19 Apr 2010

The Colour of Money

During the weekend the Celestial Steed appeared on the Blizzard store. I’m not against the idea of paying real cash for in-game stuff as long as they’re “fluff items” that don’t give any real benefit. I’m floored by the  reaction the Celestial Steed got – by most accounts the digital horse made Blizzard millions of dollars in sales. I’m also surprised by the spectrum of reactions, from those who love the sparkly to those who think it’s a replacement for GearScore. It’s like the Marmite of products – people either love it or loathe it.

I love the reaction it’s been getting in-game as well:

“Are we still slapping and laughing at people on that stupid horse?”

“I don’t know, why?”

“Because it’s a stupid horse”

“So say the horse was a rare drop from some endgame raid boss in hard mode, would you still do it?”

“Nope”

“Right, so you basically slap people who spend money on something?”

“Yep”

Now call me strange, but you don’t see me hanging around outside a Ferrari showroom slapping people who buy a new car. I mean, why bother? You can get a perfectly good car for a fraction of the price, why pay for something that’s just cosmetically different? It’s just stupid, right?

Likewise you don’t see people who’ve picked up items from the Trading Card Game loot cards getting slapped. Some people have sunk hundreds of dollars into picking these cards up from eBay or dedicated retailers like Wootloots. Yet it’s almost seen like a status symbol – an accolade that you’re either damned lucky or deeply committed to the game to want to buy such a thing.

I wonder what the reaction would have been if it had been priced differently. Imagine if Blizzard stuck a $100 tag on the shiny horse. They’d have still shifted a few, sure. There would also have been outcry on the forums from people who couldn’t afford it. I can see the wails now.

The Price effect causes far too much aggro from the Wife boss. Standard distraction techniques like Flowers and Chocolates are having no effect. Misdirect isn’t working either – the Shoestore target dummy isn’t holding threat. I demand that Price is nerfed in order to make the encounter playable.

I think in this case Blizzard got it spot on. They set the price at a level that made it clear hat it was something special, yet was within the reach of most of the playerbase. The ability to gift redemption codes to others was also a smart move – you can always choose to give a mount or pet to a guildmate or fellow player as a special reward or token of thanks.

The fiancee also really loves the plushies that come with an in-game pet. For her the plushies are something she can add to her collection, while the in-game pet is a nice bonus. I’ve seem something similar being done with the Warhammer Online steins, where your character gets an in-game stein to use alongside your Real Life one. This kind of dual-world merchandising, where you get an in-game and physical item that are somehow related, really appeals to me.

That’s not to say I’m cool with all forms of exchanging real cash for virtual items. My line in the sand is with game-changing shortcuts that can be paid for with cash. If you’ve ever played a game fron Zynga like Farmville or Mafia Wars you’ll know what I’m talking about – being able spend real cash on gold or credits ange for cash which you can then use to buy in-game items that improve how the game plays. To me these games aren’t about fun – in fact I’ve seen barriers to fun that exist soley to make you spend money. It’s like a comedian setting up a joke, only to charge you fifty bucks to hear the punchline.

Don’t get me started on the Lil’XT pet though – the loud yells you can here from the other side of Dalaran are enough to put me right off getting it. Nothing so far has made me reach for the mute button faster than that infernal contraption. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great pet, but you know you got something wrong when addons like this one start coming out. It’s the in-game equivalent of driving around town with your car stereo on full blast just to show to everyone how crap your taste in music is.

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