Posts archived in content

What do you do if the perceived value of content reaches zero?

Value is a purely subjective measure, a comparative measure as to what is most worth your dollar. We have two measures of value, the natural and most common measure, and the more objective measure. The first is a comparison of what we pay for similar things, the second is what else we could be getting for that same amount of money.

MMOs as they stand are largely a content delivery mechanism. Their numerical and mathematical base being also the core of their user interaction means that their game play is rarely a content generator, such as you would see most aptly in Force Unleashed for example. What this means is that the player base requires a constant stream of new content, which with a maximum efficiency team should be produced in roughly O(n) time. O(n) time means O(n) pay checks, and while hiring more people would allow you to produce more content, you can’t hire more people to produce the same amount of content faster until you are dealing with overarching story plots that can actually be subdivided into lesser partitions.

What all this means is, your product’s intrinsic value is tied to the content delivered. The cost of content has a flat bottom, where each equivalent sized package of content costs a certain minimum to create which cannot be reduced. Thereby any equivalently “sized” game must cost at least the minimum cost of the associated content to create, with the game’s engine, design, and core game play programming being added on top.

Ironically, although the quality of content often scales the cost of generation upwards, for professional level work, people generally pay roughly the same amount for any equivalently “sized” package of content regardless of quality. The monetary gain usually being manifested in number of purchases, rather than quality of purchases.

The baseline price for MMO content has been $15 for a while now. However, with the proliferation of non-flat rate business models, and the rise of user generated content being passed from a purely hobbyist vantage to a business model in itself, the baseline perceived value of content is approaching $0. It is important to note, however, that it is not the perceived value of any particular “package” of content that is approaching 0, it is the perceived value of content as a whole. Also, more than any particular business approaching any particular model, it is rather that the sheer amount of content available is so overwhelming, that content is losing all value associated with rarity. Having access to content of almost any sort is easy and free with the current climate of the internet.

My personal answer:
Much like novels, we will grow and adapt as consumers and businesses will, of course, fill in the voids. But in the mean time, some of the best in the industry will probably find themselves replaced by small operations that weren’t even on their radar. Likely, launching without full content will become even more of a death knell than it is now, as it will be assumed that the game has full content and only the quality would set it apart as a worth while purchase.

But there are deeper aspects to this as well that don’t fit very well within the current market overview. For instance, the very model of an MMO as a content delivery system will have to be reworked, at the very least it will become incumbent on them to act as content generation systems. User generated content as we generally refer to it probably will not be at the core of this, instead it will more likely be emergent rule sets designed to evolve alongside the players.

At least that’s my $.02.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading lately, across various sites and through some major back and forth exchanges of history and ideas. From this I feel as though I’m starting to find a fairly decent grasp on some of the factors contributing to the current MMO market.

I’m going to be bringing quite a few games, and I can’t promise I’ll be particularly positive to your favorite. Still please bear with me and read the entire article before responding.

To begin with I want to cover a little bit about the who. Demographics I suppose it would be called, though I don’t plan on tracking age, gender, or race so I’m not sure it counts (~.^). But I’ll to try to examine who it is that I believe to be playing these games.

Consistent with most service industries I’m are not looking for what could be called a “normal” customer. Instead I would prefer to try and block out certain groups that we know to play these games.

Group A will consist of people who purchase two or more games a month and are probable to acquire any sufficiently marketed MMO within three months of launch. We’ll call them the Nomads for my own ease.

Group B consists of persons under the age of 17 who are probable to play many different games a month but do not, on average, purchase the games themselves. We’ll call them annoying little shi… Tweens, we’ll call them Tweens.

Group C would be persons above the age of 17 who will purchase, on average, less than one game a month. While I’m loathe to open this can of worms, we’ll call these people Casual Gamers.

Group D are self identified gamers who purchase fewer than one title per month. Gamers will do.

The first MMOs were created for our A and D groups. The current game industry as a whole is built by and for Gamers and Nomads, the concept of creating MMOs for them was a logical solution. UO and Everquest are the examples I’d use for that period. Neither game had great penetration in the B or C groups though both certainly attracted some amount of players from those groups.

I would theorize however that MMOs as a whole actually have only a small market share amongst Gamers and Nomads. Nomads especially are more often consumers than they are users, preferring the act of buying a product over paying for a service. Group C by comparison is much more likely to see the game as a service which naturally makes the business model more palatable.

Group B was soon discovered by games like Runescape, but group C remained an impossible market to gain a significant foothold in right up until 2005.

There are a few important things to note about World of Warcraft that allowed it to open that market while increase share in both markets B and D, Tweens and Gamers. WoW was a highly polished iterative evolution from a game play stand point, and while that was a major contributor to it’s success it would also have been impossible for it to have affected such a paradigm shift alone. WoW’s disruptive evolution in marketing campaigns has consistently pulled in the C and D markets allowing them to grow their target audience. WoW’s western market consists of a little under five million. It has thus far been impossible for any other MMO to replicate those numbers, in fact Western subs rarely approach the one million mark.

The most important take away for business people is, however, that the B and C markets, Tweens and Casuals, are growing while the D market is fairly steady. Expect to see more games aimed at those two markets attempting to tangentially acquire members of the Gamer demographic.

Unfortunately we still have one loose end; the A market, Nomads. The Nomad demographic are high money spending players, but they have a generally lower amount of loyalty than the other groups, besides the Tweens. Nomads are also some of the most likely to frequent blogs and forums though. The industries sharp turn away from the Nomad’s preferred type of game has left a segment of the market hurt and disillusioned. To a large extent, we are seeing the SWG CU and NGE style event happen on an industry wide level.

The companies are turning away from those who were there to support them early on to pursue the dream of these new markets. Since it’s a more subtle, industry-wide, move it hasn’t sparked off as many flames. On the other hand it has left a large segment of the population with a general feeling of negativity and betrayal that is hard to pin down and define.

At present moment, we have yet to see whether the markets WoW has penetrated are indeed open for the entire market. During the mean time we face the more immediate problem of the Nomads themselves. Having been burned by the market trends, they are highly likely to buy or subscribe to new MMOs but unlikely to give positive word of mouth or maintain long term attachments. This can lead to an even greater gap between early sales and actual long term subscription figures, and detract from overall sales.

Not to leave the industry out of the brow beating, we have seen a continuing problem with the business end of MMOs. It remains a common misconception that an MMO is a product when, in fact, it is a service. Despite their apparent success with EQ and EQ2, I actually consider SOE to be the greatest and most consistent offender on this count. Perhaps it is an error in my perception, but that is a failing I’ve felt every time I’ve begun a trial on one of their games. They are certainly not the only offender though, and it is a common problem throughout the industry. Luckily if it goes beyond certain limits it becomes a fatal flaw, so we should see very few examples of it’s furthest extreme.

This is what I’ve pieced together through observation, feel free to pick it apart or shred it completely.