Tags: clever marketing, consumerism, MMOs, pre-order items, RMT, slippery slope, what makes you buy
I’ve been thinking about In-game Pre-order Items a lot recently.
It was the pre-order for Siege of Mirkwood that really brought this from a back-of-the-head simmer to a front-of-head ponder. And, after many brews and much pondering, I reckon it’s time to ramble at length about how I currently feel about pre-order items.
Tied heavily to this are my views on Real Money Transactions. Whether that’s buying gold from a 3rd party, or from an in-game cash store, it’s still parting with real money for in-game benefit.
And I suppose that’s where my issue lies. At least on the surface.
I pay for a game so that I can play that game. It’s a simple transaction. In the case of a subscription based game, I then pay that subscription so that I can continue to play the game after the first month. Any other justifications are our own; at the basest level, we’re paying for permission to play.
MMOs are released by businesses, and a business exists to make money. So they make that payment as attractive as possible. This means periodic content updates, as well as server maintenance and upgrading. It means ironing out the bugs, and improving the polish on the product.
They also want to make sure that they get as much cash as possible, and one upshot of that over the last few years has been the rise of the pre-order item.
There used to be a strange sort of prissiness about pre-order items. They had to be cosmetic only, as any sort of in-game bonus would destabilise the natural order, and earthquakes would destroy the planet. Or something.
Then power-creep started, and suddenly items with tiny bonuses were on offer; soon after, it was items with good bonuses, or mounts, or more character slots, or pets, or faces, or all sorts of items that collectors (who are a big chunk of the MMO gamer pie chart) would want for the sake of completion.
Suddenly it’s not enough to just buy the game; we have to buy the game early enough, and from the right places, to take advantage of the best pre-order offers. Quite often that means getting in early enough for a Collector’s Edition.
For the businesses releasing these games, it’s a great thing. It’s their best opportunity to make the most money in the shortest amount of time, and they are doing their utmost to make the most of it.
Now, if I was the conspiracy sort, I’d comment that pre-order items were a highly successful form of consumer grooming.
I remember discussions where cosmetic items were justified and allowable because they were purely cosmetic. They were a way of “thanking” those players who were in from game launch, without giving them a horrendous advantage over those who started playing later.
Nowadays, no-one even sniffs at stat-bonus pre-order items. How long will it be before armour sets and weapons are offered? Full set of purpz at 60? Suits you, sir!
They’re fantastic sweeteners. And because we get used to getting them as part of the game bundle, we get used to thinking of in-game items at the same time as spending real money. And if we do that, we end up feeling that it’s ok to spend real money, and get those items at the same time. From there, it’s a short step to buying them from an in-game shop, using real money.
More and more games will be heading down the Real Money Transaction route. But at the same time, we’re all supposed to hate the black market that has sprung up around MMO gaming, and all the chances of losing everything that we work for in these virtual worlds.
Well, one way of killing the Black Market stone dead is to offer those same services in game. Can’t be bothered saving up 4 meeeeeellion Filthy Lucres for that mount? Buy it from the in-game Cash Store. Want that funky Sword Of A Hundred Painy Dooms? Well, you could raid for it and hope it drops, or you could just work an hour’s overtime and pick it up from the RMT Armoury. Need to be at a certain level to go instancing with your mates? Buy levelz from the Admin Store. Instant, painless, and most of all it’s unlikely to end up with you finding all your characters nekkid and your current account maxed out at the overdraft end.
That’s one end of the scale. We’re already at the other end, which is paying for content. I’m not talking about the “free” content that comes with the subscription, but the content that comes as part of an expansion. That would be a paid expansion. “Some” content should be free, but “Enough” content can be paid for without complaint.
Now, I can be fantastically stingy when it comes to games. I will happily pay for my subscription every month, but boy do I hate it when I feel like I have to part with real money to experience “some” content. Yet I’ll not only happily stump up some cash to pay for an expansion, I’ll actively look forward to it. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that.
As a society, we’re now willing to pay for digital content. As in, something that cannot be held, except on a hard drive. We’ve gone from paying for a music on a disc, to music that we download. The same is happening for games and films. And with the advent of streaming services, we’re stepping even further from our standard concepts of “ownership”. Will we soon look at in-game items in exactly the same way as we look at downloaded music from a certain fruit-named behemoth?
It’s one of the reasons why I’m looking at Pre-Order items with more and more antipathy. Even Single player games are getting in on the act; Dragon Age: Origins was shipping with so many options and Pre-Order items that I just ended up feeling confused and slightly dirty from checking them all out.
I miss those nice and simple days where I paid my money, and I got a game. I didn’t feel that I had to buy a game from a particular place, or at a particular time, otherwise I’d be STUPID for missing out on such FANTASTIC offers.
It’s probably my fuddy-duddy gene getting all nostalgic, or maybe it’s seeing all the changes that seem to be appearing (or at the least worried about), and wondering if the games we used to play will be gone, in the face of casual-friendly drop-in/out MMOs; all free but with shark-like cash-stores circling around…
I understand that cash-stores in games mean that we could all play our MMOs for free, and only pay for what we *want* to play or use, but I still can’t help worrying that this just opens us up to the Land of the Grind. Because if the only way for the game to make money is from Real Money Transactions, then surely they’ll make games which make most use of it?
There’s a lovely little saying: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Maybe the road to heck is paved with pre-order items.