Forget Facebook and the iPhone, the future of apps lies in…World of Warcraft?

Atari founder Nolan Bushnell once told his new bosses at Warner Communications that the company’s newest console, the VCS,  is “over” immediately following its release. Understanding nothing of the videogame industry, the suits yelled “What?!” and demanded an answer. “You have to think of it that way,” he insisted. Bushnell, in a way, created the industry, so he knew better than any of technology’s accelerated evolution (see also: Moore’s Law), and possibly even more of the consumer’s desire for new hardware. Shortly after his well-intentioned explanation, Bushnell was fired from the company he founded and built with an investment of $500.

Founder of Atari and avid pipe smoker.

Taking a note from the book of Bushnell, I’d like to go on record saying that Facebook and the iPhone’s application heydays might soon be over. Activision Blizzard, through MMOs like World of Warcraft and the other unnanounced one, will one day wear the DIY app crown while CEO Bobby Kotick bathes in a shower of $100 bills in a diamond-plated bathtub made of gold bullion. Dude’s got a keener sense for money than a pig for truffles (maybe it’s the physical resemblance).  Drop $20 in a landfill and Bobbo would find it. Just don’t expect to get the money back.

This weekend thousands will flock to Blizzcon – the big convention celebrating everything Blizzard. Lavish, but tacky, costumes will be worn, Ozzy will perform, and hopeful job-seekers will hand out hundreds, if not thousands, of business cards. That’s all given. And as terrifying as it all may seem, combined they are not nearly as scary, and potentially good, as the prospect of an MMO app store.

I play WoW roughly every other day. Sometimes more, sometimes less. My character, a level 80 Dranei Shaman, might not be decked out in the latest and greatest tier nine gear, but he can hold his own in most player versus player and player versus enemies battles, especially after the class received a buff in patch 3.2. As I’ve expressed many times before, my time spent in Azeroth, the game’s landmass equivalent of Earth, can largely be attributed to the social element. Many of my family and friends are members in the small guild I lead. In some cases, chatting and/or questing in WoW remains the only time when particular members communicate.

Some people prefer adhering solely to one particular social service (i.e. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter). For some of us, reaching certain friends and family through WoW became the preferred method of contact. especially when they became involved in mentally straining raiding session where the success and survival of an entire group of 40 people depends on the very precise gameplay of each participant (some studies compare it to participating in an active firefight for hours on end). Before we all started using Vent, a third-party program designed for group voice communication, I used to open up WoW dozens of times each day just to see who was online or to ask someone a question. I eventually just started leaving it on in the background while I surfed the internet, listened to music, or played a game on my Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. In a way, WoW was my Facebook for that particular group.

Moving forward to today, WoW players can now play Peggle inside of their WoW client. If you haven’t played this pachinko/plinko-inspired title, I couldn’t recommend it more, regardless of your personal interest in interactive entertainment. The “press one button and watch the ball fall” simplicity makes anything offered on the Wii look like an unintuitive 40 button mech simulator. Anyway, back to the present issue…er…topic.

Peggle’s on WoW, and this ain’t no jerry-rigged knockoff made by an unemployed copycat with too much time on his hands. This is the real deal straight from developer/publisher PopCap. Casual gaming connoisseurs know it’s not the first time the company adapted an existing title into a downloadable app for the world’s biggest MMO (the subscriber base is now estimated at 12 million) and most profitable title (last year, Activision Blizzard reported earnings from WoW alone topped over $1 billion). PopCap previously compacted Bejeweled into a 2mb file and offered it for free. Granted, it’s just a taste of the deluxe version, but it’s a “complete” app nonetheless. I don’t know how, or if, sales of the full version were affected by its inclusion in WoW, but I’m guessing they skew heavily to the positive side.

Meanwhile, developers are still struggling to find the success they were promised from creating applications in Facebook, and your grandmother has just created her 17th tower defense rip-off for the iphone. The old bird’s planning to submit it to Apple for approval as soon as they give her half-assed version of Worms the “ok.”, which will inevitably happen because the house that Jobs built will greenlight almost anything these days. You would too if you were making 30% of the revenue from each app sale.

ipod explosion – the result of downloading too much app store crap..

The natural byproduct of the iPhone gold rush is oversaturation – the very same type of product onslaught that nearly the destroyed this neat little medium in the early 80s. Savvy developers should begin their slow exodus to another platform, while remaining present at the former, as long as profits exceed costs, of course.

One very minor brick wall the gamma-injected Hulk of progress needs to bust down before the do-it-yourself crew can flood through is Blizzard’s own policies regarding paid addons or modifications.

Back in March the company announced their policy would undergo some extremely radical changes, most significant being”add-ons must be free of charge.” Paid addons, such as the exceptional Carbonite, switched to a free “but please pay what you can” business model.

Here’s the offical policy change announcement from the “game industry veterans” developers:

“In response to the announced User Interface Add-On Policy we are no longer selling a subscription to Carbonite. We will continue to release new Carbonite versions. Donations are gladly accepted to help with further development.

We would like to thank all our customers for their support and hope we can continue to deliver the product and service that you have come to expect.”

Carbonite’s the best and most complete addon out there for a reason. The developers busted their buns creating useful modications to the vanilla WoW interface. I’m not a programmer, but it looks like a lot of time was spent building this product and it looks like just as much time is spent maintaining it for each game update/patch.

In this free and democratic society that rewards such hard work, shouldn’t these people somehow be compensated for their efforts? Or at least allowed the the option to build some kind of compensation method? Apparently not. Blizzard didn’t say exactly why they modified the terms of use, but their reasoning’s obvious. The money-grubbers noticed their absence from a third-party revenue stream deriving from WoW and killed it. When paid apps return, and they will, the system will exist under Blizzard’s terms. They’ll want a cut, and maybe an approval process. But that’s not so bad.

Look at the history of Apple’s app store. Despite the slick company devouring 30% of the revenue each app generates, people continue to develop new content and people continue to buy it. Provided Blizzard makes the platform universal to all of their future MMOs, this market could explode. And once this happens, what would stop them from implementing microtransactions?

I know I’d pay a couple of bucks for better addon support and a special mount or two. I’m just a little terrified that Blizzard knows I would.

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6 Responses to Forget Facebook and the iPhone, the future of apps lies in…World of Warcraft?

  1. I find that I use facebook most for my social networking though I also still text a lot I find it’s the easiest and quickest way to get hold of people especially since many people can’t spend all of their free time online!

  2. wow says:

    A bit overrated, just a matter of time before wow comes to an end like all games do.

  3. Pingback: Five Delicate and Mood-Melting Videogames. Maybe Relaxing, Too. | IPR Blog

  4. Rich says:

    thats funny, my friend actually was in debt with the IRS and he kept playing WOW even when they were trying to repossess his stuff. I was like.. dude.. maybe you should GET A JOB??

  5. aio bot says:

    dude, this game rox. i tried the trial, my little brother plays all the time and he calls me n00b lol