed in it, i no longer have the time to do anything i find worthwhile in a challenging sense.
 
Reading about this and the recent EA Games layoffs (Along with their acquisition of a Facebook games developer) I'm left asking myself the questions: "How the hell did we let gaming become big business?"

I remember a time when games were just games. You played them because they were fun. Companies made games that were fun, they sold and then they made more games.

There wasn't all this bullshit with marketing and people in suits jabbering on about 'marketable exploitability' and crap like that.

Anyway, I'm getting off topic. The blog post really hits the nail on the head.

Basic greed ,small mindedness and envy have somehow managed to get involved and turn gaming into one more treadmill.

This month, players have an opportunity to change the direction of MMOs for a long time to come. All they need to do is cancel their WoW subscription and cite micro transactions as the reason. But they won't.

They'll rationalize and they'll go "Oh, I have disposable income, =I= can afford it. Sucks for you guys. hahah" And they'll keep going.

Fundamental rule. Humans are stupid.
 
Thanks for another well thought through post. Judging from past posts, I suspect that you will now get a bunch of "but Blizzard aren't really selling faster advancement", and another couple of "no, not yet!"'s :)

You do take it as a given for your argument that the players actually do pay for their WoW time. Now, I may reveal some profound prejudice here, but is it not at least possible that a significant number of the vociferous "public" that urge things along the tedious path are in fact not paying at all?

I don't have access to demographic data of WoW players, but it seems to me that a significant share of WoW's player base is constituted of people (boys) between, say, 13 and 17. Of those, it would not surprise me if most didn't actually pay any part of the cost for the monthly subscription. They are also at an age where they are able to type and communicate with others through the wonderful world of internet forums. Judging from the average quality of the posts on the official Blizzard forums, it seems that they are indeed very active there.

If that's the case, then part of the foundation of your argument goes away. They aren't really paying "extra" to see the movie in fast forward: they're paying the first time to do stuff they find more interesting.

Of course, that's no better for you and I and the rest of us, but at least it makes them look less irrational! :)
 
Where do the cosmetic items fit into this Tobold? The pets and the costumes don't help people advance faster.

Don't they? There are quite a lot of pets in World of Warcraft which would take some amount of time to get. Buying a pet saves you the time to grind for one. You still traded money for time not spent in game.
 
Consider a monoloply game that never ends.
No matter what you buy with Euros - you will win something, never lose something.
If you want to experience what it is like to be poor - well through away the money. You cannot anticipate to lose anything in a game that is perceived to never end - as are most MMOs.

My main problem with MTs, however, is not the money. I've written often that I'd subscribe to a game that costs 100€ the month without a second thought (if it is good enough).

My main problem is that I want the game world to be consistent. RMT/MT hurt that goal. Especially vanity items hurt it.


And btw: I have never bought this kind of stuff and never will.

Some 15 years ago I bought Star Trek collectible game cards with friends. After the inital buying of those we discovered that magazines would print the cards we didn't have.
We stopped buying tham and simply created our own cards - copied them from the magazines.

We were convinced that these card-people must be morons to allow other people to print their cards.

Nowadays I know that they were no morons - the people that refused to play against us, because our cards weren't 'real' were the morons and we were just too smart for our age, that is: Naive.
 
This month, players have an opportunity to change the direction of MMOs for a long time to come. All they need to do is cancel their WoW subscription and cite micro transactions as the reason. But they won't.

I actually quit.
But not because if MT. (It did help, though).
I intend to start through with EvE online - finally.

Wanted to do that for years, but the (limited) RMT and more than that the fact that I have no influence on the speed with which my skills increase always kept me away.

I still think these are major, almost game breaking, mistakes.

But then Eve is the only real sandbox game on the market and I just loved to tell Blizzard that I quite for Eve and don't have to listen to this
"We introduce more accessible epics to keep all players on a level playing field" - crap anymore.

Damn, is that idea stupid in an MMO!

In Eve some players have dreadnoughts and some just have a scout. .. And it works! q.e.d.
 
The cosmetic items are a crucial thing here.

The epics and leveling can be called "enablers" for raiding or PvP. One could say that getting lvl80 and starter epic set is equal to getting a chessboard. You can "grind" a chessboard crafting one with your hands or you can buy it for money.

However pets have no such barrier effect, they are pure "pointless pixel reward" therefore their buying cannot be justified, just explained the same way as you did: people want to show off.
 
The MT model is quite fine.

It is the implementation that sucks. Right now, a lot of RMT implementations are ON TOP of subscription based games.

See DA:O and Fallout 3. Very tiny pieces of content sell for quite a lot of money, compared to the 50 bucks you paid for the game.

The incentives to add hidden advantages you really want to have or can hardly ignore like the additional storage/stash in the Warden's Keep shows that game design can be influenced a lot if you have MT's in mind.


There is nothing wrong with MT's. But right now they seem to make devs think that they can cash in some extra $$$ instead of reworking their core business model.
 
**starts ranting with foam on his mouth**

That's all I really have to say on the subject. Microtransactions suck.
 
Beneath this nice description of the market lies a fundamental concept which needs to be taken into consideration.

MMORPG's are not "games" they are "places where in many games exist". To make the proper analysis after understanding this you will have to look at MMORPG's as different nations with different governmental properties, and the willingness to spend RL$$ on participation as some kind of social class system.

What are the rules that govern which class decides to switch country? (My answer to that question is too long to fit here.) ^^
 
"Don't they? There are quite a lot of pets in World of Warcraft which would take some amount of time to get. Buying a pet saves you the time to grind for one. You still traded money for time not spent in game."


Uh yes, but you can't pay real money to get those ones. And there are also pets that are really inexpensive to buy with in game gold.

You aren't answering the question. The majority of RMT has nothing to do with skipping content. It's vanity.
 
You aren't answering the question. The majority of RMT has nothing to do with skipping content. It's vanity.

The principle is the same: The virtual rewards have become more important than the gameplay which used to be rewarded. So now people just buy the reward. Whether that reward is an epic sword or a vanity pet doesn't matter, different people cherish different things.
 
Now everybody blames the greedy game companies for this, but as RMT in games without microtransaction shows, the demand was there before the game companies responded to it. The fundamental flaw isn't company greed, but the attitude of the players [..]

Good game-developers use human nature, don't fight it or wish it away.
At the same time they know that a game is always about giving players a goal and then adding barriers to achieving this goal, called 'rules'.

Neither the developers nor the players should ever blaim human nature.
We are what we are. Some people like to pay for levels and items and pets. And some even do it.
It's not their fault! - Although I certainly dont't sympathize with them.

If the game becomes worse, because developers remove or change rules, it's their fault - human nature is never guilty. It's just what you have to deal with as developer.

[Just as consumers aren't guilty if they buy the cheapest milk.]

As a developer you are god. You can give the pleyers whatever they want. That's not hard. That's increadibly easy.

What's hard is to determine what you have to give the players to produce a great game.

Does Blizzard really think that WoW became better with purchasable Baby-Kael-Thas? I bet most of them don't think so.
They did it because they think that the money this creates can be used to improve WoW more than the purchasable Baby-Kael-Thas makes it worse.

I don't agree. Especially because Bizzard does have enough money.


In the end it boils down to:
Do you want to make great games or earn money?

In human history great stuff was always created by people who cared about the stuff (Einstein, Bill Gates, Mozard, Newton, Picasso).
Very rarely it has been produced by people who did it for the money; and only rarely did the guys actually even become really rich afterwards.

[That's why bankers don't do gods work, btw; and why high salaries are just a market outcome (usually combined with market failure), not automatically a moral statement.].


If a great company like Blizzard loses trust that the single goal to create the best computer games in the world also makes them the wealthiest company in the world, they will produce worse games.

Just like most companies that ever stated that their main goal was to maximize shareholder value, never again reached the stock prices that were achieved a day after the annoucement.


Blizzard is on the dark path here. They decend it slowly, but steadily. They first lose their independence, then they introduce ever more micro transactions. Next their Next-gen-MMO is a WoW clone (I'd laugh my ass off if this happens).
 
Tobold - you cannot buy pets you farm up/do a quest for in game in official blizzard store. the day you have an opportunity to get the same item you could formerly only get in game for real life money legally is the day WoW as we know it will no longer exist. At this time, if you want to get, say leaping hatching, you have to either farm it up yourself or buy it in the auction house or directly from a person who farmed it up. in game. the only were this transaction is converted into real money for virtual goods is if you buy gold and buying gold is still against ToU

pets only available through game codes that were purchased via real life funds are not new. those started with the very first collector's edition of Vanilla WoW.

That said, I could never understand why would people get someone else to play for them, or go AFK in battlegrounds etc. why do you play if you are not even enjoying it and would rather someone else did it for you? It boggles my mind :/
 
Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, Champions Online, Aion, and Free Realms were all big titles with big budgets, and they are all having trouble holding onto subscribers.

The only company that can get away with this is Blizzard. Other publishers are tempting disaster flirting with this business model.

MMO players really do vote with their wallets.
 
"How the hell did we let gaming become big business?"

The same reason why RMT is possible in the first place. We as teenage gamers grew up, got jobs and more disposable income to spend on games. Despite Tobolds attempt trying to find the reason for Microtransactions the true reasons it works is that the amount of money that entered the market for games exploded in the last 20 years. At the same time people spend more time on a single game so games try to lure you into buying crap you don't need just like in the real world. It's ironic actually how virtual worlds start to mimic real world economics.

I don't agree that reward driven gameplay fuels microtransactions. Buying Cudgel_of_Ubor weakens it value when using it. Virtual vanity can be sold for extra money, virtual sentimental value can't and the smart studios now this. What made EverQuest so hardcore wasn't the fact that you wore the necklace of the Vex Thal boss, but they you endured the torture to even get there and those mechanics for the hardcore market won't die, as long as games try to keep their dignity, wich i doubt they will for the mainstream market.

For every game that sells his soul by offering RMT, we get an indie title like Torchlightt, wich i recommend everyone to buy. In the end it balances out i guess, but the mainstream MMO market will be tainted by microtransactions in the next couple of years for sure. At this point though i don't care. I experienced enough obstacles in MMOs since playing Ultima Online. If i can buy a shortcut now, good for me. It's a whole different perspective for the new generation of MMO players, those who only know the upcoming RMT based concept. Let's wait and see how it turns out for them.
 
"[Just as consumers aren't guilty if they buy the cheapest milk.]"

I disagree. I believe society has lost almost any sense of personal responsibility, which shows in just about everything today, including MMOs. It's never 'my' fault, it's always the company, the designer or the goldfarmer.

As consumers we always have choice. If a company sold washing powder made from ground up babies and people knowingly by it, they're as guilty as the company who makes it.

We as consumers have the ability to change the market drastically by simply NOT buying something. It's our fault if we don't use it. Yes, companies are to blame, but so are we.

It is human nature to always take the easiest way out. Yet we know due to many examples in human history that taking the easiest way out now, almost always brings more difficulties later on. Thus we have to fight human nature in many cases. Yet we don't.

Having human nature doesn't absolve us of the responsibility to control it.
 
EQ is an interesting example. Go back nine years ago to the golden age of Everquest, with Kunark and Velious. How many subscribers would have paid five dollars for a pair of j-boots? Keep in mind this was before the universally despised Luclin expansion that trivialized world travel.
 
We as consumers have the ability to change the market drastically by simply NOT buying something.

Yes, but no.
Millions of people in Germany live on welfare. I did it myself for a few months once.

If they started to buy the more expensive milk, politicans started to argue that welfare should be reduced.

Besides:
The Sowjet Union, just like the DDR or China in 1950ies, were countries that tried to make progress while ignoring human nature.

The most important property of a (general) system is that it works. If it doesn't work the system is bad.

Trying to argue that X is responsible is meaningless if X will never change.

A single person can decide to buy expensive milk.
A crowd will never do this - just like the atoms of my table won't suddenly all move in the same direction although it is theoretically, physically, absolutely possible.
 
> "but it seems to me that a significant share of WoW's player base is constituted of people (boys) between, say, 13 and 17"

@Oscar, no, this is wrong. I don't have a pointer handy but I'm sure you can Google for it. There have been studies done and in MMOs in general and WoW in particular the average gamer age is much higher, around 25 if I remember correctly.
 
I disagree. I believe society has lost almost any sense of personal responsibility, which shows in just about everything today, including MMOs. It's never 'my' fault, it's always the company, the designer or the goldfarmer.
One reason for this is the proliferation of externalities: Our choices have no impact on our life in a directly perceivable way. We buy that washing powder because babies are not disappearing from our neighborhood, and no grieving parent is going to show up in our doorstep. With RMT, people complained about the consequences like account thefts, bots hoarding all of the monsters/resources or causing inflation in the AH, not about the RMT itself. But if those consequences are removed or only manifest with a multi-year delay, then RMT is accepted.
 
Tobold, I really appreciate this post. Far from the moralizing tone of your last on this topic, the post actually presents a solid reason why MT can be considered bad: they will influence game design in a way that, we think, will produce worse games. In general I agree with this idea - especially in the area where the game companies sell items that aid in advancement.

On a side note, I think that your analysis of vanity items is a bit off, though this does not damage your larger point. It seems to me that the pets you can buy will provide some level of satisfaction for people's vanity, but far less than the pets that you actually have to farm for. Consider the relative frequency in game - the purchased pets are likely to be everywhere, whereas the rare farmed pets are pretty rare to even see in someone else's possession, much less to actually own one yourself.
 
EQ is an interesting example. Go back nine years ago to the golden age of Everquest, with Kunark and Velious. How many subscribers would have paid five dollars for a pair of j-boots?

Some would. As much as Pandaren Monks today? I doubt that. Time was as expendable for many back then, as money is today. Like SolidState already mentioned, the community on average is much older than 10 years ago. What made the core of EQ back then is only a fracture of the market now agewise.

If you think further with the EQ example it gets much more interesting. Think how a simple item and it's rarity like j-boots influenced the zones and the community. Those items were passed on like heritage and no matter how much we can crap on EQ for many reasons, something like this made gaming history, especially when virtual goods get reduced to a purchase with a credit card.
 
It's a curious case I've pointed out before. If you get one of those items you can give to an alt that makes you level 10% faster then you are getting an item that will bring you *less* fun as you'll level faster.
 
People will start complaining about a grind if it's a grind.

I'd probably pay to skip the first 70 levels of WoW, right now (although I might go back and do BEM). But you can have my first play-through of a good new zone when you pry it from my cold (un)dead hands.

If Blizz had offered to let people skip the Death Knight starting area quests when WOTLK came out, the takeup would have been approximately zero.
 
@SolidState: I didn't mean to imply that a majority of WoW's players are teenagers. However, I do believe that they constitute a significant proportion. Whether it is 15 or 25 or 40% is not something I am in a position to comment on. However, even a 15% minority can be very noticeable when they make a lot of noise.

Also, I didn't find any apparently credible demographics studies at a quick glance. If you ask players, you get a certain type of respondent (probably older, since they are likely to participate in that kind of study more readily). If you look at subscriber data (which I suppose Blizzard would do if they released official averages) the age structure would also be inflated, since paying parents would count as players.
 
While the optimist it in wants to disagree with you and say that MTs will not become the standard, the realist in me agrees with your overall point...and it definitely makes me sad.

Is it really acceptable to pay retail for a game, pay a monthly fee, and then fork over cash for items ingame as well? (even vanity items) I certainly don't think so.

And I don't mean to envoke the whole "slippery slope" defense, but honestly if MT become a standar across all big games I do not doubt that eventually we'll see items for sale that DO affect gameplay.

Be they starter kits of gear, experience potions, whatever, they will eventually see the light of day in big triple A mmos if consumers show Blizzard and other devs that they will pay for them.

Now I don't think Blizzard or any serious dev will offer high end items (epics), but even low tier starter gear/potions/etc affect the game, and in my mind ruin it for anyone who actually invests their own time into the game.
 
Tobold, you're forgetting microtransactions for content. That's a model that works extremely well for Wizard 101 and DDO. It's effectively a more granular version of the Guild Wars model. That's a smart microtransaction system.

One of these days, with the proliferation of business variants, we'll have to look at what's actually being sold, rather than just wax hyperbolic about a business model we aren't objectively studying.

That said, yes, MT for vanity is silly... but then, so is buying a new car, or expensive shoes. *shrug* I'm all for promoting *playing* in games, rather than worrying about how someone else plays or pays.

You can't pin all of the genre's ills on microtransactions, though. The subscription model is just as easily abused and can promote bad design just as easily.
 
Great post, Tobold.

I personally would rather be able to play WoW to get a Pandaren, but unfortunately there is no way to get one without paying.

Also your post presents a very depressing view of MMOs, sounding as though no one likes playing any part of them. I think it's closer to the truth that there are certain activities that are more fun than others for different people (and not just for the pixels), but unfortunately those are gated behind grinds (which do serve a purpose of creating investment, etc, but I think they go too far right now toward mindless grind, especially in WoW)

Not everyone thinks "the player with the shinier gear and more glamorous fluff is superior". I was outright shocked when Elnia over at PPI gave that as the reason why RMT pets were wrong.
 
Gee, maybe Blizzard will offer a full tier 10 level 80 for only $499! Then I wouldn't even have to play anymore.

MT is killing this genre. Time does NOT equal money. Replacing in-game experience and effort wth dollars undermines the whole point of "playing" a game.
 
I guess I'm weird, because I don't mind this trend at all. I want to buy more items in WoW. I see it not as a way to skip content or to not play the game, but as a way to enhance my experience while playing the game or maybe catch up with the guy (kids I suppose) who can play for 80 hours per week.

Blizzard is just listening to market demand here and experimenting. In time we will see which side they choose.

If they ruin the game, people will play something else and there will be an opportunity for a new competitor to gain share.
 
it is a transition process - the pendulum swings one way then the other - the sky is not falling -

- I have actually bought both gold and powerleveling - I thought that was missing for making me happier - but it only made me more bored and disinterested - the sense of achievement was gone - I did not know how to play the character, it was actually a lot less fun, thus I quit.

I think the same thing will happen with most people using RTM. They seem to work for a while until everyone catches on just how much they ruin everything at which point they wither and die. Won't be fast - a decade maybe but by that time something newer an more fun comes around and I won't care one bit about how WoW does this or that. You won't either.
 
Tesh, I changed my mind towards micro-transactions and mostly it is due to Wizard101 and DDO. What most people are diabolizing here isn't the micro-transactions per se but the concepts applied to a 15$/month game, not to mention the box.
They are being quite clever in introducing it in homeopathic doses but the slippery slope here applies for, come on, this is capitalism where a company ONLY moral obligation is to provide profit and f*c* ethics. So we cannot expect that the rope will be stretched until they reach that sweet spot where they charge as much as they can without the customers canceling en masse.
I don't like this, but in all honesty, if someone decided to pay me a lot of money for me to add colors and shinies to an app (back when I was a developer) I wouldn't be the one to tell then no.
If a company has millions of customers wanting to be milked and those customers have other choices, then they have what they deserve.
 
As an FYI, I pushed through the Pet Store to the checkout (I’m in the US) and there was no tax on the pet purchase. (I did not actually purchase the item.)

There are already transactions available in WoW that give advantage. Recruit-A-Friend gives powerleveling, and I have read that it is commonly used by multiboxers for that reason. People are also using faction change / race change to pursue painful rep grinds like Insane as humans, trading money for time.

I would not be surprised to see Heirloom items appear in the Blizzard store. It seems like a natural.
 
- I have actually bought both gold and powerleveling - I thought that was missing for making me happier - but it only made me more bored and disinterested - the sense of achievement was gone - I did not know how to play the character, it was actually a lot less fun, thus I quit.

I have sold 3 WoW accounts with high-end equipped toons so far. Not for the money, but because I wanted to quit and selling the account was presumably the best way ...

I received several hundred euros in total for these and when I returned to the game I added my former self to the friends list to have a look.

NONE of my accounts was ever really played. When they still were in an (almost empty^) guild I could see that they have been played only for a very short time after the purchase.

It seems like cheating doesn't make the game more enjoyable and this makes selling accounts even more enjoyable :)
 

This is capitalism where a company ONLY moral obligation is to provide profit and f*c* ethics.



Don't know about USA; but in Germany we got this in our constitution:

§14 (2):
(2) Eigentum verpflichtet. Sein Gebrauch soll zugleich dem Wohle der Allgemeinheit dienen.

Translation:
"Property entails obligations. Its use shall also serve the public good."


And I support this constitution 100%. The only countries in this world with 100% 'capitalism' are Somalia and some regions in Afghanistan.
 
Tobold said :

'...if it would take 90 minutes of killing monsters to do a quest and get a reward instead of just 5 minutes, you'd complain about "the grind"'

Not true. If I were killing the same target over and over and over again for 90 minutes, sure I'd complain (well actually I'd probably just dump the quest, I'm not big on complaining).

But I've done many instances that lasted 90 minutes, and quite a few that lasted longer than that, to get a single reward. Or the promise of a future reward. Because the reward is only part of the whole that makes the game enjoyable.

Suppose you paid $5 for a 90 minute movie and what you got was the same 30s clip played 180 times?
 
Time does equal Money. Businessmen the world over know this, the Goblins know it, and most importantly Blizzard know it.

You're not going to pay $499 for a Tier X Character (that's ridiculous, and both you and I know it). What you'll probably end up paying is about $50-$60 (or the price of a 6-month sub) for a Capped character in Raid-ready gear. You can practically do this already if you buy Wrath. Got a capped character already? Awesome! Here's a level 58 character in starter Blues.

Buying capped Characters with Tier X gear will not be game breaking and it will not ruin the game. If anything, it will allow people to actually play the game.

You'll get people who already have Capped out characters willing to pay to skip the Grind and just buy a Raid-ready character. Did one of your Tanks or Healers quit? Now you can buy a Tank/Healer, run half a dozen Heroics to get him/her some experience (and maybe upgrade some gear) and your Guild will still be able to Raid this weekend.

You're not buying a capped character in the best Raid Gear in the game, you're just buying a Raid-ready character so you can play the game.

Do you enjoy PvP but you only play for a few hours each weekend? Are you constantly getting crushed by people who spends hours every single day doing nothing but PvP? Now you can buy a Capped character, or at least buy a set of last Season's PvP gear (or this Season if it's available), and you'll have a fighting chance. No, you cannot buy the actual experience you get from engaging in PvP, but you can buy the gear that will help you survive a bit longer and let you gain some of that PvP experience.

You're not paying Money to have an unfair advantage over your opponents, you're buying gear that helps close the gap between you and your opponents, the very same gap that gives them an unfair advantage over you. Your opponents spend Time to increase that Gap, you spend Money to close that Gap. Time does equal Money.

You will not be able to buy anything that will give you an unfair advantage over anyone in the game (vanity pets look cute, but they offer no in-game advantage) and sooner or later Blizzard will let their subscribers spend Real Money to buy capped Raid-ready or PvP-ready characters. In fact...didn't they already do this on their Arena-only server?
 
"What most people are diabolizing here isn't the micro-transactions per se but the concepts applied to a 15$/month game, not to mention the box."

Wyrm, that's not the case, and that's my point. There *are* good microtransactions, but far and away the most common complainers paint with a broad brush and condemn the whole model for some bad apples (CO, this WoW move, Hellgate). To be sure, there certainly *are* bad MT apples, but *any* business model can be abused. When the discussion becomes a holy war between MT and sub proponents, we lose the fact that either can be bad, and either can be good.
 
@John P.:

The problem is:
You are right. Blizzard took WoW in a direction that this actually makes sense.

And that's also the reason I leave WoW for Eve. In WoW the 'game' happens at level cap and equip cap. Nowhere else. Soon you won't even need to ever leave Dalaran again. You will be ported to all points of interest automatically.

This is absolutely un-immersive, not credible and certainly not consistent with the lore.

Worse: It is not even worth the abbreviation MMORPG.
 
But what is it exactly that people are railing against with MT?

Faction transfer, race change, sex change, name change, Recruit-A-Friend (hereafter RAF), Pet Store...

The pets will never affect your in-game experience if you don't have one, leaving out petty emotions like jealousy or envy.

RAF doesn't affect other players. It allows people to level up faster, without it having one iota of affect on other players. Realize that most of the people who use RAF are people with level capped characters already. Their faster leveling isn't a detriment to you.

Race/Sex change and Name change don't affect other players. I guess you could say a ninja could change their name to ninja from you again, but if you are constantly ninja'd from, the problem is staring at you in the mirror.

The only real MT in WoW that does affect other people is faction change...which quite honestly has been glossed over at least here (unless I missed the great moral outrage like the current "Pet Crisis"). Changing servers is old hat, but being able to change factions is relatively new, and can totally throw a not-quite-balanced realm into absolute disarray.

While I can understand some people being a little concerned about MT in WoW, I just wonder why a Pet Store is so ominous compared to increased faction imbalance.

My question is why is faction change basically ignored, while the Pet Store is causing enormous outrage?

It can't possibly be because of the word "Store" in Pet Store can it? Because if it is, you're all totally missing the point of how MT is "bad" in the first place.
 
A business will engage in a certain activity if it believes it to be profitable. If people don't spend the money on these new WoW MT then Blizzard will cease that activity.

I seen a lot of commenters on this subject say they won't buy such vanity pets. Good, maybe that's a sign that this model won't have the success Blizzard's accountants hope that it will.
 
well said Tobold.
 
"The influence of time spent on rewards and thus social status in MMORPGs has led to a curious reversal of how people regard time spent: In other forms of entertainment the time spent in the entertainment activity is a gain, in a MMORPG time spent is often considered a loss, a cost. [...] In MMORPGs, if it would take 90 minutes of killing monsters to do a quest and get a reward instead of just 5 minutes, you'd complain about "the grind". Any time spent in a MMORPG in an activity that doesn't give a reward is considered pointless, and any addition of a reward even as silly as an "achievement" to a previously pointless activity will make players pursue it."

I think about grind vs. fun a little differently. MMOs tend to have a lot of sub-games. Some people find some of the sub-games fun, some ok, and some un-fun.

MMOs also tie some of those elements into each other.

In order to pull your weight as an endgame WoW raider you need:

* to play the leveling game until you "win" it on one or more characters.

* to play the heroic 5-man gearing game, not to the "win" point, by far past the "lose" point on one or more characters.

* to play the crafting game until you "win" it twice for one or more characters

* to play the gold making game

* to play the cooking or fishing game until you can produce a feast once in a while, or at the very least play the gold game extra so you can buy them from the AH

* to play the trading game enough to secure a supply of flasks

* play the rep game to get the right head/shoulder enchants unlocked

That is a lot of games. Not everyone likes all of those games.

So if you like the leveling game, and you like the fishing game, and you like the raiding game, you can tolerate the crafting and 5-man game, but don't like the gold making game?

Well you can risk losing your account, and the respect of your peers buy buying gold. You can hope to have a really good friend who loves the gold game and will just unload a few thousand on you. Or you can grind. That is whatever part of the game you dislike but play only so you can play some other part is the grind.

If I enjoyed leveling my pally, but now I'm bored with that, and just want my warlock at 80, that is the grind. If I'm enjoying my warlock leveling, then I would like more of it.

From where I see it, the grind comes because multiple parts of the game are interlinked, and not all parts are equally enjoyable by all people.

Unfortunately you can't just unlink the parts. At least I don't think you can. Maybe you could make those parts MORE interchangeable. Already you can substitute gold for fishing/cooking in almost all cases. However there aren't substitutes in the other directions. It doesn't matter how fun you find WoW blacksmithing, it will never replace the need to get a flying mount (and given how WoWs economy works, it is nontrivial to use blacksmithing to make enough money to buy the mount). Fishing skill alone will never level your character to 80.

Maybe the sub-games _could_ be unlinked. What if professions didn't make BOP items, and had no self-only benefits? People could use them to make gold, if they enjoy that, but they wouldn't need them to raid. Who would it make the game less fun for? Who would it make it more fun for? Is it a net win? Would WoW be better off if nobody needed cooking-450 to lay a fish feast?

To pull back onto topic, if you can pay to skip a "grind" you can't just say that grind never should have been there. Maybe the grind was there to make you pay to skip it. Maybe it was there in order to keep you from burning through all the content (i.e. to keep monthly feeds for a few more months)...or maybe it was there because some percentage of the player base enjoys that particular activity. Either directly, or in a "feels more connected" way.
 
Many people rightly point out the time-versus-money angle. That is a common microtransaction model, but IMO the Pet Store is entirely different.

IMO Blizzard’s angle with the Pet Store is like the streetwise drug pusher’s angle: He gives away the stuff, gets people hooked, and then starts to charge them for it. And the addict can’t say no.
 
Very well said Tobold. I'm wondering what will show up in the next WoW "shop".
 
You're not paying Money to have an unfair advantage over your opponents, you're buying gear that helps close the gap between you and your opponents, the very same gap that gives them an unfair advantage over you. Your opponents spend Time to increase that Gap, you spend Money to close that Gap. Time does equal Money.
But what then stops someone with time and money from gaining "an unfair advantage"? Surely if you buy a set of PvP gear and then spend time practicing you're far better off than everyone else.

And why is the advantage unfair in the first place?-) Is there a "Constitution of the United States of Azeroth" somewhere that guarantees everyone the right to happiness? Or can we make do with right to pursue happiness with no guarantees of ever attaining that goal?
 
Tobold, sometimes i read your posts and swear I'm reading myself thinking and its all dejavu like.. However, I get into circular logic on these issues. I don't see the MT model as bad if the game is free and no sub. I really don't have a problem with MTs in a p2p game - if its restricted to servers. Have a p2p model - hose people for money - I don't play the game to have the best - I play MMOs to have a community and to be a person in that world. If I wanted to play a fantastic game with a chatroom - i'd more than likely be playing a console game with my laptop on yahoo or some other random chat program.

That being said - issues like MTs and such stem more from just poor game play. If your game isn't fun enough - which in all honesty most 10 year MMO vets can vouch for this - a true MMO is a niche group - not the 10mil+ you're seeing with wow. So most gamers won't find the major defining aspects of an MMO appealing. To this day I will swear that WoW does not have a large player base because its a large MMO - its because the company is Blizzard (fanboism) and its also from a series of overly loved RTSes (warcraft). If wow was out there and named differently and produced by another company - it would not have 10 mil - guaranteed. Almost 90% of the surface issues MMO vets complain about stem from catering to non mmo-nichey peeps playing them.
 
@Doeg
Let me get this straight: Blizzard now is like a street drug seller who gets people addicted to vanity pets? Absolutely hilarious, thank you sir you have made my day...


@Stripes
That is perhaps the best explanation of why people get locked in doing activities they don't enjoy. I like it so much better than Tobold's purple pixel idolatry. Not that there isn't some of that going on, mind you, I just don't think it's the only or even the most important reason. Your "interlinked minigames" matches what I've seen much better.
 
I totally disagree with your basic premise that a "game" like WoW can be compared to a classic board game or seeing a movie.

MMO's are more like playing "pretend" with your friends. Playing army or cowboys and indians or even playing "house". Open ended, ill-defined goals and no clear "winner". The goal is "immersion" or building on the complexity of a storyline while honing repetitive, physical skills.

Getting epics is not winning. It's an objective step in the storyline, like leveling.

Buying the game is like getting a key to a playground and instructions/rules how to use it. And one of those rules is that younger players have to play in certain areas until they "mature" enough to play with the bigger kids.

Subscriptions are for continued access to the playground, new playground equipment, playground monitors to make everyone play nice, and groundskeepers to keep it pretty and free of dog poop.

Microtransactions and expansions are access to more realistic "toys" like guns and costumes to play with, or access to exclusive or new areas of the playground with special features like caves or treehouses (just flashed on Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland...sigh).

So your argument of playing "faster" to get to the end isn't really valid. There is no end. No matter how much anyone plays the game, there is still more game to play. It doesn't end. Nobody "wins".

However if some "rich kid" comes in and gets to immediately play in all the coolest areas with all the best equipment that the rest of us had to work up to, that may cause many of us to wonder why we had to work so hard.

Consistency and the illusion of fairness is key to all this. If Blizzard wants to sell some useless pixels, I'm good with it. If that helps to make the player character population a bit more unique and interesting, it would be a benefit IMO.

But if they start to offer things like speed (or instant) leveling or epic gear for RMTs, that could threaten that all-important sense of fairness and seriously impact the hardcore community, who view and play the game more as a "sport". That would be bad.
 
In terms of your Monopoly analogy, microtransactions would be more like being able to buy land/houses/hotels for real money. One would do so because the you want the power and fun of owning these things, but don't want to go to the effort/grind of getting there.

If you want to do heroics/raids then you will need gear. If you don't have time to raid all the time (and even if you do) getting crafted or BOE epics is a way forward. Hence the dilemma, grind for weeks or buy gold.
 
As long as we value virtual rewards more than gameplay, game companies will happily sell us those rewards.

Amen.
 
I agree with your last paragraph. However, I don't really fit into the rest of it.

It's based off the mass of people who care about efficiency in their MMORPG.

They want the best in the best way as fast as possible.

While efficiency may come into play for me and others. Efficiency alone does not necessarily equal fun.
 
@Longasc
"There is nothing wrong with MT's. But right now they seem to make devs think that they can cash in some extra $$$ instead of reworking their core business model."

Haha, yus! I made a comment very similar to this somewhere else, I think, and everyone egg-nored me.

*Snurfles and nods vigorous agreement*
 
In other forms of entertainment the time spent in the entertainment activity is a gain, in a MMORPG time spent is often considered a loss,

I suspect that it is only considered a loss to those who equate time with money. The fact that people in this very thread are citing "but I cant play with my friends because they are level 80, and I'm not", are the very people who are forgetting that WoW was released as a subscription based game. Or, maybe they arent forgetting it and would rather be able to whip out their wallet in order to catch up?

Blizzard could simply, and very easily, set up servers and player accounts that charged by the minute, by the hour, or even allowed one to buy premade characters or whatever model appealed to those who wanted to justify their "time spent" in the game.

In fact, I wish they would. It would be an interesting social experiment to allow players who equate time with money the ability to control their own destiny in that regard with a game like WoW.

Give these types of players what they want. Let these players compete with each other based on how often they can pull out their wallet/credit card. Maybe then they would see how progression and the consumption of content would be tied to ones wallet and their ability to pay.

I suspect that the creation of classes along "the ability to pay" axis would simply make people quit the game after a period of time because they could simply not keep up with those players who had more disposable income than they do.

Quitting the game because it requires too much time, or quitting the game because it requires too much money.

Are we talking about the same player here?

I think we are....
 
Nice post.

I agree with Nils, though, that the "blame the players" argument doesn't get you very far. Players will act as they're wired to, and apparently lots of people are wired to seek status, even in a virtual world.

I'm actually wondering whether microtransactions might be a form of collective action problem: If an MMO has them, it's in each individual player's interest to buy (because otherwise he'll get left behind). But if status competition is a zero-sum game, then players collectively are worse off (because they have to pay more).

In other words, virtual items may create positional externalities.
 
If the publisher is selling in game items, it's slightly more tolerable if the items can be acquired without having to purchase them.

These two pets are micro transaction only, which means no matter how well, or how long, you play, you have no chance of getting one unless you buy it.
 
Hirvox, it's not unfair that Player A (Time) has considerably better gear than Player B (Money), it's an unfair advantage because - with everything else being equal - Player A will always defeat Player B, while the constant losses (under WoW's current PvP system) mean B has very little chance of ever catching up to Player A.

Under the current system, having the Time to grind the gear gives you an advantage over the people with the Money. There is no disputing that. If you have the gear, you hold the upper hand. Now if the people with the Money could buy the exact same gear it wouldn't give them an advantage over the people with the Time, it would simply make the competition more balanced.

WoW's Vanity Pet situation completely flips this. The Time people are now finding out what it's like to have absolutely no chance of obtaining the reward available to the Money people, and they don't like it. It's a Vanity Pet, it offers absolutely no in-game advantage over any other player, but the Time people don't like that they cannot obtain it without spending Money.

Blizzard decided that the currency to obtain epic PvP gear is Time, and the Time Players saw that and said it was good. Blizzard decided that the currency to obtain a non-combat Vanity Pet is Money, and the Time Players saw that and said, "Hey! Wait a minute! That's not fair!"

It's the blatant hypocrisy of the Time players which makes this situation so amusing.
 
Under the current system, having the Time to grind the gear gives you an advantage over the people with the Money. There is no disputing that. If you have the gear, you hold the upper hand. Now if the people with the Money could buy the exact same gear it wouldn't give them an advantage over the people with the Time, it would simply make the competition more balanced.
But time and money are not necessarily mutually exclusive. So I'll ask again: What then stops someone with time and money from gaining "an unfair advantage"? Surely if you buy a set of PvP gear and then spend time practicing you're far better off than everyone else. If gear is buyable, you create a class of players that neither Time or Money players have any chance of challenging.

It's the blatant hypocrisy of the Time players which makes this situation so amusing.
Is it? The most common comment seems to be: "It's okay if it's just fluff stuff like non-combat pets and mounts". Sure, it's pure profit for Blizzard, but unless you're busy keeping up with the Joneses, it has no effect on gameplay. And one could argue that this has been the case since WoW was released. If you had money during Vanilla, you could get the Mini Diablo or the Panda Cub. If you had money later, you could get one of the various murlocs, the murloc suit, the zhevra, the ghostsaber, the rocket, the turtle, the black war bear or the frostwyrm whelp.

People are not panicing because all of those were Money-only items. They are panicing because they see this brutal honesty as a sign of things to come.
 
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