It has recently occurred to me that Activision Blizzard (ATVI) might very well be sitting on an opportunity to greatly monetize its Starcraft franchise with a monthly fee (think $5-9/month) service without having to spend much on development costs and without alienating the player base.
It's often a tough job to do right:
Introducing paid services, especially with a monthly fee, for a game that already has an up-front cost is a tricky thing to do right. If you make very powerful in-game items obtainable via money, your game will immediately be stamped as "pay to win" and the hardcore gamers will abandon it in droves and hardcore gamers are definitely the backbone carrying the Starcraft franchise.
However, I would argue that a paid service for Starcraft 2 can be done "just right" and that most of the player base would be very happy if such a service was introduced. Below are some quick ideas for the features that could be implemented.
Among the features that could be provided:
- access to in-depth statistics (win rates on a per race and/or per map rate, detailed weekly/monthly charts that show how you improve over time, etc)
- ability to purchase (for additional cost) and use custom models/skins for various in-game units
- ability to change (for additional cost) your in-game name up to two times a year
- built-in video streamer for broadcasting your gaming sessions to a wide audience on the Blizzard/Starcraft 2 website
- built-in video player to quickly access gaming streams of the most popular players in the Starcraft 2 scene
- access to Premium character portraits
- ability to host and join games on a LAN
- ladder matchmaking queue priority
None of the features listed above can be considered a requirement for core gameplay; nor do they offer the user a competitive advantage over other players. Yet, I believe that the hardcore player base of Starcraft 2 would gladly pay for these additions.
None of the features listed (except for perhaps the video broadcaster idea) would require significant capital or time to develop.
Potential impact on revenues:
The current Starcraft 2 ladder season (started on 11.9.2012) has 3,916,694 active players. This is a pretty impressive number considering that the core game is two years old at this point. The amount of active users is going to fluctuate up and down as time progresses and new expansions are released.
If we make an assumption that perhaps 10% of the active user base can be convinced to subscribe to this service, this would mean the following impact to Activision Blizzard revenues:
- $5/month fee - $1.95 million/month - $23.4 million/year
- $9/month fee - $3.52 million/month - $42.24 million/year
With the up and coming Heart of The Swarm expansion (further followed by Legacy of The Void), Starcraft 2 is going to have 3-4 more years of shelf life at the absolute bare minimum, so even with a relatively moderate rate of subscribers to such a service, it would most definitely recoup all development and support costs many times over.
Considering that Activision Blizzard has a good amount of people with solid business sense, I wouldn't be surprised if some of these ideas were implemented within a year.
Disclosure: I am long ATVI.