The Krabs within; or, ramblings and concerns about the WoW in-game store

“Dude, dafuq is up with your hair? Get you some Head & Shoulders or something, shooz.” 

I’m going to take a break from my revamp musing series to discuss a WoW-related development that was detailed last week by the developers in a series of postings.

The in-game store.

Admittedly, the implementation of such a thing doesn’t surprise me. Blizzard has, for a number of years, been toeing the water in the pool of microtransactions dating as far back as the debut of the sparkle-dandruff pony. While many would probably roll their eyes at the site of one these days, the fact is, a CRAPTON were sold which likely prompted a Mr. Krabs-ian dollar sign eyemorph in Blizzard’s eyes as it sang “moneymoneymoneymoney” all the way to the bank.

Ok, what ARE his eyelids attached to? ;P

Blizzard was, however, smart about the implementation; testing out reactions and buyer habits over a number of years wasn’t just about playing it cautious. It was about catering to the players’ need to feel apart of MMO gaming’s most passionate and fickle gaming communities. The idea of an in-game store, while detestable to some, is now something quite believable as we’ve been buying pets and mounts from the Blizzard store for awhile now, thus, lessening the blow of what would have been an extremely volatile reaction a number of years ago. Now such a reaction is limited to those who’ve been decrying the downfall of WoW since the dandruff pony was released. In short, the majority of players either won’t care, or won’t notice.

Let me say that again: a majority of the players will either not care or won’t notice.

So for the few of us that have noticed, and are even writing about it, there are a few red flags, if you could call them that, that seem to bring great concern.

Red Flag the first: The alleged tarnishing of a sub-based game’s reputation with F2P characteristics

Call it gamer elitism. Call it snobbery. Call it for what it is, ignorance. But the idea that an MMO game’s status is immediately judged by whether it is a sub-based game or a Free-to-play (F2P) has always irked me because such a generalization tends to misjudge the caliber of content one expects to find in either category of games.

To summarize, it’s often the contention of gamers that games suck if they’re F2P. And a game is “dying” or “unpopular” if it at one point it was subscription-based and then went F2P.

This has never been the case, but you’d probably think so if you let forumers decide for you. Observe:

“Another alleged WoW-killer bites the dust…”

A great game is great not because you have to pay $14.99 a month for it, but because YOU enjoy playing it. We often read about Blizzard’s subscription numbers and how they are somehow a barometer of the state of quality in the game. MMO Champion, I love you, but you seriously share part of the blame on that. People will say shit like “well, I read on MMO Champion Blizzard lost 600,000 subscribers” while addressing a blue on the Twitter as if they somehow needed the statistic as justification for demand on what they feel is a need for better content.

Being a free-to-play game doesn’t mean the game sucks and if that’s the direction World of Warcraft is heading, then so be it. They are simply business models and nothing more. Consider this, for those of you who sub and unsub at will when you play to experience the new content and then leave when you complete it: how much easier would it be for you if you can just jump in, do the content, and then not play as you would but without the hassle of whipping out your credit/gametime card each time you did that?  I can acknowledge that the F2P model is standard for fledgling games which probably can contribute to the misnomer that F2P games are crap, but it’s just a model that works for games with low sub numbers.

I have played both types of games. F2P games like Rift and Star Wars: The Old Republic are absolutely fantastic games and going F2P did not for one moment tarnish the quality of said games. In fact, they still offer subscriptions with bonuses to those who CHOOSE to participate.

Sub-based games like Aion and Star Trek (well, the non-space content, that is) sucked incredibly and lost players simply from that fact (and were later forced into an F2P model). And while all that’s debatable (because like our assholes, we all have opinions, and some of them come from people who still after several decades of life, have yet to master the art of wiping properly), the point is I don’t judge a game based on its status, but simply based on the actual content I’ve experienced.

So enough of this Sub vs. F2P crap and just play the games you enjoy, period.

Red flag Bravo: Content development prioritization conflict

This concern is a bit more legitimate. John Patricelli over at Big Bear Butt brings up some rather valid concerns.

We’ve often heard the blues cite development priority as the main reason certain things aren’t brought to fruition in game. The formula goes as follows:

You can’t have x unless you’re willing to sacrifice the resources we’re using to make y.

New quests or updated character models? Barbershop or dance studio? New BGs or spectator mode in arena? You get the idea…

Blizzard has thus far only released a purchasable item in the store for use in game every few months if that.  A mount here, a charity pet there. Let us also remember about the WoW Trading Card Game for which there are several loot items available with each new deck series that seems to be released on about a 2-year-ish cycle. Most loot cards are purchasable through various non-Blizzard affiliated Web sites (the sale of which is still perfectly acceptable in the eyes of the Terms of Service). But as Triple-B points out, these things weren’t just instantly conjured by some mage that Blizzard has magically restrained in its innermost secret rooms of its Irvine campus. Time and man hours were spent creating these items. Time that COULD have been spent developing something in game for which players have been demanding.

I can understand Blizzard’s stance on this. Try to imagine an ER. The ER is quite literally the best example of prioritization you will ever see in this world, because really, what’s more precious than life itself?

As an ER director/manager/medical practitioner, you have to decide who gets treated and in what order, a process known as “triage.” The old crusties in WoW will remember a First Aid leveling quest long ago that taught this very principle. Treat the most in need first and back burner those who can wait. Eventually everyone gets treated, even if you had to wait several soul-deadening hours watching Fox News play on the TV while a pregnant Bon Qui Qui is fighting over in the next seat with her boo-thing because she just read a text from some perceived mistress while she was filling out admittance paperwork.

Blizzard has to decide between complicated content that requires extra care, development, and resources, and content that’s relatively easy to release. Pets, mounts, and gear, even with the most stunning art, are relatively easy to develop when compared to things raids, quests, environments, phasing, and the like.

The question then becomes “do we make and release content they can have now, or, skip all that and just work on the bigger things that will take awhile and let players have nothing from us for a long period of time?”

If the postulate for some is that WoW is life, then getting more stuff to you sooner would make more sense than making you wait in the ER while you bled out of your eyes from boredom.

Now, I’m not saying a new helm with cool effects will replace hours of content, but that it’s certainly something that can be released that can satisfy players’ need to have something new. And developing items for an in-game store is simply just ONE aspect of a game that has MANY aspects that appeal to different players.

Red flag Charlie: Signaling the end?

Some fear the in-game store coupled, again, with the loss of subscription numbers, marks the end of WoW; that the sky is falling and the pieces hitting the ground are Blizzard’s integrity as we all watch what was once a grand behemoth in the gaming community slowly crumble and whither to dust. Drama queens. -_-

I’d like to think that like other games that have implemented an in-game store, Blizzard is just simply “future-proofing” its game. Even if the Chicken Littles of the forums were right, and this does finally put an expiration date on WoW, wouldn’t it then make sense to start developing the game that would continue to be successful if it transitioned to a F2P model? I’m not seeing a decline in the quality of game I’m playing, so what difference does it make if Blizzard is putting in place a system that will long down the road (heh, I’m being pleasantly optimistic) help keep revenue flowing inward? Look, the fall of the Roman empire should teach you all that even the greatest of legacies will fall.

The downside to a perpetual online game like WoW is that at some point, people are just going to grow out of playing it. The number of players will be less and less as the next few years go by. People will lose interest, not for lack of quality content, but quite simply because people’s interests change over time. Let us just be at peace with the fact that by the time the next expansion is released, WoW would have had an ENTIRE DECADE as the industry leader, which is a true testament to the care and devotion the developers and architects of the game have had to its playerbase (*insert ubiquitous “just sayin’” here*).

I say let them create the potions, pets and transmogrifibobs that kool-aid drinkers like me will buy because let’s face it, I still have my sparkle-dandruff pony which I bought the very hour it went live for purchase and that’s longer than some of the $55 tee shirts I give away, throw out, or have accidentally left at what eventually became an angry ex-lover’s house. That and some very expensive underwear. I had fun in my 20s, what can I say?

So what about WoW’s store…

Let’s see…

My experience with in-game stores right now is limited to SWTOR’s cartel market. With use of cartel coins, you can buy things from character race unlocks to mounts, to experience boosts. As a subscriber, you are awarded a complimentary 600 coins monthly. Nothing has ever really appealed to me, so my 600-coin bonus piled up over the course of a few months and only recently did I spend them as they now offer character server transfer services at about 1800 coins per transfer (essentially giving you a free transfer every three months if you don’t spend your coins, or you can pay about $18 for the transfer). Some items are relatively cheap (like experience boosters), and some are moderately priced, but I can say that nothing has ever stuck out at me as being completely over priced. Almost all of the store offerings in terms of unlocks can be done strictly by playing the game, and all of the gear in the game is either sold strictly for aesthetics, or with minimal stats that make it useful, but not overpowering to gear received while playing the game.

World of Warcraft’s offerings right now are limited to the pets and mounts most people have already purchased over the years, and some new offerings like helms, experience boost potions, etc., which is not much different from the SWTOR cartel market.

Red flag the IV: Nickel-and-Diming the Subscribers

This last red flag is actually where I will place 100 percent of my concern. While I’ll proudly admit I’ve purchased every mount and pet from the Blizzard store (yes, I CHOSE to do so), the road I currently see Blizzard going down is one that’s a little too Scrooge McDuck diving into his vault of gold coins.

Let’s return to the SWTOR cartel market. Subscribers get 600 coins as part of their subscription, paid EACH MONTH they subscribe. I see, so far, absolutely NO indication that ANY currency in the game will be offered to me as a WoW subscriber to use in their in-game store. A pet and mount here and there (especially a pet whose sole profits are going to charity) is something I had little issue in purchasing on top of my monthly subscription fee but a store with new items (some of which look REALLY cool) that will expand over time is something that annoys me.

The developers will say something like “well, you don’t need these things because they offer little-to-no game value that you couldn’t otherwise earn in game except the transmog items, and most especially as a veteran player who doesn’t need xp-boosts.”

Yeah, ok…and this is where I finally get lost in the in-game store idea…F2P games NEED the in-game store to make money like theaters need concession stands (yes, in case you didn’t know, theaters get ZERO percent of the money you spend on a theater ticket to see the movie).

At the current moment, Blizzard is NOT an F2P. It still relies happily on the subscriptions of more than eight million players (numbers being debatable). For what other reason aside from the future-proofing idea I mentioned earlier would Blizzard have to implement a store that offers subscribers nothing for their loyalty than to be greedy?

Creating a store, offering loyal customers no benefits, and then telling me I don’t need the items sold therein to enjoy the game pretty much is the missing link to all the red flags I’ve addressed, most especially the one about development priorities. Ok, so I don’t need it, then why make it? Couldn’t you make and release the fabled dance studio we’ve all talked about for years (and was even advertised on the original Wrath of the Lich King game box)?

Funny thing about merry-go-rounds of rotating knives, we blame the developers, they blame our unpredictable habits and “unreasonable” demands, and in the end we all get cut up to shreds.

Let me be quite plain: I’m not against an in-game store at all. My only conflict thus far is the fact that current subscribers get nothing out of the currency system for the store. Nothing. Without some sort of customer loyalty system (that other MMOs with an in-game store have in place), players will begin to question Blizzard’s motives, in which customer faith is the last thing a company needs to lose because it is upon that very foundation its business rests. That needs to be addressed or it will in fact mark the end of Warcraft’s reign as the top MMO, and thus, proving what I’ve said before, that the only true mythical “WoW-killer” will be WoW itself.

So enough about these ramblings, how about some pleasant news. If, like me, you were forced to work last Thursday night, and your utter failness of a DVR failed to record the most recent entry in SyFy Channel’s so-disgustingly-bad-they’re-beyond-amazingly-awesome original movies, Sharknado, you’re in luck. Replay is Thursday evening (July 18). Uh, yer’welcuhm.

“Enough said, bitches.”

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