Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 1, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 1, 2014
PR Newswire
View All





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


 
"Free" is Getting Very Expensive
by Ramin Shokrizade on 05/03/13 02:59:00 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.

 

This week I tried to check out two games that are in retail beta test, meaning that if you pay them they will let you help them test their game before it is ready for launch. This was not the part that caught my attention. What did catch my attention was that both were offering access via “Founders” purchases. The two games I am referring to are Marvel Heroes (https://presale.marvelheroes.com/index.php/presale_en_us/) and MechWarrior Tactics (https://mwtactics.com/founders ).

In the case of Marvel Heroes, the top founder's pack costs $199.99 and says it has a “...value of over $750”. For MechWarrior Tactics the top founder's pack costs $120 and has a “$642 value”. I have not seen such value in games in a long time, so this caught my attention. Sure in EverQuest or EVE Online people used to drop a cool $1K pretty frequently for gear or ships that were rare. I know because I was the one selling these goodies (http://articles.latimes.com/2000/apr/20/news/mn-21581 ). I could only use my middle name, Lee, in that first article because I worked for SOE at the time.

But what makes the stuff in these games so valuable? Rarity does make things valuable in games, but for both of these games there is no limit to how many people can purchase these founder's plans. So just what makes the content of these games so valuable? Or if it isn't that valuable, is this just a con to try to coerce gamers into making uninformed choices that they would not have made if they were properly informed about what they were buying before they bought it?

I have a proxy testing Marvel Superheroes for me since I was not invited to the beta test. He says that the game is fun, and that each of the heroes you can play feels distinctive and has lots of well performed voice acting that gives it a good feeling of immersion. So perhaps some players will really want to experience what it is like to play each of the heroes, and thus play through the game content 20 or 30 times. This seems legitimate to me, though since I know the game gets a bit less exciting every time you have to repeat content I tend to implement discounts to purchases after the first if the developer lets me. So for now I'm going to rate this game “pricey but reasonable”. Each customer will have to make their own decision as to what the value of game content is to them, of course.

I likewise have not played MechWarrior Tactics yet, but can tell from the description that it uses a collectible card mechanic somewhat reminiscent of Magic the Gathering in the building of your Mechs which can then be deployed to a turn-based hex map against another player. The core gameplay sounds really great, especially since I am a big MechWarrior fan and as I get older and busier I really appreciate turn-based games.

So what is this $642 value I am getting? It seems clear that what I am getting here is a tremendous amount of game advantage. I can get cards that would otherwise not be available to players who did not spend this much, and presumably I can win battles that I would otherwise not deserve to. Likewise, other players will be able to spend money to win battles against me that they otherwise should not have been able to win. For me this severely reduces the value of this content. I might even go as far as to say this content now has a negative value for me since I would feel so corrupt in using it. The knowledge that others will be using such content against me, even if I am “playing for free” means that I am just there to be fed to the players that outspend me. So here I am going to rate this a “poor value”.

I am going to go out on a limb here and predict that the conversion rates for Marvel Superheroes are going to be a lot higher than for MechWarrior Tactics. Note that this is even after you factor in that many players will be repelled by the obvious “pay to win” aura of MechWarrior Tactics before even registering for the game, and thus not show up in the data we use to measure conversion. Thus the conversion rates we do measure for MechWarrior Online will be artificially high (but still low).

Note that these are two of my favorite franchises, so I really want both of these games to be successful. I also think there is a real market for super premium games with more aggressive monetization models. Ten years after the launch of EVE Online and World of Warcraft we should be capable of making some amazing games for our consumers. The ultimate measure of how these online games perform is the quality of the player interactions in these games. If players are having a lot of fun with other people, they will pay a premium. But here the egg must come before the chicken. They should not have to spend a lot in order to be able to have a positive social experience. Taking this one step further, if I can spend to lower the experience of other players, this will cause a rapid collapse of revenues.  


Related Jobs

Raven Software / Activision
Raven Software / Activision — Madison, Wisconsin, United States
[10.01.14]

UI Lead - Raven
Infinity Ward / Activision
Infinity Ward / Activision — Woodland Hills, California, United States
[10.01.14]

Senior Game Designer - Infinity Ward
Infinity Ward / Activision
Infinity Ward / Activision — Woodland Hills, California, United States
[10.01.14]

Senior AI Engineer - Infinity Ward
Infinity Ward / Activision
Infinity Ward / Activision — Woodland Hills, California, United States
[10.01.14]

Gameplay Animation Engineer - Infinity Ward






Comments


Ramin Shokrizade
profile image
Marvel Superheroes happens to have an open beta (that you don't have to pay for) this weekend in case you want to check it out: https://login.marvelheroes.com/registration.php?pcode=

Paul Peak
profile image
Curious what your thoughts are on BlackBird Interactive's version of this to fund Hardware, Ramin. It requires a bit of faith in the devs to buy with so little known about the game.
https://blackbirdinteractive.com/store/?utm_source=HARDWARE+Beta+Applicants+List&utm_c ampaign=5e449c060e-Newsletter_14_21_2013&utm_medium=email

Ramin Shokrizade
profile image
@Paul: I have a plethora of thoughts, you may want to contact me directly for all of them. Having worked as a beta tester while studying game economies from 1995 to 2007, mostly unpaid and uncredited, I have mixed feelings about charging people to beta test. Getting early knowledge of the mechanics of a pvp game is essential to success, so players wanting to be competitive will pay you for early access. This assumes they are enthusiastic enough about your game that they know they will play it into retail. The upsides to you are that you get paid, and you get free testers. The downside is that players motivated to gain advantage in retail will be looking for bugs/exploits/imbalances so that they can *hide* them from you to give them that early edge. You have not paid them to help you and they feel no obligation.

In the same vein, some rare members of your early group will step forward to really assist you during the beta process. The best of these may have the motivation and skills to really help you and others, and could eventually enter the industry. When you identify these rare souls you should move to reward them, and in the least find a way to refund the money they paid you to beta your product. You can do this by giving them game credit that can be used to waive monthly fees (or however you are charging). You might also give them "special thanks" or such kudos in the end game credits.

Now as far as your monetization success with this approach... I spent 18 months from 2000 to 2001 helping convert Nexon's "Tactical Commander" game to "Shattered Galaxy" for the Western market, the first Western MMORTS. I think this is a huge market that has never really been tapped. When Trion Worlds started making End of Nations (considered by many to be the spiritual successor to SG) to tap this demand, I saw them making many of the same mistakes we made, all over again. This is a tremendously challenging type of game to make. Balance is the key and this is very hard in real time. You have to have a fair and powerful matching system like World of Tanks uses, though there are even better ways than that to do this. Injecting a F2P model can upset this balance, so it is best if you understand all of these interactions up front early in the development process.

The other very important thing for you will be to make sure you communicate as clearly as possible what you are selling the consumer. I find myself a bit confused when I read what you are offering in that link. There are a lot of companies trying to sell stuff without telling the consumer what they are buying. These methods are often coercive, and thus consumers have become wary. Selling early access is totally acceptable and effective (given the concerns I mention above), because while it gives advantage, that advantage is perceived as "earned" and thus "fair". If you start to sell unique items in the pre-launch phase then the game is no longer perceived as fair, and this will really hurt your long term revenue generation if you are trying to build a Western MMORTS. You may want to read my Supremacy Goods microeconomic model for more details if you have not already:

http://gamasutra.com/view/news/177237/The_new_rules_of_monetizati
on.php#.UEs0NY1lThM

Travis McLain
profile image
Hello,

I found your post very interesting especially with all of the recent successes of free to play games. Intuitively, I agree with you that Marvel Heroes would monetize a higher percentage of its users, but I'm curious how much you think users will spend on each game. Mech Warrior seems to have no ceiling on how much you can spend on the game where as Marvel Heroes would eventually run out of characters to buy. Given that there are users that spend thousands of dollars on games like Clash of Clans, do you think that Mech Warrior can tap into that market?

Given the way the PC market has evolved, I feel that games like Marvel Heroes can succeed and thrive as long as they have meaningful social interaction as you say. Its focus on content and no negative feedback with its monetization seems to fall in line with the successes on the PC market. Everquest and EVE were extremely successful in their time, but League of Legends and World of Warcraft have taken over with an emphasis on social interaction both with your current friends and complete strangers. The hero/champion model seems to work extremely well, enabling users to spend however much they want to get characters instead of limiting the best content behind massive pay walls. As a last thought, World of Warcraft and League of Legends seem to have capitalized on their success by creating active communities and improving users' social experience. Do you think the social experience found in these games is more responsible for their success or the actual content and monetization scheme? I feel that the content and monetization scheme are the foundation for success, but their emphasis on interaction has caused them to be two of the most successful games ever.

Ramin Shokrizade
profile image
In my Supremacy Goods microeconomic model I explain why games like World of Tanks and League of Legends will outperform Asian-style monetization models in the West. The F2P model works best when you do not coerce the consumer, and when you actually have content that the consumer values. This generates sustained revenue, not just short bursts in the beginning of play. The longer a player is in your game, the more they are willing to spend.

The other component of monetization is having good carrots. The best carrots revolve around social interaction. I personally think the social interaction in games like World of Warcraft and League of Legends are mediocre, but mediocre is a lot more than most games are offering. A game like League of Legends is also relatively simplistic though the interactions between so many different avatars means there is a deep learning curve that can reward the long term player. It is possible with our current technology to make much more complex and social games that will monetize much higher than games today, but the recession and the Zynga Bubble are both still sapping a lot of our best resources.

Ramin Shokrizade
profile image
I was a bit disappointed to find that I could not play Dr. Strange or Clea in Marvel Superheroes (they are NPCs in the game) but it turns out you CAN play Dr. Strange in the kids version of the game made by the same company: https://www.heroup.com/

I can just see it..."Mommy, what's a sorcerer?"...

Interestingly since the game is made for kids the game is monetized MUCH more aggressively. The second thing you do in the tutorial, after learning how to move, is learn how to move into a shop! The second quest in the game, after the tutorial, is to enter a shop. The fourth quest is to buy 5 items for your headquarters. I can unlock Dr. Strange for only $6. Of course if I want to raise the power of any of my heroes, that will cost me more dollars. I should also mention that one of the other things you do in the tutorial is to spin on a Las Vegas style roulette wheel. This is, of course, an important skill for your eight year old to learn in the tutorial of a "family friendly" game such as this.

Richard Black
profile image
Monetizing beta at all seems a bad idea to me. I think it's become all to common to release mmorpgs these days in a semi-beta state already and I always think it costs the games long term for the short term rationale of starting the revenue train coming in right away. As more and more gamers craving a new gaming fix offer the excuse that you should expect bugs in major releases it seems more and more companies take advantage. The problem is no matter how excited they are I think the initial shine of a game wears off relatively quickly when confronted with a lack of polish and the inconvenience of broken content. The stress invariably seems to lead large portions of customers going back to where they came from or looking towards the next big launch they can talk themselves into getting exited about. I don't think you're likely to get those people back once they leave even if you quash all your bugs the first month, and usually since new content from other departments comes out faster than the fixes even more people seem to get further rubbed the wrong way. When a subscription model was the norm this inevitable grab for initial unit sales never made much sense to me as it seemed to sacrifice long term subscriptions of people who had a lot of other options of what to play. Putting your best foot forwards seems the best approach for continued revenue, but once you take someones money they tend to feel a lot more entitled to having a polished playable product and more likely to be frustrated after having handed over some money. Add to that the word of mouth of someone who pays to be in a beta they may find unsatisfying after having essentially bought a ticket and you might find yourself losing more potential revenue than you gained from people wanting early access to something that wasn't quite ready to be released.

David Paris
profile image
I had pretty much the same reaction to Mechwarrior Tactics that you seem to have. I really enjoy turn based gaming, and I loved the original Battletech game and many of its descendants, so I was quite interested to see what MW Tactics had to offer. However, once I realized that their business model just stomps all over the actual gameplay it was a swift dunk and flush. There's no reason to soil my playtime with pay to win games.

Ramin Shokrizade
profile image
David, you also represent the older more affluent gamer, the one that grew up on games like MechWarrior. Thus your gaming budget is potentially ginormous compared to younger players, and in most cases Asian players since they didn't grow up on games like Mechwarrior in the 1980's. So to use a monetization model that is designed to work on 20 year old Asian consumers is a mismatch. I realize there is strong temptation to use Asian monetization models here, because they work in Asia. But you don't exist in Asia, our peak budget gamers are a generation older, and are more mature in our choice of games. If game companies want to target newer less sophisticated gamers in the West they can do fine sticking with the Facebook environment, but even there the gamers are quickly learning the ropes because they have alternatives that do not exist in Asian markets.

Ardney Carter
profile image
Ok, I haven't been playing the closed beta for Tactics much since I got into the closed beta for MW:O around the same time but I will step in here to say that Tactics' business model did not appear to be pay to win at all.

Yes, you can pay money for randomized booster packs of 'cards' that are basically your equipment, mechs, pilots, etc. And yes, these different cards have different stats. But their design for these different stats is very much in keeping with the spirit of TT rules. AC 10s always do 10 dmg, for instance. The differences come down to fairly specific battlefield conditions (hit +5 while in trees or something along these lines).

Additionally, all cards have Battle Value (BV) attached to them and players are matched against each other based on the BV of their selected lances.

I'm obviously not saying it's perfectly balanced but from the early build I played it seemed to me that in practice there is very little chance of the game being pay to win.

Ramin Shokrizade
profile image
@Ardney: Okay so let me see if I understand this. I can buy the top founder's pack and get two exclusive (meaning this is the only way to get them) legendary mechwarriors, two exclusive legendary mech chassis, and two exclusive legendary mech skins, and that these provide no gameplay advantage? So the "$642 value" serves to just paint you as a wallet warrior but otherwise gives no aid? If that is true, I think I would be upset if I was the kind of person who would buy this package. You make it sound like they are making no one happy here.

Andy Mussell
profile image
Sorry if this is changing the subject, but your mention, Ramin, of the "older more affluent gamer" reminded me of my recent musings on whether might be a niche in the virtual world market for a subscription model that is at a higher monthly price point than the $15/month (in the US) that it seems to have mostly stabilized at. That is, could a virtual world game costing US$25/month or $30/month, or more, succeed by aiming at this player base, particularly if it promised (and delivered on) marketing points like very high GM support and low response times, heavy game monitoring to discover and disable bots/cheaters/gold sellers/etc., and an aggressive content release schedule?

I wonder if such a world could fill a niche similar to that filled by luxury automobiles - a high-visibility status symbol (at least among other gamers, presumably) with a significantly higher cost and better subjective benefit than the competition offers. (To extend the analogy, the standard subscription model would be a mid-line sedan, and F2P would be an economy car.) The amount of personal loyalty that game VWs are capable of engendering in their players reminds me of the strong loyalty that some people have (or used to, anyway) to particular brands of vehicles. But perhaps this market has not grown to a large-enough size for such a VW to be viable?

Ardney Carter
profile image
@Ramin

I did not say that the cards conveyed no advantage. I did say that the way the advantages are structured and the way the matches are weighted seem to prevent straight up pay to win.

I got my access to the beta through keys that had been sent out and the founder's pack wasn't a thing at that point in time. Given this, I cannot directly comment on what their exclusive cards do or do not contain in terms of gameplay advantages. That said, if they are structured similarly to the way the rest of the cards were at the time I saw them, I can confidently restate my earlier assertion that they won't amount to pay to win. 'Pay to be different' perhaps, but thats the kind of paid incentives I personally don't mind in my F2P games.

To be clear, I am not stating that I believe that MW:T has achieved a perfect balance with their mechanics. I am however simly stating what I observed from my brief time in the closed beta and what I saw from dev blogs on their game systems up to that point. 'Pay to win' is a fairly loaded phrase and to see it tossed around here without having some of the details I provided seemed a bit one-side. Hence my post.

It's entirely possible that the the game could devolve into pay to win at some point. But I do not believe that the mere presence of the card system (which, by the way, free players have access to through in-game 'scrap) automatically equates to pay to win. Nor do I belive that the presence of unique/limited edition cards necessarily conveys a significant enough advantage to be termed pay to win.

Ramin Shokrizade
profile image
@Andy: Everquest had premium servers that cost $50/month, with very little in the form of increased content. You got exclusivity and better CS on those servers. There was a market for this back in 2000. That was 13 years ago. The market has not disappeared, and the knowledge that some people are willing to spend thousands of dollars a year on games makes it seem like this market has only increased over time. The production trend, however, has mostly been towards lower quality products, and selling avatars since producers don't like to take risks and LoL has proven you can sell avatars in match-based pvp games. This is a very narrow niche, and I think the older crowd prefers less reflex-driven game genres where they won't get pasted by every 12 year old.

@Ardney: We can't be sure if the game is pay to win or not. Unfortunately for the makers of MechWarrior Tactics, this is irrelevant. If it is marketed in a way that makes people like David or I believe it to be pay to win, we won't even spend the time to find out because we will be afraid that we will spend time getting used to the rules and initial gameplay only to find out that the game is unfair later on. I personally think that if all they got to sell is stuff in an item mall, and that if it *does not* give advantage, then their monetization will fail anyways.

Ramin Shokrizade
profile image
@Andy: In my reply to Peter below, I mention the untapped opportunity presented by special rules set servers. One such rules set could be "fair server", where no advantages can be purchased. Charge a big subscription for it. Even a relatively low quality game like Galaxy Online would make massive money. Any product from Kabam or Kixeye would fail this scenario, however, because in the absence of speedups the core gameplay would be horribly boring. You have to announce the server start time in advance so that no one gets a time advantage, unless you compensate late adds with bonuses.

Andy Mussell
profile image
@Ramin: Thank you for the information; excepting a few MUDs I tried in college, I missed the earlier days of VWs, so was not aware of this. It's certainly no surprise that someone has already tried this idea, and apparently rather successfully.

The "no-paid-advantage server" suggestion is a very intriguing one, and I agree that there is a lot of potential for the game industry in making games for gamers who are disinclined to compete against the twitch reflexes of adolescents, whether due to physical limitation or simple preference, over the next decade or so. (I suspect that the MMORPG genre has mostly realized this, given that there are no examples I can think of there that use aim-based targeting, even though I think it is probably technically feasible now.)

Benjamin Sipe
profile image
Thanks for the insight Ramin. I enjoy reading your blogs/articles. I agree with your prediction on conversion rates.

If we ever find ourselves at a convention together, I'd love to grab a beer sometime.

Tyler King
profile image
I've never thought about it in terms of spending to lower the experience for other players, but that essentially is what pay to win models do.

Bruce Mills
profile image
"The ultimate measure of how these online games perform is the quality of the player interactions in these games. If players are having a lot of fun with other people, they will pay a premium. But here the egg must come before the chicken. They should not have to spend a lot in order to be able to have a positive social experience. Taking this one step further, if I can spend to lower the experience of other players, this will cause a rapid collapse of revenues."

This is exactly what’s so disappointing with a lot of Free to Play titles. It’s a poor use of development time and resources to constantly explore finding this magic sweet spot between selling the game mechanics for cash and ducking the dreaded "Pay to Win" moniker.

Developers are trying monetize the very thing that should never be touched with their games: the rules. This is why F2P will always meet resistance and never become truly respected by gamers. Developers are trying to mix oil and water. However, if the industry wants to rush off this cliff, they should at least commit heavily to the other factor in League of Legends that underlines the player interaction: Each player, no matter how much they spend is a true competitor in the game space.

There’s no premium experience, there’s just an experience that all of the players share. The players know that the player to left and right of them has the potential to be an actual viable contributor, that the ability to win the match will depend on their skill, not their pocket book.

Titles that try to keep running players at different levels of quality are only going to wear away at their customer base as the customers make contact with each other. Since their economic status is now a factor in their ability to contribute meaningfully to the game world.

Games are about bringing people together. Not about reminding the player about the things that set us apart in our societies. The games that will succeed at this F2P thing will be the ones that toe the line for keeping the rules the same for everyone that has access to the product. Then developers can worry about the how players interact with one another and improve on that experience.

Ramin Shokrizade
profile image
Bruce you make a lot of great observations. Don't write off F2P yet though, just because the models you are seeing are very primitive and actually undermine the games they are applied to. This does not mean that F2P is inherently broken, it just means that the industry is in its infancy and the people making the models you see have no formal training whatsoever. When I tried to explain the need for better F2P models at the 2010 E3 convention, everyone looked at me like I had a third eyeball, including one of the major corporations I now consult to. The inertia is shifting and so decision makers are increasingly understanding the need to innovate in this area.

Well crafted F2P models actually *improve* the play experience of participants. Yes, I said it. People can have fun spending money on games.

Joe McGinn
profile image
Excellent point Ramin ... after all it only takes on example (like League of Legends) to prove it can be done well for the Western audience.

Peter Eisenmann
profile image
One solution for this dilemma may be to step away from PvP systems. How about paying cash to actually help out other players in a cooperative environment (e.g. buying health packs that others can pick up).
This way, no one's fun is spoiled, and still people that spend money get real value for their buck - having a good feeling, helping your team against a common (A.I. controlled) enemy, even getting praise from other players. While it still caters to a rather simple human desire, I doubt many players would object against this form of IAPs.

Jonathon Green
profile image
As soon as the gameplay experience necessitates spending money, you're no longer talking F2P.

However Warframe (a progression/reward based Co-op third person shooter) implements this. Where you have group heals you can buy for game cash, or vary rarely gain as rewards for mission completions. However these items are almost 100% unnecessary and never used as Warfame is at it's heart a skill based game where you learn to play beyond the difficulty of the game.

I believe Neverwinter may have something like this, but in games such as most MMORPGs where combat is designed to be mostly blow for blow to achieve a certain level of difficulty, the potential requirement of or the ability of lesser players to achieve the same as more skilled players through the use of pay 4 heals would be frowned upon by players as an extremely lame form of pay 2 win (in this case, "pay not 2 suck", or "pay because bad").

And L4D or Killingfloor and games in this vein would only have their gameplay experience diminished by the inclusion of a paid safety button.

This might have more potential in heavily micro-transaction based social and mobile games, but unfortunately such a system is ripe for abuse where games intend to require X amount of payment to continue or flat out cheat to force you to continue to pay to play.

In the end, it's just a layer of obfuscation to the fact that no matter what fancy buzz words are used to describe games... they cost money to make, and therefore someone must pay or people lose their jobs.

Less obfuscated, and less manipulative (or manipulatable) costs are really whats needed. Unless we want to start trusting all our Publishers and Developers to manipulate payments from players in the best interest of players.

Ramin Shokrizade
profile image
Peter, this whole idea that we needed PvP servers started with a game called Everquest. There they had a PvP server that was very popular. I am of the opinion that it was not the PvP that made this server so popular, but the fact that it was an "alternate rules set" server. This distinction was lost on future developers who just took it as gospel that all games must come with PvP from that point on. What gamers really desire is alternate rules set servers that cater to their play style and lifestyle. We are not providing this, we try to cram all of our players into one way of playing. This results in a mismatch and significant loss of revenue.

Peter Eisenmann
profile image
@John, whether you agree or not, let's assume for the moment that free-to-play with IAPs totally is the future, because whether or not this is true is another discussion.

I agree that IAPs should not be necessary to experience the full game... experience. But there can be other ways. We have many games that already do what I am aiming for (to a lesser extent) in the role of the medic.
While there are a lot of players that only heal themselves, many others do it for their teammates, sometimes even risking their (virtual) lifes trying to revive a soldier in the middle of a gunfight. Let's assume it would not even be possible to heal yourself. Would there still be medics? I think so. Yeah, keeping your squad alive helps to achieve the overall goal of the game as well - but often, there is a form of charity involved. Why not ask for a few bucks to allow the player to be a better white knight?

Sounds silly, but I believe there is quite some untapped potential of, for lack of a better term, exploiting this simple pleasure. I find this to be much more preferable than to cater to desires like violence or domination. Let them be better people instead of worse.


@Ramin, I think I slowly begin to understand what you are aiming for.

Jonathon Green
profile image
You're suggesting taking a feature out of the core gameplay for those who do not pay for it. Yes it's an IAP, but it's also Freemium gameplay vs Premium gameplay, very likely Pay to Win if designed to induce payment, commonly criticised (f2p criticism on wikipedia) as bad F2P.

I cannot disagree that such an approach has potential for making money. But I do not see it improving the experience, only, as this article points out further succeeding in making "Free" expensive, pointlessly so.

A "good" (in every sense of the word) F2P model has to give value to the players, beyond the core gameplay experience, to fund continued development whilst the game and IP have room to expand to continue generating profit.

I think what you're looking for is an instance of Pay As You Go gameplay, but any frequent repetition of this is quickly going to become transparent to your audience, whilst they question why they are paying for an experience that is in no way unique to your game and instead desire to buy new content, preferably that improves or expands the gameplay experience rather than un-nerfs it.

Project Entropia/Entropia Universe is a good example of this style of transaction, but it required a much more elaborate system that turned the handicap into an prominent meta game, than just the handicap itself.

Jonathon Green
profile image
Thanks for blogging this. I've been through a plethora of conversations regarding supposed F2P recently, and I tend to find what you write helps enlighten a great deal.

I've been having a very similar experience to those which you describe with the newly open beta Neverwinter (though I haven't quite worked out what's still Beta about it other than using Beta as a safety net to soft launch and in a few exceptional circumstances excuse otherwise extremely poor support and community management).

Just to outline my point of view; as per recent F2P discussions, as smarter people than myself have pointed out. These games are not F2P, they are "Optimized for Profit" or O4P.

Neverwinter has two tiers of Founders pack, the most expensive costing $199.99 (or more if you're paying from Europe which is not recalculated until actually making the payment... -.-), this pack contains a fancy mount, a fancy title, a fancy companion character amongst over a dozen other items that for the most part diminish the potentially rewarding gameplay experience by instead giving you a rewarding payment experience. And on top of this you also get an extremely healthy injection of their 2nd in game currency (Astral Diamonds) that has it's own in game exchange market into their cash shop currency (ZEN coins) ... this is interesting, as beyond grinding daily quests etc to gain Rough Astral Diamonds (a limited number of which can be refined daily into usable Astral Diamonds) this leaves the normal Copper, Silver, Gold currency for the most part a weakened F2P currency ... this is all weaved together very confusingly by the various ways to exchange or move value between the different currencies...

For example. Nightmare Chests (aka Mystery Boxes that contain 1 of a number of potential items with a decreasing chance of getting one of the rarer items) and the Zen Keys that open them...

As you play you'll "randomly" receive drops of these Chests, many people I've spoken to have along with myself questioned how random these Mystery Box drops actually are as the first drop seems timed and successive drops seem to come at intervals random enough to be different from person to person but consistent enough to provide the player with an incentive to buy Zen every few hours, whilst winners of the Mystery Box jackpot are spammed in the chat and center of your screen every 30 seconds at peak.

... these boxes can be sold for aprox 100 Astral Diamonds, Astral Diamonds are currently valued at aprox 410 Astral Diamonds per 1 Zen, a Key to open a single box can be bought for 125 Zen, which gives a Key the aproximate value of 51250 Astral Diamonds. You can buy 540 Zen for €4.99, which gives us a €1.16 value per Key. You get 2 Million Astral Diamonds ... as stated previously Astral Diamonds exchange to Zen at aproximate 410 AD to 1 Zen, which means 2,000,000 AD = 4878 Zen, which means your seemingly excessive 2 million Astral Diamonds are worth about €45.27 or around $59.34 which seems incredibly low considering most people at first, second and third glance feel this is one of the most valuable benefits of the $700 dollar Founders Pack.

And neither this $700 dollar value pack, and certainly not it's smaller $140 dollar value cousin will do what is necessary to remedy the huge O4P issues such as bank and bag space, or tedious and monotonous travel, unless you spend your advantageous Astral Diamond edge on Mount Training to retrace and retrace your steps faster or buying bags and trading for Zen to buy bank space before the games drop system overloads you with items you'll instinctively want to sell who's Copper, Silver Gold value is actually so negligible that really you should be treating 50%+ of the games loot as trash drops to conserve what little space you have.

When it comes to how valuable these packs are in terms of gameplay experience, my own honest truth is that a €19.99 Zen purchase to buy one bag and one bank upgrade to remove the most obnoxious O4P issues has more "Gamer Value" than a $700 founders pack.

I didn't buy my mount, I earned my mount. I didn't buy a powerful companion, I trained one. I didn't burn through Profession progress on the back of Astral Diamonds time saving payments, I augmented my game experience as I played with an additional progress over time facet. I played the experience - I didn't buy the experience.

These types of super sized "Founders packs" are an acknowledgement by the Industry that they perceive the willingness of the public to invest these large sums. But as people begin to acknowledge that these packs for the most part only exist to extract money rather than expand or accentuate the games experience the growing familiarity with this practice will ostracize the vocal minority until the majority start to perceive them as just another bad F2P model.

Perhaps I'm wrong... but I feel Publishers need to realise that a good F2P model will potentially never be as profitable as an abusive or manipulative F2P model at face value. But as long as the games are good and the respect for players is clearly present the nurturing or their respective communities will pay dividends in regards to how much people are willing to pay over time rather than on impulse when they have little comprehension as to what they're actually receiving until hopefully big publishers and developers once again will have communities where players beget players, as with the likes of Steam, Eve, WoW and Ultima Online.

Ramin Shokrizade
profile image
Jonathon, wow so much good information in your post. When I was writing my first comprehensive paper on the state of monetization models world-wide (Sustainable Virtual Economies and Business Models, 2009) I spent about 4 months playing an IGG (a Chinese company) game called Galaxy Online and I was the top ranked Western player during this time. You can see that Neverwinter, a Chinese Game from Perfect World, uses an iteration of the monetization model I described in detail back in 2009. In China all the monetization techs (this is what I call them), and there are thousands of them, study this one model and try to come up with ways to optimize it to deceive and coerce the consumer into spending on a product they realize is not designed for longevity.

I actually get emails from Chinese monetization techs bragging about how dumb consumers are and how effective their models are. I won't publish these emails because I want to keep receiving them :)

The real-world economy in China, and to a lesser extent Korea, is very new. The younger generations are experiencing much more wealth than their parents ever saw and conspicuous consumption is praised. It is very different than in the West where we kind of got over that a while ago. So while we may see people buying their way through games as foolish, they see it as a status symbol. Western companies should not look at the metrics in the East and assume these models will work the same way here. This is one of the problems you get when metrics-driven professionals with little game experience make decisions in our industry.


none
 
Comment: