Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pulling out the Rug

It's always easier to add features to a game than to take them away. A lot of games will put off taking features away until a major event, like a new edition or version, both from a practical standpoint (paper games aren't good at mid-stream changes) as well as a PR standpoint. Players hate losing things they are used to. If you wait for a big event, you add some sugar to the medicine by introducing an assortment of new features that are replacing those that are being lost.

We don't have that luxury with ourWorld, because our game gets incrementally updated every two weeks. Even a huge update is a smallish change in the overall scheme of things. This last week, we implemented a change in ourWorld that prevents players from buying gifts for other players unless they first make an actual purchase. The problem was that each coupon code for Gems (ourWorld's for-profit currency) we issued worked once for each account. This allowed one code to provide a small number of Gems to a large number of players. Free samples, more or less. The problem was that players were creating large numbers of 'fake' accounts, loading them up with free Gems from the codes, and bleeding those Gems into their main accounts. The problem reached epidemic status a couple of weeks ago when we accidentally released Gem codes worth more than the usual 10 and the number of fake accounts skyrocketed, throwing off all our statistical data for the week, and reducing the value of a single Gem to a fraction of its normal worth.

We had to make a change, and our choices were to reign in Gem Codes or reign in gifting. We think there's a lot of value in releasing a modest number of Gems each week for everyone, so we addressed gifting. The problem isn't gifting, the problem is free Gems combined with gifting. The solution turned out to be simple to implement. Players who have collected all of their Gems for free can't give gifts. Once a player contributes to the site monetarily (and there's a lot of ways to do this) they can gift normally after that, including with their free Gems.

We aren't really taking away a feature, really we're taking a way a loophole that has been badly exploited. Of course, many players don't feel that way. The ourWorld forum has erupted with complaints and polls and "how can we get ourWorld to change this back" threads. I totally understand. Players used to be able to get something for nothing, and now they can't. Even so, I've got to take a hard line with this. I know people are mad, but I've been to this rodeo before, many times, and the furor won't last. The best interests of the site and my company are my primary goal, and I know this is the correct call. It was true when the first Magic cards were banned (not a lot of fun, that) and when any game I've ever worked on was canceled due to lagging sales (BattleTech TCG, Harry Potter TCG, Clout: Fantasy...and more.) Sometimes the rug simply has to go, and there's nothing to it but to do it.

If anyone really wants to know, the gift limitation was my idea. Direct your hate mail thusly.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wylde, u did the right thing, people just DONT get what "GIFT" means!!