Monday, February 22, 2010

Microtransactions: Follow-up to Today's post

If you aren’t familiar with the Allod debacle, Keen summed it up best. Basically, there is a debuff received when you die called Fear of Death. It lasts two hours and the only way to get rid of it is to use a Perfume that needs to be purchased from the Cash Shop. Keen is upset because a stack of 20 costs $13.50.

And after following Keen and other commentary, I’m struck with a recurring theme. That the problem lies in Allods implementation of the Microtransaction model, not in the model itself. This train of thought is best summed up by Heartless Gamer who wrote:
Lets forget about the cash shop for a minute; these changes don't make sense for any business model. Unavoidable, hours long death penalties? In a game designed to have players die repeatedly? This is a classic case of the punishment (fear of death) not fitting the crime (death). I would have as much of a problem with these changes in a subscription game where I would have to grind away my time for perfume, something more valuable to me than my cash.
Heartless_ is making the argument that we would hate this type of penalty in any game. He argues that if this change were made in a subscription game, players would still be up in arms about it. Very true. But with one critical difference, in Allods, you can PAY to avoid the penalty.

What if it didn’t cost $13.50 for a stack of twenty perfume?
What if it cost $0.25 for a stack of 1000 that would last you an entire year? It might be the most heinous and horrible death penalty in the world, but if you only had to pay 25 cents to avoid it for an entire year is it really a problem? If you don’t pay the measly $0.25 , then aren’t you just punishing yourself? I mean 25 cents is so inconsequential that anyone can pay it.

If the problem is that inconsequential and easily avoidable, why is it that big a deal?

And the moment you concede the point that $0.25 is inconsequential and not a big deal, then you’ve just accepted that developers can implement horrible design changes and you are OK with paying to avoid them.

All you are doing after that is negotiating the price.

For Keen, the $13.50 is too high. Twenty-five cents is acceptable.

But WHY is it acceptable?
The question I’m raising is why is $0.25 acceptable and $13.50 is not? In both scenarios, you are paying to avoid something bad that the developer artificially created to inconvenience you.

The price doesn’t matter. The fact that they are manipulating you to make you pay is what matters.

Why would you willingly accept that manipulation? I’m constantly amazed that people accept this as a matter of course because they see the price as inconsequential.

Who cares if the price is small? You are being duped into paying for bad game design. You are paying to AVOID an obstacle. That’s a problem with the model – not with the implementation.

The Line
Part of the problem is where we need to draw the line. The type of transactions I’ve been talking about are the ones that directly influence how you play the game. I’m against Microtransactions in general, but these are the main ones we need to make sure we never support.

It’s a bit harder to argue against Microtransactions that are merely cosmetic. A $10 minipet is a complete non-factor. A $25 name, server, or even faction change is not terribly remarkable either. But none of those things directly impacts how quickly you progress in the game.

Paying for progress is simply bad for you as a player. It might be temporily convienant, but ultimately it’s bad for all of us that you are allowing the dev to manipulate you into paying.


Chris said...

So why cant a game exist using both the sub model, and the MT model? Seperate server shards, seperate billing methods. Why not let the gamer choose which model they want to support?

Is the issue here really one of cost, or of convienience? This question btw applies to both the developer and the player.

I'm in the camp that MT's are just bad for the western midset, and what we are seeing is a model being pushed down our throats as a "saviour" for the western gaming industry.

Let's start by removing the word "game" from the equation and actually debate the issue with MT's as they relate to an online virtual existance. Games by nature have offered a level playing field and have historically pitted a human against either a machine, or another player. Allowing participants the ability to purchase items that affect gameplay cannot be justified simply because the industry is horribly broken, which is the gist of your latest post it seems.

If developers want to create a persistant virtual world where real world cash influences perceived success, then by all means let them do so. Let the social networks form around the ability to pay just like it is in real life. But please, dont call them games and expect people to not cry foul when it comes to instances like Allods.

sid67 said...

But please, dont call them games and expect people to not cry foul

You raise an interesting point about non-games. Certainly people purchase all kinds of things as status symbols to show off wealth.

That doesn't work in MMOs because the typical MMO community member views status in a different way. Demonstrations of real wealth are often scorned (bought accounts, etc) by others in the community.

The challenge for the dev would be to create an environment where such virtual goods purchased with real money were accepted by the community as an appropriate status symbol.

That's hard to do because -- at the end of the day -- they are just virtual items. Second Life is about the only place I know of where such symbols are even accepted.

Chris said...

The challenge for the dev would be to create an environment where such virtual goods purchased with real money were accepted by the community as an appropriate status symbol.

Ahh, but the way MT's are being presented is that the industry needs new revenue generation methods in which to generate/sustain profitability. I was around for the gaming crash of the 80's, and I am not too shy about saying that -some- of the reasons it occured are looming before us as we debate this issue.

When you pit this against the notion that inhabitants of a -game-world are willing to shell out real world dollars for virtual items, you open the flood gates of what is acceptable and what isnt as it relates to the confines of the ruleset as it -should- apply to everyone.

Thus ensues the logical fallacy argument that time can be equated with a monetary value in a -game world- that is built around the DIKU model of progression(talking about WoW here). Thus, the people who complain about the -grind- aspect of DIKU's fall short of understanding how the subscription model is best suited for such a game.

I agree with you - in that I will pay for an expansion, new dungeon content or higher monthly fee as long as I am given the same ability to experience and complete it as -everyone else-.

If developers want to create a virtual world where status(read: success) is defined by the virtual world items they buy, let them I say. But as it stands now, Free2Play - as a viable western bussiness model, has no bussiness being associated with anything that has the word -game- in it.