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The Lawbringer: What World of Warcraft can learn from other microtransaction models, part 1

Pop law abounds in The Lawbringer, your weekly dose of WoW, the law, video games and the MMO genre. Mathew McCurley takes you through the world running parallel to the games we love and enjoy, full of rules, regulations, pitfalls and traps. How about you hang out with us as we discuss some of the more esoteric aspects of the games we love to play?

Microtransactions are here to stay. We were wary and scared in the beginning -- it was a brave new world, having the gall to ask consumers for a couple of bucks for horse armor. DLC (downloadable content) and microtransactions evolved over time to include better customization, new missions and levels, convenience purchases, and more. The industry began to shape itself around the growing need for better revenue models, as well as conforming to the needs and wants of players while remaining (hopefully) pure in motive.

With the huge success of the free-to-play model in the United States and Europe, a feat which many said was not going to go over too well outside of the Asian markets, paying for your game over time instead of up front has become a staple, an afterthought, to gamers.

World of Warcraft isn't going true free-to-play any time soon, of course. The subscription model works for WoW in a fairly unique way. The number of global subscriptions for WoW make up such a huge, defined income that removing that income from the table in favor of the "5-percenters," the people who presumably pay for items in-game, would be almost criminal in terms of corporate mismanagement -- unless, of course, you could make more money on those 5-percenters than you do on 11.4 million monthly subscriptions, which seems like a hefty move to make.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Lawbringer

WoW in the running for Game of the Decade

2009 is coming to a close, and with it, "the aughts," which means we're about to get flooded with list after list of the best of the decade. It's been a raucous ten years for gaming (some, including me, might call it the best ten years in gaming so far), and Crispy Gamer is the first to step up and try to pick the best games we've seen so far. In their Game of the Decade showdown, World of Warcraft is still in the running, up against Bioware's legendary Knights of the Old Republic RPG, as the latest post has readers trying to pick the final four choices. If you think our game is more deserving than KotOR (note that this isn't the MMO, it's the old RPG with your friendly meatbag hater droid, HK-47), you can vote for WoW over on this page until Tuesday at 6pm.

KotOR is a great game, but as a decade-defining game, I'd have to think WoW will pull that one off. After that, though, there's some tough competition: BioShock and Half-Life 2 are up against each other, Halo and Left 4 Dead are facing off in another bracket, and Super Smash Brothers Melee and Shadow of the Colossus (which I guess I need to go play now) are the challengers in the third. I have to say -- as a "Game of the Decade," BioShock and Half-Life 2 are definitely in competition, but if you want to pick a game which has really defined both the online and casual gaming movements of the last ten years? We'll have to see what the readers choose, but I'd have to think World of Warcraft is your game.

[ via BlizzPlanet and kyleorl ]

Filed under: Polls, Analysis / Opinion, Fan stuff, Odds and ends

Activision-Blizzard makes lots of money, no update on Blizzard earnings

Activision-Blizzard has released their third-quarter numbers for the financial year of 2009, and as you might expect for the company in charge of Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, and World of Warcraft, business is brisk. They were expecting to bring in around $700 million, and ended up pulling in around $50 million more than that. It's good, we guess, to be the king.

Blizzard, in particular, laid claim to three of the top five selling PC games in North America on the good side, and on the bad side, Activision acknowledges in the press release that they're happy to have WoW back online in China, but a little worried about the troubles it's seen over there lately.

Strangely enough, there is no information in the earnings about how much money World of Warcraft has pulled in for the company, or any updates about subscriber numbers. Usually, that gets at least a mention, so maybe, with subscribers certainly down in China, Activision-Blizzard wants to keep that under their hat for now.

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Filed under: Items, Blizzard, News items, Making money

WoW back online in China


The long wait is finally over -- World of Warcraft's servers are finally back online in China after they went offline all the way back at the beginning of June, due to a switch between former host The9 and current host NetEase. It took a while for the government to approve the move (and some have even suggested that the delay wasn't completely legit), but things are finally back to business as usual, according to a few sources out of China.

A few more interesting facts have arisen with this news as well: apparently NetEase has spent over a million yuan (about $146,000) per day to keep up and maintain the game and its servers during the past month of closed beta and free play. Of course, that includes customer support and all the other costs.

Even with that price, however, the company is still expected to grow. We haven't heard any population numbers worldwide for WoW since this whole deal began, but you have to think that they lost at least a few players due to all of the problems. Of course, the release of Wrath over there may bring back some players, but even though they were planning to have it out before all of this happened, the switchover has delayed it even further. All they need is more government approval, but as the outage proved, that can sometimes be hard to get.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Realm Status, News items, Wrath of the Lich King, Hardware

Player stories on the official site


Blizzard asked for real-life stories from players a little while ago, and now they've posted a pretty big collection of them over on the official site (this page was around last year, but they've added many stories since then). As Bornakk says, these are personal accounts from players of how playing the game with others has helped them grow relationships in real-life. I'm not sure what exactly the point of posting these is (maybe Blizzard wants to stave off some of that negative media reporting about the game and addiction to it), but then again, if you dive into a few of these, you can see that they don't really need a point -- they're really interesting (and in some cases pretty heartwarming) stories about how players are using this game to enrich real-life relationships.

They're still accepting more stories as well, so if you've got a good tale of some WoW-sharing in real-life, hit them up over on the submission page and put yours in the mix. Hopefully Blizzard will figure out a way to get these out into the real world -- harsh stories about addiction are so easy for the media to jump on, but great stories like these are the real reasons we all play this game.

Filed under: Fan stuff, Virtual selves, Odds and ends, Blizzard, PvP, Leveling

Chinese WoW wraps up closed beta, to start charging soon


It looks like the long saga of World of Warcraft's transfer of operatorship in China is almost finally over -- NetEase has announced that the closed beta period is done with, and that they're just about ready to open up normal registration and bring the game back to for-pay status. They're still pending government approval there, so they're not quite online and running yet, but they have closed off registration to new players, and will only bring it back online when they're ready to start charging yet again. Of course, their pay scheme there is different from here in the US and EU -- they often charge per hour to play rather than a constant monthly subscription. But however they decide to charge, NetEase seems sure that by the end of the month, things will finally be back to normal in China's version of Azeroth.

Meanwhile, the former operator of the game, The9, has announced that they are extending by a month the option for former players to get refunds for their prepaid game cards. That option was originally planned to end on September 7th, but players of the game who have unused cards will have another 30 days to redeem them back for cash. All of this back-and-forth originally started back in April of this year, but it seems like, five months later, the game might finally be getting back to normal.

Filed under: Patches, Realm Status, Blizzard, Hardware

Windows 7 plugs WoW


This is one of the stranger World of Warcraft mentions out there -- WorldofWar.net spotted a posting on overclock.net that shows a Microsoft presentation to Best Buy employees mentioning our favorite game. Apparently WoW is a selling point for Windows 7, specifically when comparing the OS to Linux. If Best Buy wants to sell operating systems that play "the games your customers want (e.g. World of Warcraft)," then Windows is supposed to be the way to go.

Interesting. Then again, World of Warcraft is a big game, so you can't blame Microsoft for jumping on its popularity while trying to sell OSes. But it's a little misleading -- of course Blizzard has supported Apple's OS X on the disc from day one, and while they don't officially support running the game on Linux, it's certainly possible to do. If you really are going to buy a new OS, playing WoW might not be the best criteria to base your purchase choice on.

Filed under: Fan stuff, Odds and ends, Blizzard, Humor, Hardware

Maintenance for Tuesday September 8th

We've had some serious maintenance in the last few weeks, and it looks like they've come to an end. The extended maintenance that's been going on has been to fix the much hyped "Additional instances cannot be launched" error, and by all accounts the bug has been fixed. But let's not kid ourselves, there'll be at least a dozen comments claiming differently after this post goes up. But it's all good, because eventually the cross-server instances are going to take care of that problem entirely.

The maintenance tomorrow will run from 3:00 a.m. PDT / 6:00 a.m. EDT until 11:00 a.m. PDT / 2:00 p.m. EDT.

Since WoW will be down, I recommend checking out Champions Online if you haven't already. It's a nice comic book MMO that has some real potential. One thing I really enjoy about it is that its graphics are not super amazing -- they look like comic book graphics. In that sense, it's a very immersive graphical experience.

Kyle Horner of our sister site Massively wrote the WoW player's Guide to Champions Online. Check it out for more information about a nice game you can play during WoW's downtime.

Filed under: Realm Status, News items

Battle.net registration now online in China

World of Warcraft has, as you have probably heard, been offline in China for a while now. Even though The9 originally said they'd transfer over their servers to NetEase, they later decided to fight it out, leaving WoW offline for a matter of weeks. And it isn't quite up yet, but they're getting there -- this (very roughly) translated article says that Battle.net servers are now up and running, so Chinese players can now at least sign in to Battle.net, if not into the game itself. We already went through the same thing here in the US and the EU, so Azeroth should be back online in China any day now.

Meanwhile, the poor folks at The9 have not been doing so well -- they were on top of the world last year, but when World of Warcraft up and flew the griffon out of there, they lost the majority of their business. A new AP article has them revising their expected earnings down by an "estimated 55 to 75 percent." Ouch.

Let that be a lesson, NetEase. Keep your instances running and your downtime low, because if Blizzard pulls the plug on a game you're running, they'll be taking a ton of money with them.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Odds and ends, Blizzard, Economy, Hardware

Link to the launcher text

Just a quick tip for those of who may be stranded at work and thinking about World of Warcraft (which, during the day, is probably all of you?) I've never seen a link to this page (though we've snuck it in some maintenance posts before), but fortunately the good folks at the WoW LJ community have spotlighted it: Blizzard's welcome screen notice is just a text page online, and it's publicly available. So even if you can't load up the WoW client, you can still keep track of realm downtime on maintenance days, or just keep an eye on what Blizzard is posting about lately.

It's a little thing (and truthfully, there's probably not much there that you really need to know anyway -- if you're away from a WoW client, obviously you can't log in even if your realm is back up). But you never know, someday when you're thinking about World of Warcraft, far afield of your installation, and really need to know what Blizzard has to tell you, it could come in handy. Definitely earned a place in my bookmarks, just in case.

And having it in quick and easy online text form means we can script it to go elsewhere, right? Anyone want to try hooking a Twitter account up to this thing?

Filed under: Tips, Realm Status, Odds and ends, Blizzard

UNLV researcher studies WoW social interaction

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas' student newspaper, the Rebel Yell, has an article up about a student there named Michael McCreery, who's studying how people interact in online games. Unfortunately, most of the article is about the game itself (most of which we already know, obviously), and there's not much about how he actually did the study: apparently he had people play WoW using only the ingame chat, and surveyed them afterwards about it.

How exactly that tells you how to "quantify the social interactions of participants in the game so that future online games can build better environments," we have no idea, but we'll leave that to the experts. Basically, McCreery and his team are examining how people use and interact with others in the game to see how we project ourselves and our characters.

Eventually, he wants to do something "education or therapeutic" with the information, though that too is left pretty open. Virtual environments like World of Warcraft do definitely engender ties between players -- is it possible that those ties can be used in an academic or therapeutical setting? Definitely an interesting line of research.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Fan stuff, Virtual selves, Guilds, Odds and ends

Blizzard makes deal with Massive for Battle.net ads

The AP is reporting that Microsoft's game advertising division (called Massive, Inc., not to be confused with Massively), has signed a deal with Blizzard to offer advertising on their upcoming Battle.net revamp, presumably to premiere with Starcraft II. This is apparently out-of-game advertising, i.e. the ads you'll see upon login to the service, not necessarily on in-game billboards or other nonsense like that. Battle.net is Blizzard's online service -- they've used it since way back in the Diablo days, and they've always had ads for their own products in it. But now they've contracted with this company Massive, Inc. to put other ads in there, and since they've been planning for a revamp for a while, you can probably expect to see the ads in right away when the new service launches.

How will this affect us as WoW players? It might not -- Blizzard may leave WoW on its own launcher, rather than having you go through a Battle.net launcher to sign in. On the other hand, WoW is clearly Blizzard's biggest online game, and we already know that Blizzard plans to include some WoW features (achievements, accounts) in the Battle.net revamp, so it could be that they're going to unify everything under one launcher (WoW, Starcraft II, Diablo III), in which case you'd see these ads when you sign in as well.

Which makes us wonder why exactly we'd be paying $15 a month to see more ads on login, but don't panic yet -- we'll cross that bridge when we actually know it exists (for now, Blizzard hasn't announced any official plans to change the way WoW works with Battle.net, other than the fact that one account will work across all games). We'll keep an eye out for any other new Battle.net news -- there's definitely something big in the works.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Odds and ends, Blizzard, Making money

[UPDATED] Online upgrades to Wrath now available


If you decided to skip on the midnight launches that happened all over the world, or if you managed to resist the urge to go out and buy the game soon after launch, leaving you as one of the few (and perhaps proud) last bastions of anti-Lich Kingdom... maybe it's time to give in. Blizzard has now made direct online upgrades to Wrath of the Lich King available on their website. It's not easy to find, as the option is hidden away in the account management page, and the Buy The Game button on their splash page still leads to the outdated, unhelpful Preorder page. We at WoW Insider are going to do a public service and make it easy for you to upgrade. Just click on the picture above.

This is great news for players unable to secure the game through regular channels, as some stores in other countries have reported trouble stocking the game. The direct online upgrade is also an affordable option as it does away with any shipping costs or related sales taxes by area -- for the most part, anyway, as some states will still get charged a tax. For exactly $39.99 and a roughly 1.7Gb download (if your account is already upgraded to The Burning Crusade), you too can be joining your friends in the cold of Northrend.

This is also a welcome move from Blizzard, who made online upgrades to vanilla and The Burning Crusade comparatively late after those games launched. That the direct online upgrade appears mere days after the game's launch is somewhat surprising but progressive, indicating that Blizzard only wanted to ensure attendance during the worldwide events. I reckon that if this option had been available on launch day, we'd have had pretty empty stores. Now, where'd I put my credit card...

[UPDATE: Please note that some readers have sent in feedback that using the online upgrade service results in an error, so we'd advise to proceed with caution for the meantime. You can learn more about the errors on this thread at the official forums.]

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, News items, Wrath of the Lich King

Mythic makes one last case for switching from WoW to Warhammer


We've been posting a bit about Warhammer Online lately (since the launch of the game was this week), but this will probably be the last we'll post about it in a while -- we're a site about WoW, not WAR, and if you want more indepth news and views on the new game, Massively's got you covered there.

That said, we'll give Mythic's lead designer Marc Jacobs one more chance to tempt you away from Azeroth, if you so want to be tempted. MTV Multiplayer asked him one last time why WoW players might want to switch over to Warhammer, and he put the case pretty succinctly: Mythic put a focus on "Realm vs. Realm" combat in the game (like faction vs. faction), and that's what you'll find there. WoW, he says, like all MMOs, has an expiration date, so if you're looking for a difference experience, he recommends you give his game a try.

There. Now, odds are that you've probably already made up your mind at this point -- either you're already trampsing around the Age of Reckoning, you're looking to give it a try after Wrath dies down, or you're a die-hard WoW player. Either way, you can't blame Mythic for trying to pull people away (and Blizzard for trying to keep them). Time to let the chips fall where they may.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Odds and ends, Blizzard, Expansions, Wrath of the Lich King

Gem Finder helps you find just the right gems

I can't remember if we've posted about the WoW Gem Finder or not, but the last gem list I posted about has gone missing, so if you've never heard of this one, it's new to you. WoW Gem Finder is a quick web tool that you can to quickly find exactly the gem you're looking for -- just choose the colors, attributes, and/or abilities you want from the checklist on the side, and it'll narrow down exactly the gem you want and where to get it. And all the gems link to Wowhead anyway, so even if the little description isn't enough for you, you can go searching for it elsewhere as well.

Pretty great resource for anyone (like me) just starting to pick up epic gear on their latest character and looking into where the gems are coming from. One thing players might still need help with is when to put which gems on which gear (most people wouldn't throw epic gems in gear you get at 61, I'd think, and I personally usually don't bother with anything but vendor gems until I get an actual epic), but that may be all outside the ken of this finder. As a tool to help you find exactly the gem you want, it's a good one.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Tips, Jewelcrafting, Buffs, Enchants

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