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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8 Responses to The Optional Extras

  1. Windsoar says:

    I like having a F2P option for my “back-seat” game, because I’m not throwing away cash to see if I like a concept or not. I’ve got both DDO and LotRO downloaded at the moment. I had actually bought the box for both, but didn’t like them well enough to keep the subscription going, but now that they’re F2P modeled, I’m back in the game.

    This is probably a good thing for Turbine as I have spent some cash I found in my couch on little extras like a race and class in DDO, and I’m sure something in LoTRO will similarly grab my interest. If they hadn’t switched business models, they would have gotten nada from me, but this way, they’re pulling in some additional revenue.

    However, for my PRIMARY game, I think this model would just tick me off. I invest a lot of time in gaming, and having to count pennies to determine whether or not I can engage in an activity, roll an alt, or carry junk in my bags would just aggravate me. I like knowing that if I pay that flat fee, I get access to all the content I could want.

    • Gazimoff says:

      I never really got on with DDO, but I downloaded LOTRO again yesterday to try it out after originally buying the box and picking up the expansion at a discount. If I get much free time I’ll be trying it out more, but it’s definitely a back-burner game at the moment.

  2. Tarinae says:

    I agree with Windsoar. At some point, I am going to and would want to experience all the features. I can barely afford the $15 with the job market the way it is and to tally up the features I would want to have access to would be ridiculous.

    I do agree that a F2P model is great, ie the trial version, but it would be nice that once you bought the game, you could continue to play for free at reduced features and options but I still think that buying the game would be a key factor.
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  4. Demerson says:

    Wow, Gaz. Now I want chocolate. Thanks a lot!

    To be honest, I hope they stick with the normal $15 a month for access to everything, with the occasional purchasing of expansions. It’s simple and you never really have to worry about it.

    The idea of being able to check off a list of stuff you’d like to purchase for new content is a cool idea, but is, imo needlessly complicated. Besides, what happens if I’d like every new piece of new content? Would I end up paying more than I would have if I just plunked down a flat fee on a full expansion?

    I normally think the simpler option is the best option, and I find that to be the case here as well.

  5. Deana says:

    Splitting out content … not a fan. I like the model as is without parcing out the experience in that way.
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  7. Onike says:

    I’m not huge on the idea of paying for portions of the game. The thing I like about WoW is that I can jump around a lot. I’m not a heavy raider, in fact I raid very little. I’m far more entranced with the PvP aspects of the game, but I like having the OPTION to go raid, even if I do it seldom, or on an irregular basis.

    The only thing that would make me okay with the idea of paying for the game in chunks, would be if this did not increase the cost of the game (in other words, if the gargantuan model, with all the features included, only cost as much as WoW currently costs to play). I don’t like the idea of having to pay more than I currently pay to play ALL of the game. Basically, I’d keep paying 15 bucks a month to play, even if I had the choice to pay 10 and swear off raiding entirely. I like being able to jump around with my spare time in-game. Which, I guess, is just another kind of choice.
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