Tobold's Blog
Friday, June 28, 2013
Voting with your wallet

I love games. Or more specifically I love certain types of games. I would be happy if more of the games I like would be made, and sad if games I like got shut down (which for online games means I couldn't play them any more). If only there was a way in which I could influence what kinds of games are being made and which of them survive! But of course there is: Money. Games are either created with the goal of making money, or even in the most altruistic of cases money is helping to keep games alive. What I spend my money on does have an influence on what games are made and survive. Individually, because I'm not Bill Gates, my contribution might be small. But collectively it is big enough to be the determining influence.

A few years back when business models for games were easier, that influence of your money was something that happened without you having to think much about it. If you wanted to play a game, you had to pay for it (unless you were willing to steal it). If you wanted to keep playing an online game, you had to keep paying a subscription fee.

Today the situation has gotten a lot more complicated. On the one side we now have Kickstarter, and a way to vote with your wallet BEFORE a game is even made. On the other side we have Free2Play games offering the possibility to not pay anything for a game you totally love. So Kickstarter enables you to send a much stronger signal about your game preferences with your money, but can backfire with outright frauds or simple cases of people overpromising and underdelivering. And Free2Play games enable you to play without having a positive impact on the financial survival of a game at all.

I believe that the production of games, like the production of pretty much everything else, is following a pork cycle leading to cyclical bouts of overproduction followed by crashes. And with new sources of funding and new ways of digital distribution, I think we are approaching a peak of the cycle. There are too many games chasing too few customers, which will lead to more and more layoffs and game studios closing. And that will mean some games disappearing, or not getting developed.

Thus I do believe that if I buy an item in a virtual shop in a Free2Play game, I am not just buying pixels. I am expressing a preference in the only way that matters, with money. I am contributing to the survival of a game I like, and make it more likely that the sort of game I like is regarded as financially successful and worth producing more of. If I only bought virtual items when a game forced me to do so to continue playing, I would send out a bad signal: I wouldn't signal what games I like best, and I would signal that I like paywalls, which isn't really the case. By voluntarily spending money on my favorite games even if I feel that it isn't absolutely necessary in gameplay terms, I vote with my wallet for the games I like.

> By voluntarily spending money on my
> favorite games even if I feel that
> it isn't absolutely necessary in
> gameplay terms, I vote with my
> wallet for the games I like

So true. That's why I gave 25$ to Path of Exile way before it entered the open beta status, even if I completely abandoned it 1 month later (sig!). And so I did for Starbound, the spiritual successor of Terraria which is not in beta yet and gathered 1.4 mil so far.

But... this is just a way of donating your money for a cause. This cause is called "gaming" or -even better- "funding a company". But it has nothing to do with the game itself, it's just a way to express your gratitude (and love) for the company that made the game, much like you would do for "animal care" or "deforestation" or "children in Africa" and so on.

I guess that's why I didn't agree with you about the "20$" article: because you mixed "nostalgia and money for gratitude" with "gameplay and money for ingame benefits". They are two completely different things, and Card Hunter in particular is one of those games which really don't need a kickstart bonus (via money) for the first 1-6 levels. Unless -of course- you feel the need to send a "thanks guys!" in a monetary way, shich is a good thing.
Let's imagine you had two reading options for your blog: a "free" option" and a "pay-per-benefit" option.

The free option is already live, and lets everyone surf your site and read your articles.

The paid option would offer a better experience, for example the ability to edit comments, post links and post images (inside comments, I mean). We could have a login system, an experience bar that progress over time based on comments/feedback and so on (think of It would be great because it would add a meta-game to your blog, and it would perfectly fit the RPG theme. Steam recently added a very basic trading cards game... and people are crazy for it (they even pay to obtain cards).

Would anyone pay to be able to edit comments, get experience bars, get achievements, ... on a blog?

I would, and I would do it immediately. To support you (expressing my love via money) AND get some tangible/benefits at the same time. But I wouldn't feel bad for those who don't care, and I wouldn't feel they're freeloaders just because come here, read and go waeay.

Of course it's just pour parler, but you got the idea.
The beauty of open systems like the PC is that even when the market crashes the indies will still be there.
The $20 purchase plan was more in the spirit of IF you want to pay the devs for making Card Hunter (which in my opinion is totally worth $20), and thus the devs give you 690 pizza, what would be your best way of spending that pizza.

In addition to that it has to be remarked that Card Hunter does not have adjustable difficulty levels, so a good number of less tactically talented people on the beta forums expressed their frustration of not getting past certain adventures. Again, IF you are willing to pay $20 for Card Hunter, these would be the purchases that are most likely to overcome that frustration of being stuck.
> in the spirit of IF you want to
> pay the devs for making Card Hunter

In that sense I completely agree. It seems I didn't get it, then, which could be the reason of my misunderstanding.
"If I only bought virtual items when a game forced me to do so to continue playing, I would send out a bad signal: I wouldn't signal what games I like best, and I would signal that I like paywalls, which isn't really the case. By voluntarily spending money on my favorite games even if I feel that it isn't absolutely necessary in gameplay terms, I vote with my wallet for the games I like."

I disagree with that. You are not forced to continue paying and playing. You can simply stop - as I did with WoW a couple of months back.

If I'd kept paying for access I would have sent a clear signal that I liked the product they were providing me.

Exactly the same as if I'd bought a mount as that extra expenditure is just as much a signal that I am enjoying the game and plan to keep playing as if I resubscribed. Both are voluntary.

I don't think the developer could make an assumption from that action as to whether I prefer pay walls or free games with "voluntary" payments.

Simply because you can't offer a paywall and an adhoc f2p style payment option at the same time so you can't make a fair comparison.

The only way they could determine my preference would be to see whether I quit their paywall game and move to a free to play game instead. But there are too many variables; I may simply prefer the other game as opposed to any preference with regards to the payment method.

Of course if I resubscribed for 6 months that would send a far stronger signal than if I subscribed for 1 month.

Now tell me, what can Blizzard deduce from my cancellation? That I don't like pay walls? Or that I don't like certain aspects of their product?

If you were sat at Blizzard HQ would you be prepared to stake the future of the product on a decision to modify the game or payment system based purely on my "apparent" refusal to endorse the pay wall system.....?
That is why if you quit you WoW subscription Blizzard is trying to get you to fill out a short survey on the reasons you quit.
I can't honestly remember the questions and which if any apply to payment methods.

This survey issue raises an interesting point. How do cash shop games find out why you didn't buy that extra hat? When you stop paying under a voluntary payment system you simply take no further action.

When you stop paying under a subs model you have to actively cancel and at that point you can be probed by surveys.

I guess the guys behind Tera don't know why I didn't buy another month of boosts and the guys at Trion don't know why I didn't buy anything at all when I popped back on Rift last week.
A lot of Kickstarter games are aiming for small audiences, so more games CAN be made for the same general population of gamers. EA is not interested in making a game for 30k people, a small studio on Kickstarter is. And considering recent results, those Kickstarter games are likely to be just as good if not better than 'AAA' offerings.
I'm afraid I have to disagree, which doesn't happen much with this blog. :P

Only buy stuff you want. Stuff that you think has greater value than what you're paying to get it. Buying something to show support sends the developer false signals about how desired a product/feature is, which leads to market distortions.

Buying anything should be an economic decision, with costs/benefits, not an act of charity.
Something about this topic brings to mind Totalbiscuits rants about being a responsible consumer and the dangers of fanboi-ism.

Personally I don't think the "gifts" that will likely come from a small minority of players will really amount to enough to have much influence on the future of a game/genre.

I agree with Michaels final sentence. Be a responsible consumer, ensure best VFM from your hard earned cash!

Not sure as many people will be willing to buy Tobold a coffee if they feel he is spending his money frivolously :p
You're correct to a degree, Tobold; the problem is that any amount of money I give to game developers cannot possibly exert anywhere close enough influence for the overall effect to be worth to me what I spent. I'm totally with Michael; only spend money if you think you're actually directly getting more for it than the money is worth to you.
@Andrew: I vote in elections not because my one vote has any power, but the collective does.

Consumers don't exist as islands. We operate more as herds. Every dollar you spend increases the likelihood someone else is spending a dollar as well.

Further, you are getting an economic reward supporting what you like to play, as Tobold said. You are helping your preferred genre stay viable.
Meh I bought every Wipeout and MSR/PGR game as well as DLC and both series were cancelled.

I wasn't in a tiny minority of the size that gift money to devs either, millions of others paid out a lot of money. Drops in the ocean don't help.

Commercial decisions are based on the herd being over a certain fixed size at which point a product is profitable.

Maybe in small indie titles the gifters can be numerous enough to have some relevance but I have my doubts that acts of generosity will ever be more than an irrelevant minuscule percentage compared to their regular revenue sources.

The numbers with Tobold's attitude are incredibly small versus the over all audience. Naturally on blogs you will see an over representation.

I wish it were possible to make a difference this way but I'd save my money for kickstarters.
Putting money where your mouth is eh? Definitely true though, only idiots and rich people throw money at games they don't like anyway.
@Andrew and @jimr9999us – I never really think that my vote will count for anything much. It never seems to influence the results of elections outside of what the bookmakers were already betting, based on polling.

But whenever I see a political rally held by bigoted, hate-filled crazies and lunatics? I realize that they care very passionately and they vote. And all I can do with my vote is cancel out ONE of those crazies. And my god, there’s so many of them… It would be irresponsible not to try and vote to cancel at least one out.

I never think that I can change the tide of whatever the most popular TV-ad and talking point is, though. The ‘narrative’ is like a great river which carries us all along with it. Individual thought can not change its course. That is done by advertising campaigns and mass media coverage.

@Woody has the right of it in terms of economic trends, though. I might pay willingly and generously for whatever F2P bonuses and fluff is available in something I really, really like and want to support, and only buy the kind of games I enjoy playing... but that doesn't change the fact that publishers see my dollars as wasted effort, a poor Return on Investment compared to the peanuts development costs in the mobile space, with huge revenues.

That's why you hear corporate mouthpieces saying that the 'future of gaming is mobile', when quite clearly someone who enjoys a large screen experience or involved controller inputs will object very vehemently to that future.

It's not the future of gaming. It's the future of where those publishers are investing their money.

Fortunately, the narrative can change sometimes... see, the massive xbone backflip on DRM. The narrative was either perpetuated by or penetrated through to (or some combination of both) the enthusiasts who do preorders of consoles, in a ratio which had the PS4 butchering the xbone.

Angry blog and twitter comments might have had some attention paid, but I think anyone is kidding themselves if it wasn't getting murdered on preorders that actually convinced Microsoft to pull the trigger.
I feel like free-to-play is just horrid. Lets think about this...

The whole free to play thing started with games like runescape and one called "Free Realms" ( ). These are generally seen as kids games.

But guess what... Runescape made BUTTLOADS of money from membership. And so did Free Realms from freemium stuff.

Big people like the LOTRO and DCUO crowd saw the money, they're like "F*ck monthly fees we can make more money this way" and they follow suit.

I just miss paying a monthly fee and having everything. F2P breaks the immersion so much.

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