With the upcoming release of href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/62290" target="_blank">The
Arms, a new free expansion for href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/war/" target="_blank">Warhammer
the question of whether companies should adopt the free expansion
concept began to percolate in my brain. The initial knee-jerk reaction
billowing out of every boardroom in America may be a resounding, "NO!",
but I say that reaction should be ignored. The concept deserves a far
closer look and what better venue to do this in than this week's
Forever Fantasy column?
mother would have a hard time loving that face. Sheesh!
The idea of giving players a free expansion may be anathema to most,
but there are some solid reasons why it's a good idea. First and
foremost is the amount of content you can decide to include or not
include. When you attach a price to an item, you immediately attach an
imagined value, or worth. In doing so, you have guaranteed you will now
piss off an unknown number of players (your customers), despite the
best effort of every developer in the modern world to do otherwise.
There will always be a set amount of people that will never feel
they've gotten what they've paid for when it comes to an expansion (or
anything else for that matter). There's not enough content, bug fixes,
new territory, etc. There is not, and never will be, enough to satisfy
this particular group. When you remove the cost from such an expansion
though, gamers no longer have the ability to complain about any cost
involved (though this rarely stops some).
Releasing a free expansion automatically frees the development team
from not only avoiding the displeasure of these players, but more
importantly, it also frees them from being required to deliver an
expansion of a certain size. There's nothing saying that the team can't
make it as little or large as they want. Whether they focus on new
classes, or new land masses, they can add just what they want
instead of having to fulfill someone else's vision of what an expansion
should contain. When it's free, no one can complain, but if you put a
price tag on it, you'd better deliver something awesome or as history
has shown, you're going to have some insanely ticked off gamers
pounding on your virtual door.
By necessity, the printing and publishing cost of any new content is a
very real and legitimate concern for any game company. In the end, how
much of a profit do they actually make? We've all heard how unless a
game (or in this case an expansion) manages to sell a staggering number
of copies, the return a company makes on it is negligible at best. By
releasing free content digitally, it allows the development team to
devote more resources to the project. More resources means better
customer service, faster bug fixes, and new content more often than we
would otherwise receive. I for one am not going to complain about that
Not only does this allow for more
resources to continue being devoted to the expansion, but it also
allows them time to continue adding and tweaking right up until the
last minute. Without having to get a final product out to printers and
distribution centers weeks or months prior to the release date, a
company can arguably give players a more complete package. Rather than
taking the time to install a new expansion (which for some href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/64910" target="_blank">disturbingly
non-technical individuals is a supreme hassle) and then
having to sit through a long patch, players get it all at once.
Stumpy just one... more... time...
Receiving a new expansion in the form of a patch may seem like a hassle
to some, but how many games already have a morning/day dedicated to
maintenance each week anyway? It's not like we're not used to having to
sometimes wait long periods of time for a patch to complete, especially
when those windows seem to continually get extended anyway. And despite
popular opinion, the development team would not have to release it all
at one time. target="_blank">Sony
Online Entertainment has been "pre-patching" games for years
now and it works wonderfully. I've never had a problem with it and on
release day, it really does speed up the process. It also seems to have
the added benefit of preventing their network from being completely
overridden with the rush of players.
Depending on the size, some players may call a free expansion nothing
more than an over-sized patch, but when you get right down to it, isn't
that all an expansion really is? It's nothing more than an over-sized
patch wrapped up in a (sometimes) over priced box that you had to wait
too long to get because either your preorder was delayed or you
couldn't get your car started and had to walk to the game store for
your copy. I know it sounds like an exaggeration, but is it really? I
know that I for one have had to wait an extra day or two to grab href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/64682" target="_blank">a
expansion because of various reasons. The last thing you want
to do is have to wait extra time to get any new content for a favorite
game of yours, especially if you've already played through the majority
of current content the game has to offer.
This brings me to one final point. Expansions have a secondary (or
primary, depending on how look at it) job of bringing players back.
They left for a reason though, so the enticement has to be pretty sweet
to bring the majority of them back, even just to test things out again.
How many more former players do you think would be willing to come back
and try a game they may have enjoyed in the past if all they had to do
was reactivate their account and download a patch? Now how many players
(that may already feel "burned") would be willing to come back if they
have to pay for an expansion on top of the cost of reactivating their
account? It's not that a lot of players won't do this, but I'm willing
to bet a lot more would come back if they didn’t. So when
it's all said and done, I think a company stands a solid chance to make
more money just in reactivated subscriptions (even if it's only for the
single month to try things out) than they do from trying to sell a
retail expansion pack.
What do you think? Do you agree with me? Either drop me a line via
email or post on our forums. Until next week, keep it href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/features/forever-fantasy"
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