Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
Monetization and the Death of Games
Printer-Friendly VersionPrinter-Friendly Version
View All     RSS
April 23, 2014
arrowPress Releases
April 23, 2014
PR Newswire
View All





If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM TechWeb sites:


 
Monetization and the Death of Games
by Ken Williamson on 07/04/12 12:09:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Please Enter Your Credit Card Details

It was a joke, and everybody got it.

Someone had taken a screenshot of their character attempting to loot one of the best weapons in Everquest from a fallen dragon, and superimposed a fictitious "popup" window over it requiring credit card details. It was brilliant, satirical commentary on Sony Online's recently launched "Premium" server.

On the new server, players paid double the normal monthly fee and were rewarded with significant gameplay bonuses in return. The majority of players in what was a difficult, highly competitive MMO were appalled by the idea and let SOE know it in a torrent of scathing online feedback. Despite this, the server ran successfully for years, proving conclusively perhaps for the first time that significant numbers of players were prepared to pay to win. I remember staring at the picture for long minutes, tickled by the humour yet unable to shake a discomforting sense of the prophetic. But mostly we all laughed and shook our heads.

Noone's laughing now.

Free-to-Play and microtransaction are the new buzzwords of the games industry. Ever since Zynga and their God-forsaken Facebook skinner box, Farmville, roped in untold millions from a deluge of unsuspecting social networkers, companies have been racing breathlessly to catch the gold rush. The payment model itself is not new, and has been used for years with massive success in Asia. One Chinese MMO ZT Online, the owner of which is a genuine billionaire, charges players 1 Yuan (~15 cents) to open chests which have a very small chance of dropping the game's best items. Thousands must be opened every day to maintain coveted leadership positions won at high cost within the game. Because new, ever-increasingly powerful items are released at regular intervals, it's a neverending process.

Brilliant design considering the Asian passion for gambling; brilliant, but evil.

In the West, a grey market has made millionaires out of industrious players who quickly discovered that ingame currency could be bought and sold for real money from players desperate enough to pay for it. One of the first to do so eventually sold his gold selling business for a cool USD$8 million after first buying himself a house and several performance cars with the earnings. But most players in the West eschewed buying game currency, considering it a loser's option and preferring to gain rank and wealth the traditional way. Games companies too generally took a very dim view of the practice, and regularly banned accounts found to be involved.

But the lure of microtransaction money is insidiously persistent. One MMO I was hired to work on changed its business model mid-development to become a Free-to-Play title, funded entirely by ingame purchases. Suddenly all design features in a traditional but potentially ground breaking MMO had to be justified by how they could be monetized. Designers could no longer simply come up with good gameplay. It had to be exploitable gameplay - systems and features that were either directly monetizable, or which funneled players toward those that were. In one foul, fetid swoop we went from game designers to online casino pimps.

"But that's awful," I complained at the time. "We now can't design things because they are fun. We have to design them because they are potentially profitable. What is that?"

"That's what pays your salary," was the blunt reply.

I sat mutely for a long time afterwards, smouldering with distaste and anger.

"That may be what pays your wage in the dystopian future you so cheaply and easily embrace", I fumed internally, "but it's not what is going to pay mine."

I swallowed the words before they could jump out of my mouth, but there was no way I was going to live on money tricked and coerced out of people dishonourably like a digital pickpocket. I sure wasn't going to be part of a system that turned the games I loved into a series of colourful slot machines. 

But surely the industry as a whole was - is - different. That sort of design would never fly in the West in serious games, I reasoned.

 ZT Online

And then there was Diablo 3.

With the release of the second sequel in their wildly successful, and up until now passionately admired action RPG franchise, Blizzard made the unprecedented move of introducing a real money auction house. The RMAH, as it is known, allows players to buy and sell game gold and items for real money, by-passing the grey marketers who have been conducting similar transactions illegally for years. Players can - and do with perplexing regularity - pay up to USD$250 for single game items. Each transaction Blizzard accrues a 15 percent cut. Fair enough, supporters say. Why not take the profit away from the shady gold farmers and put it back into the hands of the game's owners where it arguably belongs?

I'll tell you why - it destroys the game, changing it irreparably into something else.

Other creative industries recognise something called the fourth wall - a conceptual separation between the medium and the audience. Breaking the fourth wall is recognized almost universally as bad because doing so ruptures the integrity of the piece which exists in a world apart from the real one. The power of the drama is only maintained within the metaphor guarded by the fourth wall. Remove it, and you remove the reason for watching.

As bad as breaking the fourth wall is in theatre or movies, in games it is much worse. A fundamental joy of gaming is living out the fantasies they create. In games, players can be heroic figures from literature and myth and imagination. They are not merely passengers, they are participants. Noone wants to play a sagging, balding, ordinary looking accountant living a mundane 9 to 5 existence; not if that's what they are in real life. We play games to escape from, and to enrich our real lives, not to reproduce them. Noone wants to drag all the desperate economic, social, and political problems from the real world into their gameplay.

Yet that is exactly what happens when you connect ingame economies to real world economics through money transactions. Suddenly what was only gained by ingame effort is gained by real world economic power. The more successful you are in the real world, the more successful you can be in the virtual one as well, removing any effective difference between them. But the real implication is even more serious. Money is grubby. It is smudged and greased with all sorts of uncleanesses that plague our world. The avarice and brutal self interest created by real world economics get sucked directly into the games that trade on money. They become something other than just games. They are emasculated and disempowered of their charm. They become part of the dirt, the menial, and the menace of the real world.

This isn't just hyperbole. The truth of it is already playing out in D3 and players are revolting in droves, filling Blizzard forums with new levels of venom. Some have complained to the FBI over Blizzard's handling of the ingame transactions. The IRS may become involved and keep watch over all monies gained by players. There could be some nasty shocks come tax time, as a result. Class action lawsuits have been mooted over changes to gameplay and items that have significantly reduced the value of player purchases. At least one Asian country has banned the operation of the RMAH entirely after an outcry from gamers there. All this in what began as a (really enjoyable) game. And then there are the many, many problems caused by hackers, gold farmers, cheaters, exploiters, and botters who have been given enormous impetus to do more of what they do by the promise of (now legitimate) financial gain.

In D3, it is clear to most players after some time playing that the game has been designed from the ground up and tuned to lead them toward the auction houses. It just isn't realistically possible to progress to the game's most difficult levels without resorting to buying items. The game itself is no longer fun just to play as a result. It's a money spinner for some who use it as a way to generate income, and a compulsion for others who feel driven to buy outrageously priced items in order to progress, but the only reason left to play becomes the lure of finding such items to sell. The systems which have been designed to lead to this singular notion of profitability have removed all the joy, the delight, and the enrichment from the gameplay. Where previous iterations were enduring fun, D3 is dull, tedious, and frustrating - and this by design.

All such game monetization has this ultimate result: it forces design in a direction which is antithetical to fun. While companies may get temporarily richer, the games themselves get increasingly poorer.

In the end, I wonder who beyond the gold farmers will be left to play them.


Related Jobs

Gameloft
Gameloft — New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
[04.23.14]

R&D Game Designer
SOAR Inc.
SOAR Inc. — Mountain View, California, United States
[04.23.14]

Game Designer/Narrative Writer
Giant Sparrow
Giant Sparrow — Santa Monica, California, United States
[04.22.14]

Game Designer
Blizzard Entertainment
Blizzard Entertainment — Irvine, California, United States
[04.22.14]

Starcraft II - FX Artist






Comments


Bernardo Del Castillo
profile image
Great article, I agree greatly with most of your analysis, the concept of microtransaction has evolved a lot from a reasonable bussiness idea, to an often unreasonable instant gratification mechanic.
For many years there have been explorations and more or less successful explorations of the mixed economy concept (I remember Project entropy, mmo where the idea was that money in-game was actual money) but I don't agree that in itself it is breaking games.

The problem I see is the pure and unadulterated GREED that it leads to.
The free to play MOBA League of Legends, sells mostly cosmetic powerups, nothing that interferes with the actual functioning of the game, and this works mostly fine. The problem is when Riot games starts releasing new characters that you must (can) buy every fortnight, and making them slightly overpowered planning their obsolescence much too quickly, and neglect to balancing or solve older issues in the game since that brings no direct revenue.

The problem in Diablo 3, more than just the simple breaking of the fourth wall (please, with that plot I don't think there was ever a 4th wall to begin with), as you mention, the biggest issue is that when reaching the highest levels of the game, you start noticing that the game is "balanced" so that it is unplayable without spending a reasonable amount of time in the auction house. Suddenly Diablo is not about Diablo at all, it is not about finding your loot in game (because it's too hard and... what are the odds?), its not about defeating enemies (because bosses are basically the same and random elites are the highest challenge you can find). It suddenly becomes an empty piñata, where you are paying for all the sweets.

However, I don't think this "forces design in a direction which is antithetical to fun", I think it is possible to find games that incorporate microtransactions merely as a helpful option to the player ( although I cant think of many).
The line comes down to the fact that bad miscrotransactions in the end generate rapidly expendable and replaceable products. And some developers and players expect more than that from their games.

I get where you're coming from though and I share a bit of the fear. But as in all other media, I hope that there is a respectable part of the industry that can supress their urges to rip their players off.

Felix Adam
profile image
"The problem is when Riot games starts releasing new characters that you must (can) buy every fortnight, and making them slightly overpowered planning their obsolescence much too quickly, and neglect to balancing or solve older issues in the game since that brings no direct revenue."

Side topic, but most newly released champions are not overpowered. Look at the picks and bans for recent tournaments and you will see that there is a lot of older characters, even some of the original ones when the game released. Buying X champion won't make you win more game, it just gives you more options. If you can't do well with one type of champion, money will never fix that in LoL.

Sure thing, some champions are less viable than others, but thats to be expected when you have ~100 (lost track of the count) champions released competing for 5 roles. Saying all the new ones are the best is stretching it though ;)

:)

Bernardo Del Castillo
profile image
Very true, however, as you said even some of the recently released champions disappear after a few weeks, and feel like a rushed selling gimmick.

I have not played in a long time now, but I wonder, where are the Oriannas, Xeraths, Zileans, Viktors, Sejuanis, Hecarims or Karmas... What I mean is that its understandable that a 10% of their champions are not played... but thats exactly the question.. why put yourself in the position of having too many champions to manage, with a technical framework of a game that cant handle it?

Maybe the focus should be improving the game rather than increasing the roster to sell more champions.

Well as always, maybe developer's focus should be more improving the game than selling more.... because improvement is actually a long time investment, and just profit is a short term high.

Luis Blondet
profile image
Ken,
You don't seem to be able to tell the difference between Free-to-Play and Pay-to-Win.

Free-to-Play means that you can play the entire game for free but you may pay small amounts of money for convenience or vanity ONLY.

Pay-to-Win is like F2P, but it includes the ability to beat or have a dramatic advantage over non-paying players as part of the options of purchase.

It really sucks what happened over at your work, but don't blame an entire method for the shallowness of bad game developers that think they are good game developers just because they have money.

Many P2W games are wrongfully classified as F2P. If you want to see an example, take a look at Age Of Empires Online, which started out being labeled F2P while being P2W, then Gas Powered Games changed that recently and made AoEO truly F2P and there was much rejoicing.

Also, the Korean ban on virtual goods trade has to do more with parents wanting their kids to study instead of spending their time looking for virtual goods to sell for a profit, it wasn't "an outcry from gamers there".

Ken Williamson
profile image
Luis,

Yes, you are half right about Korea, but for brevity's sake I didn't go into the full story. The government's attention was brought to the problems with D3 because of intense player dissatisfaction with server downtime and a no-go policy on game returns. Many of them contacted the government directly. The Government then noticed the RMAH, projected forward, saw the obvious issues and conflicts with their culture combined with Blizzard's mishandling of the returns issue, and passed the law (at least, that is how it went according to the press I read).

On the difference between PtW and FTP, I do understand :) However, the line is much less clear than you intimate here. In order to be viable a FTP absolutely *has* to entice/coerce players to invest money. The model wouldn't work if they didn't do it. We all know this. With pay up front games, the only pressure is to make them fun. The player is already invested.

And that is why, in my opinion, it's a much more honest and stable model. With FTP you are continually at the mercy of the developer's particular set of ethics, which can change at any time (and which ethics are under pressure from the beginning to compromise for potentially increased profit - how can that be anything but a recipe for inevitable corruption).

Finally: http://insertcredit.com/2011/09/22/who-killed-videogames-a-ghost-
story/

Luis Blondet
profile image
Ken,

"In order to be viable a FTP absolutely *has* to entice/coerce players to invest money. The model wouldn't work if they didn't do it. We all know this. With pay up front games, the only pressure is to make them fun. The player is already invested."

I don't know exactly what you mean by entice, but yes, a F2P game needs to sell their stuff to the players which is very different than coercing players to do the same, which is what P2W does, so to me Entice and Coerce are very different things.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with enticing people to do something, we all do it all the time to other people in life in order to convince them to do something. F2P and P2W games also need to be fun or else people will not attempt to play them in the first place, the difference is that F2P has a HUGE investment is keeping the players loyal while P2W attempts to manipulate a player's mind through psychological exploits. A favorite trick of P2W is to start out innocent enough and get you to invest time and effort into it, then crank up the competitiveness at just the right time to trigger the Sunk Cost Fallacy and emotionally hook the players through rivalries; the paying players will need to feel justified in their investment so they troll the non-paying players and many of those non-paying players, if they have money to throw around, will use it to engage their rivals.

Pay 1st games do not always focus on fun, the developer is under pressure to just make it fun enough to make that first purchase, after that the gate closes and the player loses their money forever if they find out the game is not as fun as advertised or as hyped, just like a movie. Some Pay 1st games are done correctly in a non-scammy way, but others are all about making that first sale and once done, the tonic peddler will be long gone from town.
To see an effect of how this works refer to games like Dino Strike for the Wii, which has new content for the first few levels and then the new content stops, you then spend the rest of the stages with the same weapons and fighting the same dinosaurs for the rest of the game, a classic rip off. Also, Guns Of Icarus, an indie game that sadly followed this model. After I paid my $19, i got a couple of hours more of gameplay and then the game ended, leaving me with that "...so, it's that it?" situation. Big license games tend to be like this as well, like the first Harry Potter which started bugging out half way through the game, but boy was that first 1/3rd of the game well polished!

With Pay 1st games there is also the problem of iteration. You can deliberately hold back features in a game in order to have fresh material for a sequel, so you release new features and content on a drip by drip basis. The pop-music industry is notorious for doing this and generally the buyers get 1-2 good songs per album while the rest are fillers.

Another year, another Madden/Armored Core/NBA/MLB/FIFA/etc.

These games go for $60 a pop and that's just for one game and that's per year, and then forget it when a new console comes out with their $40 controllers and their pumped opening price that lingers for six months. What's so honest about all these practices?

With F2P, you can play the whole thing and if you want you get to support the developers and get vanity or convenience and the game is always being improved on and you can trust that the entire game needs to be good and that no one is trying to get you to commit to that first sale so they can bail out. That is a more honest model.


"With FTP you are continually at the mercy of the developer's particular set of ethics, which can change at any time (and which ethics are under pressure from the beginning to compromise for potentially increased profit - how can that be anything but a recipe for inevitable corruption)."

Same thing happens with Pay 1st as evidenced by the outcry of loyal fans of franchises corrupted by EA. No one is satisfied with playing Mass Effect 2 while ignoring Mass Effect 3.

Here is another example of a F2P game designed correctly, National Geographic's Animal Jam (http://www.animaljam.com/).

Notice that both Animal Jam and Age Of Empires Online do not have spam mechanisms and they are not in a social network and they are doing very well, so next time you get spammed by a badly designed F2P game, remember to distinguish between the method and the executor.

Ken Williamson
profile image
Points taken in regards to pay upfront failures and industry manipulation by publishers etc. I could hardly disagree with that, having been burned much more often than I would like by what turned out to be bad games (many of which I long looked forward to *cough* Diablo 3 *cough*). I maintain it's still a more transparent model though. F2P and microtransactions are by their nature coercive.

Your comment that "there is absolutely nothing wrong with enticing people to do something" tips your hand however. My reply is, enticement is always manipulative; always. And that is not an honest or nice way to behave. In the context of games, it's no different. I agree FTP *can* be an honest, fair exchange of value, but the "pressure gradient" of economics works the other way.

I get the feeling you drank the kool-aid on this point because you are in the business of making FTP games. Is that correct? Either way, we don't tolerate such "enticement" for very long in our personal relationships - not the healthy ones anyway. That speaks volumes for the defense or otherwise of such behaviour IMO.

However, no personal slights intended! I'm just arguing points here and appreciate the feedback.

Luis Blondet
profile image
"I maintain it's still a more transparent model though."

How is Pay 1st transparent by itself? The point of Pay 1st is that you are risking your money and hoping you like the game, because you won't be able to get a refund, not even at return-friendly retailers like Wal-Mart. You can try to peek behind the veil by reading reviews from channels you trust, but even this isn't safe. The best counter are services like GameFly and renting the game instead, but the major Pay 1st developers are trying to shut this practice down because it puts the pressure on their court to make the entire game good, not just the first part. Industry leaders have been trying to rob us of our right to resell or rent out our own games and one in particular, CAPCOM, is experimenting with hard-coded ways to cripple resale and renting out their games by removing the options to reset saved data, they wouldn't be doing this if their entire plan rested on making people commit to that first sale so they can run away with their money and there is nothing transparent about that.


"F2P and microtransactions are by their nature coercive."

OK, Give me an example of what you consider coercive.


"Your comment that "there is absolutely nothing wrong with enticing people to do something" tips your hand however. My reply is, enticement is always manipulative; always. And that is not an honest or nice way to behave. In the context of games, it's no different."

You're not able to separate the difference between Coerce and Entice, as evidenced in your second to last response when you separated them by a / as if they were the same thing.

Entice: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/entice
Coerce: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/coerce

Now, those are static definitions but everyone has variations of the definitions of words, so i still do not know what you mean by Coercion, you'll have to give me an example.

The way i understand it and the way the dictionary depicts it, there is nothing wrong with Enticement at all. It is a normal function of human behavior. We do it to in job interviews, dating and even when making group choices and yes, all these are also examples of manipulation, but the reality is that manipulation is a natural byproduct of social behavior, we all do it, and even social animals do it. Pay 1st does it as well in order to land that coveted First Sale.


"I agree FTP *can* be an honest, fair exchange of value, but the "pressure gradient" of economics works the other way."

There is only a pressure gradient of linking real world economics with the game economics in P2W games, not F2P. Once again you're confusing the two.

Free-to-Play means that you can play the entire game for free but you may pay small amounts of money for convenience or vanity ONLY.
Examples: Age Of Empires Online, Animal Jam, Club Penguin.

Pay-to-Win is like F2P, but it includes the ability to beat or have a dramatic advantage over non-paying players as part of the options of purchase.
Diablo 3, ZTOnline, Mafia Wars


"I get the feeling you drank the kool-aid on this point because you are in the business of making FTP games. Is that correct?"

No, that is not correct. Framing the opposing point with a reference to the Jonestown tragedy simply because you disagree compromises your objectivity in the discussion.

Kyle Redd
profile image
@Luis

"How is Pay 1st transparent by itself? The point of Pay 1st is that you are risking your money and hoping you like the game, because you won't be able to get a refund, not even at return-friendly retailers like Wal-Mart."

I feel like you really missed Ken's point with this. Pay first games (we should probably refer to them as pay *once* games to avoid confusion) are absolutely transparent, because it's possible to know ahead of time (through reviews and such) exactly what content you are buying with your money. You know with 100% certainty that the game you are buying will not be reduced or fundamentally altered after you've handed over the cash.

But with F2P and micro-transaction-based games, you are forever at the mercy of the developers. They may have operated honestly for years, but all it takes is a new executive, maybe a little downturn in income, or even a simple change of heart to completely alter the mechanics of the game. As the player, you have no say in the matter. That is the difference.

"Framing the opposing point with a reference to the Jonestown tragedy simply because you disagree compromises your objectivity in the discussion."

C'mon Luis, don't you think that's a little petty? It's an expression, not a reference to a tragedy. I also suspected you were a developer of F2P games from reading your posts. Honest mistake.

Luis Blondet
profile image
Kyle,


"I feel like you really missed Ken's point with this. Pay 1st games (we should probably refer to them as pay *once* games to avoid confusion)"

That term is also accurate but it doesn't reflect what is wrong with that method.


"are absolutely transparent, because it's possible to know ahead of time (through reviews and such) exactly what content you are buying with your money. You know with 100% certainty that the game you are buying will not be reduced or fundamentally altered after you've handed over the cash."

That's not always true. Not all games get reviews and those that do will not always have good reviews according to your values. For example, when i first read about Monster Hunter 3, i was really excited. I saw previews and read reviews and they were mostly positive and they mentioned things that personally appealed to me.

Then i bought a copy and i was having tons of fun while living in the wild surviving merely out of dinosaur-monster-thingie meat, it was awesome. Then i noticed a pet peeves a few hours into the game. I had so much gear in my storage box and the icons were so infernally small. They were hard to spot and classify because different items had similar icons and colors. My storage became a mess. I got to the point were i had so much gear that i dreaded the journey back to the village were i was forced to deal with stuff.

No review i read ever mentioned this. No preview ever showed me this.

So now i stand there, with a game that ruined the experience for me due to a horrible game design decision and i was $60 poorer thanks to the Pay 1st model. If the game would've been F2P, i wouldn't have dropped a single cent on the game until they fixed it.


As I mentioned before, i think that rent programs like GameFly are great to counter the Pay 1st practice and keep the developers honest, but those services only have so many games. What happens when you buy a game that was not reviewed by a source you trust or is not up for rent with your service? You're screwed. You now have all the risk and the company has all the leverage.


"But with F2P and micro-transaction-based games, you are forever at the mercy of the developers. They may have operated honestly for years, but all it takes is a new executive, maybe a little downturn in income, or even a simple change of heart to completely alter the mechanics of the game. As the player, you have no say in the matter. That is the difference."

EA is doing that to beloved game series everywhere and their primary model is Pay 1st, so there is no difference in this instance.



"C'mon Luis, don't you think that's a little petty? It's an expression, not a reference to a tragedy. I also suspected you were a developer of F2P games from reading your posts. Honest mistake."

I don't think is petty, but that's just my opinion. There's no need to attack the opposite point of view, it does not do anything to move the discussion forward and i find it disappointing.

Kyle Redd
profile image
@Luis

"Not all games get reviews and those that do will not always have good reviews according to your values."

I did say it was possible to know everything you would want to know about a pay-once game ahead of time, not that it was guaranteed.

But even if I take your point at face value, how is that an argument for the advantage of F2P games? You may start playing without paying a dime, but what happens when you decide to purchase a $10 gun like those that are available in Tribes Ascend (which seems to be everyone's favorite example of how to do F2P the "right" way)? What if you lay down your cash and then four days later the devs decide that whoops, the gun's too powerful and nerf it into the dirt (just as Hi-Rez did with the Raider's plasma gun)? Does that seem like a fairer way of getting screwed compared to your experience with Monster Hunter?

"EA is doing that to beloved game series everywhere and their primary model is Pay 1st, so there is no difference in this instance."

EA is doing that to *future* games, not games that have already been released. I'm not going to wake up tomorrow and find out that I'll have to pay extra to play my copy of Dragon Age Origins, no matter how badly EA would love that to happen. I've already paid once for it. Now it's mine forever and nothing about it will change without my say-so.

That will never be the case with any F2P game (or any online game for that matter). I'll have to hope for the developer's goodwill every single time I play, with no recourse whatsoever if he or she decides to screw me over. No thanks.

Luis Blondet
profile image
Kyle,

"I did say it was possible to know everything you would want to know about a pay-once game ahead of time, not that it was guaranteed. "

It is possible only for some games, not all. That was my point.


"But even if I take your point at face value, how is that an argument for the advantage of F2P games? You may start playing without paying a dime, but what happens when you decide to purchase a $10 gun like those that are available in Tribes Ascend (which seems to be everyone's favorite example of how to do F2P the "right" way)? What if you lay down your cash and then four days later the devs decide that whoops, the gun's too powerful and nerf it into the dirt (just as Hi-Rez did with the Raider's plasma gun)? Does that seem like a fairer way of getting screwed compared to your experience with Monster Hunter?"

That depends on whenever or not you can get the aforementioned gun without spending cash. If you cannot, then it's not FTP, it's PTW and if you can then it's the risk you take for making that decision. I personally wouldn't spend money on weapons and other similar variables that may be nerfed in the future to maintain game balance, but then again, i wouldn't spend more on a FTP game than i would for a Pay 1st game, about $40-$60/year/game.


"EA is doing that to *future* games, not games that have already been released. I'm not going to wake up tomorrow and find out that I'll have to pay extra to play my copy of Dragon Age Origins, no matter how badly EA would love that to happen. I've already paid once for it. Now it's mine forever and nothing about it will change without my say-so."

Except that the game will end and players soon find themselves thirsty for expansions and sequels. If the sanctity of the old games was that important, players wouldn't be so outraged about the damage EA has done because they would find solace that the old versions are untouched, but this is not the case. The old versions are spend and consumed and are only good for a nostalgic episode once in awhile, but the real drive is for new material and new installations to an old series. Sure, old games are good to dig up and chew on casually once in a blue moon, but it can't be compared to new, fresh meat.


"That will never be the case with any F2P game (or any online game for that matter). I'll have to hope for the developer's goodwill every single time I play, with no recourse whatsoever if he or she decides to screw me over. No thanks."

The recourse if they screw their player base is that they go out of business and their business suffers. That's a pretty significant incentive to keep their player base pleased.

John Evans
profile image
And then you realize that economics itself is a game...that people play to win and, often, cheat at.

Ken Williamson
profile image
... exactly my reasoning as to why real world economics and game worlds should never be directly connected if we want to keep games as games.

k s
profile image
Great article thanks for posting.

Kenneth Blaney
profile image
"Noone wants to play a sagging, balding, ordinary looking accountant living a mundane 9 to 5 existence;"

http://www.molleindustria.org/everydaythesamedream/everydaythesam
edream.html

Although you bring up a good point about the IRS getting involved in the US. There is a certain logic behind the idea that killing an enemy and getting an item drop should be governed by the same tax code that applies to random contests like raffles and lotteries. The bad thing about that is that the tax is applied to the value gift itself, not to the cashing out of the gift, so even if you don't sell it, you still owe taxes on it. Even weirder, if D3 items cost enough and the prices on the RMAH vary enough, someone might have be able to claim that a decrease in the estimated value of an item they have (and paid taxes on) could be considered as a loss and so deducted.

The bottom will fall out of D3 when people start buying and playing the game, not to kill monsters, but to trade items as if they were stocks. Due to the comparative lack of analysis that has been done on the RMAH, I suspect there is a lot of inefficiency to be eaten up by investors willing to do their research. Blizzard's 15% cut will keep this at bay somewhat (it completely prevents "day trading" and "micro trading"), however there is nothing to stop people from cornering markets to drive the price up on items. Blizzard has no incentive to put restrictions on these monopolistic practices because as the prices in the RMAH go up, so do the commissions they earn on the sales.

We are in really weird territory here. If Farmville could be considered the beginning of F2P, I vaguely think that Diablo 3 might be its end (when devs see a mighty franchise like Diablo get ground into powder by microtransactions and snorted up like cocaine by a mini-Wall Street).

Ken Williamson
profile image
... the second part of that quote was " not if that's what they are in real life." And...um... not exactly a game as much as a statement. I just know you Googled long and hard to find that and contradict me :P

I actually hope you're right about D3 spelling the end. I hope it sinks them, and their Kotick-driven packaged foods approach, and that something of the old Blizzard can rise from the ashes.

In the meantime, there is Runic Games and Torchlight 2.

Bernardo Del Castillo
profile image
Lol I was actually thinking of every day the same dream too..
Yes.. i dont agree that games should solely be about our fantasy lives... that is what is limiting videogames from acquiring their full potential. I'm not saying making uninspiring games, but that doesn't stop us from making games that speak to us about our lives on a deeper level than "simple fun".
Cinema has managed to portray effectively situations that dont have to be shallow, so we shouldn't limit games to the juvenile perception they often have.

That said, I dont think it has anything to do with the sort of "work" that diablo presents. I'd compare that more to Michael bay or generic rom com movies, that are an empty exercise of consumerism and quick basic gratification.

It happened already to me, that I am at a point in diablo where the economy is broken.. I need too much money to get upgrades for my character to move forward, and My chances of getting some actual upgrade from the game are slimmer than just trying to sell stuff. So I've pretty much stopped playing the game and started playing the auction house. And i really don't have time for that.

Greed over quality poisons art.

mikko tahtinen
profile image
Great Article. Another "Free 2 Play" game is World of Tanks... Yes you can play the game without doing microtransactions, but the progress in the game is designed so slow, that you will do the purchase, whether you want or not.

Slow is somewhat relative, but since we usually dont have unlimited time to play games, unless you're still in your teens, live at home and mom & dad does all the cooking, bills ect, yes you have the time and spend time not doing the microtransactions... but eventually you end up doing it anyways, since the game is desinged to wear you out and finally end up buying, many times and you actually spend more money than you expect.

I really want you guys to check out World of Tanks and analyze the way they desinged the game for microtransactions

I like this article a lot - many same thoughts i had, but someone put them into words...

Dan Page
profile image
Fantastic article. Nail. On. Head. I hope the future isn't as dismal as I'm expecting.

JB Vorderkunz
profile image
D3 doesn't REQUIRE the RMAH - i've found all the gear I need on the 'gold' house. While the drop rates require farming you can in fact get all the best gear without using the AH - so please stop beating on D3 with straw men and red herrings.

As for taxing items that haven't been paid for above-and-beyond the cost of the original game, see Ed Castrnova's discussion in "Exodus to the Virtual World" for an excellent discussion by a trained economist and dedicated gamer. Taxing an RMAH is fine, extending the tax structure to 'gold' AHs would be superlame.

Ken Williamson
profile image
I didn't say it required the RMAH. No-one did. I said it has been tuned to push players toward the AH's - both of them (they are linked by gold sales so the distinction between them hardly matters). You absolutely cannot get the best gear without utilizing the AHs, not in years of playing statistically. Anyone who has attempted farming Inferno has experienced this. You cannot even get the mid level gear required to progress to the next Acts by farming alone, let alone anywhere near the "best" - not unless you exploited/poopsocked very early on and managed to death flop to the final acts and farm chests/breakables/treasure goblins before everything was nerfed into oblivion.

The game is being tuned to take into account the availability of items over the AH's ipso facto, you are pushed there by design. So now at the very best the game is a gold farm, and that's a pretty poverty stricken endgame dynamic for a franchise that created the genre and has endured so long.

TC Weidner
profile image
I agree, money ruins everything eventually it seems. I know some see a big difference in FTP and FTW games, I think the lines are more blurry. Is it really FTP if I have to grind 30 hours while the other can pay 20 bucks and not grind those 30? Is an express lane really not an advantage?

Personally I dont like the whole model, I play games to get away from the everyday problems of money and paying bills, and slick sales people. I dont need it nor want it in my games. I want game designers to concern themselves with one thing, entertaining me, not trying to find ways to get me to spend an extra 5 and 10 bucks here and there.

Luis Blondet
profile image
Ok, so in what ways should supporters of FTP games be rewarded?

Timothy Ryan
profile image
Excellent article and even more excellent debate. This should be a round table discussion at the next GDC.

There's another way to look at micro-transactions, as "pay as you go". With traditional MMO subscriptions, we kept paying a month at a time for ever more content. That's not very different from DLC, where you are paying access to new game levels or dungeon instances. But what if that could be done at a smaller scale with unlockable content?

It certainly helps bring down the initial install price barrier if one could pay $5 for the first 3 levels, and pay an additional buck at a time to complete all twenty, then maybe $2 a month for online play. It would mean developers would have to do what they do best and make each level compelling enough to keep playing. It would also mean that "mediocre" games could still break even on the $5 purchases without leaving players feeling like they've been robbed of $60. If they try it at $5 and don't like it, they will not feel like they risked much. It might even allow developers to experiment with more innovative ideas rather than keep pumping out high-risk AAA $50M game clones.

I think the only real gut-wrenching comes when the perceived balance of the game (single player difficulty as well as PvP) is intertwined with the micro-transactions. I certainly feel like I'm being duped when I can't advance in a Zynga game without marketing to my friends or purchasing an item. I stop playing. I vote with my delete button. If however, the transaction is only a shortcut for what I could do without buying anything but just given enough time, I'm less angry. I certainly played enough WoW knowing full well there were twinks buying gear or botting their way to power. I still had a good time and the developer made a point of balancing the game for that player. As your article and discussion points out, it is certainly possible for a developer to dial up the difficulty, and thus alter the balance of the game to favor the micro-transactions. In so doing, they spoil it for the rest of us who have better things to spend our money on.

It's a slippery slope, and one I agree we should fight. I imagine we could do this with a rating system sort of like ESRB or internet security certifications. If a game cannot be completed without gobbs of micro-transaction money, it would rate poorly. If it could be completed for under $20 in purchases, it would rate well. If it could be completed without any additional purchases it would rate the best. It would be a measure of free content vs. purchasable content.

Darren Tomlyn
profile image
(Everything is based upon my blog, again, as usual - (click my name).

It all depends on what it is you are paying for:

The process, the reward or merely a chance of such a thing.

The word game represents the first, but too many - incorrectly - see it as the second, and so give the third too much power and influence...

"I'll tell you why - it destroys the game, changing it irreparably into something else."

Yes it does, into something that is called A competition - which most activities used for gambling - (lotteries, raffles, slot machines etc.) - happen to be.

One of the reasons for the confusion between games and competitions - (which are no longer the same thing, and are currently incompatible) - is the fact that the word game (as a noun) USED to be used as a label for such a thing, but changed, leaving the word gambling behind in its wake, aswell as the use of the word as a verb.

Until people truly understand the difference between games and competitions, they'll continue to be taken advantage of - and anyone who is not part of the solution to that, is merely part of the problem, itself.

a c
profile image
A better way to think of free to play is "demo" play. Remember back when games released demos? Or shareware?

You got to experience a representative portion of the game and then decided if you wanted to pay for all of it.

Dungeons and Dragons Online uses this model and it works great. Only instead of paying 60 for a box you get part of the game totally free. Then get to choose which portions of the rest to pay for. I played the totally free part for 3-4 months before paying a dime. The fact that I was able to do that told me the developer was interested in my having a good experience rather than just seeing me as Mario block to beat coins out of.

And I ended up paying ~150 over a couple of years toward the game. Which is a lot less than a $60 box and $15 a month sub would have gotten but more than the 0 they wold have gotten had I not gotten an extensive trial.

Matt Cratty
profile image
I talk about "the death of the golden years" (the mid nineties to the early 2000s) and people blink at me.

This article is both wonderful and utterly irrelevant based on the mind-rot that exists amongst those that drive the direction of gaming at the publisher level.


none
 
Comment: