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Next Generation Monetization: Supremacy Goods


September 6, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4
 

Perhaps a closer look at how this product is selling what might be helpful. Before the potential consumer can even log in fully for the first time, they will be offered at least one weapons package for around $40. What is the message that is communicated to the potential customer here?

Clearly, there must be some advantage to buying these weapons up front, even if there is no description of what that is. The consumer is left to conclude that these weapons will give her an advantage in the game if she purchases them. She can tell instinctively that this game is "pay to win" and is loaded with supremacy goods. If she does not buy these goods, someone else will, and they will be used on her.

New gamers (like the first wave of Facebook gamers) don't immediately make this connection, but over time they do, and this has created a communal gamer sensitivity to this relationship.

Once in the game, the starting player can click on the item store to see what things are available for purchase. The consumer is immediately confronted with 625 (!) options to spend on item upgrades. Some of these cost in excess of $30, but most are in the $5 to $10 range.

Why would someone spend that much for gear unless it was needed to play? Experienced online game players will tend to be repelled immediately and will in time (if not immediately) reject the monetization model.

Note that even though I am an expert gamer, I could not figure out what to buy in the store even if I had to spend $200 in one hour or lose the money. Some of the items were marked as requiring higher levels, as high as level 30, before they could be used by non-paying members. Items are sold either permanently or for rent. As in League of Legends, each item purchase after the first will have reduced utility to the buyer, but this is not accounted for in this game's model.

You can see that this title breaks every rule I propose for mitigating the negative effects of supremacy goods in your monetization model. The designers involved in the product are industry veterans with a large budget. They could have made any game they wanted to. Here, their misunderstanding of the nature of microtransactions (more is better) is, in the author's opinion, going to cost them at least 10 million dollars if the product is of the quality they claim.

Analysis

The most important concept in this paper is that it's not just how you sell your product, but what part of your product you sell. A great part of the attraction of virtual worlds is that participants see them as a Grand Meritocracy, as opposed to the real world, which can often seem arbitrary and unfair. As Jane McGonigal points out, there is no unemployment in virtual space. Everyone has opportunities. Absolute care must be taken in the design of your virtual world to maintain this perception -- whether you consider it real or illusion is irrelevant.

Selling the game objectives in your world makes your game unfair and just reminds your customers of the inequities of the world they are trying to escape from. They literally won't buy this. Sell them opportunity, in the form of content, and they will buy up that opportunity with an enthusiasm that will shock you.

If your otherwise very awesome game is failing to monetize, chances are good that something in your monetization design has turned your customers off to your product and they are rejecting it. Player to payer conversion rates of under 10 percent are an almost certain sign that this is occurring. Note that conversion rates on Facebook are currently around 2 percent to 5 percent, depending on the product.

Setting multiple price points for customers of varying motivations and means is also extremely important for maximizing monetization. This is one reason why flat subscriptions do poorly. If a happy customer has $100 and wants to give it to you, you should let them. If a somewhat happy customer is struggling in real life and would like to give you $10, you should let them. Don't punish the $10 customer; just give the $100 customer more opportunities. If you give the $100 customer the opportunity to punish the $10 customer, this is the same as if you had punished the customer yourself.

The contents of the previous paragraph imply that any advantage that can be bought should be allowed in cooperative play, but not in competitive play. This is the opposite of conventional wisdom in our industry. This also implies that there is a vast untapped market for massively multiplayer cooperative games that, to my knowledge, do not exist yet. Was FarmVille, on some level, perceived by the community as the first massively cooperative game? If so, this might explain its unprecedented success. If cooperation could be boosted, and anti-social content (like spam) mitigated, I predict the results would change the game industry forever.

Various studies have shown that putting too many people in too small a space makes them more aggressive. This means that multiplayer games that reward you for spending more time in them could create a negative effect on participant enjoyment from crowding. We also know that people enjoy social interaction, if it is perceived as positive, and this is a big draw in multiplayer games. This implies that somewhere between one player and "too many" players, there is a "sweet spot" that all games should strive to achieve. Where that sweet spot is is largely determined by participant perception of how benevolent that social interaction is.

Examples of negative social interaction include world chat spam, the presence of gold farmers, non-consensual player vs. player combat (I call this "player vs. victim", or PvV), and any activity that interferes with your preferred activity. Positive social interaction includes trade, talking, cooperative play, and cooperative construction activities. In many cases, consensual PvP is also considered highly social, as it is in sports in the real world.

For an extremely small minority of players (on the order of 1 percent), these perceptions are reversed. These participants are often called "griefers" because they enjoy initiating anti-social interactions. These individuals can have a disproportionately negative effect on the experience of other customers, so care must be taken in your design to mitigate their influence. How well you do this will actually effect the concentration of griefers in your product, since griefers will lose interest in your product if their primary mode of entertainment is not satisfied. The converse is also true -- so unchecked, they will route your other customers.

The more your customers perceive the social interaction in your world to be benevolent, the more you can crowd into that world, and the more you can charge per world. Social interaction in social network games is still very limited. If this can be improved, social network games will monetize much higher than they do currently.

As my final point, I would suggest that the crowding effect of unlimited use subscription monetization models makes these monetization methods a moderate to strong supremacy good, favoring those that spend more time in them. If you allow a player to get powerful by spending 16 hours a day in your world, and then allow that player to punish your customer that only plays two hours a day, then you as the game designer have punished the two hour player. There is no upside to this, and if they are both paying you the same amount, this is just self-defeating design on multiple levels.

The solution is, again, to make all play cooperative, or balance the amount of time players are allowed to spend in each world. This means the time metric itself becomes a critical component of all multiplayer monetization models. While I will not present specific solutions here, the creative designer should be able to, in time, solve all of the possible confounds presented here.

[Ed. note: The author wishes to include a note that the majority of this piece was originally penned in February, and while he believes that there have not been significant changes to the information contained within since, nor have his predictions proven false, it's written from the perspective of that time.]


Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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