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July 13, 2010 / Joe Osborne

Coffee Talk: We Fanboys and Girls Might Have Ruined Everything

Welcome to Geekadelphia’s weekly discussion column, Cofffee Talk, where we talk about the finer topics concerning video games, technology and all the other things you can’t talk about with your slightly-less-geeky friends. Have questions or suggestions? Send an email to geekadelphia@gmail.com or tweet with us. Follow me on Twitter if you’d like to keep this week’s discussion alive.

More than 140,000 people bought a flying, sparkling horse for $25 last week. Now that would be an incredible steal (a flying horse made of stars for $25?! Goodbye to commercial flights!) if it weren’t digital. That’s right, what I guess now to be nearly 200,000 folks — if not more — have bought WoW’s Celestial Steed. As Massively’s Seraphina Brennan points out, that’s half the cost of an expansion pack. We’re going to let that set in and take this discussion behind the cut.

Before anyone gets any ideas about me being coldly against microtransactions, I’ve made good use of them through both World of Warcraft and Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) to buy both digital goods like dungeon packs and services like character makeovers. As much as I hate to admit it, the value of digital content pretty much comes down to the price. Is this collection of pixels and bits worth the physical money I am paying for it?

Consider this gryphon’s mind officially blown.

Blizzard has created a reputation for themselves of pricing their digital goods a bit on the insane side. For example, the studio has released various cosmetic pets that follow around your character, acting out cutesy animations and making not-so-cutesy sounds, for a more than modest $10. More recently Blizzard did the same, but to make it more worth the buy, included plush counterparts to the digital pets for $25.

But to charge the same amount for a purely digital license (remember we never truly own digital products, kids) seems ludicrous. However, what’s even more insane is the amount of people that came flocking ravenously like school girls to a Justin Bieber concert (only through their mouse and keyboard) to purchase one of these shiny steeds.

When similar game communities revolt against studios for implementing pay walls that give a slight edge to players with the cash (owners of the Celestial Steed will never need to buy a mount again), it’s only natural to ponder why this happened. After much thinking, I’ve come up with one answer: brand loyalty. A Blizzard fan buying a sparkling, digital pony is to an Apple fan buying the iPad* (and the special coat accessory).

Arguing whether Blizzard produces quality games to justify the unwavering loyalty is like arguing whether Magic Brownies is the best Ben and Jerry’s flavor (pointless). However, this does say a few things about where online games could be headed.

Hikes in price for digital property from various high profile development studios to test whether they can pull it off (this goes for DLC too, folks) is a more a probability than a possibility. It’s possible that more digital goods and services that were once free may eventually become paid services and more digital content and services created with the intent of going for sale. Lastly, expect a large amount of said content and assets to sparkle, be an adorable animal or both.

Oh, and one more thing. Remember that WoW also has a subscription fee.  Microtransactions aren’t just for free to play games anymore. So, I hear DDO will be getting guild run airships some time this summer. Don’t worry Geekadelphians, DDO developer Turbine will be offering 0.9 percent APR financing on all models while supplies last!

*When said Apple fan already owns both a Mac Book and an iPhone… and a Mac Desktop.

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