Monday, December 7, 2015

14.) Microtransactions

       When I attended GDC Next in 2013, microtransactions was the talk of the industry. "They are the way of the future for our industry" I heard from people constantly; but... that's only if they are done right. Steam implemented broad free 2 play support. We've already seen the online gaming world embrace the power of microtransactions. At the conference, I witnessed many games on PSN and Xbox Live that announced they would support in-game micro-payments. At first I was skeptical of this emerging microtransaction trend. It bothered me and boggled my mind as I ventured out with people from GDC Next whom I'd never met before at bars and networked with them. So, the goal of this next blog post is to talk about the pros and cons of microtranscations, and to provide potential solutions.

PROS of Microtransactions
       So lets start with the potential positives of Micro-transaction game models.

1. When micro-transactions are done well, they are better for both the consumer and the industry. They let consumers try out titles before they invest.

2. They set their own payment scale and potentially acquire assets that will go up in price.

3. Micro-transactions allow the industry to avoid a lot of problems with piracy without having to resort to terrible DRM.

       At first, it sounded great to the ears of game developers (especially "newbies" like myself) listening at these conferences. I remember walking into the show floor area and taking notes from developers being interviewed. As I stood behind an army of journalists taking notes, I overheard developer say, "A micro-transaction model would allow developers to cater both to the consumer who wants to spend five dollars and to the consumers who wants to spend $500; rather than just trying to sell everything regardless of value to the consumer who wants to spend $60."Like some of you reading this, my eyes got big, and I don't mean that in a good way. I literally thought I was going to faint. I thought to myself, "How would consumers spend $500 on an average videogame?"

       I was use to spending $60 or often less on a single game. If you buy a game for 60, some of the guys are now selling their DLC packs for $50 which is $110. Luckily at the time, I was working at GameStop and I was able to checkout up to so many games, so I never really bought a lot of games unless there was one I particularly really wanted. Once you get into these micro transactions which so many game companies are hoping that players do, you could easily spend $200 or more on just one game. You could pay that much for an Xbox 360 or PS3, not that you would at this point, for the same price that you are spending on one game. I am aware that there are gamers out there who play MMORPGs and they are use to spending thousands of dollars sometimes. My point is, that's not the entire industry! This is not how AAA gaming has worked for years.

CONS of Microtransactions
       Now of course at the time, majority around me at GDC did not think about the cons of micro-transactions. As it stands right now, we are headed in the complete opposite direction. Companies see to be interpreting micro-transactions to mean "free for all gouge fest". Although the potential positives of microtransactions are more than great if implemented well, my fear is that microtransactions has that same exact potential to destroy gaming as we know it now. That is just how serious I think the level of Micro transactions is becoming with the way game companies have implemented it now.

So how are microtransactions implemented now for console games at the moment?
       For example, more and more AAA games are being sold up front for 60 dollars at full price, while excluding the primary features of the game, and then later adding more features to the game at a cost through microtransactions. So I have to ask: Why should players have to spend extra money for the rest of the game's features after they bought and paid for the game for full price?

"Do you realize that it is getting to the point that to fully experience a game, you almost have to spend as much as you would on a console?"
-- ReviewTechUSA

It Unbalances the Game
       Games that could make money in the current market will sink under the weight of untenable prices and player backlash. With that said, what amazes me the most is that this day in age, there are fanboys out there who are defending this very issue. Gamers are totally defending the fact that there are micotransactions in a 60 dollar AAA game. They are literally regurgitating the same excuses that the companies behind creating these games are using. An example is the claim that micro transactions does not affect the gameplay. In my defense, it does because it has the potential to makes games unbalanced for players. This hurts and exploits the business model of Free 2 Play shooters because players can essentially pay real money to win.

       P2W (Pay to Win) is the idea of being able to buy power that cannot otherwise be accessed by the use of the in-game system. Ultimately, this can result in unfair advantages making players' gameplay experiences less fun. As you read on, I further explain how microtransactions affect gameplay for better and for worse. Granted if gamers keep proving that they are willing to buy $70 for in-game items, this industry is going to keep trying to sell them to us. When it comes down to it, this becomes our own fault as gamers. This is a hard problem to fix so lets keep this focused on the industry for now.

A History Lesson
       Are we going to be spending the same amount of money that people were spending on Neo Geo consoles back in the day? One game was $200. That's why it died especially when you add inflation to the mix. You were spending more money on a cartridge and not the system. This is why the system didn't do so well. Game companies need to come up with better alternative business practices so that game consumers will not feel as if they are trying to milk the customer dry. As gamers, we need to stand up for ourselves and say hey, this is simply unacceptable. History, if it has taught gamers anything at all, is that bad business practices in the game market is what led to the crash in the gaming industry back in the 1980s. Check out my first blog post here.

       If game companies don't cut it out, that greed is going to get the better of us. The fact that these game companies are looking to milk gamers dry and make us spend hundreds of dollars on basically one game is absolutely ridiculous! This can't be sustained no matter how hard game companies try to cover up and talk about their sales alone on Micro transactions. This is not going to last as gamers begin to realize games are becoming less affordable. In order to sustain the gaming industry, then things need to change. Its simply not practical. Over time, games are going to continually become more expensive. I use to be excited about the gaming industry because it was once evolving for the better, and somewhat still is, but now that it has become such a lucrative industry, I am starting to see the industry at the very moment evolving for the worse. As a gamer, it pains me to say that I have never been so frustrated with the gaming industry and I am trying to be optimistic because this industry has played a huge role in the vast majority of my life.

How Monetization Can Harm F2P

So now that I have covered some of the cons, lets now shift our focus on to the solutions.

So the question is what else are game companies going to have to do to make their games profitable? What do we need to do in order to make micro-transactions work better in games?

Below is a list of solutions I thought about sharing, some of which I gathered and highlighted from Extra Credits.


    We have seen this in the new Star Wars Battlefront game published by EA with the pistol players could purchase.

"If game companies sell special or overpowered weapons and abilities, this will alter the balance of gameplay. This is the quickest way to make players feel as though they are being taken advantaged of. In all honesty, it would be harder for players to compete with those who paid for their weapons and gadgets. Selling power really does force players to pay in order to play. When you are balancing your game, which players are you going to cater to? The people who are monetizing or the people who aren't?"
-- Extra Credits

       "The goal is to sell convenience. Things like extra bank space and character loadout save slots. These are great because they are utterly unnecessary and the player at first feel the default amount is going to be plenty. Sooner or later, anybody who is dedicated to the game will find it actually worth their money to have some of these extra features. Even things like selling leveling speed is ok. Its not as good as selling supplementary perks but it just means that players blaze through the content faster. It doesn't unbalance your game or effect any of the other players. All it does is make it more convenient for players to see the later stages of your game if they choose. Just never sell power!"
--Extra Credits

  • Larger Inventories: Allow players to pay money to increase the size of their "backpacks" or inventories in games. For example in a game like Borderlands, this would allow players to carry more weapons and ammo as they fight enemies online together. A feature like this would also encourage teamwork and allow players to hold items for their teammates if their inventories are already full. 

       "Let players earn every type of currency in your game, even the ones they can also pay for. There is really no good business reason to stop free players from earning pay currency in games. It needs to be a remarkably slow process but there is no business justification for preventing someone from gaining access to all the items in your game if they are actually willing to put in the time and dedication to earn it in game. Many game companies fear that no users are going to pay if they can earn in-game currency. This is simply not true. Giving away currency has 4 major advantages."
-- Extra Credits

  • 1.) Players feel as though the game is fair and its not going to force them pay at any point. Many players are turned away from the idea of free to pay microtransaction games because of that nagging feeling that they are getting scammed to squeeze more money out of them. So if players know they have the option to earn all of the stores' items, and no one is forcing them to pay anything, they are a lot more likely to begin playing in the first place.

  • 2.) Using the in-game store in free 2 play titles is sort of a magic barrier for many players. Its something that seems difficult, foreign and unnecessary to many people, that is until they actually use it. As soon as players uses the store once, game companies are more likely to monetize again. Think about how much inertia it took to get you to download STEAM and make your first purchase, or even to buy your first DLC pack. The second time around came a lot easier didn't it?

  • 3.) If you've balanced earning pay currency in your game, anywhere in the ball-park of well, many players will eventually decide that their time is more valuable than the small amount of money it takes to purchase currency. BAM! You just converted some of your players to paying users. The best part is that they feel more comfortable giving over more money at that point. Either because they are already deeply invested in the game or simply because they feel the game is giving them a fair shake. The choice to make these purchases is up to gamers. Again, the game should never force or make the players feel forced to pay.

  • 4.) If game companies don't do this, thee will exclude everyone without a credit card or without disposable income. As a result, this means game companies would be cutting out a big chunk of their audience who make up such an advent part of gaming communities. Game companies need to realize that a good portion of their audience provide ancillary services to games, such as maintaining Wikis and putting out YouTube videos. You don't want to loose these players because it will cost you greatly.

       We have seen this somewhat work well with games on phones and tablets. At the very moment, we haven't seen this implemented on game consoles. If implemented well, in-game advertising for console games, especially 3D games, will help game companies generate more revenue. By cutting out the "middle man", game companies can sign up their own sponsors. For example, in an open 3D world game like Grand Theft Auto or Watchdogs, they can sign up sponsors who want to advertise their products and services to target their players online. So for instance, a 3D model of a billboard in the game would actually display a real world advertisement for a company trying to market their gaming computers to players. The ad could even be animated and sound from the actual advertisement would play from the billboard in the game.

       Unlike games on phones and tablets, players would not feel like their gameplay is constantly being interrupted by advertisements or worry about ads draining their battery. This would help game consoles have a slight advantage over mobile devices. This is because the advertisements have been integrated online, built into the actual game world of the game. If implemented correctly, this would be a great way for game companies to integrate ads in their games and could potentially become a very lucrative source of revenue for them. No strings attached! This would provide an excellent way of doing Free 2 Play Right. The irony with Grand Theft Auto 5 is that the game deliberately pokes fun at a lot of companies with their "fake" advertisements shown in the game.

Promote Other Games
       In-game advertising will also allow game companies to help sponsor and promote other game companies' games; earning them more exposure. So what if players in Watchdogs could walk into a videogame store and watch actual trailers and YouTube videos of another game? This would be a great way to reward players as well. By simply watching their ads, they could get offered things like discount codes that would be sent to them which could be put towards their next game purchase. GamesChart does something similar to this for Android Phone devices.

Please vote for in-game advertising on Xbox One Feedback by clicking this LINK!

       "Always keep your monetization plan in mind as you build the game. Encourage players to get their friends to help with game objectives and task, even if the other players don't necessarily own the game. This will also encourage players to bring in more of their social network and help expand the game community. Make paying more palatable, and make players' game experience enjoyable, and less disjointed rather than something that's been tacked on and figuring out how you are going to monetize near the end of production."
-- Extra Credits

6.) NEVER Separate the Community!
       "For example, if you have a multiplayer game and you only allow paying players to partake in certain game modes, maps or specific zones, you've not only effectively decreased the size of your community but you have also curtained off paying players from the non-paying players. Its like you walk into a club or some sort of party and you can't enjoy certain areas because there is a buff security guard standing next to a sign that reads: "VIP Section Only!". Personally, I am not a fan of this idea in games. Some of they best ways to get non paying players to actually pay for in-game content is to actually having them hanging out and socializing with the paying players."
--Extra Credits

7.) Market Test Your Prices!
       "We should literally market test everything! You can even market test the box art for your game. Not market testing a make or break feature like how much your items should cost is down right criminal!"
--Extra Credits

No matter how good the Microtransaction business model looks, both in terms of earnings or even potentially better player service, just to reiterate:

In-game monetization with microtransactions is not the right business model all the time or for every game!

       "You wouldn't build an entire game and wait until the last minute to choose the input device. So don't do that with your monetization scheme either. Microtransaction games would be better if the microtransaction elements are built into the design from the ground up, rather than just being layered on top like icing on a cake. That's the only way its going to be better for the consumer, the developer and the distributor. Even if this is the way that most games end up going in the future, its crucial to make sure its important that its the right tool for the job. For many games, it will make more sense for subscription or pay up front and that shouldn't be forced to change."
--Extra Credits

8.) Make Mobile Videogame Apps! 
       Large game companies can create apps to help them with the costs of creating their triple-A games. Just to be clear, I am not saying they should port their triple-A 3D games to mobile devices solely to cater to more people now that everyone has phones. The reason why is because the gameplay simply might not play well on these touch-screen devices due to the controls and the fact that the players' thumbs might get in the way. The gameplay for these games have always worked well with the mouse, keyboard and gamepad controllers in mind and that's fine. What I am saying is that they could take individuals from their team to work on a separate game entirely as an app since it wouldn't kill their budget or require too many people. We have since this work with Fallout 4 when they announced Fallout Shelter. Fallout Shelter is a free-to-play mobile game which is based in the Fallout universe, however its a different game entirely which plays well on a mobile touch-screen device.

My fear is that the game industry (mostly as far as consoles) is not evolving for the better, but for the worst. It is my hope that things will turn around soon for the better because its not looking good right now. Man... it's hard out here for a gamer!

Agree or disagree with this blog post? Do you have any ideas or thoughts for additional solutions you would like to share? Please comment below. 

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