Thursday, March 4, 2010

Voting with your wallet

In the past weeks I only made some passing remarks on two stories which caused a much bigger uproar on other gaming sites: The Allods item shop, and the new Ubisoft DRM. There was loud complaining about Allods making items for cash "necessary" to play, and them being too expensive. And even louder complaining that Ubisoft DRM was robbing the players of fundamental rights, by requiring them to be always online to play. This week two things happened: Allods lowered its prices by a factor of 3, and the Ubisoft games with the new DRM came out. And suddenly all is sunshine again. Reviews are friendly, and apparently the Ubisoft games are selling like hotcakes. Even people previously complaining loudly about Ubisoft are buying their games, and I'm guessing they are buying Allods items too.

As a form of protest that isn't very effective.

Now you might say that the protest against Allods Online was successful in bringing down prices. To that I have to respond that many of the protesters arguments were not just about cost per month, but about the changes to gameplay which basically require bought items to play, and the generally negative impact of a cash shop on game design. Nothing changed for that. And I'm not sure whether gPotato didn't plan all this exactly as it went: Present a cash shop 10 times more expensive than the Russian version, "listen" to the inevitable protests, and then "lower" the prices to just 3 times the Russian prices. Oldest trick in the book.

Game sites complaining about something a game company does is only of secondary concern to that company. I doubt Activision is having sleepless nights over the protests against the higher price of Modern Warfare 2, not after they sold nearly 5 million copies of the game in the first 24 hours. What price do you think the next surefire hit game of Activision will have? And the same will be true for Ubisoft: They'll look at the sales numbers for Assassins Creed 2 and Silent Hunter 5, and decide that all is good, and that customers don't really mind the new online DRM. The next Ubisoft game will have the same form of DRM.

The only effective form of protest is voting with your wallet. That is somewhat easier in MMORPGs, because you can send a message by unsubscribing, which was pretty effective for AoC and WAR. In Allods Online you could protest by playing the game for free and never buying anything, quitting once that strategy doesn't work any more. But for single-player games, once you bought the box, the game company will count that sale as a vote for whatever change they made, be that a price increase or added DRM. I think the player base is about to send a loud and clear message to Ubisoft that after all the requirement to be always online isn't too restrictive as a DRM method.

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