DC Universe Online launched on Tuesday 11 January 2011, the culmination of 5.5 years and US$50m in development costs. Barring any major events, I’m going to try to lay off direct DCUO posts for a while – I’m not playing it and yelling from the sidelines gets a bit dull. Plus, I’ve got other things I’d like to cover.
Before I move on, I think it is worth pointing out some of DCUO’s launch issues. As best I can tell the servers have generally held up and it has been popular enough to add two more PvP servers, bringing server totals to 14 (7 for the PC and PS3 respectively, split 4 PvE and 3 PvP). On the technical side DCUO has generally held up, which is good for Sony Online Entertainment. However, their rushed launch has left some big gaps in successfully marketing the game.
Missed the Target
SOE rode hard on getting players to pre-order DCUO with offers of early access to beta as well as pre-order bonus items. However, it doesn’t appear that everyone got the memo about what those pre-order items should be, how to get them or even who gets what.
It appears that players who pre-ordered the basic DCUO box through Target possibly won’t be getting it until March 17. Someone screwed up there, be it SOE or Target, but that’s a group of players who’s first DCUO experience is not only do they possibly miss the pre-order items but also don’t get to play on launch day. I’m sure it will be fixed before March, but I see it as an artifact of a rushed launch schedule.
Other customers have had issues with the pre-orders – when they are coming (Amazon pre-orders saw a two day delay), if they are coming at all (“GAME know nothing about it”) and even what they get (Amazonian Bracelets were advertised as a ‘weapon’, are actually a near invisible power buff). One of the issues is that SOE had multiple pre-order partnerships advertised, each getting a slightly different pack, which relies on generating a different code for each pre-order group somewhere down the line. A short time to launch, lots of things in the air… it isn’t hard to see that something gets missed. Unfortunately, it appears what was missed is delivering on the bonuses meant to make players feel good about buying a game before they read the reviews.
Which brings us to…
But I Wanna Be Batman!
Consistent with all of the pre-order offers was that they offered the only way to play as Batman in Legends PvP settings. In fact, here is SOE President John Smedley saying exactly that:
“Are you considering making the preorder bonus items available to everyone at some point down the line, maybe through an item store?
No. It looks like what we’re going to do is make it that if you get it through a preorder, that’s the only way you’ll ever be able to get it. The big one here is that you can play as Batman — that’s a big deal, so we’re trying to make sure that the people who preorder and who are the biggest fans get rewarded with that. People after the fact have lost their chance.“
And here it is on SOE’s pre-order page:
Pretty clear, right?
No. When it says, “Play as Batman”, it actually means, “Play as Batman, provided you pre-ordered from a US retail store”.
Suck on that, digital and EU pre-orderers! If only you’d gone searching thoroughly through several different pages before pre-ordering, you might have seen that you weren’t going to get to play as Batman, despite what the company President and main pre-order page said!
(I’m not sure it is a good look for the Community Rep to ask players to post them a link to interviews that show SOE said that pre-ordering unlocked Batman, but that’s just me.)
Batman is arguably DC’s most popular character and telling players the only way to get access to play as him is to pre-order is like waving drugs in front of an addict. It could certainly be enough to push someone over the line if they were considering pre-ordering DCUO. I’m sure that SOE is going to announce that all pre-order players get access to Batman as a remedy to this situation, but that’s a case of doing the right thing too late.
A Frank Exchange
Another curious launch day announcement was DCUO’s pricing for Australia – although the Australian dollar and US dollar are almost at parity, US gamers pay $15 a month to play DCUO while Aus gamers have to pay $20 a month. It isn’t mentioned on the pricing page, but pops up as Australian gamers sign-up to play DCUO. As an Australian, I’m used to getting overcharged for video games (PC DCUO costs $78 to buy in Australia vs $50 in the US and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t cost $28 in shipping for every unit) but this is a first that the sub fee has been set higher as well.
It isn’t the US exchange rate that is causing it (AU$1 = US$0.9964 so that an Australian should be paying $15.05 at today’s rate). Instead, it looks like Australia has been determined to be a PAL region and ‘locked’ at that rate (AU$1 = EU0.7465, which sees the sub rate at AU$20.09). DCUO is under the control of two different sections of Sony - Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) and Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE) – with SCEE ‘looking after’ Australia’s DCUO activities, so Australia gets charged EU prices.
(UPDATE 15 Jan 2011: As pointed out in the comments, Australia is actually paying higher than the EU cost since the monthly EU fee is EU13 which converts to AU$17.59 per month. So Australia is effectively paying EU15 a month – or US$20 a month – to play DCUO. Our recent economy has been good, but not that good.)
Australia (and I also believe that New Zealand is included here) is a smaller gaming nation, far away from servers in both Europe and North America, so our gaming experience can already be hit hard by network lag. My common experience is to expect a 300 – 400ms ping, which tends to rule me out expecting success in MMO PvP. Exchange rates go up and down as well, so that I’ve paid AU$110 for titles sold in the US for US$60. But at a time when exchange rates are at parity between Australia and the US it is insulting that Australian gamers are still forced to pay more to suit Sony’s corporate structure.
I suspect that Australian MMO players aren’t going to be happy paying $20 a month when pretty much every other MMO has a US$15 a month fee. Forcing Australian players to pay the higher amount is going to deeply cut into how many of them pick up the title. Probably no big loss in the scheme of things to SOE, but shutting out a region due to short-sighted business decisions can have longer-term impacts.
A final reason this makes little sense outside of the Sony offices is that the PC version of DCUO can switch between the region they play in at will, meaning the player can choose either North America or European servers. So an Australian can choose to play on the NA servers but will still be hit with the full EU price.
I can’t actually think of a good way of summing up the above. My only thought is that if SOE can’t get the pre-orders right, apologise for confusing advertising that is very clear and spring a launch day price surprise, how can players take them at their word about the level of content that they keep promising to release?