Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
You can follow along, if you want...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Value proposition

Day three of four on micro-transactions.  Tomorrow, I'll have something to say about the "Fearless" CCP company newsletter released into the wild this week, and that'll wrap up my musings on this topic for a while.

Today is about those EVE players that were actually excited about Incarna, and about custom clothing and other vanity items.  Yes, there are some.  Quite a few, actually.  Remember, this is the market that CCP is going to be courting.  Thanks to "Fearless", we have written proof that this is the case.
King Jaffe Joffer: So you see, my son, there is a very fine line between love and nausea.
There's an entertaining thread on the EVE Online forums regarding that leak.  Last I checked, it was up to 64 pages in length, which makes it one of the epic threadnaughts in the history of EVE.  Hidden in that threadnaught is a post that I won't link, and won't quote directly.  I don't want to embarrass anyone.  But in this post, the poster rants and raves about the AUR prices of the NeX clothing for a while, before revealing that he was upset because he had set aside a billion ISK to buy unique clothing items for his toon, and now he wouldn't be spending that ISK on it.

A billion ISK.

Or -- put another way -- something between $43 and $50 U.S.

In short, the poster came off as mostly upset that he had set aside 40 or 50 dollars to spend on virtual items, but that money wasn't going to go as far as he wanted it to go.

The unwritten rule of micro-transactions in MMOs is that MMOs that rely on MT are mostly about short-term players and high turn-over of those players.  People join, they play the game for a while, they are wowed by some MT item, they buy it, they eventually become bored with that item, the game, or both, and they move on to a new game.  Meanwhile, they are quickly replaced by new players that go through the same cycle.  Traditionally, brand loyalty in MT-based MMOs is extremely low; this is balanced by the fact that MT-based MMOs have a very low barrier of entry and a very shallow learning curve to off-set this churn.

World of Tanks is the classic example.  I've played it for a while, but you probably won't see any posts about it here because even hard-core players will eventually admit that the game quickly becomes freakishly boring.  And yet hard-core EVE players all the way up to Mittens have played Tanks and bought some of the high-end MT tanks and gear that the game offers.  Mittens pointed out in a recent FHC post that his WoT MT-purchased tank was cheaper than virtually all of the items on NeX, and infinitely more useful.  But it was also fairly obvious that he didn't have much of an emotional connection to that tank.

EVE obviously operates by a very different standard.  The very structure of the game is hugely reliant on its long-term players.  Without these long-term players, the T3 cruisers, capital ships, and T2 mods that many EVE players rely on would not exist.  Those skills and the initial outlay of ISK to set up those production chains simply aren't in reach of those who have been playing the game only a few months.  CCP is clearly motivated to reward long-term players (and for very long-term players, they definitely succeed) and they're motivated to create a large emotional investment between their players and the game.  Sometimes, this backfires: TeaDaze never created a new Incarna avatar in part because he had an emotional connection to his pre-Incarna avatar picture.
Arnie Cunningham: Let me tell you a little something about love, Dennis. It has a voracious appetite. It eats everything. Friendship. Family. It kills me how much it eats. But I'll tell you something else. You feed it right, and it can be a beautiful thing, and that's what we have.
Some EVE players and former EVE players have compared the game to a religious cult, and there's definitely a lot to say for that analogy.  CCP wants you to fall in love with the game and the setting, much more so than the typical MMO or even the typical video game.  They are actively motivated to get their players into corps and alliances because those social connections, once made, are both very hard to break and will tend to hold borderline players to the game.  See the handy chart below, specifically the second-to-the-last phase of the MMORPG addiction.

We've all been on this curve...

Here's the hard question we have to ask (and many are): did CCP cynically set the prices of the goods on NeX to further harden the emotional connection hard-core players have with EVE?
Ryan: You love the Red Sox, but have they ever loved you back?
After all, once you've spent $60 on a single virtual item, it's kind of hard to unring the bell.  ;-)  People place a tangible emotional value on things that they spend their money on, and fan-boy video gamers are worse about this than most.  Rationalizing and defending one's decisions, even one's bad decisions, is an indelible human trait.

Realize it or not, we're in the golden age of portable video gaming.  And we're there because all of us have become accustomed to $3 video games downloaded to our iPhones and Android phones.  We consider such amounts, and the games we spend them on, throw-away these days.  Micro-transactions -- even useless ones -- have been part of more expensive games going all the way back to Oblivion horse armor in 2006.  But the emotional connections that we make with items that we spend our money on probably go back thousands of years.  And the more money we spend, the stronger those emotional connections...

...positive, and negative.

Think back to the last time you over-spent for something in real life.  Flashed back to something expensive, didn't you?  All of us have been over-charged a dollar or three of some item.  Hell, it probably happens to most of us ten times a year, if not more often.  But we don't remember those incidents.  We only remember the times when we over-spent by a few dozen dollars, or a few hundred.  But "expensive" is in the eye of the beholder.  If we really want something, we overlook the fact that we're over-spending on it and the emotional response over being cheated is suppressed.  We rationalize our choice.

But if we want something and feel we're being over-charged for it, we rationalize in the other direction, and the negative emotions associated with that are enormous.

I can't count the number of times someone's said in some venue that CCP has forgotten the "micro" in their micro-transactions.  But I don't think they've forgotten.  As I said, they want you to forge an emotional connection with your new skirt or blouse or monocle.  But of course, I'm a bittervet.  I'm supposed to be cynical.  ;-)

These very same people that are bitching about space-barbies now, and making fun of people setting aside a billion ISK for doll clothes, will probably change their tune when ship skins, alliance logos, and other custom in-space elements start becoming available.

You're just going to have to decide what you love, and how much love is worth, that's all.

1 comment:

  1. I think that some of the complication of this is that to CCP the vanity items can still be bought via ISK. As ISK is the ingame currency someone could quite easily work for long enough to obtain the 1bil isk to afford a space monicle.

    To CCP your not technically 'paying' $70 for that item; fair enough the ISK that you paid for it is valued at that much but the player buying with ISK has not had to take his wallet out in RL to purchase that RL item.

    I think that CCP have hit a problem with the fact that these vanity items will be available on the open market and purchaseable via ISK. It means that these items need to somehow retain their RL value for players to feel as if they are getting their moneys worth.

    I'm sure players would cry even more if they spent $10 on a shirt or shoes that when saturated on the open market became as low as a few million ISK; that player would feel cheated as they paid good real money for that item that someone else can essentially buy for free due to in game currency.

    Personally I think CCP should never have bothered with allowing vanity items on the open market. Fair enough I think that once a player has purchased the item they need to either consume it themselves or have some method of being able to trade it with someone else (ie, a gift) but then it gets tricky as these 'gifts' end up having ISK values and end up being on contracts etc etc and might as well just be on the open market because they effectively are on it.

    If CCP are aiming 'micro' transactions at vets to keep them playing then surely they are sticking their middle finger at all the new players they want to get from the new shiny Incarna; and like you say these new players may be the sort who want to fork out for vanity items but would be instantly met with dissapointment when they need to be spacerich or RL rich to be able to buy them.

    A lot of people have already compaired Incarna with the SWG NGE but I don't see it as severe; yeah they've implemented something that about 80% of the player base dislikes but they can still kinda ignore it by undocking and getting back to shooting each other in the spaceface; I personally see it as CCP turing around to the EVE players and saying "I know more about what you like than you do, so I'm going to do what I think is right and if you don't like it then your wrong" and its this attitude that is making the players talk with their feet and head for the door.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.