- I wrote a post a few days ago that I was particularly proud of about offline versions of MMO-style games that I felt were better products than the original. In it, I reached a rhetorical conclusion that more MMOs should give this a try. There was something else I should have considered. However I did not realize I missed it until the post was already out.
- I don't really mean that MMOs like World of Warcraft should go single-player, though I would play such a game. What I really want is for developers to be aware of how their revenue models effect the game they are making. Everyone who plays a game like this knows (or should know) what it is costing them. We don't want to be manipulated to pay more for less game.
- There are two ways developers can break MMOs to produce revenue:
- Subscription Games - Subscription MMOs treat players like subjects of a study on operant conditioning. At first players are given small, but consistent rewards as they learn the game. Over time, rewards become randomized and occur at unknown intervals. This partial reinforcement leads players to work just as hard or harder for rewards because they are uncertain about how they are rewarded. Some players even develop superstitions and rituals in the belief that they can effect random outcomes.
Does this sound familiar to you? It should if you've ever been in a casino.
- Microtransaction Games - While subscription games work on positive reinforcement of behaviors, microtransaction games try negative reinforcement on its willing fan base. This is actually easier to spot and more insidious. At it's core, the game is made just good enough to get you started. But as the player progresses, they run into greater and greater roadblocks that prevent their advancement. While some players can persevere against such difficulties, the game allows players the option to purchase items to overcome these obstacles from the cash shop. A cash shop where you spend a virtual currency you bought outside the game. And since you already spent the money, you might as well spend the points. Even if it doesn't come out even.
- These are worst case scenarios, so I'm not condemning every game out there. But we are mindful of what depths you might descend to. If you are honest that in your desire to serve your customers, you will design your games in an honest and fair way.
- If you don't believe me, peruse this article (by way of Raph Koster) called Game design as marketing: How game mechanics create demand for virtual goods. Vote with your wallets, folks. That's the only language these people understand.
© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
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