If you’re an aspiring game developer gaining tools for your eventual absorption into the job market, this would be a good time to still have several years of college ahead of you. The world wide economic downturn has been felt especially heavily on the MMO development industry, with multiple games canceled, studios closed, and thousands of heads rolled. Scott “Lum the Mad” Jennings’ latest column on MMORPG.com runs down the recent damage, quotes Activision/Blizzard head Bobby Kotick, weighs in on those loathsome malware-esque Facebook games, and warns MMO designers not to get too carried away gouging their customers. A quote:
This trend didn?t start in 2009, but it was certainly embraced by anyone with a will or, seemingly, a pulse. As developers started casting about desperately for new revenue opportunities to try to stave off even more layoffs, increasingly, and irksomely, studios decided to hit up the people already paying them for more money.
Sony Online at the start of the year introduced an item shop pushing micro-transactions into all their games – including venerable subscription-based games such as Everquest and Everquest 2. Blizzard continued a trend of picking off the stray nickel at the edges, adding more and more ?value added? services such as race change surgery and finally, just adding their own pet mall. And in what may be the most egregious example of holding paying users upside down and shaking them until quarters came out, Champions Online started selling full skill ?respecs? for $12.50, after insisting that adding them to the game was a bad idea.
Now, don?t get me wrong – I?m all for game developers making money. I mean, I?m a game developer, and I like money. But treating players—paying customers—as an endlessly renewable resource to be mined for candy is not only ethically suspicious, it?s counter-productive. Because in today?s economy the pocketbooks of your customers are as tight as yours are, the last thing they?re going to want to do is shell out $20 for a shiny +12 suit of Extra Special Value Chain Mail, and if you design your game so that +12 Value Chain Mail is necessary, your users will inform you that no, it?s not necessary because your game is not necessary.
Thus far Blizzard (alone?) has proven recession proof, at least with WoW. Will that continue with their upcoming projects? It’s clear from numerous careful comments from Blizzard people that while some minimal level of B.net access will be free, they’re looking to monetize their future Battle.net offerings, including SC2 and D3. They’ve not yet given any exact details on these concepts, and it’s entirely possible that the state of the world’s economy will shape their pricing plans, to some degree.