While watching the SOE Vanguard vidcast today… well, let me first just emphasize that SOE did a Vanguard vidcast. But anyway. While watching it some mention was made of the unique features of Vanguard that make it more than just a cookie-cutter MMO. Brought up were the big open world, the rich crafting, and of course Diplomacy, which no other game has anything like.
But that’s not true, exactly. EQ2, for those who don’t know, has a built-in virtual collectable card game called Legends of Norrath, which you can play right from within the EQ2 client or from a standalone client that you can download by itself. LoN (which I have never managed to succeed at getting into despite two attempts) exists outside the world of the MMO, although some cards that you can get can be redeemed for loot in the game, mostly (if not entirely) vanity stuff like house items and titles and whatnot. You can buy packs and decks of the cards and amass a considerable library of them over time. There’s no way to know how much revenue this generates from the outside, but SOE is still doing expansions for it, so I would presume that it’s at least somewhat profitable.
But what if it was tied directly to the actual MMO world? And formed a part of that MMO’s suite of gameplay features? Like Vanguard’s Diplomacy does. This, then, is the great hidden opportunity in a cash shop-driven model for Vanguard. It could be the game’s sleeping giant made of money, if it were to me monetized in a similar way to how LoN is now. You’d get Diplomacy cards through play just as you do now (at one point LoN packs dropped in-game from mobs, but as far as I can tell that doesn’t happen anymore,) but you could also buy packs of them in the cash shop. It would require something of a retooling of the existing system, but you could probably keep all the current cards (and thus not take anybody’s cards away,) while adding new ones. Even people not otherwise bothering with Diplomacy might buy packs, as I suspect happens with LoN now, just on the chance of getting the loot cards.
Of course, this kind of arrangement might well sour Diplomacy for a lot of people. But it also has the potential to become a major revenue stream for the game — maybe even the primary one, considering how addictive collectible cards can get. In such a scenario we would have something very interesting: an online collectable card game with a full-featured MMO on the side.
What such a thing would do to the MMO could of course be argued over, much less what it could do to the Diplomacy system itself. I suspect that some would find the very idea unpalatable, although I also think it could be done without necessarily destroying the flavor of the MMO, or even Diplomacy, which I think is very approachable and robust as such things go. But it’s also potentially an important source of revenue for a game that appeared not very long ago to be dead weight on SOE’s roster.