While our MMO companies battle for the mainstream dollar, I can’t help but wonder if any are forward thinking to the premium dollar customers – or if that market even exists in the gaming world. In the simplest of comparisons think Price Chopper vs Whole Foods. The first provides basic food at cut rate prices. The second provides food that is better for you but costs a lot more. The first tends to be less clean, more crowded, and more basic. The second is a better overall shopping experience, if you are willing to pay for it. Even looking at their websites you get the impression of the difference in quality and the markets both are trying to capture.
I drive a Lexus. I don’t say that in any snooty way, or think that makes me special by any means. In fact, it barely cost more than the GM I drove before it. My experience with domestic car makers over the years has been a major let down on such a major purchase, and after getting a $1500 bill to repair my windshield wipers on my 2006 GM, I had had enough. While the entry price for the GM was more manageable (and I was supporting the local factory as well), every time I went into scheduled service after the warranty had run out it cost me an additional $500 to the aforementioned $1500. Beyond frustrated I did my research and bought the Lexus. I now have bumper to bumper warranty for 200,000 km, a safer, more comfortable drive, and something that will hold it’s value much better. Back to my GM for a second – it cost me $38,000 and was a 2006 model (with 128,000 km driven – yes, I drive a TON for work), and when I went to trade it in this year the black book value was $2500 – $5500. Compare that to my brother’s Toyota, that he has had for 9 years, has 300,000 km on it – still holding a black book value of $16,000.
Last car point before back to gaming – I drove over a nail on the highway two weeks ago, and was awful nervous what it was going to cost me to replace that tire (Pirelli). When I took it into Lexus for service they informed me my tires were covered for 36 months, and I got the tire replaced for free. I was very happy with this – afterall, the tire didnt fail from the manufacturer, neither they or myself could have controlled how that nail ended up on the highway at the point I was bombing down the highway. That surprised value has created a definite customer loyalty and satisfaction I haven’t had in my lifetime of owning domestic vehicles.
The point of talking about grocery stores and cars is to illustrate the point that as a consumer I will pay for value. My wife will argue that I am actually ‘cheap’, although I argue I just hate throwing money away. Investing in something that holds extra value isn’t cheap to me, its sensisble consumerism.
Most industries work this way. There is always a more expensive version of whatever you own, and savvy companies capitalize on this through branding and value and make their profits on margin vs units sold. In the gaming sphere, am I alone in saying that I would pay more for a better experience?
Easy gaming examples – I would pay more for WoW for an adult only server with extra features (with housing, for example). The server would most likely be less populated which would allow for housing in the first place. Other features that would be worth paying for for me including removing mechanics that artificially elongate content (dungeon lockouts, dailies, etc) and additional customization options. Blizzard has those items flagged as things that don’t add value to their current subscriber base, so they don’t allocate their scarce resources to build on them. They may be fluffy examples, but I would pay more for them. There are better ways to build the premium product, but those are just off the cuff.
In a gaming world where companies are going the other way – where they are easing entry barriers and going Wal-Mart in design instead of Boutique, surely a company out there can recognize that by making a better game they can position themselves not as ‘niche’, but ‘premium’. It makes the most sense for an existing company to build on their existing success to test this market. Back to cars, Toyota owns Lexus. They have thier base affordable car for the ‘masses’ but have that premium option. They sell far more cars branded Toyota than Lexus, but Lexus is very profitiable – because they build up from their base models and offer more. It takes far less effort to enhance the basic offering as the guts and basics are already there.
Instead of not paying $15 a month right now for a shallow and basic gaming experience, I’m willing to pay more to get something better. I would be surprised if there isn’t a growing consumer base willing to do so – when I started gaming the monthly sub was a lot to swallow, but as I matured and became more gainfully employed games didn’t grow in the same way. I bet that many people who grew up in the MMO marketplace are in the same position as I am – and are ready to invest in a premium MMO if so designed.