When we posted about the site earlier this week, a lot of readers cried foul. The site's business plan (players pay a fee every month, and then are compensated back money (sometimes more, sometimes less than they originally paid) when their realm is full or suffers downtime. Lots of our commenters called the site a scam (a few of them even suggested, incorrectly, that it was a phishing site), and they all wanted to know more: how could these guys get away with asking for a fee and taking people's money on the promise that they might get some back?
And so, when Tung and Golubovic contacted us at WoW Insider, we were anxious to put those questions to them directly. Were they able to justify the service they're providing (and maybe show Blizzard just how compensation should be done), or are they just trying to take advantage of people already losing gameplay to downtime? You can be the judge -- our exclusive interview is right after the break.
WoW Insider: So the main question we have is how this all works. You say on the site -- obviously, you play or we pay, so there's compensation, but how does it work? If I sign up on the site as someone interested in using your service, what happens?
George Tung: Basically, when a user signs up, they get to add as many characters as they want from whatever realm that they're on -- it doesn't have to be on one specific realm. We limit up to 10 characters per account. Once they add the characters in there, they see right away how much their monthly fee is going to be. We don't hide that -- it comes up on their account page under their character screen.
So you pay a monthly fee, and then what happens? Nothing until downtime?
Tung: Actually it starts right away. How we compensate players is not only downtime, but we datalog all of their information in terms of their realm, and we've been doing that for about six to seven months now, and what we do is, we look at when it's either down or in "high" population mode, meaning even though the server is not down, due to an outage or if it's just maxed out and there's waiting queues, even if the server is high population, it's getting close to max, we compensate during those times as well. Except it's much lower rate than if the realm went down completely.
So you pay out, and how do you pay? It's not cash?
Tung: We have a credit system, so that we compensate for credit, and we have it so that once you reach a certain limit, we can either send a check out, or we can credit toward's next month's compensation, or the last thing that we're working on is just refunding back to the credit card that they used to pay.
Ok. Obviously, as I posted on the site, you don't have any prices, and you said price is basically determined by server. So how much does the service cost? For example, if I entered a character, one of my characters is on Cenarius, which is a pretty high population server. How much would it cost me, first of all, and then what kind of compensation would I get out of that?
Milos Golubovic: We have tools on the site when you sign up. We have basically a compensation estimator, as well as a realm status history tool. I can't give you an exact quote right now, based on calculations, as I can't really do that in my head right now...
I mean in terms of an average character, how much will people pay per month?
Golubovic: I want to say it's close to five or six dollars. It can get as high as, I believe the highest amount is 11.
Tung: But the lowest is much lower than that. Basically level 80s will obviously pay more than a level 10. And obviously if you're on Cenarius, which is a pretty populated realm, it will be more than a new realm that Blizzard just came out with. But one way to check right away is if you add a character into your account, it actually shows you right away, based on your character level and that realm, what it would cost for that month. So it actually automatically generates it for you, so there's no guessing involved. That's already built onto the site.
So the flip side of that is, then -- does my money give me anything other than you paying me back? What's the average payout, then, for a character on a high population realm?
Tung: It's hard to say, because we basically came up with a formula based on what we have datalogged for the last seven months, and we have an average pertaining to lower months, heavier months like December and January and also through the holidays. So we do have a formula calculated so that's basically what we use for our fees. But of course, with patches and with unexpected outages, if that goes up any higher during any month or any given time, you're compensated for that, and that's how players can actually make money by signing up. For example, if a player signed up in November, which was basically a slower month, they would have made up to -- we have a cap at 1.75x what they paid, and actually in December, they would have made that 1.75, because looking at our data for December, basically all of the realms were heavily packed, most of them being maxed for several hours in a day.
So you say your average is about six dollars, and the most you can make off of downtime is about 1.75 that, so on average if I'm paying $6, the most I can get is $10.50.
Golubovic: Right, that's where our principle of -- we kind of want to motivate people to have, we don't want to stop people from playing World of Warcraft, and this is why we allow them to register up to 10 characters, so they can earn 1.75 times that 10 characters. So if they had 10, they can all be 80s if they're really hardcore players, but it's not unheard of to have that many characters from what I understand. They would earn that 1.75 times 10, so it would be close to like three dollars on the six, so that's about thirty dollars.
If everybody got that amount back, obviously you would run out of money really quickly, and that's one reason I think everyone thinks it's a scam, is because basically you're asking people to pay you money, with a chance of you giving them money back. So what would you say to someone who calls that a scam?
Tung: Sure, that's where we want to say, it's not a scam at all. A scam is where we take the money, we don't pay out anything and that's it. Or we take the money and we don't compensate at all. That's not what we're about at all. Of course, we're a new site, people will feel like it's a risk, but looking at some of the comments people made like, "oh, they're going to steal our WoW characters" -- we're not going to do that at all. Actually, we encourage people not to put their password for their WoW account when they're creating our account. There's no possibility that that's one of our goals. And then second of all, when someone is paying us, we're based in Chicago, I mean our company is in Chicago, we're not out of the country. We have a legit business license here -- if anyone needed to contact us, they could, and if they're paying with a credit card, obviously credit cards have their protections that come with. It's not like we're running away. To answer us being a scam, definitely not.
Now, in terms of just taking a risk to see if people actually make money, yes that is a risk. We're taking a risk also, because our calculations were based off of what we have gathered for only six months. It could be very different six months this year, or next year or the years after. So we could end up losing a lot of money by doing this.
Well obviously you're betting that Blizzard won't have another month like December where all the servers were high population and everyone had so much downtime.
Tung: Of course. If Blizzard's servers were at capacity or they were down an extreme amount of days in any given month, we're not anticipating that. If that happens, we lose and the people who signed up actually make money.
Click here for part two, where we talk about whether these guys would use their own site and what Blizzard might think of what they're doing.