Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Bold Prediction

Well Blizzard finally enabled the real money auction house in Diablo III this week, undoubtedly sparking even more debate over what is a topic in which the horse has been long beaten, set on fire, beaten again, resurrected, shot into space, recovered by a futuristic civilization and then once again beaten.  This topic is, of course, real money trading in video games.  (RMT)

A lot of mainstream titles, Diablo 3 excluded, are moving away from the monthly subscription fees that we saw become the industry standard over the past decade and are instead turning to a free-to-play model with a cash shop.  What they've realized is that bored players are willing to pay MUCH more that $15 a month - especially if they want to win, look cool, or save loads of time.

These shops offer items from experience boosts, which save players time leveling up a skill or character - to flat-out advantages including better weapons and/or gear, or permanent/temporary stat increases.  Also, just about every game has a cosmetic cash shop now, regardless of its payment model - these allow for basic cosmetic upgrades to a player that don't really change anything about the game experience except for how sweet they look to their friends.

The idea behind these models and the change to cash shops becoming more of the standard than the exception is a subject ripe with taboo amongst the gaming community - but regardless of anyone's opinion, there's two undeniable facts that need to be stated before I go ahead and make this bold prediction of mine:

The first is that games which started out with a subscription model and eventually converted to a free to play/cash shop scheme have been 'saved' in doing so.  Their populations have increased, and the company's revenue has also shown noticeable improvement.  While possibly the most mainstream example of this is Lord of the Rings Online, other notable games include DC Universe and Age of Conan.  With any luck, hopefully I'll be able to add Vanguard to this list once Sony finishes their conversion of the game.

The second fact goes hand in hand with the first.  While I am a firm believer that people are stupid, I am also a firm believer that people throwing around huge amounts of money, say the amount needed to produce an MMORPG, do their homework.  Companies aren't converting and/or releasing their games in a free to play/cash shop business model because they're hoping to get lucky.  They're doing it because it works.

So with those two thoughts in mind, I make my prediction:

Within the next five years, you'll see people playing video games as full time jobs and making significant income.

Sure, that's happening already, but not to the extent I'm predicting.  Over six million people bought Diablo 3 the week it came out.  Now the patient player, that saved up their good loot, is listing it on the real money auction house and getting real, actual money deposited into an account as a result.

Sure, it's probably nowhere near cost efficient, or as profitable, but this is just the beginning, and what Blizzard really did here was take the realization that the cash shops development companies have been installing in their games for years and make it available to the every day public.  They did this because they get a cut, and now we're doing a good chunk of the work for them.  They no longer need to list good items or gear, etc.  We do it and they take a cut, simple as that.

Pandora's box opened.  What if every game  did this?  Outcry?  Panic?  Could deep-pocketed players suddenly rule their respective realms?  I'd hate to break it to most of the casuals out there, but they already do rule the realms, and they always will.  Not because they can throw more money at the game then you, but because in the end, they talk with their wallets. 

When given the chance, I'll gladly fork over a dollar or two to save myself having to sit at the computer and collect raptor claws for six hours in the hopes that I gather enough.  My time's worth more then that, and it's boring.  I'll skip the boredom, thank you very much, and get back to doing the things I want to do in the game.

Some part of me wants to end this with "Hopefully I'm right here."  But on the other hand, another part of me hopes I'm wrong.  Again, people are stupid, and video games are nothing if not addictive.  I dread to think of the families that will pay the price for their loved one's now easily-accessible gaming addiction.


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