Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Keen reports with loathing that somebody found a "paid character customization" button in the Wrath of the Lich King beta files, and Blizzard reluctantly admitted that this was a feature they are planning for the future. He talks about cash cows, which by definition are "products with high market share in a slow-growing industry". Is WoW a high market share product in a slow-growing industry? I think so. Not that the MMORPG genre couldn't grow any further, but at least temporarily we reached more or less a plateau. WoW has the highest market share in this (in dollar terms, don't start to tell me how many millions play this or that free-to-play game, it isn't relevant). And Blizzard is trying to make the most possible money out of that situation, by introducing micro-transactions. You can hate companies for wanting to make a profit (welcome to the real world), or you can hope they'll invest that cash back into the next big MMO (which was revealed to *not* be World of Starcraft, WoW2, or World of Diablo). In any case, companies wanting to make a profit is just how things are.
Whether we should loathe that or not depends on what is actually for sale. To me "paid character customization" sounds pretty harmless. Really, if they only sell visual character customization, that is totally okay with me. Nobody is hurt if somebody else can buy himself a halo and angel wings outfit for $20 from Blizzard. Where I would start balking is when that outfits gives +500 bonus to healing spells (just an example, I know that +healing bonus is out with WotLK). Because if the paid character customization actually improves your characters stats, we'd start seeing raid spots being reserved for people who paid up, and certain paid outfits would become mandatory for certain classes.
One of the things that many games with micro-transactions sell is some sort of scroll or potion that gives you a temporary buff to the rate in which you earn xp or gold. Blizzard is actually already selling that, as part of their "recruit a friend" campaign, which for many players turned into a "level an alt by two-boxing" paid triple-xp extravaganza. I'm not a fan of that either. True, the people who tend to have the money to pay for faster xp gain are usually those who have less disposable time, so in some way it balances their leveling speed against the leveling speed of those who can play all day. But I don't like the whole "lets rush through this game as fast as possible" attitude, because I don't subscribe to the idea that the endgame is the real game.
So I hope Blizzard is just selling stuff like haircuts, armor dyes, cloak textures, and fancy effects around your weapons. I wouldn't necessarily want to buy any, but I wouldn't mind other people buying them. Do you loathe your neighbor for buying a Porsche, or do you realize that due to traffic and speed limits it takes him exactly the same time to get to work as you? If paid character customization is just about visual status symbols, then I don't fault Blizzard for adding it.