Studio Attitudes

I’ve posted not so long ago about the insanity that seems to have afflicted Cryptic concerning the conversion to Freemium (which is looking more like the traditional Free to Play given how little incentive there is to actually subscribe).  Things haven’t changed much there; while they did decide to give the “gold” members their ship tokens again (except at Vice Admiral level), the devs have insinuated dilitihium into the crafting process now. Better still:  soon they’ll be testing their “dilithium exchange” where people can use C-points to purchase dilithium from other players.  Sounds a bit like the PLEX economy going on with EVE, except, you know, PLEX has a bit more motivation since they represent a month’s sub, and dilithium represents…well, not much.  I predict a hideous exchange rate.

The truth is that the developers at Cryptic seem to have set into the mindset of “their way or the highway”.

But let’s look at a couple other instances of hubris lately.

EVE Online has had its moment of hubris.  The last expansion, Incarna, introduced the opening stages of “walking in stations” and their own microtransaction shop.  The pricing was…well, let’s say on the high side.  People got hacked off enough at that, before an internal email became public hinting at the prospect of “buyable special ammunition” and other game-changing toys.  Add to that the loss of other emotional details like “ship spinning” and the reports that the new “captains quarters” were melting video cards, not to mention the fact that there was only the Minmitar quarters available…the EVE playerbase went on a revolt.

The short term fallout?  A massive lack of faith in their devs.  A drop in subscriptions.  And their CEO admitted that their reach may have exceeded their grasp just a tad.  In other words, the players spoke, and-it seems-the devs have listened.  But there was a long term cost.  CCP, the studio making EVE, had to let go of a chunk of staff because of the sudden revenue drop represented by the anger of their players.  This in turn will delay-in all probability-their World of Darkness MMO (especially since it seems most of the cuts came from their shop in Atlanta, where the WoD folks tend to operate), and may impact the release of their DUST game.

CCP isn’t the only one.  Paragon Studios had a moment of hubris themselves recently, when they rolled down some information in the beta for the 21.5 release.  Some of the changes angered the community pretty badly.  The community had already had a bit of rage when the devs changed the look of the Circle of Thorns enemy group, and had to do some minor modifications to mollify them, but these changes affected the endgame gameplay.  However, the devs made the right move here:  they listend to the community while the changes ARE in beta, and will be backing out those particular changes.  Their motives were somewhat pure:  they wanted to encourage people to spend time on some of the newer content instead of replaying the older content.  They just went about it the wrong way:  taking away from something instead of incentivizing the newer.

There were plenty of examples of what happens when you don’t listen to your customer base, and think that you can hack off large portions of them with impunity.  The New Game Enhancements of Star Wars Galaxies remains a perennial lesson on what not to do; the damage done to the game is very likely the reason why we have an Old Republic game coming up fast, and why SWG is closing down five days prior to that release.  In a non-MMO example, Netflix just posted a massive loss of its subscriber base thanks to its ramping up fees and attempting to split its service between streaming and DVD content.

The Internet is not a place filled with sheep.  It’s broad enough that people will find other outlets to entertain themselves, whether it’s MMOs or other content.  The executives of these studios would do well to remember that none of them are the sole providers of their style of content-and cancelling such services is as simple as a single click.

The customer is not always right…but when a large percentage of them is telling you something, perhaps you should take some time to listen.

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