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Live Expansions: Future of the MMOG?

Posted Fri, Mar 06, 2009 by Dalmarus


With the upcoming release of The Call to Arms, a new free expansion for Warhammer Online, 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?

Even a 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 mobs, 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 at all.


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