Everyone and their dog has an opinion on “premium” services in WoW. There are some people that feel that because WoW charges a monthly fee, it is unethical to charge for some premium services. Currently, there are quite a few services that Blizzard offers to enhance your MMO experience:
- Purchasable pets and mounts in the Blizzard Store (Celestial Steed, Lil XT, etc), $10-$25 per item, applies to all characters
- Character re-customization (rename, race change, gender change), $15 per character re-customized
- Server transfers, $25 per character transferred
- World of Warcraft Remote (web and mobile AH access, mobile guild chat), $3 per month
Many MMOs have gone free-to-play, where the only revenue from the game is from optional, purchasable services like the ones Blizzard offers for WoW. However, WoW requires you to pay a non-trivial amount to play per month, as well as the price tag of the game. Here are the current numbers for the software and game time on the Blizzard store and Amazon as of the publishing of this post:
- World of Warcraft trial, includes 14 days of game time, $0
- World of Warcraft (WoW Classic) (required for all players after trial), includes 30 days of game time, $19.99 Blizzard Store, $19.75 Amazon
- World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade (requires WoW Classic), $9.99 Blizzard Store, $9.99 Amazon
- World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King (requires Burning Crusade), $39.99 Blizzard Store, $39.99 Amazon.
- World of Warcraft: Cataclysm (requires Wrath of the Lich King), $39.99 Blizzard Store, $39.99 Amazon. (currently on sale on Amazon for $28.95 on May 30, 2011)
That’s just for the software licenses, a total of $110 as of the publishing of this post for US players purchasing on the Blizzard Store. For game time, players have the following options:
- 30 days, $14.99 (about $0.50 a day)
- 60 day prepaid card, $28.99 Amazon (about $0.48 a day)
- 90 days, $41.97 (about $0.46 a day)
- 180 days, $77.94 (about $0.43 a day)
So how do these premium services, especially the cross-server RealID invite, fit in?
There is a trend in the MMO market to offer more premium services, whether the company charges a subscription fee or not. The low price tag of $20, coupled with a free trial and some game time, is a pretty low price tag for new players. Burning Crusade at $10 is a pretty cheap upgrade, too. Players who take the bait and become immersed in Azeroth are going to have to pay the monthly fees. To be honest, if you play through Burning Crusade, you are either going to decide WoW isn’t for you or be enticed enough to seriously consider buying the next two expansions.
What kind of players purchase premium services? Most likely the ones that are going to buy all of the expansions. Rabid collectors who want to pick up a special mount or pet will probably get the expansions for all of the goodies they offer. Character re-customization and server transfers are likely bought by players looking to freshen up an experience of which they have grown tired. And the remote services are for those who can’t get enough of their guild or rabid auction house mavens. All of these types of people are rabid consumers who have a big desire to purchase more than is available to them in the expansion sets in varying ways and capacities.
What Blizzard is doing in my eyes is market discrimination, and it’s a very profitable venture. Market discrimination is the practice of charging consumers different amounts based on how much they are willing to pay. If Blizzard could only offer WoW as one product at one price, they would not be able to make as much money. By offering a very cheap base version for new and casual players on one end and multiple expansions and premium services on the other, they get from each player about as much as they would be willing to pay for their experience.
People often say things like “Blizzard is making a mistake” when they offer things like this. To quote one of my favorite bloggers, “Blizzard makes billions, not mistakes.” If they haphazardly made game decisions that seriously caused them to lose revenue, they would not be as successful as they are. Without a doubt, they have market analysts and business strategy experts who do numerous calculations to value and price new services, from the number of features a new expansion should have to what premium features to offer. If a service is costly to develop and they don’t think it will greatly affect how many players will purchase games of subscriptions, it isn’t worth it to develop. If a certain segment of their customers will pay for a service so that is more profitable than other ventures, it makes sense for them to develop and offer such a service, as they are doing for these new cross-server invites. Blizzard unquestionably picks new projects of all kinds after lots of research; almost all of their ventures in both WoW and elsewhere have been huge successes, and nobody wants to gamble with 11.4 million subscribers.
There are many games with lots of business models. RIFT, an MMO that also charges a monthly subscription, is poised to offer free server transfers to select realms, a service Blizzard rarely offers for free and for which they usually charge. There are many successful games that charge no subscription and only premium services. If Blizzard is truly making a “mistake” with these decisions, we’ll see it reflected in revenue and subscriber numbers. I, for one, am excited to be able to play with my friends on other realms and would pay a small fee to do so.