Much ado about not a damn thing

So, as you might have heard, the almighty Blizz is selling cosmetic, non-combat, just fluff pets via their game store. Wow.com has the lowdown. I’m reading people up in arms about this already. I don’t see the problem. I actually think it’s a pretty good move. We talked about this a while back.

As usual, I wanna learn, so if you don’t support this move, I’m all ears. Tell me why. Just to provide some framework, here’s how I see it: I don’t care how much money Blizzard has, they’re still well within their rights to want more of it. There’s little debate there in my book. If they had put these stupid pets as .001% drop rate loot from $NASTYBOSS at the end of $LONGASSINSTANCE, people would have complained. If they had put it as acquirable rewards from a $KILOMETRICREPGRIND, people would’ve complained. It’s cosmetic. It doesn’t affect gameplay. It’s just a bunch of pixels next to the other bunch of pixels you call your avatar. Can’t offer it for free. Work must be compensated, so there you go.

Not even the fact that half of the proceeds from each sale of that despicable pandaren goes to a charity seems to quell the sentiment. Too expensive? Don’t buy it. Don’t like it? Don’t buy it. You think the pets are silly (I do)? Don’t buy them. Simple as that, folks.

There’s a ton of things to grill Blizzard for. This ain’t one of them. I applaud their move let the masses eat cake fluff.

35 thoughts on “Much ado about not a damn thing”

  1. This makes me glad I no longer play WoW. By the time I had 3 characters fully geared all I did was collect social pets. I’d be buying these like crazy as new ones are released.

    1. Which just goes to show there is a market for cosmetic virtual goods, and this market is profitable, otherwise Blizzard (and others) wouldn’t be going for it.

      1. Precisely.

        I see this as their way of testing the waters.

        Coming soon: “Due to the popularity of X and Y, here’s A, B and Z” etc etc

  2. Mmm, I think it’s naive to assume this will stop at pets.

    Obviously they are taking baby steps here and don’t want to provoke a bigger reaction than is necessary. (Compare and contrast the howling in the blogosphere a couple of week’s ago over CO’s item store respecs).

    I bet that within 2 years the WoW equivalent of everything I listed as a DDO bestseller will be in the WoW item store.

    http://stabbedup.blogspot.com/2009/10/ddo-whats-hot-in-ddo-shop.html

    1. I bet they won’t. Of anyone, Blizzard is in the most comfy position and that gives them the curse/luxury of not really having to go out and risk anything.

      When you have a monthly income that just from subs alone obliterates whatever your store can yield, why take risks with the store an end up alienating your customers?

      Someone who is more pressed for money would take that risk (and they already have) and go into performance items because it’s an injection of cash, however minor, they can use right away. I don’t think Blizzard needs this, and going into performance items should be seen by them as a totally unnecessary risk to take given their position.

      We can make a formal bet if you want :)

      1. The issue is that public corporations are not about profit, they’re about growth. Assuming I’m right and that subscriptions are stalled and that they’re going to lose a lot of income from China, that means they are not growing and probably shrinking. “Online gaming revenues dropped by 20%” doesn’t look good even if you’re still making 80% of a million-jillion dollars.

        I think the opposite position is just as reasonable. If anyone could get away with viciously milking the cow by having subs and an item store in the same game at this point, it’s Blizzard with WoW. WoW isn’t growing anymore, and as long as they’re not too greedy too quickly, they can get a lot of cash out of WoW yet. WoW players are the same ones that buy out Blizzcon in record time, line up to buy collector’s editions, and keep FigurePrints in business, after all.

        Personally, I won’t bet either way. Just giving my perspective.

      2. I don’t think I’ll take the bet as worded because I’d lose if there’s a single item not implemented.

        I will bet over half of the DDO bestsellers are implemented within 2 years.

        Say loser pays 10% of his TOR cash to this winner?

  3. I think the issue here is threefold. Note that I don’t necessarily agree, but I’ve seen people discuss these issues.

    1) It violates the expectations of the last several years. The usual complaint of microtransactions is that “the most money wins”, and the usual response is “the most time wins currently.” If someone with a lot of time was collecting pets and doesn’t have much disposable income, then here are some new pets that are unobtainable to that person. (This downplays the fact you had to pony up extra for collector’s edition pets before, though.)

    2) Related to that is the slippery slope expectation. If Blizzard is charging $10 for pets now, what will they charge for next? Something to make tier gear less silly looking? Bigger shoulder pads? More sparkles for your armor? Perhaps in the future the new “Hero Class” will require a separate $10 charge in addition to the expansion. Or, you’ll be able to buy enhanced experience potions instead of having to roll an alt, I mean, “refer a friend”. *big wink*

    3) The big deal about making a donation to charity is lame marketing. Only one of the pets is eligible, only half the cost goes to charity, and only for a limited item. Given that marginal cost of creating a new pet is small, that remaining $5 per pet is still a huge profit margin. A cynic would say it’s a bit of sugar to make the bitter pill of extra charges go down better.

    Personally, I think this demonstrates that WoW is definitely not growing anymore and that the China issue is worrying them. Given the attitude of the CEO in charge of Blizzard now, I wonder if the slippery slope people aren’t just chasing a logical fallacy this time around.

    1. I do have to say that you hit the nail on the head here.

      Taken in the cold light of day, Blizz isn’t doing anything but adding a new path / currency for in-game wealth. Part of the reason I quit playing WoW was the time commitment. I have a job where I invest my time in return for money (simplified assessment). Thus, one could say that my money represents time that I have invested somewhere.

      Of course, Blizz really only wants your money and have just made time a large ingredient to success as they are subscription-based – the longer it takes you to do everything you want to do in-game, the more they make.

      This is just another path to your money for them.

      With that said, this does seem a bit like they are either flailing about as they aren’t making enough money and are panicking or they are just getting greedy and starting to get sloppy with how they deal with their customer base.

      It will be interesting to see where this path leads and how it will change the game and the player base.

    2. I think most people are missing the fact that acquiring non-combat items from outside of gameplay isn’t new to wow. For several years blizzard has been doling out unique mounts, non-combat pets, and interactive widgets in their wow collectible card game as well as the goodie bags from blizzcon or the collector’s edition (like you mentioned).

      The main differences between those scenarios and the brewmaster & little lich

      1) That the quantities aren’t limited (only so many collector’s editions, only some many loot cards printed, etc).

      2) It separates the pets from everything else. It allows people to go “I am willing to pay 10 for a pet” instead of “I will pay 40 for the blizzcon video feed just to get the bundled pet” or “I will buy X wow cards until I get lucky and find the pet I want”.

      I think people are up in arms because it’s blatantly connecting the dots of “money equals more non-combat widgets” instead of heavily implying it with the collectible card game or other limited events. Blizzard has always stated that such items would not effect combat and that they’re just fluff. They’ve kept their word regarding that rule over the past few years and I see no reason to distrust them now just because they’re trying a new distribution model for their non-combat widgets.

      I will completely agree that it’s a move to make more money and expand their profits but they’re a business; we should expect that from them. The price of the pets is a little high but like most entries into downloadable content the price starts off too high and then comes down (oblivion’s horse armor being an example). It’s much easier to start too high and come down to a reasonable price then to start too low and come up to a profitable price.

  4. I didn’t read all the comments, but I don’t think it’s the fact they are selling fluff that is a big deal. I think it’s the fact that they are selling an in-game something. The door is now open. Once they get people acclimated to buying fluff, what do you think is going to come next?

  5. I don’t play WoW, so I can’t comment on the pets specifically, but there are a couple of reasons people don’t like microtransactions for in-game items (as opposed to content or services):

    (1) They break down the separation between the fantasy world and the real world, making the whole experience less immersive, and

    (2) They introduce a form of real-money competition into the MMO.

    Re the latter point, I think the “don’t like it, don’t buy it” argument underestimates the social effects of MMOs. People are constantly comparing what they’ve got to what other people have. In fact, I suspect that’s one reason microtransactions are so lucrative.

          1. Except I doubt that WoW will be so quick to drop the subscription price. I suspect that they may replace expansions with an a la carte selection (Hero class: $10, 10 extra levels: $20, new super-profitable crafting profession: $10, 5-man dungeon A-D: $5 ea., raid dungeon A&B: $5 ea. Package deal: $45)

            As I said above, if anyone can do that it’s Blizzard. Even with China gone they have 5-6 million subscribers. Even if half of those /ragequit they will STILL have more subscribers than the next few larger games combined. Lots of wiggle room there.

  6. The pets are cute and innocent. They are not affecting gameplay.

    So how can one hate them? :> – but I do!

    What is next? They slowly erode the borderlines, and what is fine and dandy for DDO is not okay for subscription based games. In general, of course.

    I say they already opened Pandora’s Box with more and more options of transfer and faction change, and now they opened it even further.

    “Good” (cough) things are to come. I wonder how long it takes till they offer me to buy certain stuff instead of playing the game.

    P.S.: Guild Wars, LOTRO – they are all slowy heading towards more RMT. Innocent at first, fluff only, of course. Initially…

    1. Sadly – and something many LOTRO players stuff their hats down over their ears and scream LA LA LA, NOT LISTENING regarding – LOTRO has already gone down the path even further than WoW.

      When you pay $20 for the Adventurer’s Pack, you are getting an unabashed RMT in a subscription-based game. The Pack includes fluff, yes, a cloak – and like the CoX costume packs, I have no problem with paying extra for fluff. But it also contains real in-game benefits – the equivalent in-account storage to owning a house (which costs a weekly fee as well as a 1g house-buying fee when you get a house) and a Nimble Goat, which heretofore has been restricted to level 58+ who have Kindred with the Iron Garrison Miners and cost 5g. It also contains 2 extra character slots, which cannot be purchased any other way.

      They tried to disguise the fact it was an RMT by making a lot of confusing rules about how you buy the new mini-xpac, depending on your subscription type and whether you buy the AP or just the xpac, but it’s there and isn’t fooling folks. You are paying $20 for fluff (ok,) character slots (which again, ok, many games charge a one-time fee for character slots, I’ve bought them in CoX) and actual, tangible in-game benefits in the form of a house-worth of storage and a mount. Now people who buy the AP do not need their houses (or they may choose to keep both, as storage space is something the LOTRO devs are very stingy about) and never need to buy a mount for new characters again. That’s a serious advantage over other people who do not buy the AP.

  7. What borderlines are you guys talking about, I wonder? Pandora’s box? Slippery slope?

    Where was this concern when the WoW trading cards came with (so rare) codes for the spectral tiger? How’s that not essentially paying for fluff already, two years ago? This is the exact same thing, minus the random element of having to find the card. Refer a friend? How’s that not paying for a really long lasting increased xp potion that’s always on?

    Blizzard is not sloping anything here. It was already slippery and they already sloped from the get go. But -now- it’s “Hrm, I don’t like it. You can’t trust them. What would they do next?”. There’s no ‘next’; they already did what you’re so concerned about.

    This is pointless anyway. The large majority of their playerbase obviously has no problem with this and are happy to give them money for fluff. So they listened to that. If we go on and on about wishing the devs would listen to their players, well here it is. They listened.

    “What they would think of next” is almost irrelevant anyway, because when they get out of hand and start offering ridiculous stuff, the same playerbase checks them and checks them well. How did the “pay to respec” thing went down at Champions? Well received?

    And I still think “don’t like it, don’t buy it” is a valid point, because it’s the “vote with your wallet” point all over again. If we normally encourage people to “vote with their wallets” because they listen to that and it’s a powerful message they notice, then you can perfectly “vote with your wallet” here and agree or disagree like that. I’m not going to believe that voting with the wallet works with everything else -except- microtransactions. Hell, it even works -better- with microtransactions because of their granularity.

    1. Actually, people have brought things like the TCG rare items and refer-a-friend (create-an-alt) up before. Usually it’s the people who don’t mind microtransactions pointing out that these things exist to the people who froth at the mouth when people suggest it’s a viable alternative.

      I think the issue here is that the pet store isn’t one step removed like the previous things, as Poday says above. This is a direct, “Want stuff? Give us money directly!” situation. Imagine if microtransactions were a cake that you’re not supposed to eat. The TCG and RAF systems were Blizzard sticking their finger in the frosting but pointing out they weren’t really eating the cake. The pet shop is them cutting off a corner of the cake. How long until they just cut off a slice and laugh?

      For people who expected WoW to remain a subscription-based game, this is violating that expectation. This is an economic NGE (new game economics?) for those people, and they’re not happy with where they see this going, even if it’s been obvious to some of us for a while.

      1. “I think the issue here is that the pet store isn’t one step removed like the previous things, as Poday says above. This is a direct, “Want stuff? Give us money directly!” situation.”

        I frankly don’t see the difference between forking over $10 for a pack of cards and the chance of a pet and forking over $10 for a pet, other than just making it more convenient for people that want pets but not cards ( the vast majority of their players I imagine).

        What’s so bothersome about eliminating that step? If people wanted to get pets, and were okay with paying Blizzard for it, this is the better solution; not to keep buying hundreds of card packs just to see if you were lucky.

        A random chance of finding a pet code in a pack of cards is more or less okay but the option of buying the pet directly isn’t? I think we’re threading too thin.

        “For people who expected WoW to remain a subscription-based game, this is violating that expectation.”

        Don’t see how. Right now if Blizzard offers one item, a thousand items or no items at the store, the subscription remains. For the last 5 years they’ve introduced their fair share of hare-brained schemes (I don’t agree with most of those myself) and the subscription has always been there.

        All their box sales are years behind them and they know they won’t get a massive influx of new players again. Ever. Why mess with their main income of subs? They’re not stupid. They know they’ll lose a nice chunk of their players if they get -too- silly with the microtransactions. Why would they do that?

        1. I’ll be shocked if they don’t see a massive influx of players when Cataclysm comes out. Not just new players, but returning players. I played three years and my account’s been inactive for almost 2, but I’m almost tempted by Cataclysm, and you have to re-buy it in order to play. It’s not an xpac you can skip if you want. That box sale will be a huge shot in the arm, not to mention what I firmly believe will be an increase in subs.

          1. They’ll see a good influx of returning players, but not that many new players. People will try Cataclysm out for 1-3 months, then drop it once they’ve seen all the new content and remember again why they stopped playing in the first place because the game remains essentially the same.

            Same thing that happened with Lich King, and to a much lesser extent Burning Crusade. Why is Cataclysm any different?

    2. you can perfectly “vote with your wallet” here and agree or disagree like that.

      But the only way to vote against microtransactions is to cancel your subscription. Refusing to buy them does nothing.

      If 90% of players dislike microtransactions (and don’t buy), and 10% of players like them (and buy), Blizzard is still increasing revenue unless players leave the game. Is that what you mean when you say to “vote with your wallet?”

      1. Exactly. They have all the metrics (and metrics we don’t even know about).

        If only 10% of their players use the store, yes of course it’s 10% x (n$) they didn’t have before. That much is true. But it’s also true they’ll look at the numbers and see that 90% of their potential customers are not buying, and that’s enough for any self-respecting marketing guy or CFO to nail his own balls to the wall. If 90% are not buying there’s something terribly wrong with their concept, their execution or their goods themselves, so they’ll re-evaluate.

        Therefore if you like the game, but don’t like the microtransactions, the logical response is not to do microtransactions. Quitting the game can happen due to lots of reasons; not buying from the store is much more precise.

        Unless you wanna use your total cancellation as punishment for them using microtransactions. Well within everybody’s rights, but it’s not sending any clear messages unless you spell it out on the exit survey.

  8. Big retailer launches new sales line. Shock horror.

    The only surprise about this move is what feeble items they chose to start with.

    Whether any MMO does or does not use microtransactions won’t have any influence on whether I play their games. The two prime factors will be whether the games are enjoyable and whether I can play them for what I consider to be a reasonable cost. If that cost is a monthly sub or some microtransactions or a combination of both is immaterial. I’ve been managing my income and outgoings for over three decades now and I’m fine with retailers treatign me like an adult and letting me decide my own spending priorities.

  9. Exactly. The slippery slope argument can be used against everything, that’s why it’s a logical fallacy. Don’t like what they bring out = don’t buy it. That’s the real way you get their attention, rather than threatening to quit the game on the forums or whatever.

    I wonder if they chart the quitting threats that come out so they can see if it is higher than normal – might give them some warning of people actually quitting the game.

    1. Don’t know if they track that, but it’d be nice to see if they’ve introduced any new relevant questions about the store to their exit survey.

      I canceled like a year ago, otherwise I’d check myself. If you have something related to the store or transactions on the exit survey that’s a strong indication they are looking. Putting it on the exit survey is standard procedure at least.

    2. It’s not a logical fallacy if you hypothesize it to be part of their business plan. It is so naive to believe that this is not part of a bigger business plan to either test the waters or get WoW subscribers acclimated to an actual cash shop.

      1. I’ll just have to repeat what we’ve said above: When is this cash shop supposed to occur anyway? All they’ve been doing was “testing the waters” for the better part of 5 years now. WoW is declining and doesn’t have -that much- life left in it, and they know it full well. They’ve already collectively moved to the next big things.

        They’re slow but not that slow.

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