Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mobile guild chat – a success or a portal breaker?

Which new features in WoW have become a success and which projects turned out to be expensive mistakes to learn from? That’s something that never ceases to catch my curiosity, but of course it’s also something that Blizzard treats it as well guarded secrets for competition reasons.

We can never know for sure, only speculate, based on what we see with our own eyes in the game and the gossip we hear in the community. This post will begin with a bunch of wild guesses and then go over to some personal ponderings over the incoming mobile guild chat. It will be long and ranty and not entirely on topic. Be warned!

The sparkling pony
I think we all agreed on that the sparkling pony became a huge instant success – despite the fact that you hardly ever see any of those around these days. Maybe the stigma of being so “foolish” that you actually bought this steed (yes, I was one of the critiques) became too strong. Maybe the novelty wore off. Or maybe it was just too annoying to see everyone else flying around on the same horse. My guess is that they don’t sell many mounts now, but they certainly must have made a fair amount of revenue on them during the first couple of weeks.

There was so much buzz around that pony – and you actually could see it in game to begin with. I really don’t see any reason to doubt that people bought it.

Then there are other features that aren’t as obvious. One development project, which they included in the game rather than making it something extra to pay for – which they probably could have - was the in-game voice chat. From what I’ve read through the lines in interviews it appeared to me as if it took the quite a bit of effort to get it in place. But does anyone ever use it? I can’t show any evidence, but I really doubt it. Surely you would have heard of it? If you ever get into a PUG ambitious enough to try arranging voice communications, they won’t ask you to activate your voice chat. They’ll give you the address to their existing TS or Vent server. I’m not sure why it was such a failure. Maybe the marketing wasn’t good enough, maybe the sound quality was too bad or maybe everyone who’s interested in that kind of communication already had the tools they needed and didn’t see any reason to swip.

The AH app
Some novelties, are marketed more heavily, namely the ones they hope to make money on. Early this year Blizzard launched an application that lets you make some (limited) business at AH even when you’re not logged into the game. And without having any hard facts to back it up with, I have a feeling that it didn’t turn into a mega hit, as I suspected from the start.

It’s about as quiet about this feature as it is about the voice chat. Do you know of anyone that uses it? I sure don’t. It could of course be due to the fact that it’s an overall downtime for WoW. If you’re on a break until Cataclysm, like so many are, there isn’t any strong incentive for you to pay extra to browse AH from home. So it could be about the timing. But for some reason I don’t think that’s the entire truth. You see: I never heard of any enthusiasm for this even back in the days when you could test it for free.

Here’s my speculation for the day: I think that the mobile app doesn’t sell as well as they had expected. And that’s why they now are adding more features to it, in the hope that it will be appetizing enough to make more players open their wallets. If the AH device had been standing well on its own legs, they could as well have sold the new guild chat remote access separately for a lower cost, letting the players chose for themselves what extras to use.

3-d viewer
I know there are other new features incoming as well, such as the possibility to see your own character as a 3d model and to see all of your latest doings in the game. I’ll leave it out of this discussion, because it’s beyond my comprehension in what way that would be interesting to anyone? Do we feel such an urge to look at our toons that we can’t wait until we log into the game next time? Don’t we remember any longer what we did last night? It boggles my mind.

Let’s focus on the mobile guild chat feature, which according to me is the biggest news to the deal. This is clearly another step in the direction to change WoW from a game into a social network, in line with Real ID and a lot of other recent changes.

I can see why Blizzard thinks it’s a good idea from their perspective; players who have deep connections with their guilds are more likely to keep playing. And how do you make them loyal and feel as if they’re “friends” with their guildies? Well, getting to know each other better, being able to chat even when you’re not online. certainly would help.

Other channels
The question is: are people really prepared not only to use this, getting more attached to their guildies an the game following Blizzard’s social engineering plan, but also to pay extra in order to do this? Will this become the hit that the AH app never was? Let me doubt it.

It isn’t as if we’re completely lacking other ways of keeping in touch with your guildies when you’re not logged into the game. Many guilds have forums, or perhaps you’ve set up a mailing list, joined MSN or some other chat device.

I’ve heard the argument that this device will be perfect if you’re stuck on a train and will be late for the raid. But as it is today you can leave a message to someone in the guild through a text message or a phone call. Would you pay several dollars extra per month just to be able to say that you’re late for the raid in the guild chat rather than by some other means? Mind you, we’re not talking about a one-time-only deal, such as the pony was, but about a subscription – a commitment that will add up after a while. It’s a fair amount of money, not only for students and unemployed.

The magical portal
Finally: how do I think for my own part? Do I feel an urge to participate in the guild chat all day long? Well, I don’t think it comes as a surprise to you when I say: I don’t. It’s not just the thing that I’m still a stranger to some parts of the modern social networking, such as Twitter.

I think it also has to do with my view on the game as a magical world that I want to enter, leaving my normal life behind me. A 24/7 access to the guild chat somehow blurs the lines a little bit too openly for my taste.

But… but! Larísa! You already blog and you visit your guild forums! You’re socializing a lot with WoW players outside of WoW! So why not through the guild chat? Well, that’s not easy to answer. I think I just want to draw the line somewhere.

Let’s put it this way. It’s often good for a relationship if you come around to spend some time apart from each other, doing things on your own hand. When you finally meet again, your time together will be that much sweeter than if you had been text messaging each other every twenty minutes all through the day. You have much more stories to share and you’ve built up some sort of longing for each other.

When I log in I’d like to feel: “yay! How awesome! Finally I can go and kill dragons together with him and him and her, it’s been a long time since I saw them, and gosh, I enjoy spending some time together!” rather than….”omg… I’ve been listening to his/her ranting the entire day now, can’t he ever shut up… I’d better log off and do something else where I don’t have to hear this I’ve had enough of it.”

It’s just like seeing family. Sure, it’s nice to see your brother and sister and parents and aunt and cousins, but it’s nice since you’ve had time to miss each other. I certainly wouldn’t like to spend all day long in their company.

The login screen is my magical portal to Azeroth where I can meet my friends and kill dragons. It’s a separate world. It’s a bit like the kids who entered Narnia through the wardrobe. It wasn’t as if Lucy had an online chat with Mr Tumnus as she was back at home.

And I like to keep it pretty much that way. So even if I had one of those modern fancy mobile devices, which I don’t, I wouldn’t subscribe for this. Some players will though, no doubt. I wonder how many.


Gronthe said...

I reckon mobile guild chat won't be a huge hit. If you have friends that you chat with while not online, there are just so many other ways (that you're already paying for or are free) to do it, I don't see the motivation.

I'm curious though, when you draw your line are you able to find a vendor that sells markers small enough for a Gnome's hands? Cause if not, I've got some Gnome-sized writing utensils availble for only $0.67 per month (taxes not included).

Bristal said...

I use the mobile AH on my iPhone. Daily. I love it. I used to lose/leave/not charge my cell phone chronically. Wife wasn't happy. Now I'm never separated from it OR the charger. Bonus for my wife.

And I was never a big AH nut. Don't like trading in mats or large quantities of flasks, etc. I want to MAKE a valuable product that will last a good long time.

I chose a couple of epic LW patterns which I new were BiS for casual Hunters (and I still wear), and I just deal in those 2 items. I've had a great time building up to about 30K in 3 months or so.

I log in a few times a day (while at work) in order to purchase mats at the lowest prices possible. And since I only make 2-3 sales per week, I don't have to camp the AH. Just check a few times a day. Drove out all competitors in about a month.

Very little time. Not boring. No posting of hundreds of stupid glyphs or potions or gems. And quite fun.

It's like my little mini game away from WoW. And it simultaneously funds my toons.

I have wondered why nobody in the blogosphere has talked about it. I peruse some Wow-econ-blogs occasionally, have never seen a single post.

I would be very sad if the lack of press means nobody is using it and it went away :(
seem to be working on my phone. Hope they fix that.

SSB Jezi said...

it is definitely going to be interesting in a couple of months.. I can see lots of apps being linked to social networks or the driosish type phones.. I sadly admit I am currently lusting after one..

Syl said...

I agree there's an overkill of information and social networking in the world we live in, it's good to take a break from that every now and then. twitter, facebook and co. really aren't my thing - I guess we all draw the line at different points.

I cannot for the life of me understand why you'd need mobile guildchat (or AH for that matter), like you said it becomes dull at some point and I'd like to reserve some of that 'magic' for when I'm actually online!

It would also make me feel like WoW is taking over way too much time of my everyday life; it's already getting plenty of that during gaming evenings (and for blogging). I don't want it to intrude everywhere when I have other things and hobbies in my life that are more or as important as WoW to me. it's getting a bit much otherwise.

oh and that sparkling pony is still eugh! =P

Redbeard said...

Instead of 24x7 guild chat, I want Blizz to enable players to create pugs across servers. They already do it via the LFD tool, so it can't be that hard to implement.

Every time I finish a 5-man and had a great time, I often find to my dismay that nobody in the pug is on my server. "If only Blizz could allow people to group outside servers," is the common refrain before we say our goodbyes.

Anonymous said...

Voice chat isn't popular because when they rolled it out it was way too buggy and unresponsive. People gave up trying to use it after 1 or 2 tries and went back to their reliable vent servers.

It works fine now, and its actually better than vent because in the UI a little marker or highlight appears when someone in your party or raid talks (I'm not sure because I haven't used it myself in so long!)

Pangoria Fallstar said...

I liked the voice chat, mainly because Vent caused so many problems to use, and I never knew who was talking.

I wouldn't pay for a 24/7 guildchat, but not everyone knows the rest of their guild outside of the game.

Quite often, I'm more than happy to NOT go to a guild site, or something stupid like that. I'm in a guild for IN-GAME reasons, and have no desire to do anything with any of them outside of the game.

Exceptions of course can occur, but for the most part, I'd prefer them to remain imaginary.

Bobii said...

The idea of having constant contact with everyone in a guild does not appeal to me at all. Every guild I have been in there has always been a handful of people that I just can not stand. I would hate to be forced to read more from these idiots past what I have to while I'm in game.

I've never view guilds as a group of friends, but more of a group of people with a common goal. How can a handful of people(officers) pick and choose people that you would like to be "friends" with.

I guess I find myself more and more like Gevlon the longer I play this game. Shame that The Pug is on a EU server.

Talarian said...

I actually enjoy the idea of having a separate chat program that can connect to guild chat. Plenty of folks new to WoW and in my guild have asked if its possible (and until recently, it hasn't!). It's certainly not for everyone, but instead of chatting with the guild while doing laps in Ironforge or Dalaran, one could be doing something else while chatting entirely! Drinking coffee at the coffee shop, watching television, on the bus going to work, etc.

As a raid leader I find this type of program potentially very useful. As part of a casual mega-guild, I often have to scrounge for a player or two on short notice because someone couldn't make it, or quit, etc. Having access to guild chat allows me to advertise in chat to find someone willing to come without having to be at the computer, or as mentioned being able to say they can't make it to a raid.

I'd also enjoy them allowing us to create cross server groups, but feature design is not precisely a zero sum game. They cannot just take developers off creating apps for mobile devices and put them in a completely different codebase to implement cross-server grouping. If they chose to do so, it would likely take months to get these developers up to speed, not to mention taking into account that Blizzard's codebase is already precarious enough that they're having troubles keeping things stable with the amount of people they have working on it currently, let alone adding more people checking in code.

Nils said...

I agree with every single word in this post. So much, indeed, that I find it impossible to add anything.

Jen said...

I LOVE this idea. I love it so much I've finally decided to get a smartphone to install the app on. For me WoW is half social, half killing dragons, and I can't wait to be able to chat to my guildies when I'm at work. (No, I don't have them all added to IM. No, I don't want to add them all to IM. Which doesn't mean I won't enjoy chatting to them in-game, about in-game things.)

I could also add it's an useful tool to have as an officer (want to know if X can come to a raid? get online and see if you can ask him instead of sending a PM he might not see), but I'd be lying. It's useful, but I want the app for the chatting. For me guild chat while on the bus back home seems like the best idea ever.

Wolflore said...

Talking about design feature failures one of my pet peeves is the LFR mechanism.
I recently came back to game and I am unpleasantly surprised that no-one uses the LFR feature anymore. These days 90% of the chat traffic going on in the trade channel is related to raid and to a lesser extent group formation. If the palyers in the game are not using the feature as it was intended it is a failure of design. This failure is particularly annoying in that it is a step back since there was a functional system before.
Now everyone that wants to get in to a pug raid has to go to one of the cities (mostly Dalaran) and constantly monitor the trade channel. I would much rather be out in the world doing daily quests while at the same time being in a LFR channel rather than sitting in Dalaran contributing to the already heavy lagefst that it always has been.

Redbeard said...

@Talarian: Oh, I understand completely. I worked for five years in software development, so I know all about trying to throw bodies at a project, and I've seen massive fail by management in thinking developers are simply a bunch of interchangeable cogs in a wheel.

My thinking is that they're about 2/3 of the way already with the LFD tool + Real ID + Arenas, so once the development staff breaks down the design it wouldn't be too hard to do this as an enhancement patch once Cat is released and the bugs die down to manageable levels. (Okay, you can cue hysterical laughter here, especially if you've worked at a development shop. To a customer, bugs are never down to manageable levels.)

Saga said...

I can see that some people might enjoy the possibility to see (and use) guild chat while not online - but I have to admit I'm not too bothered myself. Sure, it's a shame missing a PUG because you weren't there when they decided to put it together, but I have a few of the guild members on MSN, and the guild master's mobile number.

I can see how some people might enjoy it though, and it does have some uses. A lot of people have little apps and are on twitter etc. while afk anyway, so why not guild chat I guess :)

About the voice chat feature I agree with the person who said that it was originally too buggy. I tried making it work back in the day and it never did. The other day I was in a PUG where someone surprised us all by telling us to enable voice chat in game. I was whinging and whining cause I had those bad memories, but as we enabled it I realised that it actually worked pretty good these days. And since it's on your screen you can see who is talking (something I always miss on vent if there's new people).

Like some others I'd also love to be able to do proper PUG raids across server. How awesome would that be? I could play with friends from other servers! But of course then they'd lose money from all the server transfers :P

And I'm sure it takes a bit of work to get it sorted. But they already have a raid browser.. combine that with the LFD feature and we're halfway there? ;)

Larísa said...

@Gronthe: Gnome writing utnesils? Hm… tricky question. On one hand I’ve always imagined that I’m writing out of character, until someone pointed out that I’m actually doing some sort of soft RP:ing here. To be honest I don’t know. I suppose it varies from moment to moment, if I use small sized or super-small sized (yes, I’m pretty short in real life too.)

@Bristal: Wow, that’s the first time I hear a testimony from someone using it. And if you know what you’re doing, picking the cherries as you do with your lw pattern, I suppose it’s not a pain, but even a little bit of fun. I think there are quite few people using it though, considering the lack of attention it gets as you point out.

@SSB Jezi: well, I use my not-so-smart cell phone for some web browsing, so I wouldn’t say no if someone tossed a smart one in my direction. There are some apps that seem usable. But I’m afraid the WoW related ones don’t attract me very much.

@Syl: I agree. I think the risk to feel that you’ve gotten an overdose of WoW goodness will increase if you carry around AH in your pocket.

@Redbeard: As Talarian says, it’s probably not the same people. But I agree that that kind of development – or just simply giving us more content – is way more important than adding another social nifty thing.

@Anonymous: I think they really managed to give it a bad reputation at start. And then it turns into a destructive circle. If noone else uses it, it’s no point that you try it either. And so it slips into oblivion.

@Pangoria Fallstar: You say ”liked” though, in past time. You’re not using it anymore since no one else does, I assume?
For my own part I think a guild website is very handy, especially in a pretty small guild where people tend to have very differing gaming schedules. If you for instance want to find a group for something it’s way easier if you can talk about asyncronically.

@Bobii: To me I think it’s a mix. Some are more friends, others you don’t know that well and they’re just people with a common goal. But if someone would become such a close friend that I wanted to have contact in chats outside of game, I’d surely be able find a way to do it that was cheaper and simpler than buying that app.

@Talarian: Counting in one subscriber then! Go, Blizzard, go!

@Nils: Woot! Nils has nothing to add? Can’t be. An imposer?

@Jen: Oh, then they have two subscribers for this! We definitely play this game very differently. I think the social dimension is important, but not to the extent that I want to chat all day long with my guildies.

@Wolflore: It’s a little bit off topic, but yes, the LFR is completely empty and pointless these days. They didn’t get that right at all. Unfortunately. I wonder if some little incentive would change that…. Two extra frost emblems if you puts up and finish an instance using this feature? Just thinking aloud…. I agree that hanging in the cities to monitor the trade chat gets old very quickly.

@Saga: So the voice chat actually works pretty well these days? That's interesting. They've certainly not managed to spread the word about it though, I believe. If someone suggested using that in a PUG, I'd get surprised.

timefortincan said...

I remember when they first brought out the voicechat - my group had no vent server at the time, and it really improved the game for us. But then it started to get buggy - a friend on a different OS couldn't make it work, another patch made it break for me.

And then we found Vent - which has been trouble free....

Anonymous said...

The econ/AH columnists at WoW Insider talk about the remote AH service and how to use it.

Also, don't worry, plenty of people use it and love it. For many, "auction house PvP" is a major part of their gameplay. Indeed, for some, it is their *primary* activity in WoW. For these players as well as for more casual AH traders, the remote AH service is invaluable.

Selyndia said...

I know I wasted the money on the steed, and for only one reason. It provides a mount to every character you ever make, never has to be paid for, and automatically upgrades itself as you level, making it an incredible convenience when leveling alts. It also provides a “One mount” option that works in both flying and ground zones, of which there are sadly very few (Invincible, Horsemen’s Reins and…is that it?).

The VOIP they put in, I think, was generally a failure though. I know I’ve never used it; and I don’t think anyone else I know has ever done so. With alternative 3rd party VOIPs available as cheap and reliable as they are, I think that Blizzard missed the boat with it. Had the voice chat been implemented at release, I think it would have been a huge thing, but added in so much late into the game with so many people already in established alternatives just makes it had too much competition.

The mobile guild chat is interesting, and is honestly something I thought would have been added long ago. EQ had an option that you could download a client that allowed you to chat with people in various chat channels, while not in game. It also allowed the integration of cross server communication between chat channels and even direct character to character whispers. I’m not sure why this never came about, but I know that cross server communications or chats seemed incredibly popular. I wouldn’t mind seeing an option like that in a “WoW IM” type deal.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to know what my bear tank had for lunch or that the top mage in our guild is bored with his classes for school.

Anonymous said...

More like the sparkling pwny. amirite?

KiwiRed said...

They're making the same mistake with guild chat that they made with RealID: making the assumption that they know what groups people want to communicate with, and how they wish to do it.

With RealID, the original pitch was appealing in its simplicity: chat with other people playing Blizzard games. Unfortunately the way they ended up implementing it (using your real name and account identifier, with no control over how your information is shared, and reframed as "only for use with people you trust" despite the fact those people already have established means of accomplishing this which don't need RealID to do so) pretty much killed off any interest in the concept for a good number of players, myself included (and later events have introduced a substantial degree of cynicism in regards to Blizzard's motives, but I digress).

With this offering, the assumption they make leaves it of equally limited use: "Chat with other guild members from outside the game!" Fine until you want to communicate with people not in your guild. Fortunately in that case you have a great number of (in many cases, much more feature-rich) options: text message, phone call, instant message, email, twitter... Most of those are also available for mobile devices, and none of them require paying blizzard a monthly rental for the priviledge.

When they come late to the party with a feature- or scope-limited product, even when it comes at no cost to the playerbase, I don't like their chances (in-game voice chat comes to mind). And when they want to charge a subscription for it, as in this case? Forgive me if I'm unimpressed.

Larísa said...

@Timefortincan: it's so much of a habit, isn't it? Once you have a working Vent server it's tempting to stay. (Especially if someone else has paid for it... ;))

@Selyndia: I'm not a fan of RMT items in a subscription based game, which I think is pretty obvious by now. But I can see it has a charm to have a ground mount that can fly or a flying mount that works on ground. Never thought of that aspect.
About many of the social features: yes, they're probably a little late to the train many times. Patterns have been established and it won't be trivial for them to break into it.

@KiwiRed: Yeah, I'm a bit of a sceptic too, obviously. Maybe they could have gotten more interest if they had sugarcoated their offer by adding yet another pet or mount or something to the package. "Be one of the first 10 000 to order it and you'll get a super-exclusive never-yet-to-see-again chatting sparkling space parrot!"

Gevlon said...

Another tool to stay in touch with your "friends". The reason why you are annoyed by someone's endless ranting is that you are not a 15 years old moron. They actually LIKE that and find X "talkative, sociable and fun".

PVE Rogues said...

i would use this.... the only problem is i do not own a mobile phone :(... cna i get guild chat to my landline? =o