MMO Theorycrafting Rants and Hissy Fits 16 Comments

Turns Out My Line in the Sand is HERE (GW2, etc)

I know it’s only April, but if I had to name the big theme for the gaming industry in 2012 I’d say it’s the rapidly developing animosity between players and developers/distributors. Seen from one side, it’s honest working man David vs. bad business practices Goliath. From the other, it’s entitled gamers vs. art and market realities. I’m usually pretty firmly in the former camp, as can be attested to by the quasi-socialist rants I keep posting on other people’s blogs (sorry, Azuriel) about personal purchasing power and not puttin’ up with crap from The Man. However, to be completely honest I haven’t actually followed any of my own advice.. until now.

I bought the Day 1 DLC for Mass Effect 3 even though I do not in the least accept the argument that DLCs are created in some magical free time when otherwise talented video game professionals would be put out on the streets. (I was literally told by a fellow who works for a known MMO company that denying the legitimacy of Day 1 DLCs is condemning small children to starvation. Why do I hate ART and BABIES?) Despite my misgivings, I am stupid for Shepard and there was no way I was going to miss out on an arguably critical piece of lore like meeting a Prothean, so I held my nose and bought the DLC.

So anyway, now I find myself staring at the Guild Wars 2 pre-purchase website. Not pre-order — pre-purchase. Blizzard really formalized the idea of selling MMO beta access with their Annual Pass, and Arenanet has run with it and decided that only people who pay for the game in its entirety right now will have beta access. This is a game, by the way, that is already years over their first admittedly optimistic estimated release date (they’ve had a “playable demo” at the last three PAX Primes I’ve attended), and in fact there still has been no indication of when players can expect to actually play the thing.

To be fair it would be incredibly surprising if Arenanet were to disappear with everyone’s pre-purchase money, and common sense says that the game will be on the shelves before the end of the year. However, I really do not like the new business practice of selling “beta” access. (I put that in scare quotes because if I’m paying for it, it’s not really just bug testing.)

What am I buying by giving Arenanet my money an estimated six months in advance (and that might be a generous estimate)? Broken down to its purest economic logic, that $60 could be sitting in my bank account accruing interest instead of doing the same for Arenanet. And let’s face it, it’s not like some indie Kickstarter* where they need the money to even create the game.

I have frequently joked with friends that all MMOs that are under development are amazing while all released MMOs are trash, and I’m sure distributors have taken notice of that hype cycle. Why NOT try and get our money now, when the future is filled with promise and Reddit hasn’t yet turned on you like an army of angry, neckbeard-ed howler monkeys? Hell, The Secret World is letting people buy Lifetime Memberships now, and even the gaming press hasn’t seen half of that game.

I regret my decision to buy the ME3 DLC. I liked the content but I really should not support bad business practices, and with that in mind I’m not going to pre-purchase Guild Wars 2. I feel it just opens the door to routinely selling beta access as a game perk, I don’t want to encourage companies soliciting full retail or subscription payments before even having a release date, and I think we gaming types should be more demanding about trying before we do any buying.

I am just as notoriously bad as any gamer about following through on my purchasing threats, but it seems I really do have a line in the sand and today.. today I’m not crossing it.


* Speaking of indie Kickstarters, the folks at Glass Bottom Games would like our help in creating an anti-gravity racing game for desktop computers. I know a few good folks at GBG, and I loved Wipeout way back when, so now I’m letting you know.

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  • Reply
    April 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Aww and then I thought I might spot you as fellow EU blogger over the beta weekend! :(

    oddly enough I never actually thought about paying more or “too much” for the pre-purchase….guess I just don’t think of MMOs in terms of making the best possible, financial deal. after all I also payed for WoW way past its prime, hehe. I saw the price and the extra access features and never considered things “not worth it” for myself. it was actually on the average/cheap side compared to what I’ve payed for other games in the past. how much cheaper can the later editions be?

    I hear you on the financial interest; but then I do want the early access and I am excited for the beta. some MMOs have betas that you simply never get a shot at – so this seemed preferable. and I agree it’s not ideal, but many MMOs require you to purchase a key before you can try them out (especially at official launch). so there’s always a personal risk that isn’t diminished just because the game is out. you’re paying to try it yourself – you might get disappointed.
    Syl´s last post: GW2 pre-purchase ponderings

    • Reply
      April 13, 2012 at 8:51 am

      I’m afraid I would have disappointed you either way, Sil, as I’m Canadian. :) It’s the most European part of North America, though!

      I don’t begrudge folks like you who bought the game now and are happy about it. I’m glad! Honestly, it’s more the principle of the thing than any specific issues with GW2 or Arenanet.

  • Reply
    April 11, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    I’ve mentioned this in more than a few articles I’ve written in the past. Two I can think of in recent memory. One of my hardest goals for 2012 is to not buy any games from any company I see using these desperate money grab tactics. It’s the *only* reason I haven’t bought ME3 yet. And it may be that I won’t ever buy it. The day one DLC was pure money grab.

    @syl I do understand what you mean when you say you like early access, but that is part of the anger and resentment from gamers who say the hell with this beta stuff. There was a time that beta access was merely an opportunity for these companies to get their names out there. And you know what? 12 years ago that was all they had to ensure people bought their game. Bugs galore, sure. But those games had promise most of the time. And it’s because those companies understood they were *not* getting paid for this game unless they made it good.

    Those days are so far behind us I’ve begun to doubt if any quality games can come out of these companies I used to love. I’m holding out hope for Arenanet, but they’re even more vulnerable than ever: their lack of reliable release date lies in their fear of Blizzard making plans to absolutely crush them by releasing something from their stock simultaneously. I’ve also written recently on this point too: Blizzard is releasing every game IP they own THIS YEAR. You think that’s coincidence? Arenet is being held by the neck because of this. They want to be sure they can drop their game when it’s not competing with a Blizzard title, and this is even more true because their game doesn’t profit from subscriptions. It only has a chance in hell of making money if players are playing (item shop). The stakes are too high for them.

    I’m done with the Blizzards, EAs, and Biowares. If they want my money ever again they’ll have to prove that their supreme cause is making stellar games that people enjoy — not figuring out how to get an extra $10 out of me. We should all be up in arms about it tbh. Greed is greed. It’s past time gamers stopped defending it. I’ve changed my mind about getting MoP, D3, and SC2 Swarm expak.

    Enough is really enough :) Time to talk with my wallet. I don’t do it to sink those companies, but to support those who really are out there making games with passion and who don’t have the luxury of day one DLCs. Lately, they’re the only ones coming up with fresh ideas and I’m a game veteran. I’m too tired of being sold the same uninspired garbage by these companies who are still selling old IPs.
    Doone´s last post: Upcoming Additions to Red Skies

    • Reply
      April 13, 2012 at 8:59 am

      Amen, Doone!

  • Reply
    April 12, 2012 at 10:10 am

    I’m also trying to adjust my thinking from gaming fanboy to consumer. Games compete with books, movies, and cable for my time and money. I need to hold them to the same expectations.

    Pay now play later? I wouldn’t put up with that for any other commodity.

    • Reply
      April 13, 2012 at 8:52 am

      Idie, I LOVE that! Going from gaming fanboy to consumer is exactly the right way to think about it, in my estimation.

  • Reply
    April 12, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    When I look up from the hole that I’ve dug myself for to actually finish writing my dissertation, I check out all the Steam games I’ve got, how cool they are, and how many hours I can spend playing them, even playing them collaboratively with other folks (Portal 2 and Civ V co-op ahoy!).

    It’s hours and hours and hours of gaming, at about what I’ve calculated to be a nickel an hour, the -first- time I play a game (replays come cheaper). If you can embrace the retro or the slightly-behind-the-times, put up with not playing what you read about for a year or two, you can get by with a pretty damn impressive gaming experience/creds.

    *shrug* The games I want _eventually_ get priced and bundled the way I want them: with all their expansions and DLCs, all their races and campaigns and civs, all their expansions. I’m not sure how it fits into the problem of starving game developers’ children, though. But SWTOR’s regular/digital/collector’s edition with six-month subscription is where I really feel like I got fooled one. Well, not fooled, I got what was on the tin, rather – suckered.

    Pre-purchase for buggy beta access seems like a whole new ballgame of suckering.

    • Reply
      April 13, 2012 at 8:55 am

      I really like being there for the first couple of weeks of an MMO — everything is new and everyone is happy and we’re all on some glorious journey together. It’s worth it to me to spend the money to be there within the first few days. I do totally agree with you, though, that one can cultivate an inexpensive and rad gaming collection for cheap if you are willing to wait on sales.

      PS: Nice to hear from you. Good luck with the dissertation!!

  • Reply
    Brian 'Psychochild' Green
    April 12, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    I’m a professional (MMO) dev and I find Day 1 DLC (or worse, on-disc DLC) to be suspect if not downright scummy. As much as they might protest, I have a hard time believing the content wouldn’t be created without the ability to charge extra for it. I definitely do see it as a way for companies to charge more than the going rate for a game.

    Another interesting thing about DLC is that it seems to be a good way to charge people who might otherwise wait for sales. I can buy Mass Effect 2 on sale based on an already lower than launch level price, but the $31 or so of DLC never seems to go on sale.

    Of course, I prefer the free-to-play model for MMOs, so some people might say I’m part of the problem.

    • Reply
      April 13, 2012 at 8:58 am

      Hah! I am highly suspicious of the free-to-play model, but I also have never experienced it first hand. Arenanet has the opportunity, I suspect, to convert a lot of people like me to the ways of F2P.

      Thanks for the professional dev feedback. As I said, I suspected that Day 1 DLCs (ugh, on-disc is terrible) were pretty ishy business practices and it’s nice to hear “inside” opinions on the matter.

  • Reply
    Enter the SWTOR Bikini Warrior (new podcast episode)
    April 24, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    […] Triple Town! Tribes Ascend! TERA Online! Some links you might be interested in after listening: * Turns Out My Line In the Sand Is Here (Herding Cats article on GW2 pre-paying) * 1.2 Pets and Rakghouls: SWTOR is worth […]

  • Reply
    April 26, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Hello, my name is Ayelet, or sometimes Draebek, and I am a Guild Wars junkie. I’ve played the original game for years and have prepurchased the sequel, downloaded the client and I’m currently hitting the log-in button about every 1/2 hour on the chance that somehow they screw up and let people in early. I’m as big an Arena Net fanboi as has come down the pike. With this in mind I do have a few comments.

    There is some misconception that Guild Wars 2 has been delayed or pushed back. This is simply not true. They have always said they will not release a product until they are completely happy with both content and polish and, until this February, they have never given any indication of when that would be. According to Mike O’Brien, head of Arena Net, this is the year of the dragon and GW2 will release this year. I have no reason to doubt that statement. GW2 will release sometime this year. Along that same vein they have allowed press into their game to play with full freedom to talk about game play, mechanics, guild function, graphics, pretty much everything except micro-transactions. My guess would be that puts release much closer than the 6 months you’ve estimated. You’ve also mentioned that the only way to get into Beta is to prepurchase but this is not quite accurate. There are people playing in the BWE that have not prepurchased, but the only way to GUARANTEE access is to pay fully in advance. For me, the guarantee of getting my hands on this game now and approximately once every month until it IS released is worth 6 months interest on $60. (How much is that, anyway? Sixtyish cents?)

    But, the real point that I would like to make is that Guild Wars 2 has a very different business model from most MMO’s, and with the gem store they even move away from the model of the original game. There’s no subscription, it’s buy to play and micro-transactions. Right now they are working very hard at deciding what’s “allowed” by the player base in the gem store. They are looking for hard feedback from this Beta,not for bug testing — from every indication from the press there are fewer bugs in GW2 right now than there are in SWTOR right now — but for what the market will accept from the gem store. And, for that, they want to hear from people who are willing to put their money up and buy the game. These are the people that matter, these are the people that Arena Net wants to hear from about what pay-to-win means. So they’re asking people to buy the game, giving them a quantity of gems and asking them to spend them and offer feedback.

    I completely understand and respect your line in the sand and the David perspective, but looking at Arena Net as a company that is breaking brand new ground and painting them as villains for offering prepurchase perks isn’t realistic. They need feedback, and they need it from the people that will be actually buying the game, and they’ve found a way to get that. This beta isn’t a bug hunt.

    • Reply
      April 26, 2012 at 11:29 am

      Hello (again!) and thanks for the great comment.

      With respect, I believe we are coming at this from two entirely different points of view. You are a fan of Guild Wars and of Arenanet. And this is not a bad thing at all! You have a company that you like, a product that you like, and they have earned your trust. I can totally dig that.

      Most people who will be playing GW2, though, do not have that relationship with the company, or at least not until they prove themselves after launch. I am not a fan. I am a consumer. I’m not trying to paint Arenanet as a villain any more than I’m trying to paint them as a hero. I am trying to treat them as yet another company that wants my money, preferably sooner rather than later.

      Pre-payment, particularly without a release date, is a relatively new idea in MMO distribution and I don’t like it, so I ain’t supporting it.

      • Reply
        April 26, 2012 at 11:54 am

        Sounds fair enough, and I can certainly understand that line being drawn. There are just so many other underlying things with this prepurchase that many people aren’t recognizing.

        I’m disappointed that I won’t be seeing you in game this weekend though, I would have loved to get some play time in. Hopefully soon, and dollars to doughnuts it’s much closer to the 3 month mark than it is to 6.

        • Reply
          April 26, 2012 at 12:35 pm

          Wellll, as it turns out I got a beta invite at the last minute without pre-paying thanks to an awesome friend, so I’ll see you there this weekend! :)

          Also, I really hope it’s 3 months out — I am between MMOs mostly at the moment and feel a little lost.

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