Zynga has (sort of) rolled out what appears to be a new tiered customer system that rewards higher spending. The Mafia Wars Loyalty Program contains three levels of favor and influence that can each be bought with little more than a home equity loan or the refusal to feed your children. For more info on the levels of “membership” and the perks that accompany them, see Agent Nico’s post at the Mafia Task Force.
The most obvious change that this will affect on the game is the level of access to game content and features, loot items, customer service, and special Mafia Wars events. One could even argue that the distance from the player’s voice to Zynga’s ear is increasingly diminished with each unit of currency spent, if that was not the case already.
Look at it this way: There is actually no difference in the level of service purveyed for a non-spender, spender, and big spender (other than the dedicated customer service, beta content, and mafia wars event invitations that is stated as open to platinum users). The intrinsic value is virtually null for each, beyond the labor and other costs associated with creating and coding the material. However, by creating a tiered caste system, they are forcing players into maintaining minimum spending rates in order to have access to game content, effectively establishing paid levels of membership. Nothing unheard of there, except when you consider the relative worthlessness of what is being offered. It is not the same as the difference between free and platinum account for image hosting, or other online services…
Furthermore, the “dedicated customer service”, “beta content”, and “invites to mafia wars events” that are offered only to platinum players give certain players the opportunity to literally buy influence.
What does this mean for the Mafia Wars landscape? A few things. Casual spenders will be urged into increasing and maintaining higher levels of spending in order to gain access to more perks. The usual big spender demographics are likely to remain relatively unchanged. The same probably goes for the largest portion of non-spenders, although many will be tempted to at least try and reach the next level of loyalty.
But more importantly, perhaps, is the continued neglect of the current holes in FB security and Zynga third party transaction practice that endanger players’ billing information. Increasing revenue by creating new customers is a time tested (and often honorable) way of raising the value of a company. That is, when it is done in an honest way be improving product and protecting the consumer. This is unfortunately not the case in this instance. Game content has become stale and repetitive. And the creation of new paying customers does little more than increase the numbers of potential victims of credit card/paypal fraud. Protect yourself and your billing information.