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Editor's Note

Jon Wood, the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, gives his opinions on news, games, and all things MMORPG.

Author: Stradden

Speaking With Your Wallet

Posted by Stradden Friday November 6 2009 at 2:14PM
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The responses to my column this week got me to thinking about a lot of things, not the least of which is where companies draw the line between making games for players to enjoy and making games in order to make the most profit possible.

It’s an interesting question, really and after thinking about it for a while, I have come to the conclusion that there must be some kind of disconnect happening somewhere because the two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.

Shouldn’t making good games and having great customer service actually be what’s best for a company’s bottom line? I mean, that’s what they do. That’s what confuses me so much when people start complaining that this game company or that game company is “selling out” and “doesn’t care about their players, they just care about profits.” Given that it’s the players who provide the profits, you wouldn’t think we’d hear that quite as often as we do.

Personally, I think what’s happening is that people aren’t necessarily making their voices heard in the most effective way possible: by making it unprofitable for companies to ignore them.

Sure, going out and posting on forums certainly gets people riled up, but in today’s world where people will complain bitterly on the internet and then go out and buy the product anyway, it’s a less meaningful gesture than it once was.

As businesses, game companies are going to rely less on word of mouth in forums and more on the metrics and other information that is gathered in response to any given change, or initiative. If they see a decline in numbers and in their bottom lines, that’s when the powers that be, the folks who make all of the final decisions stand up and take notice.

My friends, there’s only one way to effectively give your say when it comes to voicing your displeasure with a game company’s decision. Stop giving them your money. Vote with your wallets. In the end, if you’re not pissed off enough to stop giving them your hard earned cash, they’re going to assume that you’re just blowing off some steam and will continue to provide revenue for them.

In the world of single player games, when Valve announced Left 4 Dead 2, a number of concerned players of the first game were upset because they felt that the original game would, as a matter of course, fall by the wayside and free updates that were promised would never come to fruition.

Of course, this meant that many game forums went up in flames as people lost their minds and vocalized it as loudly as possible online. Even with all of the uproar, it wasn’t until a rational boycott program was put into effect that Valve stood up and took notice, eventually properly addressing player concerns (there are some who believe that the Crash Course addition to the game was a direct result of this).

In the end, it’s the bottom line stuff that companies are going to listen to. That’s why most MMOs ask you why you’ve cancelled when you cancel your sub. It’s not because they enjoy reading the large number of profanity-laced responses, but because it can give them an idea of what needs changing should a pattern develop.

So, that’s voting with your wallet. It’s a strong way for an individual to send a strong message.
 

Paragus1 writes:

I'm hoping this is what happens with Modern Ware 2 on the PC.   They are charging PC gamers $10 more for the game, and cutting the multiplayer features in half by removing dedicated servers.  A lot of the PC community is boycotting the game in the hopes that they will hit them in their bottom line for selling out the market that made them who they are today.  

I for one hope it works, because they have pretty much said they don't care about the petition with over 180,000 signatures telling them to add dedicated server or they won't buy it.

Fri Nov 06 2009 2:24PM Report
ericbelser writes:

While I agree completely, I doubt we'll see it happen. After every botched launch, failure to deliver features or other incident of company failure, we see more blind defense of that company than I can believe. The "market" seems perpetually willing to be blind optimists and ignore past goofs.

Fri Nov 06 2009 2:25PM Report
Phry writes:

COD:MW was a highly recommended game for good reasons, its successor however isnt, and it wouldnt surprise me if sales of MW2 suffer for its numerous 'lacks' i'll be voting with my wallet anyway by not buying it.

Fri Nov 06 2009 2:35PM Report
KarmaCry7 writes:

Um, now I don't agree. Players are already cheap as it is wanting everything for free. The economy is bad and everyone is trying to save their money (both players and companies). I believe companies must change but boycotting? lol. Soon players will start demanding P2P to become the new F2P standard. When all P2P companies become F2P, former consumers having no intent on buy anything at all from item malls, will begin threatening to leave the F2P games because the quality of content isn't there. Companies will no longer be able to afford good content because well, no one is paying for anything thus the mmo market crashes and people return to console games.

Dude, the mmorpg market is dieing a slow death. Players don't know what the hell they want anymore, they just want it good and they want it free. Encouraging boycotting is like encouraging everyone to stop going to work because citizens aren't being paid enough. The economy will crash and everyone will suffer in the end. Pan handlers with picket signs saying "GIVE ME FREE!" isn't going to make the economy change nor is everyone in the nation refusing to work simply because the economy is bad going to make things better.

Change must come, that is the truth but the mmorpg industry is already suffering enough as it is so encouraging players not to support the games they once loved will lead this market into a dead end. Players and gamers are not economists, we just play games and respond to the trends. Issue in the wrong trend and everything goes wrong.

There is no perfect game, there is no perfect player, there is no one perfect decision.  I hope the end of mmos are not drawing near. I feared this...
 

Fri Nov 06 2009 3:08PM Report
Ruyn writes:

Voting with your wallet only works when you have alternative choices.  With gaming in mind you will always have a choice but unfortunately that may be to stop playing entirely. 

Once all of the big companies decide to go one way, all the other companies tend to follow.  Usually what you have left are the Independents who, in trying to be different, offer these alternative choices.

Yes gamers range in age but a majority are younger and they need to stand up in what they believe in and put their mouth where their wallet (or parents wallet) is.

Fri Nov 06 2009 3:37PM Report
zymurgeist writes:

Most people can't separate best for the company, best for the game, and best for themselves. If there's a sufficient market someone will eventually fill it. If people roundly condemn everything and pay anyway the message will get lost in a sea of complaints. Tell companies what you want and eventually they may accomodate you. Complaining about sucessful games is futile and counterproductive. If you don't like a game simply ignore it.

Fri Nov 06 2009 3:55PM Report
JaggaSpikes writes:

spot on.

Fri Nov 06 2009 4:01PM Report
maplestone writes:

MMORPGs blur the line between being a customer and being a citizen.  It's not a simple transactional business ... once you're sufficiently invested in your characters and virtual possessions, it takes a lot to push a person over that line to cancellation, but as a consequence people are bound to be far more bitter as they feel pushed to the edge.  There is a hint of blackmail in "keep paying or we'll burn your house down" that creates a lingering resentment that may not show consequences until something new comes along in the market that triggers a sudden mass defection faster than you can realign your game/business model to counter.

Fri Nov 06 2009 4:44PM Report
Lionno writes:

When will people realize that it has nothing to do with customer service.  Customer service comes into play AFTER you invest time and money in a game.  Do you think a majority of people would call those "tip lines" listed in the back of your Nintendo Power? Of course not.  You contact Customer Service when stuff goes wrong. People don't buy games for the customer service. They buy games for cool features that sound fun. People buy games because they think they will be fun.

That's where the problem comes in.  Games are marketed to players as 'this is going to be the best most fun thing you've ever done with a joystick!'  'This will be better than any game you've ever played.'  Then when they inevitably don't deliver on their hype and promise players become bitter, jaded and angry.  Repeat with every 50 dollar purchase these gamers make and of course everything is going to be put in a microscope and thought as a scam or rip off.

This is exactly why I haven't bought a new game in months.  I've been playing Beta's and trials and *god forbid* free to play games.  I've invested plenty of time but no money and been thankful for it.  All I see now are faults.  I look at these faults and say am I willing to put up with this after spending my money?  If there is any hesitation, as soon as money comes into question I'm gone. 

Honestly, I don't remember the last time i tried a game after reading a dev diary or interview or press release about a certain feature and not been incredibly disappointed.

Fri Nov 06 2009 5:12PM Report
nAAtimus writes:

This is why I am not subscribed to any MMOs at the moment.  They just don't do it for me.  It would be disingenuous of me to subscribe to an MMO I don't enjoy, so I don't.  People make these matters out to be issues of civil liberty, neglecting the fact that games are luxuries.  They have no problem complaining about theoretical situations, which they confuse for reality.  That's life, and that's why Madison was a supporter of the Compound Republic.

Fri Nov 06 2009 5:38PM Report
Strap writes:

 

Maplestone is spot on - mmorpgs blur the line and its something I've personally experienced. Turbine went back on their word and I disagreed strongly where LOTRO was going, and eventually voted with my wallet, but it was very difficult because of the kin I was in - which I had helped build up - and the number of close friends I had made there. I was active on the forums and (at least initially) thought there were enough people who agreed with me that we might sway the devs. Of course we didn't come even close, and nor was it really the devs that needed swaying even.

 

Anyhoo, I'm more careful now not to get too socially involved in a game so I can more easily vote with my wallet. But is this a good thing?? Not really.

 

It would be better if people could actually trust what these gaming companies say they will or wont do and so make a good initial decision about investing themselves in a game.


Am I correct in thinking that Blizzard made comments about RMT that would lead customers to thinking they would never introduce RMT? Wouldn't surprise me at all...

Fri Nov 06 2009 10:43PM Report
MMO_Doubter writes:

Speak with your wallet, indeed.

I'm doing just that. No more business with Blizzard until they turn back from their excessive greed maneuvers.

Fri Nov 06 2009 10:55PM Report
tkobo writes:

Its already happening.Look at all the games struggling to stay alive right now as they bleed paying customers at fatal speeds.Look at how many have failed to even survive .

Its not happening as much as it should,but its happening.

And it will increase.People have started to realize the so-called big names in the MMO industry were nothing but false hype, turning out the same crap time after time.

The devs will turn to "going free" schemes,which will slow their demise, but the only way to stop it would be to deliver an actaul reasonably quality product.And they just dont have the skills required to do so.

And its a real shame they'll drag out their passing , becuase the best chances for a game people want to play, will come when they are gone.

Fri Nov 06 2009 11:58PM Report
Palebane writes:

Vote with a bullet.

Sat Nov 07 2009 12:40PM Report
Thalarius writes:

Speaking of hype and false hype, this site MMORPG Dot Com has been equally responsible for promoting hype even up to false hype of games to get people to buy buy buy. I would not be suprised if these same big studios pay top dollars to MMORPG Dot Com to promote thier products in a postive light including the hype. 

World of Warcraft has everyone spoiled, they see how Blizzard is making a massive profit from over 4 years in business and everyone wants to copy thier business model. Sad to say, not everyone can be like Blizzard. No possible way.

Quality of Devs is going down, education costs is rising so there is a massive decrease in new talent's. It is going to get to a point that we could see virtual crash of the MMORPG game worlds as the technology will increase to a point that only those who are rich will be abled to play online and those who are poor or low income who do not have the thousands of dollars to pay for computer system upgrades will be left behind....

 

Sat Nov 07 2009 12:50PM Report
Troneas writes:

i made a blog about rmt which pretty much reaches the conclusions you have reached. -  gaming companies wont stop at the complaints in this booming industry of selling virtual items.

if you are interested in reading it its here:

http://www.mmofringe.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=89:on-rmt&catid=56:Troneas

Sat Nov 07 2009 2:28PM Report
qombi writes:

That is exactly what I do. I do it out of principle when I don't agree with something a game producer does. Heck, I do this with any product in life I don't agree with or don't want.

In the case of RMT, this is exactly what I do and encourage anyone who doesn't like RMT in games to do the same. Quit the game and when you quit leave the reason in cancel comments. Don't hate this coming into your game and still say subscribed. It will not make your cause known.

Sat Nov 07 2009 3:04PM Report
Steakpuncher writes:

It really depends on how badly the company wants to ignore the complaints regardless of how people express their view. Thousands voted with their wallets in the SWG fiasco and they didn't seem to care at all.

Sat Nov 07 2009 3:29PM Report
Drakynn writes:

Some of the problem is "smart" consumers who sympathize with the Company and try to justify costs and why companies should charge whatever they want to charge.That as a consumer is not my concern,my and any consumers concern is to get the most out of their money.

Whilst I understand that a company has to make enough profit to remain in business,that doesn't mean I want to pay more so they can unless the product can prove worth the extra compared to the competition.

Sat Nov 07 2009 9:26PM Report
ArcAngel3 writes:

You make a good point.  The thing is, some companies don't seem to think like you, or me for that matter.  Consider SOE's decision to alienate most of its SWG players in the hope of attracting a new and hopefully larger audience.  Consdier how absolutely awful the quality of the game was after its revamps.  Consider SOE's addition of RMT to SWG and Everquest.  Also, consider how many people did vote with their wallets regarding the revamps to Galaxies, and yet SOE still seemed to disregard their feedback.

I, and many others, spoke out on the forums and voted with our wallets, and the feedback still seemed to be generally ignored.  If you could explain that somehow, you'd solve one of the great mysteries of the MMO industry.

Why do some companies seem to hurt their own games with disastrous revamps and unwanted changes to the business model?

Sun Nov 08 2009 12:18AM Report
Nesrie writes:

There is a pretty large disconnect in what a game actually costs these days to what you pay for. I mean you've got some games that are cranked out in a handful of months selling for 20-30 dollars. Then you have games that take millions of dollars selling for 40-60.  The pricing model for all these games is nothing but marketing. And then you have that same marketing team driving up the hype and shrugging when none of it is true. Plus, we have one of the few products that doesn't allow you to return said product when it's not even close to being "as described." I vote with my wallet all the time, and when I say I do that, you get at least two dozen fanboys telling me why I should pay now and hope things get better later, or to pay just to support a company's efforts... as if somehow these companies are entitled to my money in the first place? Then you have the pirates. They don't pay for anything so when a game tanks you get, well the pirates sank us or PC gaming is too hard instead of the rightful conclusion that bad games and bad service sink a company. Don't even get me started on how the media covering gaming is pretty much bought and paid for to sell, sell, sell no matter how bad a game is.

Sun Nov 08 2009 1:17AM Report
marcust writes:

I do sometimes wonder how UO and EQ1 would do in today's market (with the obvious technology upgrades). Rather than be content what what a game provides now, we are focused on whats wrong with it and what better game is just around the corner. There is a form of MMOADD that has changed MMO's forever and while I don't believe they will di, as dramitically put by some, they will evolve. Look at the rise in console games, the new motion controlled opportunities coming soon. MMO's will change, we are just going through a rough patch.

Sun Nov 08 2009 2:16AM Report
Bob_Blawblaw writes:

Voting with your wallet IS effective Jon, I won't dispute that. But when you claim it's the ONLY way to communicate with said game publisher, you are SO wrong. I work for a game company, and I can guarantee you that the CEO of the company I work for reads our fan forums regularily. When fans of our games speak in a unified voice, he/she hears them.

Why all that hate for 'the vocal minority' Jon? Driving business from your site?

Sun Nov 08 2009 5:43AM Report
Bama1267 writes:

 Both are effective. You can't tell me, bad publicity and advertising doesn't hurt a company. You can't tell me that they don't see the fan base going into an uproar when thye do somethign it doesn't like either.

Sun Nov 08 2009 8:10AM Report
Phry writes:

the point was raised earlier over the SWG fiasco, its probably well known enough that dont need to explain what happened, but, i think it would be wrong to say that SOE didnt react to the losses, perhaps they underestimated the degree of vitriol it would create, but eventually they did react, and worked to repair the 'damage'... but SOE's reputation over SWG was badly affected, even now its still referred to as the 'how not to' etc in mmo's.  SWG seems to be on life support too, so again, i wouldnt say the 'voting with the wallet' was had no effect. though i would be curious to know how other 'big name' game companies would have handled the situation...

Sun Nov 08 2009 1:51PM Report
lawnmowerman writes:

  Jon has become incresingly cynical and condescending in his tone lately. I have lurked these forums for some time now and honestly, his name is the only one that stands out . The other writers here are basically anonymous to me.

   He , however sounds more like a fanboy nerdraging and less like a managing editor, to the point that he stands out.

 

  Perhaps it is time for a vacation before he has a meltdown, ala tseric.

Sun Nov 08 2009 2:14PM Report
Bob_Blawblaw writes:

Perhaps he should have to start PAYING for his MMO subscriptions.

Sun Nov 08 2009 3:43PM Report
grndzro writes:

My problem is the endless grind developers put in their games because they think that's what they need to keep people playing.

it's BS, Take a look at Guild Wars. Even when you get your toon fleshed out the PVP is the most exciting part of the game. And it dosen't take forever and a day to get your toon up there.

The difference is how Exciting the game actually is to play. FFXI captured that excitement IMO because playing well required quite a bit of skill. and the party dynamic made being in a good party a real treat.

Developers need to focus more on making games exciting to play.

Sun Nov 08 2009 8:18PM Report
Gyrus writes:

Apparently people ARE voting with their wallets?
http://www.reuters.com/article/technologyNews/idUSTRE56F7GY20090716?feedType=RSS&feedName=technologyNews

Developers are being driven out of business.

But, rather than find out why, the consumers are being fed the same old crap.

The whole industry is to blame, from top to bottom, starting with the developers and ending with the consumers.
In the middle are retailers, games reviewers and even sites like MMORPG.com.

Consumer Laws (particularly in the US) are a big part of the issue too - along with the EULA fanbois who have managed to convince many that they "have no rights and the {games} company can do whateverthehelltheywant..." so people don't complain when they should and ask for their money back.  Not to mention that many of the final recipients of games are young and for many reasons don't think to complain.

Paid betas, open betas {now used for marketing rather than testing} and special pre-order Collectors Editions which are promoted by sites like Fileplanet contribute to the hype...
...as do reviewers who don't seem to understand that the median from 0-10 is 5 - not 7 or 8.  A score of 8 suggests to most people 'this is a pretty damn good game'.

So, consumers find it hard to figure out what is actually good - and what is just hype... until they buy the game.

But... 31% downturn... consumers are voting and right now that vote is 'no confidence'.

Mon Nov 09 2009 6:51AM Report
jfk35824 writes:

The man's right. no matter how much people complain, or how cynical people are about how jaded the public is, all through history one of the only effective weopons consumers have is the effective boycott.  Yes, the economy is bad. That's part of the point.  As much as i enjoyed the Beta test for Champions Online, no matter how excited i am about The Secret World, or World of Darkness Online, my wallet rules what I'm going to do as far as gaming. 

I enjoyed Champions Online, but there were som minor features i didn't like, and I can't afford it.  WOD Online and The Secret World both look promising, but we don't have much info about them, and there will probably be sub fees for both.  I'm a more casual gamer, my family and I are tight financially for the forseeable future, and thus I can only afford a new alpha-level game release maybe once a year.  Thus, right now I'm looking strictly at f2p and either 1. Guild Wars 2 , 2. All Points Bulletin, or 3. Diablo 3 in that order of prefrence.  APB was at the top of my list b/c its not a fantasy game, but honestly, GW2 looks like its the beefier game as content.

All three of the properties I mentioned have stated that they don't or won't use a traditional subscription model.  That suits me fine. Vote with my wallet? You betcha.  NC Soft has done a great job IMHO with Guild Wars I. Yes, I'm sure much of their continuted revenue comes from games like Aion that have a sub fee.  Until I can justify a box fee and a monthly sub fee, that isn't my problem.  Companies go under? Unlikely at best unless there are larger issues, and still not my problem.  Companies won't get my money for games unless its good enough for me to really lust after and...is...affordable...for...me. 

Heh. Besides, White Wolf/CCP is getting my money anyway b/c they are producing books for their table top gaming that i want/lust after.That's the key for me: the books are an affordable "i can save up for it" one time purchase. So this year, I'll be asking for books i can use to create table top stories i can share with freinds. 

I'm all for pixellated mayhem folx, but this year? Viva Dice-Rolling and Character Sheets! They are sort of the *original* mmo's in a sense.  

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mon Nov 09 2009 8:42AM Report
nosto writes:

Voting with your wallet only goes so far and depends heavily on where you are voting with it.  1 person quitting vs. the 8+mil playing WoW = negligible and just QQ in Blizzard's eyes.  1 person vs. a player base of say 70,000 - means a little bit more to a company.  I mean really it isn't voting once you've paid for a game, and consistantly paid for 1 or more months.  The issue we have right now is that people look at luxury items such as movies, games, etc etc as something independant of other economical purchases.  Consumers (gamers) are not consuming games with the same critique they would with say.. a car or a dishwasher.  They tend to read a review and take it as dogmatic truth as to a games quality.  Personally for me - the MMO world is going to continue to evolve in a way that will try to satisfy as much of the market as possible.  Originally MMOs had their own crowd and it evolved to what it is today.  This is the same thing that happens across all entertainment mediums (movies etc etc). For those who don't like it- wait until a company goes for a niche vs. a crowd - and be patient - it'll be a while.

Mon Nov 09 2009 9:08AM Report
SnarlingWolf writes:

I actually wanted to respond to Paragus directly. Most studies and polls show that the PC game market is shrinking and the console market is growing. So companies want to focus on the console since it will bring in the most money. To me that $10 extra is their way of making it so it was as profitable to design it for the PC. Also I've always figured games get some percentage of the xbox live gold price depending on how much their game is played with it (maybe I'm way off the mark but it makes sense) for that reason it would make sense to have dedicated servers since they're regularly being paid for.

 

I almost think boycotting the PC sales of MW2 would let the execs that don't want to develop for PC anymore to say "See we don't get good sales on PC so let's not target that market anymore" but maybe that's not what they'll do.

 

I truly prefer to game on the PC and it's sad to see that everyone is switch to consoles, but hopefully they will release a console/PC merged product to end the difference and everything will be better.

Mon Nov 09 2009 4:50PM Report
Gyrus writes:

Interesting that this comment:
.. where companies draw the line between making games for players to enjoy and making games in order to make the most profit possible.

... there must be some kind of disconnect happening somewhere because the two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.

And this:
http://au.gamespot.com/news/6239401.html?tag=latestheadlines;title;1

...

17% of Electronic Arts employees are getting pink slips.

The reorg will also see the publisher "provide greater focus on titles with higher [profit] margin opportunities." As a result, Riccitiello "over a dozen" games had been canceled, although he did not identify any specific titles.

"Anything that doesn't measure up to be in a very high profit contributor and unit seller got cut from this point going forward," said the CEO.

 

Perhaps MMORPG should ask Riccitiello on his view on whether i is about good games or profit?

Mon Nov 09 2009 6:40PM Report
chaintm writes:

Indeed,

Downfall to this of not listening to the forums (as that seems to be more and more the trend), companies won't get those initial payments of 50 bucks for their game at the start and really fail quick. The others such as mythic and sony have proven when you don't listen to your customers rant and rave on the forums and actually take the time to see how many are just re-posting and how many are acutally unique in posting that they have problems.

Take CO (champions online) , there where maybe 25% of the people voiced their opinion on how easy the game was, how it was no challenge (IE The grinders mostly) and it needed to be changed. The devs seen how fast people where leveling at launch and day 2 a  patch came out that tweeked the game to where you had to configure your character a certain way to actually play the way you did before.

This vast change killed their game, so badly that it's population is now a 1/4 of what it use to be and free trials are flying out the door. To this point, when you don't take the time to understand your customer base and or listen to them anymore because you think you know what is best. Guess what? You find out quick how well you "thought" you knew something and next thing you know your another Bill Roper looking for the next big thing to get a pay check at.

 

Mon Nov 09 2009 9:20PM Report
biofellis writes:

You can't 'unspend' money spent on software. Most stores don't allow 'subscription' software back. Yeah- they don't get the monthly when you cancel, but that's like saying 'these pancakes suck- don't bother bringing syrup.' Well- not exactly, but you get my point. Every other game manufacturer is worried about box sales, and MMO sales are GUARANTEED unrefundable. Unless bad press kills those, I doubt they'll care much. Making businesses that will fail, switching gears, claiming losses (based on projected figures- still scratch my head over that), getting write-offs and going again is regular business practice nowadays.

Thu Nov 12 2009 3:54PM Report

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