Bobby Kotick Loves You
Bobby Kotick is a bit of an asshole.
He’s also a smart businessman.
Activision’s latest love-child, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” sold over $1 billion dollars worth of product worldwide. They also have another profitable franchise in Guitar Hero, which is also a strong earner. After all, you don’t really need to reinvent the wheel with Guitar Hero expansions. Just add different tracks, reskin the models, and release it as Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, or Guitar Hero: Money Grab.
In an article written in Ars Technica, the author described what hard lessons were gleaned by the success of Modern Warfare 2. I read it over, felt an unfortunate case of deja vu, and immediately felt the grip of Kotick on my stomach.
Clearly his aim was off. The man generally makes his money by grabbing players by the proverbial testicular region.
There was a backlash from the PC gaming community when they were told that the PC version of MW2 was going to cost $60. That’s the same price the console version sold for. Traditionally, when a PC version of a console game is released it sells for less. Players were expecting a $50 price tag for their PC copy. They lost their minds when they heard it was not only going to cost as much as the console copy, but it wasn’t going to have the dedicated server option that most PC multiplayer games allow.
Activision was well aware of the controversy this was going to create, and they weren’t concerned. They claimed their new matchmaking service would more than make up for the anger the PC gamers were feeling, and they sang the praises of the IWNet system. Yet for all their talk, they never addressed why they raised the price. Never tried to justify the increase. They could just as easily have kept the price tag at $50 and introduced the new system. It would have taken the sting out of the inability for players to host and mod their game, and eased them into the new system. Try to maintain a little goodwill with the more hardcore players.
Instead the “hardcore players” were slapped in the mouth with a price hike, then kicked them in the groin by stripping away the hosting options. If you were a PC gamer, you were going to pay what they wanted you to pay, play how they wanted you to play, and damn well like it thank you very much. So why the price hike?
Bobby Kotick knew the players would pay. And they did. If the illustrious Robert K had his way, he would have raised the price even further.
World of Warcraft has this stink all over it.
It started off small at first – server transfers (PVE/PVP to PVE), name changes. Minor types of things. Then came full Character Customizations (including OMG SEX CHANGE), complete Server Transfer service (OMG PVE to PVP), Race Change, and Faction Change. Some were services that had been requested for a long time. Others were things that the player base was told would never happen.
Bobby K: Can I make a buck by offering this service?
Developers: Well, yes but we said –
Bobby K: Peon, make it so. Also, find me more ways to liberate these player-type people from their disposable income.
Pet Store, I’m looking at you. Folks paid $10 for vanity pets that did nothing except make noise and annoy other players in their group or raid. Okay, the Pandaran Monk gets a sliver of a pass because he bowed when you bow to him, and more people need to learn that kind of respect. However, they are completely unnecessary, and don’t give me that garbage about using them to buy the non-combat pet Achievements or the fact that the Monk was partially for charity. The charity lasted a couple of months, and the price never went down after it was over. And between getting a Pug for running PUGs and a baby Corehound for owning an authenticator, Blizzard is practically throwing these pets at you. You don’t need to spend $20 for two more pets.
But people will. They will shell out that money for a lousy ten Achievement Points. At least they get something out of the deal, other than the pet. Other people will fork over the cash because the pets know Kung Fu, or occasionally zap nearby critters. They are cute, and Blizzard knows there are people who will pay for cute.
To accentuate the fact, they’re going to be adding cute Plush Pets to the store. These are real, physical items that you can prop up beside your keyboard or monitor so they can watch players diddle their keys or stroke their mouse. The plan is to release a Wind Rider Cub and a Gryphon Hatchling for purchase, with a code attached to each to get a matching in-game pet. You can bet these things are going to cost more than ten bucks.
You can also bet that people are going to pay whatever it costs. Many will complain, but many more will buy them.
However, none of this directly affects game play. The corporate mouthpieces will tell everyone that these paid items are just extras. You don’t need to buy them. They are not important, nor will they ever be. Theoretically, they are correct. The player base is far from what could be called “rational thinkers” when it comes to such matters.
Right now, Blizzard is playing by the rules of engagement. If players stopped buying these extras, Blizzard would stop putting them out. It’s like cigarettes. They stain your teeth, make you clothes stink, give you the breath of a bus depot ash tray, have no redeeming qualities at all, and will most likely end up killing you straight to death. If people would just stop buying them the cigarette companies would go out of business.
Yet here’s the WoW player base, lighting up again and again, all the while complaining about the people who simply make the cancer-sticks available. As if “we wouldn’t buy these things if Blizzard would just stop offering them” is somehow a valid excuse.
Here’s the punchline: Bobby Kotick doesn’t care what you think.
In fact, Bobby doesn’t even play videogames.
The man is in it purely to make a buck, and does so quite well. The key is that he knows the weakness of the player base. He knows that you will pay if he dangles the right carrot in front of you. First, it was vanity pets. On the horizon, a premium service IPhone app that will let you access the Auction House from your IPhone. This won’t be the last money-grab to come down the pipe, either. You can bet on that, if you have any cash left over.
Are any of these pets/services/novelty items necessary? Absolutely not.
Can you play World of Warcraft without buying them? Of course you can.
But will you?
Or will you squeeze your authenticator between yellow-stained fingers and light up?