3 Nov 2010

The Optional Extras

We often think of choice as being a good thing. Go to any chocolate shop and you’re greeted with a range of options to choose from, all of them tempting. Then again, being free from choice is also a wonderful thing –buying chocolates by the box is much more popular than just choosing a couple of favourites. But what happens when you take this concept out of the chocolate shop and into the world of MMOs?

Concern recently emerged that anyone buying the digital download version of Cataclysm would miss out on any of the in-game cinematics. The issue was quickly resolved, with a note that the downloader would be updated to include all previous and future cinematics and cutscenes. While interesting on its own, the incident also served to highlight a recent interview in Game Informer. Activision CEO Bobby Kotick mentioned that there is the possibility of selling cutscenes as a separate product, like a DVD or similar in the same way that soundtrack CDs are produced.

Unfortunately the two stories managed to get jumbled together. Speculation was rife that those who bought the digital download would somehow miss out, or that they’d have to pay extra to download the cutscenes as well. Both of these turned out not to be the case, but they do raise some interesting questions.

There’s currently a single pricing model for Warcraft that’s used in most of the world. You buy a monthly subscription or game time cards and have access to all of the game while that subscription is valid. Everyone who pays their subscription has access to the same amount of game content regardless. This has both good sides and bad: on the one hand there’s the convenience of the flat fee, while on the other it means you’re probably paying for chunks of the game that you don’t play. Why pay for battlegrounds or arenas if you’re a heavy raider? Why have ten character slots when you only play one or two?

With Cataclysm literally just around the corner most of us are trying to decide if we want the regular or Collector’s Edition. But what if we had more choices than that? Say you could choose the Lite Edition with only a handful of character slots and limited bagspace, or the Gargantuan Edition with a shedload of space for alts and an aircraft hangar to store all your inventory, or a range of other types in the middle. How about having a base pack with a range of optional extras that you could pick as you needed? Would that become appealing?

Lord of the Rings Online recently made that move, offering a range of subscriptions that start at free along with a collection of optional extras. There’s enough in the free package for most players, while endgame content and PVP require further purchases.

Optional extras aren’t always a good thing. Sometimes you find that putting a tick next to all the features you want can quickly add up to a hefty price tag that not everyone can afford. In these situations most of us are faced to make a compromise between the features we want and the amount we’re prepared to pay. And if there’s one thing gamers can be relied upon to hate, its compromise.

As we watch a new wave of MMOs emerge (including Blizzard’s next-gen unannounced title), how we pay for them will probably be as important as how we play them. Question is, will content and gameplay always remain king or will the pricing model become as important for gamers to consider? Which would you choose – the all-inclusive nature of Warcraft or the range of choices that LOTRO presents?

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