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« Environment Phases | Main | Zombie Minesweeper Launch and Design Article »
Wednesday
Aug312011

Microtransactions Under the Microscope

For our usual Design Dojo meeting last night, we discussed the pros and perils of microtransactions and the free-to-play business model. It was a fascinating discussion, revealing fascinating tension in our normally close-knit little group of designers! There was some intense, fruitful discussion, so this post is a bit of a doozy!

In this discussion we were trying hard to focus on, "How can we use microtransactions properly, for good?" rather than focusing on their negative perception and misuse.

I was overtired last night, so my recollection is a bit shaky. But here's the salient points as I remember them:

First, Some Definitions

The first thing was settling on a definition of microtransactions and free-to-play which we could utilize for the rest of the discussion. I proposed that, for the sake the discussion, micropayments were basically any money the player payed out after they started playing the game; that playing the game and then paying [more] later was free-to-play. There are two important consequences of this:

The first is that practically everything but a retail purchase can be analyzed in this light, notably DLC and demos that upsell to the full game! Episodic content can also be looked at this way: After the initial purchase of the first episode, the player makes choices to invest in further episodes.

The other consequence is the inclusion of incremental payments (like a base product with DLC), subscription models, as well as standard 'freemium' styles of monetization in this umbrella.

We purposely chose such a broad definition, because we felt that these things all sit on gradients; it's hard for a group of people to agree on the exact moment a retail game with DLC turns into microtransaction ecosystem. As well, many games use a mix of approaches simultaneously to acquire money from the player.

So Why Free-To-Play?

The reason we think this all matters is that the whole concept of free-to-play aligns better with player values. Traditional retail bombards a player with inscrutable advertising, senseless review scores, and non-interactive game media, and then demands that they fork over a large portion of money for a non-returnable box which may or may not contain a game that they actually enjoy.

From the most basic example of a demo, to a cheap-but-ongoing subscription, to a game funded entirely by the sale of novelty hat items, each of these systems allows the player to experience the game as a game and decide for themselves how much value it contains, whether it's worth their money. The punters can leave with nothing lost. The developers still get paid, and the true fans (or rich fans) have the opportunity to keep on giving. Ideally.

So we wanted to see how to make best use of that system: to figure out how micropayments can be used to make a better game for the player, not a worse one. To make a game which profits from players, but doesn't abuse them.

Overall, the meeting was fairly unstructured, so I'm just going to lay out the points we covered, in no particular order.

Microtransactions Require Long Play

Microtransactions piggyback on the value system created by the game world. One of the challenges we face as designers, on every game we make, is communicating and teaching the value system for our particular game to the player. This means that we can't expect players to realize the monetary worth of a game element until this education process is completed. A highly refined experience that lasts only two hours will likely only make its full value apparent to the player when it's all done -- or even a few days later as the player digests the experience! By then, it's too late to capture their attention for additional content or experiences. Alternatively, a game that brings the player back again and again has many opportunities to convert and upsell the player.

The consequence of this is that the most successful microtransaction-funded games tend to be RPGs, and online multiplayer, and especially online multiplayer RPGS!

There is another synergy of long-play and free-to-play, which is that in most freemium games, the non-paying players provide 'content' for the paying players just by being there. They keep the system lively, create nodes for conversation and trade, and even just make the paid players feel good about themselves. However, if the free players don't stick around very long, then there is less incentive (in this context) for the paid players to stick around either.

Danger of Relying on a Growth Market

Many standard microtransaction formulae gain a lot of their value from customer acquisition. The very real consequence of this is that once you saturate your market or niche, you will stop profiting. This happened to Nexxon; subsequent game releases basically had nowhere to grow except cannibalizing their previous games.

Microtransactions Match the Form of the Game

Farmville and its kin has been slagged from many different angles, especially by gamers deriding it's microtransaction system. I came into this meeting with spite against these games because many of the things you pay for are 'amechanical'. There is no standard in-game metaphor for paying to skip the harvest period of a crop; it's basically an arbitrary barrier that is arbitrarily removed.

But it was then pointed out to me that Farmville itself is largely amechanical! And that's nothing to hold against the game, or at least a discussion for another day. But the point is, the microtransactions actually match the nature of the gameplay.

In-Game Value and Real World Value are Tied

As mentioned above, the value of real-money purchases is largely defined by the player's perspective within the game world. But additionally, the real-world value of items affects their perception within the game. The obvious case of this is that selling a top hat item for $1,000 will provide a kind of instant prestige for any player owning that item, even if it has no intrinsic value or significant aesthetic value. It's valuable because it's expensive.

There is a more subtle case with content that can be accessed both through real money and in-game effort. Take, for example earning a new Champion in League of Legends. On one hand, the paying player can say, "Woo, I payed $5 and saved myself 5 days of effort!" But the non-paying player can also say, "Woo, I earned this myself, and saved $5!" It actually gives an extrinsic value to the time the player is spending in the game.

Create and Embrace Conventions

In World of Warcraft, players can purchase fully-leveled characters rather than grinding up through the levels. There are a variety of reasons a player may want to do this, and in their mind, the reason always makes sense. But the game doesn't officially support this kind of transaction; it is actually handled through an external site (such as eBay). It is a firmly established convention within the social circle of the game that if you want to experience the end-game content, by golly, you gotta earn the right! Players who skip the levelling process are shunned by the other high level players and slandered in the forums.

And it's not because there is anything inherently wrong with skipping low-level content, but merely that the conventions of the social system don't allow for it. This can be bent both ways: If in your game, it is the convention to work for stronger items, then players who buy them will be called out for 'cheating' or 'playing unfair' or 'paying for power'. But if the convention is to only access stronger items through purchasing, then players who don't purchase are looked at as cheap or not dedicated.

Flattening the Value-Per-Player Curve

The vast majority of the money you make in free-to-play comes from the top paying players. The vast majority of players pay nothing. Not to cut it too thin, they are freeloaders.

Most of the cases where "abuse" happens is when this graph is extremely sharp. Most of the players in a game are nothing but an expense, and so the few players that pay get milked to death. A healthier game flattens out the curve. More players are paying, and each is paying a healthier amount. (Both healthier for themselves, and healthier for the developer.)

A point that strikes me really strongly when I'm playing a free-to-play game is the actual product value of the game. For example, with League of Legends: I look at the game and say to myself, "If that was in a box at retail, I'd probably pay $40 for it." What I'm trying to do when I do this is divine the value of the assets, the time spent developing and patching, and my own personal load on the servers, and still give them a profit. Obviously this is a rough estimate, but whatever this exact number is: if players don't pay this much on average, then the game is a loser.

By distributing this load across more players, the amount you need to eke out of each player is reduced. As well, there is the easily observable phenomenon that paying customers are stronger advocates of the game.

Retail, of course, takes this to the extreme, making sure that every single participant pays exactly a standard share. Subscription models sit fairly nicely in the middle, with the players who are more invested spending more money on the game overall.

Different Kinds of Microtransactions

I asserted that 'paying for content' was the most obvious format for a microtransaction. We challenged this definition and came up with some other common formats as well:

 

  • Paying to expand the experience. This may be access to new content; customization options for personal or social reasons; access to mechanics; gaining power within the system. "Buying a Sword."
  • Boosters and Consumables. Temporary purchases that tend to work in conjunction with the play mechanics, either multiplying player stats and activity, or providing a lift over a hurdle or out of a hole. "Buying a Strength Potion."
  • Keys and Resources. Indirectly aiding the player by increasing their ability to make choices, or making a new choice accessible. "Buying in-game gold."
  • External Privileges: Purchasing goods or powers that exist externally to the game mechanics and world. Pay for name change, a server transfer, access to guild management tools, getting priority listing in advertising channels, etc.
  • Transaction Fees: If you have players on both sides of a transaction, such as goods transfer, gifting and trading, or auctions, you can reserve a portion for yourself.

 

Microsubscriptions

Subscriptions came up several times in the discussion as both a reliable income stream, and also a way of treating players more equally (because time passes for everyone at the same rate). We got thinking if there could be a number of smaller streams within the game that the player could subscribe to based on their needs. For example, subscribing for access to high-level content while mid-level content remains free. Or subscribing to recieve every new character that is released for the duration of the subscription. And so forth. Has anyone done this yet?

Greed is a Sliding Scale

One member brought up that such a thing was a tool evil, because the developer could tune the length between releases in a subscription to offer just a little bit less content for the same price. It was countered that, yes, all bars add salt to their food, but you don't eat at a bar with really salty food. Market forces prevail, people will pay for something what they feel it is worth.

As well, such a thing could be a tool for benevolence. A developer could tune the length between releases to offer just a little more content for the same price, if they felt that was the right thing to do. In fact, most of the factors in microtransactions work this way. The negative reputation these systems have comes from factors that are tuned to maximize profit and abuse players for their money. But that's not an inherent trait in the system; you could just as easily use it to ensure your own bankruptcy! But obviously, there are various optimums in the middle which allow a person to both make a profit and ahere to their morals.

All Games are Skinner Boxes

The comparison of the feedback loop in Farmville to a skinner box is not accidental. It is a skinner box. As are basically all games. Any time you talk about making a game 'more sticky' or 'more engaging' or 'compelling', you are talking about refining and enhancing the skinner box that resides within your game.

But it's okay if your game is engaging or compelling. Because there is more to the system than the compulsion loop. There is the experience of playing, which can be exciting and interesting and beautiful and rewarding, and there is the feedback that the game gives in reward for following that loop, which can be interesting and beautiful and rewarding.

Microtransactions have an amplifying effect here, because where most games suck up a player's time, free-to-play games suck up their time and money! But we are in the entertainment business, people are giving us their money to entertain them. We each have a choice to create a minimal structure which siphons their money away, or to create a beautiful piece of art which enriches them, and for which they give us their money. The fact that it is compelling is agnostic!


 

Well, that was a lot of discussion! I hope there's some new or interesting tidbit in there for you. Did anything shock or anger you? Do you strongly agree or disagree with any of these points? We'd love to hear about it, and learn and grow!

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Reader Comments (17)

Thanks for posting it was a interesting read but personally I think the only type of free to play payment method I found doesn't break the game or restrict your ability to play is consumables and boosters, but I didn't see skins and those can be a method of income which is also non restrictive.

September 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Nice post. In my own opinion, I tend to look down more on Zynga's microtransaction system more because they continously apply it to new features in the game, with no ability to earn the same items. So, say I want to upgrade my troops in Empires and Allies, I have to either purchase the points to get the components, or ask a friend to do the same and give me the item. I'd rather it just take a bit longer to realize the same end result. In that way, someone who pays gets the advantage early, but over the long-term the advantage is thinner. Otherwise, you drive those who do not wish to pay away.

September 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKris

@anonymous I think it's short-sighted to presume that any particular form will either break or not break the game. As game designers, every single day we have to evaluate and balance features to ensure they don't disturb the fun of a game, microtransaction systems are no different. Some things are obviously easier than others: Things like skins, because they don't interfere with mechancs at all.

Also, I was (for my thinking) including skin purchases in "Experience Enhancers". Skins alter your social standing, change your perception of your character, and imbue you with ownership and a sense of investment. I would argue that these are similar sensations to a new weapon (a typical "bad" thing to sell), which alters your position of power in the community, expands (or contracts) your mechanical expressiveness, and creates a sense of investment.

@Kris The parallel time-vs-money thing that you suggest is definitely a solution that I am a proponent of. It tends to feel 'fair'. The problem is that, to put it bluntly, those "who don't wish to pay" are not paying; they aren't supporting development nor generating profit. This is where the sliding scale comes in. We have to ask what concessions we can make for free players in order to bolster the community and allow more people to enjoy the game, while balancing that against the need to survive and grow.

September 2, 2011 | Registered CommenterGraham Jans

I play LoL and I really like the way they do their micro transactions. You cannot purchase power with real money. You can speed up the process of obtaining champions and you can buy skins to look "cool" (and I do own skins) but you have to play the game to earn points that you can spend on runes which actually alter your in-game stats.

You can get immense value out of the game. I started playing thinking I'd never pay for anything but after seeing how much time I was playing I spent $20 just to say "Thank you!" and I have done the same a few more times in the past year.

The Zynga model is terrible. All you really do in their games is gain assets. You can pay money to gain them faster but to me it's like paying 25 cents to play pac man but for 50 cents your score will be double.

September 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSome LoL Player

I like this idea of a micro-subscription. I've recently reactivated my Eve Online account, but I find that I just don't have the time to invest in actually playing the game and will likely cancel my subscription again. As it is, I log in every couple of days to adjust my avatar's skill training queue, and then log out again. Skill training in Eve is time-based and happens when you're not online, so in a sense I'm "playing" even when I'm not. But if they introduced a tiered subscription that allowed me to pay less and only have access to character management, I'd probably be more inclined to maintain that subscription for a longer period, and it would offer me more incentive to upgrade back to a full subscription later on down the road.

September 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterA. Lockhart

Yes, and guns don't kill people, people kill people...

Charging for content is one thing but charging for consumables that simply make the game easier, etc. preys upon those who lack the self-control to resist. You can't absolve yourself of responsibility for these abuses with apologetics.

September 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterUbisububi

@Some LoL Player: Yes, I like their system as well. It has one other notable point beyond the ones you mentioned: There is effectively a 'cap' at which you own everything in the game (~$800 I believe). I also really like the idea of "thank you' purchases. As an indie developer, this is the most compelling reason for me to include microtransactions!

However: All we do in most of our activities in life is 'gain assets', at the end of the day. If a person has an enjoyable farmville experience to the same degree that you have an enjoyable LoL experience, who are we to slander their chosen entertainment?

@A. Lockhart: Yes, of everything in the list, microsubscriptions are the most intriguing to me. I guess I see Retail > Microtransactions, Subscriptions > Microsubscriptions. It's like a quadrant of the possibility space that is unexplored!

@Ubisububi: I don't see how the distinction between consumables and content has anything to do with the kind of player that is purchasing them. Every time you pay to go to the theatre instead of buying a DVD, you are choosing a 'consumable experience' that 'simply makes the sound and picture bigger'.

I don't for one second defend those who abuse their players. I'm saying that the choice to abuse a player or not is not related to the kind of transaction system a game contains. Because you are exactly right: We have responsibility, and we must use our systems responsibly. That is all there is to it.

September 2, 2011 | Registered CommenterGraham Jans

I play Vindictus and I have played Evony. These are pay if you want games, but the amount of money demanded is not what I would call a microtransaction. By your definition the subscription fee for my website is a microtransaction at $40 per month. But, neither I nor my customers think there is anything micro about the transaction. Micro implies very small. I do no think $10 and up is very small. $1 and down is very small for most of the online community. When microtransactions were first discussed, it was in terms of charged pennies or even fractions of a penny -- using virtual currency -- to buy something. Trying to extend that to things which cost tens of dollars is expanding the definition far beyond what micro implies.

September 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpbc

Good synopsis Graham! Have you seen Jaime Griesemer's post about F2P? It's basically considering "ancillary" transaction options (e.g. D3's real money auction house) as an alternative to microtransactions that are tied to mechanics and gameplay. It's a good read.

There's another interesting point in there about League of Legends. Lots of folks like LoL and how Riot has managed to keep the business from mucking with the gameplay, and I agree with them, but Jaime's right in that almost all the design decisions about LoL were made by DotA. (Ditto w/ TF2 and, well, TFC and many others) The microtransaction-based games that have evolved from the ground up (Zynga's stuff, etc.) as compared to those based on existing formulas tends heavily toward being abusive. That's a bit chilling for me.

And while it's easy to say "It doesn't have to be that way," swimming against the current of supposed best practices and common wisdom ain't easy. Especially when someone external is holding the purse strings and looking at how Zynga does it and wants to know why that ought not just be imitated.

TL;DR - I hope D3's auction house and other ancillary transaction schemes prove fruitful, because I'm deeply skeptical of the industry at large finding ways to have microtransactions that are entwined with gameplay not drift toward abusive.

September 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNels Anderson

Perhaps you should take a look at ddo.com and look at their system. In my opinion it works well. First it is a free to play mmorpg, so that people can come in and play without paying a dime. Second, it offered a number of different packs(with between 3-6 quests each) that are available for purchase using in game points called Turbine points. Turbine points can be aquired by running quests and getting favor or may be purchased directly with a monetary purchase. A third method of aquiring Turbine Points(TPs) is through the subscription method whereupon a customer becomes a VIP member and is given a limited number of points every month. With the subscription plan players also get access to all available packs as long as they maintain their subscription, failure to continue the subscription results in a loss of premium packs that have not been purchased, but the player can continue to play as free to play(f2p) and any packs that they have purchased via TPs will still be available as well.

By creating their own point system and using that for purchases, they are able to reward free to play members that play the game and thus as mentioned provide content for VIP members. It keeps a lot of people in the game or able to rejoin the game in the future and most of the entertainment of the game is of course talking and working with others.

It's cheaper in the long run, say over the course of a year, if players were to actually just purchase the packs rather than continuing to pay via subscription, ie VIP, but VIP works for a number of people either because they don't want to spend all that money at one time, not sure if they can play much month to month or if they are like me, I pay to help build content and because I am receiving value each month.

Buying packs works for many people. I can think of a variety of reasons ranging from wanting to "own" content so that they don't have to worry about making another bill payment every month, year, etc. For people that have off time that waxes and wanes they can purchase content when they are ready and don't have to "worry" about getting their money's worth each month they play. It seems to work out quite well for military personal that have to spend time abroad without a decent internet connection as they buy the content they want when they are available and on deployment they don't have to worry about keeping up a subscription or losing their characters/equipment/etc. Not to mention that if you play for over a year or so, it's cheaper just to purchase the packs.

Free to play attraction is pretty simple, it's FREE!!!! The thing that is unique about DDO though is that while you might not get access to all the premium packs that are available at your level, currently characters in the game(toons) are limited to level 20, there are always free to play quests that are within level range in order to advance your character. It might be a little boring at times, but eventually, you can get to level 20. Furthermore, if you farm favor on multiple toons on any of the servers, that favor generates TPs that are collected in your main account. Once you have enough favor you can purchase any of the premium packs and thus all game content is available for the free to play character provided you want to spend the time doing it that way. It might not be the easiest way, but for those that are cash strapped or those that refuse to pay money for an online game it's a viable option.

Which brings us to other things TP can purchase. One of the most important aspect to the game in my mind is that power levels of items in the game have not seen a lot of inflation over the 5 years the game has been run. Although the level is slowly getting higher, there are not really uber items that must be purchased with TPs. In actuality, though there are basic equipment items available in the Turbine Strore, they are basically what any level 6 player would pick up within 30-40 hours of play and the TPs for purchase are actually far more expensive that playing a game that you enjoy anyway will eventually pull. There are things like custom dies for equipment to change their color and things like alignment changes and other stuff that are "neat" but for all practical purposes surpurulous to the game. There are bonus items that can be put on ships to give better buffs, but with continued game play even f2p players will eventually get to be a high enough guild level that they will be able to buy these items with in game cash, ie gold, silver, and platinum coins rather than having to spend TPs to get them.

One more thing about packs, while the VIP players generate a steady income each month, the people that buy packs provide incentive for the company itself to continuously develop new content so that as each new pack is created they get an influx of income for generating that pack.

To summarize:
Providing multiple methods of payment, either through subscriptions, one time purchases or time investment the number of players in the game at any time day or night is maintained so that people can group together and overcome challenges and socialize along the way. More players means more entertainment which draws more players.

All game content is available via each of the different payment plans so people don't leave like they do in many games when the f2p players realize they can never be as uber as the p2p players.

Continued storage of characters even if subscriptions lapse is another key element to allow people to return to the game weeks, months or even years after they stop playing.

Incentive for the company to continue expanding the content in the game benefits players that want to see more content added and the company itself.

No sales of uber items goes back to the fact that f2p players are on an even standing with p2p players.

Level limits that are possible for everyone to reach so that the game isn't a continuous skinner box requiring you to continue to constantly play daily, weekly, monthly just to keep up with everyone else in the game. Eve online for all it's good points fails that one drastically as players need to maintain their accounts and keep training at all times if they are going to maintain where they started at and there being no hope of catching up to the leaders in the game.

Overall, I've been playing DDO for about 2 years now and I still find it enjoyable. I've taken breaks from the game here and there, but because I'm not facing a penalty for leaving and coming back, it makes it a very easy game to return to.

I'm sure I've missed a lot of things about the system and suggest you take a look yourself, but in my opinion DDO has done micro-payments correctly.

September 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLando

According to WoW eBay players there IS a very good reason why we shun eBayers, it have nothing to do with skipping content we had to play through (When you have leveled your first character you can get items that let you skip alot of the content yourself for your second character etc.) it is because these guys don't know how to play! They have not progressed throughout the game, learned the skills that are added gradually in order to know the basics and then more and more advanced skills and combinations of these that work. This have been skipped, so when you end up in a group with such a player you basically lag one player in a 5 man group, because they have no idea what to do, at best you can "give them free stuff" when something they can use are looted and they didn't mess up and got everyone killed, normally that is however what happens and then everyone looses out. Normally it is detected very soon and most of these players are kicked from groups and normally take some abuse, I would guess you end up not playing after a while if this happens to someone, and it is sad, but a direct consequence of not bothering to learn the game and wanting to play with the ones who did learn.

September 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreat Dane

@Ubisububi: I don't see how the distinction between consumables and content has anything to do with the kind of player that is purchasing them. Every time you pay to go to the theatre instead of buying a DVD, you are choosing a 'consumable experience' that 'simply makes the sound and picture bigger'.

That is not a fair analogy. Both in a theatre and with a DVD you are charged a single price to get the full experience. In neither case is somebody standing at the door asking if you would like to purchase gems that can be used to change how the movie ends for everybody.

Again, purchasing content is a great way to legitimately monetize your hard work. However, giving people the opportunity to purchase gold/gems/whatever to make the game easier (especially in MMORPG type games where people compete with one another) preys on those who lack the self-control that the rest of us enjoy, which is why the 2%-3% of the players who buy these consumables can finance the game for the rest of us; they are grossly and pathetically overpaying.

September 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterUbisububi

Re: "microsubscriptions" -- Puzzle Pirates uses microsubs for a number of its premium features. Players can buy "badges", each of which unlocks content for some fixed period of time (typically 1 month).

Some of this premium content - certain puzzles, for example - are available for free on certain days of the week, so that non-paying players can preview it before spending money on the badge.

September 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTim Conkling

Very interesting post and discussion.
What I find the most demanding in process of microtransactions planning is predicting what kind of mictrotransaction models will work on given sub-markets of video games. It seems almost like different freemium trends set up in iPhone game market, PC market and browser games market and I am constantly battling myself with questions if I should challenge this or go with the flow. For example, recent reports show that consumables totally dominate in iPhone games while personalisation transactions are mere 2%. And the question is: why? Is this because there are simply more games based on microtransactions there? Or is this because Apple consumers really prefer to pay for consumables? In other words, would making an iPhone game that relies on personalisation transactions be a mistake or just the opposite? High-end PC games like WoW and LoL show that game can earn well on character services, personalisation options and vanity items. Therefore I am wondering if these different playerbases are already accustomed to different freemium models and going against it would be a mistake or is this much more blended and, as a result, most developers simply don't want to risk and try something that worked well for others.

September 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWojciech Bieronski

@pcb: I agree that the definition of 'microtransaction' we chose is particularly broad, and is probably not useful in the general sense. It wasn't an effort to redefine what a microtransacion is, but rather an effort to ensure our thinking wasn't constrained by the arbitrary bounds of a particular word. Outside of this discussion, I agree that a microtransaction is a tiny payment. To further your point, I even feel that these days we've really moved to 'minitransactions' in the $0.50 to $5 range, and that true microtransactions, $0.01 purchases, are out of vogue.

@Nels: Yes, that was a good post. (Just read it now.) He makes a very good point about the alignment of play and financial issues. However, based on our discussion, I would say that only some facets of the experience fit his 'pay to skip the boring' model. Vanity items, or content packs, or subscriptions -- none of these require the free portion of the game to be boring in order to succeed. But the financial/play alignment is a good rubric for determining if the system one designs will trend towards evil or not!

Your point about the purse strings is valid also, and something I maybe should have included in the writeup. There is always a danger in financially-led design decisions, and I can see that the danger is amplified in situations where these two goals are opposed.

@Lando: It sounds like DDO has made a pretty strong effort to not be evil. It sounds like they have some objectives (multiple access methods, non-gamebeaking upgrades, etc) and have tried to properly utilize the tools before them. Thanks for the post!

@Great Dane: As I am not a WoW player I wasn't fully aware of the specifics of Character Buying. I knew it was frowned upon but just made some guesses as to why. Thanks for this detail!

September 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterGraham Jans

@Ubisububi: Okay, so it wasn't a great analogy. Maybe I should have mentioned the $10 popcorn? There's an over-priced consumable that sponsors the entertainment for the rest of us!

I guess I wasn't clear as to your original argument, but my point still stands. An evil system that preys on people with no self-control is evil. And a just system that doesn't let people hurt themselves is not evil. It's extremely limiting and wasteful to assume that because something is called "free to play" that it is necessarily abusive. You've pointed out a very specific scenario (consumable items in a competitive game that unbalances the playing field) where things tend to get out of hand. Fine, then don't add a system like that in to your next game! Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

@Tim: Puzzle Pirates seems to come up again and again as a game that did it best, first. Thanks for the info!

@Wojciech: I have caught this trend on iPhones as well. It is quite interesting. I suspect that tradition is a huge part of it. As mentioned in the article, games teach value systems. For a less experienced gamer (i.e. first-time social gamer or mobile gamer), the first system they come across that they have a chance to really learn would, I think, tend to ingrain a pattern that they look for in future games.

The medium could also have a fairly significant impact, as I think about it. It seems that part of the nature of mobile games is a heavy consideration of time usage. (e.g. I'll play this game for 3 minutes before the bus comes.) So facets of a game which also activate the timeline-organizing part of the brain would stand out for a player. This is just a rash assumption of course. Interesting point, in any case!

September 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterGraham Jans

Great post! The fact that you means someone is reading and liking it! Congrats!That’s great advice.

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