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-   -   On the matter of Value Propositions and the Customer Experience (http://sto-forum.perfectworld.com/showthread.php?t=239137)

Archived Post 10-31-2011 04:49 PM

On the matter of Value Propositions and the Customer Experience
 
Iíd like to register my dissatisfaction at the (apparent) upcoming changes, but Iíd like to approach it in a different way from the majority of posters. As most players can probably say for themselves, Iím a longtime Star Trek fan. However, given my age, I remember creeping down the hall after bedtime so I could hide behind the couch and watch Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Doctor McCoyís adventures on NBC while my parents sat on the selfsame couch, unaware of the sneaky little boy who had surreptitiously joined them. Iím likely older than most other players (Iím rapidly approaching 50), and while my gaming experience likely goes back for more years than some STO players have been drawing breath (I cut my gaming teeth on Original D&D back in the mid-70s), Star Trek Online was my first experience with any MMO. So my approach to registering my complaint, if youíll indulge me, has a lot less to do with outright griping and comparing STO to other MMOs and a lot more to do with a cold, hard business analysis that I Ė and others Ė will be applying to the game.


As I said, Iím pushing 50. Iíve spent many years in the corporate world, and one thing that happens before any new venture is embarked upon, before any new product is developed and tested and rolled out to the consumer, before any IT upgrade is even planned, is a dispassionate cost-benefit analysis. Various representatives of various interests and departments will come together and discuss whatís involved in the new whatever-it-is. But the final Ė and most important Ė question is always this:


Whatís the value proposition here?


Itís a distillation of all the other questions Ė how much will it cost, what is the anticipated Return on Investment (ROI), how cheaply can this be done in a quality manner, whatís the ongoing sustainment cost, are additional resources needed to build/manage/maintain this, etc. etc. All those questions fold into a single, overarching one, and that question is:


Whatís the value proposition here?


Iíll be charitable and say that I believe Perfect World management has asked themselves these questions. I believe that they feel theyíve found a way to deliver an improved game experience to us, their customers. I believe they feel theyíve found a way to improve their ROI while delivering that improved game experience. And I believe that they feel that theyíve come up with significant improvements to the game.


But thereís something I think theyíve forgotten. The same question businesses ask themselves is one that customers ask themselves as well.


From a customer perspective, whatís the value proposition here? :confused:


Speaking for myself only, Iím just not seeing one. C-Store items that used to be account-wide unlocks are going to become limited to one character per purchase. The dilithium economy changeover, the oft-derided ďtaxĒ on crafting, the move to make more items bind on pickup and the apparent increase in the cost of C-Store items (despite the monthly stipend for paying customers) simply donít represent value in my eyes. Rather, they represent a significantly increased cost that, by its rather dispersed nature (increased costs, decreased availability, time-gated currency, etc.), amounts to a wholesale devaluation of STO in-game currency and items. Iíll say it again Ė rather than representing improved value to me, these changes represent a devaluation of items and currency within the game. Iím going to get less value and enjoyment out of the game, assuming my inputs (monthly subscription cost and amount of time spent playing) remain constant. Thatís a definition of devaluation that a first-year business school student could easily recite.


I think that Perfect World has forgotten that their customers are going to have to perceive improved value Ė or at the very least, no degradation of current value Ė for subscribers, or else PW risks a loss of paying customers. If paying customers perceive that theyíre not getting the same value proposition for their gaming/entertainment dollar Ė as I do Ė then thereís a real chance that theyíll take those dollars elsewhere. And Iíll go further Ė not only can it happen, it does happen. I used to travel by air a great deal in my work, so much so that I had various levels of Elite status with no fewer than four different US airlines for several years. In 2002, Delta (where I was a top-level Elite member at the time) chose to change their qualification standards for those Elite levels, and upon examination, I realized that my 2002 flying patterns, while good enough for Platinum status that year, would only net me Silver in 2003. So if I stuck with Delta in 2003, and if I flew the same amount as I had in 2002, Iíd only be a Silver Elite in 2004. Since Platinum came with (essentially) unlimited seat upgrades and free access to the Delta Crown Room lounges (and the complimentary booze within) and Silver came with next to nothing, you can see how the change would be a huge problem for me. If youíre flying 75,000+ miles each year, you sure donít want it to be in Coach. Considering I'm 6' 5", there was no way I was folding myself into a Coach seat several times each week if I didn't have to. :eek:


I sent Delta a polite letter detailing how their changes would negatively impact me and pointed out that, due to the degradation of their value proposition to me, Iíd be leaving them permanently, effective immediately. About two weeks later, on Christmas Eve 2002, I received a polite phone call from a Delta Special Member Services Manager, who was eager to discuss my reasons for leaving Delta. Given that Iíd been on about 130 Delta flights that year and had been flying that much with them for about five years at that point, I presume that Delta didnít want to lose the income I represented. After a pleasant discussion of over half an hour, the gentleman conceded that someone who had been as loyal and as voluminous a customer as I had been deserved to remain a Platinum elite. However, as he regretfully informed me, the changes were final and there was nothing he could do to help me. As a result, I wound up leaving, and my new airline, happy for the huge volume of business I was bringing to them, gladly comped me to Platinum status before Iíd even been on a single one of their flights. Hello, First Class seating. Hello, lounge access. Is that a free espresso bar I see? Why yes, Iíll have a free slice of that pie with my free caffe mocha before I board my flight and plop down in my nice, roomy seat up front.


Now THAT is a value proposition of worth to the customer.


Delta fell short and lost my business. Someone else stepped up to the plate and won it. See where Iím going with this?


Iíve had other businesses lose my business in the same way. Bank of America in 2009 was a prime example (I donít think I really need to detail BofAís recent foulups), and if Perfect World management isnít aware of the absolute debacle with Netflix this year, Iíd recommend they look into it. Netflix recently made a major change to their pricing, service, delivery and fulfillment structure and promptly began to bleed customers as if someone had cut one of their arteries. Netflix has just reported a significant quarterly loss, has had to reduce year-end guidance and has halted all their expansion plans stone cold. Thatís quite a sea change for a company that, as recently as this spring, was a Wall Street darling and which had been perceived as putting just about every one of its competitors down for the count, if not completely out of business.


Maybe the reader has picked up the message Iím sending by this point. Netflixí value proposition crashed, so their customer base rushed the exits. Given that Echostar (which owns Dish Network) bought Blockbuster Video over the summer, I expect that Echostar executives are busily putting together some new, value-oriented packages so they can pick up lots of disaffected former Netflix customers.


Donít be Netflix, Perfect World. Donít make the same mistakes they did. Donít risk losing your STO customer base to a competing MMO.


Thereís a takeaway for you in all this, Perfect World. Your STO customers love Star Trek, and because of that, you have a built-in audience and an eager fanbase who are ready to jump on your MMO and help you take it higher Ė and you can build and maintain a steady revenue stream from that. But customers arenít going to do it if they perceive poor value for their dollar, and I frankly think youíre only considering your side of the equation. Maybe you should change perspectives for a bit, read these fora and ask yourselves Ė if these are the hardcore players of our game Ė our most eager, vocal, frequent and DEDICATED customers, and if they are so dissatisfied with the upcoming changes, how likely are they to jump ship if we go forward as planned? Your lifetime subscribers are to you as Platinum elite me was to Delta back in 2002. And you know what? A few years later, Delta undid the very changes I complained about. :rolleyes:


Star Trek fans will put up with a lot, but they are also not shy about sounding off to The Powers That Be when they think something is wrong. I still remember the howls of dissatisfaction when Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released. I recall the intemperate complaints when Star Trek III and Star Trek V hit theaters. I recall the mighty griping when Deep Space Nine and Voyager first started airing. And in talking with my STO fleetmates (TERRAHAWX and associated Fed and KDF fleets), there seems to be a strong sense of impending doom among many of the longtime members. I donít doubt for a moment that many of them will leave if the changes weíre seeing on the test servers do make it to Holodeck.


# # # CONTINUED # # #

Archived Post 10-31-2011 04:50 PM

# # # CONTINUED FROM ABOVE # # #

Star Trek fans will gladly part with their money for a good Trek-related experience, but theyíll also get in your face if they think youíre pushing substandard product on them. And something tells me that if youíre trying to milk them for extra incremental revenue while not delivering additional value (C-Store, Iím looking at you), then from my perspective, youíre pretty much holding the door open and saying Ďhey, you donít have to stay if you donít like it.í Well, if thatís the message youíre trying to send, donít be surprised if a lot of your current customers actually take you up on it. Iíve seen it happen and Iíve done it to businesses myself more than once. Call up Netflixí executive team and ask them about their recent experiences with their customers rushing to the lifeboats. Call up Mr. Logan in Delta Airlinesí Special Member Services Office and ask him about our Christmas Eve conversation in 2002.


Now, Iíd like to stay, but I donít hang around where Iím not wanted. Iím in a position to purchase a lifetime subscription if the changes represent a good value proposition to me, but Iím also in a position to walk away from STO and take those entertainment dollars and spend them elsewhere if the changes donít represent a good value to me. Yeah, Iíve put a lot of work into my main character and all my alts and Iíd hate to lose them, but I also put a lot of work into my first marriage, and that ended 20 years ago. Frankly, at this point, given the changes that are apparently coming, Iíd rather pay a *higher* monthly fee and just have yíall leave everything on Holodeck just the way it is, warts and all. Itíd be a choice between the devil I know and the devil I donít know, and Iíd gladly choose the devil that delivers more value and enjoyment for my dollar.


I seriously think that Perfect World management needs to rethink their changes and their philosophy with respect to Star Trek Online, because I smell significant degradation of the value proposition coming Ė and Iíve seen what happens after that. Trust me, itís not the sort of situation any business wants any part of in todayís economy.


Regards,


@Quark_Kent


P. S. For an absolutely fantastic and exquisitely detailed pro-and-con accounting of the proposed, in-testing and announced changes, I enthusiastically refer the interested reader to Patrician Vetinariís outstanding post(s) on the matter here:


http://forums.startrekonline.com/sho....php?p=3818974


-30-

Archived Post 10-31-2011 05:01 PM

I didn't even have to read that to understand it :)

Archived Post 10-31-2011 05:20 PM

Nicely written. I wonder how much value PWI places on the current cutomer/player base. I, personally, believe that they are making a gamble. A gamble that places more importance on the value of potential new players rather than the current 'old' players. One of the things that struck me when the F2P matrix came out (and not just me), was that there wasn't much difference between gold and silver accounts (ie no real reason to sub). And given that all other PWI games are completely F2P (ie no subscription model at all), it seemed to me that they are moving in the same direction for STO.

From a financial standpoint, it doesn't make sense to go out of their way to satisfy the LTS, and there are many of us here on the forums as it seems. 'We' are actually a drain on their resources. Not only are we no longer paying any monthly fee (depending on when we bought it), but we also get a stipend each month. Given enough time, we could eventually buy everything from the C-store for free. Thus, we are probably not that 'valuable' to them as customers. At least not as valuable as a brand new silver players who will likely be spending some cash in the store.

Archived Post 10-31-2011 06:51 PM

I disagree. I don't have the numbers but I would guess that there are still many LTS who have not reached their 2 year equivalency mark yet. The game isn't even 2 years old, so realistically the only LTS who "are playing for free" (which in itself is a completely incorrect statement) are ones who bought in to LTS substantially prior to the actual release of the game. And arguably, nobody has reached equivalency because the game has not been in an active subscription state for 2 years yet.

That being said, LTS are not a drain on anyone's resources- LTS subscribers are still probably the most profitable subset of customers Cryptic/PW has.

I am guessing PW/Cryptic place zero value on current customers. It is plainly obvious to see, given the way they have treated current subscribers with changes on tribble. They are only interested in fresh blood (or fresh wallets, really) to come in, get a little hooked, and unload a few dollars before they realize what's going on and what little STO has to offer for them. PW bought Cryptic for it's game engine technology, not its stable of active MMOs. I would not be surprised to learn that PW is just pumping and dumping STO, squeezing as much short term monetary gain from the game as possible, and then dropping it like a wet bag of sand.

Archived Post 10-31-2011 08:58 PM

There are, of course, a few extra details I would like to add in the interest of discussion, this is from my point of view only and my opinions.

To start, I just began to play recently, and only because of the planned F2P. Sadly, in its current state, STO lacks in too many areas to deserve my monthly payment, but it is a good, fun, casual game.

First off, as far as devaluing your experience by adding timesinks/difficulty. The moment something becomes harder to attain, the value of it rises, so any toons or equipment you have as instantly raised in value. The only way these changes effect you directly is when you decide to replay the current content by leveling another character or gaining more gear. And honestly how many times can you play the same content until you get bored out of your skull? Does it set a precedent for how future equipment will be gained, yes it does and that could effect you, but --

Economics of Scale
When they create a feature episode regardless of if one person plays it or a million it cost the same amount to make, just like if you are the only one on board a plane. Granted other costs rise but in this day and age those costs are minor compared to the cost of new content. The more people playing means more people giving them money which means you get more content so you don't have to level your 15th character to VA for something to do. To that end, the current goal is to get as many players as they can to play as long as they can and spend as much as they are willing to. Honestly, I grinded threw i'd say 90% of STOs current content in about a month in a half, I have 2 VAs one is full purple equipped other is nearly all only because I cannot craft disruptors as Fed. Took around 2 days played to hit max level without that much effort or focus. Are they taking a risk in stretching it out, why yes they are. But, if they can get enough money to churn out enough content it will work out in the end. Currently STO lacks the content to keep a player's interest, and a portion of that is the ease of gaining end game gear, as well as a lack of end game gear/content progression. You can say that's not what STO is about, but that IS what the genre of MMOs is about and to gain mass market appeal it must be done in some way. They are addressing that issue with these changes, you need to look at the big picture. If there is no reward for doing the content other than to do it the players will not stick around. I'm rambling now, oh well.

Archived Post 11-01-2011 04:40 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Kreael
First off, as far as devaluing your experience by adding timesinks/difficulty. The moment something becomes harder to attain, the value of it rises, so any toons or equipment you have as instantly raised in value.

In terms of in-game economy, sure. But that's not what I was speaking of. From above:

"Iím going to get less value and enjoyment out of the game, assuming my inputs (monthly subscription cost and amount of time spent playing) remain constant."

If an in-game good requires more input on my part (e.g. game currency, playing time, etc), then each unit of input has been devalued -- from the customer POV -- because it doesn't buy as much. That, by extension, devalues the playing experience, and communicates to the longtime player that he or she is now valued *less* than before.

Archived Post 11-01-2011 09:25 PM

If your enjoyment of the game is soley based on 'how fast can i get more purples' than yes this is true.

However, if your enjoyment of the game is based on new content, than it is false. My enjoyment is not derived from constant repetition of content I already played. It is derived from new content, be it new featured episodes, diferent equipment, new ships, alternate mechanics/game systems (doffs), etc. For this content to be provided they need the funds to do so, which the current subscriber base is not giving them but with luck F2P will.

Honestly, what has been added to this game since launch, which itself contained very little content. 3 featured episodes with 5 missions each? A handful of new sectors and missions? There are nearly as many new ships on tribble at the moment as have been released since launch.

Archived Post 11-11-2011 03:29 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Kreael
However, if your enjoyment of the game is based on new content, than it is false. My enjoyment is not derived from constant repetition of content I already played.

I'm sure you will agree that 'enjoyment of the game' is something that's hard to quantify on a universal basis and that each individual player is likely to have their own individual and highly subjective metric for that. Most corporations that are large enough to engage in assessment of customer satisfaction, however, try not to use subjective metrics. McDonald's, for example, uses some pretty sophisticated modeling, testing and evaluation methodologies just to sell sandwiches.


Quote:

Originally Posted by Kreael
It is derived from new content, be it new featured episodes, diferent equipment, new ships, alternate mechanics/game systems (doffs), etc. For this content to be provided they need the funds to do so, which the current subscriber base is not giving them but with luck F2P will.

I completely agree with you in this respect, but I'd have to point out that when a corporation completely changes its business model, it *expects* to lose some degree of its existing customer base. However, PW seems to be expending some degree of time and effort in *retaining* as much of that base as it can. The responses in these fora and the changes to the test content are evidence of that.


Quote:

Originally Posted by Kreael
Honestly, what has been added to this game since launch, which itself contained very little content. 3 featured episodes with 5 missions each? A handful of new sectors and missions? There are nearly as many new ships on tribble at the moment as have been released since launch.

I think everyone can agree that additional content is needed. I'd be quite interested in seeing project management and financial documents pertaining to the build of a single new Featured Episode; the cost in resources and man-hours involved in building it and the revenue attributable to it, as well as the development and testing timeline. I suspect that the programmer team at STO is smaller than we might think and that it has its hands fairly full in running, maintaining and remediating the game as it presently stands. That doesn't leave much for new developments.

Archived Post 11-12-2011 03:24 AM

for what it is worth
 
I love the changes, I love the f2p, even though i am a lifer. I want this game to be the last game i ever need to play, in 5 years i want its content to still be here and i think this will help, along with future updates of course. Now get me free space to navigate, colonize and try to sneak though where every ship is a potential threat and I will be even happier. hats off to the designers, and many thanks for the new content!:D


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