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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

How Not To Announce A Micro-Trans Pricing Model: Cryptic-ly

Posted by UnSub Wednesday July 1 2009 at 11:38PM
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With the build up to the launch of Champions Online, there was always going to be some sort of pre-order goodies to encourage people to sign up at launch. And lo and behold: both Gamestop and Amazon came out with their pre-order bonuses. Ignoring the fact that the Gamestop goodies (flight travel power at lvl 0, special insect wings) is better than the vaguely DC-esque costume items Amazon gets (Grenade Chest Strap aside, the Harlequin Headpiece and Black Knight Helmet are a little Batman related, don't you think?) what really grabbed peoples' attention was the other bonus offered for pre-ordering:

5 Cryptic Bucks which can be used to purchase a variety of premium in-game goods.

This immediately raised the question "what are Cryptic Bucks?" and at about one day cycle or so from the announcement, we still don't know. It's fairly obviously some kind of microtransaction mechanism for Champions Online linked to "premium in-game goods", but that's about it. Going out with something as contentious as a paid box plus subscription fees plus microtransactions for a single title was always going to be a controversial issue, but not having info about Cryptic Bucks lined up for the launch of this information was stupidly negligent.

Nature abhors a vaccuum. With no official word on what Cryptic Bucks are good for, people are free to make their own assumptions; these assumptions are usually on the negative end of the scale. For some MMO players any kind of microtransactions is a turn-off, especially since it raises the issue of being able to pay-to-win rather than grind-to-win put time in-game to achieve items and character progression.

My personal view on RMT is that I'll judge them as a I see them. If Cryptic Bucks turn out that I can unlock something cosmetic I want quicker than having to grind it out, that's fine with me. If it means that Cryptic puts out extra content more regularly to keep those RMT revenues coming in, that seems like a good deal. But if having to buy Cryptic Bucks is the only way to advance through a title, or I'm no longer enjoying the game, then that makes microtransactions less attractive. There are certainly issues with having sub-fees and microtransactions in the one title if you have to spend both to keep playing in a reasonable manner.

Looking at titles like Fury, Hellgate: London and the bankrupting Chronicles of Spellborn, a major reason they failed is that they didn't have a business revenue model that could support the game. Confusing players about what they need to pay is never a good idea while it is commercial suicide for a studio to launch a game without considering how they are going to get paid for it in detail. 

Something like Champions Online launching with microtransactions should have been news Cryptic's PR people had answers ready and prepared for. Some people would be automatically be turned off by the idea, but if the offer is suitable then there are a large number of fence-sitters who would at least consider it. However, no information at all leaves it to the imagination about what role Cryptic Bucks are meant to serve and can be a turn off. That's not a good move for a title trying to build momentum two months from launch.