Quote of the Day – When You Have a F2P Hammer, Every Nail is a Microtransaction

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.

Buy now or start over

Buy now or start over

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.

10 thoughts on “Quote of the Day – When You Have a F2P Hammer, Every Nail is a Microtransaction

  1. bhgapuss

    There absolutely is no one true path as far as I’m concerned. Also, what’s good for me as a player is by no means what’s good for the game company or vice versa.

    Take GW2. I bought the box on release and liked it so much I bought a second box. I’ve played two accounts for a year and a half, racking up well over 3000 hours between them but ANet have literally never had another penny from me.

    If GW2 had been a sub game I’d almost certainly have subbed the entire time, albeit only on one account. They’d be ahead by about $150. They could have had quite a few dollars more if they hadn’t put in the Gold-to-Gems conversion, too, although they rarely sell much in the Gem Store that interests me.

    On the other hand, all SOEs MMOs are now F2P and yet over the same time-frame I’ve kept up my All Access subscription (was $19.99 a month, now $14.99) and on top of that I’ve spent maybe another $50-75 in the SC Store because they quite often have things for sale there that take my fancy. Don’t ask me why but I actually *like* giving SOE money. I have always found them highly entertaining in every sense of the expression and it only seems right that I chip in for all the fun I’ve had and am still having.

    In other words, if a company can give me what I want I will, within reason, pay them what they ask by the method they prefer. I might even give them something on account just because I’m having such a fine time.

    If they insist on giving me what I want without asking for anything in return, however, while failing to come up with any extra baubles that catch my fancy, then they only have themselves to blame if I play the hell out of their game for free.

    All of which gets us precisely nowhere, which is where any and every discussion of MMO payment models always ends up! It just demonstrates, as if we didn’t already know it, that customers are not rational and should never be treated as though they are.


  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – You do end up with some variety in your spelling. I’ve corrected a few in the past that have gotten caught up in the moderation queue.

    I’m waiting for Blagpuss.

    As for the post, like always, once money is part of the equation, everything gets really touchy. We hate being asked for money yet if something we like goes away people are suddenly, “Had I but known, I would have paid out more!”

    Also, does that title even make sense? It seemed amusing late last night. In the cold light of day, I am not so sure.


  3. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    King.com is going to be interesting to watch. More savvy business people than I have predicted that they’ll “fast follow” Zynga’s stock trajectory. Of course, like Zynga, they’ll probably be able to sit on a mountain of cash raised by the IPO for a long time and not really be threatened with going out of business.

    As for the business model, we’ve tread this road before. Free-to-play isn’t the only model, but it’s a damn fine model. I’m pretty sure King.com wouldn’t have been able to do a public offering without the business model, and SOE might not have been around today without their conversion. So, look at the free-to-play boosterism as fanatics who found the secret that let them live, and are eager to spread the gospel to others. For all its flaws, free-to-play does give us gamers a wider variety of games to play, which is hardly a bad thing. I’m happy with a world where Candy Crush Saga can exist next to Titanfall, and I can choose to play whichever one strikes my fancy at the time.


  4. ingvai

    Even if you are not into the superhero genre, I think Marvel Heroes is worth a look just for their take on the F2P model (and it happens to be a fun cross between an MMO and an ARPG). Basically, you get the whole game for free, but you only get one free character (class) out of about nine to choose from. Additional characters and now companions need to be purchased ($5-$15) or earned with a currency in game. Because of some bonuses for first-time players, you will earn a new toon within 10 hours of playtime.

    Other than that, you can buy costumes and convenience items. The only real annoyance is the need to buy extra storage space. There are, however, plenty of people who claim to have dumped a ton of time into the game without paying anything for it. According to my account history, I have dropped a little over $10/month on it.


  5. sid67

    I’ve grudgingly come to accept that if I get something more tangible for my dollar that can’t be earned other ways, I’m more forgiving of F2P simply because its more similar to buying something collectible. (Even if it’s only tangible in a virtual world).

    If you have younger kids like I do, think about Disney Infinity or Skylanders. It’s not apples to apples, but you buy the core game and then collectible action figures that unlock more content. It’s vastly more expensive than a traditional game but I’m more sympathetic to the model because I’m not paying to avoid some artificial inconvenience.


  6. halycon

    Skylanders makes me wanna cut someone.

    You buy the game and toy, so far so good. Then you take it home, give it to the kid, and they start playing. Wonderful. Till they hit a gate that requires a specific type of Skylander. At which point because they are kids you have to listen to hours of them jabbering about needing a new Skylander. If you give in and buy it they want all of them, if you don’t, they try to guilt you into it.

    Truly, whatever person thought up Skylanders deserves to rot in the lowest pit of hell.


  7. sid67

    Which is why I drew the comparison — it has that same F2P feel with regards to barriers. As frustrating as that is, however, what you get for the character purchase is clear:
    –access to the gated content behind that portal
    –access to the character as a playable Skylander hero, with unique animations/abilities
    –another hero to swap in with full health if a current hero is grievously hurt

    To me, that’s more tangible and worthwhile than simply paying to skip some inconvenience (which is what you do with an XP potion, or paying to speed something up). You either have access to the above things or you don’t.

    Now consider how much development time goes into creating the gated portal and character. From a cost analysis, it may not be the same value as the core game, but it’s still has to be more significant than that which you get from an XP potion. Which is simply a little bit of code that says the rate at which you get your XP is faster.


  8. bhagpuss

    XP potions are interesting. They long pre-date F2P. They were one of the earliest and most frequent Loyalty/Veteran rewards in subscription MMOs I was playing a decade ago. Also double/bonus xp weekends have been a very popular thing in sub games for as long as I can remember – still are.

    For whatever reason, no matter how fast and easy leveling is and how much people even enjoy doing it, getting more xp for the same amount of effort is always popular whatever payment method an MMO employs. I don’t think it has as much to do with skipping content or avoiding content as it does feeling like you are getting a 2-for1 bargain. There are those people who can turn down a 2-for-1 offer on the grounds that they only need the one, but they are few and far between.


  9. sid67

    If you monetize XP potions, however, it suddenly stops being a reward and instead becomes a vehicle to create an incentive for you to make a purchase. The same principles used in Candy Crush can be used to subtly encourage players to pay to avoid being inconvenience.

    Rather than adding net new content, the developer instead works on tweaking XP rates to find the sweet spot that is frustrating enough to make you want to buy potions, but not so frustrating that you stop playing.

    This is typically developed into an algorithm that over time becomes progressively more expensive because in a sick twist, the more vested the player, the more likely they are to spend money.

    My issue is that the inconvenience is completely artificial and I’m being manipulated into paying — either with my time or with my cash.

    With gates on new content, it’s all very upfront and transparent. Yes, you pay a premium for the new content, but you do, in fact, get new content. Unfortunately, many players find the prospect of paying a higher premium for content to be off-putting.

    Ironically, many of these same people will happily spend the same sums of money (or more) to avoid artificial inconveniences via XP potions and not getting any new content — just faster access to what they were already getting.


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