MMO patch promotion: two approaches

Both Guild Wars 2 and World of Warcraft will be launching patches late August by the looks of things (WoW’s might end up a bit later).  For GW2 this is the one year anniversary patch entitled ‘The Queen’s Speech’. For WoW this is 5.4 The Siege of Orgrimmar.  Both have taken different approaches.  Please be aware, this particular GW2 patch is not representative of all their patches – a lot more mystery is involved.

Blizzard’s Cinematic Trailer
Blizzard do a good cinematic trailer.  Even the non-WoW players around have been noticing.  This one is particularly good, in my opinion.  Even the raid clips are firmly routed in a piece of dialogue and the new raid is set up beautifully.  Accompanying this is a suite of interviews with fan sites that seems to increase with each patch and a series of blog posts setting up new content.  All in all, its making me look forward to the patch.

Guild Wars 2’s mysterious villain
The Guild Wars 2 approach is normally to release details of the patch around a week before (given they have a two week patch cycle, this is fairly equivalent notice really) with a post.  Then, the day before release, there will be a live stream by the developers.  There may also be some interviews, although the engagement of ArenaNet with fan sites is less tied to patches.

Not this time!

The post arrived announcing … that Queen Jennah would give a speech.  Now we all know thats not the extent of the content, but no one knows what the content is.  That was the first teaser and it was fairly effective.  Then …

vandalism

Vandalism!  This was followed by several of the fan sites receiving a package.  Nothing new there.  For Dragon Bash ArenaNet sent out dragon pinatas.  For the election, they sent out campaign materials.  However, this time they sent a pocket watch along with a mysterious poem:

Tick tock goes the clock
It’s almost time for time to stop
Something you all must understand
Your world is built on fog and sand

You’re out of time, your jig is done
It’s time for Scarlet to have her fun
She has some hard lessons to teach
To the people of Divinity’s Reach

So mark the date in permanent ink
The hour is later than you think
On the twentieth day she’ll start her games
And warm her hands over Kryta’s flames!

Make of that what you will!  Reddit are picking it apart as we speak.  I’m hoping to see the return of Marjory Delaqua for this patch in some way, personally.

Both different approaches, but both are making me want to play their respective games.  It just goes to show that there isn’t a ‘right’ way to make an MMO.

When in game stores go bad

In articles recently I’ve defended both ArenaNet and Blizzard against accusations of being money-grabbers out to squeeze you for any penny.  In summary: both companies have to make money in order to make your game. 

In the case of ArenaNet, they have kept the store controlled and they repeatedly update things like storage to give you more without cost.  Ultimately, you can play the whole game without spending a penny of real cash other than the box.  Blizzard are seeking to specifically enhance their standing in the East, while also making up for the loss of subs, the decrease in the real value of their subs due to inflation and the increased cost of an expanded development team (please note: in no way and I defending the cost of those helms).

Further to this, I argue that it is your moral duty to pay for the games you enjoy rather than scrounging off of others.  If you like Guild Wars 2 and play it a lot, you should monetise it. Now I want to talk about when cash shops go wrong.

Star Wars: The Old Republic
Alas, SWTOR.  Don’t get me wrong, when SWTOR is good, its very good, but when its bad its utterly diabolical.  The cash shop, sadly, fits into the latter category.  A list of terrible cash shop features might be:

  • Excessive reliance on random chests to obtain cool items.
  • Far too many types of random chest available at once.
  • Monetizing basic game functionality such as action bars.
  • Requiring monetization to reach the end game.
  • Excessive free to play separation from monetized players.

I could go on, and on, and on.  This is not the only game to have taken this approach to its cash shop.  In fact, I think it is largely following a model that The Lord of the Rings Online and other games have successfully used before.

Guidelines for a cash shop It seems that some limitations to cash shops are emerging out of these examples.  They might be:

  1. No pay to win.  This does not mean no pay to speed things up, but no one wants the best gear to be on a cash shop.
  2. Don’t put too much basic functionality behind a cash wall.  The initial game experience needs to be a positive, rather than frustrating, experience of you want to monetize.  Discovering you don’t have enough action bar space, can’t get a mount or don’t have enough storage too early will turn many players off instead of encouraging them to spend money.
  3. Remember that the minority of players make the majority of cash shop purchases and plan accordingly.
  4. Don’t divide players with a wall of cash.  Social connections are vital to MMOs.
  5. Lots of optional extras … but not in a myriad of chests/random packs.  If you do want a random item, keep it simple and streamlined.
  6. People like to collect stuff.
  7. People like their toons to look good.

MMO Guides: Cheating vs Enabling

When new content appears in Guild Wars 2 or SWTOR, there is always a guide on Dulfy to go with it.  The debate every player faces is this: do I use the guide or do I attempt to do the achievement without it?  And when you raid in WoW, do you read up in advance or do you go in blind?  Do you build your own toon and rotation or use a guide?

There is definitely a feeling that you are achieving more if you do not use the guide, and I understand this point of view.  I also agree that in some games (not Guild Wars 2 as much as others) the guide means you burn through content quickly and end up sitting around with very little to do.

That being said, I use the guides.  There are two main reasons for this.  The first is time: I lack it.  If I had just one MMO I might use guides less.  If I had less to do, I might use guides less.  Especially in Guild Wars 2, with its two week windows for achievements, I could easily never find all the solutions in time.

The second is a responsibility to others in group play.  In the case of raiding guides, for example, if I turn up without the knowledge others have, I am letting them down.  Of course we could decide as a group not to read the guides at all.  However, that is only an option if you are confident that your group will get there without these.  Which brings us back to time, and a lack of it.  You’ll notice that in the guides I write, I focus on trying to get information to people quickly.

If you read some posts, you would be made to feel like you were somehow a lesser player for using guides.  Don’t believe the hype!  Guides enable you to engage with content you would not otherwise get to see.  It isn’t the case that I would get there eventually without some of the guides I use.  Personally, I see using guides as using brains instead of time.

Show me the money

I read this rather interesting blog post from Terra Nova, followed by the Playnomics report on engagement and monetization. Its an interesting read, in particular the information about monetization. First things first – who spent over $7k on a game in one quarter of one year?

Do I monetize?
Yes and No.

WoW has a subscription only, though I have made additional purchases, but I do monetize in both SWTOR and GW2. I pay the subscription for SWTOR and I buy from the gem store in GW2 (where I limit my monthly purchase to the cost of a subscription). I also have other free-to-play games on my PC which I do not monetize. Examples are League of Legends, Neverwinter and Rift. I don’t monetize these because I don’t play them very often. I don’t have the time to get good at League of Legends games, the Neverwinter control system cripples me and I haven’t had a chance to give Rift a real go yet.

What the Playnomics report does not cover is this – is there a link between engagement and monetization? Are the players who monetize also the players who play the most? Do the players who spend nothing come back to the game? I am unlikely to monetize in a game until I have a max level character. I need to have developed a commitment to a game in order to monetize. This is why, for all the criticism, the SWTOR free-to-play model has its positive points. By giving you the chance to level for free, it promotes that engagement at no cost. For those who drop out along the way, they likely never feel the need to monetize. For those who make it to the end, they will likely want to enhance their experience once they get there.

This suggests the answer to the question posted by Edward Castranova is yes, the players who monetize for should be listened to more, as they are the ones playing. However, I don’t feel that it’s a case of the more you spend, the more say you get. Rather, if you engage enough to monetize, it is in the game’s interest to keep you there. After all, there are a lot more of those little players than the whales and if you do base your game on the whales and they leave, you don’t want to have isolated your other sources of income.

I’ve no evidence for this – its based on my personal experience and opinion. So what about other players? Do you monetize? If so, when? Do you feel you should have more of a say?

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