Archive for July, 2011

Posted on: July 3rd, 2011 by

I don’t know if I’m unusual here, by playing lots of different games and flitting between them, but when people find out I play games and who have any interest in the subject, a question I’m often asked is “What is your favourite game?” or “What do you play?”

I find it pretty hard to answer, and usually either say “Half-Life” or respond with what I’ve been mostly playing that week. They, in turn find it extremely easy to answer, as they tend to stick to one game and play it constantly.

Equally, people whose first and last gaming experience is World of Warcraft have been astonished to learn that I don’t have an army of max-level super raid awesome characters after hearing that I’m a gamer that has played it on and off since launch.

Neither of those profiles fit my gaming style, but match the majority of game-playing people I talk to outside. So I guess this is the market the operators of game using the free-to-play with microtransactions model are gunning for. Get them hooked by giving away the game, then have them spend money to improve their game experience. Even though I’ve reduced the amount of new games I’m buying, if I stuck to a single game (the horror) I could easily fund a subscription-based game, or more pertinently buy out every item in a single game’s item store. (except maybe the Sims)

So while people’s money is indeed finite, getting them to try another game at no cost, having them like it enough to switch to it exclusively and then transfer what they would have spent on subs/items to add-ons for the new game is a pretty good business plan.

“Pay for playtime”, where you pre-pay for X amount of in-game time, is like having a big countdown timer on the screen, and to a degree subscriptions are like that, except that the timer appears hanging in the air in front of you when you’re not playing the game.

“Pay to win”, where you buy bonus items to give yourself an in-game advantage, I’m undecided on. Everyone says they hate the idea, and certainly I would if it was as clear-cut as that title suggests:

– Giving people items for cash that others have spent a lot of time getting does devalue the achievement, but they had fun getting there right? Games are fun aren’t they, not some menial, repetitive task you perform for trivial rewards? Maybe cash for those sort of items is a wake-up call to some.

– Some items only being available for cash is more irksome to me, actually irrespective of whether or not they are “better”. As a collector I want to have them all – but in some games this can mean shelling out a sizeable sum.

– The acceptability of how Premium (or better) your “premium” items are seems to me tied to how much people are paying, partly for the items, but especially for the vanilla product.
In a completely free game, I’d say almost all bets are off – you should be able to buy level-ups, stat-boosting items and content as much as you want – because you’re the one funding the game’s development. The only time I’d call foul was for (say) single-use activated power-ups which allowed you to win duels – Need For Speed World for example has these, but crucially you can obtain them in-game.
In a full-price game (subscription or otherwise) extras or pre-order bonuses are a lot more controversial and if they exist at all shouldn’t really be game-changing. Unless it is generally or tacitly agreed that the regular-price-paying customers are getting some sort of discount then is it not unreasonable for them to expect full access to everything the game has to offer as sold on day one?

 

In all I think the hybrid models are a good idea, reinvigorating flagging games. The best models seem to be the ones which are completely free to play without draconian level caps, but have time-saving items for sale and an optional subscription which as well as giving you automatic bonus content also pays you a monthly allowance of the bonus item currency. People can try for free, pay for a few bits if they are liking it or switch to a sub if they’re spending more in the store than it would cost to subscribe. They can take payment holidays, don’t feel forced to play (supposed to be fun, remember?) – pretty much get what they want and only what they want to pay for.