The micro-transaction is so strong and it’s definitely a much better model. I think all companies have to transition over to that.
Tommy Palm of King.com, interview at IGN
IGN is becoming the place to talk about free to play and micro transactions. And King.com, the new Zynga, certainly has reason to support that point of view. They are making a lot of money and, true to Tommy’s word, you can “win” Candy Crush Saga without paying. But they are also monetizing frustration, as has been pointed out by Laralyn McWilliams, which I am not sure gets them a lot of love.
People defend King.com by pointing out that a lot of people play through the whole game without paying or by noting how much money they make. But I do not see many F2P advocates examining their monetization scheme (Laralyn McWilliams aside) and asking if that is the best approach. The monetizing of frustration aside… which alone has kept me from giving a damn about any other game King.com has made… there is the question of buying progress.
Buying my way out of a level with their boosts… and as far as I can tell, there are no levels you cannot win on the first try if you have spent enough money… feels a bit like cheating. It is like dealing out a hand of solitaire and then giving somebody $1.99 to tell you it is okay to re-arrange the cards so you win any given hand. I would say that is, in essence, pay to win, except you are not actually playing against anybody but yourself, so I am sure somebody would take me to task.
So maybe it is more like pay to skip playing, in which case why bother playing? That might explain why only 30% of players who beat Candy Crush Saga paid any money. Where is the feeling of victory or the bragging rights if you paid your way through the tough bits?
Or to flip that around, I wonder how many of that 30% would admit to paying? Sure, King.com knows they did, but would they tell their friends?
Anyway, you might excuse Tommy’s exuberance because of the corner of the market he is in and how much money his company is raking in. They have likely spent more on TV ads for Candy Crush Saga than they did on actually developing the game initially.
But we also had David Georgeson talking about all games being free to play as well, and he definitely lives in a world where there is a lot of development expenses before you can start ringing up microtransaction dollars.
We’re effectively street performers: we go out there and sing and dance and if we do a good job, people throw coins into the hat. And I think that’s the way games should be, because paying $60 up front to take a gamble on whether the game is good or not? You don’t get that money back.
-David Georgeson, busking out in front of IGN
This is, of course, the utopian ideal, the big upside to the whole free to play thing, the idea that you only shell out money for what you like.
And I can certainly find examples to support this idea.
I spent a lot of money… bought the collector’s edition and a lifetime sub… on Star Trek Online, which ended up being a game I really didn’t enjoy playing. A big fail on my part.
In comparison I spent no money at all on Neverwinter, which also ended up being a game I really didn’t enjoy playing. But at least it was only time invested.
Those, however, are both negative examples. Games where I was better, or would have been better off, with free to play.
But when it comes to the whole persistent world MMO genre, of which I am a big fan, I do not have any real positive examples where a free to play game really sold me. Sure, I have played a lot of Lord of the Rings Online, even after they went F2P, and I was enthusiastic about EverQuest II Extended when it first showed up. But those were converts from the old subscription model into which I had invested and I have had my ups and downs with both. I think I am done with EQII, and if I return to LOTRO again, it will be because of Middle-earth and despite the microtransaction in every window nature of their business model.
So, while I am okay with microtransactions in many forms… I have enjoyed games like World of Tanks and War Thunder, and I think the iOS version of LEGO Star Wars has a great model where you get the base game and a few levels for free, then can buy additional content if you like the game… it doesn’t seem to work for me in certain areas. The money-where-my-mouth is proof is the persistent world MMOs I am currently playing, World of Warcraft and EVE Online.
Fortunately, as small as the world of game development may seem, it still encompasses a broad spectrum of opinions on many subjects. So while some are gung-ho on F2P, others are sticking with older models. The Elder Scrolls Online just launched as a subscription model MMO, and WildStar plans to later this year. Maybe EverQuest Next or Landmark or something else will change my mind, but for now I seem happiest with the alleged outdated model.
There is no one true path, and I always wonder and people who make declarations in defiance of that. The industry cannot even decide on DRM. We have had industry voices wondering while companies bother, yet just this week Square Enix was saying that DRM is here to stay.
Meanwhile, I hope we’re all spending our dollars on things we actually enjoy playing.