Players and Relationships

If you have not been following the latest high-profile MMO PR disaster, the short version is that ArenaNet is selling their latest expansion for $50, and bundling in the base game.

That’s it. There is no long-version.

While Tobold (as always) decries player entitlement and Ravious wants us to think of the children, what is lost in the shuffle is perhaps why the “Don’t preorder the expansion” became the top-rated thread in the GW2 reddit forum (indeed, the top 3 are currently about this issue). Specifically, because ArenaNet failed Relationship Rule #1: it isn’t what you say, it’s how you say it.”

In many ways, MMOs are relationships between players and the developers. It is a business transaction first and foremost, of course, but rarely are MMOs successful without fostering a sense of familiarity and engagement over the long-term. There are feelings of investment, especially considering the game you are playing continues to be in active development. “The devs are listening,” and hey, they sometimes do in fact change things based on feedback. You as the player feel in the loop.

That is why feelings run so high over “betrayals,” real or imagined.

Objectively, there isn’t anything wrong with ArenaNet’s actions. The expansion was going to cost X amount, they chose $50 as the baseline, and that was that. The decision to bundle in the base game was obviously made at the financial level, as there are likely some costs incurred in stocking store shelves with two boxed products, one of which requires the other to function anyway. Plus, there might not be a way to purchase just the base game anymore, basically upselling new players who might not even play long enough to get into expansion content. All very straight-forward business decisions.

Subjectively, though? I agree with subtext many players are reading into the situation, if for no other reason than a corporation (and the developers) should know better by now. First was the (intentionally?) misleading statements that the expansion would require the base game to play, a subsequent sale of the base game, and now the base game is bundled with expansion for free. Then the introduction of a new class without a free increase in the character slots available. Are players entitled to free character slots with a MSRP of $10 apiece? No. Does it look suspicious as hell to not include them? Yes. I would feel the same way if SWTOR’s expansion included five new buttons to push when they already charge money for additional hotbars.

Tobold suggests you cannot win with the kind of players that complain about these things. This is incorrect. In fact, it is very easy to win in this scenario: either sell the expansion as a standalone for $40, or include a free character slot for anyone who purchases Heart of Thorns and already has a GW2 license. Bam! You win the moral high ground. Hell, if ArenaNet is worried about losing all the extra money their current scheme generates, they could tie these elements to the preorder prepurchase prepay only – they would likely recoup their costs on the interest generated between now and whenever the expansion will actually be released.

MMOs are social games, and companies need to manage social expectations in the same way you would in relationships. Or choose not to, I suppose. In which case all your carefully spent millions of dollars in advertising will run directly against a bunch of jilted lovers who will trash talk you in public for weeks for free. And while there will always be some people you cannot please, you damn better make sure that the narrative they present is as crazy as they are.

Because if they have a point? You’ll never hear the end of it.

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Posted on June 22, 2015, in Guild Wars 2 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I agree. I am really annoyed how often people rally to “player entitlement” to excuse some really boorish and unfriendly corporate decisions. The number one idea when delivering a product – especially one that profits by having a sustained community – is having excellent customer service.

    As soon as this began blowing up, they should’ve made concessions. Whether your customers are rightfully unhappy or not, you should try to placate a large mass of them, especially when it does almost nothing to hurt your bottom line to do so.

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  2. The most bizarre thing about this whole debacle is how very, very easy it would have been to avoid. It hardly takes a marketing genius to spot the connection between “new class” and “character slot” for example, or the corollary between “you need the full game to play the expansion which does not come as a standalone pack” and “we are including the full game as part of the expansion if you don’t already have it”.

    ANet have spent three years apparently intentionally minimizing the profit they could have made from this game. This s just the latest and admittedly most spectacular example. I think it’s some deep-cover international socialist plot. It has to be something. They surely can’t just be that clueless.

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    • Exactly. I mean, there are some things that only become obvious in retrospect, sure. But I feel like if they had presented their “plan” (assuming it was formalized to even that degree) to any random, long-term MMO player that this would have been stopped on the dry-erase board months ago. These companies need a Staff Cynic on the payroll.

      Or, you know, some sort of community outreach and/or interpersonal relationship skills.

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  3. At least they’re pretty quick about replying and trying to soothe any legitimate complaints: https://www.guildwars2.com/en/news/pre-purchase-community-address/

    I still feel $50 is a bit high, personally, but I say that as a current player with only the partial knowledge thus far of what content will be included and while acknowledging that it’s not so high as to be either a surprise or unacceptable in the long run.

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  4. The main advantage of an included base game is that botters can’t buy $10 base games, they have to buy the $50 base game plus add-on.

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