Recently, in my other life as a rabid consumer of MMO-related fansites and blogs, I’ve begun to notice the prevelance of ads for paid fan-written strategy guides. But I didn’t think much about the depths of this topic — or its potential impact for developers — until I stumbled across a fascinating article called “Learn2Play, the new Real Money Trading?“. In short, this article suggests that the secondary market in selling game knowledge deserves as much attention as the secondary market in game gold and goods.
Of course, companies like BradyGames and Prima Games have made it their business to print strategy guides for quite some time. But now some players are getting into the business as well, selling guides for their favorite game. Sometimes these are traditional bound guides, but more often they are strictly online — as e-books or websites — and they may even involve a subscription for ongoing, updated content. Many of these strategy guides are free (and about what you would expect for the price), but the best of them are surprisingly professional — and incredibly useful.
But what does this mean for developers? Well the first question you may ask is: Should we let our players get away with making money off our game this way? Don’t we do everything in our power to shut down gold and item selling? How is this different?
The biggest difference is that, while gold/item RMT arguably harm your players’ experience, stategy guides arguably enhance it. Keep in mind that we’re not talking about hacks and cheats here, but rather suggestions on the best place to level from 20-30 for different character types or an expanded explanation of how the crafting UI is supposed to work. You players benefit from being able to access this information if they want it, and if you are not able or willing to provide it yourself for whatever reason, then at least it’s still available to them.
(There are actually quite a few reasons you might not be interested in providing this information to your players directly, from the particular type of audience you are nurturing to the expense and difficulty involved. We’ll be discussing some of those topics later on.)
So no, you shouldn’t usually bother trying to shut down the sale of legit strategy guides. But here’s a much more interesting question: What’s stopping a developer from offering similar services? Asking players to spend extra money for a simple strategy guide is probably over the top — you’d run smack into player expectations on that one, I’m afraid — but what if you extend the idea? A small game with the right audience might find success selling roleplaying lessons, for instance, or a one-on-one in-game ‘Intro to Our World’ session. Or how about an interactive ‘Basics of Grouping’ course for a group of friends that wants to play together? I know one or two MMO teams that have considered this idea, although I don’t believe any of the big US games do this right now.
Well, it’s an idea anyway. *grin* And in the meantime, I’m very interested in seeing how the secondary market on strategy guides continues to develop.