Next Generation Monetization: Supremacy Goods
September 6, 2012 Page 3 of 4
Since I can only find two recent (I believe my Shattered Galaxy game design from 2001 had similar elements) examples of monetization/game designs that largely follow my suggested rules to limit supremacy goods, I am going to discuss both of them. I will follow by using a counter example that breaks almost every rule I propose, while appearing to be certain to succeed due to its quality and genre popularity.
The first example is World of Tanks by Wargaming.net. The game allows the purchase of a subscription to boost experience point and coin gain from every battle. Since everyone can purchase this, and only purchase this once (no stacking), the subscription is perceived as "fair". There are some cash-only tanks that can be bought for use, but all of these have both advantages and disadvantages so they are also perceived as "fair".
Special ammo can be purchased with cash, but the effects on play are not enough to be considered "unfair" by all players I have interviewed. The highest tier tanks tend to cost more to repair than is earned from battle, so over time players must buy additional currency to keep playing.
This would be perceived as unfair if all tiers of tanks were present in all battles (because the payers would have bigger tanks), but because World of Tanks is designed to match players in battles with other tanks of similar tier, fairness is maintained in each battle. Thus payers get bigger tanks, but only play against other payers with big tanks, so there is no abuse of the pay advantage.
World of Tanks never confronts the customer with more than a few price decisions at a time, the most complex choice typically being which of six upgrades to their current tank to purchase next.
All of these choices are clearly explained. No one is allowed to just step into the biggest tanks without earning them first, no matter how much money they are willing to spend. Thus it meets my definition of "play to pay". The value of goods in this game is stable, so there is no need for "sales", and those that pay one price won't be upset later when that price gets discounted. Equity is conserved.
Play in World of Tanks involves team co-op (you must coordinate with your team members to win), which is a strong social reinforcement. World of Tanks also has consensual "fair" PvP, which is also a strong reinforcement. This is a very potent combination. If the co-op play was considered "unfair" (one guy hogging all the kills/points), or if the PvP was considered "unfair" (one or more opponents is undefeatable for reasons other than skill), then these would be potent turn-offs for participating consumers. This means that if you try to copy this design type without being conscious of the effects of supremacy goods, what looks like a winning design will turn out to be the opposite.
World of Tanks gets it all right, and apparently the game is hugely successful. So successful, in fact, that Wargaming.net is now developing two additional games, World of Warplanes and World of Warships, both presumably using exactly the same combination of game design and monetization elements.
My next example is League of Legends by Riot Games. League of Legends has gameplay that involves team-based balanced consensual PvP, just as World of Tanks does. The scale is smaller, with each team having three or five members depending on the map, as opposed to 15 vs. 15 in most World of Tanks battles. The graphics are not as photorealistic, but gameplay is intense, and there is less downtime after defeat than there is in World of Tanks because you respawn again after a short time.
Purchases are primarily in the form of Champion unlocks. There are over 100 champions available for play in the game. Every day, a few of these are made available for anyone to use for free, but the "free" Champions rotate, so that if you want to use your favorite Champion on a regular basis, you must pay to unlock it. The price is about $8, with some bundles available allowing you to buy 20 or so Champions at once at a steep discount. Some of the less-desired Champions are also discounted to boost sales.
This is essentially a "pay for content" purchase, and as long as all the Champions are balanced, this does not create supremacy goods. To drive sales, new Champions are introduced on a regular basis, and these tend to be slightly better than older Champions.
To be competitive, players are generally encouraged to use the new champions, which act as mild supremacy goods. Riot maintains careful balance, so the community does not perceive the situation as overly unfair. If the new Champions were much stronger, then all equity invested in previous Champions would be erased, and existing players would begin to reject the product.
Champions level in each bout from level 1 to up to 18. These levels are not persistent between bouts. The primary account does level from 1 to 30, but the benefits of this are relatively modest. Riot sells experience boosts to allow faster leveling, but since the benefits of this are so modest, this is not perceived as unfair -- so these are not treated by consumers as supremacy goods. Runes can also be purchased, but again these are of limited benefit, so they are perceived as mild and tolerable supremacy goods.
Success in matches is largely determined by a player understanding the strengths and weaknesses of his Champion vs. the strengths and weaknesses of opposing champions. Given that there are now over 100 Champions, this presents a fairly steep learning curve for new players, but the game is fairly easy to understand overall, so the model is well received. As players will presumably purchase their most desired Champion first, the utility of each additional purchase will go down. This is not accommodated in the model, and is a missed opportunity to maximize monetization.
With a Metacritic rating of 78, and fairly simplistic gameplay, the game still manages to have over 32 million registered users and is rapidly expanding to allow play in more parts of the world. As the game is doing better than the Metacritic rating would suggest, I propose that this is due to the careful attention to mitigate the presence of supremacy goods in its model. This may be because there are so many hardcore gamers on the development team, and this is a primary concern during the hiring process. They understand supremacy goods on at least an intuitive level.
My last example is War Inc. Battle Zone by Online Warmongers Group, a game that is being distributed aggressively via Steam and which looks very high budget. The developer describes it as "The most realistic, tactical, clan-based combat experience coupled with one of the deepest customization systems ever developed for an online shooter." Again, this is a team-based PvP game, but this time there is no attempt to maintain balance.
What made this product stand out for analysis was this interview. Here, the founder of the company, Sergey Titov, clearly states that he understands that there is an advantage to games that are perceived as balanced, and that having the lower price points available in free-to-play games can also be a boon.
He also says "all games are social by definition", which might be an exaggeration, but clearly he means to communicate the importance of social interaction in online games. He also states that he is charging during the beta test of his product (which was ongoing when this article was written.) In this case, I treat his game in its current condition as a retail product since it is being charged for.
Mr. Titov volunteers that over 1 million players have tried the game, 200,000 play it every month, and that they monetize at the rate of about $0.40 per player per day. Similar retail games, such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, sell at a price point of around a $60 one-time charge. A microtransaction system should perform better, due to its multiple price points. Right now War Inc., if played for a full month, is bringing in about $12 per user. That's not an increase; it's a decrease of 80 percent vs. a flat $60 fee. If microtransactions perform better than retail purchases with subscriptions (the popular consensus), then this should not be happening.
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