My overall feeling is that big AAA publishers (Activision, definitely included) have found out that, unlike when gaming was a niche hobby, it only takes a small group of "I will buy anything" consumers to break even or make a profit on paid DLC. It used to be that you paid the full $40-50 for the PC game (or even got it used, way back when), there were a couple of free bugfix patches and even some free content coming along with them, mod tools were included to help foster community development. Everything developed by Day 1, was on the disc and accessible to you. When Expansions came, they were typically $20-30 and had between half and twice the amount of the original game itself, again all inclusive for the price.
Here's one of my favorite comparisons. One of my favorite old FPSes was the Jedi Knight series. Jedi Knight had a Mysteries of the Sith expansion pak, which had an entirely new character, story, art assets, powers etc... and cost $30. Now, consider that Call of Duty: Black Ops (or Modern Warfare 2) sell $15 Map Packs that include 3 multiplayer maps. Even adjusting for inflation, can you really tell me that a 3-map pack is worth HALF the cost of Mysteries of the Sith? The whole industry is like this now. Its about...control..
There used to be some sort of tacit agreement between gamers and developers/publishers, but this has broken down over the years in favor of greed. Years ago, Elder Scrolls: Oblivion was one canary in the coal mine. Where Morrowind had great expansions, good prices, and mod tools included, Oblivion suffered from the taint of "Horse Armor". You had to pay an additional $2.99 for non-functional armor for your horse, and the mod tools were locked down to prevent you crafting it yourself for free. Other little offerings that came to be known as "DLC" came down the pipe. Those of us that objected at the time were told "Its just one game, don't buy it". But it continued. Look at Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age (either of them).
Original Mass Effect for PC had a single FREE mini-expansion, Bring Down the Sky, and Pinnacle Station, a DLC mission. Mass Effect 2 however....was a full price title, with an additional Digital Deluxe Edition of $60+ to unlock in game content. In addition, it had the Cerberus Network key, which kept those who bought it second hand or from some digital PC sales from having access to all the DLC unless they paid an additional $15. Then came all the various packs, that cost between $2-8 each - some you even needed to drink Dr. Pepper to unlock items! Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 are even worse.
The basic definition of a "complete" game has changed. Games are released for $60 on PC because Bobby Kotick said "That's what they are used to paying for X360 console games, so...they'll just think that's how much games cost!" with Modern Warfare 2, and now it spreads through the industry like a plague. Expansions are nearly a thing of the past, but even when present like in Dragon Age: Origins, it is an additional cost on top of the well over $100 worth of "DLC", not an encompassing alternative to buying piecemeal. Even in single player games, there is now a "Deluxe" more costly edition meant to provide content withheld from the typical $50-60 standard edition. If it wasn't bad enough, they're now trying to discourage any used game sales at all by tying every game to a one-time use key, even on consoles. "DLC" is created prior to launch and ripped out to be sold separately - often its even on the disc. Then, every little thing is monetized. Even Valve has stumbled with the Mann Co Store in Team Fortress 2 and the abysmal Bot Enrichment of Portal 2 - where emotes, skins and hats for your co-op bots cost between $3 and $8 EACH (or you can buy the entire opening catalog of items in a crate for $38, down from the $85 it would cost to buy them all separately!). These items are not unlockable simply through gameplay either! I know some will say "But they're just cosmetic", but I have a feeling that people don't realize that there was a time when cosmetic items were all included for the price of entry, able to win or unlock them in the game itself, not pay $8 for a pair of hipster glasses for your Portal 2 bot, on top of the full price game itself!
Circling back to Blizzard, I believe that they have basically become too arrogant from their success. Perhaps it is Activision's new business plans, but I've noticed an increase in "money-grabs" in the past few years. With WoW specifically, ActiBlizz is thriving. Their subscription price is still at one of the higher market rates of the day, $15 USD. Their expansions are $40+ each, higher than that for Collector's Editions. When things start to go wrong I feel, its the price of the additional services spoken of the article. Lets break them down into Administration and Game Content.
Administration, is things like server changes and all that sort of thing. Now, I'm aware that putting the hardware in place to do these things easily costs money, but I find the costs exorbitant. Server transfer is a good example - most WoW players have more than one character per server. Costing $25 PER CHARACTER to move to a new home is insane. A better option would be basically pay $25 and you get a a 6 hour countdown during which you can flag any character on your account to move to any other available server. When the countdown is over, your $25 is deducted and all characters move. All the other features are too expensive as well, in my opinion. A longtime player who is most likely to use these services could easily run up a 3-figure bill simply joining new friends elsewhere. Across the board, I'd like to see at least a 50% reduction in cost of these services and some completely reworked mechanically, as I cited above, in deference to 1) Players are already paying a subscription fee 2) These features are in Blizz' best interest to keep their playerbase playing for a relatively minimal investment and 3) They have the Game Content charges as well!!
The part which irks me the most is the "Game Content" payments. For instance, on top of the subscription fee, it costs $20 per account, per season to join the Arena Tournament. Now, the justification for this is that players can win prizes, very very few of which being financial in nature (ie. A trip to the Finals). However, as I as a Maryland resident rudely found out, this completely disqualified me from prior tournaments because the interpretation of the state law put the Arena Tournament as a sort of lottery, so residents of Maryland were simply banned from entering. This has seemingly been resolved for the current tourney. The vast majority of people who join the Arena Tournament know they're not going to win anything out of game, and just do so for the in-game pet and title, as well as the fun of competition. Especially considering how lowly the prize purses are, even for the national and world level titles, I don't think that it is justification to charge an additional $20 per season. It should be included as part of your subscription content, especially if there's a negligible chance of any financial returns, but instead since people are willing to pay for basically the chance to win in game items....
My next point is one of the more egregious violations I've seen in recent years - despite World of Warcraft being a subscription game, there have been numerous special in-game items only available through external money transfer. The WoW collectable card game seemed to be created exclusively as a lottery for "loot" cards for items like the Barbeque set and Spectral Tiger (which reached $600-900 per loot card, on various marketplaces!). Certain pets were only given to those that purchased BlizzCon tickets (eventually, E-tickets were more affordable) and the most expensive pet in WoW to date was given away right here at TTH through World Wide Invitational Loot Cards - its sold for $1000+ on Ebay!
Now, perhaps to counteract the huge second-hand "graymarket" sale of items, Blizzard introduced the Pet Store, selling exclusive in-game pets and mounts for real money. Costing between $10 for a miniPet and $25 for mounts (More than a month's subscription!), I'm not too fond of this preposition under normal circumstances. Thankfully, finally items are now account-bound instead of character bound like they were from the CCG, but I feel the prices are quite a bit too high, but since all it takes is a relative few to purchase to profit, they stay that way. Now, I did happily buy the recent Cenarion Hatchling pet for $10, as its entire cost is given to Japan Relief efforts. This is really the only way I'm okay with the Pet Store selling additional exclusive in-game content to a subscription MMO and as such, I'd like to see the entirety of the Pet Store sales at least 75% going to charity. I'd much rather have a new Star Pony or Flyin' Lion as a reward for donating to Japan Relief, than having exclusive content go right into Bobby Kotick's gold plated mansion fund simply because ActiBlizz knows people will pay.
I'm a firm believer that treating your customers respectfully will mean more long term profit than seeing them as a washcloth full of money to be wrung out vigorously at every chance available, but it seems that AAA devs and publishers have decided the latter is a better market for them. DRM, DLC, $60 PC games etc... every time I've objected to a new price increase and loss of control/content, I've been told "If you don't like it, don't buy it". So I don't. However, because enough other people DO, /I/ have to put up with stripped down overly expensive games. I'd love to think we could petition ActiBlizz to change some of their models, but the sad part is that with millions of subscribers who do buy this stuff, as I said before it only takes a handful to make a HUGE RoI. Think about it - the last time that Blizzard/Activision actually listened to the customer base, it took a thread with 50,000 replies all threatening to chargeback their subscription fees if Blizzard went through with its plan to display your FULL name on every forum post, even after some crafty users found the vital information of more than a few Blizzard CMs (Admittedly, a couple of CMs and GMs did resign in protest), but it took all that before Mike Morihime was able to convince their Activision overlords this was not a good thing.
Of course, the policy that I'm bothered by the most is one that's pretty insidious - basically, Activision and Facebook are partnering up to sell your data to advertisers. The whole "RealID" thing and the incessant requests to link your Battle.Net account to Facebook etc... is part of this. There is a gold mine of millions of players data, and ActiBlizz/Facebook will basically have data that makes advertisers drool. For instance, if you aggregate data and see that you have X number of female players who have mostly older male facebook friends, with whom they flirt etc... then see that those female players have characters named "SexiTrixi" who are outfitted in the finest gear money can buy and receive gifts of gold from other male players, then you can go to "GoldDiggerMatch.com" and charge them a boatload for advertising with cross-referenced proof their target market is reachable! This whole thing goes on behind the player's back and is "opt-out"for the parts you can opt-out of (there are some parts you can't), but thinking of the millions that are being made from this without player knowledge and only implied consent (ie. If you didn't want us to sell your information to scammers, you shouldn't have played our game!), I have to think that I just really can't trust Blizzard to do the right thing anymore, when there is Activision short term MONEY NOW greed pulling the puppet strings.
These paradigms are becoming commonplace and unless we as players can find a way to reject these overly expensive charges and needless privacy violations, I don't see anything changing. The only thing I can do is try to get the word out and hope that others are aware, but I worry that as a younger generation that has grown up with companies acting dramatically different than a decade or two ago finds all this "normal", I'm rushing into a brick wall.
So in summation, World of Warcraft is a full-price entry, full-price subscription MMO with a huge userbase. For administrative features, I recognize the need for a charge, but they should be small and implemented in line with common player requests - it shouldn't cost more than a month's subscription to move a single character. Game content needs to be available in game, not exclusively purchased for additional real money. We're already paying a subscription fee, plus box cost, expansion cost etc... having all these alternate revenue streams to gain access to in-game content is simply a cashgrab. Now, I'd go as far as to say that if the Pet Shop and similar gave all their profits to charity, that would be a win-win: Charities get a lot of players to see and contribute to their cause, ActiBlizz gets a tax writeoff, and players get cool pets in game. In addition, I don't want ActiBlizz making any of my gaming habits or information available to the highest bidder, sold in partnership with Facebook to advertisers. I should not have to cede my personal information to play a MMO. We just need to stand up and let Blizz know we're watching, because Activision and all the major AAA publishers today seem to draw strength from apathetic gamers who open their wallets whenever requested.
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