The Games Blizzard Plays

Posted by Daeity On Thursday, November 11, 2010

This is sort of a continuation of my last post, I wanted to further examine Blizzard's "repeated history of abuse".

It was originally a very long post, so I'm trying to break it down into components for easier reading and because I go off on tangents. =]


Other than unintended changes (bugs) that have had negative effects on customers, how about intentional changes?

A profitable business operates like a professional con artist: they'll take your money and you'll thank them for it. Or, they'll cheat you out of money but you'll never know that it even happened. The only difference between the two is that "marks" are called "customers" and the scams are actually "business strategies".

Blizzard has done a lot of cool things from a customer perspective (like charitable donations), but how about examining those critically and from a business perspective? (After all, I'm pretty critical.)

Race Changes

Let's ignore the fact that Blizzard charges $25 for a simple database record change. (It's like charging $800 for pouring windshield wiper fluid while claiming that the service is in fact a highly complex procedure that requires dismantling of your vehicle.)

When Race Changes were first introduced, Will of the Forsaken was the most powerful PVP ability in the game. Many players switched races to Undead purely for the WOTF ability. However, Blizzard secretly nerfed the ability on that same day. =] Players who switched to Undead had to pay another $25 to switch to another race with the next overpowered racial trait.

What excellent timing. They had months and months to make the change (it was planned after all), but chose to make the change when it would be most financially beneficial to the company. =]

More Paid Faction/Race Changes

Blizzard recently announced that they will be allowed Paid Faction/Race changes on the first day of Cataclysm. This was unexpected, but welcomed, by many players.

What this tells me though, is that they're desperate to ensure highly profitable numbers during that quarter. They could have just relied on Cataclysm sales numbers alone, but with all of the hype and promises made to investors they're desperate to ensure that strong revenue figures are reflected. There are also other services/features being introduced in the same quarter (coincidentally) as the Cataclysm release, and you'll probably see a lot of other new services, class buffs, and other stuff in the following quarter to keep revenue figures high.

All of these changes within the same quarter tell me that they're worried though.

Digital Sales

This also relates to the item above. Digital Sales will be available for the first time when Cataclysm is released. This is very convenient for customers, but how about from Blizzard's perspective?

- Blizzard is cutting out the middle-man, so that they receive pure profit now.
- Digital Sales do not include physical boxes, so Blizzard has eliminated the huge costs associated with shipping, packaging, and the physical boxes/contents themselves (ie, no need to manufacture manuals, DVDs, boxes, etc.)
- However, they're still charging the same cost as the physical box! (The best part!)

This new service will dramatically increase revenue figures for the quarter and it was very well timed (it could have been implemented at any time within the past couple years.) =]

Also with the introduction of Digital Sales, several research groups will no longer have access to accurate sales numbers to determine subscriber counts or revenue figures. For obvious reasons, Blizzard doesn't want to announce player subscription counts (like when they lost 5-6 million players in China) and cause investor panic. But with this "new service for the customers", they can now keep all sales information secretly hidden within the company. Very clever indeed, and another example of their dedication to reputation management. =]

You're A Good Person If You Donate To Charity

Blizzard also recently announced that the pet store will have "Lil' Ragnaros" and the "Moonkin Hatchling" pets available during the same quarter as the Cataclysm release (yay, more revenue for the quarter.)

Not only that, but 50% of the proceeds goto charity.

There are a few things to keep in mind here:

- The graphics model for these virtual pets probably cost like $50 to make (that's including the $0.05 worth of electricity used by the development station) but Blizzard will be re-selling this virtual item in the hundreds of thousands. It won't cost Blizzard anything to donate 100% of the profits (donating 99.99% of the proceeds would still cover all of their associated expenses) but they need that massive profit for their quarterly results. Was this truly altruism or was it business? Based on history, I'm thinking the latter.
- It's like selling bottles of air (except they don't have to pay for the bottles).
- Charitable Donations = Tax Cuts + Public Relations + Reputation Management + Good Feelings For All
- As human beings, we're all very selfish. Everything we do is for actually for a selfish purpose when you think about it (donating to charity makes you feel good about yourself for example). However, we're very good at pigeonholing our selfish acts into different levels. Buying a pet for vanity purposes is "bad" and some will do it.. BUT if the proceeds are going to charity, then that will JUSTIFY the purchase and you can feel good about yourself. This is a common business strategy actually.. manipulation of our feelings is just proper marketing strategy, so don't take it personally. If you ever wanted to sell something that makes a person look vain, just tell them you'll donate some of the proceeds to charity - it works wonders.

Anyhow.. yeah yeah, I'm a jerk for mentioning all of this. "Blizzard could have just kept all of the profits themselves you know!!" is what the Blizzard fanboys will probably say. =]

Buffing During Sales Periods and De-Buffing After

The Death Knight was originally extremely overpowered. Everyone was lead to believe that because they were a "Hero Class" that they would remain overpowered with reason. It was kept overpowered during the highest sales period of the year, and then they "suddenly" nerfed the class to hell approx 3-4 months after (when the big sales period ended.) Coincidental? The DK class sure did bring in a lot of new players via word-of-mouth and friends inviting friends due to their "special abilities". =]

The DK class was tested for years internally, beta testing, and PTR testing - but Blizzard kept them OP until after sales dwindled. I'm predicting the same thing with Cataclysm - ridiculously easy dungeons and item/gear collection, overpowered abilities and classes, and then there will be a massive nerf followed by the reset of items or "introduction of new gear" the replaces all existing gear. It will probably happen in March/April. You know.. because all of the awesome changes (that have been tested for years mind you) were in fact "accidental" or "unintentional".

Promises Promises

When World of Warcraft was first released, I was very hesitant about paying $15 per month for their service. However, Blizzard reassured me that they had major content upgrades planned to be released every month. That was the big selling point for me.. the promise of major content updates on a month by month basis.

It never happened.. they later changed the idea into "Expansion Packs" so that they could reap additional profit on top of the existing monthly subscription payments. What a huge disappointment. They also removed all forum posts that had mentioned monthly "major content" patches, if I had known I would have taken screenshots.

In 2008, Mike Morhaime revised that statement and changed it to yearly expansion packs. That was the plan anyways.

Over the years though, Blizzard has made a lot of changes to their public announcement process and they are much more careful about what they say now. But even then, they still make announcements or hints of upcoming features and services that never materialize. They lead us to believe something big is coming, so that we keep playing, but word their announcements so that they can be interpreted many different ways. (I've talked about this sort of thing in the past.. it's all about wording.)

You can also expect Blizzard to make regular changes to their forum system (ie, "clean up operations"), which is also extremely beneficial to their Reputation Management process. Whenever a new expansion pack comes out or there are forum changes, you can expect forum posts to be deleted. Typically, negative forum posts (ie, ones that cast Blizzard in a bad light) are removed right away - but not all moderators can catch them. So "starting fresh" on the forum system is more like deleting evidence (ie, the posts that weren't caught or promises and comments made no longer exist and cannot be linked to anymore) even though forum posts can easily be migrated over to new systems.

Class "Balancing" Acts

Ever notice that every class is given the opportunity to be overpowered for a month or two, and then it switches to another class? That might not be a coincidence or unintended. It's almost as if every class goes through a rotation, buffed intentionally, and then nerfed later on purpose (as though it was all planned all along.)

After 6 years, the classes still haven't been balanced properly even though they have been tested by millions of players world wide. The balance issues are just a very small finite number of permutations and variations in class gameplay compared to the variations in gear (and raid/NPC mechanics) which is balanced. I think this is just another game Blizzard plays, and I'm sure others believe it as well.

Sure, sometimes there are some unintentional bugs.. it happens. But the constant balancing act encourages players to switch classes, level them up, and then switch to another class. More time is spent playing the game, and therefore more revenue for Blizzard. Taking subscriptions numbers into account and game size, I've never encountered any other game or MMORPG that has gone through as many balancing acts as WoW. If I ever get a chance, I might look into this in more detail.. but right now, there are just too many coincidences in opposition of the claim that class balance is a result of unintended effects.

Realm Character Limitations

Everyone has always been restricted to 10 characters per realm. It's very easy to increase this limitation, as it's only a database entry and it applies no extra load on the servers. There's nothing keeping Blizzard from increasing this number.. who knows, maybe additional character slots will become a "Paid Service". But because of this restriction, once players are full they are forced to delete characters and start from scratch or create new characters on other realms and start from nothing.

I'm okay with a limitation of 50 total characters across all realms, but I sure would like to create a Worgen or Goblin on my two realms that are full. It's a very heavy investment of time to create a new character, level them up, and start collecting gold again from zero, but it's a way Blizzard can keep players addicted and busy wasting time. It's also a way for force players to purchase Race changes if they want to play the new races. Time-wasting activities (such as pets, achievements, and archaeology) are actually an indirect method of increasing revenue when you consider the domino effect.

Minor "Features"

These are the small tweaks here and there and increase the amount of time playing the game at the excuse of fixing "Lore" or improving the game-play experience.

For example,

- In Cataclysm, Blizzard will be removing portals so that travel time is increased (no changes to mount speeds however - how about a 400% mount that anyone can get?).
- Players will need to visit dungeons first before they can queue for them.
- Auction posts and cancellations now require confirmation (it does not prevent automated auctions at all.. that's why they're called "automated"), increasing the amount of time on AH dramatically.
- Blizzard always lowers the XP requirements before each expansion pack, and you can expect the same with Cataclysm. This is so that players can level more quickly to 70 or 80, are encouraged to level more characters, but they get "stuck" at 80 when they get hit with all of the time intensive activities that shouldn't be there.
- Big changes to racial traits (for other races) will occur after everyone gets used to Goblin/Worgens, encouraging them to swap characters again and spend more time playing.
- And don't get me started on the queue times for Battleground and Dungeons (that were originally promoted as time saving, but had the opposite effect.)