Friday, April 16, 2010

Never thought I'd be afraid of a sparkly pony

First off, this hilarious video by Totalbiscuit:

I have verified -at much risk to life and limb - that the reference to homosexuals is not anti-gay, but just a statement that the sparkly pony is "faaaabulous!"

Anywho, quick statement on the horse: overall, I find the insanely high demand for the thing terrifying given it's price.

I am also kind of sickened by the (frankly unecessary) marketing ploys they're using to artificially increase demand.

But it doesn't scare me for the reasons you may think. I'm not worried Blizzard is going to compromise the integrity of the game by selling gear or achievements. I don't think Cataclysm will be an RMT-palooza.

But I am worried that the millions of dollars they just made in one day in return for a few hours of work by an artist and a programmer is going to . . . skew their priorities a bit. After all, they are a for-profit company, and in the end their goal is to make the most money, not make the best game. Making such good games is just a good way to make money.

Companies are meant to make money, and there is nothing wrong with that. I don't begrudge Blizzard the millions they made yesterday at all. Obviously, hundreds of thousands of people thought $25 was a fair price for a mount. I'm not even criticizing them. The whole thing was generally a win for everyone all around: people who wanted the mount for that price got it, Blizz made a ton of cash, and no one who didn't want the mount is hurt by the whole thing.

Or are they? (dun dun DUNNNNNN)

The only thing I'm worried about is a priority shift. Now that Blizzard has invested so much in laying the groundwork of creating a game that so many people love so much that hundreds of thousands of them are willing to pay half the cost of an entirely new video game just for a new graphic on their mount - quite an accomplishment in itself - what is their motivation to keep investing those resources into polishing the rest of the game? Are the i's going to be dotted and t's crossed anymore? Let's look at a hypothetical (and likely hyperbolic) example just to get my point across.

From Blizzard's point of view:

Option 1: Release an innovative, deep dungeon full of new art, cool lore, and great music, voice acting, and sound effects (think Ulduar). Make a number of new models and animations.

Option 2: Take half of those artists off of making the dungeon and have them design a few cool pets and mounts for the store instead. Phone in the dungeon with stale graphics and mechanics, very few bosses, and with every single enemy model fully recycled (think ToC).

Let's say both of those options cost the same amount of money. Option 1 has an indefinable value in keeping customers interested and excited about the game. But ToC showed that releasing a crap dungeon with no new assets will have little to no effect on subscriptions numbers (the main effect is lowering overall excitement for your game, which may eventually lead to a noticeable reduction in profits).

Option 2 will make you 3 million dollars in one day.

As a for-profit company, which of those two options do you pick?

That's why I'm worried that the rest of the game will start being phoned in. We'll see fewer new character models as the artistic resources get redirected towards filling the store. I'm scared that the game, overall, will get worse because spending those resources on pets instead is so much more financially attractive.



Suicidal Zebra said...

So what you're saying is that we can expect Elemental Plane flying/swimming mounts to be sold for real dosh when the Cataclysm expansion reaches maturity? ;)

Ixobelle said...

LOL that video is comprised of 10000% WIN.

Anonymous said...

How's that slippery slope treating you? All this rampant speculation and paranoia isn't healthy you know... Get a grip. You and Ixobelle are basically on your own slippery slope to moron-hood.

Rem said...

Let's hope they remember that a sparkly pony only earns so much because it is part of such a good game. And I think they will. Part of the reason they got away with ToC was that they metaphorically plastered everything with large blinking neon signs saying "preparation for ICC". Going in the ToC direction full time would, in the long term, hamper subscriber numbers. Myself, I already once quit a game that offered only one hour raid content per week. And I would again. Friendships are portable, as long as you give them a (new) fertile soil to bloom on.

Also important to realise, and I think Blizzard does, is that the crushingly overwhelming financial success of the Steed is based on its uniqueness. Oh, no, not uniqueness in-game (haha, most common mount now), but the uniqueness of the offer itself. You can't pull that stunt every week, not even every month. It's the "amg pwny" effect of rarity that short-circuits people's brains and makes them shell out 25 bucks for something that has no value whatsoever. If you offer 10 different mounts instead, you don't earn 10 times as much - you just split the potential buyers between the offers, and, more than likely, the additional time spent on selection will make a good number go "uhm, actually..." (that's not the same as the "queue" which builds suspense and puts people in "eek, want-want-want" mode). If you release one every week, people will get into the habit of forever waiting to see if the next one will be prettier. They scored big this time, because they jumped everyone with the offer. Like WoW itself, that effect is not easily replicated.

Hatch said...

Good points Rem. Those are some of the reasons I don't think they will go overboard or sell gear or something. But it's also impossible to think that getting handed millions of dollars in one day for a pony graphic is going to have no effect on corporate strategy. So I still don't think the horsie is a good thing for the game overall.

Anonymous said...

Check it out:

I am fairly convinced that this bit will spell our doom eventually. It seems to have already begun. I fear Cata will already be worse and if some of these days the news flies up that they'll release it sooner than anticipated, my worst fears will have come true, and the accountants will have told the devs to "GET IT OUT, I DONT CARE IF IT ISNT FINISHED"

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