So I’m going to be that guy who posts about the Blizzard Premium services. Mostly because I forgot to upload my screenshots over the past few days so my UI post is out the window.

For the record I don’t like the addition of these services as premium features. I do however think people get it all wrong about this stuff when they complain about it. This decision by Blizzard has nothing to do with gameplay experience and everything to do with economics, and that’s where I think they have it wrong the most.

Gameplay
Blizzard captured the MMO market by innovating and fixing a lot of the things that were wrong with MMOs before. They did things that were very different, took some gambles, and they paid off hugely.

When they released RealID, I thought they were attempting to innovate again. They were taking a risk and banking on it working. The reality is that this feature seems to have absolutely no direction or goal in mind at all. At first I thought they were going to have RealID be a truly social experience. Make it an Activision Blizzard Facebook. I figured we’d slowly see more and more features rolled into it to make this a social scene. That really hasn’t happened. RealID basically reminds me of my AIM friends list in college. A place where I might put up a status message if I remember and houses a bunch of people I largely don’t talk to (at least not in RealID because guild chat is more convenient for those that are in both).

Whether you think it’s a good idea or not, it certainly would have been innovative. Now-a-days with more and more people connecting to the internet almost constantly but through a wide variety of devices, they could potentially use the RealID system to push content on all different kinds of levels. It certainly would have been innovative. But so far all we have is a Buddy List full of people I can e-mail anytime. Next up is the premium party invite.

For RealID as a gamplay experience the people at Blizzard need to come up with a comprehensive strategy for what they want RealID to be and what they want people to use it for. If they want RealID to be an ecosystem to connect friends in the game, then they need to get rid of the e-mail contingency. If they want to use it solely for communicating with people I can e-mail, then they should probably just abandon the project.

Economics
The decision to make this a pay service had nothing to do with gameplay. I hate to break it to everyone, but this decision almost certainly came down to one questions: “Does this feature effect people’s ability to play the game”. Any way you splice it, the answer to that question is no. Will the people who play it possibly get faster queue times because they have a slightly larger pool of tanks to pull from? Maybe, but by and large they aren’t increasing the pool that much, and time investment isn’t a game changer for them.

Since it had nothing to do with gameplay mechanics, it was taken out of the gameplay designers hands and put into the hands of people in charge of the pure business side of the game. These people are equally as intelligent as the game designers we all know and love. They have run a multi-million dollar company very successfully for years now. They know what they’re doing.

I just think they’re taking a gamble that they’re going to lose out on. Right now this level of interaction with friends in an MMO is really pretty new. For the most part if you want to play with friends you still have to roll on the same server as each other. I haven’t seen this trend change in any of the games I’ve seen so far. This trend will most certainly change. As hardware improves and network architecture improves the ability to have “one server to serve them all” is going to be a reality. (Yes I know it’s not really one server, you’re going to end up with a huge distributed network servicing all different aspects of the game on different nodes blah blah blah).

When this ability to play with your friends no matter their server comes out on other games, they will almost certainly want to undercut Blizzard on the price. They’ll offer it for free. At that point Blizzard has to either significantly improve their offering, or cut it back to free. Cutting it back for free is a real lackluster solution.

My bet is they’re betting they can have a few years of this as a premium service and use it to handle any loss in subscriber fees. After a few years the next Blizzard MMO will be done. When that comes out it will change everything and they can rethink it then.

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