Putting game payments into perspective
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 February 2014, 5:36 am
In the 90's, before I started playing MMORPGs, I played a lot of Magic the Gathering. I won some local tournaments, but then decided that I preferred a more casual approach. I remained attached to the tournament scene as a DCI certified judge, and even participated in a World Championship as referee for side-events. I had a great time. And, looking back at that time, I spent a crazy amount of money on that game. When I stopped playing I estimated that I had spent about $10,000 on my card collection over a decade, not counting other costs like other card sleeves/albums, or travel costs. And at the time I was still a student, and had a lot less disposable income than today.

If I consider my whole gaming history and the cost involved in perspective, I must say that I never had access to so many so cheap games as today. Instead of paying $1,000 per year on Magic cards, I then spent around $200 per year on World of Warcraft. Today they are even cheaper, I can play MMORPGs for free, and buy some additional comfort or faster advancement for less than the cost of a monthly subscription in most games. Instead of buying PC and console games for $50, I buy iOS and Android games for $5 or less, and they aren't even worse than the PC or console games I bought decades ago. And many games I can either play for free, or at least try for free and then decide whether and how much money I want to spend on them.

I am not a huge fan of EA, and only faintly interested in their latest mobile game Dungeon Keeper. But I must say that they are getting an unjustified amount of flak for that game being Free2Play. I don't know under which rock some people lived for the past couple of years, but I am astonished to read all those rants full of outrage that a game that can be downloaded for free then has payment options. To be absolutely crystal clear: EA's Dungeon Keeper is a blatant copy of the successful Clash of Clans, and also copies that game's business model. The "imps" you can buy for real money in Dungeon Keeper are practically identical in function to the builder's huts you can buy for real money in Clash of Clans. Every option to speed up play in Dungeon Keeper has an equivalent in Clash of Clans. Claiming the EA invented a particularly greedy game is just showing your ignorance of the games that already run for years and make big money (which is why EA copies them).

Now in theory it is possible to put unlimited amounts of money in Clash of Clans or Dungeon Keeper, if you want everything always immediately and can never wait. That would be a rather stupid way to play those games, and not really relevant to most people, as we aren't made out of money. So rather we should consider two cases: What part of a game can you play for free? And what part of a game can you play for a moderate investment, let's say $20? On both counts Clash of Clans and Dungeon Keeper aren't doing too badly: You do get two builder's huts / imps for free, and by playing the game for free you'll earn over time slowly enough special currency to get a third and fourth builder's hut or imp. Or you can spend $20 and get those third and fourth builder's huts / imps right away. As these are permanent and then require no further payment, I would consider that as an acceptable payment option. I've certainly seen far worse.

What I really can't understand is the permanent outrage of the entitlement kids when games cost money or try out new revenue streams. Players frequently act as if game developers drive around in golden Rolls Royces, when even a cursory glance at gaming news every day reveals that game developer is an extremely lousy job, badly paid for long hours, and constantly threatened by layoffs and studio closures. In the end a game is a product like many others, and the economics are rather simple: The number of players multiplied with the average revenue per player needs to be more than the cost of making and running the game. If we want games with fancy, and thus expensive, graphics and lots of content, we either need to accept that they have to be created for a mass market and accessible to millions of players, or we need to accept that each player has to put in a good amount of money to finance such a game. We can't have expensive games for free and catering to a small niche.

Ultimately game development is Darwinian. We can have bubbles when optimistic people invest money in games that then are commercial failures. But ultimately only financially viable games and business models survive. In the end each individual player has to decide what each individual game is worth to him, and the aggregate decision of all players on one game will decide whether that game thrives or fails. If you are pushing for a future in which no player ever pays anything, you are advocating a future with no commercial games at all. And that would be a great loss to all of us.
Tobold's Blog

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