Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Why I'm Not Playing WoW Right Now (Like I Thought I Would Be)

For all my enthusiasm over World of Warcraft's Pandaria Remix, I haven't gone ahead and re-upped my sub. I keep thinking about it but then I remember I'm paying for EverQuest II and not playing that either. It's not like I begrudge the money but there does come a point when you have to ask yourself if spending more is really the smart thing to do.

I'm not going to rehash all the familiar arguments for and against various payment models, nor even remark once again on the ever-growing realization that, as consumers, we're screwed if we pay, screwed if we don't. If anyone needs a final confirmation that no-one owns anything any more, even when they've paid for it and taken it home in a box, look no further than Spotify's short-lived entry into the hardware market, the Must Have Been Named By A Teletubby Car Thing

I am not a Spotify user. The service they provide doesn't fit well with the way I listen to music so I've never even considered subscribing. Until fairly recently, I didn't have much of an opinion about the company either way. I don't tend to waste a lot of time pondering the worth of services I don't use or plan on using. 

All the same, it's hard to avoid hearing plenty about the Swedish company. I read a lot of music news and the name comes up over and over again. Of late, that reporting has skewed hard towards the negative.

 Q1 revenue this year was up 20%, immediately following a cull of 17% of its workforce in December. That sort of thing always goes down well with shareholders. Everyone else? Not so much.

Since making money is the primary purpose of business, there are always plan to increase the yield.  In Spotify's case, there was talk of a "Supremium" level of service, intended to raise subscription rates even further, but apparently that was torpedoed by consumer resistance. It seems there is a temperature at which the frogs start to jump out of the pot after all.

Until yesterday, by far the most controversial of Spotify's recent business moves was the decision to stop paying royalties on any track listed on the platform if it receives fewer than a thousand plays per year. This has been widely reported as an attack on independent music-makers although, as Spotify points out, seemingly without either irony or self-awareness, a thousand streams earns you less than $3.

Bad though that looks, yesterday's news that the company is about to brick its own, dedicated, in-car device, the Car Thing, beats it hands-down for self-inflicted bad PR. It's almost up there with Apple's disastrous piano-crushing commercial.

At least Apple's PR department had the sense to walk that one back once they saw the reaction it got. There's been no indication of Spotify enjoying even that degraded sense of self-preservation. 

Not only will the devices they sold, apparently for $50-$100 dollars a time, cease to work entirely just before the end of this year, there will be no refunds and no alternatives. Spotify helpfully suggests you recycle yours because of course they care about stuff like that...

You might argue that, for a piece of consumer electronics that was only available for around five months a couple of years ago, that's not a wholly untenable position. Nothing last forever, after all, The U.S. Federal Trade Commission might not agree. They seem to think that if you sell someone a thing it ought to last more than five minutes. Luddites!

Inevitably, a class action suit has already been raised. Whether or not that gains legal traction, brand damage has already been done. Not that Spotify probably cares. This is clearly one more tone-deaf marketing decision from a company that doesn't seem to hold much concern for what its customers or anyone else thinks about it. 

Lest there be any lingering, residual doubt in anyone's mind about just how far removed Spotify corporate is from anywhere that could even remotely be described as "in touch with popular opinion", let me just quote the stated reason they've given as to why they very briefly entered, then just as quickly exited, the arena of automotive audio products in the first place:

“The goal of our ‘Car Thing’ exploration in the US was to learn more about how people listen in the car.”

So it was all for science. An experiment, carried out using other people's money. And, presumably, their data, although I imagine all rights to that are waived in the EULA when you sign up for a Spotify account.

Not that any of us own anything any more. Certainly we don't own our games. Not if they require an internet connection to play and not even if they don't, according to Valve. You may be able to play Nightingale offline now but don't let that give you any funny ideas about who owns the game you paid for. I'll give you a clue: it's not you.

It can't be, can it? If it was, you'd be able to bequeath your Steam games to your heirs. Yeah, that's not happening. As the NME helpfully points out, there are ways around the problem, such as taping your password to your PC before you gasp your last. That way your games can be handed down the generations like the family heirlooms they will literally have become. As the article blithely puts it, "Steam can’t prove a bunch of 135-year-olds aren’t still playing games."

I suppose one thing you can say about the good old MMORPG subscription model is that at least it's clear. We grizzled vets may have shelves of cardboard boxes and stacks of shiny discs to prove we went to the store around the turn of the millennium to buy EverQuest or Dark Age of Camelot or Final Fantasy XI but we all knew those were nothing more than souvenirs. We owned the boxes but we never owned the games. Those we just rented at $14.99 a month.

The Free to Play revolution muddied the waters but even with the entry fee removed, no-one was fooled into thinking we owned anything more than we ever had. If the company chooses to shut the servers down the result is the same whether you were paying to play on them or not. 

All of that has something to do with why I haven't ponied up for a WoW sub, even though I was quite enjoying myself on my return but other factors are having considerably more impact on that decision. It's true I'm in a bit of a lull with MMORPGs just now but that's not going to last. I'm somewhat wary of subbing to WoW and then almost immediately finding I have other, more pressing gaming concerns to occupy my time.

The new EverQuest II Origins server opens next month, most likely just after Steam's Next Fest, and now Tencent have revealed the official launch date for Tarisland to be June 21st. As I mentioned yesterday, Once Human could go live as early as August and this morning I got an email from the people behind Genshin Impact, telling me their new title, an "Urban Fantasy ARPG" by the name of  Zenless Zone Zero is set to relaease globally on 4 July.

That's pretty much got the whole summer covered and all of those I can either play for free or via a subscription I've already paid. Sure, I'd like to play WoW but would I want to play it more than all of those? It seems unlikely.

In the end, it probably doesn't matter all that much whether the games I play really belong to me, whether I'm just renting them or whether I'm getting them for free. What counts is whether I'm going to play them or not. And it looks like I'm not going to be playing WoW after all.


  1. As the article blithely puts it, "Steam can’t prove a bunch of 135-year-olds aren’t still playing games."

    I figured that you could just go into the profile and change your birthday and whatnot so that's no longer an issue.

    1. One item of note is that the private server business --as well as the pirate underground-- will likely enable you to keep playing your games in the future should the games suddenly vanish from your Steam (or whatever) account. I'm sure that I'll head in that direction if LOTRO finally loses the Tolkien license to that Amazon Middle-earth MMO.

      My decision to never substitute CDs for a Spotify subscription continues to look better and better with each passing day. At least I own the CDs.

    2. I think of Spotify as radio you have to pay for. And since radio is generally feee, that makes very little sense to me.

      Steam is a little different in that you do appear to be buying games when you give them money, whereas you're really buying a lifetime (Yours or Steam's, whichever ends first.) license to play them. It's a bit like leasehold versus freehold in the property market. I think if they made it clear you were buying a limited use license there'd be less of an issue. Perhaps they do. I haven't actually checked what the small print says.

  2. I got really into buying things digitally for a while. At first the sheer convenience of it was flabbergasting. However, at some point I lost my itunes password during a move, and a tons of albums I bought I can't play now, even though I know where the mp3 files are, because the apple music files during that time period were in a proprietary format that you can't access without using itunes. A lot of them I had burned copies of to listen to in my car (CD players still being a normal thing back then), and those are the only albums I have been able to rescue. After that and other experiences with a kindle, "digital ownership" lost it's luster for me.

    These days anything I like enough to want to read, watch or listen to more than once, I got ahead and buy physically. My wife never got on the digital bandwagon in the first place, so sections of our house looks like a library. Digital luddites forever!

    I also have a kindle with a crap ton of books on it I can't prove I paid for. So if that thin ever dies or gets lost I am screwed.

    After those ex

    1. Don't get me started on iTunes. The only Apple device I have is my ancient iPod Touch but it's so amazingly robust I'm still using it to listen to music at work, now I once again have a role that allows that some of the time. Getting new albums onto the iPod is a major challenge every time I do it. The interface between iPod and PC is one of the least intuitive I have ever seen, probably intentionally. I persist, though, and so far I'm winning.

      As for eBooks, I love the idea in theory but in practice my Kindle Fire is so infuriating to log into and operate that I barely ever use it any more. It was fine when I first got it but it just got worse and worse, almost certainly because Amazon would prefer I bought a new one every 18 months or so. The other day, when I was compiling my last music post, I found it a lot faster and esier to copy out the songs i had bookmarked on my laptop in longhand and re-type them into YouTube on my PC than to get the two machines to talk to each other. All in all, digital storage for entertainment has proved less of a boon than I originally imagined.

  3. Wow, ok... kind of half edited that . . .

  4. Overall an awful lot of things in our lifetime have become worse once they entered the "as a service" model. Same with renting and letting homes which has become a real international mission of the mega-rich. All part of the grand scheme, as the ghoulish Klaus Schwab said "own nothing, be happy"....


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