Tobold's Blog
Monday, November 02, 2009
Getting tired of Facebook games

My excursion into the world of Facebook games was a short one, I'm already quickly losing interest. While Teut let me know that social network farming games are all the rage in China, I still have problems understanding what the fun is supposed to be. I click once to plow my field, once to plant, and once again to harvest, and that is where the gameplay ends. Multiply that with 200 fields on a 14x14 farm, and you'll get a big click-fest, but still not much fun. And the only "strategy" consists in choosing what to plant, with me having a preference for slow crops, because then I need to do those 600 clicks only every 3 or 4 days.

If I continue that for a while, I'll be able to afford a tractor, which presumably will save me some clicking. But the fuel for the tractor can apparently only be bought with "Farm Cash", which you can only get with real money, or by signing up for "free" FarmCash from advertisers. Surprise, surprise, mbp warns me that many of these "free" offers are scams, with users involuntarily signing up for some subscription they didn't want, and ending up paying more for the "free" Farm Cash than if they had just bought it.

No wonder people are increasingly suspicious of the microtransaction business model. While there are lot of good examples of microtransactions being used in a transparent way to buy access to more content in a good game, the frequent use of microtransactions in opaque scams for "games" that don't really have much gameplay, and where you are basically just wasting time and money to advance in a meaningless social competition makes people wary. But then of course a lot of people think that monthly subscription MMORPGs are also just a waste of time and money to advance in a meaningless social competition. So maybe I'm biased when I say that interesting gameplay is the minimum I expect from a game. Apparently for some people it is sufficient if they just get virtual rewards, even if the game doesn't amount to anything much.
I don't like the problems with immersion and credibility with MTs. Like my friend can't enter area X, because he hasn't payed for it.

That aside, you are right. In German you talked about a "dam failure". It may be better to not summon those ghosts; you may not be able to unsommon them later.

Should the next Blizzard MMO support MT more than WoW already does I'd be seriously disappointed. But I am confident that they won't do this.
Given the apparently unstoppable rise of microtransactions even for A-rated MMORPGS the lure of easy cash from these scammy monetisation schemes is a worry. We can only hope that the relative complexity of games like Runes of Magic compared to Facebook games like Farmville means that the mmorpg audience is less likely to fall for scams.

On a related note - I have been trying out the new microtransaction supported version of DDO (yes it is very playable from Europe). It is the best microtransaction scheme I have seen yet. Partly that is because the emphasis is more on "pay for content" as opposed to "pay to leapfrog other players". Even though you can buy gear and potions in the cash shop the fact that the whole game existed before the cash shop means that you really don't need them to progress. I think the continuation of the monthly sub option acts like a brake on abusive monetisation because Turbine needs to ensure that the game continues to be playable by these players without requiring them to also spend huge sums in the item shop.
No wonder people are increasingly suspicious of the microtransaction business model.

Increasingly suspicious? I can only speak for myself here, but many of your commentors have railed against the concept of Microtransactions(politically correct term for RMT) ever since you got all excited about it as a revenue model for funding games some months ago.

Many of us pointed out a -long- time ago that this would become the norm once RMT was embraced by the game development community.

Is it any wonder that it would come to this as a result of the waters being muddled by what someone else sees as acceptable forms of RMT?

I know one thing, we are so far from the word -game- in instances such as this that the magic circle of gaming is more or less just a memory, and we owe it all those those gamers who consider time to equal money in our beloved games.
I was just thinking last night about why I was playing these games. I have over one million dollars in farmville, over 4 billion in mafia wars and am STILL not sure what the point of it all is. I own everything I can. Mafia wars has almost no money sinks for their gold and everything is available with their cash-based godfather points.

Okay, this just solidified it for me, I am done. Now do I delete the game or keep them up to help others? Hmmmm...
I can only speak for myself here, but many of your commentors have railed against the concept of Microtransactions(politically correct term for RMT) ever since you got all excited about it as a revenue model for funding games some months ago.

The problem about those "railing" comments are that they are often extremely one-sided, stating that everything microtransaction is automatically the work of the devil. And what do the people who made those comments play today? Dungeons & Dragons Online, because the microtransactions there are so well done.

I'd say that there are good microtransactions and bad microtransactions, and defining which is which, where the boundaries are, is a lot more helpful than throwing out the baby with the bath water. Does anyone really think the advance of microtransactions is something that could still be stopped?
Does anyone really think the advance of microtransactions is something that could still be stopped?

For AAA games? Yes, I am certain.
Companies like Blizzard think in long terms and prestige.

They even stop coding on games after 3 years development time if the they realize there's no way to make this 'game' fun.

MTs are harmful for prestige.

Flatrates were good for internet and mobile phones costs and they are good for almost everything else as well. I don't want to think about the costs of my free-time activities. I just want to enjoy them. Thinking about the costs reduces the quality of the product.

Blizard has been very careful to only introduce MTs for services that really are outside the 'scope' of the game. Race change, server change, faction change, name change .. etc. Even here they have been extremely careful - and rightly so.
The key point here is not so much microtransactions, but that just as casual gamers prefer causal games, non-gamers prefer non-games.

And, in most countries, there are a lot more non-gamers than any other group.
Though many of my family members and friends are memorized by Facebook games, I, like you, don't see the point. Click-click-click....and all for what? I'm a single mom of 2 young ones with little "me" time. Why waste it on that trash? Maybe I've been spoiled too much by WoW. ;-) After a long day of "scream scream tantrum tantrum demand demand", I'd rather run around Azeroth hacking and slashing, not clicking over and over to queal some fake but equally demanding customers on CafeWorld or babysit some faux fields....
If you're going to start ranking human activities by merit it's going to end in tears.

Lots of humans like to spend time doing things that appear to have no functional outcome. Long before we had social networks, people bought Wordsearch magazines, for example, for the pleasure of striking lines through strings of letters.

I imagine it comes down to two main motivations: preventing the brain from engaging in conscious thought and receiving dopamine hits.

As for RMT, if it was always done well, as in Wizard 101 or DDO, I don't think many people would be complaining. It's the rip-off potential that gets people's backs up.
I think it's important to distinguish the Facebook "free offer" scams from simple cash microtransactions. Facebook games exist to trick people into signing up for credit cards, insurance offers, and monthly service fees for things they do not want. Cash microtransactions are a one-time way to extract a couple of bucks from a gamer who wants a prettier costume, faster mount, or different mini-pet. I think cash microtransactions can be problematic for MMOs, but it's nowhere near as awful as the "take this IQ quiz" nonsense on Facebook.

Related: How to Spam Facebook Like a Pro: an Insider's Confession. I don't think we'll ever see this kind of garbage in a traditional gamer MMO.
Clicking a bit screams like "scripting" to me. There must be a ton of programs on the web that do the clicking for you. It would create an fun challenge to create a script that automates most of the playing.

But if it can be automated it's a sign that the gameplay is flawed. E.g. fishing in WoW. A 100 line script can fish for you so it's not much fun. Creating a script that fishes for you was fun though.

The mind of a programmer I suppose...
Wait do people think Blizzard uses any sort of micro-transactions? They don't. Race/Side/Server changes are account services. Just like in EQ you could get a character transfer for a fee. Micro-transactions are some way to buy in game stuff will real money. Does any major MMO use micro-translations yet? I know the next star wars MMO is threatening to, but has anybody launched an AAA title with them? I can't think of any and DDO while fun is hardly is way to tiny to be called a AAA title.
I would like to remind everybody, that MT, even if not named as this, has been present in every single MMO, even Ultima Online :
Every 3 month to 2 years you need to pay for extra content.

So I agree with Tobold that now that this business model has a name, where, from our gamer point of view, do we consider the separation is between a 'good' MT model, and a 'bad' MT model.
The problem about those "railing" comments are that they are often extremely one-sided, stating that everything microtransaction is automatically the work of the devil.

Well, to be fair, you did a very good job of pointing out how the Devil is indeed in the details of how RMT is implemented in this blog entry.

Sure, we can all point the fickle finger at this bad example, that bad example or whatnot, but what we are really talking about here is not how well RMT is implemented into a certain piece of software, but rather if that software should be worthy of being called a -GAME-.

Therein lies the problem. Who gets to set the standards of what are acceptable methods or uses of RMT in a piece of software? The software developer? I think your example shows a clear and unbiased progression as to how that one is working out.

At the end of the day if you take a piece of software and strip out all elements of RMT from it:

Does it remain playable? Is it fun to play? Does it make the player want to come back and play again? Does it offer a level playing field with a standard ruleset for all who choose to play it?

If it can do those things then it might just be worthy of being called a game.

But then again, if it can do all those things, why does it need RMT in the first place?

Oh, I fund a very badly broken industry development model.
There seem to be a lot of Achievers here. Facebook games can appeal to them, but many of them are for the socializers. My wife played one for months, Her little avatar was often hired by her friends and relatives to do harvests, and after you clickity click and automate the avatar, you sit there with a virtual chat room. She used to talk with her sister and niece who were half a world away.

As someone mentioned here a few days ago, there is also the meta-game: my farm etc is better than yours, I can lay out my tiles in a more aesthetically pleasing manner than all my friends and can make them look at my farm on their wall. (look at all of the wall photos albums with farmtown/farmville pictures in them.)

As a last aside, while the game encourages you to buy fuel for your tractor to save clicks, if you are a more casual player you need not. Your fuel magically refills itself if you wait for a bit. If you just had to buy the big farm expansion, you might need to buy the extra fuel reloads.
"Thinking about the costs reduces the quality of the product."

Nonsense. Maybe that's true for some customers, but certainly not all. Just like the whole "subs are better for a budget" is utter hogwash when applied with a broad brush.

Bad business decisions can be made with any business model. Let's call the specific decisions bad and stop shooting the messenger.
Shinjitsu's comment is correct: these games aren't intended for the people who get hot and bothered by grinding quests and having a fully epic-equipped character. These games are intended more for people who take a quick break from their job to get a bit of "gaming" in. The social elements are more appealing to them: they can compare scores with friends, chat with others, or just get some mad clicking done in 10 minutes before a meeting.

For 56 million people, according to FarmVille's developer Zynga, that's entertaining enough. If you believe WoW is the best game because of 11.whatever million players worldwide, time to greet your new master.
My sister plays that garbage, farmville. It relies on RMT and is not even multiplayer (so I am told). I personally only use facebook to keep contact with out of state friends and family.
I played farmville for 1-2 days before getting bored: too much clicking, it kills my pc (using almost 100% cpu) and your crops are lost if you don't harvest them in time: I don't like games that tell me when I must login.
Have you also tried something like mousehunt? I play it probably because I like collecting cards (ok, here I collect mice, but the concept is the same :) ) - of course it has RMT and advertiser, but I've never needed to use any.
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