Posts Tagged ‘monetization’

I’ve written about finishing World of Warcraft before, and I’ve written about business models more than a few times.

Alternative Chat has a good blog post up ruminating a bit on the potential that Blizzard has to take the existing World of Warcraft and blow it up, starting over with all the bits they want and jettisoning the cruft of the last decade.  They did a version of this with the Cataclysm expansion, which I’ve also written about a few times.

So, I just wanted to put my finger in the stream again and post pretty much the same thing I noted in a comment over at Alt’s place, and something I’ve written here before…

If Blizzard really wants to shake things up and leave the old WoW behind for a brave new world, they should branch the game.  Cut everything that’s presently in the game off from the dev teams (save for bug fixing), package it up as a “buy to play” subscriptionless game in the vein of Guild Wars, and bravely stride off into WoW 2.0 as their premiere flagship subscription game.

It’ll never happen, just like Vanilla servers won’t happen and Pre-Cataclysm servers won’t happen, but hey, I can dream.

Edited to add:  This amuses me.  As Jay over at The Rampant Coyote points out, “Buy Once and Play” is making a minor comeback.  As if it’s something radical.  This industry is weird.  Even Forbes just can’t resist the satire.

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Having been unemployed now for the better part of a year, scrambling for odd jobs and attempting a career change, I’m more sensitive than ever to the cost of things.  There are a great many rants that I could indulge in, but at the moment, I’m in a contemplative mood.

Y’see, payment models are part of these MMO games that I write about here and there.  Syl has a new post up that’s tapping into a bit of the blogging hivemind, which is buzzing about money again.  I’m of a mind that the subscription model is a very poor value for me, F2P is a bit better when it’s not annoyingly restrictive or weirdly monetized, and “buy and play” of Guild Wars and Wizard 101 is still my favorite model.

Thing is, what little gaming I do these days is either on my smartphone with something like Slingshot Braves (which I’m still not spending money on, though I’d like to, in a way) or Flight Rising on my PC.  In the former, I’d probably pony up a few dollars if I could buy specific gear I want, and in the latter, I don’t mind advertisements as the monetization vector.

It makes me wonder… has an MMO toyed with advertisements in their major cities?  As noted in Darths and Droids, of all places, games actually can benefit from some verisimilitude by having sloganeering or even advertisement in big cities.  The setting has to make sense, of course, and advertising isn’t always really a big money maker, but it seems like something someone might have tried, or could have tried.  The Secret World, or The Matrix Online, maybe.

Anyway, I certainly don’t begrudge devs their money.  I have my own money problems, and won’t pay for something that doesn’t offer me good value, but, as with Humble Bundles, I’m OK with spending money on games.  I’m not a whale, I’m a stingy consumer.  Offer me something worth paying for, and I probably will.  Try to manipulate me with stupid things like lockboxes, slot machines, subscriptions or other obvious ploys to get money with little effort, and I’ll just move on.

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This is an addendum for my original Making it Real article, but I think it deserved more than a comment in the thread with a few links.

Hat tip to Shamus for this one:

Johanna Blakely: Lessons From Fashion’s Free Culture

TED talks are all over the place in quality, but this one does point out some interesting thoughts on IP protection and innovation.

I have to wonder if the same spirit behind Linux might be moving things like Psychochild’s article on Elemental Advancement.  He could have tried to keep that under wraps as a trade secret, but sharing it lets the blogging hivemind make the concepts better.  It’s then on his head (or someone else’s!) to execute the ideas in a commercially viable way, for which he could and should be rightfully recompensed.  It’s the work of execution that would be rewarded, not really the idea.  This is also why you will never sell an idea to a game company.  Go ahead and try; they will laugh in your face or outright ignore you.  Ideas are cheap. (To be clear, Ixobelle wasn’t selling ideas there, he was selling himself, but the Blizzard response is standard; game companies will not buy ideas.)

The talk’s argument roughly suggests that ideas should be cheap, free and unfettered, and that execution is really what matters.  When ideas can be free, innovation has fewer limitations.  Her list of industries with different IP laws and lack of copyright is especially enlightening.

To reiterate on what I was writing about in the last article, then, if you make your game idea into reality and sell it as such, as a physical game, you are effectively monetizing the actual production and materials, not so much the idea.  The idea can be taken and molded by house rules or knockoff products, but if you maintain quality, you’ll still be the standard of comparison.

Taken another way, you can make your own Magic cards and play with them.  Sure, Wizards owns copyrights on their particular game art and the “tap” icon, but you can take a sharpie to blank cards and play all day long.  You’ll never get them into a sanctioned tournament, but if you’re happy playing with friends at home, who cares?  If you do want to play “for real”, though, you pony up and buy the cards.  If you want the prestige of “real” cards and the option of playing in official venues, you go through the gates.  If you just want to play with the cool ideas, you can do so at home with homemade cards and homebrew ideas.

The WoW TCG has a set of free PDFs that comes directly from the devs, allowing you to print out some game cards and play the game.  It’s just a small slice of what the game ultimately has to offer, but it’s a way to get people playing.  My Alpha Hex paper beta runs along the same lines, though I’m also using it to get playtest feedback.  In either case, the “real” game has more to offer, and can be monetized as such.

IP laws can be weird and wild animals, as Scrusi rightly notes.  I’m not sure that a totally anarchic society of free ideas would function as well as the idealists would suggest, but then, the Big Brother draconian DRM direction doesn’t seem to be paying off with much more than ill will and sequelitis with a nice side dish of piracy.  We don’t make clothes (utilitarian tangible things) in video game design… but offline tangible variations might just be a nice avenue to explore sometimes.

In the meantime, throwing a few game design ideas out there into the wild just may be a good idea.


UPDATE! Scott Adams of Dilbert fame weighs in on ideas… quite coincidentally.  I like his take on it, though, and his closing line is one that Ed Catmull echoed as well:  “Ideas are worthless. Execution is everything.”

In a creative industry, like the one I work in, we’re paid for getting things done.  Ideas are valuable inasmuch as they help get things done, but at the end of the day, if the work hasn’t been completed, and especially if there’s no product to sell, no number of ideas will make the guys writing the checks happy.

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The Play This Thing article on Mythoria questions the value of games, specifically a video game that would work well as a physical game.

The notion of making money by selling real, tangible stuff is one that I’ve toyed with, and it’s interesting to see it noted elsewhere.  I still need to finish Alpha Hex‘s video game iteration, but I’ve long had ideas for making it a physical card game as well.  I printed up some cards to playtest it during design, and it proved to be very helpful… and it plays fairly well in tangible form.  I’d love to use the Game Crafter to sell a base Alpha Hex set and expansions if occasion permits, but leave the digital version free and open source (if they ever support hexagonal cards, I’ll jump on it).  I’ve even made card designs for both formats, and written some story and lore with an eye to making physical card-specific art, not unlike that MTG thing.  It might even be a “wheel within a wheel” for some other game designs I have in mind.

To me, having a physical game, ready to play if the digital world goes offline, is a valuable thing that I’m willing to pay for.  There’s a retro appeal to buying stuff with my money, instead of… digital, ephemeral… nonstuff.  (Especially when draconian DRM means the providers can deny me the privilege of playing at a whim.)

My wife and I have collected many board and card games, and many times, they are more fun to play than popping in another video game.  We don’t need electricity or a connection to the internet, just some light, a level surface and somewhere dry to play.  There are no patches, no permissions, no waiting for the Dungeon Finder to work its magic. That freedom can be good for the soul, even if it’s just a periodic thing, another tool in the toolbox of the larger world of “gaming”.

I’ve designed three board games and two card games in the last year or so, and I’d love to get them out there and make a bit of money from them.  There’s even a place for making one of my board games into a nice hardwood coffee table offering… even if it’s just something I do for Christmas gifts.  (Though it would be great if they were commercially viable.)

These video game things can be good fun, to be sure, but sometimes, it really is great to hold game cards in your hands, to move pieces on a board, and to play with people face to face, rather than through anonymous filters, monitors and cables.  It can even be instructive when trying to design games for the digital realm.  Offline games have been designed and played for thousands of years; there’s a lot of good data there to sift through with an eye to why games work.

Paper Dragon Games has a tangential take on things; their headline offering, Constellation, is a game that is designed to have a “board game” feel, but is entirely digital.  We can certainly automate setup and some mechanics digitally, making some game mechanics easier.  The digital version of Alpha Hex benefits from automated ownership tracking and attack resolution, for instance, and the XBox Live version of Settlers of Catan is far easier to set up than the board game.

It can be very useful to make a game digital… and it can be useful to go the other way, too.  It’s harder to pirate a card game, for one.  Sure, photocopiers work, and I’ve even offered a PDF version of Alpha Hex, but if the cards offered for sale are of sufficient quality and the game is good, there will still be a market for the “real thing”.  I probably won’t ever make a living purely on card game sales, but it’s worth offering the option to anyone interested in the game.

There is certainly room in the “game tent” for both digital and physical games, sometimes even different iterations of the same game, as with MTG.  When I look at monetizing my game design hobby, though, I can’t help but think that it might be a good outlet for me to take some of my game designs that could work in either format (or both!) and offer a physical version.  It’s one more way to break up the demand curve and reach out to different people.

Parallel product lines can also help build a brand, which can be useful for indies.  We even see things like the merchandising efforts of the Blizzard WoW team, what with the card game and the miniatures game.  They didn’t pan out to be as popular as their parent game, but they are solid offerings, and likely at least partially profitable for Blizzard.

Sometimes, it pays to make the game real.

…even if it’s only because you get to use house rules…

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OK, so $10 for a horse is apparently the harbinger of the apocalypse.  If Blizzard gives it wings, what then?

Is it OK when Blizzard, the holiest of the holy subscription games, dips its toes into mount sales?  Are they an Item Shop game now, further tainted by that pesky capitalism stuff?  *cue rabid fanboy ranting*

Does anyone think that Blizzard isn’t going to make money with this?

Much as I think fussing about this sort of thing is spitting into the commercial winds, I’m with Darren on this in one way; I’ll spend that $25 on a complete game, thankyouverymuch, and play it forever.  I can probably pick up Lost Odyssey for that on sale somewhere, or a few more Steam sales…

I don’t mind that this pretty, pretty horse exists, not at all, I just won’t be getting one.  Ripples of the commercial Cataclysm I keep suggesting, perhaps?

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Ostensibly, “F2P” is an acronym for “Free to Play”.

In practice, the term can cover a couple of different types of MMOs that don’t monetize via subscriptions.

On one hand are the Item Shop games, say, Runes of Magic, Allods Online or Puzzle Pirates.  RoM and AO are post-WoW DIKUMMOs (PWDMMORPGs?), but Puzzle Pirates is an entirely different animal that uses a microtransaction dual currency system.  RoM and AO have taken heat for goofy pricing and design that spurs purchases, some of it rightly so, some of it ill-informed and incompetently reasoned.  Noting that Puzzle Pirates functions quite nicely as an Item Shop game, might I take another moment to note that while business and game design are inextricably linked, incompetence in one need not mean the other is equally busted?

On the other hand, there are Subscriptionless games that monetize by selling content and convenience.  Look to Guild Wars, DDO and Wizard 101 for this sort of game design.  Content is sold with perpetual access, and players need not continue to pay a subscription.  These games tend to be constructed differently from the Item Shop games, earning money most like offline games of yore, by providing a valuable experience out of the box.

Also of note are the hybrid games.

Wizard 101 allows for subscriptions, content purchases and item shop purchases.  It monetizes all sorts of demand and lets all sorts of players play together, hopping servers willy-nilly almost at will.  It’s a beautiful game that plays extremely well, carving out its own identity with unique game mechanics and quirky writing.  The Harry Potterish feel is almost certainly part of the appeal, but it really is a solid game under the hood.

Puzzle Pirates has microtransaction servers and subscription servers.  Players cannot change server, and their economies are largely unique.  Doubloons (the microtransaction currency in their brilliant dual currency system) are tied to the account, not a server, and so may be spent on any “green” (microtransaction) server, but “blue” (sub) and “green” servers are isolated.  Still, players can play on any server, and can find one to suit their finances.

I think there is a critical distinction to be drawn between Item Shop games and Subscriptionless games.  I’ve argued for selling content instead of time for a while now, and I firmly come down in the Subscriptionless camp.  Whether this is sold in large bites like Guild Wars or smaller bites like Wizard 101 or DDO, it doesn’t matter much, but there is a clear difference between this model and the Item Shop model.  RoM and AO and their kind walk a line between selling stuff that’s useful and selling stuff that breaks the game, between impulse purchases and wallet-busting stupidity.

Both games can rightfully be presented as “Free to Play”, inasmuch as the acronym itself really only suggests that there is no subscription.  (Though it is a curious thing when a product is defined by what it lacks rather than what it has or is…)  We really have misnomers on top of misnomers abound in the MMO market, so this is no surprise, but it isn’t useful to take something like Allods Online’s messed up Item Shop (or your favorite game used as an example of the apocalypse) and paint an entire swath of games with a disdainful “F2P” epithet.  Games need to be taken on their own merits, balanced against their monetary and time costs, and evaluated for fun.  Blind prejudice against games roughly defined by a marketing acronym that doesn’t have consistent meaning doesn’t really help anything.

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It seems to me that Shamus of Twenty Sided and I share many tastes when it comes to games, especially MMOs.  His latest Escapist article neatly summarizes many things that I’ve written about more than once:

Experienced Points:  The Playground Model

Twenty Sided blog mention of the same

In short, he notes that “grind” can broadly be thought of as anything that the player has to do before getting to the “good part”.  Devs seem to want to steer players through game elements with their own assumption of what “the good part” is, which leads to some conflicts of interest.

As I note in my comment over at his blog, I lay a lot of blame for this sort of design on the business model.  When you directly monetize time to access and play the game (not even time played, though that also leads to the same conclusion), the design impetus is to include things that take a lot of time.  Players spending time directly translates to them spending more money.

It’s the dark, stinky underbelly of the subscription model, something those who constantly complain about the Item Shop model conveniently ignore in their headlong rush to condemn design decisions those games make to monetize players.  True, many of those decisions are also stupid, but sub games are not saints.  In all cases, the business model affects game design; you just have to pick your poison.

I find it interesting that consumer patterns track well across different purchases, too.  I don’t rent cars, I buy used ones, paid in full, no financing.  I don’t rent movies, I borrow or buy.  Ditto for games, though I’ll usually buy when there’s a sale or used.

So I’m cheap.  I call it thrifty.

Borrowing from Shamus’ playground analogy, I either take my kids to the local public parks or maybe buy a swingset.  (We’re looking for one on sale.)  We don’t go to the local theme park (Lagoon, in this case) to blow $70 or more on a single day of waiting in lines for a few minutes of fun.  We certainly don’t buy season tickets.

To be sure, those offer great value to some people, but not to everyone.  That’s what I keep trying to illustrate.

When those value equations sort out differently for different people, the game design itself is naturally pulled in different directions.  The playground just doesn’t work the same for everyone… and that’s OK.  There’s a natural tension between that variability and the “one size fits all” monetization schemes, though, and when the game is trying to appeal to all sorts of different players, well, it’s only natural that there will be tensions on the business side, too.

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