Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Is an expansion a form of blackmail?

Recently several rather successful games have run into trouble when they tried to sell an expansion: People protested about prices for the expansions being equal or close the price of a full game. Now normally one would think that an overly expensive product isn't something to complain about: Steam is full of games I am not willing to buy at that price, and that causes me no distress at all. I'll just wait until I can get them for half price or less a year later. But maybe expansions are different.

If I don't buy a new game, my situation doesn't change. I didn't have the game before, I don't buy it now, I still don't have it, no loss to me. But the people who would buy an expansion are those already currently playing the game. Not buying the expansion means either stopping to play, or running around in old gear through old content while everybody else around you is enjoying the new content and getting new gear rewards. An expansion appears to be less optional, and more a must have.

So some people apparently perceive an expensive expansion as being a form of blackmail: If you want to continue playing, give us your money! Playing without the expansion doesn't appear to be a viable option for many people. That would explain why an expensive expansion is causing so much more protests than an expensive new game. What do you think?

Well, only speaking for WoW WOD 6.2 here.

Hmm. I want to use a different word than "Blackmail", but I can't think of it off the top of my head.

But that is what is ostensibly happening. They cancelled the game I WAS playing and replaced it with a new one before I was done playing it.

On one hand, it could be argued that I'm "taking too long" to finish the game, and why should people that are ready for the new game be held back by sluggards like me? On the other hand, it could be argued that the old game was perfectly good and I should be able to continue playing it in parallel with the new one for no additional cost.

Unfortunately, that is the price of an online game. The new game (Re: the expansion of the old game) destroys the old game and renders it far less playable than it was 5 minutes before the release of the new game. Now, that is from my point of view as a raider. A solo explorer / quester would still see the old game as perfectly viable. But they can't avoid the expansion either as the world physically changed in deference to the new matrix (Reference to the "Genesis Device" in one of the Star Trek movies.) No one has figured out how to do both yet, keep the old game and release a new game that is separate at the same time.

I'm not even getting into the "cost" aspect, as it seems perfectly reasonable to charge for a new game (Which is what the expansion is) when you can bypass the subscription cost of the old one.
"Is an expansion a form of blackmail?"

No, not even close. Next question.

At least in the case of GW2, the expansion itself seems popular and people are eager for it. I haven't seen anything akin to a "blackmail" argument. Most of the rage appears to be about the unfairness of giving new players the base game with the expansion. This is viewed as "unfair" as it is "devaluing" something people paid at least $60 for back at launch. Basically, "OMG somebody is getting something for free today that I paid money for three years back!" or, for the truly hysterical, "I'm being forced to buy the base game again!"

That point of view seems to disregard the value of being able to play the game for three years and, if somebody played actively and regularly, all of the one-time episodic content that they were able to enjoy that any new player will not get to see. The base game has indeed lost value. Is the value actually zero now? I couldn't tell you.
"Hmm. I want to use a different word than "Blackmail", but I can't think of it off the top of my head."

Ok, I thought of it: "Forced obsolescence"

This would be intolerable in an offline, single player game, but is an unavoidable ramification of online games.
I think it has to do with how narrowly the game places people for long term play.

In a game like WoW, where you're rushed to the end game and each expansion obsoletes the previous end game content, it's much harder to feel like you could keep enjoying the game without buying the expansion.

Contrast with a game like LotRO or Rift, where the leveling game is much more emphasized. These are the types of games where you can play 60-80 hours just on one char and still not have even gotten to the expansion content. I've sunk a lot of time into lotro over the years and still haven't played past moria. :P Playing without buying the expansion is much more viable.
"These are the types of games where you can play 60-80 hours just on one char and still not have even gotten to the expansion content."

Actually, it took 300-500 hours to level to 60 in vanilla WoW. It isn't so much that they make new content and everyone else is doing that. Developers go out of their way to make the old content obsolete.

For comparison, imagine if when The Witcher 3 released, they also released a patch for The Witcher 2 which forced "god mode" onto every player, knowing you would now blow through that game and quickly become bored with it.
I actually don't recall how long it took me to level to 60 for the first in WoW Vanilla, but I'm sure it was a long time. A character I leveled normally up to level 74 before I stopped playing it had 640 hours on it, and I didn't do any raiding on that char. My "old" main, which I stopped playing at level 90 in favor of my "new" main, had 3,720 hours on it.

There can be no question that I've gotten my money's worth in WoW. My focus now is in end game activities and I would find it intolerable to be forced to redo the Vanilla style of leveling again.

This is the problem of having too many games in the "one game." They can't all exist harmoniously.
@Samus I was pretty slow so maybe I leveled during some later XP gain bonus pre-BC, and I also leveled almost entirely in rest state, but it took me about 96 hours to get my first character to 60 in Vanilla WoW.

@Tobold: my short answer is "in a world of idiots who have no concept of real priorities, yes."

The longer answer is: I don't get these people who are somehow unfamiliar with the MMORPG model, so much so that they appear to have no concept of the fact that they have A: bought into a game which is by definition going to expand and grow with future paid content, B: that doing so will necessitate forging a bridge of some sort for new players to more easily reach that content, a common practice in the industry, and C: that this does mean that the price they paid is effectively "early access" with regards to the new content....their $60 three years ago means they have a posse of max-level characters now, and immediate access to a new volume of content to explore, while new players have to get to that new level and build up to the new content. Well....maybe note in GW2, which has level scaling, but the principle remains.

Looking at the outrage on GW2 from the perspective of a more conventional gamer who deals with console $60 specials with $40 DLC passes tacked on, NCSoft just doesn't look evil enough. They really aren't trying....why the hell they'd give away the base game for free is beyond me, if they were actually trying to be evil. Evil publishing company would be $60 for expansion, $20 for base game, and $50 DLC expansion pack for base goodies plus a special one-time $25 discount on 4000 currency. So to get the whole enchilada you'd pay $60+$20+50+25 or $145. Now THAT would be representative of the average "evil" pricing in this industry these days.


Well, I'm not really arguing the pros and cons of how long leveling should take. I'm more talking about how much they sped it up and made it so much easier (which, the lack of challenge simply adds to how tedious leveling feels now). If you liked vanilla WoW, that game doesn't exist anymore, even if you don't buy any expansions. Which is the point both Tobold and Michael were trying to make.
"Hmm. I want to use a different word than "Blackmail", but I can't think of it off the top of my head."


I believe firmly in supporting the developers of games, that the money I spend helps to keep the game running and growing, and that no one should ride for free. Even the so-called free-to-play games are not free because someone still has to be paying in order to keep the servers running, support staff employed, and hopefully some new content coming.

In a game like Guild Wars 2, which is buy once plus cash shop stuff, I don't mind that a solidly-sized expansion is priced like the base game. That is how the developers are paying for the content creation itself. (Whereas the cash shop should be paying for running the servers.)

For a subscription game like World of Warcraft, I am less enamored with the idea of a $40 or higher expansion because I feel like my monthly subscription should be enough to pay for servers and new content development. After all, everyone is paying for a subscription, so you have no one "using game server resources they're not paying for" within the game.

I of course recognize that from a budget or business view of things, many cash shops bring in more money than the pure subscription. This means that how I feel about the Guild Wars 2 expansion vs. a paid expansion for World of Warcraft may not be logical. However, I think it is a very human feeling. We're always paying, so we have already paid, so we shouldn't be required to pay some more.
I've often thought the whole MMO genre would work better if every game stopped, wipd and relaunched with each expansion.
Considering that for both Cata and Mists I didn't pay for the expac until my (then new) toons reached the level necessary for the expac areas, I don't consider the idea of not paying for an expac at launch a novel one at all.

If if weren't for that a SWTOR sub gets Knights of the Fallen Empire for free, I'd likely not pay for that either.

And really, I don't think I'm planning on paying for the GW2 expac at launch, either. My toons are in the 20s, and I'm leveling them slowly (as time permits, essentially), so I don't have anything to worry about for the time being.

If more people took a laid back approach, it wouldn't be such a big issue. That said, for a lot of people the endgame (and, to a lesser extent, the new content) IS the entire purpose of an MMO, so getting the expac ASAP is an absolute must.
Actually, the problem with the recent "expansion rage" is not related to the expansion or its pricing, but by the crap which was bundled, being indicated as mandatory/non-mandatory/extra bonus you can get only by re-buying everyting, etc.
If *from the start* GW2 had clearly stated that the expansion would bundle the original game, and there was no need to get it, there would have been a lot less rage.....

Expansions are pay to win.
A new win condition is introduced. The old win conditions are adjusted, often depreciated. Anyone who buys the new expansion is put at an advantage over those who do not.
It is a standard expectation that online games change and progress. I would argue that stringing the customer along and delaying expansions while selling other content would be more a kin to blackmail.

My major concern from the most recent releases is that base content seems to be getting smaller and smaller, while what I consider features essential to play the game are becoming premium extras.
I would put gw2 in the category of a game where you could not buy the expansion and still have an enjoyable experience. There are plenty of people still running around in Orr (and it has such amazing music, I <3 Orr).

The gw2 expansion is basically more stuff to do, just like EVE has expansions that don't give you any new places to go, just new ships and stuff. While WoW expansions and even the larger content patches are basically like buying a new game, but you get to transfer over your character from the old game, like importing your save data into the next sequel of a franchise.
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