Microtransactions are doing a bang-up job of paying the freight for free-to-play MMOGs, as well as for Facebook and other social networking games. So what's keeping developers of premium, single-player Flash games from following suit?
Nothing, actually. In fact, a few brave souls have made the leap to microtransactions and seem to be doing quite well, thank you. And they're predicting that microtransaction funding will enable them to afford longer development periods -- say six months instead of two -- and larger teams that will result in Flash games with more content, better graphics and sound, and deeper mechanics.
Call it a win-win situation for the developers as well as for the gamers, even the ones who choose to play for free. Nevertheless, developers expected -- and have gotten -- some resistance from their fans.
Chris Harris recalls that when his company, New Zealand-based Ninja Kiwi Games, first posted zombie shooter SAS: Zombie Assault 2 on the Flash-dedicated portal Newgrounds, "there were quite a few expletives and loud comments like 'This is B.S.' and 'You're just ripping people off.' I'm sure that was because some gamers are just set in their ways. They reacted exactly the same way when pre-game ads were introduced. It's almost like introducing some new piece of technology to the elderly."
But, done correctly, games designed with microtransactions in mind need not infuriate gamers. Harris recalls that his team was careful to build a complete game for those who just want to play -- and beat -- the game for free.
"You can go through all 30 levels of SAS without paying a dime," he says. "We believe that to be very important. And people who don't mind forking over a few dollars for extra content can go to the premium license tab and buy some kick-ass guns, the ability to regenerate health, and even something called 'guardian angel' which lets you continue from where you died."
SAS: Zombie Assault 2
Most transactions cost $1 each, with the most profitable item -- the Zombie-Popping Party Pack, which supplies all guns, all upgrades, everything -- about $9.
What enables the game's pay-for-content mechanics is Mochi Media's MochiCoins system; gamers use MochiCoins in their account which they purchased using credit cards or PayPal. Similar micro-payment transaction systems are offered by Heyzap and GameSafe.
Ninja Kiwi built SAS with MochiCoins in mind, having rejected the idea of funding the game using pre-game advertising exclusively, as in its earlier games.
"That model just hasn't delivered for several reasons," Harris observes. "One obstacle is getting the advertisers to understand how it works; another is that our games are played all over the world and, in places like China where we're really popular, our CPMs looked pretty pitiful -- almost zero because none of the information on how to buy things is in Chinese. Obviously localization became a problem."
And so, since SAS launched in mid-June, it has made between 20 and 30 cents CPM on advertising -- compared with the average $3.60 per thousand game plays that it has generated, through over 50,000 completed transactions for premium weapon packs and level upgrades.