Tobold's Blog
Monday, May 27, 2013

Metrology is the science of measurement. Sounds somewhat dry, but in fact in the discussion of MMORPGs questions of metrology pop up all the time, for example how to measure player numbers of a game. The issue is complicated because what we want to measure is often either a number that is not available, or something that is in fact not measurable at all, like how good a certain game is. So the approach generally is that you measure something you can measure, and then extrapolate.

That approach is also very standard when measuring opinion. Except for elections when large parts of the population express their opinion, opinions are usually measure by polls of a small sample which is then extrapolated. The main risk of that approach is that the sample might not be representative. For example if you want to know whether people like coffee or not, if you do your poll in a Starbucks, the result is quite likely misleading and not representative at all.

I was thinking of that when I saw that Rowan from I Have Touched the Sky made a poll on what people would like to buy in item shops in a Free2Play game. I would guess that the results are not representative at all, because "People who visit MMORPG blogs" are a non-representative sub-group of all MMORPG players. And "people who buy items in an item shop" are not only another sub-group, but in my opinion one that doesn't have much overlap with the sub-group of people discussing these games.

To express it simplified, I think that item shops have an increased attraction to people who don't have much time, but would like to progress in these time-intensive games faster than their available time permits. Contrary to that the people who hang out on blogs are more on the time-rich side of things, because not only do they have time to play those games, they also have the time to talk about them. That isn't to say that there is no overlap at all, I am both a blogger and an item shop customer. But in my opinion the overlap is small enough to make a poll non-representative. Time-rich people are more likely to vote for only fluff being available in item shops, while time-poor people are more likely to actually buy stuff that advances them in the game.

Tobold, I don't think that explains the enduring appeal of randomised lockboxes.
@spinks - that is better explained by the addiction mechanics and the rush you get by gambling.
I would definitely agree that the polls are borderline worthless. As far as the people spending money on F2P games, I think you're mostly correct -- the people I know who buy World of Tanks gold get it for a premium account mainly (apparently the avg sub in WoT on the US server spends $16 which is a very high amount for a F2P game). In LoL and GW2 it seems to be mainly for cosmetic reasons and fluff, so there's definitely a couple different mindsets when it comes to spending money on F2P games.
"And "people who buy items in an item shop" are not only another sub-group, but in my opinion one that doesn't have much overlap with the sub-group of people discussing these games."

Hmm. Are you sure about that? I just counted up all the MMO blogs in my Feedly index in which a blogger has specifically mentioned buying items from the cash shop at least once to my certain knowledge. The total comes in at just under two-thirds of them. Quite a few of the bloggers I read talk about their cash-shop purchases fairly often.

I just wrote yesterday on my own blog about how I'm struggling to find things to buy in MMO cash shops because the games give me more than I need for free, but I DO buy things in cash shops when I can find things I want and I'd love to buy more if the developers would just put more things in there that appeal to me.

Spending money on treats for oneself is fun, isn't it?
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The good people at Playnomics have compiled an interesting report relating to purchase (or rather, non-purchase) patterns from Q1 2013.

This report does not specifically deal with MMO:s, but it is based on actual usage data. Conclusion? Basically nobody buys stuff. Instead, the top 1% of users stand for one third of the purchases. Basically, it's a whale's game.

I have no idea how this translates to MMO item store purchases, and note that the report only deals with new players. It isn't unreasonable to assume that paying players will remain longer than the freeloaders, meaning that the percentage of paying players may go up if you look at the whole player base.

(Thanks to Bullwinkle on the Pocket Tactics Forums for the link to the Gamasutra article on this report).
I would LOVE a Max-Lvl potion in Money Shop. Or better : a fast-lvl Potion : in 10hours, go to max lvl ! For perfection it should be forbidden for the first character - or I will not be able to resist using it ;-)

10hours, is to let me understand how to play a character, or start to understand it.

For exemple in GW2, I would love to test other profession in WvW. But for testing all these builds describes in forum and sites, you need a Max lvl character !

How much will I pay it ? 10€/$
It isn't unreasonable to assume that paying players will remain longer than the freeloaders, meaning that the percentage of paying players may go up if you look at the whole player base.

Wouldn't that depend on how permanent the stuff you buy is? For example in a MMORPG with item shop you might buy additional character slots or inventory slots. But you are unlikely to buy those every month, so even if you bought stuff at the start, you'll become a non-paying customer later.
There's a bigger reason why that poll is not representative. It's that if you ask people "what would you like to buy in item shops in a Free2Play game?", the actual answer they give will be the items that they do not want to buy. They will name the items that they could cheerfully do without and continue to enjoy the game without spending a cent.

Looking over to the linked post - surprise, surprise, surprise - "people seemed enthusiastic for cosmetic items". Of course. Because people know that they can spend as little or as much as they like on cosmetic items and it will never affect their gameplay one bit.

That's why everyone enthusiastically suggests that F2P games try to get by just selling cosmetics. I'd love to see how quickly bankruptcy would be achieved if someone did try it.

Yes, that makes sense. Still, even at 2-3% of users being converted to paying ones, you're going to have a serious challenge balancing the game.

Sorry, when I corrected and reposted, the link to the report disappeared.
Still, even at 2-3% of users being converted to paying ones, you're going to have a serious challenge balancing the game.

Paying users are always the minority. But as far as I know the exact percentage varies a lot between games, from less than 1% to up to 10%. Also the median, average, and high amount people spend vary a lot, depending on what is on offer.

The report you linked to listed one player spending $7,400 on one game. I know a lot of games where that isn't even possible. On the other hand the report had lots of people spending less than one dollar, which also isn't possible in many games I know. One factor here is games that are Free2Play, but still offer the possibility to buy a "subscription", either because they were subscription games before, or because they were designed like that from the start. Assuming such a subscription is attractive enough, a lot of paying customers will gravitate to that solution, leading to good conversion, but revenues per paying customer similar to that of a subscription game.

How games are balanced with respect to their business model is maybe a subject for a future post, as it is too long to discuss in a comment.
Well, I don't think balancing the game around the paying customers is a bad idea.

Now, you don't want to drive the free players away, but they are there for two reasons and only two reasons: 1) the hope they will convert to a paying customer and 2) to provide play partners for the paying customers.

The free players get a fair handshake to the degree necessary to accomplish those goals, nothing more.
Yes, you're right. And I was sloppy in my writing.

According to this study, less than one per cent (0.77%, to be precise) of users pay anything at all during the first quarter. That's 14,000 users out of 1.7 million. Whether the sample is representative or not, I obviously do not know.

Now, out of those 14,000, the top 1 per cent stands for 33% of spending. That's where I mean that your balancing challenge lies. Sorry for saying differently before.
I agree that there are many horrible F2P examples; many involve FB and/or Zynga.

So I agree with you that a good game is vital/necessary and the first goal. OTOH, 42cc's comments resonated with me: the success is determined by what the paying customers do, so them being happy seems more important than everyone being happy. The game can not succeed unless all the customer types are happy. But to paraphrase Orwell, some are more equal than others.

I think a lot of this will be solved with businesses using the "waiting for these customers to die" strategy. I.e., I don't think many of these people who are so dismissive and angry about all these "fail games converting to p2w" will be swayed.

But look at who will replace them: e.g. someone who is starting uni in a few years. At one a week, they may have downloaded 500 (or many more) f2p games in their life - e.g. to their iphone/ipad/android. And they may never have spent a single monthly subscription for a game. They might be a bit puzzled over some of the current vitriol and not regard f2p as such a religious issue.
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