World of Warcraft: Cash Shop Worries
By Joshua Temblett (Dontkillmydreams), OnRPG Journalist
In recent news Blizzard Entertainment announced a cash shop, where you can buy in-game pets with real money, for their hugely successful MMORPG, World of Warcraft. The game has over 11 million players worldwide and earns more than a $120 million every month from its monthly fee of £9/$15/€12 per month to play the game. With the addition of this cash shop (which are commonly found in Free 2 Play MMOs); one question had to be asked, what is my monthly fee paying for?
The store in question only features two in-game pets; one is a mini Kel’Thuzad and the other a kung fu panda. The panda, named the Pandaren Monk, does have some value as half of the proceeds go to the “Make-A-Wish-Foundation” which, as I’m sure you all know, is a charitable organisation.
Profits from Pets
Now selling these pets, which don’t have any real impact on the game whatsoever, and then giving some of the money to charity, I have nothing against. In fact I think it would be a really good idea as it would benefit both Blizzard and the charity in need of money. I feel I should also add that I have nothing against the pets themselves; I only have a problem against them selling them for extra profit when they should be included into the game for the monthly fee you pay.
As with every item in the world, you want to know what you’re dishing out your money for and you want to know that you’ll be getting value from the said item. So with this in mind let’s look at exactly what you’re paying for every month in your subscription for World of Warcraft. After looking at the “General FAQ” section of the game’s official website, I have the answer to this question. Underneath the heading: “Why isn’t World of Warcraft free?”, is the answer “World of Warcraft requires a fee to play. This fee is used to support the costs associated with the high-quality levels of service, support, and ongoing content creation for World of Warcraft.”
Let’s rip this answer apart a bit, shall we? According to Blizzard you are paying for “high-quality levels of service”. Let’s assume, as the statement seems a bit vague, that this means you’re paying for servers. Jeff Strain, one of the co-founders of ArenaNet (who are the studio behind Guild Wars, the game that most people consider to rival World of Warcraft), in his speech entitled “How to Create a Successful MMO” at the Leipzig Games Convention 2007, said this about monthly subscriptions:
“Gamers will no longer buy the argument that every MMO requires a subscription fee to offset server and bandwidth costs. It’s not true – you know it, and they know it.”
Servers don’t cost a lot to keep up; the rise of Free-2-Play gaming pretty much confirms this. Whilst these F2P games do make money from the cash shops they provide, there will be a few months when the game has just launched where the money they make won’t be enough to cover the “large” (as many MMORPG companies try to make us believe) expenses that a server requires. The reason why these free games don’t stop is because servers don’t require a lot of money to host. After all if these servers did cost a lot, then how come games like Guild Wars survive without monthly fees?
Whilst Guild Wars’ architecture is different from any other MMORPG, it still needs servers to host and support it and with no monthly fees where do they get all the money from to host these servers? NCsoft does sell things for GW, such as name changes and character slots; however surely this service doesn’t make enough money to cover the huge costs of servers that exist, as MMORPG companies would make us believe.
The point I’m trying to get across is that servers don’t cost a lot of money, and you definitely shouldn’t believe it when a developer says “you’re paying monthly fees for server hosting”. Most people don’t believe it and you shouldn’t either. Even if servers did require a lot of money to host, I wouldn’t consider Blizzard is giving us “high-quality levels of service“, especially with regard to their servers.
Support and Maintenance
With regard to your money paying for support, which I’m assuming is customer support etc, how come companies like Electronic Arts and Valve offer support for free for their products and Blizzard doesn’t? Perhaps I’m being a bit unfair here as there is 24/7 Game Master support for World of Warcraft and I can appreciate that they will need a large customer support service to deal with all of the players’ various questions and complaints. Although I’m pretty sure this aspect only takes a few dollars/euros/pounds from your monthly fee and once again most MMORPGs won’t charge you a monthly fee for this type of 24/7 support and maintenance.
The last point as to why we’re paying a monthly fee, for “content creation for World of Warcraft“, is an interesting one. Valve, the creators of games such as Left 4 Dead and Half Life, have updated their hit FPS, Team Fortress 2, 97 times since the game launched two years ago. That’s roughly one update a week. Let’s also not forget about the HUGE updates they have put into the game, which includes things like new items, weapons, maps, modes, modding tools, server side changes and changes which affect the way you manage and receive these items.
You don’t pay Valve a monthly fee for all of this; you get it all for free. I wouldn’t call Valve the most popular gaming company in the world, in fact most console gamers (which make up the vast majority of the market) don’t even know who Valve are. However, despite this the company still constantly updates their game. Do you want to know why? Because they love the game, and they love the community that surrounds it. Not only that but Valve believe “You buy the product, you get the content. We make more money because more people buy it, not because we try and nickel-and-dime the same customers”.
I’m not saying that Blizzard doesn’t love its community, or World of Warcraft; however if Valve can offer so much for free, what exactly are you paying Blizzard for? I appreciate that there is more content in WoW than in TF2, and I understand that they have to do a lot more to the game and the content they add is very big in scale, however not only do they have a monthly fee, they also get their users to pay for expansion packs every year or so. These expansion packs could easily be patched to their users.
I accept that in some respects, they need a monthly fee to keep the game running; after all it is a very big game with a very big community. My only thought is that do they really need to have a cash shop on top of all of the money they earn? Blizzard makes so much money, they make more than the vast majority of companies, and they really don’t need any more money as they’ve certainly got enough to cover for everything. Any other services they charge you for, they charge you out of greed.
You have to understand that Activision Blizzard couldn’t give a care about you or your needs/wants. In fact when Activision merged with Vivendi Games (the holdings company for Blizzard) they dropped games such as Brutal Legend and Ghostbusters: The Video Game (games which were hits) because they didn’t “have the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential and have the potential to become $100 million dollar franchises” (source). They’re just trying to milk you for all your worth.
Mini Kel’Thuzad (boss)
The simple fact is the pets you see in the pet store should be included in the monthly fee you pay. We’ve narrowed it down, the things that they’re charging you for they really don’t need to charge you for, and the money you are giving the company is more than enough for the services and content they provide. Not to mention that you do get charged $30 every year or so for an expansion (which as I mentioned before could just be given to you in a large patch) netting them more than $300,000,000 every time a new one is released.
You’re paying a premium price and you should be getting “ongoing content creation for World of Warcraft“, which you’re not getting as Blizzard aren’t giving you these pets, which is content that was created for WoW. Instead the company is making you pay for things that you should already have!
Should We Use the Cash Shop?
This isn’t right and we should be doing something about it. You may say “Oh well, it’s just pets”, but those pets still should have been included in the monthly fee. After all it may just be pets now but later it might be something bigger and better. There’s only one thing you can really do and that’s start complaining. Blizzard are taking you for fools and ripping you off and that isn’t fair. The company has enough money in their pockets it doesn’t need any more. You’ve got to make sure your voice is heard.
We let Activision Blizzard screw the PC gaming community with Modern Warfare 2; let’s not let them do it again. Sooner or later they’ve got to understand that we control them, we decide whether or not we give them our money (that we spend hours of our lives earning) and if they’re going to keep spitting on us and thinking that we’re stupid, then we have got to plug up the drain and stop the money flowing in.
Jeff Strain once said, “In a subscription model you are asking players to make a choice every month, and it is a fairly drastic choice: Stay married, or get divorced?“, unfortunately with World of Warcraft it’s looking like if you stay married, you have to have children too.