The other day I spotted an article on Cracked that really made me stop and think about the larger gaming market as we know it. The article in question wasn't exactly complimentary to a large swath of online gaming, but then I got to wondering, how much of this was applicable to the wider market? Was this just one disgruntled gamer? Or was this a trend in the making that developers could stand taking a response toward?
We all know that free to play
gaming is taking off, but the issue of monetizing that content is still something of a thorny one. Whether opening up specific gameplay options, gameplay modes, weapons or just costume choices is the way to go, bringing in advertiser support, or any of a host of options is the way to go or not, some places do monetization well, and others, not so much. That prompted the Cracked article in question, pointedly titled "6 Groundbreaking Ways Video Games Are Screwing Players." The article includes a host of possibilities, from the lock box keys found in "Star Trek Online
" to "RuneScape"'s "Squeal of Fortune" roulette wheel to popular target "EVE Online
"'s commuting system. Indeed, there's something to be said about some of these approaches, and though not everyone will have something necessarily bad to say about said approaches, the end result for a lot of players likely comes down to the same thing: value.
After years of dealing with marketing on one end of the spectrum or another, it's not hard to reduce "value" to a certain basic concept. Essentially, all sales or marketing or anything else is trying to do is persuade people that whatever thing it is that the person launching the sales or marketing effort has is actually more valuable to the person in question than hanging on to said person's cash is. If I'm selling candy bars, I'm trying to convince you that this candy bar is worth forking over cash, because your life would actually be better if you had one of my candy bars than if you had your money. Anything marketing-related basically comes down to this, and that's what monetization in games is out to do. Your life would actually be better--likely more fun and entertaining--if you have this extra thing in this game. This hat is so cool that you will be more excited about playing the game while your character is wearing it, this lockbox could have a powerful item hidden inside that will make your game more fun, and so on. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes that which does work works better than other times.
This is the ultimate approach that free to play gaming needs to take in order to get cash coming in the door. The game itself needs to be good enough that people will play it, but then the content that people pay for needs to make an already good game better. Like the case goes with the "Star Trek Online" lockboxes, it's not value enough to say "you have an item, now pay in order to use it." That makes the original, free to play game feel broken by comparison, and that doesn't engender value. People need to be playing the game as-is, and then improving the game with the bonus payable content, not feeling like said people are paying to fix a broken game. Free to play games don't, as a rule, have a lot of investment. People are playing the free to play game because it's free. If these people enjoy the game, now they're invested, and want to make the experience better. That's the opportunity to slip in the bonuses, not trying to recover a flagging experience.
Getting people to pay in free to play is all a matter of making the value proposition big enough to draw interest. When that happens, the dynamics work, and the players are ready to open wallets to make a good thing even better. Failing to do so, meanwhile, gets a development team snarked at in Cracked.