Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Random Shots: The Value Proposition Of Gaming

  • One of the oldest discussions in the gaming community is the price of our games. The reason it keeps coming up (as it did recently on the Shut Up, We're Talking podcast) is that money shapes how we game in far reaching ways.

  • One only has to look at Darren's ten dollar horse to see that cash shop business models effect people in extreme ways. When handled properly, cash shops give players the opportunity to support a game just to the extent that they care to. When handled poorly, players feel like their enjoyment of the game is predicated on how much money they dump into the game.

  • Even more telling about the business of gaming comes from game companies charging for additional services. While originally such services were limited, there has been a veritable explosion of for-pay services that allow players to overcome in game limits. There are few games where you can't cough up cash for a sex change, name change, or server transfer. And while players may grumble about the price, they happily pay rather then being forced to reroll a character just because they've changed their mind about an earlier decision. Stargrace has moved her EQ2 characters so many times that I'm considering buying stock in Sony. Since these options are all outside of the standard game design, game companies would be stupid not to charge for additional conveniences.

  • That can go too far, though. With any of these options, there is fear that developers will break their games with the intent to sell the pieces at a greater total cost. The skepticism over day one downloadable content is the latest eruption of gamers' distrust. When paid DLC shows up day-and-date along with the launch of the game, one has to wonder why it's not included on the disk in the first place. Dragon Age had the most egregious example with an NPC stationed in your base camp trying sell you an additional quest. He had to be encoded in the base game before launch in anticipation of the missing content.

  • So while selling additional services has been accepted by the community, developers are still trying to figure out how to sell content without alienating their customers. Take the recent example of Cryptic Studios. Obviously not happy with the standard box price plus subscription fees, they've found other ways to sell parts of their game. Star Trek Online has two additional character races for sale. Champions Online allows you to buy additional costume pieces and minipets, as well extra character and costume slots. And most recently, they announced the Revelation content pack for the game. While this was intended to be a paid micro-expansion, their customers fury that the content was not being added for free caused Cryptic/Atari to back away from the plan. Customers might be willing to pay for non-essentials, but will balk at playing for content that is lacking in the base game. But would the same outcry occured if Cryptic/Atari burned the data on a disk and sold it in stores?

  • Further compounding all of these questions comes from the standard fifteen dollar subscription fee required of most MMOs. There are wildly differing expectations for what should be provided for with the subscription. Fifteen dollars has been the standard for years. As long as World of Warcraft maintains that price, It is virtually impossible for any other company to buck the trend. But even Blizzard has been experimenting with additional revenue streams. Fifteen dollars may not mean the same thing to developers as it did five years ago, so microtransactions and paid services become ways of getting around that mental block.

  • In the end, customers will always evaluate the value proposition of their games. Developers and publishers need to understand that if they do not make a clear and convincing case that the benefits of a purchase are equal to the cost, they are losing a customer. So while the company may see a ten dollar horse as a colorful way to avoid the monthly subscription problem, your customer sees it as a stupidly too expensive mount. As companies continue to experiment, some games are likely to fail based on their costs instead of their quality. And the debate will go ever on.

  • Today is my three year blog anniversary, so thank you to everyone for reading, commenting, and encouraging me to continue. I can't wait to see where the next year takes us.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.


  1. Congrats on the birthday!

    The ten dollar horse doesn't bother me. That's a LOT cheaper than spending up to $100 on a sub game, grinding to the point where I can get a horse via in-game methods.

    Subs will *never* give me fair value. They work great for others. Savvy devs really should find way to catch both sorts of customers. DDO, W101 and Puzzle Pirates do.

  2. @ Ethic - Thank you much, sir.

    @ Tesh - I really like your examples. Providing alternative payment options would help people with differing ideas of value.

  3. Grats on the blogiversary!

  4. Late to the party as usual. Congratulations Anjin. I just dinged my first anniversary today. I’ll be getting drunk for you as well.


  5. Wow, three years. Congratulations!

  6. @ Jayedub, RC, Blue Kae - Thank you all. Hope we all get to do this for a long time to come.

  7. Grats dude!

    And that was a damn good post. The market is in some sort of weird flux right now, where different MMOs offer wildly different values for your money. At one extreme you have MMOs where you can buy permanent access to all the content in a game for less than $100, and the client is free. At the opposite extreme we have some companies charging us $50 for a box, a $15 sub fee every month, and still including a cash shop with about the same variety of items you'd find in a FtP MMO. It will be interesting to watch the dust settle in the next few years.