World of Warcraft – Desperation is Showing

Sale in Wow
Sale in Wow

All of the battle chest with all but Pandaria for $5 and then Pandaria for another $10. It might as well be free.

It seems to me that this not so much a sale as a desperation move to avoid going to free to play. All the other games have gone F2P. So why not Wow? They appear to be clinging to the teat of those $15 / mo subscriptions, while all the other companies are doing just fine with F2P or Freemium.

Perfect World has always been F2P and has made so much money that they bought their own game studio – Cryptic Studios. There is clearly plenty of money in F2P, but Blizzard apparently cannot yet bring itself to cut the cord and go there. Once the cost of the entire game is $15, it would seem that it might as well be free. Uh Oh? What about all those physical boxes on store shelves? Seriously, are they going to bring the price back up to $25 / $40 where it used to be after the holidays?

I have never seen details of the economics of F2P mmo games on the PC. There have been some articles about F2P games on mobile, but those use a different model, since you do Pay to Get Ahead with those games. With MMOs you cannot pay to get ahead or play better. But many companies are making great MMO games, far better than and more modern than Wow, and they are using a F2P model. Consider Tera, Guild Wars 2, Rift, Neverwinter, etc. etc. All released as F2P or converted to F2P. And all with much more modern graphics, more efficient game play style and many other advantages.

In the recent BlizzCon 2013 Blizzard was quoted as saying that Wow was not designed as a F2P game. Huh? What does that mean? No shop to buy things? Not true, They have an in-game shop and they could put a team on making new goodies for the store. The only thing that keeps them from going F2P is that they might piss off a few die hard players who have been paying $15 / mo, or $180 per year for many years and would be ticked off it went F2P now. That used to be lots of money. $180 * 8M users is $1.4B per year. But it is no longer 8M users. It’s falling fast as folks jump ship so they can purchase what they want from the games they are playing rather than getting nothing for their $15 each month except for the right to play.

F2P Economics

Consider the Guild Wars 2 model. Buy it once for $49. Ok. That’s noise really. No barrier to entry for anybody buy a teenager who wants to play without their parents permission, but then they don’t have money to spend anyway. So no loss. No monthly fee in GW2. But the store has lots of cosmetic items. And some EXP boosters. Nothing that affects direct game play. You can pay to level up a little faster, but not to beat your opponents whether they be other players or NPCs. But oh the choices for cosmetics. Just like the Wow store, there are a host of vanity items and cosmetic upgrades. As well as the ability to play more characters. Each new character slot costs about $8 and each bank slot upgrade costs about $6 and you really need 3 or 4 of these to get going since if you are playing more than one character, you will want to save loot for them.

Bottom line is that my guess is that most folks pay at least $15 / mo to play one of these F2P games, but they feel like they are getting something for their money. That money is not in addition to a required subscription fee. And after all, what do Virtual Items cost the company to supply anyway? It’s not like they cost money to deliver once they have been made. They don’t require real materials to manufacture or labor to copy.

Opting out of New Models?

Wow is looking very dated these days compared with all the new games. But Blizzard appears to be ambivalent about their upcoming update, Warlords of Draenor. In a recent video interview with Morgan Webb, the Game Director Tom Chilton talked about allowing users to Opt out of the new character models. I can’t believe they would commit to allowing users to opt out of the new look. Of course, there may be a few folks who would be left behind because they have slower computers / graphics cards and would have to upgrade. Although if those folks are playing the new Pandarin characters, they have already encountered some issues since the new Pandarin models are almost as dense as the new Warlords character models. The new character models are about 20 times as dense as the previous ones. 250 > 5000 polygons.

But saving the old models too would mean that everything new – new armor / weapons / shop items would have to be made in two scales. The UV maps are very different for the old and new models, so there is no way to auto-magically translate between the new and old skins. You have to do it by hand, or build a very sophisticated program to translate new to old. Maybe that’s possible. But it’s obviously not possible to go from Old > New without manual artwork design time. What a mess that would be to maintain into the future.

I’ve been playing the trial and have noticed how primitive the old Blood Elf starter areas have been.New high-rez environments have never been mentioned in the new updates. So while your characters will get an upgrade, all that scenery will look old forever. As time and updates have passed, the areas have gotten more complex. Northrend is a far cry from the BloodElf starter area in terms of poly / texture quality. But everything up through Burning Crusade looks very dated by now. Checkout the new race models as they appear here, and in the Blizzcon 2013 youtube coverage.


Upgrade Your Trial for $5
Upgrade Your Trial for $5

All the artwork, pre-release trailers, and commercials for Wow updates have always looked better, and been done in a completely different way from actual game-play. On the game start page, you can watch the “Cinematic Trailers” for each of the updates. These are clearly not done with Game Play capture.

All the new games I mentioned above just capture game footage for their trailers, and they look awesome. Wow has a whole department whose job it is to make you think the game looks awesome, when it doesn’t.

Do they really think that after all these years we are going to continue to pay $15 / mo for these old tired graphics? No wonder folks are leaving in droves.

Wake up Blizzard. Time for F2P and then a slow campaign to upgrade the graphics on everything, not just the models of the characters.