Monday, April 19, 2010

I'd rather not get charged more for being Rich, thanks!

Tobold has a post up today in which he asserts that there is a price gap between what 30+ year olds are willing (and able) to spend on recreation and what the average 30+ year old gamer is spending on Video Games.

He sees "premium content" such as the Celestial Steed as a great example of how Game Developers can tap into the unrealized profits that are being left on the table by older gamers.

A truth known already to Consoles
There is absolutely some truth to this statement. Microsoft's whole reason for getting into the Video Game market with the Xbox was this exact same logic. The presumption being that Video Games aren't just for kids any longer. The kids who grew up playing games are still playing games and have lots of disposable income.

The impact was immediately felt in the Console market when the price point for the Xbox and PS2 was $100 higher than the price point of the previous generation at the same stage of release.

The approach in Consoles largely continues to be one about volume. Consoles are simple to develop for because they are standardized (unlike a PC game). A simple and easy Console platform is quick and easy to develop new games.

Middleware also exists to provide engines so that the bulk of the development isn't in the engineering or development, but in the game artist's work.

The most popular titles (Sports Games) have a yearly edition with little to no actual game updates. Something that has grown worse with things like the NFL exclusive licensing agreement with EA.

Profit is made here by rapid development times and lower costs. Gamers with more disposable income simply buy more games. I think this approach works because the cost of individual titles hasn’t increased an absurd amount in the last twenty years. It’s higher, for sure, but it’s holding steady against inflation (or even beating it).

This means that the system is fairly equitable. High income gamers can afford every title. Low income gamers can rent titles or just purchase the very best.

Premium content in an Online World
As much as I hate it, I believe that Tobold is right and PC Game Devs are trying to tap into this same disposable income. I also expect more and more gimmicks and “soft sells” to get your cash. Some of them will be blatant exploitation (like Allods) and others will just tap into your vanity (like the Celestial Steed).

Either way, I think the unfortunate trend is that we are ultimately going to see the approach taken where the very best content is locked until you are willing to pony up an incremental investment. I imagine a scenario where perhaps the “expansion” releases with a half-dozen dungeons and a couple of raids for free. But then at some point, a patch is released where the next raid level is considered “premium content” and requires an additional fee.

For argument’s sake, let’s just say that it is $5 for the extra raid dungeon. I can already hear the ensuing discussion for spending more: “It’s just $5. Quit whining and get in here with us.”

The more I consider it, the more I think this is the most likely implementation of Microtransactions we will see in “mass market” games like Warcraft. Nothing that overtly increases the power of your character, but gateways to premium content that can only be bypassed if you are willing to invest more to play.

But it’s just a game
I have no doubts that some gamers are willing to spend cash on premium content that way. I just find it hard to believe that most gamers feel that way. The reason is simple.

We have been conditioned from an early age that these games are just that – games. As such, there is a stigma about how much we are willing to spend on a game. Affordability is only half the equation. The other half is value.

The perceived value of Gaming is less than other activities. It’s less than Golf, Sailing, Snowboarding, Ballet, or even Gambling. As such, people are just not willing to spend AS MUCH on it as they would another activity.

That’s what bugs me about things like the Celestial Steed. The value of it is even less than what we received for the $40 expansion.

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