Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Double Dipping

Besides being a disgusting habit at the o'devours table, the term "double dipping" can also refer to unfair pricing schemes that charge customers two separate fees for one product. It's very similar to micro-transactions in that the seller is splitting the actual cost of a product so that the buyer doesn't feel as if they are spending as much. I've also heard it mentioned recently when referring to MMO's that run multiple payment schemes. Usually, this occurs when a game charges a monthly subscription and also has a healthy micro-transaction market on the side. While most players aren't forced to to pay the two different fees there are advantages to for those who do.

I had been looking into Wizard101 recently since it was one of the few MMOs I had seen which used a collectible card game for combat. While this makes some of the battles much longer then other combat systems it also introduces a layer of strategy missing from most MMORPGs. However, I had been reluctant to try the game since I was dreading that the game would adopt a payment system of selling virtual booster packs of cards. If anyone has experience with real world trading card games then you know how expensive this payment method can get for the players. Even worse it gives a competitive edge to those willing to pour more money into the game.

I was relieved when I found out that Wizard101 would use a standard subscription model and only charge 10$ a month. It had even setup a free tier where a small portion of the game world was free to play. Unfortunately, the good news ends there since Wizard101 also uses a micro-transaction system which allows the purchase of a special currency called crowns. I'm not 100% against the idea of micro-transactions in a game as long as they aren't structured to give an advantage to players with more money. I think certain items like non-combat pets or special particle effects are fine if people want to add a status symbol to their avatar. However, the crowns in the game can be used to buy armor sets with stats on them. That's just makes me feel a bit uncomfortable with the game since developers could balance additional content around buying crowns.

This "double dipping" isn't just a problem with MMOs exploring new payment models either. If you look at large game companies like EA they are effectively using DRM controls to potentially double dip their customers. I have a couple classic games like Master of Orion 2 and Command and Conqueror which I have probably installed 15-20 times since I first purchased them. Sometimes it was because I bought a new computer, but other times it was because I had removed the program to make room on my PC. While storage space as increased greatly on modern computers so has the size of media files. It's not unrealistic to think that gamers might uninstall a game to make room on their machines and then want to reinstall it at a later date.

I know I've been stuck on the DRM issue in Spore for two days now, but I think it has chilling implications for the entire PC market as a whole. After all if invasive DRM controls become standard I sure we'll eventually see them appearing in MMOs. But wait MMOs are subscription based, why would a company need to put DRM into one? Well you have to admit that some companies think they lose money when family members or room mates share accounts. DRM could easily limit gamers so that a MMO could only be patched onto one machine. After all most workplaces are required to have separate licenses for a single employee's laptop and desktop. It makes perfect sense to most corporate entities that the same logic should apply to game software. After all if a single company can convince people to re-buy a game after every three installs it's only a matter of time before they all start doing it. Except Stardock, those guys kick ass.


brenda said...

You should realize that Wizard 101 is a non-competitive environment. With no guilds, generic names you choose from a list, automatic grouping and so on, absolutely nobody knows or cares what kind of gear you have. There are no real goals in the game than having fun playing the card game.

The uber gear does help somewhat, but the only person who knows that it helped at all, is the wearer. It does make you somewhat better at soloing, but not game-shakingly so.

Jon said...

From all descriptions though it seems like the end game content is progressively more difficult compared to the earlier levels.

I was thinking that the purchase of crown armor sets might be a sort of crutch to make the end game more accessible. This would be especially true if the average player in the game tends to play cards randomly and needs uber gear to make up for a lack of understanding about the combat system.

I'll probably pick the game up eventually since it has such an awesome fashion sense though.