Tobold's Blog
Thursday, February 06, 2014
 
Putting game payments into perspective

In the 90's, before I started playing MMORPGs, I played a lot of Magic the Gathering. I won some local tournaments, but then decided that I preferred a more casual approach. I remained attached to the tournament scene as a DCI certified judge, and even participated in a World Championship as referee for side-events. I had a great time. And, looking back at that time, I spent a crazy amount of money on that game. When I stopped playing I estimated that I had spent about $10,000 on my card collection over a decade, not counting other costs like other card sleeves/albums, or travel costs. And at the time I was still a student, and had a lot less disposable income than today.

If I consider my whole gaming history and the cost involved in perspective, I must say that I never had access to so many so cheap games as today. Instead of paying $1,000 per year on Magic cards, I then spent around $200 per year on World of Warcraft. Today they are even cheaper, I can play MMORPGs for free, and buy some additional comfort or faster advancement for less than the cost of a monthly subscription in most games. Instead of buying PC and console games for $50, I buy iOS and Android games for $5 or less, and they aren't even worse than the PC or console games I bought decades ago. And many games I can either play for free, or at least try for free and then decide whether and how much money I want to spend on them.

I am not a huge fan of EA, and only faintly interested in their latest mobile game Dungeon Keeper. But I must say that they are getting an unjustified amount of flak for that game being Free2Play. I don't know under which rock some people lived for the past couple of years, but I am astonished to read all those rants full of outrage that a game that can be downloaded for free then has payment options. To be absolutely crystal clear: EA's Dungeon Keeper is a blatant copy of the successful Clash of Clans, and also copies that game's business model. The "imps" you can buy for real money in Dungeon Keeper are practically identical in function to the builder's huts you can buy for real money in Clash of Clans. Every option to speed up play in Dungeon Keeper has an equivalent in Clash of Clans. Claiming the EA invented a particularly greedy game is just showing your ignorance of the games that already run for years and make big money (which is why EA copies them).

Now in theory it is possible to put unlimited amounts of money in Clash of Clans or Dungeon Keeper, if you want everything always immediately and can never wait. That would be a rather stupid way to play those games, and not really relevant to most people, as we aren't made out of money. So rather we should consider two cases: What part of a game can you play for free? And what part of a game can you play for a moderate investment, let's say $20? On both counts Clash of Clans and Dungeon Keeper aren't doing too badly: You do get two builder's huts / imps for free, and by playing the game for free you'll earn over time slowly enough special currency to get a third and fourth builder's hut or imp. Or you can spend $20 and get those third and fourth builder's huts / imps right away. As these are permanent and then require no further payment, I would consider that as an acceptable payment option. I've certainly seen far worse.

What I really can't understand is the permanent outrage of the entitlement kids when games cost money or try out new revenue streams. Players frequently act as if game developers drive around in golden Rolls Royces, when even a cursory glance at gaming news every day reveals that game developer is an extremely lousy job, badly paid for long hours, and constantly threatened by layoffs and studio closures. In the end a game is a product like many others, and the economics are rather simple: The number of players multiplied with the average revenue per player needs to be more than the cost of making and running the game. If we want games with fancy, and thus expensive, graphics and lots of content, we either need to accept that they have to be created for a mass market and accessible to millions of players, or we need to accept that each player has to put in a good amount of money to finance such a game. We can't have expensive games for free and catering to a small niche.

Ultimately game development is Darwinian. We can have bubbles when optimistic people invest money in games that then are commercial failures. But ultimately only financially viable games and business models survive. In the end each individual player has to decide what each individual game is worth to him, and the aggregate decision of all players on one game will decide whether that game thrives or fails. If you are pushing for a future in which no player ever pays anything, you are advocating a future with no commercial games at all. And that would be a great loss to all of us.

Comments:
I haven't played the new DK (I didn't even like the old one - it was pretty but as an actual strategy game it failed). But from what I read it's not so much a matter of forking out $20 and then nothing more, but of having to pay for consumable gems forver anyway.

Of course this may well be exaggerated or even complete lies, as is often the case when a game gets some internet hate. But I would be cautious about making assumptions either way.
 
If you are pushing for a future in which no player ever pays anything, you are advocating a future with no commercial games at all. And that would be a great loss to all of us.

Fortunately, I've never seen anyone pushing this way. :)
 
There's a perception about this game that if you played for several hours a day, you'd be spending thousands of dollars. So my question to you is, how much money per month would 4 hours of play a night cost you?

I know I can play 4 hours a night of just about any MMO for little cost.
 
Either you've not read the articles that give flak in that it's a poor CoC clone AND an insult to the franchise or you're trolling.

They tried the exact same thing with Command and Conquer, people said the same things about the game and it's now shut down. Plants vs Zombies 2 is a financial mess for them too, having cost $150m for the franchise and not ever hitting top 50. Either they don't understand how games and monetization work outside of serials or the industry is just too smart for them.
 
Or maybe you're pushing for a future without a currency system at all.
 
If you are pushing for a future in which no player ever pays anything, you are advocating a future with no commercial games at all. And that would be a great loss to all of us.

Well, apart that this seems to be an over-over-generalization of what people say (= that one single game is a greed-machine), I don't really see the problem.
First, as you say, it's more or less a Darwinian process, if nobody wants to pay for games, then it's clear that by not having paid games we're not missing much :)
At the same time, a lot of very good stuff was done without being necessarily monetized, such as all our culture and art (take or less a few stuff). So I don't really see the problem.....
 
There are a lot of young people who expect to get every game for free, so any cost at all is outrageous to them. Almost everything you play on your computer, instead of by logging into an online world, just ends up being cracked and torrented by kids so they can play for free.

I can't blame them too much, I did my share when I was young. When you're only getting 20-40 bucks a month for all your expenses from your parents, the idea of paying $60 for a game is ridiculous, just go steal it. When you're older and making 4-5k a month, $60 for a game is laughably trivial and you pay for the convenience. Really, who here hasn't bought a game on steam that they already have discs for, just because it's easier to manage your steam library than dig through piles of CDs in your closet?

For these young people, an online game with a subscription or a f2p game with purchasable advantages is enough to exclude them from the game entirely, so it's reasonable they're upset. Doesn't mean that anything should be done, of course. Just ignore them, they'll grow up and be willing to pay like the rest of us.
 
Let's say someone opened up a "free" restaurant near you and you decide to check it out.

So you sit down at a folding table and chairs. You are immediately told you can pay extra for a better table, but the table doesn't change how the food tastes so you decide against it. You will be repeatedly reminded that you can pay for a better table throughout the night.

Also, you are given no silverware at all. Eat with your hands. Or, of course, you can pay extra for silverware. Again, this technically doesn't change the taste of the food. And again, you will be repeatedly reminded you can pay extra for silverware throughout the night.

Next, the waiter begins bringing out the salad course...one piece of lettuce at a time. You are informed that you cannot skip the salad course. You can, however, pay an extra fee to have the salad brought out all at once. The waiter will return once every 5 minutes with another piece of lettuce, and to remind you that you could pay extra to get the salad right away.

Next comes the main course. It's pasta, and of course it is brought out one noodle at a time with repeated reminders you can pay extra to get it right away. You can also pay extra for a different sauce, or different type of noodle.

(A better comparison would probably be to repeat this process for a full 7 courses, but even writing it is tedious.)

After eating with your hands, you notice there is no napkin. That's also extra. Good luck with that.

Now, we haven't even discussed how good the food actually is, or how much these extra fees are (although realistically, they would add up to be many times as expensive as a comparable "normal" restaurant). But this is a horrible restaurant and I would never eat there.

It's very hard to make money in the restaurant business too. (The old joke is, how do you make a small fortune in the restaurant business? Start with a large fortune!) Does that somehow make them immune to criticism?

It is perfectly reasonable to say that Dungeon Keeper is a bad, unenjoyable game, and that the payment system is the key reason why. Nothing you wrote changes that.
 
If I were wiser I would just read fewer articles & comments.

I.e., the industry is proceeding apace; I can't believe the "OMG it's not free" or the "OMG paying money gets you something" rhetoric will change a lot about what and how profitable games are made.

 
It is perfectly reasonable to say that Dungeon Keeper is a bad, unenjoyable game, and that the payment system is the key reason why. Nothing you wrote changes that.

No, it is not perfectly reasonable. I did my "research" by playing Dungeon Keeper, just as I played Clash of Clans, and there is no discernible difference in monetization between the two games. All those false analogies come from people who haven't even tried the game, or tried it for 5 minutes without having played Clash of Clans or other games of that genre.
 
Let's say someone opened up a "subscription" restaurant near you and you decide to check it out.

You can't even enter, you are being stopped at the door where you have to pay $50 just to be let in. You pay, and enter, and sit down. There is no food except dry bread and water, but you are being explained that you are still in the tutorial and first have to advance before you get to the actual food.

You wait and wait, nibbling on your dry bread, and receiving paper tokens indicating your progress. But every hour a waiter comes and demands another $15 from you, or you'll be kicked out and lose all your "progress".

After having paid a fortune, you are told that you are finally advanced enough to get to the read food. A waiter serves you a dish under a silver cover plate. You open the plate and find that it is just turds.

It is perfectly reasonable to say that subscription MMORPGs are bad, unenjoyable games and that the payment system is the key reason why.
 
Great counter comment Tobold. I don't understand why people get bent out of shape about microtransactions but enjoy paying a monthly fee just to access the game.

There has to be some kind of payment system or these games won't be made.
 
What I really can't understand is the permanent outrage of the entitlement kids when games cost money or try out new revenue streams.

Some of that may be adolescent kids with no money but access to a forum. To be fair though I think it's reasonable to question some of the business practices of many of these F2P models. I don't see many people bashing the business models of Team Fortress 2, League of Legends and Path of Exile. Given that a lot of the industry is publishing a lot of vocal "F2P is the future of all games" statements it's pretty reasonable when people are calling out the models that seem sheisty.

A lot of game mechanics focus heavily on a lot of our compulsive tendencies and when we see something that outright ties our wallet to that it seems justified to call that out. Many of these mobile games also offer no out and no end in site. It doesn't seem like a good idea to encourage more devs to keep serving us up stuff where they've tuned the gameplay to point to a never ending pay wall.
 
Why is "it's exactly like Clash of Clans" some defense on its own? is Clash of Clans some critically acclaimed game I don't know about? Can't they both be terrible?

Your whole point seemed to be that payment system is not a valid reason for disliking a game. I think that is wrong. It definitely DOES affect enjoyment of the game.

But you go on telling people they're wrong about their own preferences.
 
Also, I think you are right to point out the flaws in other payment models. None of them are perfect.

And if someone told me they hated MMORPGs because they hated the long, never-ending, repetitive leveling (or gearing) treadmill, I would think that was perfectly valid too. In that case, I would agree that it WAS largely the subscription model at the root of their problems.
 
Can't they both be terrible?

They can. Depends on your definition of terrible, though. For example in Clash of Clans I have level 9 gold mines that take a full 3 days to be upgraded to level 10. You seem to suggest that such a feature "forces" people to "endlessly pay" for such a game. I just pay nothing and wait 3 days. I'd say my approach is the more intelligent one.

And if both games are equally bad, why spend all that energy on a hate campaign against EA's Dungeon Keeper, instead of complaining about the game that makes $2.4 million per day? Why single out one game as especially vile, when A) you haven't even played it, and B) you are admittedly completely ignorant of the other games like it?
 
"What I really can't understand is the permanent outrage of the entitlement kids when games cost money or try out new revenue streams"

Over the years, as you've moved from M:TG, to Wow, to even cheaper games today, gaming has become cheaper. Yet you're seeing more complaints over the cost of gaming, apparently. What does this prove? That the power of the Internet to multiply the delivery of 'complaining' to your eyeballs outweighs the impact of this decreased cost. You keep posting about 'entitlement kids', but the thing that has changed here, the Internet, was not invented by 'entitlement kids'; so perhaps you should reconsider your attribution of blame for the current situation. If you really do believe that every complainer in the modern world is a child, why even try to understand their whining, or dignify it with a response? As a functional adult, I don't go to the school next door to me and attempt to gain their approval for anything. That's what the Internet has done, it's brought that school next door to you too, virtually. The rest is up to you.
 
You can be over 18 and still be an entitlement kid. There is a whole generation out there who grew up during the early excesses of the internet and the still ongoing period of near lawlessness regarding content theft, and who now all believe that content should be free and that they have a right to complain if it isn't. Somebody has to speak up against such economic nonsense.
 
"Somebody has to speak up against such economic nonsense."

Using your time to respond spends your time, and legitimizes their position more than just ignoring it would; but it's your time and your blog. If it's your time and your blog, why did I comment here on it? Since your language referring to them specifically puts them in the category of 'not worth responding to', by calling them spoiled children, I'm just pointing out you can't have your cake and eat it too. Either they are spoiled children and not worth responding to, or they are criminal adults who need to be opposed. They can't be both.
 
For me, a "no good freeloader" it's not so much "I want stuff for free," but yes there's an element of that.

What gets me is I could spend this money on a game... or I could use it to pay off the house. To take care of my family. To pay for medical expenses.

As much of a gamer as I am, in the end my hobby falls pretty low in terms of priorities.

I've got no problems with games that charge money or the people that pay them. I just will never participate in them.

Indeed, it's all a matter of perspective.
 
Building on the restaurant analogy:

So there's a lot of restaurants competing for business, and they've all started giving away free samples: Not enough for a meal, but enough to get a sense of what the food tastes like. If you want a real meal you have to pay for it, and the free samples are enough to help you estimate how much you'll be willing to pay.

The "subscription" restaurants charge a flat $15 for all-you-can-eat.

The "decent f2p" restaurants have a traditional menu. You can get a light meal for $5, or you can spend $40 and get a feast.

The "loathsome f2p" restaurants sell food by the mouthful. The price gradually goes up and the portion size goes down, and you don't know what you'll be charged until you put in the order. Without doing a huge amount of on-line research you're not going to be able to figure out how much you have to spend to get a meal. Eventually you realize that it's $5000, and you storm out. Later you learn that the restaurant's business model is preying on the customers that are rich enough and gullible enough to pay $5000 for a meal that's not as good as what they could get at the $15 "subscription" restaurant down the street.

I know it's a free country and all, but, really, some people ought to be ashamed of themselves.

(I'm bitter because I've been playing a fun little smartphone game that I would gladly have paid a flat fee for, but I'm to the point where I can't progress further unless I start buying gambleboxes, and I can't even estimate how many I'd need.)
 
The "loathsome f2p" restaurants sell food by the mouthful.

I fully agree that there are games like that out there. I reported on some of them on this blog and refused to play them when I hit the paywall.

My point is that Dungeon Keeper doesn't work like that. It is very much in the "decent f2p" category: You spend under $20 ONCE to buy additional imps, and that is it for eternity.

The people complaining about Dungeon Keeper didn't even have the common decency to try the game out and find out whether Free2Play model was decent or loathsome.
 
"I did my "research" by playing Dungeon Keeper, just as I played Clash of Clans, and there is no discernible difference in monetization between the two games."

The original Dungeon Keeper was a fun game that could have been refreshed for 2014. Reshaping the game in order to cash in on CoC's commercial model was a fairly cynical move on EA's part.


 
"The original Dungeon Keeper was a fun game that has been refreshed for 2014's economic realities. Reshaping the game in order to cash in on CoC's commercial model was a fairly good business move on EA's part.
"

FTFY
 
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
The imps act like the workers in starcraft. Sure, you can buy some imps and that is a one time purchase, but then each time you do an action it will cost you money or 4-24 hours. Imagine in starcraft that each time you gather minerals you can take 4-24 hours or pay money. That changes the game to a completely different game than before. Instead if "real time strategy" now it's almost turn based. Same with dungeon keeper.
 
Instead if "real time strategy" now it's almost turn based.

Yes, good description.

Now go the iOS App store or the Google play store and search for similar games. Anything that allows you to build a kingdom and then do PvP. There are hundreds of them. And they ALL work like that. So do many browser-based PC games of that genre.
 
Yes, but the original Dungeon Keeper had multiplayer and was not "turn-based." So basically in the future (present according to your search of the iOS and Play store), no "real-time strategy" games will ever be made because they earn less money. That is why no one who played older games like this direction. Eventually, they'll be as alive as adventure games (as in barely). This future (present) also makes it so all aspects of gameplay is affected by money at all points, breaking us out of the immersion and into the real world (which is why they use funny money instead of real money to lighten the effect). Games that don't do this will be superceded in mobile and possibly (but I doubt) in consoles. But even if it just penetrates mobile, that already removes a significant chunk of gaming.

On my iPad I noticed I delete all of these free ones constantly. The only ones I actually play are DS ports like "The World Ends with you" or "Ghost trick" and indies like "Republique."
 
So basically in the future (present according to your search of the iOS and Play store), no "real-time strategy" games will ever be made because they earn less money.

More people are willing to spend more money on mobile strategy games than they are willing to spend on "real time strategy" games. Thus more money can be made making mobile games. Game companies give players exactly the games they are willing to pay for. Why do you think there is something wrong with that?

And adventures are back. On Kickstarter. Because as soon as a sufficient number of people expresses their willingness to pay a sufficient amount of money for a certain type of game to be made, that game *will* be made. There is no sort of evil conspiracy or anything going on here, it is just very basic capitalism.

My point is that if there are too few people willing to pay enough money for a certain type of game to make that game profitable, what would give you the right to demand that this type of game be made anyway? Not just financially, but also morally it is better for the greater good to make the game more people want more.
 
Actually, no one "demanded" that game be made. And everyone has the "right to demand" it. They just maybe will not receive it. And I certainly never made such a false claim. I'm just probably given up on playing almost all iOS or android games.

People (probably older people because they are the ones who played the old games) are starting to decry and/or boycotting these money for time games to try to discourage this direction.

And your assertion that "too few people willing to pay enough money for a certain type of game to make that game profitable" is not demonstratably true in any way since people still make a profit on games like Civilization and Starcraft.
 
And basically why people hate this game specifically is because it is a perversion of the original game, just like "Final Fantasy All the Bravest" was. No one would have cared if it was called "Clash of Demons" or something.
 
After some thought, I guess this could be like the reaction many have to all bad remakes or completely different "reimaginings" of old properties. Just like people hated Teenage Mutant Alien Turtles, Total Recall, transformers and various other different and possibly bad retellings of old things, people who looked favorably at DK1 don't like this new DK not just for its gameplay, but what it represents: the possible future of gaming.
 
I'll echo the sentiment that Dungeon Keeper has gotten attention because it's a perversion of the original IP. I'm assuming you haven't read this article and seen the comparison videos included: http://www.baekdal.com/opinion/how-inapp-purchases-has-destroyed-the-industry/
 
That article starts with the rather ridiculous statement that the original Dungeon Keeper costs $5.99 on GoG today and compares the new Dungeon Keeper to that price. But what did Dungeon Keeper cost in 1997? You can't praise a game for being cheap by quoting it's price 17 years later.
 
Or you can spend $20 and get those third and fourth builder's huts / imps right away. As these are permanent and then require no further payment, I would consider that as an acceptable payment option. I've certainly seen far worse.

You'd spend $20 on a mobile game and think that reasonable? For the ability to... queue up more digging/building?

I'm not suggesting that there can't be mobile games worth spending $20 on - FF6 just came out for $15.99 - but there's a huge difference between a full game experience and one whose business model is to annoy you enough to throw down cash.
 
Just because you don't understand the use of real time as a game element doesn't make a game bad. Are you saying real time skill gain in EVE is done exclusively to annoy you enough to throw down cash and buy a skilled character on the EVE Character Bazaar?
 
Dungeon Keeper is an abomination and an insult to fans not because of its payment system (not exclusively, anyway), but because it is a Clash of Clans clone instead of a Dungeon Keeper game.
 
You can't honestly imagine that the next CoD game might come out as a RTS mobile F2P game and that the existing CoD fans wouldn't be pissed off about it.

There's not much difference here, just a smaller fanbase and the IP is less current.
 
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