Wallet death by a thousand microcuts.

Not all microtransactions are created equal.

Turbine have seen the light with DDO: a large proportion of the items that you can buy in the store you can also earn through playing the game; from basic +1 Items of Slight Betterness to the sigils that allow you to continue past each of the limit caps at levels four, eight, etc. You can earn all of these items through playing the free game. The things that they generally hold back on are the adventure packs, classes/races and those items which make you level up faster; these are held back for obvious reasons, although even these can be earnt through playing the game and earning favour which can be converted in to store points.

How is Blizzard approaching the issue at the moment? So far they have a small store, with a couple of pet vanity items which – after mounts – are some of the most sought after fluff items in the game. Except on RP servers, where it’s usually a dress that makes your character’s boobs hang out and leaves little imagination in the buttock region either. And that’s just the male characters.

The important difference for me is that there’s no way to earn the WoW vanity pets in the game, and I think that’s a mistake when your game also requires a monthly subscription to play. Blizzard seems to have swung entirely to the other end of the scale with their pet store, catering to the More Money Than Time folks, and ignoring those who are of the More Time Than Money variety. This seems especially silly when Blizzard could make a nice grind for the vanity pet items and keep people invested in their game, both in terms of time and money, while offering those who baulk at the real world price of these trivial vanity items a chance to afford them in their own way, which, given the cost of a monthly fee, would work out about the same if you made the grind a daily affair that lasted a month.

Of course at the moment Blizzard offers these pets only as an additional cost to the game and, knowing the WoW community, that will probably cause a lot of ill will, probably more than it really warrants, but I think Blizzard are indeed being greedy and foolish with their first foray into a forthright game store.

SoE are looking to create a subscription for Free Realms, presumably because they aren’t getting the returns that they were hoping for from the game store, but again some of their better vanity items require you to pay or go without; it’s surprising how many people will baulk at paying for something when they are forced to, yet pay exactly the same price, for exactly the same item, if they have the option to earn it in the game, but can take a shortcut by paying for it now.

With DDO, Turbine have mastered the psychology of microtransactions; others would do well to learn from them.

8 thoughts on “Wallet death by a thousand microcuts.

  1. Melmoth Post author

    Ok, technically you can earn these WoW pets in the game by trying to buy a pet code from someone else for lots of gold, but that’s a convoluted way of working the system.

    So, if nothing else, Blizzard have introduced an RMT link similar to CCPs game time trading for ISK, but Blizzard’s is time limited, because eventually the market will be saturated enough with these mini-pets that their in-game price will plummet, whereas EVE’s game time is a constantly in-demand entity.

    I feel that, if nothing else, Turbine’s way has more of a feeling of honesty to it, and thus encourages people to pay more freely.

  2. Spinks

    I’m not sure I see it quite that way.

    To me, if you have a choice between getting an item in game or paying for it, I feel like I’m being told that I can pay to avoid playing the game. I don’t want a game that’s designed to make that an attractive proposition. I don’t ever want to say, ‘Oh yes, I’d rather pay hard cash to avoid spending another minute in that cruddy game!’

    Somewhere’s there is probably a sweet point. But buying stuff that you can’t get any other way, as long as it’s purely cosmetic, doesn’t push my buttons in the same way as buying to sidestep a game element would do.

  3. Melmoth Post author

    Hmm, it’s an interesting point because one of the most popular items in the Turbine store every time I look is the XP potions, and my first thought is “Why would people pay to skip the free game that they’re playing?”

    One thought is that if you’ve levelled through the content once and want to get an alt up to snuff so you can play that with friends, then XP boosts and such are a bonus, but also a privilege. Look at WoW and the number of people who are using Refer A Friend bonuses to whip alts through the low levels, it’s not an uncommon issue. In a mature game, and we have to remember that DDO is such a game, I think these sort of items have their uses.

    And from Turbine’s point of view it’s still a partial win I’d imagine, people pay them money to get through their game quickly, rather than spending time and playing through it for free. However, their main incentive is to make the game interesting and enjoyable enough to keep the people playing for free, because the more they do, the more likely they are to be tempted buy something in the store.

    I totally agree: if a game were designed to make avoiding the content the preferred route, I think it would be a Bad Thing. I also think it would be a failure. Where DDO succeeds is that the game is enjoyable on its own merits, and the items in the store give the player the freedom to enjoy that game at their own pace and in their own way.

    I believe I see where you’re coming from though, for example if Blizzard offered iLevel X gear on the store to allow players to skip a raid dungeon and move onto the next one in the progression, they would essentially break their end game because the incentives to perform those raids on their own merit is not high enough to encourage players to play the game rather than buy their way to the next level. The danger for most MMOs at the moment is that much of their content requires nothing more than a basic grind to achieve the goal, and this isn’t something that presents a suitable balance to the option of ‘purchase or play’.

    These things have to be balanced with your game’s content, your game’s subscription model and the general tone and attitude of your player base. Blizzard were at least sensible enough to start with items that don’t affect the game in any way, but I still think they are foolish not to offer a way to earn the items in the game through playing the game (rather than the current option of buying them with ground-out gold).

  4. Stabs

    I think it’s a leap to go from “choice to pay for it” to “designed to make that an attractive proposition”.

    Put it this way, did you ever grind Timbermaw rep in vanilla WoW? I’m sure you mentioned at one stage that you did.

    If that had been skippable on payment of $100 a lot of people would have paid that.

    But you can’t say it was designed to make people pay because it was designed as a horrible grind without any pay option. Sometimes games are just like that.

    DDO feels like they’re designing the game they think will be fun for subscribers first. That they also make chunks of game available to people who want to buy it in pieces. And that’s it even viable to play completely free if you’re time rich money poor and devise some serious grinding strategies (like the Turbo Favour Barb I wrote about on Stabbed Up).

    WoW is different. They’re saying “here’s something cool and you can’t have it” to everyone who won’t open their wallet for these microtransactions. That’s different from here’s something cool and you can grind like a nutter or be sensible and fork over some cash.

  5. mbp

    DDO has broken the micro-transaction taboo for me. It really is a very fair and non-exploitive implementation. I have pretty much decided not to buy gear of potions but I am happy to buy content modules as I go. I know it will cost me more in the long run if I keep playing but I like the option to pay and play at my own pace. If I do get totally hooked I can always upgrade to a subscription in order to cap my expenditure.

    On the introduction of micro-tranasactions in other games I do think there is a question of value to be considered. At the moment we have no ready yardstick for comparing micro-transaction prices but I think that €10 for a pet is just terribly bad value.

  6. Modran

    So, basically, you’re saying that the WoW store offers items of Slight Bitterness compared to DDO?

    As for the XP potions, there are 2 ways to look at it:
    – First, the VIP players are offered 500 turbine points a month and pay 15$ a month. Some may want to go to the “end game” (I hate that term) quickly for their buck. Others might want to level alts
    – Second, it might be free, but there are always people that want to level quicker and quicker still. I have such a friend.

    Personally, the rate at which I’m leveling is fast enough. Even too fast: I outlevel a good portion of the content :/.
    But I tell myself I can have alts go through this content.

  7. Tesh

    I’ve long argued that items and gear should be available via time or monetary purchase. That lets players tailor their experience to accommodate whichever they have a surplus of at the moment.

    Also, I’m with mbp, in that I’m very happy to pay for content (Guild Wars style or Wizard 101 Access Passes for other examples). I’ve purchased games for a long time now, and that model fits my purchasing patterns (and play patterns) most effectively.

  8. Dominik

    Breanni’s site currently lists 142 vanity pets in WoW: http://warcraftpets.com/wow.pets/index.asp
    25 of them are _not_ obtained by playing the game, listed here: http://warcraftpets.com/wow.pets/filter.asp?src=promo This includes pet obtained through the WoW Trading Card Game, Collectors Editions, promotions and the store. That leaves 117 for the More Time Than Money folks, I wouldn’t say they are ignored.
    For me it’s not the point if items purchased by RMT are obtainable by playing the game too, but if you can buy items for dollars which progress you and your character in the game. Blizzard’s stance to sell items which are purely cosmetic is fine to me.
    (So you can lower the subscription fee now, ok? Well, won’t happen.)

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