Screw the Pony, Think of Your Sub.

Like a lot of other players, I was a little taken aback today when I read about Blizzard’s latest addition to their cash shop: a $25 flying horse. Unlike the pets, this is the first truly functional additional to the cash shop we’ve seen and marks a transition out of the sphere of vanity items.

Some people love it and some people hate it, but the undeniable fact is that we’ve entered into the Age of the Microtransaction. The publishing companies supporting our favorite MMOs have found out that there is a market tolerance for paid “extras” outside of our subscriptions. Actually, if the queue tells us anything, I’d say there’s more than a tolerance, there’s market enthusiasm for these upgrades. Kind of flies in the face of the public outcry we heard a couple years ago over these same things.

Seventy-one thousand people can’t be wrong, right? Or, in business speak, $1,775,000 like the horsey.

Except, here’s the thing: it’s not about the horse. It’s not about the vanity pets. It’s not about anything you’re walking away from that cash shop with in-hand.

It’s about the cost and the message it sends.

As Syp so rightfully pointed out, that one pet costs half of a full blown expansion. Let that sink in. Shiny blue horse-thing vs. 60%+ of WotLK. Kind of puts it in perspective, doesn’t it? It seems a little outrageous when you compare the realities of what you’re getting per dollar.

But let us consider, for a moment, that the actual content is irrelevant.

Paying this much for a fancy mount or special pet sends a message that the MMO industry has underestimated how much we’re willing to pay.

Yep, that's 71 THOUSAND, waiting in line

If the queue for this mount tells us anything, it’s that tens of thousands of people are willing to spend exorbitant amounts of money for small bits of content. It tells us that the value vs. content ratio has been skewed in our favor.

Did I mention I bought a $15 Mr. Goodbar today? White chocolate and almonds.

Think like Bobby Kotick for a minute. When you’re done imagining yourself rolling around in piles of money like Scrooge McDuck, ask

Scrooge McDuck: Gold Seller Extraordinaire?

yourself, what would you do with this new information?

Why, supply customer demand of course. It’s the only patriotic thing to do.

If people are literally waiting in line to throw their money at Acti-Blizzard for something this small, what do you suppose they’ll do when Blizzard unleashes its next MMO? $60 box, maybe?

I’d be willing to bet, though, here and now, that the subscription cost will hit $19.99 a month. It’s an inevitability. We’ve sat for too long at our current price point. When all the rest of the world becomes more expensive, and horses now cost as much as DSL for a month, we find ourselves safe from inflation for only so long.

After all, we’re enthusiastic about our games, aren’t we? We might guffaw at high prices but, I mean, come on. Does that really matter? If you bitch about the price of a car, then still be the car smiling on your way out, does it really matter how you got there?

Ask yourself, would the extra few dollars really stop you from paying if it seemed cool enough?

The horse says no. I mean really, when we can justify it by all the things we’re not spending our money on instead (movies, dinner, cat food), that negative logic starts to make a lot of sense.

A penny saved is a penny earned toward 1/100th of an XP potion.

So, to be clear, the horse is cool. I don’t care about it, or the pets, or any of that really, because, at the end of the day, they don’t hurt anyone. The precedent we set by paying for it is a different matter.

The fact that I feel like the price point on this particular item is too high is irrelevant. The raising of what we, and, more importantly, MMO publishers, see as an acceptable price point is another matter entirely. It affects all of us, whether we’re for this or not. I, for one, don’t want to see my sub cost go up next year, or later, because no one acknowledged what’s really going on behind economic curtain here.

Like analysts have said about the latest upgrade to the behemoth console title Modern Warfare 2, it was already priced high, but, hey, people lined up anyhow, so why not charge a little more next time around?

Gamer exploitation is like boiling a frog and we should all feel a little warmer.

Or maybe Bobby Kotick really has altruism in mind as he leads Blizzard into the next generation of depression climate MMO gaming. The hair makes me trust him.

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