What is “Premium”?

This post is part of a Shared Topic on Blog Azeroth. Be sure to check out posts from other great blog authors!

After my last post was linked on WoW Insider, I saw a couple of comments on the page that made me think.  Firstly, I realized I didn’t do that great of a job explaining my position on the Premium Dungeon Finder. Secondly, I realized that there’s a lot more to this “premium” thing that should be discussed. Through the ensuing blog posts as well as Twitter conversations, I thought I’d expand my thoughts.

To begin with, it was a new and controversial move when MMOs first started charging a monthly subscription for games. Up until then, you paid your money for the game, and played as much as you want for the initial cost. Games that had vast multiplayer services like other Blizzard games (Warcraft III, StarCraft) or first-person shooter games (Counter-strike, Quake) operated on the one-time payment and provided the rest free of charge. I don’t know the economics behind this all, but I’m pretty sure that these games would have to sell a lot to be able to provide free multiplayer services.

Even to register a domain name for a website, there’s a fee. Heck, in many major cities in Canada and the US, it’s hard to find free parking at times. Behind everything, there is some sort of cost – whether it’s seen or not is the big thing.

Warcraft II: BNE & Warcraft III, Diablo and Diablo II, StarCraft and StarCraft II all offer free multiplayer through Blizzard’s Battle.net service. At any given time there are millions of people playing games on their servers, using the bandwidth they have to pay for, and ultimately costing the company. Someone has to maintain the servers to make sure they are at peak performance. Someone has to administer the people working on said servers, and the data centres that house them. Even though people playing those games only pay up front, there are real costs that Blizzard has to deal with on an ongoing basis.

Thus we have the reasoning for a monthly subscription fee for MMOs, as they are a whole new ball of wax. Rather than being separate instances of a game, they are a persistent world that also has instances within them. They must allow thousands of people to log on to a server and play the game as the company has designed and have fun doing it. If the servers crash repeatedly, nobody is having fun. The monthly fee goes to offset the likely astronomical costs of being able to maintain the server networks.

We already pay a monthly fee, why do we need to pay more for extra services?

I forget who exactly, but someone on Twitter gave this example: “I already pay for my cable, why should I pay more for the HD package?”  Similarly, it’s the same as going to a Starbucks and asking for a coffee with an extra shot of espresso but not wanting to be charged for it.  Both examples are extra services or products that are offered, but not essential.

Currently, the WoW remote package is the only Premium offering that is available.  This gives people the ability to do things outside of the game which can enhance their WoW experience, namely being able to use the Auction Houses and chat with guild members who are in-game.  Both of these services require an extra charge, likely because a lot of work went into them, and I know for a fact that it wasn’t free to create. Blizzard employees put their time and effort into these things that are not even required – not even remotely! (Yes, the pun was intended)

The Premium Dungeon Finder is something that will require Blizzard to change their network infrastructure. The servers right now are physically located at various points around the world in clusters. The Battlegroups are set up as such, and the people who group together in the Random Dungeon Finder (LFD) or battlegrounds are pulled from these server groups. Blizzard is working on making it so eventually it will be region-wide, with no extra cost for the player. By changing the LFD system to be able to pull people from your Real ID friends list specifically from servers around the region, it is a major change that was likely not planned for when things were first set up.

Finally, even though the game has been out for six and a half years, the subscription rates have not changed once. Inflation has brought many prices higher across many different industries, but we pay the exact same to log on to WoW as we did when the game first started. I’m pretty sure that there is a lot of money lost by keeping these rates the same.

In the end, I highly doubt that Blizzard will introduce something that is so game changing that it is a requirement to pay for it. If they did, they would most definitely lose a lot of subscribers, and likely myself included. I believe in getting a fair deal, and I think Blizzard has given us a good one so far.

If you want these extra features, you can pay for them. They are not necessary, but they’re helpful and useful. I personally will not be getting the WoW remote subscription or the Premium Dungeon Finder when it comes out, as both of them are not worth it for me. Everyone can choose for themselves to see if they think it’s worth the extra money for the services received.

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Blizzard Entertainment: Twenty Years of Awesome

When it comes to the world of entertainment, staying power is hard to achieve. Game studios, publishers, games themselves, voice actors, along with the mainstream media like television shows – they come and go extremely quickly. Just take a look at any fall lineup of a major TV network, and it will likely be very different from what the lineup is at the end of the season. To stick around, you have to stand out and make give great quality with consistancy.

Blizzard is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, which is most definitely quite a feat. Not only the length of time that they’ve been around, but the fact that every single game that they have produced has been an excellent game and done well. Originally starting out making games for the Game Boy and NES, they broke into the limelight with Warcraft: Orcs & Humans.

The Warcraft series has truly become Blizzard’s flagship. While the original game wasn’t the first real-time strategy (RTS) game that was made, it was one that set the bar for how polished it was for the time. The fact that to this day some of the fundamentals that were used in the first game are still used in StarCraft II is a great example of how if you do something right, it will stay around.  I’m sure that nobody had the slightest idea of how much the Warcraft series would grow and flourish, along with the other franchises that they have made and will continue to make.  Not only does the series have immense popularity, but it has redefined the standards that other games have to live up to – whether a RTS or MMO game.  There’s a reason why people want to be the “WoW-killer”, because they want to outdo what Blizzard has accomplished.

The Diablo series broke ground for the adventure genre.  Not only was the game a whole lot of fun, but it was incredibly easy to play.  There wasn’t the need to spend hours practicing it, in the end it was a simple point-and-click game that almost anyone could pick up and enjoy in a short period of time.  The original Diablo also introduced Battle.net, which was one of the first online multiplayer facilities out there.  Rather than relying on computer-to-computer TCP/IP games, Blizzard offered their own servers to be available free of charge to bring gamers together in a massive way.

Some might argue that StarCraft is just a re-skin of the Warcraft RTS games, set in a space setting with a different story.  If you just look at the straight specs, that is mostly correct.  Yet prior to the release of StarCraft II in July 2010, there were competetive leagues still playing the original StarCraft (with expansion) for real life cash around the world.  While Warcraft was focused more on WoW in the recent years the development team of StarCraft II were perfecting the RTS part, which is evident by the instant success and praise that the game was given upon release.  Not only were the game mechanics well done, but the storyline was one that captivated their audience.  After playing through the campaign of SC2, I truly can’t wait to get the next part of it to see what happens next.

There was a chart released not too long ago which is supposedly Blizzard’s release timetable of games for the next few years.  If there’s any sort of truth to it, I am extremely excited.  This is a company which prides itself on the quality of their games, so there is very little chance of anything less than perfect coming out with their logo stamped on it.