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To the Defenders of the $25 Horse:

Take a second to read this article because it beautifully articulates the general defense of the $25 pony. There are lots of them out there but Cuppy was kind of enough to throw them all into one.

Sold his pwn-y on eBay

First, let’s acknowledge a few things:

  • Value Added Transactions (you can’t call $25 micro) are here to stay.
  • Some people will find the cost worth it, regardless of the cost. They’re not wrong, nor are they any more right than those who find it too expensive.
  • Blizzard *does not* bear comparison to other gaming companies, on virtue of their position as the single biggest MMO studio and industry leader.

All that being said, the issue was never about whether the item was worth it or not, or how I felt about cash shops in subscription games. The issue is that Blizzard (see point #3), is raising the bar for what is considered acceptable to charge their player base.

Put another way, they’re proving that they can price gouge (by comparison to standard subscription rates) and get away with it because ‘X amount of players’ will still buy it.

Here’s the thing though, that’s a totally false assumption on the grounds of the sheer size of their potential customer base and market penetration. When you have 12 million players, you could charge $100 for that same mount and 50k people will still buy it and rave about how “worth the money” it was.

Value Added Services

You see, what bothers me is that people defend how much this thing costs on the basis of “money left on the table.” Frankly, that’s stupid. If you really think about it, you could monetize lots of things because it’s “money left on the table.” Respecs? Five Dollars. Extra Flight Paths? Ten Dollars. That new raid dungeon? On sale for $14.99, so Buy Now! And remember, computer code comes in limited quantities, so you’d better act quick.

There’s also this idea that we’ve somehow forgotten that MMOs are businesses, out to make money. We know this but thanks for the reminder. If you expect people to willingly lump them into the same category as our cable and telephone companies, you’re out of your mind. Is that really what you think is best? Grabbing money for money’s sake… because you can? That’s why we have $30 “data” plans from Verizon that don’t include text messaging. That’s why PPV sporting events are $40+ when almost everything else is less than $20. That’s why we have tiered content in either scenario. I’m sorry, but is that what you want? Tiered MMO gaming?

Then again, maybe if you’re in support of the Facebook model overtaking subscription gaming, maybe that is what you want. And maybe your opinion is a little skewed because you’ve spent too much time invested in the different FarmVilles and Mafia Wars.

I’d also like to take a second to address the fallacy that blogger opinions don’t matter because “we don’t represent the player base.” That might be so, through the numbers. Here’s what’s being left out of that statement though, the writers and frequenters of blogs are probably the single most educated, experienced, and invested group of MMO fans in existence. “Hundreds of thousands” of people will still pay, no matter the cost, but it’s the vocal minority that watches over the rest of the flock.

Bloggers in the making

Think of the gasoline hikes over the last few years. Millions of people still bought gas. Millions were unaffected by the raising prices. Yet, if it wasn’t for the “vocal minority” speaking out against the rampant price gouging taking place, we’d probably be at $7 a gallon right about now. Thank you, protesters, because you’ve saved me money, just like those of us upset by the $25 horse are trying to do for you.

The fact is, businesses do not operate on the basis of altruism. If everyone silently accepted what they were given because “it’s a business, they need to make money” the MMO, gaming, and whole freaking economy would be drastically different.

Businesses without the balances of vocal consumers quickly learn to take advantage of the situation.

People that willingly support drastic inflation from the market norm either have a) too much money; or, b) aren’t educated/don’t care enough about the world outside of their own.

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  1. Yogi

    I totally agree with you Chris. I understand that it’s a cool item. I understand 25$ might not be that much to a large group of consumers. However, there is more weight to this kind of pricing then a lot of players are willing to acknowledge. We Fly Spitfires writer Gordon does a pretty good job of discussing how this type of thing is part of the evolution of the MMO. Over the last few years we have seen companies adopt the cash shop system in conjunction with the standard subscription fee system. The problem with Blizzards cash shop is that it is pushing towards a new system. A system where we not only pay for 50$ dollar games, but also we pay for monthly fees and in order to gain access to extra content, we have to pay again. Sure it starts with a mount, but whats next? Weapons? Armor? New world Zones? These are all things that player’s with the mentality to buy one of these mounts would be more than willing to throw dollars at in the future. If this happens, we will start to enter a realm where buying a game’s box, is just an invitation to have the option of purchasing the full content. This system, on the companies end, really doesn’t encourage them to release a “full” game. Why not when you could release 50% and over the next few years charge for each new piece of the game?

    Is this the new evolution of the mmo? Unfortunately I think yes. Eventually, I think us older gamers are going to have nostalgic conversations about a time when buying a game, meant getting full and complete access to an entire game and ALL of its content. May that time RIP.

    Yogi

    1. Chris

      The more I think about your point, the more I think you’re on to something. I’d never really thought about MMOs evolving in that way. With the way things are heading, though, it seems likely. It’s actually pretty depressing, to think about it like that :-(

  2. Bootae

    Excellent post and I couldn’t agree more.

    I’m amazed at all the people defending this addition to WoW, it’s like their snow blind. If it was like £1 or so, then ok it would be a bit cheeky in a subscription based MMO yet still acceptable. Yet at this cost you can buy a whole new game, rather than some dev’s lunchtime doodle for giggles. That cost is a horrible indication of what’s to come and shows just how much contempt Blizzard view their playerbase with. Next month be prepared for the Neon shoes of Futility at a mere $100!

    Blizzard are treating their players like mugs, but it seems enough players are lapping it up. I’m thinking about putting some magic beans on ebay, since there’s obviously a market for nonsense ;)

  3. Mojeaux

    Yeah, but you can’t argue with the WoW fanbois. I spent a good bit of time on Syp’s blog going back and forth with one or two and they just don’t get it. They just don’t see how this is bad for us gamers as a whole. Of course, they’ve always been a self centered lot.

  4. xXJayeDuBXx

    Well said Chris, I couldn’t agree more. But I do want to say that you look pretty happy with all those stacks of cash!!

    1. Chris

      Hah! Word to my homies.

  5. Yogi

    It is depressing. I’m actually looking at canceling my subscription. Not solely because of the mount, but just over the general direction the game has been heading since TBC. Its time to move on. Im hoping that other Industry leaders do not adopt this business model. I know Blizzard has to make a profit, but that profit grab is slowly bleeding the community, the content, and eventually themselves.

    God save the MMO!

  6. Tobold

    Chris, sorry, but you comments about gasoline prices couldn’t be further from reality. People being outspoken against them had absolutely zero effect on gas prices. The price of gasoline nearly everywhere in the civilized world is determined to over 90% by two factors: The world market price of crude oil, and various taxes. It was the crude price dropping from $150 to $50 that made gasoline prices go down, not any protests.

    For how to set the price of virtual goods, you should read Camels and Rubber Duckies.

    1. Chris

      Thanks Tobold. You’re right, yet, I have to wonder: if people hadn’t protested and the issue never got elevated as it did as a result, would the politicians world wide have still attempted to address it? I know that, here in the U.S., we tapped into our national reserves to help quell the raising prices. At the end of the day, I seriously doubt whether the entity that determines the price (the name of the majority controlling organization in the Middle-East eludes me, at the moment)cares how the rest of the world feels. Still, what I was going for was that people protested and elevated the issue, and its potential impacts, into the public eye; there was no way the government, or in this case Blizzard/other MMO companies, could ignore it. Even if the price of crude oil was out of our hands, there’s still a chance for prevention here.

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