Tobold's Blog
Friday, May 27, 2011
MMORPGs are too cheap

The average American spends $58 per month on hobbies. The 90th percentile, which would be the kind of people with a college or higher degree and a good income, not the super-rich 99th percentile, spends $130 per month on hobbies. A dedicated stamp collector might spend $2000 to $4000 per year on his hobby. And in most hobbies the range of possible spending is wide, so a bicycling enthusiast might spend $400 for an okay bike, or $5000 for a top-of-the-line one.

Spending on hobbies is by definition "wasted". That's the point of having a hobby, a way to waste your time and money! While other people's hobbies tend to appear strange to us, we pursue our own hobbies with a lot of energy. In a world where less than half of employees are satisfied with their jobs, people who are more passionate about their hobbies than about their job aren't all that rare. Thus spending a considerable chunk of your disposable income on your hobby is pretty much normal.

In all this, MMORPGs as a hobby look somewhat strange: They are too cheap. Even if you buy a new game or expansion once a year, plus a monthly subscription, you end up with a lot of hours of entertainment for just $200 per year. Of course you could also count the cost of your PC and internet connection, but a game like World of Warcraft doesn't need a high-end PC, and you're likely to have internet in the house anyway.

Curiouser and curiouser, not only are MMORPGs very cheap, but there is a strong negative attitude towards even the *possibility* to pay more. People react with outrage if a game adds $10 mounts or $25 sparkly ponies. But fact is that there is a strong demand from players to be able to pay more for their MMORPG hobby. Which is why games that switch from a monthly subscription fee to a Free2Play model often significantly increase revenue. Some Free2Play games report average revenue per paying user (ARPPU) of $60 per month. Which is pretty much in line what the average American spends for his hobbies. Not counting the fact that MMORPGs are a somewhat geeky hobby which is more likely to attract those people with college degrees in the 90th percentile than those in the 10th.

Could you imagine a stamp collector complaining about another stamp collector having a better collection because the other guy spent more money, and demanding that spending on stamp collections should be limited? That sort of ridiculous notion only exists in MMORPGs. With MMORPGs being predominantly PvE, it is very hard to see how somebody elses purchase of a sparkly pony or "invite a friend from a different realm" feature has any negative effect on your own game experience. And even in a pure PvP game like World of Tanks it is possible to balance the game while selling $25 high-level tanks.

The whole argument against people spending money on MMORPGs has a whiff of communism: Everybody should be equal, and nobody should be allowed to stand out through money, even if he worked hard to get that money. Well, we all know what happened to communism. It is a doomed philosophy, because people work harder if they can earn money and spend that money in conspicuous consumption. It is time to bury MMORPG communism together with the real world equivalent. We need *more* ways to spend more money in MMORPG, we need luxury subscription options, and item shops in every game. A business model in which you reward unemployed basement-dwellers for playing all day while punishing hard-working family guys for having limited time to play available is simply not making business sense. If we want multi-million dollar quality games, we need to open up possibilities for game companies to earn those millions of dollars.
The problem is not for paying itself, it's getting competitive advantage via paying, which makes the playing thing irrelevant.

On the other hand paying to save time isn't bad. So selling Justice and honor points or gold (not to mention vanity crap) is OK
I'm alright with vanity items and shortcuts, but I never liked the idea of "super" items only available for money. iLevel 459 legendaries, just $19.99 on sale now!
Wow, I'd never guessed the day would come :) I agree 100% with Gevlon.
It is interesting that you used stamp collecting as one of your examples. The value of stamps is based almost entirely on rarity. New stamps are only worth face value, because they print enough to sell to anyone who wants them.

Imagine you were a stamp collector who had just obtained a very rare and valuable stamp. You are proud of your acquisition, even among stamp collectors very few have this stamp. And then they do a reprint of the stamp, selling to everyone for dirt cheap. Your stamp is no longer rare, every collector has it now.

So, do you think most stamp collectors would be happy for others in this situation? After all, whether or not others have this stamp has no effect on them, right? In your eyes, not wanting other stamp collectors to enjoy that rare stamp makes them a pathetic loser, right?

I do not think the attitude towards wholesale selling of items which are supposed to be rare is at all unique to MMORPGs.
Before you find a way for game companies to make more money you should find a way to force them to spend their money on the game instead of making insane profit. Paying more doesn't get you a better game, the company has to be willing to spend the game on the game.

We all know what happens with monopoly. It is time to bury MMORPG monopoly together with the real world equivalent.
It's a point I picked up from one of Wolfshead's numerous WoW-rants; as per the oh-so-popular "WoW = McDonalds" analogy, he said "I’m sorry but I don’t find a mass market McDonald’s hamburger appealing when what I really want is filet mignon.", and as Brian Green points out in the comments "The problem here is that the current audience balks at paying filet mignon prices. It’s silly to go to McDonald’s and ask for filet mignon just as it’s silly to go to a fine steakhouse and demand the filet mignon at McDonald’s prices. "
I think you'll find that the majority of hard working family guys who play computer games probably prefer Call of Duty (if they're like the guys I work with). Does that need an item shop too?
I wonder why chess tournaments don't allow players to spend money so they can get better pieces than their opponents. I always though it was because chess is supposed to be a game where winning depends on skill, not money. Now I see it's because of communism.
I found your assertion that

"Spending on hobbies is by definition "wasted". That's the point of having a hobby, a way to waste your time and money!"

so odd that I checked half a dozen sources for a definition.

Not one mentions "waste". I have rarely heard anyone describe time or money spent on his or her hobby as "wasted", although I have heard partners or relatives of hobbyists use the term pejoratively against them.

Personally, I consider money spent on my own hobbies as extremely well-spent and valuable. If I believed I was wasting money on any hobby I wouldn't go on spending it and wouldn't continue with the hobby.

As for MMOs being a cheap hobby, it's entirely relative. Immediately before I was playing MMOs I used to make mirrors from driftwood, which took a lot of time but cost almost nothing. On the other hand, when I collected comics I spent more.
So in chess you need to play at least 50 tournaments before you are allowed to promote your pawns or move your queen "alla rabiosa" (i. e. as the chess one, not the original shaturanga advisor/minister)?

You really can't compare chess and MMOs; if you get a new chessboard + pieces instead of the one you used to win the tournaments in the last 20 years, you will still be as good as you were. If you get a new character in MMOs, you will be much weaker as you lose your level and equip.
@spinks: Michael Pachter has been calling for Activision to introduce a monetisation option (preferably subscription, but item store as a next-best option) for nearly a year now. it's only a matter of time.

@Tobold: that site lists *median* spend as being $23 - and while i grant you that a higher proportion of MMO players are in the higher hobby percentiles, that =/= all players. so i would dispute the claim that MMOs are over-priced.

what i wouldn't dispute though, is that the microtransaction model is MUCH more efficient at monetising customers: there ARE people willing to spend $130/month on their hobby, and charging a $15/month sub fee only is leaving a lot of money on the table. i'd suggest the headline should read 'subscription MMOs are underpriced' - if that was the case, i would guarantee that Turbine's Executive Producer would 100% agree with you.

but at the same time, a flat-fee monthly charge excludes those percentiles who will pay you *something* but not $15/month - so a subscription MMO is perversely both *too cheap* AND *too expensive*.

'effectively monetising your customers' doesn't *only* mean 'charging them more than you do now'; it *also* means 'letting those who will pay something, but not as much as a subscription fee' do so. there's a strong reason why all games (bar whichever-game-is-market-leader and whichever-game-is-next-closest-competitor) are going F2P/MTX - it radically increases your audience, your ARPPU *and* your revenue.

and although many people express similar concerns to Gevlons, it hasn't stopped TF2, WoT or any number of PvP-based MMOs from having wildly successful item stores.
I’m disappointed to find that Blizzard hasn’t ramped up its itemstore, even though there are considerable financial benefits for doing so.

Why aren’t new companion pets and mounts being released each week?
Why is there a cap on how much content can be created?

The cost of hiring new artists with be miniscule in comparison with the revenue.
Put a couple of phased areas in major cities where you can see all the junk you’ve bought.
I thought Actiblizzard was all about the $$$$?? Or am I missing something?

I can compare chess and MMOs as games.

And my point was, you cannot purchase extra queens to replace pawns in chess. Presumably because, as a game, it's intended that the person with the greatest ability should win, not the most money.

If you believe winning should be dependant on one's ability to earn money in real life rather than their ability to play the game, then fair enough, you can play games like that. I prefer to stick to games that test my game playing ability.
"You really can't compare chess and MMOs"

Sure you can. They're both games/ hobbies. Actually you can prolly play chess online for free.
"The whole argument against people spending money on MMORPGs has a whiff of communism"

A very intruiging thought an article in fact, Tobold; I guess the difference is (and thats why people feel so strongly about it), that MMOs are not just a hobby but almost a virtual life of sorts and also - an idealized life. an escapism. that's what people are looking for, to 'get away' from real life with all its restricitions. so naturally, money being a very real and big restrictor in our society, people do not wanna see this enter their virtual worlds.

the real ID outcry was similar - to lose virtual identity or privacy to your real identity - people do not want this in online worlds, they want the opposite.
I actually agree with Tobold here. He's not advocating spending to obtain a advantage over skill, but to replace time. My time is valuable. I do not have time to grind in MMOs - it's not why I play the game. I want to raid, to do new content, to fight difficult bosses. I do not want to do rep grinds to get my shoulder enchants, or to have to spend 40 hours levelling a new character if I want to try raid healing instead of tanking on my warrior. I do not want to have to farm heroics for heroic points (or whatever they are called now).

If I were able to buy shoulder enchants, or a level 85 character, or gold (for example) then how would I have an advantage over someone who had gone through the grind? Arguably I would be at a *disadvantage* since they would have more experience in game than me.
a stamp collector gets his satisfaction by watching his collection!

MMO satisfaction is all about to compete with is not a single player game where you pay to get more for your toon to watch him and admire him.

your example to compare the MMO gamer with a stamp collector is big failure.In a game where there are no PVP and no damage meters and gear scores and other performance measure addons (LOTRO for example) then spending money to make your character better may not have a significant effect in community

but in games like wow it would be horrible!
I can compare chess and MMOs as games.

You can compare them, but not by taking only 1 feature and comparing that. If success in MMORPGs was solely based on your skill, I would agree with you. But they aren't.

The MMORPG version of chess would look like this: You start with only 1 piece, getting randomly paired against opponents with between 1 and 16 pieces. You lose most of these games, but get a few xp even if you lose, and more xp if you win. After about 10 games you can buy a second piece, and so on, although the last pieces are very expensive, so you need to play hundreds of games before you get the full set.

If chess had that sort of rules, I would be very much for the possibility of buying a queen instead of having to grind games with an incomplete set to get one.
I have rarely heard anyone describe time or money spent on his or her hobby as "wasted", although I have heard partners or relatives of hobbyists use the term pejoratively against them.

Aren't you just arguing semantics here? Money spent on hobbies is neither "invested" nor spent on something you really need for survival. You can call that "luxury" or "waste", or talk about the top of the Maslow pyramid. But the point remains that hobbies are by definition unproductive.

But then everybody has his own definition of "waste". As the saying goes: I've spent most of my money on booze and women; the rest I just wasted.
Ok, to be honest I never read a post here at Tobold's that would be so wrong on so many different levels. I mean stamp collectors and MMOs, really? Communism amongst players? Sure hope Gevlon cleared it out for you.
Gevlon is right. Sure, pay for time or vanity items and all other irrelevant stuff. It's a capitalistic feature everyone loves. But at the end of it, this is a game, and not an auction - people (most of them) pay to PLAY (you know, have fun/think/outsmart and outwit/crush/be awesome?) and not to outbid other players.

By the way, this is a cool way to make money: Provide a fictional cool-looking battleground with all sorts of stuff on it and shout 'who pays me more will get even cooler stuff and ultimately win/be awesome'. Then just wait for cash, pay bills for the battleground upkeep, be awesome yourself. Peachy.

Sorry for the angry tone, but would you really want games be about paying for the option to pay more an then some more? I'd really like to play a game in which the character would represent the player, not his wallet.
Thank you, Tobold, that was exactly my point. I tried to say so but I guess I was not clear enough.
I really don't understand the issue with an item shop - as long as you don't have items that are exclusive to such a shop. Let's take PvP as an example. Player A spends 100 hours to acquire a Sword of Awesomeness, and as an aside he acquires a fair bit of skill as well. Player B spends $20 to acquire the same sword, minus the skill and experience that goes with 100 hours of play. Player A should still easily beat Player B, so what's the problem? The exact same argument can also hold for PvE activities such as raiding.

The only time when this might be an issue is where there is zero skill involved, in other words, if ONLY your equipment and/or shinies determine the outcome of a confrontation. And in such a game any argument regarding skill does not make any sense in any case. The moment there is skill involved the guy playing should always have an advantage over the guy paying So once again, I don't understand the problem.
It's funny how we agree so much that MMORPGs are too cheap, but completely disagree on how to change that. I wrote a few days ago why I dislike f2p.

I am perfectly ok with a sparkle pony that costs $5000. I think, I'd even enjoy the uproar :).

The ARPPU shows that you could make a MMORPG with a mothly sub of $60, if players were rational. Which they are not, of course. And I don't blame them.

Mmh.. I won't comment on the communism remarks of yours. But let me state my most powerful argument against F2P: It completely destroys immersion; not for everybody, but for me and a lot of other players. If you cannot understand me, at least believe me, Tobold.
The main problem with the original post is that for many people their hobby isn't a single MMO. It isn't even MMOs, it is computer/console games. And in that light, people's spending is probably a lot more in line with the averages.

Calling a single MMO someone's hobby is like saying that Call of Duty: Black Ops is someone's hobby, and in that case a person pays $60 once for the game, and if on Xbox they pay $50 per year for multiplayer access if they want it. By following the logic of the original post, a console game should cost $500, and release a new version every year. Or is CoD:Black Ops not the hobby and FPS games is? or console games? or video games on any platform?
I second that part on immersion breaking
That's just Gevlon being a social and caring about others opinions of himself. I almost made the comment on one of your earlier posts that it would be a horrible business decision but a better game if you could buy the top-of-the-line heroic gear for RL$. Because people would get very little respect from the people on the IF bridge for their gear. They would have to feel good about their performance based upon their evaluation of their performance, not the envy of the cyberchildren. Which is a much healthier way to live your life.

Gevlon's point seems to be that he would feel worse at the end of his raid if he found out you had succeeded. How and why you succeed should not change my enjoyment of my PvE unless I am extraordinarily insecure or social.

And if you want PvP, don't play it in an MMO that rewards gear and advantages for players time and grinding. The alliance tournaments solves that; you chose your class and buy the same BiS gear from the vendor as your competition. No spec or gear is OP since you had a chance to choose it.

When learning about how to dual-box my RAF in TBC, I read someone who was five-boxing. He said he spent an extra 4 or 5 thousand dollars which he said was not out of line for other hobbies ( ski equipment, golf, ... )

Note also that the player-base is not only communist (a real insult from some one old enough to remember duck-and-cover) but wants to decrease the revenue in other ways. They want the the game companies to not only not charge people what they are willing to pay but to avoid customers. I.e., I can understand why someone wants the game publisher to increase the time comment or difficulty of the game and drive off most of their customers; I just can't understand why they think the game designer would want to do that.

Cataclysm shows WoW is in decline. So rather than try to fight them, just keep it subscription (until the F2P endgame) and readdress the revenue model with Titan.

The EVE community, who certainly see themselves as far more elitist than the WoW community, pretty well bought into the RL$ for in game currency since that currency could buy game time. You could spend RL$ and grind like a regular MMO, or spend more $ and grind less/quicker, or grind more and play for free.

This is such a flawed argument that I see so often. People assume that the guy with the huge wallet is lacking in skill, but that's not even nearly always true. And in most games gear plays a HUGE, if not central role in determining player effectiveness.

My post got eaten apparently, so I'll just refrain from retyping that novel and say this. Bigger budget is not always better. Remember APB? That game had a $100 million price tag and it was terrible.
I changed my mind, and want to add this. Not all the hours spent playing an MMO are enjoyable or entertaining.

See: being ganked.
See: endless grind.
See: group formation/travel time.

I also know I'm not the only one who sees world chat/guild chat with constant streams of "I'm bored," or "I'm only playing this game till X is released."

IMO the target for MMOs are poor kids; teens and college age. Many adults play as well, but I hesitate to say it's a majority.

/Agree with what most of Gevlon said, and that's why we're seeing so many hybrid cash shop/premium subscription games.

And I think the comparison between collecting stamps and playing MMOs is horrible. People usually play MMOs because of the activities leading to gear. Because facets of the journey are fun.
'You can compare them, but not by taking only 1 feature and comparing that.'

Why not? I can compare the factor that contributes to winning in each. In chess that is player ability, nothing else. In MMORPGs (pvp wise) it is ability and time spent gearing up.

Letting players buy gear instead of spending time earning it, I'm not particularly bothered about. I'd much prefer gear wasn't such a contributing factor anyway as I prefer games based on ability. Letting players buy better gear than what's otherwise available, is something I don't want.

But anyway, after rereading your post, I'm not so sure if that's what you're advocating anyway, or if its only vanity items you're referring to. Vanity items I don't like, but that's for other reasons, mainly with how they're implemented and, to me, how they have such a negative effect on immersion. In MMORPGs I value a sense of immersion over the presence of cash shops, so I'm pretty sure I don't need more ways to spend money in games. I'm sure developers would like to see more of them though, so yeah, I'm sure we're going to see a lot more ways to spend real money in games yet.
@a lot of people: something which is overlooked, is that often the road of "pay to grind less" leads very quickly to "pay or be prepared to grind so much that your lifetime will not be enough"..... this of course to "encourage" people to spend.

One good thing about WoW is that if you compare to other games, the grind has been continuously nerfed (with a few exceptions). In f2p games it's the exact opposite.
Not everyone's hobby is a total waste. I knit and I knit items to wear. I have a product at the end of it. If someone wants to spend money on Cashmere to knit their sweater with? I don't care.

But that isn't what we are talking about here. The yarn itself would be like the computer. The same product would be created in the end it just may feel smoother with a better yarn or run smoother on a better computer.

There are companies where you can pay and choose the yarn and they will knit the item for you personally. That's fine with me too, as long as the person requesting such items don't claim they knitted these items themselves. They didn't and they may not even be a knitter at all.

If I go to buy yarn and I don't like their pricing system? I leave and don't pay anything. If I don't like a games pricing system or the addition of a shop? I leave and don't pay anything. I think the people who get into trouble are the ones emotionally attached to their game or LYS ("local yarn store" for those not in the hobby).
As for all hobbies being unproductive, I'm sorry, but I completely disagree. While my husbands garden may not be necessary for survival at the moment, who knows what the future brings and whether this would be necessary for the future?

By your logic, careers are unproductive too. I don't need a career or money to survive. There are plenty of people living on the streets who can prove this as well.
Fact is that the most profitable business model will eventually win. And that could very well be the F2P/in-game-shop setup. I really like the way WoT implemented this, providing a good experience for both the player with time and those with (some) money. Common business sense dictates that you dont cap the amount a player can spend on his game. Compare it to MtG. I never did mind losing to someone who spent a small fortune (many thousands) on cards. The trick was to play optimal with my cards (worth at most a few hundred).
I am surprised no one has pulled you up for classifying an mmorpg as a hobby. I think that many players think of mmorpgs as "games" and not a "hobbies". To make it more complicated they may think of their hobby as being "playing computer games" but the actual mmorpg they play is just a game and a competitive one at that.

Such a player has no problem spending thousands of euro on gaming hardware (for their hobby) but objects strenuously to the suggestion of being able to pay to win the game.

I realised this when I looked a programme called Train Simulator that regularly sells DLC at €20 a pop for a new engine or new rolling stock. This programme is clearly a collecting hobby for train enthusiasts and buying new trains is the whole point of the hobby.
I disagree that hobbies are a waste - I beleive that having some form of relaxing downtime is a must in today's working world.

Going back to the original statement though - "The average American spends $58 per month on hobbies."

Firstly its 58$ per month on hobbies - that implies that the money is spread out. For me my hobbies include a far greater range things then just MMO's - even just on the gaming side. I'm in a slightly fortunate situation where I do have disposable income but if MMO's had to up their prices significantly then many people would have to choose between their hobbies.

Secondly the comment was American specific - you could probably assume that most first world countries have similar average hobby budgets but MMO's market world wide. I played on the US servers until late TBC and there was a massive amount of Mexicans and South Americans who played there. On the Eu side - you have Russians, various eastern europeans, greeks, south africans etc.. all of whom could be easily priced out of the market or lose interest if an MMO was to institute some form of 'buy in' elitism.

Thirdly looking at your average mmo audience - a large portion is still either at school or at college/university - this is obviously changing all the time but even so I am sure that scholars/students tend to have less disposable income then your average American.

Point I'm trying to make is if you up the costs significantly - you end up marketing to a smaller audience and it may not necessarily be more profitable.

Also a comment on F2P - my guess would be that the reason that they can report such high ARPPU figures is that they experience a lot of mmo tourists. Guys who wonder in, get wow'ed for the first few days, buy the various items/item packs that net them an advantage to leveling or whatever the equivalent is and then find themselves ambivalent after the honeymoon period and end up leaving the game shortly thereafter.
Such a player has no problem spending thousands of euro on gaming hardware (for their hobby) but objects strenuously to the suggestion of being able to pay to win the game.

He doesn't object because he doesn't want to pay. He objects because dislikes a game in which people win due to money spent.

Anyway, I just wrote a long list of ways to abuse players in ways they mostly never figure out.
As recently as a year or two ago, the phrase "Free 2 Play is Pay 2 Win" was considered a slur, vehemently denied by the defenders of F2P who insisted on the existence of F2P models based on content unlocks cosmetics or something else besides "winning". Praise for Turbine among this F2P-loving crew was everywhere.

Fast forward a bit and now pretty much everyone everywhere (including Turbine) accepts that Free 2 Play is Pay 2 Win. And pretty much everyone is OK with that fact, or rather those of us who aren't OK with that fact pretty much have no choice but to drop out of multiplayer gaming altogether at this point. The reason this happened, of course, is that the F2P models that monetize best are (surprise, surprise!) the ones that grant players "winning" for their money, not just "content" or "cosmetics" or whatnot.

The Asian game devs figured all this out a half-decade ago; Westerners have just landed on the same model.
I'd really like to play a game in which the character would represent the player, not his wallet.

I'd really like to play a game in which the character would represent the player, not his available time. So how about that: If we accept your premise that players should be limited to $15 per month to spend on a game, they also should be limited to play only 15 minutes per day. That way neither the people with more money, nor those with more time have an advantage. Would you find that fair?

Why do you think it is fairer to discriminate against the people with money?
I'm not much into the "Pay to Win" scenarios most F2P models take. I would never spend $25 to buy a superior Tank for example. It just seems like a cheap way to play a game in my opinion. I would however be willing to pay more, much more, in a subscription model for an improved experience. What I would expect though is a higher percentage of profits being reinvested into the game. This is one of the main issues I have with Warcraft, and why I stopped playing. The thought of killing Onyxia for a third time is ridiculous, that dragon has more lives than a cat. If you are paying a WoW sub right now you are funding the development of D3 and the mysterious Titan project. Wouldn't it be nice if your money was going back into WoW to enhance what you are playing today.

I don't care if the sub costs 15 or 60 per month, I want a quality game that is worth the expense.
But anyway, after rereading your post, I'm not so sure if that's what you're advocating anyway, or if its only vanity items you're referring to.

I think there is a HUGE area between the vanity items you mention and the items "which make playing irrelevant" that Gevlon cites. Take for example the tanks you can buy in World of Tanks: They aren't the best tanks of their level, they won't make leveling up the tech tree unnecessary, but if your friends have high-level tanks and you want to form a platoon with them, you can use money instead of grinding time to be able to play with them quickly.

Most Free2Play games offer items like "double XP scrolls" or other stuff which reduces the time requirement of grinding. That isn't fluff, but it doesn't make playing irrelevant either. You just get to spend more time having fun and less time with boring grinds. What's not to like?
I very strongly disagree that other players gaining stuff has no effect on me.

These games are effectively alternative conspicuous consumption mechanisms. If I impress people by having hard to get epics or legendaries now I won't after the raids are nerfed 30% or the legendaries are added to the cash shop.

In the 1920s having a car was impressive and would attract women. By the 1950s a lot of people had cars so you needed a car that could go over 100 mph to stand out. By now speeds over 100 mph are standard so you need a Ferrari or Porsche to stand out.

In the same way in 2005 when most WoW players had blues or greens the people with epics really stood out. Now everyone has epics, you only stand out if you have current tier and even then it's less conspicuous. Just about the only thing that still stands out are legendaries from the current tier. Put those in the cash shop and you're close to having destroyed the basic premise of diku MMOs - gaining satisfaction by progressing your character.

I believe MMOs are living on borrowed time. 2005 established purple as cool because purple meant skill, this is no longer true but our monkey brains haven't caught up, and still fire pleasure at us when we gain purples. Disillusionment with the colour purple is coming, it's inevitable and with it the obsessive desire to upgrade to purple stuff.

What you're proposing here is just to accelerate the process for cash. You should be an Activision executive :-)
You always bring money to the forefront. "Why do you think it is fairer to discriminate against the people with money?" Call me when yachting is cheap. Plenty of things discriminate against people without money, it's only fair that there are things that discriminate against people with money.
I have no view into stamp collecting, but I do recall the days when "real" coin collectors started bitching about the "pro" collectors that bought their "rated" coins off of auction boards and brokers instead of finding them in pocket change and grading them themselves "properly". Ask the old school, and they will tell you that coin collecting was once a fun and educational hobby, but, now, it's an "investment market".

So, to answer your question, *Yes*, I can imagine such a thing as a stamp collector etc. Whatever that division is, it seems inherent to the species rather than limited to video game enthusiasts.
I agree with Gevlon. Paying for a competitive advantage is what people object to -- in a subscription model.

In your stamp collecting example, the "rules of play" are completely different. You can develop your own collection and never influence another collector and vice versa. Spending more on a collection would be a matter of priorities and choice, all of which are within presumed ideas of fairness for all collectors. Most importanly, the idea of using real money is already established as part of the rules. However, if we were to introduce an artirary constraint, let's say only those born on the 15th of April or who are close personal friends with the president, could buy special collector items, part of you who protest this as being unfair and somehow outside the rules. This same feeling would apply to those who cannot compete via spending in MMOs -- something outside the scope or rules is now influence on their success or failure in game.
The day we see an MMO not influenced by it's pricing model, is the day I'll stop caring if it's F2P or P2P. Until then, I'd rather win by playing more than spending more, and I'd rather the devs add content to continue making me play more rather than spending more.
MMOs don't discriminate against people with money. It's the same service for everyone, rich or poor.

You have to twist that really hard to frame that as discrimination against people with more money on the grounds that they can't just pay more to win the game.

If you know you only want to play 15 mins a day, which MMO actually offers decent gameplay in that timeframe. Go play that. Because it isn't WoW.
I think it has more to do with the average age of an MMO player being much, MUCH lower than an average stamp collector, or really even an average persom you would poll on hobbies. The largest player base is most likely college age students, with the curve more weighted towards the teenage side than the 30+ side. These people of course are more likely to be sensitive to price.
It is for me a bit of a personal feeling, not an e-peen thing. As an example there is a cool item I could loot of craft at the end of the game. It is a nice motivation to overcome the hurdles of the game to get there. But if that same item is for sale at the item shop for $X there is no need for me to struggle anymore. My carrot is gone.

I don't care that thousands of other people already made it to the top and got their special item. Good for them. I know I level up slow and stop to smell too many daisies. But I do care if the whole journey was for naught because I could have bought it at the entrance. If there are too many items in the item store and I have lost all purpose to play the game.
My problem with pay to play services is that it breaks immersion. In the mmorpg I am a hero that goes on quests to fight monsters and gain treasure (tm). If I pay $5 for a sparkly pony... how did my hero get this? Was it a gift from the gods? It must have been because it just materializes into the world without any form of context. Worse yet, if I don't pay the $5 for the sparkly pony, and my hero wants one, what quest can he complete to earn one? Where do they exist in the world to be obtained... simply... they don't.
This repeated insistence that somehow less educated people (=poorer) have more free time made me finally do a goggle search.

Scroll to page 35 to see the truth.

Or come up with some other study, but really: do you even have friends of all income deciles?
@Nils: And what does that change? MMORPGs clearly discriminate against the time-poor, regardless of whether they are money-rich or money-poor.
Well, Tobold, it turns out your free time is mostly independent from your income.

Thus, pay-to-win MMORPGs clearly discriminate against the money-poor, regardless of whether they are time-rich or time-poor.

That is, because in contrast to what has been assumed before (for years now on this blog), those who have little time actually have no higher chance to have more money or the other way round.

Look, I don't care about how many pay-to-win games there are. As long as there are enough games where time investment matters. Asking for money instead of time is not more fair, because it turns out that those with more money actually don't have significantly less time!
Abstracted further, capitalism discriminates the money poor.
My main hobby is wargaming, and I am more then willing to pop down $100+ dollars at a pop for a set of miniatures to finish off an existing, or start of, an army.

There currently has not been any MMO in recent history I would be willing to spend more then the normal $15 a month *willingly* for. Tabletop wargames will always supply a level of entertainment the moment you open the package, either building, painting, or playing a game. MMOs however have turned into:

Ignore the leveling > get to endgame > Get purples > Profit

There is hardly any depth, making the latest additions to the genre more a kin to FPSs then RPGs. At least most FPSs you can play online for 'free'.
That's a pretty narrow view of the "hobby". What you're really positing is that World of Warcraft players don't pay enough, but for many (a majority?) people WoW isn't their only, or even their primary hobby. A person who casually plays WoW a couple of days a week and doesn't buy any other games almost surely has other hobbies to support.

A dedicated gaming hobbyist, on the other hand, tends to buy more than 1 game a year and plays more than just WoW. For that person, you have multiple game purchases, computer upgrades, internet connection, and subscriptions. That probably falls in line with the average, or surpasses it.

Even if you do consider a casual WoW player who plays nothing else and spends nothing on their computer an "average" gamer, they still have internet fees to support their hobby. With most cell phones able to browse the internet these days you don't truly need a dedicated internet connection at home -- unless you game or stream TV/movies (which is another hobby entirely).
Allow me to offer a radical thought:

The weakness of the DIKUMU* is in gear - always has been, always will be. "Gear" is an artificial barrier, essentially staying "you must have mcguffins to progress".

Gear isn't progression - if gear was progression, you'd guarantee a gear drop on every boss, as progression equates to boss-downs.

So. Why not turn the paradigm just a bit? What if we deemphasized gear - go ahead and let folks buy it! - but give people who get through the progression tree another (necessary) level that has all of the stats necessary to take on the next boss.

Again, I reference Planetside - funny how I'm doing that lately - that had two types of progression: "I'm a footsoldier" and "I lead people". While imperfect, "I'm a footsoldier" was available to everyone, and "I lead people" was only there for those that led successful attacks on enemy strongholds.

You might be BR25 (max level) and have access to a nice suite of stuff.. but CR 0. While making CR 5 (max level) wasn't really likely under BR 25, each CR level gave you more tools that were useful for leading people in the field.

At CR 1? You could set squad and platoon waypoints. CR2? You get to draw on the map - MS paint for objectives. CR3? Localized EMP pulse and reveal friendlies on your map - you can see where the 'zerg' is and where your guys are in a facility. CR 4? Continental Command chat that would let you 'break into' conversations at a continental level. You also got orbital strikes that would enable you to quickly (if rarely) destroy tactical objectives, and "Reveal Enemies" which would, for a short time, show a snapshot all of the enemies on your planning map. CR5? Absolutely global command chat, + bigger OS, + longer lasting everything.

Each CR level gives you cosmetic upgrades: bracers, shinguards, backpack. These set you apart visually (and can make you a target, depending).

So.. imagine that in the raiding environment. The average player can progress to 85 without any real trouble, and gear comes from heroics. As you lead heroics and go on raids, you accumulate "Raid Levels" that reset in each espansion. Kill the endboss of the current tier to unlock raid levels for the next tier - maybe you get 1-5 now, 2-10 when Firelands drops, and so on.

Let the raid levels dictate your ability to down content.

Meh. All I know is gear is an artificial, stupid gateway that walls off content behind a veener of 'effort' that is anything but.
As Tobold pointed out, this envy of others, and fear your envy is being increased by their wallet, makes much less sense in PvE. What is "winning" a PvE MMO? Who won: someone who spends 16 hours a week with people he hates to go 13/13? Or someone who is having a great time being 4/12 with friends? Has Tobold's wife lost WoW due to her low boss kills?

If a programming bug at tonight caused it to show half or twice as many guilds progressed than you, would it make you feel different about what you have accomplished?

The MMO analogy to entertainment provides more comparisons. Premium channel cable (HBO,ST,...) is $100 oer month, big screen TVs can cost the same as gaming rigs, my cable internet is $99 per month for 60 mbps, one movie per month with popcorn is $15 ...

Let's tie this post back to previous Tobold posts on community and policing. I had an epiphany. If I look at most of the people who object to RL$ in games, and their reasons for it, it struck me: I would prefer if they were not in my game!!!!

If all you are looking for is a way to feel better about yourself by whipping out your purple pixels and proving yours is bigger, and RL$ keeps you out of a game, then doesn't that make for a better community? For both sides: EVE/Darkfall players claim they want to be in niche games with like-minded players.

RL$ games can still have most/all PvP occur without purchased items; perhaps even with identical items.

N.b.: Competition is great and drives evolution and capitalism. But perhaps you should channel it into a business startup or poker where crushing the competition can be handsomely rewarded.

Saying everyone should step into BoT with the same gear is a logical game. Once you start letting people have different gear, it is a lot grayer. Do I care if someone got those epic boots that are better than mine by grinding 10,000 stacks of Cinderbloom to make ink or spent $20? Once you start allowing inequalities, then everyone, myself included, just pushes their agenda: people with time want grinds, people with $ but not time want stores, long-time veterans want rewards for longevity, stupid people with great reflexes want rewards driven by your reaction time, ....

Very, very few in fact want the MMO company to give the new players, the lifeblood of a subscription business, an equal footing with existing players!!! I see that is the hypocrisy of the anti-RL$ side. They are in not in favor of equality in a game, merely inequality along axes they prefer.
I would prefer 40 $/month subscription MMORPG over one with "more ways to spend money".
Eh. To be honest, there will always be buyers and sellers. There will always be people who have money and want something, and people who are willing to do it for money. That's the nature of the world.

The fact that Chinese prisoners were forced to farm gold is kinda irrelevant; you make it sound like MMOs caused this behavior to happen, but if there were no MMOs, they'd still be forced to do some other hard labor (smashing walls, doing other menial non-work).

In all honesty, it's not a bad way for a prisoner to serve his sentence, sitting in front of a computer and basically relaxing as he grinds his prison sentence away. Not to mention that he's technically stimulating the economy even a little bit, 1 penny at time.
This is just wrong.
Games are not a hobby like 'wasting time for my own pleasure'. They are much more then that.
And Hagu, capitalism in-game lets the in-game society evolve only to the limits set up by the devs in-game. You can only open up content that was already placed there before.

Stamp collectors don't spend time toghether 20 hours a week. But gamers do spend it in-game. Also, stamp collectors do not interact with the stamps, but a player must live through the game. And that leaves marks on him.

A game will teach you new behaviour patterns. If it was isolated from your wallet, then for most of it the game world would be a fresh start. And because everyone has the exactly same amount of time to spend the way you manage it is a valuable lesson. But it's not the same with money - having a competetive game that can be controlled with money you can just say 'So long suckers' if you afford it or stay forever behind if you can't. Both cases teach you the same thing - that money is the ultimate power in the world. And as true as it is I wouldn't want my kids to learn that in a supposedly entertaining enviroment. It's brutal.

Games are in fact art. At some point they are someone's dear creation. And as that they shape the thoughts of the communities playing them. what was once tought by priests to kids (morals, respect) is now replaced by whatever you read on internet and see in a game/movie. I mean get real. Some of you spend half of you life in a game. Games have that power, and call me infantile, I wouldn't want that power to be wasted on teaching everyone, that life is a heartless witch.
A virtual world, in order to be a "world", must follow the laws of physics as much as possible. And I'm not talking about gravity, I'm talking about conservation of energy and matter. Equal and opposite reactions. Yang and Yin.

When someone purchases virtual goods or gold with RL currency completely outside the "reality" of the virtual world, it essentially creates value and/or matter from nothing within the virtual world.

That's very different from a gold seller who has earned the gold from doing work by farming and adding resources to the system.

And different from a crafter who consumed time and resources learning a tradeskill, and crafts from materials collected in-game.

Gold added with no work done within the system causes inflation. Potentially incredible and unpredictable inflation. Allowing others to buy gold, adding it suddenly to the system, decreases the value of my gold.

You basically introduce theft to an MMO.

F2P isn't just a "different" pricing structure, it is literally an abomination that destroys the concept and potential of a living virtual world economy.

Cost to play per player per time period has to be standardized and predictable and limited, or you end up with a virtual world with no internal integrity.
Three factors:

1. Creating a game world you actually create a world. You can make it a better place then ours or a worse place. F2P is actually making any world created more or less a cover up for RL. Games (these new worlds) can be much more then that, a source of inspiration for young learning minds.

2. Time vs Money. First - Time can be irrelevant like in the game of EVE Online (advance whther online or not) or in The Elder's Scrolls (a character in level cap can still by killed by 5-10 nooby NPCs, as the progression does not take you that far away from where you started and does not add ridiculous amount of HP). Second - if time gets relevant, its also good, it teaches a valuable lesson on managing time and how games are unimportant if you have work/wife/kids. Third - money could be used to speed things up in a game, but that would need fine balancing.

3. Immersion - when you play, your wallet will always break the barrier of th world's integrity, will not allow you to generate flow and generally will take away the challenge cause you can either buy it or you actually can't.

Item shops are simply wrong. Sure, they are a way for devs to get money, but that does not mean they're right. I mean:
What they do is create a battleground, some stuff on it and then shout: "Who pays more will get some even greater stuff and win!". then wait, pay upkeep for the business and cash up. And people try to oudbid each other for nothing. What is right about that?

I'd really like to play a game in which the character would represent the player, not his available time. So how about that: If we accept your premise that players should be limited to $15 per month to spend on a game, they also should be limited to play only 15 minutes per day.

Does this really make sense? On two levels: cultivating skill takes time. In the real world, developing and honing your skillset(s) is time intensive. In the gaming world, this is also something that doesn't happen overnight, whether it's in an MMO or a FPS.

And more to the point, if you only have 15 minutes a day to play, a game that is as involving as an MMO is probably not your kind of game. MMORPGs are not designed for 15 minute play cycles.

In a competitive game, what happens when someone with lots of disposable income and free time combines both of these advantages?

Even in a pure PVE, I contend that other people's progress DOES affect me. If someone levels faster, they get high level quicker. These people band together and form raiding guilds, and it is, in fact, easier to get into a guild when everyone is a fledgling compared to when they already have a full roster of competent, veteran players. Recruitment standards understandably tighten when the player pool is larger.
What really upsets people is how a cash shop "devalues" time spent in-game. Right now, 20 hours of grinding heroics is essentially "priceless" - there can be more effecient methods of getting whatever gear you are grinding, but everyone has to put in their time, so to speak. If someone else can pay $10 and get 20 hours worth of gear, that automatically puts a price on everyone's time, even those that won't spend extra. Instead of priceless, my time is $0.50/hour. Grinding anything at that point feels pointless, like taking gear off to increase difficulty.
Instead of priceless, my time is $0.50/hour.

See next thread: Your time is worth only $0.50/hour because of gold farmers already, even before the item shop.

And that is the point: You guys are stuck in an illusion where you believe the time spent in a virtual world is valuable and achieves something. Which simply isn't true. The reality is that you are paying a company to entertain you, to waste your time. The cake is a lie.
The whole argument against people spending money on MMORPGs has a whiff of communism.

I think you're confusing a game with the real world. ;) If you're playing Monopoly, it's not "communist" to prevent someone from paying real-world money for Boardwalk and Park Place. If you're playing D&D, it's not "communist" to prevent the dungeon master from charging real world money for healing potions.

The entire point of a game is that it has rules and a structure that people find fun. Monopoly would be less fun for most people if you could buy Boardwalk for real world money. D&D would be less fun for most people if your DM charged real-world money for items. If people find games without item shops to be more fun, for whatever reason, then that's a good reason not to include them.

If you want to spend money on luxury gaming items, why not buy a top-of-the line gaming rig?
What is the thing that makes the most difference in your performance in the game, the thing that people would pay the most for?

Playing with good players.

An MMO company could set up a "play with me" service, where scrubs and bads pay RL money to group with good players. The game company would skim off a percentage, and the rest would flow through.
Neowulf2, that's a joke, isn't is?
An MMO company could set up a "play with me" service, where scrubs and bads pay RL money to group with good players.

Didn't Blizzard just announce that one? You just need to set the good players as RealID friends.
Neowulf2, that's a joke, isn't is?

No, it's not. Boosting is a service, and a valuable one. Why not monetize it?
Didn't Blizzard just announce that one? You just need to set the good players as RealID friends.

While that system also encourages lesser players to be boosted by better players (by leaching off their friends), it's not the same system at all. A market in boosting would be more efficient and produce more of this service, which would be of great benefit to Blizzard.

A great thing about it is that it wouldn't requiring any changes to actual game mechanics at all. No extra loot, no stat increases for dollars; it's all just altering social dynamics. It might even allow hard mode loot to be scaled back or eliminated, since simply being able to finish hard modes would have value in increasing the rates one could charge.
Tobold, can you really not see how important it is for Blizzard to convince their player base that the in game rewards (eg. XP, items, weapons, mounts, etc) are somehow valuable? If a WoW player realized how worthless all of WoW's virtual rewards are, the player would stop playing.

Putting a price tag on items immediately cheapens the items, and decreases most players motivation to play the game.

For example: currently, hitting max level is thought of as a big achievement to any new wow player. Whereas, if that player knew that he could have just purchased a max level toon for 25 bucks, the whole achievement would seem silly.
My response to this post:

I do NOT agree with Tobold here.
Famous Study: In order to get people to stop showing up late to pick up their kid from daycare, the daycare started charging $5 to late parents. What happened was more people picked up their kids late. Before the fine they were trying to be on time because they knew they were supposed to, after the fine they knew exactly what it was worth to someone for them to show up on time, and they could prioritize that against what it was worth to them. So they took the fine away and even more people were late. Once you give something a dollar value its social value is gone forever.

This is the problem with selling items from shops.
@Kring: There is already something that ensures this, and it's called competition. It's been working for a few thousand years now. I for one have no problem with game companies making ridiculous profits. That just means that there will be more games on the market, thus more competition, thus more quality/demand for features. 99.999% of games that would be 'AWESOME' never get made because someone doesn't have the money to make it happen.
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