Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, June 09, 2015
Complaining about not enough Win 4 Pay

There has been an interesting development in the ongoing discussion about Pay2Win. Usually it is an endless chorus of people complaining about feeling obliged to pay money for items that give them an advantage in the game. These people would prefer purchases to be completely cosmetic, so paying has no influence whatsoever on the game. Now Blizzard did exactly that in Hearthstone, and now the other side is complaining: The new heroes in Hearthstone, which are entirely cosmetic and cost $10 are considered to be bad value for money, because they don't give you any advantage in the game for your $10.

That isn't exactly the first time that happened. The $25 sparkly pony in World or Warcraft, or the $68 monocle in EVE Online were exactly the same problem: Outrage over pricey cosmetic items that have real use in the game. You can say a lot of bad things about Blizzard selling expensive flying mounts and then removing flying from the game, but it certainly isn't Pay2Win.

The fundamental problem, as usual, is that different people care about different parts of a game. Expensive cosmetic items means that people who care about looks subsidize other players who don't. Of course most players have an attitude of "I don't care who has to pay for this game, as long as it isn't me", but expensive cosmetic items aren't exactly fair.

A fair business model would somehow have to link how much a person gets out of the game to how much he pays. And no, that doesn't mean subscriptions, because being given the opportunity to play and being actually able to play and get entertainment out of a game is not the same. Surprisingly the place in which a MMORPG like World of Warcraft is priced the fairest might be China, where people pay $5 for 2700 minutes of game time, or 11 cents per hour. A fixed cost per hour of entertainment derived from the game is more fair than any of the business models available over here, where some people pay significantly more per actual hour of WoW played than others.

But as long as we stick to Free2Play models, which by definition have to support a lot of freeloaders, making people pay for additional content, comfort functions, or other advantages to me appears more fair than making them pay for cosmetic items. I'd rather have the cosmetic stuff be a reward for achievements, so that running around looking special actually means something more than just being rich. If some players have to pay the game for other players, it is only fair if they receive something a bit more substantial for that payment than just cosmetics.

I think this is all about game companies managing (or mis-managing) player expectations. Up to now spending money in Hearthstone would get you better cards and better characters (pay to win) so adding a new cosmetic item confounds player expectations and upsets people. An even more stark example from the other direction was Allods Online: do you remember before the cash shop went live that was a promising game that a lot of players enthused about. Then the cash shop came on line with prices that defied player expectations and everyone left.

The masterclass in managing player expectations has to be Valve and Team Fortress 2. They get away with selling millions of dollars worth of cosmetic stuff (hats) and everyone loves them. This is not accidental good fortune. Over many years they have skillfully positioned the game as a kind of a big in joke. They can get away with outrageous stuff because that is what everyone expects them to do.
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Of course most players have an attitude of "I don't care who has to pay for this game, as long as it isn't me"

I'm afraid there is more than a grain of truth in this. That's why I prefer subscriptions. I know, Tobold, that you don't, but I believe they're fair enough. We all have exactly the same 168 hours a week, and we all get to choose how we spend them. I only get about 10 of those hours a week in the vicinity of Azeroth, but that's my choice and for those who put in more effort in Azeroth, I don't begrudge them the fruits of their effort, such as better gear, more raid progress, or whatever they choose to concentrate on.

I certainly don't think Blizzard should charge me less than them. I also subscribe to a TV package, and I have the same 168 hours a week in which I can watch television. The TV company doesn't think it relevant that I actually don't watch TV for about 160 of those hours. My phone company doesn't refund me if I don't use all those call minutes and megabytes of data that are included in my monthly package. In these and other cases, it costs the company the same amount of money to provide the service, whether I avail of it or not. Same with Blizzard. The costs to them are the same whether you play 10 hours or 100 hours a week.

Subscriptions aren't the worst way of making sure that companies get paid for the services they provide.
"...Blizzard selling expensive flying mounts ... certainly isn't Pay2Win."
Unless you are a mount collector... :D

I am not a fan of charging by the minute. I think it promotes an unhealthy mentality where players attempt to maximise their return from the time available above everything else. That is the sort of mentality that treats other people as a liability; problems that will slow you down if they aren't abused out the queue and replaced with better players. It discourages exploration and experimentation and the game becomes a solved puzzle when you attempt to execute the standard solution as efficiently as possible.

My fairest payment system would be based on content consumed. Charge by the dungeon or battleground or set of cards or even expansion.
My fairest payment system would be based on content consumed. Charge by the dungeon or battleground or set of cards or even expansion.

If the financials of that would work out okay, I would certainly be in favor of charging by content: Buy the game, buy the expansions, don't pay for anything else. But as far as I know even games known for that business model, like Guild Wars 2, *also* sell you lockboxes and other stuff, so I assume they can't live of just the cost of the box.
Yeah, Buy 2 Play is my favored method. Pay per minute may be fair, but it adds stress and unpleasantness to the gaming experience so I'd rather dump it.

Guild Wars and the Secret World have item shops where you can buy both content and cosmetic items, and it seems eminently fair to me.

But I guess we're then just back to the same problems Free to Play have, With the item shop. Can't win. Although if cosmetics and Mounts are "content" for some People, it seems totally fair that you buy them in the same way you buy new Dungeons, zones and missions in TSW.
A fair business model would somehow have to link how much a person gets out of the game to how much he pays.

Just chiming in to point out, as always, that "fair" in this sense is simply extracting all Consumer Surplus from the equation, which is not at all a scenario any rational consumer would wish for or consider fair. I could argue that actual fairness would be to charge players the cost of servicing the game + X% profit. Clearly it costs Blizzard less than $0.11/hour to service millions of players on their Chinese servers, so why is suggesting more than $15/month fair to everyone else? Even at 30 hours/week, that eleven cents is $13.20/month.

As for the topic, I actually think it has more to do with perceived development effort vs price than the principle. I would never buy a store mount, for example, but $25 for a unique mount with special effects and such that clearly took a long time to create is fine. A monocle which likely took Bob the Intern 15 minutes to whip together? Not so much. The Hearthstone "hero skin" actually comes with different emotes which is a bigger deal than gets credit for on the forums, but this Youtube video kinda highlights how dumb it feels otherwise.
There is always someone complaining about different payment models. The payment model I prefer is buy 2 play. I bought diablo 3 and I can always go back and play it whenever. I wanted the expansion so I bought that too. B2P let's me play games on my time, at my own pace.

I feel like any model has pro's and con's. Some games handle certain models better then others. SWOTOR is an example of a F2P model that killed the game for me.
I was thinking of a model where you pay a "monthly' fee but the fee itself was based on the average hourly use. In addition, activities would be weighted, so that sitting in town chatting for 10 minutes would cost, say... 1 minute, whereas collecting resources for 10 minutes would cost you 10 minutes if you were really good at it, less if you sucked at it.

The problem is that you force people to min max their "time." If you know gathering resources or doing a dungeon is more expensive, you will be more aggressive when doing that, and that's not healthy for the game.

A better solution is probably to just fairly balance the cash shop purchases from the get go. Sell items (cosmetic and useful) for gold and sell the gold too, but meter the gold sales. Oh wait. That's the Blizzard model, except Blizzard removes the meter for cosmetic items.

Or, sell things that provide what is essentially the same advantage of having a "second account" like more crafting cooldowns. Of course, the rub there is the account is FREE, you can get as many as you want to get as many crafting cooldowns as you want. So more thinking on that is needed.

There's a thought. Make a game based on crafted gear, then sell the cooldowns. The people that make all the profit selling all the items are the ones paying for the game. That just seems machiavellian enough to cause a riot. Or work. Not sure which.
Buy 2 Play is great for most games, but for MMOs it doesn't work. Eventually the box sale money will go away. At $60 a box it'll go pretty fast. Nobody would pay $300 for an MMO. Well, very few.

$ per hour is objectively fair, but has psychological disadvantages because it's a constant reminder of how much of your life you are wasting. People are economically irrational sometimes, and that .11 cents they're spending to to grind will be a thorn in their side, whereas they're totally comfortable throwing away a thousand dollars worth of their time a month even though much of MMO "play" is no different than working a desk job.

Subs punish the casual player and reward the obsessive.

F2P rewards the casual player and punishes the obsessive.

Buy 2 Play is economically unfeasible.

Each option has serious downsides. To a degree your preference will depend on which system benefits you at the expense of others.
Myself and many others were upset about the new cosmetic hero because we've been asking for many other additions and changes such as more deck slots, in-game tournaments, better ladder rewards, choosing which pack to be rewarded from arena, more game modes and the list goes on and on.

No one was asking for cosmetic stuff to buy. Blizzard has done a poor job of communicating with its players about the future of the game and addressing what the players want.
I would *HATE* it, but the pay per minute does strike me as fairer than most.


B2P? "The difference between b2p and f2p is $60". The only thing more frustrating is people who advocate sub "because you get everything."

[Almost] All AAA MMOS have a cash shop. Most will sell you unlimited in game currency for RL$. So the "subs get everything" and "b2p pays once" arguments, which were very valid 10 years ago, are patently false in 2015.


MMO Reporter podcast talked about a small game - kinda D&D/MOBA - where 4 people got a once-per-character chance to run the content. Once people were onlookers/GMs/gods/mobs who could help or hinder. Helpful onlookers were free; hindering cost money. Pay2Grief may be the fairest way to play. I certainly would find it less annoying if they were funding the game.
Why are you using a flat dollar amount in your definition of 'fair'? Why not percentage of income instead? Suggesting that it is fair that someone who works at McDonalds and someone who works at Google should pay the same flat amount for the same amount of gametime seems pretty absurd to me.
While the idea is certainly interesting, I don't know anything except taxes that charges you a percentage of income. I mean, how would that even be possible? Would you need to present an officially verified income statement to Blizzard, who then charge you 1% of your income for a subscription?

I do think however that luxury goods in a way constitute a "percentage of income" cost. You don't actually get anywhere much faster if you drive a Porsche instead of a Toyota, so you paid much more (and probably closer to a fixed percentage of your income) for the same fundamental use by buying the Porsche. But that only works because the Porsche offers both comfort functions and better "cosmetics" than the Toyota. In a way that is a bit like Free2Play, which offers people the opportunity to pay the same percentage of their income for the same game, but has to hand out comfort and cosmetic bonuses to get there.
Well Nick, because why would Blizz be entitled to more money because you made more money? That has no impact on the service provided. What would the point of making more money even be, if everything was percentage based?

That idea needs to looked at a little closer, as I'm pretty sure you just rejected, like, every economic system ever, even communism.
The sparkle pony had distinct game advantages when it first came out. That was before mounts and achievements were account based, so people buying the pony had a free flying mount on each of their characters, without needing to spend gold (and I think it gave you some of the flying skills as well at the appropriate level? not sure). Now of course it's just a vanity item, since you could get a 310% mount on your main and be set for life on that account.

Compared to that, 10$ for a new portrait and 6 emotes is seen by a lot of people as nickel and diming. Especially considering that 10$ got you 2 wings of Blackrock Mountain, i.e. 7-8 boss fights, cards, class challenges etc.

I agree that vanity items do not have any inherent value, but the money you spend to get them does. This is why the 60+$ monocle in EVE caused a riot.
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