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?
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.
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.
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.