The Prophet's Dilemma
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 April 2010, 3:47 pm
Darren over at Common Sense Gamer seems to be struggling with the apathy and lack of outrage the average gamer is having about the Celestial Steed. He writes:
The question that the horse and the farm answer is, “They will buy this”…instead of “they will play this”. It’s completely bass-ackwards[!] The more I think about the conversations I have with people about the horse, quite obviously the consensus is that Blizzard and Zynga are just doing what they need to do to make money….so why shouldn’t this stuff be made available for those that want to buy it[.] Some, it seems, are quite alright with that….and worse…don’t seem to care.

I think it's not so much that "average joe" gamer doesn't care, as much as that they choose not to think about it deeply or it's complications. It's lots of "ooh, shiny" and not enough "wait. what's next? paying for the next raid dungeon?"

Is that not caring? I guess. But it’s more a “not caring” because they don’t understand (or care to understand) the broader implications. I’m of the school of thought that we need to question authority in order to police that authority. As I wrote in my Ayn Rand post several weeks ago, I think people are singularly motivated by self-interest. That interest for the developer is making money.

As a consumer of those goods, my self interest is best served by spending less money.  I wrote yesterday that just because I have more disposable income than I did when I was twelve, it doesn’t mean that I want to pay more. Particularly when that price increase doesn’t come with more “value” for my dollar.

It’s a matter of perspective. For the developer, they see my increased disposable income as “money left on the table” and are devising ways to get at that money. From my perspective, I don’t want to freely give away that money just because I have more of it. That’s a horribly stupid idea and a huge reason why, as a consumer driven economy, we are setting ourselves up for failure. From a political perspective, I have grave concerns over this trend towards consumerism. A country which produces nothing and consumes everything is not sustainable. But I digress…

Conspiracy theorist or the Prophet no one believes?
One of the tragedies of foreknowledge is that the Prophet is often never believed. This is not just a theme in fictional work, but something that happens all the time. There were plenty of people who knew that a major economic recession and financial collapse was looming on the horizon many many years ago. Rather than take steps to prevent it, people ignored it and pretended it didn’t exist.

Of course, as we know now, pretending something doesn’t exist won’t make it go away. It’s also worth pointing out that these same people are also warning that the same Banking trends that led to the last disaster are continuing. That the Banking “bailout” only narrowed the players; it didn’t eliminate the practices that created the problem.

Clearly, my qualms about Microtransactions are minor by comparison, but I do believe that Darren, myself and the other bloggers who have been outspoken about these trends are acting as the Prophets of the MMO industry. And just like the people who “got” the Banking and Real Estate crisis, those of us that "get it" for Microtransactions are viewed more like conspiracy theorists and doomsayers.

It's just a game, they say, why get worked up over it?

Well, put bluntly, it’s worth getting worked up over because it’s just the beginning. It’s an evolving trend that is familiarizing the MMO consumer with this new way of doing business. My prediction is that we won’t see Microtransactions acting as a replacement for the existing “box sales” and “subscription” revenue streams, but additions to it. After all, if you already have your hand in one pocket – why take it out when you can just as easily place your other hand in the other pocket?

And I’m just not all that willing to shell out more money without getting more value. I’m not interested in making some company more profitable just because I have more money to spend. You need to give me something MORE. And spending a week building some fluffy, shiny pony is not MORE – not when compared to the value I get for the “box sale” of an expansion or the usage rights of my subscription.

Unavoidable trend
Unfortunately, this trend towards “shiny ponies” is an inevitable and foregone conclusion. If only 1 in 20 people are willing to buy shinies, the profit margins are such that it’s well worth it for the developer to pursue that revenue stream.

The trouble is that the 19 people who don’t buy the Celestial Steed aren’t all up in arms about it. I think that’s more of a reflection of the lack of cynicism and willingness to question authority than anything else. Even those who would never buy the Celestial Steed don’t see a problem with it because it’s a choice. And that’s hard to argue with.. I mean, no one is forcing you to buy it, so why care?

The problem is that it sets a precendant as a valuable revenue stream. Which means more development time spent on such things and more creative ways to get you to spend. I think Blizzard is smart enough to avoid the pitfall of tying character power (XP potions, Weapons, etc) to a Microtransaction, but I do think that that it will lend itself to “gated” content similar to DDO dungeons.

My bold prediction yesterday is that sometime following the Cataclysm expansion, there will be a Raid/Dungeon added that will have an incremental cost associated to it. And I think people will accept this for two reasons:
  • Those that don’t raid will argue that people who DO raid should be paying more for the content they use. They will view it as something incrementally added that they don’t have to pay for. Which would be a valid argument if there wasn’t already a history of getting such patch updates as part of the subscription cost.
  • If the price is reasonable, Raiders will pressure other Guild members into paying for this content. This is social engineering at it’s worst. If you want a Raid spot, you need to pay your $5 to get “keyed” for the latest raid. “Oh, c’mon John! It’s $5, don’t be a cheap ass.”

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