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Digital Ferraris

Tobold touched the subject of price differentiation this week. He notices that games are still priced so children can afford to buy them. Working people can spend more on their hobbies yet they only pay the same as children. More and more marketeers are giving us ways to spend some extra money on our gaming hobby.

Price differentiation can already be seen in the other entertainment industries. If you want to buy a book you have the choice between a paperback and a hardcover version. The hardcover version costs slightly more to make but costs about twice as much to the customer. To me it doesn't matter if it's a paperback version, I just want to read the book. But there's obviously a big market who doesn't mind paying more in order to make their bookshelves shinier. The movie industry also allows us to spend more money on the same items. Sitting three metres from my TV I can hardly see the difference between a Blu-Ray and a DVD disc but if you can spend a bit more you're free to spend it on the Blu-Ray disc. Just as with hardcovers a Blu-Ray isn't that much more expensive to press. Still, the price seems to be two to three times that of a DVD disc.

These days games are giving us more and more ways to spend a bit more. If you want to buy a copy of Starcraft 2 you have the option to buy the Deluxe Edition. For twice the price of the regular edition you'll get a ton of junk you'll use once and then never touch again. Your shelf will contain a CD with the games audio, a DVD with commentaries, a WoW pet and a dog tag. The flash drive with the original Starcraft looks like a fun extra but if you're spending one hundred dollars on a sequel I'm sure you have already played the original to death. Blizzard is also seeing ways to get some extra coins from their WoW players. For ten euros you can buy a mini pet and for twenty euros a sparkling pony. When I logged in today on my server I saw about four of these mounts in Ironforge. People actually buy these items en masse!

It's a great move by Blizzard. None of these items will give you a benefit while playing the actual game. You might have a pony mount but you can't outrun my mighty deadknight who's using a regular mount. As long as you're giving out fancy coloured vests, mini pets, audio CDs, movies,... it's all fine with me. I'll keep my money and every time I see someone with a special mount I'll see someone who has too much money to spend.

Other games are giving players who pay in-game benefits. We can see it with Bioware's games. Every single DLC item you can get is vastly superior to the items you gather while playing. The Blood Dragon Armor? The chest-piece lasted me from the minute I got it to the end of the game. Then they also give you the best weapon in the game forged from a comet that only lands when you buy the DLC. If you buy the game from certain retailers you'll also get a best-in-slot ring or necklace. In the end your character will be wearing nothing but DLC items. Take off those items and you're completely naked. I feel like this DLC is actually making the game less fun. Getting new and better gear is a big part of any RPG and if you're just going to give us the gear at level one that leaves out an aspect of the game.

As should be clear I greatly prefer to give vanity items to players who want to pay more. It's the digital equivalent of having a Ferrari. Someone with that fast car won't get any faster to his work than I will. They still have to live by the same rules/laws. But even if I don't like Biowares way of giving extra items I can still live with it. It becomes worse when you're giving out items in PvP games and that's where I draw the line. Imagine if you can buy a super tank in an RTS for real money which will just roll over your enemies. It might be fun for a while but it would be horrible for everyone else and your fun would soon fade away. As such I don't like micro transactions either. I don't want to see swords I can buy at level 1 which will last me to the end game. I don't want to buy your potions which will give me double XP. And I especially don't want to buy potions which make my character stronger. Everyone should need to put in as much effort in the game as anyone else.

It should be clear that Price Differentiation is here to stay, there's just too much money to be made from it. Since we can't change that I hope that Blizzard makes a ton of money from them so that they can set the example for their fellow companies. As long as other players are willing to spend twenty Euro on a pony I won't have to spend any money myself.

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