by: Tony "RadarX" Jones
Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa launched just over a month ago and while there have been a few bugs the client is stable. All the major mechanics are in place and most of the players players seem to be having a good time. While we'll never be privy to the actual box sales or number of current subscribers everything seems to have gone as NCsoft expected. This week a number of players noticed the Collector's Edition of Tabula on sale at Amazon for a mere $30 in North America which is a significant difference from the $60 many of us paid. What happened? Did the game launch that poorly?
I don't believe it did, and I'm here to present you with four perfectly legitimate reasons for a drastic price drop:
It's the Holidays - If you haven't started your Christmas shopping yet, not only are you like most of us, but could be out of touch about what's in stores this year. All over the country people are snatching up everything from Transformers to creepy baby dolls that turn their head when you talk to them. While a heavy retail season is good for sales, it does have a draw back: Everyone and their uncle is trying to get things on shelves right now.
What does this mean? Sales, and lots of them. It's the perfect time to move a product in bulk and by offering this type of deal you do exactly that.
Overestimate of Box Sales - It's very possible NCsoft overestimated the number of boxes it was going to sell at launch. Does that mean it was a failure? Not at all. Digital media has become an increasingly popular method of delivery over the years and could very well be the reason many units weren't sold initially. It's important to keep in mind that retailers decide how much of a product they are going to order and an overstock of games isn't necessarily a marketing failure.
Now I took enough economics classes to know this is not the ideal situation you want for your product but the longevity of the game depends on subscribers not game sales.
PC Games have a Brief Shelf Life - It breaks hearts and kills those of us who have grown up on PC games but they just don't live very long on shelves, especially at more than $40. It's a world of consoles now and that is where a majority of the industry money goes allowing games like Halo and the Grand Theft Auto to thrive for months and months at full retail price. Stores profit by moving products quickly so if they aren't literally flying off the shelf you'll see them giving in to market pressures.
That isn't to say of course there aren't rare exceptions like World of Warcraft or the Call of Duty series, but for most part you'll see games only make it a few months at full price.
The Alternatives are Cheap - The MMO game market is a little slow right now. With Warhammer and Age of Conan delayed, very little came out this quarter. You, of course have EverQuest 2 The Rise of Kunark available in stores, and Pirates of the Burning Seas is currently in open beta, but everything else has been out awhile. Lord of the Rings Online is $19.99, World of Warcraft is $19.99, and even the recently released EQ1 compilation including all the other expansions is only $24.99. In the grand scheme of MMO game marketing $30 is actually pretty pricey right now considering mainstream games are so much cheaper and the more obscure basically free.
What does all this mean when you put it together? First, we don't really know why the price dropped. While it could be the game didn't sell as well as anticipated, there is far from conclusive evidence. We also know that while it can be an indicator, it doesn't really dictate the longevity of a game. Look at EVE. You can't find that in stores anywhere, yet it's more popular than ever! Second, the developers show no sign of slowing down with patches. And if that isn't enough, there is also talk of interesting expansion content in the works. I think it's safe to say we'll all be enjoying Tabula Rasa for awhile.
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