Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, August 04, 2015
A practical approach to game monetization

Over the last decade paying for a game has gotten increasingly complicated. Among MMORPGs there are very few subscription games left, and even those all have shops and/or systems to buy in-game currency with real money via game time codes. The "buy once, play forever" payment model for other game genres is also on its way out: Buying once now frequently only gets you the base game, and you need to do additional payments for DLCs and expansions to get all the content. And the "forever" part is now not just limited by new operating systems not able to play old games any more, but also by games now frequently requiring connection to an online server, and the game becoming unplayable when those servers shut down.

Instead of simple buy once or pay monthly systems, we now have far more complicated systems where you can pay a variable amount of money for a variable degree of service. It is understandable that there is a certain degree of resistance, because there clearly are games which use the complicated monetization systems to nickel and dime their players, or make them pay far more money than those players would have been willing to pay in a buy once system. But it is becoming increasingly obvious that this is yet another case of resistance is futile: If you refused to buy all games that don't have only buy once or pay monthly monetization, you'd be left with not much choice of games at all. Absolute refusal to play games with variable payment models simply isn't practical any more.

A major reason why resistance failed is that most gamers were never very principled in their resistance. Even the most hardcore gamers flocked to Free2Play games like League of Legends and Hearthstone, or bought and sold in-game currency in EVE Online via PLEX. Game companies never felt they were losing customers by using variable payment systems, and simple economics show that variable payment systems earn companies more money than fixed payment systems. So for gamers it is time to let go of the hypocrisy, posting a refusenik position on various gaming forums and blogs while participating in the system anyway. What we need is a more practical approach to game monetization.

One thing that the panoply of game monetization systems has shown is that there are clearly some systems which are fair and acceptable to most people, and others that feel much more unfair and exploitative. The problem here is that it is nearly impossible to define criteria for fairness that everybody would agree with. That is because complex games often leave room for different player motivations, and different player motivations lead to different attitudes towards different monetization schemes. If I don't play PvP in a MMORPG, I don't care whether you can buy uber PvP gear in the item shop. But if I PvP was the main reason for me to play that game, I would care very much. Thus the only way to approach game monetization systems is to have a set of personal criteria.

For me personally one major criterion is how optional payment is. I like systems like in Hearthstone / Magic Duels where I can get exactly the same cards by playing, and paying is basically just a shortcut to get stuff faster. However there is a fine line there somewhere, as perceived fairness depends on how fast or slow you advance without paying. Recent example: Magic Duels giving 10 gold for a medium difficulty AI match plus 40 gold for a daily quest to buy a 6-card booster for 150 gold felt reasonable to me. Warhammer 40k Deathwatch giving only 6 credits per match to buy a 3-card booster for 100 gold is starting to feel sluggish. Another factor in the same example is that in Magic the cards I buy will be useful as long as I play the game, while in Deathwatch a higher tier card I find in a booster later will make my previous card obsolete.

One example of how personal fairness criteria can vary from person to person is the wide-spread system in mobile games to have some amount of "energy" which limits how long you can play in a session. You then need to either wait for that energy to restore itself slowly over time, or pay for an immediate energy boost. Me, I am totally okay with those systems. I don't mind at all to play a game for half an hour and then close it an do or play something else while I wait for my energy to come back. Other people are far more impatient with regards to this, and find such systems totally unfair and unacceptable.

With regard to content, that is most of the time something I am willing to pay for. In spite of other people's protests, I found the expansion for Guild Wars 2 perfectly reasonably priced (although communication could have been better). I'm okay with the business model of Destiny, and many other games with expansions or DLCs. That is because in those examples like GW2 or Destiny I felt I got a full game for the first payment, and the expansions and DLCs are more content for more money. In other cases I was less happy, because the base game felt far more unfinished, and day zero DLC and annual DLC passes made it look as if I was sold a salami slice by slice.

My recommendation for everybody is to think very hard about what variable payment systems you find acceptable and which not, and then check carefully each game what exactly you are supposed to pay for. There are no simple rules any more where you can boldly state that every Free2Play game is evil, and then sneak off to play League of Legends. I'd rather play a game for free and then see in practice whether what is for sale is fair or exploitative. Both exist, and you need to find out for yourself which is which.

It's funny, I used to hate the idea of "stamina" in free to play games, and in some games--town builders come to mind--I still do hate it. But Puzzles and Dragons I played religiously for about a year. Later on, the 3DS gets a version of P&D without the stamina meter! Woo! Unlimited play!

Except I stopped playing pretty quickly. Binging apparently ate up my patience reserves for the game rather quickly.

I'm sure there are plenty of theories why this would be, but apparently for me in some genres, a stamina bar increases the longevity of the game in absolute hours played.

As to the rest of your topic, I largely agree. Consumer boycotts rarely work unless consumers are extremely upset about it, or there's a high profile ringleader telling people not to buy things. Games have neither as you point out. Might be partly because gamers are an immensely diverse group of people, and what one doesn't like, another doesn't care or does like. So at the end of the day, do/pay for what makes you happy as a consumer.
I've already stated my criteria, I found "pay-to-pwn" inacceptable, aka paying for something that allows me to negatively impact the playing experience of another player. Things that affects only my playing experience are fair game.
I pretty much agree with Gevlon, although I will again add that I think "Pay2Win" is a scale rather than just "yes/no." In League of Legends you can pay for more champions or runes/rune pages, and so technically you will have an advantage. However, by the time you reach level 30 and have played enough games to start playing ranked, the advantage is very little. But I can't deny LoL is a little "Pay2Win," even if it isn't the same scale as something like World of Tanks or Hearthstone.

Still, I have never played a game that I have no complaints about. The "Pay2Win" nature of the game is just one more complaint to be weighed next to the others. If it is a big enough problem to be of game breaking significance, it is no more or less valid a reason to reject a game. And I think it is a perfectly reasonable thing to cause a community uproar, no different than a huge class imbalance or game breaking bug or exploit. You could make similar statements of "if you are only going to play perfectly balanced games, you aren't going to have very many games to play." But that doesn't change the fact that horrible balance does make some games unplayable.
The perceived evilness of F2P games comes from lots of real evil in deceiving and tricking customers in paying more than they want to when the genre started. Most games today seem to have a somewhat fair model.

I think games should not be allowed to use a substitute currency like gems, energy, crystals or what not. Just have all in app prices stated in local currency and you don't have fewer kids racking up a thousand dollar bill.

On topic: I also like to pay for content rather then power/convenience. Pay-to-pwn games are totally OK with me as long as the game makes it very clear that money wins over skill. You can choose not to play these games.
"Pay-to-pwn games are totally OK with me as long as the game makes it very clear that money wins over skill."

Can you give an example of a game that does this? Every game I know about makes it their top priority to hide and deny this fact.
"Knights & Dragons" lets you attack your opponent every 25 minutes if you wait for energy to replenish. Buy gems with real money, then energy with gems and you can attack as much as you want getting more points for your guild wars/arena.

OK the game doesn't exactly spell it out but you don't need much more than 2 brain cells to figure it out. I play without paying but knew from the start that I'll never place anywhere significant or get the best gear.

Btw, blogger comments really need an edit button for embarrassing typos...

Absolute refusal to play games with variable payment models simply isn't practical any more.

It most certainly is practical, and I'll explain why.

I play games for fun, relaxation and enjoyment. What little time I have available for gaming is spent in a single game, and doing things in the game within that allotment of time. I pay a monthly sub in which I reward both the developer and myself, and no one else.

What isn't practical is thinking that gamers are supposed to embrace the notion that it is ok for them to subsidize other, non-paying gamers with their money.
What isn't practical is thinking that gamers are supposed to embrace the notion that it is ok for them to subsidize other, non-paying gamers with their money.

In a subscription game the people who play less hours per month pay more money per hour and subsidize the people who play more hours per month. There is no system in which some players don't subsidize others.

"In a subscription game the people who play less hours per month pay more money per hour and subsidize the people who play more hours per month."

Hourly rate doesn't matter. $15 a month is $15 a month to a dev, especially today where bandwidth usage from a single player is basically zero added cost. If a player who only plays 5 hours a month feels that $15 is still good value, they don't care either, and someone who does care isn't paying (or doesn't actually care enough to stop paying).

Sub devs don't sit around focusing on a subset of players and figuring out the best way to monetize them; they create content they feel will keep everyone playing/paying, whether that player is playing 5 hours a day or 5 a month.
Why would anybody pay $15 per month for 5 hours of gameplay per month? Imagine the outcry a Free2Play game would cause if you had to pay $3 per hour of gameplay to play it!

If you believe that hourly rate doesn't matter, then I propose that we switch MMORPGs to a business model where you pay per hour played (e.g. WoW in China). I think the strong reaction against such a business model shows that hourly rate matters very much to the players.
$15 for 5 hours of gameplay translates to 20 hours for $60. You've never bought a AAA title and been happy when it gave you 20 hours?

Hourly rate would matter if the $15 cap didn't exist, which isn't the case for the sub model, is it?

There is no system in which some players don't subsidize others.

It hasn't been that long ago that the internet at-large frowned upon those who said that illegally downloading a movie was ok if they bought it later(based on the premise that the movie was worth paying for). We all know the fallacy of that argument, so why is this same logic now suddenly acceptable where alternate revenue game design is concerned?
Huh? I'm not justifying exploitative variable payment systems. I am only pointing out that your proposed solution isn't fair either. Furthermore, because there is only one form of payment, the subscription system is *always* unfair, while variable payment systems can be either fair or unfair.
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool