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Vicarious Existence

To blog about what is going on in the MMO genre from a casual MMO player's viewpoint.

Author: UnSub

Microtransactions by Stealth? CoH/V's Booster Packs

Posted by UnSub Saturday August 30 2008 at 12:01AM
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City of Heroes / Villains (CoH/V) released the first announcement of I13 this week - titled "Architect" it contains a number of systems to get very excited about, including player mission creation tools and an offline character reward system titled 'Day Jobs'. I'll get to them later, but what interested me a lot is the announcement a bit further down about new Booster Packs coming to CoH/V - purchasable updates that unlock new powers, new costume pieces etc for your account.

In Positron's (aka Matt Miller's, lead developer on CoH/V) words:

"Finally, I want to tell you about two "Booster Packs" that will be available in a month or so. Many players have requested the ability to buy the 30 day temporary jetpack that comes with the new City of Heroes Game Cards. Once the retailer exclusive period ends next month, we are making the same jetpack available for purchase for $4.99 (which is the cost difference between the one month game time and the $20 Game Card price). We are also excited to launch our Super Booster I: Cyborg Pack for $9.99. This pack has an awesome set of costume pieces, emotes, auras and a power. We'll be sharing all of the details shortly."

The first of these items is a bit useless for most existing players - $5 for a 30 day travel power in the jet pack. I'm sure a number of people will buy it once just to try it out, but probably won't repurchase it. However, that's still money into NCSoft NorthCal's coffers, so I'm sure they won't mind.

The second, the Booster Pack I: Cyborg Pack, is also not entirely new to CoH/V, but it's an interesting step down a certain path. In reality it should be called Booster Pack II - Booster Pack I is really The Wedding Pack, which unlocked a number of wedding-related costume pieces and emotes for $10 and was released in February this year. The success of The Wedding Pack meant that more resources could be deployed on developing I12, which in turn saw more content implemented in that issue. So it is a strategy that has worked for CoH/V once and they are trying their hand at doing it more formally.

As much as it pains me to say, CoH/V is unlikely to grow substantially in player numbers from this point forward. CoH/V is four years old and coming up against some younger competition, both of whom have studied this title in great depth. However, what CoH/V does have is a very committed player base and a character creation system that is yet unmatched. As such, the sensible financial strategy for them to take on is to try to increase their current players' share of wallet with CoH/V. This means putting out 'cosmetic' items (such as costume pieces or emotes) that won't actually do much to how your character plays, but is vital for completists or those wanting to build a specific type of character to get.

Some people will grumble about this, or say that if a game charges a sub fee it shouldn't charge any other fees. I disagree, because you don't have to buy these Booster Packs to be competitive, or they won't make the game automatically more fun - they are just added extras. But it is a way to get more money out of a relatively stable player base that means you can then have a development budget that will grow the title, not just keep it propped up.

This strategy could backfire. Players could resent paying for things they used to get for free - new costume pieces are a big thing for some players every issue, so if they stop just so they can go into Booster Packs, well, there will be blood. NCsoft NorthCal will have to carefully balance this strategy with the expectations of players.

However, if it works, it could see more resources put into making CoH/V stand out from its two new rivals. I'm interested to see what Booster Pack I actually has in it and will probably buy it. But would I buy 2 booster packs a year? 4 year? Would I buy Booster Pack XVII: Catgirls Gone Wild? I don't know.

But it is an interesting tactic for CoH/V to be going down. I see the future of AAA MMOs relying more on a mixed model of subscription fees and microtransaction revenue, which certainly seems to be where CoH/V is going.

UPDATE: Toned the title down a smidge.

StinkyPest writes:

I think the title of your blog is misleading, as I see no deception or 'stealth' in these micro transactions. It is an item mall, there's no doubt about it.

I'm sure a lot of people will hate it, whine about it, might even quit over it. When it's all said and done the company will make more money. As long as it goes toward development I care not, but if it just goes towards people's pockets it's a worthless pile. Too bad there's no real way we can determine where the funds from this item mall will be going towards.

Sat Aug 30 2008 1:12AM Report
UncertaintyP writes:

It's not as bad as games like WoW that charge you for the game, then for it monthly, and then for expansion packs that you need to get a higher level.

The only problem I have with things like this is part of the explanation for the monthly charge has always been updates and new content, despite the fact that few games actually get new free content, and even free multiplayer games get updates.

I don't really understand the anger people have with item malls though, it's only really a big deal if they sell some kind of awesome gear that you can only get through it. And if a company does that they don't care about you or the game, they just want money, so move on. Though if these packs have new powers it might be alittle like that.

It really just sounds like they're trying to suck as much money as they can out of it because it's dying. Because never has charging people money for new content ever raised subscriptions.

Sat Aug 30 2008 5:49AM Report
VideoJockey writes:

My impression from the community is that nobody is concerned about this. I have a well-off friend who will probably buy them just because he can, but it's not even on the radar for the rest of us. We just don't need/want/care about it.

Issue 13 is what's really getting people excited. Players are still getting tons of new content for their subscription fees.

Sat Aug 30 2008 6:38AM Report
UnSub writes:

I don't think Booster Packs are a negative, but they are an interesting path for a sub-fee-based MMO to be taking. It is a form of microtransactions to pay for such things to be unlocked imo and it was slipped in at the end of an announcement, hence the 'stealth' reference.

Also, the reaction to the Booster Pack I will depend on exactly what it contains. Right now people are excited about the Architect system or new power sets. If Booster Pack I contains a valuable original power then I can see a lot of complaints incoming... but if the Booster Pack I doesn't contain enough value, it won't shift enough units to be profitable. It's a fine line for the devs to walk.

Sat Aug 30 2008 9:53AM Report writes:
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