So Blizzard has confirmed what everyone who has actually seen the numbers behind a free to play game have actually suspected – they are in the process of debating whether this is the right time to take the game to be Free-to-Play. Not really a surprise when they’ve already confirmed that, whatever their next game is, it won’t be a subscription-based MMO (and if they are thinking of anything even remotely novel, using WoW to test their technology and design ideas isn’t a terrible idea). I’m so happy to hear a developer actually come to this from the basis of, I don’t know, information, that I’m going to choose not to quibble with Tom Chilton about a couple of places they claim to be uncertain where they really don’t need to. Instead, I’m going to train my ire at, of course, the anti-monetization community that has congealed on Gamasutra, much the way that old milk congeals if left unchallenged too long. So let’s fisk!
I know this maybe to much to ask, but what if it made a graceful exit instead of “whoring” itself out?
I know this may be too much to ask, but what if we reserved the term ‘whoring’ for when a company actually, I don’t know, ASKS FOR MORE MONEY FOR THEIR PRODUCT? If WoW were to go Free-to-play, they’d probably have something like 4-6M people show up, and even if they offer a premium option like SWTOR and LOTRO, the majority of those players will pay nothing to play, and the grand majority of those players will pay either as much as they do now, or less. Blizzard would also likely abandon the upfront cost to play (i.e. the box), which would push the price down for casual gamers even more. But that would be ‘whoring’ because they might be asked to pay five bucks for a character slot that most MMO players don’t even need or use?
What if they just find away to gracefully shut itself down and find a way to honor long term players instead of this.
What if, in order to ‘honor’ your favorite bar and your circle of friends, I burnt down the bar and put all of your friends in the witness protection program? Look, the game still has 7M subscribers, and likely still has huge concurrency numbers every night. Taking away something that those gamers find fun to aspire to what you feel is a nobler time is, well, really freakin’ stupid, as well as a great way to get sued by your shareholders.
Maybe only in my fantasy world. But maybe even in a business sense if they played it any other route they could have a magnificent opportunity to boost their brand and reputation, besides doing what we would expect from a industry that only speaks in dollars and cents.
Or maybe they can prove they aren’t all about dollars and cents by giving away a game that at this point has about fifteen years of development behind it FOR FREAKIN FREE. Again, because this appears to not be clear to anyone, but: MOST GAMERS WHO PLAY FREE GAMES WITH MICROTRANSACTIONS ACTUALLY CHOOSE TO PLAY FOR FREE. As mentioned previously, World of Tanks boasts that they monetize at an unusually high rate — that high rate being 25%.
I’m curious if wow would have catered to its original player base, instead of reaching for a wider audience every step of the way, if it would still be going strong (see EVE online)
If WoW raids still played like they did in Vanilla WoW, the game would have utterly fallen apart by now. Back then, a tiny fraction of players were doing their endgame content, and a truly tiny portion was actually finishing it all (I think I saw an analysis that less than 0.5% completed Naxxramus when it first came out). Going more casual friendly with their endgame content is, ironically, the only way they could have continually fiscally justified making it.
As for overall, well, the game is approaching 10 years old now, and I hate to break it to you, but 10 years is a long time to play a game. Most people find other hobbies and interests over the course of an MMO’s lifespan and wander off. Finding new blood is essential, and an MMO left to its own devices actually becomes more impenetrable as it ages. Now, some games have very strong bounceback patterns (i.e. people come back because their heart is still there, or they want to check out an update). It turns out one of the things that is the strongest deterrent to that behavior is… having to type in a credit card number.
I think they should take more responsibility for turning the game into something that was not sustainable.
If one wanted to start the discussion that a content-oriented raidgame is not sustainable, that’s a good discussion to have. But that’s not what’s being argued here. What’s being argued is that WoW, by going more casual-friendly, made the game LESS sustainable. But virtually every major shift they’ve made has actually focused on making the game MORE sustainable. Broadening the reach of raids, implementing the token system for gear, working hard to get entry level players within reach of top-end players, and replacing skill trees with their current system are all changes that were designed to make their content easier to create, reach more players, and make it easier for guilds to backfill new players into important roles.
Look, I’m not saying that WoW made no mistakes – there are certainly things I would have differently. But MMOs are best when they have a full, bustling population and communities are vibrant, and you are constantly fighting against inherent churn that is natural to the genre (because players find other games, other hobbies, or discover girls, for example). Sustainability STARTS with getting more people into the front door.