The Soapbox: World of Warships’ aggressive monetization incited a mass-exodus of content creators

    
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Gaming monetization has been a topic of intense conversation ever since box copies of software diminished in favor of persistent online experiences. Subscription services entered the scene but presented the problem of a monthly commitment to the unknown. Then we got swarmed with free-to-play titles and the introduction of cash shops and designs intended to push players in that direction. In the current iteration of gaming monetization, random lockboxes aka lootboxes, no longer exclusive to the mobile market, have become a lightning rod for intense feelings and lawsuits alike.

As a free-to-play naval arcade, World of Warships has continually sought to maximize profit, even at the expense of the well-being of its own players, and studio Wargaming has now begun to push away some of its most ardent defenders and contributors with its aggressive gambling mechanics.

How does a game that bills itself as “free” pay the bills to keep the servers running? Warships did it quite successfully for several years by selling premium time (akin to an MMO subscription with credit and XP earning bonuses) and premium ships. While players can quite happily grind free tech tree ships by playing matches and earning XP and credits, the serious cash was made by selling unique ships and bundles, sometimes for upwards of $100-120 for a single ship and a few shiny extras. It was pricy, but at least players knew what they were spending money on.

Unfortunately, at some point along the way, marketing blurred with psychological exploitation.

World_of_warships_more_crates

As recently as 2018, the World of Warships summer sale sold premium ships directly to customers at a discounted rate. This year’s recently announced summer sale entices players to buy doubloons, which can in turn be exchanged for bundles that include summer tokens, which in turn can be exchanged for random crates that may contain a permanent camouflage (for a ship that you already own if you’re lucky) or spent on a chain of random crates at a discount – though a discount from how much is unclear.

So why has the situation spun out of control? Wargaming wants to remove players’ perception of value as far as possible from actual money because it’s more difficult to get people to gamble if they know how much they stand to lose. This slow push toward gambling mechanics has been occurring for several months but reached a breaking point within the community this past weekend, precipitated by the re-release of the USS Missouri.

Wargaming originally put the USS Missouri up for sale in December of 2016 for the game’s freeXP currency (acquired through in-game play), and the ship remained available until February of 2018. Within the game, the Missouri is not a behemoth by any means. It’s widely recognized as an average battleship with a few unique perks. The biggest differentiating factor is an enhanced credit modifier that increased the number of credits earned per battle. Over the months that Missouri was available, more and more players took advantage of the credit bonus to the point that it was disrupting the in-game economy, prompting Wargaming to pull her from sale. Since then, Missouri has been available only via random containers centered around special events. Or perhaps the containers were not-so-random, depending on your viewpoint.

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The existence of the Missouri presented Wargaming with a dilemma. She’s a ship of great historical significance (Japan signed its surrender on the deck of the ship in 1945), and as such she has been sought after by many veterans and those with an interest in naval history. Not a company to leave money on the table, Wargaming recently announced the return of the Missouri with great fanfare – and a reduced credit modifier. The studio specifically said the ship would be “available for purchase in exchange for Doubloons” (the game’s cash-buyable currency). Previous owners of the Missouri would then continue to earn credits at the enhanced rate. It seemed a reasonable compromise to those who desired to own this unique piece of history.

Unfortunately, when the development blog for update 0.10.7 was released, the wording in the section regarding the return of the Missouri had been altered. The new version made clear that the ship would instead “appear in random bundles that can be obtained in exchange for Doubloons.”

In other words, Wargaming had gated the Missouri behind random crates. If history serves as any indication, it will likely be a random bundle “chain” with the possibility of winning Missouri in the first crate in the chain, the last, or any crate in-between. Thus, if a player wants to own the Missouri, he will have no idea how much he’ll need to pay to get it. This type of chain directly manipulates players into the sunk cost fallacy, or the tendency to continue to spend money on something simply because a player has already sunk so much into it that he doesn’t want to walk away without something to show for it.

This latest monetization move sent the official World of Warships community contributor (CC) community into a frenzy. An environment that had already been deteriorating over the last several months completely disintegrated over the Missouri announcement and other mistreatments. This past week, we received tips that many of the game’s largest North American and European community contributors had discussed a mass exodus from the program to coincide with the re-release of the Missouri. However, that timeline moved up to last Friday, when Little White Mouse, a long-time ship reviewer and much-beloved community member, announced her resignation from the program.

By Saturday morning, no fewer than 22 other members of the program had done the same. Those who have left continue to drop hints about additional departures over the next several days.

YouTuber The Mighty Jingles, who is such a community cornerstone that Wargaming has made him a playable captain within the game, cited “aggressive monetization,” gambling mechanics, and toxic relationships between the company and its contributors as reasons for his exit:

Streamer Flambass penned a breakup letter comparing his time in the program to an “abusive relationship” and called for a monetary boycott of the exploitative practices.

Mr Gibbins, in his discord channel resignation, noted the problems gambling mechanics present to large segments of the Warships playerbase:

“[T]he WoWs community is made up of a high proportion of veterans. It is well recognised that veterans suffer much higher rates of problem gambling than the general population. Missouri is a much desired ship, a ship with great significance to many veterans. Marketing that ship to veterans through gamble mechanics seems to me to be exploitative and immoral.”

iChase gaming declares the company “morally bankrupt”:

It’s worth pointing out, as many of the CCs did, that World of Warships markets its game to young kids as well as adults. The terms of service stipulate players must be at least 13 years old to play, which means that these mechanics are being introduced to children who are too young to legally drive. The Pan European Gaming Information (PEGI) rating is 7, meaning that the game is appropriate for children aged 7 and older.

This isn’t even the first time that Wargaming has been in hot water over random crates. Consider this complaint about the randomized nature of the 2020 holiday event, when the European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA) ruled in part, “The Jury also disagrees with the opinion expressed in the discussion that this knowledge would not affect the economic behaviour of the players. In the opinion of the jury, there is a distinct possibility that it would. For example, knowing the pre-condition (of owning one of the 4 ships) might make a player NOT buy a gift container.” In other words, the more educated the player on the chances, the less likely she may be to spend money on a gamble. Wargaming instead prefers to keep players guessing on both chances and value through multiple digital currency exchanges and complicated random crate reward systems.

At this point, Wargaming seems content to continue to take chances on aggressive monetization tactics and ask for forgiveness if it doesn’t work out. But perhaps that’s all part of the strategy. Player churn is good for free-to-play games, and World of Warships is no exception to this rule: They can’t sell you a USS Texas twice, but they can sell it to an excited new player who just discovered the game. The new player will have no history with the studio to know better. It’s disheartening to think that this type of exploitation resulting in community upheaval may not negatively affect Wargaming’s bottom line in the least.

Then again, maybe it will.

Update: This afternoon, Wargaming told the community controbutors in Discord that it isn’t yet ready to address the situation but will do so tomorrow.

Update: Wargaming has now addressed the situation; we’ve covered it here.

Update: It seems that players who want to purchase Missouri with doubloons are going to be forced to contact Wargaming customer support in order to do so

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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Alan Rossant

Sorry Paul you’re wrong , Ben has it correct. Apparently many CCs were already on the course of resigning before LWM resigned due to the various dubious practices (mis-advertising , lootboxes etc) that have been escalating in WG’s upper management . Originally they intended to mass resign after the the WG Summer clash stream on Saturday (since some of the CCs had already committed to appearing before things got really bad). However with the absolutely scummy way certain WG staff treated LWM she decided to go there and then and this brought things to a head and the exodus was accelerated

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Paul Kelly

All these news outlets got it all wrong. The max exodus of cc is because little white mouse(cc from thr beginning) was publicly disrespected by wargaming staff on discord. She quit. Everyone else followed.

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Sailor Moon

It’s really sad. The game itself is a good game, it’s a solid game and I love it dearly, but Wargaming, like Blizzard killing Overwatch with controversy and stupid decisions, is just killing the game with blatant disregard of its playerbase, it’s Community Contributors, and its supertesters. New management is desperately needed if World of Warships is to survive.

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IronSalamander8 .

I used to play a lot of WoT, a lot. Obviously similar business model (same company and idea), so you could pay for a premium account, and they had several premium tanks (I own several like the Lowe and KV-5), but no loot boxes for this stuff, but the ‘free’ game cost a lot if you wanted to get anywhere at high tiers and especially for clan wars, which is why I quit back when heavy Japanese tanks were added; I spent a bunch of my free XP to burn to tier 10 the same day, played a round or 2 on each tank and never played again. Loot boxes would have seen me quit even earlier, as I hate spending real money for these slot machines. I’m not shocked people are ticked.

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CatLover JerryGarcia

And they make a non-apology.

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CatLover JerryGarcia
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CatLover JerryGarcia
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Alan Rossant

My thoughts exactly

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CatLover JerryGarcia

Even worse they’re locking the non-gambling purchasable version of Missouri behind a time limited mission chain. So you have to grind your life away to earn the right to buy the ship.

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Bruno Brito

I can’t fathom how hellish must be for companies to manage the sub-f2p-b2p debate when people conveniently forget that charging on one price affects other players somewhere else. If you go for AAA MMOs nowadays, only rolling for the dollar crowd won’t fly. And getting ​offices on SA, Australia, Eastern Europe, Asia, etc etc, it all costs money.

Here’s a good example for me: GW2 offers absolutely no shot for me to buy anything on Brazil without a international card. I’ve been waiting for the steam launch so i can buy the goddamn xpacs, and that’s a far far happening. Any purchase i do for anything in dollars is 5.5 times the price. So, i pretty much waste two weeks of food for a month of gaming, hardly an acceptable price.

Specially when games are not worthy the sub. Which most of them aren’t.

The gaming world doesn’t, nor it should, revolve around one country, and one specific subset of gamers that can pay for those bills without batting an eye. Overall, people lost acquisitive power and industries as a whole move based on how people behave, not the opposite. We’re not living on the times of Everquest anymore.

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Toy Clown

The biggest reason I don’t buy into upcoming titles anymore is due to being labeled “Free to Play” and “Buy to Play”. These games have incredibly expensive cash shops full of gimmicks and gambling. I stick to subscription models these days, UNLESS a F2P/B2P model has a way to make cash shop currency through in-game means.

What’s bad is toy companies have now gotten into the gambling game. Mattel released the Color Reveal line and in the last financials posted, was responsible for their largest net gains. These are cheap, non-posable dolls with plastic scalps that you dip in water and reveal with face sculpt/coloration it has. This is gambling! MGA entertainment also releases these toys. Another toy company sticks miniatures in eggs and you don’t know what you’re getting. I’ve watched youtubers spend $100’s on these toys, just to open them up for their audience, then discover you’re getting the same items over and over.

I push heavily on forums that this is gambling. Many people have said they didn’t think of it that way until I mentioned it. I have been attacked by one person, saying it was the stupidest thing they’ve ever heard.

If I was in politics with this knowledge within two industries that are aimed at children, or adults with gambling addictions, I’d be having a field day.

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wjowski

Lootboxes are gambling and should be regulated as such. Plain and simple.

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PanagiotisLial1

What is being described is pretty much like STO’s promobox/lockbox mechanics. Especially promobox where STO traditionally places more important protagonist or rare alien ships. Its been out there in popular PC mmorpgs and as long as we accept it and buy to get the “prize” despite we hate the system it will be there. Only if people stop(or more realistically heavily reduce) buying of these boxes will cause the companies to move into different monetization systems.Companies look each other what systems work and adopt them. If genshin impact works great, other companies will try to implement its monetization systems for example.

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CatLover JerryGarcia

I started off with Wargambling LLC products in World of Tanks I grew weary of the toxic battle chats there until they implemented a way to block it. Then the trolls and latrine dwellers would just randomly spam battles with map pings and quick messages. When Warships was announced I got into the closed beta thanks to a friend buying me the Yubari. It was fun for 2 or three years, balanced ships and relatively balanced matches. Then it started to slide and accelerate until we arrived at our current point. At this point my wallet and PC are closed permanently to any Wargambling LLC products and I would encourage others to take a similar position. We may not be able to directly affect their decisions with our purchases but if enough people stop playing the whales that the company are targeting will eventually run out of battles to get into and grow frustrated.