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This Developer's Life: LOGIN (Special Monday Edition!)

by James Portnow on 05/04/09 03:13:00 pm   Expert Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
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This Developer’s Life: Preparing for LOGIN

Dear Reader:

First off, I have to give a shout out to Greg Guertin of Westwood College for searching high and low for a homosexual protagonist in a major release video game whose sexuality actually impacted the storyline or character development in that game.  Much as expected, he was unable to find anything but he gets a nod and an A for effort on this one.  I wonder how long it will be before we see sexual orientation explored in a major release.

Now for something completely different…

Some of you may know of LOGIN.  It is the Seattle based online game development conference.  There is some confusion surrounding this conference because it was sued out of its last two names: OGDC and Ion (if someone sued them out of Ion I don’t know how they think they’re getting away with LOGIN). 

Anyway it’s a fantastic conference if you are building massive games.  If you’re reading this from Seattle I urge you to come.

Anyway, now back to my favorite topic, me. 

I’ll be speaking at this year’s LOGIN on the topic of monetization in MMOs.  BOOOOORING.  I know.  But I’m going to spice it up a bit by talking about how design interacts with monetization.   Anyway I thought I’d throw my thoughts at you, my dear, attentive, and largely silent sounding board, before I go and do the real thing.

Types of Monetization:

Everyone knows about subscriptions based games and microtransaction based games but there are so many more ways to charge out there! (See how exciting this is when I put exclamation points after stuff…)

In my talk I plan to go over “box product only” massive games such as Guild Wars or Diablo 2 (though we can debate about the “massiveness” of Diablo all day long), subscription based games such as WoW or Everquest, micro games such as Maple Story, “new-micro” games such as Combat Arms (which uses a ‘rental’ model) and ZT Online (which uses a “please spend your retirement money at the casino” model), RMT games such as Entropia Universe (which uses the “The Swedish Finance Supervisory recognizes us a f’kin’ bank motherf’kers” model…[which is substantially less effective with less swearing]) as well as some of the emerging models such as the rise of the online arcade

(I’d define this one, but that would just make it harder to point to it at some juncture in the indefinite future when someone does some brilliant and totally arbitrary thing, and say, “Called it!” while gesticulating wildly).


This section will be mind numbingly boring if you don’t care about massive game development or money…






Ok, looks like I’ve still got all of you.  One of the things that’s a bit silly but that I’ve found I’ve had to drill into several developer’s heads of late is that you can’t wait to decide on your monetization model until beta…  I wish I was being hyperbolic, but I’ve talked to several groups that believe that they will develop their product and then choose a monetization model based on whatever the consumer prefers at the time.

NO!  UNACCEPTABLE (unless you like hemorrhaging money… I really hadn’t thought of that before, maybe it’s just a huge self loathing and masochistic streak...)!  First off monetization models aren’t fads, people don’t like one better than another, they like the one that best fits the service that they want to purchase.  Let me tell you why there are no rental grocery stores…

Anyway, in order to make sure that your monetization model and your product dovetail as completely as possible you need to choose a monetization model as early as possible, and then design your game with that model in mind.  So how do you pick a monetization model? 

You guess.  Seriously, you guess.  You get the very high level picture of the game you are building, and then you develop an understanding of the monetization models available (and come up with clever new ones of your own) then you pick the one you think would work best and say, “Boy Howdy, we’re running with this one!” (to all college students: it is a hard and fast mandate of game design that you must say “Boy Howdy” whenever you are doing something that will radically alter the lives of everyone in your studio for the next 24+ months for no other reason than “you think it’s a good idea”). 

After the Boy Howdy moment (which is sort of the game designer’s Eureka), you must then figure out how all your mechanics effect the way you monetize your customer base.  An easy example of this can be found in a subscription based model.  In such a model you have to ask yourself, “Will the decision I’ve just made extend the cumulative total player lifespan or shorten it?” 

The key is to maximize use of your monetization model without being too evil.  Many companies lose sight of the fact that a player who quits isn’t paying.  Think of World of Warcraft: each time they introduce a new instance they up the average player lifespan in a way that also makes the players happy.  Finding ways to do this that are economical are the true mark of a great MMO game designer.

On Singing

Well I was going to say a bunch of more mindblowingly relevant stuff about MMOs, but I’m almost out of words, so instead I’ll talk about singing.

As a game designer you’ve got to be able to lay it down like Orin Hatch, yo… (what is the correct grammatical mark to put before “yo” at the end of a sentence?  Is it a comma, is it a semicolon???)

Honestly I was just wondering if there’s a tendency at anybody else’s office for the designers to burst out into song (or at least speak only in song lyrics).  That’s happened with remarkable frequency pretty much everywhere I’ve been…

Cool, wasted those last few words…

Well I’m out.  See y’all next week for some exciting adventures in stuff I probably can’t talk about.  If you want to hear about anything specific email away:  [email protected]


And, as always, go to to hear about my latest adventures. 

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