Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Nature of Micro Transactions: Setting an Example

This post will take the form of a letter.

Dear Blizzard Entertainment,

You guys have a lot of money, everyone and their virtual dog knows this. I can say that there are three absolutes to everyday life in America today: people will be born, people will die, and you will make a ridiculous amount of money. Even through this so-called economic downturn you have continued to turn a profit. The entertainment industry has shown itself to once again be bullet proof. You good folks have so much money, in fact, that you have the ability to develop not one, not two, not three, but four projects at once (that we know of). You have essentially blazed the way for the mmo genre in the last five years. You make a move and most other developers in the industry take notice and generally follow suit in a similar fashion. So that is why I'm writing this, to ask you to take a stand on a certain issue: micro transactions.

Recently you threw down all guises and introduced full-on RMT into World of Warcraft in the form of vanity pets. You priced these two pets at $10 a piece. Charitable benefits not withstanding, I believe this is entirely too much to charge for a permanent in game item. That is not to say that you were not well within your rights to charge that amount; by all means, charge $100 if you think people will pay (god knows, someone is buying those beer steins). All I'm saying is that it is not ethical to charge so much for an in game item. And this is where setting an industry example comes in to play.

We are a capitalist country and by no means do I begrudge you your fair profit. I'll be the first person to pay that monthly fee to keep you folks in business, so that you can continue to turn out amazingly fun content. However, there is a certain line of what it is okay to charge and what it is not okay to charge that has been crossed and so we come to the $10 Horse Problem.

First lets break down the phrase at the heart of the issue.

Micro - something "very small"

Transaction - "An exchange or trade, as of ideas, money, goods, etc."

In our instance we get a very small trade of goods and money; perhaps even of ideas because the point of RMT is to increase the amount of fun one has.

However, ten dollars can do a number of things that are in no way "very small". It can fill my stomach for an evening. It can fill half my gas tank for a week long commute, and it can pay two thirds of a month's subscription to your online game. You would certainly agree that, at the very least, the last example is no small thing.

But that's really the heart of the problem here, you have let those dollar signs get in the way of better judgment and would probably care more about me keeping up my subscription than getting to school for the week. It's the ever-popular 'principle of the thing': don't gouge your customers and they will like you more. When they like you more, they will spend more. More people benefit from a $1 horse than benefit from a $10 horse. And the all important 'me' (in this case Blizzard) loses nothing because we are not dealing with physical products; sell five or five billion, it does not matter because every cent is pure profit. Yes, I very much believe in micro transactions because by their very nature they are inexpensive to the consumer, while also being profitable when introduced to a large enough group of people, in this case eleven million.

So, we come to this 'example' that I've been yapping about. And by example, I mean if you embrace the 'micro' in micro transaction then you will have the distinct possibility of maintaining your choke hold as industry leader. By lowering the barrier to entry you open up not just your own game, but the entire genre to a wider group of people. As I said, when you do something, others follow suit. When you lower prices, other RMT utilizing games must do the same or face the prospect of charging more that WoW. So, let's think long-term here:

Less expensive = more consumers, more consumers + time = more money

Micro transactions are indeed the future and the first game to fully realize that will be one to claim those tens of millions of waiting American gamers and the spot as the month after month best seller. Whether it is you, Blizzard, is entirely up to you at this moment. I just hope that all the current money and popularity has not made you so lazy and resistant to change that it ends you.

Thank you for your time,


1 comment:

  1. I just hope it doesn't become the only option in MMOs.