MMO Fallout’s Tips For 2019: Consumer/Industry Edition

I am a neglectful person. First I barely acknowledge MMO Fallout hitting nine years old last year, and now I look back at the archives and find out that I never published a predictions piece for 2018? You really get your money’s worth with this website, let me tell you.

So in that vein, let’s look forward at 2019 with a new column I like to call “MMO Fallout’s Tips For 2019.” This one is for consumers and the industry, so strap in folks.

1. For The Industry, Know Your Audience: This is a big one, it’s going to prevent a lot of you from getting laid off in the coming years. 2017 and 2018 were the years that big players in the industry snubbed their noses at the consumer, and the consumer hit back with the kind of force to qualify as a crime in ten states plus the district of Columbia. I’m sure most people didn’t think we’d ever see a year where Star Wars, Battlefield, Fallout, Tomb Raider, and a whole host of other games would crash and burn in the same 12 month period, but here we are.

So lesson #1 for 2019 is know your audience, and you may notice that I didn’t say “do whatever you’re told.” You need to know your customers, and that means filtering out the voices of people who aren’t going to buy your product. For instance, you wouldn’t listen to a vegetarian’s advice on the proper way to market steak because they will never buy a steak and their threat of boycott is meaningless. Imagine that, but with video games. For example, Battlefront II took what people hated about EA’s other games (the heavy microtransaction use) and amplified it up to eleven for this release. It didn’t work.

Compare that to Spiderman, a game that while having its flaws figured out what people wanted out of a Spiderman game and they were rewarded in piles of cash money. Square Enix, despite their constant claims that people don’t want turn-based RPGs, released Octopath Traveler on the Switch and lo and behold it made bank. In fact, a lot of big publishers who ported their games over to Switch saw an enormous return on their investment. Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s almost as if we exist in a customer driven industry and listening to the customer will get you paid.

2. For Consumers, Spend What You’re Willing To Lose: This is the part where most Youtubers and consumer advocates will tell you “stop preordering,” and frankly most of you would do well by following that advice. I hate to impune on my audience or gamers in general, but the vast majority of you do not have the strength of will or patience to deal with the industry’s increasingly shoddy development practices, and you could save yourself a lot of money and anguish by simply not preordering that new game simply because it has a cool keychain that you’ll lose within the next two months.

But I’ve been writing in this industry long enough to know that making ultimatums just ensures that people are going to do the opposite of what you say, so instead of “don’t preorder,” I will suggest that you don’t spend what you’re not willing to lose. Is $20 too much for Planetside Arena if the game comes out and it sucks? Great, don’t preorder it. If that game in early access were to cease development tomorrow, would you not buy it today? Then don’t buy it. Why subsidize a disappointing failure when there are so many others willing to throw their money away? And let’s be fair, there’s millions of games available for you to play. If you don’t get that release now, are you really going to miss it in five months if it isn’t good?

3. For the Industry, Start Working On Those Lootbox Replacements: I consider myself to be pro-market, which is a fancy term meaning that I sit in my ivory tower and watch people be exploited by the evil games industry. Big thanks to my college civics professor for this apt description.

I think it’s safe to say that loot boxes, while not about to die completely, are in a decline across AAA premium priced games, as well as more notable free to play titles. Developers are going to need to move on to safer waters if they want to remain viable (or avoid the ire of the base) in the years ahead. Thankfully the work has already been done by Epic Games, and many developers are moving on to seasonal battle passes as a way to sell cosmetics without their game being banned in Belgium.

Personally, I love the battle pass. It’s basically an incentive to keep playing the game and just do what you’d do anyway, and I assume tit for tat it probably provides a more stable basis of income for many developers. Particularly I like it in games where you have the ability to cheapen or fully pay for future passes if you maange to do well enough, such as Fortnite or Realm Royale. There’s also merit in the Annual Pass, similar to Destiny 2 where you pay $35 and it gives you access to expansions over the next year.

This does mean actually developing content so we’ll see how it goes.

4. For Consumers, Don’t Place Your Bets On Launch: MMO gamers will be well aware of this tactic because they’ve been dealing with it for years. How many MMORPGs have launched with the promise that they will never go free to play with cash shops? How many have kept that promise? Unlike the MMO industry, however, where free to play is done to avoid bankruptcy and sunsetting titles, the rest of the industry is a bit more insidious in its operations. In case you haven’t noticed, 2018 brought in a number of titles conveniently delaying their cash shops until a while after the game launched. Call of Duty, Red Dead Redemption, Battlefield, and a few others come to mind.

Because they weren’t ready? Nonsense, whenever we see games that launch too early the cash shop is always the first thing to be finished and presented in its full form. Is it because they don’t want review scores and day one purchases to be affected by the presence of a cash shop? I think we’re getting closer to the truth. 2019 is going to see more games pulling this maneuver, launching without predatory pricing models and then putting them in once the initial sales are done and everyone is past their refund limit.

5. For The Industry, Choose China Carefully: The Chinese gaming market is one that has only become more divisive over the past year. Culturally Chinese gamers see less of a fuss in cheating, leading to many western games being overrun with hackers to the extent that the Chinese government has made cheat development for online games a jailable offense. I wish I was joking. The market is also massive and growing at an exponential rate, leading many developers to begin catering to this growing audience. And that’s where the problem lies.

You see, for as massive as the Chinese market is, it is also under the authoritarian rule of a virtual dictatorship that puts strict controls on what its population can see. This came to a head late 2018 when Ubisoft made a large number of aesthetic changes to Rainbow Six Siege in order to ready the title for release in China, sparking a backlash by existing players. PUBG has faced a nationwide ban because the concept of survival deviates from socialist core values, and numerous games have allegedly seen demands to make changes for various offenses including blood/gore, sexualized female characters, “inharmonious chat,” missions including fraud, and rewards based on rank.

With 2019 here, you can certainly expect more developers to start altering their titles to pander to the Chinese government. Whether western gamers will be willing to tolerate it is another factor entirely.

Bonus: Get Yourself A VPN: Those of you who read MMO Fallout know that I’m not a big fan of sneaky data collection, but you might not know that I do a fair bit of work through a VPN. A proper VPN can keep your data secure, your identity private, and even allow you access to content that is arbitrarily closed off to your country. to your country. Thanks to my VPN service (I use NordVPN, but there’s a good review of the best ones here), I can trick Netflix into letting me watch Rings, the 2016 horror movie where a killer video is uploaded onto the internet, and is exclusive to the UK for some reason. I watched the cursed video from behind a VPN, and now Samara thinks I live jolly old London England. She won’t be finding me anytime soon.

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