Today’s blog post is going to take a detour down gaming avenue, if you’re not interested in computer games then feel free to come back tomorrow where I will probably be insulting old people or whining like a little bitch about an easily remedied first world problem.
Right now however, I’m going to be talking about DLC and in-game purchases… Well kind of, I’m going to use in-game purchases as a branch to discuss a niche online game I used to play 5 years ago… I literally don’t think there is a single consumer who likes the mass DLC and in game purchase marketing strategy of games in recent years, but as with anything else, what the consumer wants is only a driving factor if there is an alternative market choice for them. As long as we keep buying it they’ll keep milking it.
I realised last night that between myself and my wife we have spent over £200 on the Blizzard trading card game Hearthstone. Admittedly this has been stretched over multiple years (well 2) but still, it’s a considerable amount of money to spend purchasing virtual packets of cards hoping to get one I don’t already have…
This, however is the tame end of the scale. Me and Rene actually met on an MMORPG around 8 years ago. The game itself was a 2D Russian role playing game named ‘Darkswords’. It boasted a player base of around 3,000 players across all its servers at its peak and a laughably poor game client that was updated less often than my underpants. You fought monsters by clicking on their portraits and levelled up by pressing a button assuming you were on the correct grid reference. By modern standards the game makes Runescape look cutting edge and ultimately culminated in a glorified chat room with sketchy ethics in terms of copyrighted material.
Despite having the graphics of a Facebook profile and the game mechanics of a Tram simulator the ‘free to play’ game thrived on an in-game currency purchased for real money at an alarmingly expensive exchange rate. At the level cap a decent weapon would cost a user upwards of $1,000.
The strength of a chat based MMORPG is people on the internet are cunts. If you gather a collective of cunts they will inevitably start to hate each other. When you have a group of people who hate each other on a game where you get stronger by teaming up with friends and killing other players then you have all the motivation required for people to sink an entire monthly pay slip on in-game currency just to make their pixels more powerful.
Luckily P2W (Pay to Win) games are a declining force, but my God… I have never and will never be involved in a gaming community as intense as the Darkswords community. At its peak, players were dropping thousands of dollars a week on temporary stat boosts just to beat rival factions who would then one up them by spending a little more than that. It was insanity. If you couldn’t afford or just morally objected to spending all your money on the game then you were left with the scraps.
I’ll be honest, I revelled in it. As such a social game I got swept up in the petty rivalries. Being invited into my first ‘clan’ was a bigger deal than my university acceptance letter. I was playing this as a broke teenager with no sugar daddy to gear me up for the big leagues. After years of playing I managed to angle myself as an almost powerful underdog, gathering a band of merry men and robin hooding ourselves around the map trying to outwit the big spenders and more often than not, failing miserably… Even talking about it now makes me want to go back and try it again, but I can’t… because it’s dead (or dying, I haven’t looked in a while). It went the way every P2W game eventually goes.
If there’s no cap on the amount of strength you can gain through real money then with every passing week you’re increasing the barrier to entry for new players. Not only do they have to deal with a learning curve that veteran players have long since plateaued but when they finally start to understand what the fuck they’re doing then they notice they’re laughably outgunned by practically everyone around them! These players then decide not to waste both their time and payslips and go elsewhere.
It literally got to the point with Darkswords where I had easily spent upwards of $1,000 and was in the bottom 5% of the games pvp (player vs player) rankings based on item value. For some unknown reason the game was a magnet for wealthy Russians, many of whom invested upwards of $20k. Short of winning the lottery the best you could take away from a night’s pvp was a stark metaphor on the class system and knowing your place within it.
Darkswords will always have a place in my memory, most people will never get to experience a game so bathed in drama that you’d log on just to find out who was sleeping with who like it was a fucking episode of Hollyoaks. For all its flaws and it’s absolutely ludicrous price model it was where I met my wife, so for that reason and that reason alone, I score Darkswords: