Gordon is out doing what he does best by asking thoughtful questions that provoke a lot of response. This time he is looking at premium servers as a method to improve communities in MMORPGs. His article is quite good and well reasoned. He contends that if you created a premium server with a higher monthly cost you will have a greater likelihood of having a good community on that server. It is an interesting idea and I had some thoughts about it.
The whole idea behind the Premium Servers is that as people are paying more then it’s more likely to attract mature, well-mannered and serious players.
This particular statement was of great interest to me. Gordon is basically suggesting that players who are willing to spend more money are going to be more mature. In a simple sense that isn’t a bad idea. Generally we link maturity with age and with age comes more disposable income. A fair portion of MMORPG immaturity comes from the younger crowds and this would certainly weed people out. There is a slight problem though if you follow the plan as listed.
The extra money would be used by Blizzard to offer premium subscribers additional features, potentially like early access to content, special items and additional web-services like unique guild micro-sites.
I put bold into the quote to highlight a potential problem I see. If the premium server offered premium service that is something that would certainly attract players like me. Having a real GM in game to handle my problems instead of through email is highly valuable. It is a desirable service and reminds me of the high quality of service I received in EverQuest. You can cash in on my nostalgia alone! It also allows for more player interaction with the company staff. All of those things are of great benefit to me and it is unlikely that a teenager or college student would care enough about them to pay double the subscription cost they currently are.
On the other hand, features like being able to play content sooner or get a special item is right up their alley. As we’ve learned with the Sparkle Pony and Cash Cat there is a big market for that sort of thing. Would a double subscription cost keep those same players from laying out cash to get to new releases sooner? Probably not. I imagine a lot of these lower disposable income players would still buy into it. Maturity may improve but by this very feature set you couldn’t be certain that the community would be any better than it is now. Money does not always ensure maturity or civility. Sometimes it is exactly the opposite and power increases attract that crowd.
That brings me to Tobold who also weighed in on the idea of premium servers and made a really good point that I’d like to hit on.
The truth is most players have nothing against spending time or money on a game to get ahead, as long as they have enough of the resource in question.
Tobold very accurately connects the point that most players would see a premium server not as a “first-class” experience but as a “play advantage.” You spend more money and you get an advantage through free items (even if they’re cosmetic), better service, and early access to content. In essence you would have to separate the mentality of “play advantage “from MMORPG players to increase the possibility that the server would succeed. Players without enough income to play on the premium level would constantly feel like second class citizens and like they were missing out on something they should already have. It would be a constant balance to show the non-premium players that their quality of life had not decreased while at the same time not over glamorizing first-class. Implementing that in a long standing MMORPG would be tough. That doesn’t mean the idea isn’t valid though.
In my eyes it would make sense for new MMORPGs to be designed with a few premium servers from the start. That way no player has a baseline by which to judge the experiences. It also gives developers a chance to make it clear up front that premium means better service, not a play advantage. Focusing on the features that don’t add to a character’s power but makes a player’s life easier would be the way to go. GM events for entertainment and in game support are two examples. There are certainly others. That alone would still not make for a good community though.
The sad truth, no matter how much the community doesn’t want to hear it, is that we’ve brought this on ourselves through our demands. We’ve taken MMORPGs as something that required cooperation and forced them down the path of individual success and focus. Selfishness is why our communities are so bad these days. So many players are unconcerned about anyone but themselves. They’re all about “my character” and “how I want to play.” We allow that because these games can be played solo. We don’t punish bad behavior as a community. Character transfers are fast and easy. Name changes require no effort. If you want to dump your guild that is fine too. We simply don’t have consequences any more. Everyone is a free agent and they have anonymity to hide behind.
Premium servers sound like a good idea and have merit but part of me wonders if we’re not just trying to throw money at the problem instead of doing what is necessary. Sometimes you have to be willing to sacrifice one thing to get another. We gave up good communities by making groups and guilds largely irrelevant. Now we pay the price. I like to think the community on a “group only” server would be better than that of a normal one. After all, you cannot be a complete jerk for too long if your own success depends on others. You end up on black lists and your progress grinds to a halt. We saw it in EverQuest and it worked quit well. Social pressure to behave and team success is what keeps society together in reality. MMORPGs have lost that by making us all kings of our own tiny domains.