Supply Creates Its Own Demand

The blade itself incites to deeds of violence.
— Homer, The Odyssey, although I cannot find a translation online that uses that exact phrasing.

It is not a slippery slope argument to say, “Developing the capacity to X makes X much more likely.” Beyond the tautology that you cannot do X if you cannot do X, we find that humans are more likely to pursue options that are readily available. Once you have the ability to do something, you start finding occasions for it. This is a driver of progress and source of anguish.

You bought the cell phone “just for emergencies,” but it quickly became easy to say you would be five minutes late or to ask whether you should also pick up eggs while you are at the grocery. The snowblower was for your driveway, but Mrs. Hathaway across the road just broke her hip, and then another neighbor wanted to borrow it after the big storm. My last job transitioned from mostly project management to mostly data analysis when they realized that I could translate databases to English. You never needed it before, but now that the option exists, why not?

You see this often in games with ongoing development. The developers are probably not lying to you when they say they are doing X once and only once, or Y is being developed for a specific application. They really believe it when they say it. Two years later, people change their minds, someone else uses it, or the entire live team might have switched over. Even if I trust your intentions, you cannot plausibly commit your organization. (People often misunderstand the difference between intention and likelihood.)

I remember the first hollow minions in Asheron’s Call. Low-strength characters (mages, archers) would typically use Item Magic to make 0-armor cloth as resilient as a full suit of metal armor, and then enchant their underpants for a second layer of armor. You could do the same to real armor to make it even better, but you hit diminishing returns. Hollow minions ignored enchantments, hitting mages like the robe-wearers they were. They were a really nasty surprise the first time you found them. Developers understood that they devastated a subset of players and explained that hollow minions would only be used in pre-defined spots, dungeons with specific spawns so they were a known, managable threat. Within a year, hollow minions were added to the landscape random spawn tables, and you could run into them in any dangerous area.

I sincerely believe that he sincerely believed that hollow minions would not be appearing randomly around the world. And yet you knew that it was a non-credible promise. Development marches on. Folks in community management and marketing are frequently sent forth to say things that are technically true, as far as they know, at the time they say them. Sometimes this seems like culpable ignorance, in that they reasonably should have known that the “true right now” statement would be reversed shortly, but they were sitting in the meeting with the decision-makers when the decision was made. (“Shortly” depends on your time horizon.) No individual may have been dishonest, but I think the players are justified in saying a company lied to them when the time inconsistency is obvious or when left hand does not know what right hand is doing but both speak authoritatively about what the plan is.

When you and your team do this, it makes perfect sense. You made one decision at one time. Eventually, things changed. You made a different decision at another time. At each time, it was the right decision for that time. You believed your decision-making was sufficiently transparent. When The Other does this, it is dishonesty or conspiracy. They knew or should have known that they were engaging in time-inconsistent decision-making. Their arguments for the first decision directly contradicted the second. (See politics for loud examples of “powers only our team can be trusted to use properly.”) This is a barometer of trust.

Players often hit “us and them” on the issue of cash shops. There is a slippery slope along the vertices of cosmetics, convenience, and power. A purely cosmetic cash shop can be introduced perfectly innocently, but someone in that corporate structure is taking the idea of monetization very seriously. “Purely cosmetic” is a bright line. Past that, you are getting into matters of degree, and those matters will arise as customer revenue is usually falling over time. I sympathize with every player who expects the cash shop to lead to pay to win, because there are so many examples where the slope was sufficiently steep and greased.

As an example of holding the line, see League of Legends. League of Legends is reaping great benefits from a cash shop that is somewhat cosmetic, somewhat convenience, almost zero power, and significantly a means of a la carte content delivery. You can buy skins (cosmetics) and faster advancement (convenience), but champions are the big thing. You could theoretically buy every champion and rune with IP (earned currency), but realistically you will need some RP (cash currency) to keep up with new heroes if you gotta catch ‘em all. Free players have fewer options but always several good ones. “The line,” in their case, is whether new champions are effectively selling power. There are champions that are popularly perceived as being stronger than others, and this perception is especially strong in their first weeks, when no one knows their counters and they may actually be overpowered. After a few champions are released, become quickly popular, then are balanced downwards, you can develop a reputation.

Cash shops as a means of a la carte content delivery are also a potential worry. We have many business models for MMOs, and companies increasingly mix and match. The cash shop opens with cosmetic options; no problem, it is art that pays for itself. The cash shop gets a mission or quest chain; no problem, it is optional, premium content. The game cuts its free updates in half and starts putting the quests and dungeons in the cash shop; now wait, what is my subscription paying for? The cash shop itself incites to deeds of monetization.

Every Team Fortress 2 class has at least a dozen weapon and hat options. If you saw the first achievement weapons and predicted proliferation, or saw the Mann Co shop and expected a steady stream of cash shop releases, congratulations. Bonus grats if you guessed the pre-order bonus hats that at least one Steam game has every month. We can debate whether this is good or bad, but once the capacity was there, the path was set. They keep adding slots, and you can imagine that they will keep thinking of new ways to fill slots. (As with LoL, they are selling variety more than power, along with cosmetics. Also as with LoL, you can get all the non-cosmetics over time without spending any money, more realistically here.)

Hey guys, we now have a reputation system in the game! And every new zone, faction, sub-faction, guild, group, merchant, and mount will have a reputation grind available! Don’t worry, we’ll retrofit the existing zones with reputation bars in coming updates.

On a simpler level, games with mod support get a lot more mods. Lower the costs of modding and the quantity will increase. Many people are not aware the option exists unless it is visibly available, but once it is, they find a sudden desire for things they had not thought possible the day before.

So this is the pattern to watch for the next time your game introduces a new tool, option, whatever. “This is okay, but don’t start using it all the time. “Of course we won’t.” Six months later, who knows? The hammer may not be your only tool, but once you get one, you start seeing nails everywhere.

: Zubon

8 thoughts on “Supply Creates Its Own Demand”

  1. Just a personal note, I am always delighted to find new articles on this site. Without exception the articles are insightful, intelligent and interesting. Found this site poking around looking for GW2 information, and immediately booked-marked it. ( I also play on Sanctum of Rall)

    1. Kill Ten Rats is one of the best MMO blog, the one that made me discover the world of MMO blogs, and my Reference !

  2. I think a lot of the evils in F2P are due to cashing out.

    When your game is bleeding players already, you might as well dupe a few into giving you $100 for an in-game item while you can, even if that item drives away ten others. With the way things were going, they would have left sooner rather than later anyway.

    LotRO is the current best example of this, but it’s certainly not the only one.

    1. What is LOTRO doing now? The change to F2P made me leave the game pretty quick, but I am still curious what is happening there.

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