As the midnight release of Diablo 3 looms, I have been reflecting on a decades’ worth of gaming that has passed since Blizzard’s last foray into Tristram. Mostly it’s has been with a bunch of people who act just like this:
MMORPGers have grown a bit fickle, and who can blame them? New iterations in Star Wars the Old Republic or Guild Wars 2 seemingly stick to the “safe-formula”: promising new “innovations” in the gameplay experience, yet keeping the control schemes pretty safely “World of Warcraft.” It’s a vastly conservative strategy, as companies are solely banking on a sizeable chunk of the gaming world to always be accessible to a particular brand of “button mashing.”
I appreciated the SWToR story single player experience, yet wonder if the precedents of rich storytelling and voice acting only ended up costing the company development time for maintaining an engaging end-game. It takes four months to release a comprehensive content patch — and you have a subscription based business model?
There simply was not enough hooks to pull in a player-base afflicted by a particular brand of MMO-fatigue. Innovations in MMO’s have stalled since the giant leap from EverQuest to WoW. We can all thank the free-to-play business models ushering in a new era of “trial-and-invest,” where gamers are able to engage with new experiences and decide how much money they deem worth to throw down on vanity bullshit.
Leave it to Valve to truly re-define the language of the MMO – albeit in the form of a team-FPS shooter.
Since Team Fortress 2‘s re-release as free-to-play, the game increased its player base 400%. That’s 400% more people to exponentially randomly get an hourly item, trade it, or smelt it down to craft a particular item. The explosion in the economy boosted profits due to the ability of players to directly purchase item sets they wanted, which affixed real world worth to the in-game trade economy. Not only that, but the items that randomly dropped constantly tweaked each of the 9 characters appearances and actual gameplay experience. Now there are several “item sets” and bonus that effectively created a specialized “sub class system.”
Here are some of my exploits as my favorite Spy sub-class: The Saharan Set
Oh, and Valve has random people paying to host servers? One could probably argue whether or not TF2 has evolved into a MMORPFPS (try saying that fast), but one thing is for certain: Valve is seeing some of the greatest returns on its investment ever.
Which brings us back to Blizzard and Diablo 3. With their bright star, WoW, showing serious signs of burning-out – they are set to release a long-awaited sequel to a game that defined “item porn” for a generation of MMORPGers. Within this context of a random-chance item drop system, Blizzard is introducing a combo in-game money and real-world dollar auction house. Effectively, the company is placing within its established single player experience an MMO economy, with a “rake” component (very much in-line with the roulette item wheel) for 15% of the real-world transactions. Will this “every one wins” economic incentive solve the issues of MMO fatigue? Tonight, we’ll find out just how deep the impact on the subscription-based MMOs there is going to be. For Blizzard, they are again in the position to win back a substantial part of their player-base that was lost. The eternal question: will this new system supplant free to play?