The way video games work in this day and age are a far cry from the my childhood.
I remember buying super smash brothers for the nintendo 64 for $40.
I could play it right when I got home. No updates, no additional content, no additional cost.
It was that simple.
But nowadays, well…
I got the game Metro: Last Light for free as part of the Xbox: Games with Gold subscription. But along with this game you can buy some additional missions in the form of downloadable content or DLC.
What’s more, all the DLC is cheaper if you buy it with the season pass. And there is an additional hard mode you can buy separately that they say is the most immersive way to play.
So I got a game for free, but if I wanted to full experience I would need to buy the season pass, plus hard mode, all so that I could get the full game experience.
Needless to say, things are much more complicated now.
So Here’s the Situation
Most people make the assumption that modern video game sales tactics are solely based on greed, although this is certainly true for many companies. With the advent of the internet, games can become ongoing experiences by delivering updates as small as patches and as large as expansions.
This is good for both gamers and developers.
Gamers can continue to enjoy the game that they love.
Developers can continue to be supported while they continue to make updates.
But this does lead to some rough situations.
Some Companies Can’t Sell Their Games Just Once Anymore
And here’s why.
The ability to continuously update games has created a strange new culture of forever games.
While constant updates and events lead games to become a continual, engaging gathering for both fans and developers, the funds that drive that development need to be constantly incoming.
Not only do they need to keep long term fans happy, but they also need to gather new players.
Thus we see the problem that is solved by microtransactions.
And I see your eyes rolling already, but hear me out.
There are good and bad ways of doing microtransactions.
While they do provide funding to the games development, they should also be providing a continual service to players. This allows many games to be completely free.
Encouraging new players to join older games keeps the community alive. A living community rewards dedicated fans for keeping the game alive with microtransactions.
This is a delicate ecosystem that works well for many games, especially for multiplayer focused games.
But it doesn’t work for everything.
Some Companies Can’t Give Away Their Games for Free
While multiplayer may thrive in free-to-play microtransaction ecosystem, this system is definitely not for everyone.
Story based games and single player experiences are a more traditional experience. When you finish the game, you are done.
Some may have expansions and other dlc to build upon the original game, but the overall design is as a temporary experience and not an ongoing event.
This allows the players to not be overwhelmed by content and leaves the developers free to work on the next project.
Microtransactions and the free-to-play systems don’t really work in the single player game.
They are not completely impossible, but that they must be treated differently. Players will rarely invest their money in games that they will only play for a short while.
Unneeded microtransaction can, however, lead developers down a slippery slope that will ruin their games, themselves, and players alike.
Whatever you do don’t ruin the game
Alright, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. It is a sad truth that most companies will deliberately ruin parts of their games to force in microtransactions. Slowing down progression to unbearable levels, cutting out content to then sell it back, locking content behind slot machines the list goes on.
And while all companies need to make money to stay in business, most using these tactics are trying to get every last cent from their customers. Leading many people to throw their life savings into games, and ultimately destroy their lives in the process.
This is evil.
This is wrong.
And we, the gaming industry need to stop it.
Here are a few practices we are implementing in our company to avoid this slippery slope.
Amount of money for service
With games being an ongoing experience the expense is not infinite but ongoing. Therefore the services that are being provided must be ongoing, but not infinite.
So sell currency that allows players to buy a set amount of items, not infinitely replenished items. Selling skins that are at a reasonable set price and not selling chances at a slot machine. If in doubt there is a simple test you can do to judge if a system is fair.
The four way test
The Rotary Club is international organization of business owners whose goal is to help people in long lasting ways, both across the world and in their own communities.
One of their core principals is something called the four way test.
First created in 1932, the test is a way of ensuring integrity in both business and personal life.
Let’s see how the four way test applies to video game monetization.
1. Is it the TRUTH?
Is the described item being sold exactly what is being received?
Are there any hidden fees being applied now or in the future?
2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
Is the item priced correctly?
Will it give an unfair advantage to the player?
3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
Does this item create a rift in the community?
Does it divide those who have from those who don’t?
4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
Do free players, paying players, casual players and the developers all benefit from this deal?
Now I am not saying that it is easy to balance these things.
In fact it is quite difficult and it changes from game to game.
A system that works in a card game may be very insidious in a mmo strategy game. This is something that we must continue to work on and refine.
Every game is different so we need to work at finding the best way to do things for each one. If you notice people are using your systems in unhealthy ways, change your systems and listen to community feedback.
This will allow us to have positive relationships between developers and players.
And It will create better games for players and more reliable income for developers, all without being evil.
Comment below on ways other games utilize microtransactions that you like, and we can work together to find systems for developers to use.