Thursday, October 13, 2011

Killing the Kittens

All right. I'll chime in on Kittengate (thanks Hugh).  I've seen enough e-words written to classify this as a hot topic.  How hot?  That's your call.

Personally, I'm pretty "meh" about it.  For anyone who's been living under a rock (Or apparently reads only me... and for that I am extremely grateful and apologize for the whole rock thing.  Rocks are nice this time of year, I hear.), the long story short is this: Soon, Blizz will sell an uber-cute kitten pet for cash.  This is not a new step.  The new step is that the kitten will be not be bound until you use it, thus making it AH-able.

There was a lot of noise from the peanut galleries.  Most were saying how this is a move to "legitimize" Real Money Trading.  I guess the theory is that you'd buy a crate of kittens for, like, $60 (that's a half dozen kittens, for those of you keeping score) and then proceed to market them on the AH, swimming in Scrooge McDuck-like mounds of gold.  Or at least a nice profit.  

So, Ima go ahead and try to kill the kitten here.  That's what I do.  I'm a warlock.

First of all, I want to point out that the "cute" factor does nothing for me.  +100 immunity to charms, I guess.  Now, if it was an instant-cast-warlock-sprouting-demonic-wings-and-being-able-to-behave-like-a-flying-mount--like ability... then we'd be talking.  But a kitten?  C'mon.  What's the market going to be like for these things?

Seriously, how many of these things do you think people are going to buy?  Are people really going to want it on all of their toons?  Or just one?  And for the people that ZOMG MUST HAVE... dontcha think they might just fork over the $10 to begin with?  I guess I have huge doubts about the re-sale market here.  I would think it too unreliable to really, truly provide an avenue of RMT.  It's going to saturate, and fast.  Then what?  You're sitting on a stack of kittens with no way to move them.  Might as well get a couple hundred plastic bags, hang them from your rusted bike, and invest in cardboard housing solutions.  You're on a one-way road to crazy-catlady-ville.

(Today is, apparently, the day of the hyphen.)

Maybe I'm wrong though.  Perhaps my immunity to cuteness is blinding me.

So let's say it is a RMT solution.  That people can use it to get an extra big of cash.  I guess I'm going to go out on a limb and say "who cares?"  There was a time when I was strongly against being able to buy extra game items for cash.  But, really, it hasn't harmed the game.  (This is separate from unsupported gold selling, which supports hacking, which I'm firmly against.  I'm talking only legit, Blizz stuff here).

Since that time, I've tried out some free-to-play games.  I've done some LOTRO, several simple iPhone games, and even dabbled in the Facebook gaming scene.  My reversal of feeling has come around in tandem with my own foray into independent publishing.  And here's why...

As an aspiring anything, we rely on our fans to support us.  If you want to see more games from a small company or more books from a small author, you need to spend money to support them.  As consumers, we vote with our dollar very loudly when it comes to small-timers like myself.  Every purchase matters to me.  And the Internet is making this possible in a big way that it never was before.  Small companies with great ideas can get the cash to execute them.  Look at Portal.  Look at Angry Birds. 

Now, Blizz is hardly a small-timer.  Still, purchases add up.  I'm sure the revenue isn't anything to scoff at.  We may not matter as individuals to Blizzard as much, but collectively it's still in their best interest to please us.

Lately, I've become a big fan of the Heroes of Neverwinter Facebook game.  It's completely F2P.  So far, I've not found anything in the game that I can't get with enough in-game patience and currency.  Even so, I spent $5 recently on a bundle of all-purpose "crystals."  They let me buy a whole lot of things in the game, separate from my "gold."  What's more, I felt really good about my purchase.  I may spend another $5 soon.  I really like what they're doing.  I wanted to give them some money, and five bucks is totally cheap for the entertainment I've gotten out of their product.

I would love to see more companies move to this sort of model.  Let people choose to pay and choose to support you.  It makes me feel all marchy.  You know, like I could go out and enact social change or something.

How does this apply to Blizz and WoW?  Well, what if they're learning from all these transactions that they can offer their next MMO as F2P, supported solely by pet and mount sales?  What if they eventually get rid of the WoW sub, and simply ask you to pay a bit for each expansion, and subsidize based on cash items?  Or what if they simply take the buy-in as a sign to continue to produce uber-cute pets because we apparently love them?

I think there is a "right" way to use the emerging business model of F2P.  Sure, it can go horribly wrong and make people feel nickle and dimed... but it can also be done right so that you feel good about supporting a game.  I'm a cheap ass engineer.  I generally never feel good about spending money.  Yet, I did with Heroes of Neverwinter.  I appreciate things done well to the extent that throwing in $5 is No Big Deal.

So maybe we shouldn't kill the kitten.  Maybe it could prove to be a good thing for us in the larger scheme of things.  It's hard to say.  I mean, that path is not without its dangers.  It wouldn't be good to limit content or things like that... but to offer real, honest-to-the-Light value for your money and move away from subs?  What's not to like there?

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