Need or Greed: New premium services and World of Warcraft

Updated Mon, Jun 06, 2011 by Saia

Last week saw the release of yet another paid-for flying mount for World of Warcraft, the Winged Guardian. Yes flying lions are cool but the thing is, you don't have to buy it unless you really really want it. It’s the latest in a long stream of services and items designed to make Blizzard money but, as it’s a subscription MMO, haven’t they already made enough?

In the realm of free-to-play or freemium MMOs, premium services and micro transactions are how a game becomes a business, how it makes money. So, if you’re Runes of Magic (for example), it’s quite acceptable, even understandable, to offer players extra features for cold, hard (or virtual) cash.

Blizzard has, traditionally, always offered paid for services like transfers to and from different realms or name changes. More recently, they’ve added race changes and the ability to switch factions. These are obvious premium services, things which players need. But now Blizzard are moving into services players want and they’re charging even more for them.

We’re not talking pets here either, no we’re talking things like the Remote App which lets people use the auction house or chat to their guild, but only if they pay a monthly subscription on top of their WoW sub. Blizzard recently announced a new service which will finally allow a player to form a dungeon group with friends who play on different realms. The trick is, the person forming the group has to pay for the privilege. The problem is, this particular announcement is the straw that broke the camel’s back. The backlash on the official forums has been virulent, loud and shows no sign of dying down even though the threads are quickly and quietly deleted.

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Pets and mounts are one thing but paid-for premium services are another kettle of fish entirely.

The problem is, players are paying $15 a month for a premium MMO. That means they except a certain level of service from Blizzard including tech support, regular free content updates and whatnot. They expect the servers to work, the game to run without crashing and for WoW to generally be fun. Oh and let’s not forget regular expansions. Adding in things like purchasable pets and mounts and you please a niche of collectors, these are optional transactions and not every one of Blizzard’s player base will necessarily be interested.

Many now feel Blizzard has gotten greedy, asking money for services - like the Remote App and the upcoming Cross-Realm Real ID dungeons - should be free. This is understandable, you don’t need any of these new services but many want them. If Blizzard made WoW free to play - and that’s something which may well happen in a few years from now, as it has to AoC and LoTRO - then I could understand the reason for charging. Now though, asking for even more money on top of a subscription just feels greedy.

So what is this? Another money-making exercise or just a distant prelude to the day WoW goes free-to-play. I don’t think it’s a long shot to say that before Azeroth’s servers go down forever, the game will shift from be subscription-based to free-to-play, possibly with microtransactions to continue to make Blizzard some money. Are they really sowing the seeds for this now, in 2011? Perhaps, but the problem remains in the discontent this move has caused with the players. They don’t want to pay a fee to play, a fee to use a free app and now a fee to do dungeon runs with friends on other realms. How they handle these new services will, ultimately, determine World of Warcraft’s fate? Will these new micro-transactions make or break the game?

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