Azeroth Choppers Review

You might have noticed that I spend a lot of posts talking about motorcycles. I also spend a lot of posts talking about video games. Thus, it seems natural that I’d have an opinion on Azeroth Choppers, the web series that follows (some of) the Orange County Choppers crew as they make two bikes themed for World of WarCraft.

You’re right, I do have an opinion. Buckle up (or put your helmet on, since motorcycles don’t have seatbelts) and get ready, because I’m going full-bore nerd here.

So here’s the basic idea for the uninitiated who don’t play WarCraft. The (former) Orange County Chopper guys build a bike matching the theme for the two different player factions, the Alliance and the Horde.

If you ever watched Orange County Choppers when it was on the air, this was their whole schtick. A client would request a custom chopper to promote .  . . whatever and the crew would spend the entire episode designing it and building it and then finally showing it off to the client.

The early seasons were very much in the same vein as all the other “look at this cool job” reality shows. And to be honest, it really was cool seeing how custom motorcycle design works.

But along the way, the Reality Show Curse took hold, possibly because aside from the different designs, once you’ve seen how their build a bike a few times, the formula stays pretty much the same. So they decided to focus on the drama of bike building, which meant lots of arguing, lots of squabbling, etc. You can probably guess what point I stopped watching.

So now the makers of WarCraft decide they want custom bikes. And they want their players to vote for one of the bikes to be turned into an in-game item and given to players of that faction for free.

So when it’s all said and done, one half of the player base will get a free motorcycle in the video game that’s based on the real motorcycle that was built.

This is an incredibly terrible idea.

More specifically, it’s an incredibly terrible idea because of Blizzard’s own decisions about the value of digital content.

Collecting “mounts” is a big aspect of World of WarCraft. Mounts are exactly what the name implies: they are things that you can ride so you move through the game world. In the early days of the game, mounts were limited to things like horses, wolves, tigers, and other things that could increase your travel speed on the ground. Eventually, more fantastic mounts like dragons and phoenices were added so that players could fly through the skies.

They even added a motorcycle at one point.

The reason why mounts are a big deal is that they’re some of the game’s biggest status items. They’re the most coveted. Armor and weapons are cool and improve your character’s power, but those things don’t persist in value. You replace them constantly. Today’s legendary sword is tomorrow’s useless trash.

But mounts are pure vanity. Technically, your first ground mount and your first flying mount are the only two mounts you’ll ever need. There’s no real difference between flying around on a winged eagle-lion or a dragon, except that a dragon is amazingly cool looking. So everyone wants one.

Mounts are usually hard to get, rare items that require extraordinary luck, time, or both. And then Blizzard decided to starting selling them.

The ability to buy a mount debuted relatively late in WoW’s lifespan, during the Wrath expansion. Prior to that, the only way to get a mount was to play the game and earn it.

The first “for sale” mount was the celestial steed, often denigrated as “the sparkle pony.” For $25, you could equip your characters with a sort of glowing translucent blue version of an astral horse. The horse could also fly.

Keep in mind that this horse doesn’t fly faster or anything. It’s just like every other flying mount, including the other flying horses already in the game. You’re not getting a material advantage by buying the sparkle pony. It’s purely a vanity item, just like every other mount.

They’ve added more mounts since then, including a vampire bat, a dragon that changes colors (which I did buy, to my shame, because I’m a sucker for dragons) and most recently a two-headed dragon-ish thing (that I didn’t buy because of the incredible buyer’s remorse I had over the first dragon). All of these mounts are functionally just new models. New things to look at.

On their own, they don’t cause any harm, except for the buyer’s remorse factor that I felt. They don’t hurt the game. Ignore them if you don’t want one. They’re optional.

Here’s why this Azeroth Choppers thing is a stupid idea.

Throughout the entire course of the game, the developers have created the idea that mounts have value. Mounts have value. Initially, that value was represented by playing time and dedication. You had to run the toughest encounters, kill the toughest monsters, or get incredibly lucky to even have a chance at one of these.

Or you had to invest lots of time getting in-game money to buy one. It all worked to create the perception of value. More rare mounts were perceived as more valuable, simply because of that rarity.

The ability to spend actual money to buy a mount further reinforced this perception that mounts have value, especially because now they literally have value. $25 dollars per mount. If you’re an OCD mount collector, get ready to spend over a hundred bucks . . . you know, in addition to playing the subscription fee and all.

Mounts have value. They have value in terms of time, luck and/or actual money. This is the system that has been in place since the game first launched in 2004 (although I think mounts weren’t actually added to the game until 2005, it’s hard to remember. Doesn’t matter, they’ve been around for a long time).

And now we get to the heart of why Azeroth Choppers fails at its objective.

The idea was that although two motorcycles would be created, only one would be added to the game. That motorcycle would only be available to characters of that particular faction.

For the players of the other faction, they’ll get zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Sure, they could create a character on the other faction if they really want a free motorcycle so badly, but let’s be realistic. Most players have a group of players that they’re invested in. Playing both sides isn’t very common. You have your favorite character, you “main” character. And that character may not be on the side that gets a free motorcycle.

So half the players get something and the other half get nothing.

What does that accomplish, exactly? The players on the losing side feel shafted. They feel shafted specifically because the entire concept of the mount is built around the socially engineered concept that mounts are valuable. Mounts are $25 dollars.

So you, winning player, here’s a free $25 dollar thing. Enjoy. But you, losing player? You get nothing. Have fun.

This is a terrible fucking strategy. It would have been less shitty if mounts weren’t constructed around this idea of value, but they are. If the winning motorcycle had been made available to both sides, it would be less shitty, because then everyone gets something equally. Sure, the losing faction doesn’t get “their” motorcycle but they’re still getting $25 worth of value.

Most reactions seem to be that there’s no way Blizzard will enforce the competition aspect of this whole stunt. I’ve read a lot of opinions that suggest the winning motorcycle will be free to that faction and the losing one will be available in the real-money store, presumably for $25.

If anything, that idea is even stupider, a tax on the players who aren’t on the winning side. Not to mention; how many people really want to spend $25 on something that says, hey, remember that your side lost. This whole competition idea completely damages the perception of value for the item that they themselves spent money to build!

This entire thing was supposed to be a publicity stunt, which it was. Presumably, it was supposed to generate good publicity . . . which it didn’t. The concept was flawed from inception. If they really intend not to give everyone a bike, their own model of perceived value bites them in the ass.

If they change their minds and say, sure, bikes for everyone now, why the hell didn’t they just do the entire promotion like that from the beginning? The entire spectacle is based around the idea that “one bike goes into the game” and “the losers get nothing.”

Yes, the game is built around conflict. But now that you’ve taken that perception and turned it into something tangible, it’s no longer fun. Now it just feels mean-spirited. It doesn’t matter that Blizzard didn’t choose the winner, the players did. For players of the losing faction, they get to be exactly that. You guys are the losers. Enjoy playing your game, losers. Have fun being losers.

That’s . . .  not really a great feeling to instill in half your customer base.

On one final note: it really annoys me to hear everyone referring to the three-wheeled motorcycle as a “bike.” A three-wheeled motorcycle is not a bike. It’s a trike.

This annoys me both as a rider and as a fan of the English language.

4 thoughts on “Azeroth Choppers Review

  1. This brings up an interesting question about goods with virtually no marginal cost to produce (like the mounts in World of Warcraft).

    To what extent does the sale of a digital good for a price bind the seller to maintain that object’s value?

    Suppose someone buys a mount for $25 from Blizzard. That mount itself has no marginal cost to Blizzard, but because they set the price at $25, ostensibly the mount is worth $25 to whoever buys it. But then Blizzard turns around and changes the mount’s price to $5. Suddenly that first person’s mount is worth $20 less than it was originally, and they have been robbed of value. However, it’s not as if Blizzard physically robbed you by selling you a horse. They fulfilled their end of the bargain, you give blizzard cash and they give you a horse. But in some sense they have betrayed the buyer’s trust by reducing the value of the goods after-the-fact.

    This isn’t exclusive to digital goods, either. Suppose Wizards of the Coast reprinted Black Lotus. What would that do to it’s market value? Someone could be out thousands of dollars. To alleviate the fear that they’ll do this, WotC has an official reprint policy complete with a list of cards that will never be reprinted.

    Of course, there’s a difference here. The Black Lotus card can be bought, sold, and traded. But the rights on the digital object don’t necessarily include the right to transfer ownership. Even if the object has value, you can’t actually get that value out of the object because of its non-transferability. Which begs the question, what is the measure of value for an object which can’t be sold?

    1. I think that although the comparison between Magic cards and digital goods is muddled by the physicality aspect and the idea that you can turn a profit from your Black Lotus, the core comparison is sound. In one corner, we’re talking about pixels on a screen, a bit of code. In the other, a piece of cardboard with some words and a picture on it. Both have negligble “real value.” Both depend entirely on the perception of value.

      The fascinating thing about MMOs is how they managed to create a perception of value in a way that was utterly impossible in single player RPGs. Compare WoW to Skyrim. It doesn’t matter that my Skryim character is max level, it doesn’t matter that I have a rare skeletal horse that I can summon, it doesn’t matter that my armor is the best in the game. Nobody can see it except for me. Even if I show someone “hey, check out my Skyrim character,” they won’t care, unless they play themselves and even then, my character’s abilities don’t really matter to that other player.

      In a shared digital space, other players create the perception of value. I can hang out in Ironforge on the back of my Onyxian Drake and feel like that pretend dragon has real value, because I know that other people desire it. I’ll get a whisper “dude, sweet dragon” and suddenly I feel good.

      That perception is so fragile, though. You mentioned how, if Blizzard dropped the price of a for-pay mount to $5, it would be like taking $20 from those who paid the original amount. I think it’s even worse than that; I think it’s much more akin to your Magic example.

      If Wizard reprints the Power 9, the entire perception of Magic disintegrates. In Magic’s case, that means there’s a real economic fallout since people make money off that stuff. But in WoW, the perception can be just as damaging to the long-term viability of WoW’s perceived value.

      I remember when epic flying was 5000 gold and that was an OBSCENE amount of time invested in earning that much money. I remember a story that made the rounds in the gaming blogs of a player who had sex with another player and was paid in enough in-game gold to buy epic flying. Crazy? Yes. But, at least for some people, the perception of value was that high. Now? Epic flying is a few days of grinding quests. No big thing. I have it on two of my characters. It’s been devalued.

      In a lot of ways, that feeling of devalue is why I don’t enjoy the dragon that I did buy. Sure, it looks cool. It does its little color-changing thing. It matches my druid nicely. But I didn’t “earn” it. It’s not valuable to me the way my Onyxian Drake is, even though the Onyxian Drake was just some incredible luck of the random number generator.

      Blizzard created the space where mounts have value. That’s fine; I think the perception of value is what really contributed to WoW’s longevity. I know that’s true for me. Whenever I picked up a new fantasy MMO, I enjoyed it for a while . . . but I always went back to WoW and my stable of dragons and flying horses and all the other “valuable” things I’d collected over the years.

      It isn’t even that they’re diminishing their own perception of value with mounts. Inadverntently, they’ve effectively weaponized it. The perception of value can now be aimed at players who didn’t pick the winning faction. Sure, some players won’t care. Some players use the same mount they always have.

      But I think a lot of players will feel slighted at best, ignored, or even betrayed. At the very least, I think that the concept of faction pride is growing toxic and I say that having spent the majority of my history on the Horde, but started originally and once again play Alliance. I don’t think this will do what they hope that it will. I don’t think it’ll cause players to quit, because those predictions are always wildly off base. This motorcycle thing isn’t a catatrosphe . . . but it does feel like erosion.

      1. I wonder how players will look back on it years from now, though. For MMO’s there’s a certain reverence for things that are limited and no longer obtainable, and I think that reverence tends to wipe away any ill-will in the long term.

  2. “For MMO’s there’s a certain reverence for things that are limited and no longer obtainable – therationalpi”
    It should be noted that WoW has this already, mounts that are no longer available through traditional means. the Black and Plagued Proto-Drakes for example, once tied to a meta achievement to the revamped version of Naxxramas, but was quickly removed when that became to easy. Regardless of their ease now, others after that are still available. Those drakes have made a return with the advent of the Black Market Auction House, which serves as a MASSIVE gold sink for the truly dedicated in…pretty much any aspect that cost insane amounts of gold. Although that pales in comparison to the only legendary mount (that I know of) to ever exist in the game, the Black Quraji Battle Tank. Available for a very very short time in a special event that had guilds in open war to be THE guild to complete the event on their server. I have played WoW since ’07 (minus the Cataclysm’s…uh, “cataclysm”) and I have only ever seen 1 of those mounts in game, and only 2 characters with the (slightly) easier to obtain title from the same event. I do not believe there are any, save a few that remain in potential isolation, that have that Battle Tank mount that play anymore, for various reasons.

    The only thing I can add to the bike/trike issue (because yes, it’s a trike) is what I have read from comments as the webisodes played out. To many were already biased due to known Blizzard favoritism. This was another reason it was doomed to fail from the start. A potential solution? Have this planned out to be a larger production than it was and actually work to please the player-base as a whole. How? I would guess the best way to do that was guarantee a free bike to each faction, in this case having 2 bikes per faction, the votes tallied to pick the winning bike for that faction. Yes, yes it would cost more money. No, no business likes to do that. But they already did it, didn’t they? Why go through all of this just to end up with half of your players pissed off, or just generally disgusted with the whole ordeal? The only half decent way to mend this (as is), other than just giving both bikes which is highly unlikely, would be to give the winning faction the free bike as advertised, and possibly adding the other with some required effort. Yes, I know people will be pissed by that addition, but not only will that give them a different topic to be pissed off with (’cause there is always something), the losing faction does in fact get their bike, and any dedicated mount collector will jump through hoops to get a new cool mount. I *ahem* recall a player who camped out for 1 week straight, forgoing sleep, to catch a rare dragon that, when killed, guaranteed the drop of a mount in it’s own model. Of course then some snot nosed little dwarf comes by 2 days later and find it without trying…oh sorry, venting a little there. Anyway, I think my point is done. /cheers 🙂

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