Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Divided Community

as expected, the release of lil' xt and the celestial steed has the WoW community and pet collecting community in a buzz. some are ok with the idea of paying-to-pet, while others feel it's a poor decision on blizzard's part.

the big question that hangs over my head as i contemplate the wider and wider selection of vanity items being sold online for real money, is: 'is this right?' "right" and "wrong" are very vague and often subjective ideas though. perhaps a better way to pose the question is, 'is this ethical?'

from blizzard's point of view, yes. they are offering a fun virtual item that does not impact the way the game is played. it doesn't buff your character or give you an advantage over others. there is no absolute NEED to have any of the items to continue playing the game as it was meant to be played. and at the same time blizzard makes some extra cash while providing these amusing goods. it's a win/win situation, right? the majority of players who have purchased pets from the blizzard store would agree. it's fair and blizzard is only doing what is profitable so that they may continue on as a well-run company. other players don't feel the same.

from a dissatisfied player point of view, all of this can be seen as taking advantage of the completionist mentality as well as the "vanity" idea.

those who collect mounts, pets, or any other item that may soon be added to the online blizzard store can argue that their specific game play IS affected by the new microtransactions. i'm sure there are at least a few people who continue to play the game, play solely for the purpose of collecting it all. while the argument is that no one is forcing these people to purchase anything outside of the virtual world, the entire goal of the game for them indirectly pressures them to do so.

as a collector or a completionist, the player is driven and motivated by the desire to acquire many or all items in a category. it's what is fun for them. when confronted with a roadblock they cannot pass over or go around, the fun aspect is lessened or can even be lost. they have already invested so much time and effort into their collections, once something new is released, what choice do they have but to go and purchase it? it is either that or suddenly have a giant hole in their otherwise complete gaming experience. is this fair for them and is blizzard taking advantage of the player's investments?

nevermind those who collect, what about those who cannot afford to spend even more money on "cool" and fun items? this is a huge slap in the face for them. it can be seen that the "best" items are being withheld from them and the "cool" things are only offered to those who can pay.

keep in mind that "best" and "worst" are just as subjective as "right" and "wrong". each player will see each vanity item differently. however, it is only in our human nature to see something new and unique as being "better" than the old and the tired. is blizzard taking advantage of this? could they go about adding new and interesting things to the game while making a profit in a different manner?

blizzard will be making A LOT of money from these two new additions to the blizzard store. the fact that they are both virtual items and there is no shipping cost on their end means that this is mainly a pure profit. it costs money to maintain the servers and pay game/server techs as well as billing staff, though. but i'm guessing this will likely be a gain rather than a loss, even with their expenses.

this begs the question of "then why?" if blizzard intends for the virtual goods to be fun and non-essential for gameplay, why expect payment? is it too much to ask that these "better" things be offered freely within game (a game that we are already paying for in many different ways, ie: subscriptions, server transfers, race changes, name changes, etc.)? some could argue that the beast has finally exploded out of the belly and blizzard has turned over to the darker side of business. money normally has that effect on people despite their first intentions.

my hope is that with the money gained from the sale of virtual items blizzard will invest back into the game. newer, more grander non-combat pets released in game. shinier, more unique mounts and other doo-dads. and the best yet... less server lag and downtime with more complete and efficient customer service!

any and all of the above would greatly reduce the idea that blizzard has suddenly sold their soul to money. proof of purchase. it's tough to show the minute details that are new or that servers are X times better than 4 years ago, but players who are dissatisfied with the direction of microtransactions may need to see these things in order to feel less taken advantage of or cheated.

the suggestion of a donation being sent to a non-profit organization with every purchase of a blizzard pet store item was great and i'm sad to see that it has not been replicated since the sale of the pandaren monk. it would definitely take the edge off of selling and buying.

would this make the sale of vanity items for real life money ok in everyone's eyes? probably not. there will always be some opposed to the idea in its entirety. but it may soften the hearts of those who are on the fence and allow blizzard to take microtransactions into a more widely accepted "ethical" approach.
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