Farmville. CityVille. Café World. What do these titles have in common? They are all primarily facebook based games made by Zynga. They also all use the same primary basis for how the company makes money off users, and how they keep people playing. I have heard a few people say that Blizzard, with Mists of Pandaria, is more and more becoming ‘Zynga-ish’ in it’s design and goals. While I can’t speak for Blizzard’s design or it’s goals, I do want to compare the finished product.
The Zynga Style
From their first known game, Farmville, Zynga has grown a reputation, and not a good one at that. All of their games seem to follow the same pattern, build something in order to collect from what you have built at the needed time. Over the duration of their games they often expand, adding new areas and content to build upon, and encourage or even force you into participating in that new content. For currency, Zynga usually has one currency which is the base one, and fairly easy to earn, and then another that is rarer, often only earned by leveling up, but which you can buy more of if you want. This is their hook, they want you spending real world money buying more and more in-game cash, which is what is required for all of the best stuff. For Farmville it is unwithers, for Café World it is despoilers, and so on. Also, special buildings and items are bought with ‘bucks’.
You can even buy Zynga gift cards alongside iTunes cards in stores! While Zynga has seen a lot of slow down, likely due to players of their games figuring out that they just copy and paste the model from game to game, and often their games are poor copies of other company’s games. The Ville, a SimCity copy, is likely the most notable example of this and with older versions of SimCity on sale via steam for as little as $5, a game that constantly harasses you to buy more stuff just to play is an incredible frustration, and one easily resolved.
Zynga, as some in the gaming community have come to say, has become a master of nagware gaming on Facebook. There are always tasks to complete, there is always something new to buy, and logging in generally requires clicking through several ‘house ads’ to buy or obtain new stuff in game. Of course, friend, you can use cash to buy the stuff you need to make your life easier, which costs real money to buy. Zynga is the king of progress for cash, allowing you to just buy everything you want, all you need is enough real world cash for it all.
The Blizzard style
Now that we have a really good grasp of what Zynga is all about, and how they work, let’s take a look at the method seen on the player side of things for those who are part of the Blizzard gaming community. Unlike Zynga, this will not be as easy, though, because the three active titles in Blizzard’s repertoire are very different, with different focus and design goals. Therefore, we will look at Warcraft, Diablo and Starcraft in different parts.
Warcraft – Starting as a very popular RTS game, Warcraft has progressed in story and style. In 2004, it launched in the MMO market to record breaking numbers, and has remained the giant in the market ever since. From the early days of Downloadable Content (DLC) and Real Money Markets, Blizzard has shown great restraint in how they are willing to monetize world of Warcraft.
Unlike Zynga, which takes every opportunity it can to make money off their players, Blizzard is happy to stick to a subscription game with real money items that do not affect game play. Blizzard tries to avoid making anything you can buy with real money have any effect on the actual in game combat and balance. World of Warcraft has daily quests, but they don’t require added friends, nagging your friends, or posting stuff to spam your friends.
Diablo – The latest release in this franchise, Diablo 3, is one of those interesting titles, where Blizzard themselves do not directly sell items to players that could help with gameplay, but they do have the Real Money Auction House that does allow players to buy items from other players for real money, with Blizzard and Paypal taking a cut. While the Warcraft side has pets and mounts you can buy, Blizzard really doesn’t have anything but their small cut of sales to monetize the Diablo community thus far, so there is no real comparison to Zynga’s ‘buy from maker to progress’ system.
Starcraft – Starcraft is a game that started and has remained as a RTS game, with huge adoption in the professional eSports side of gaming, and is among the titles mentioned at some of the top tier invitational tournaments. While the game had a story based campaign mode, it’s most notable feature is the multi-player mode, and most folks who play Starcraft use this mode. Monetizing the game with out of game currency would seriously imbalance the eSports side of the game.
As you can see, while a few aspects of the currently active Blizzard titles have some vague similarities to Zynga’s collection of games, there is nothing pointing to a direct connection or similarity between the two companies, or their design styles. I doubt we will ever see Blizzard being that connected, or even that similar to the Zynga style of copy paste designing of new titles, and copies from other companies.
The question we are asking, though, is what if Blizzard was like Zynga. Well, I think we would see Warcraft with honor, justice, valor and conquest points purchasable with out of game cash, though they would likely just rename that to one currency that you could use for all high end items. These would be the ‘Farmville Bucks’ of the Warcraft world. Gold can help you buy some stuff, but if you want to short cut to the front of the line in gear, cash will be your ticket. $50 to get your toon fully equipped in the new Tier of gear the day of the patch? I know a lot of people who would pay for that. $2 for five flasks of your choice? Sure! Five great banquets for $5? Absolutely! It is a service for the wealthy, to get stuff without the time to farm it.
For Diablo, we would see Blizzard seeding top end gear with customizable stats in the Real Money Auction House, but putting a high priced starting bid on those items. Struggling with Inferno, and have $50 to spend to bump your item level by a few dozen points to out gear the monsters? I think most players would love to do that very dearly when they have wiped for the 15th time on the same monsters.
Starcraft would see special cash only upgrades, and this would make the eSports side of the game almost require these in order to be really competitive. Want a Thor with twice the HP? Want your SCVs to build three times faster? Just spend a little cash to build up your units and make them better. Even better, they could add in special bonus packs that could be used for a single game, or a few minutes to build or collect faster, all for just a few extra dollars.
All of these things would make their respective titles very unbalanced, and make the game worlds nearly unplayable for those without extra cash to put them back on the same playing field as those who can afford the bonuses. Blizzard has time and again reiterated that they will not be providing services that will make their games and their economies unbalanced, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Blizzard is more than happy making their money off subscriptions, and the non-combat related items from the Blizzard store. Oh, yeah, and the undoubtedly large amount they make from licensed merchandise like MegaBloks, Steins, shirts, and more. This is why I am very happy Blizzard is not like Zynga, and why I still play WoW all the time. What are your nightmares of Blizzard becoming too much like other gaming companies?