Thursday, November 16, 2006

The BIG G's Guide to Microtransactions

Many people have been making a big fuss about electronic distribution, downloadable content and microtransactions. It seems that it's obligatory that all next gen games must have some other crap that allows game developers to squeeze more money out of consumer's wallets. And why not? If people will pay for it, why shouldn't we the game developers get paid for it? So, let me break it down and show you what microtransactions will allow for the future of game development:
Exchange rates – All the MMOs do it, so why shouldn't single player game developers? Although gold auctioning is against the rules, more and more companies are opening up to this revenue source. SOE is allowing servers with sanctioned auctioning (SOE gets a cut of course). Second Life thrives on changing real to virtual money, and Eve Online lets you pay for your subscription fee with in game credits. EA has already started this trend with The Godfather. You can pay real money to get in game credits! Now, the in game credits are different than credits in an MMO game since they only affect your single player experience, not your interactions with other characters. But, I guess some people are willing to pay to make a game easier. Heck! Some people are even willing to pay to get their Xbox Live Gamerscore boosted. I'm considering that since my gamescore is embarrassingly low. No one will ever respect me when I actually have time to play Gears of War online, so I better shell out the dough, so I won't get laughed off Live by a 12 year old with a gamerscore of 30,000.
Charging for cheats and unlockables – Cheats and unlockables are normally included in a game to add replay. Why give that extra replay for free when you can charge for it? EA is ahead of their time because they've realized that there's no reason to give something for nothing. With Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2007, you can buy the unlockables instead of earning them, but it's not long before big head mode costs an extra dollar. If you like concept art, that's going to be $2. If you want the hard difficulty, that will cost you an extra $3.
Toll bridges – Have you ever played a game where getting from point A to point B was really slow and boring? I remember in Final Fantasy X, if you wanted to go back to an earlier town before you were given the airship (which was quite late in the game), you had to walk the entire linear path back to where it was, and you had random encounters of weak enemies all the time, so it was really frustrating. Why don't game developers make it difficult and slow to get around, so gamers won't mind paying a toll? The advantage of this method over unlocking the toll bridge content is that the game developers get the micropayment PER usage.
Charging for keys – Say you want to get into that secret room. Maybe there's something good in it, but you don't know because the door is locked. If you want the key, you can search and search. Maybe the key is really hard to find. Or even better, it could be impossible to find. But if you want the key the easy way, you can pay. The key can be purchased from an in game vendor with real money in order to make the purchase less jarring to the gamer's immersion.
Arcade games – No, I'm not talking about Xbox Live Arcade. I'm talking about “insert coin to continue” arcade games. With the DMCA and all that, we are moving farther from actually owning our media and more towards licensing it from the content creators. No longer do we have the freedom to do what we want with our property because it might ruin some sort of licensing agreement or ridiculous copyright protection scheme. The game industry might take a step back with all this micropayment stuff to create pay to play games like physical arcades. Soon, you'll cringe at hearing “Blue Wizard needs food badly” again! Apparently, blue wizard eats quarters, but I'll be darned if those weren't effective at feeding him!
Pay for the “good” ending – Multiple endings are all the rage in games these days. Maybe it's to give the illusion that the gamer actually had some bearing on the outcome of the game. It's no more bearing than a choose your own adventure book, but I guess some people are fooled. Regardless, multiple endings usually translates into several crappy ones and one good one. There is rarely a game that has multiple endings where they are all desirable. For example, Indigo Prophesy, which was really awesome up until the end, had two bad endings and one slightly better ending. Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie leaves you with the crappy ending of the giant ape dying unless you unlock everything. Then you are treated to the good ending where the misunderstood giant primate lives happily ever after. Does he walk off into the sunset holding hands with Naomi Watts? I hope so, although I imagine the whole ape/woman romance wouldn't fly. Did that confuse anyone else about the 1976 King Kong? They kept saying Kong raped the woman. I don't see how that's physically possible. Anyway monkey business aside - in the future, you will only be able to get the good endings if you pay.
Pay for patches – Now that all games are patchable (I got Gears of War the day it came out and had to download a patch immediately when playing), why is it that game developers are giving those patches out for free? They require extra time and effort to develop, so shouldn't that cost be transferred to the consumer? Soon, if you want all the extra bug fixes and multiplayer balancing, it'll cost you another $1.
Although one might say that “next-gen gaming” is about motion controls and better graphics, that's not really the main thing that we'll see this generation. It's nickle and diming the consumer!

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Anonymous jubal_harshaw said...

Well, either this will kill the industry stone dead or WE'LL ALL BE RICH! RICH! RICH, I TELLS YA!

Skill, fun, fairness and even gameplay are all necessary sacrifices on our march towards immeasurable enrichment!

Personally, I'm looking forward to the psychiatric fallout when a large publishers tell their studio minions to make their latest, complete work of 'art' conform to their 'modular gameplay elements' policy.

In other words; I'm investing in lunatic asylums and I suggest you do likewise.

7:11 AM  
Anonymous jubal_harshaw said...

Curses! My excitement over the monetary prospects of this astounding strategy have led to a superfluous letter 'a' appearing in my previous post. My sincere apologies.

Now I am off to count my chickens while they are still unhatched. Although some say this is unwise, it's easier to count them when the little buggers aren't moving around. This is, I think, a lesson for us all.

7:15 AM  
Anonymous jubal_harshaw said...

One more thing, BIG G - what the hell is this?

I'm speechless. Is this how games are designed in the US?

I'm assuming that the institution is a bit like Full Sail (I used to live quite close to that place) but even more vocationally oriented? Though, why does it look like a 'buy your own diploma' place?

There are things - terrible, confusing things - that I still don't understand about the US education system.

How my mediocre GCSEs got me a GPA of 4.0, for example. I'm about as academically gifted as a dead armadillo.

Still, I must go - someone's just told me that they've got a game that needs 'designing.'

7:19 AM  
Blogger The BIG G said...

That video is very accurate. Here are the truths in that video that many people don't realize:
1) You design video games with video game controllers. Computers or computer skills aren't necessary.
2) Graphics need to be tightened up. You rotate the analog thumb sticks in order to tighten them. Remember - lefty loosey, righty tighty.
3) Designing games takes hours not years. My boss comes in once or twice a day requesting that a new game is designed. If designing a game only takes a few hours, then why are so few games released you might ask? That's because each individual copy of the game needs to be designed and tightened up individually. If you thought that games were pressed like audio CDs and DVDs, you'd be wrong. Each disc needs designers to tighten it up.

I hope that clears things up.

10:58 PM  
Anonymous jubal_harshaw said...

Wow. Can't you, uh, outsource that menial work to India or somewhere?

As someone who, it seems, is stuck in the old-fashioned way of doing 'graphics' (or, as we ancient ones say, 'art assets'), I would find this 'tightening' technology invaluable. Is it available as a Lightwave* plugin?

As for each individual copy of the game having to be designed, this may explain where things are going wrong here. We only design a game once and then mass-produce it, you see, but some flaws seem to creep into some of the copies of the games during this process.

We know this because, although most people have no problems playing our games, there are always some people who cannot get the game to work. Obviously this is not a problem with their computer, but with the game itself. That's what they say and I'm inclined to believe them. Now, thanks to that advert and your speedy explanation, I think I may have an answer to this problem.


* Yes, I said Lightwave. Yes, I'm perverse and masochistic in my choice of modelling package. At least it's now got edge tools, ffs.

P.S. I apologise for filling up your blog with my inane ramblings - I vanished for a while before because I realised that I was, perhaps, spending too much time posting nonsense here when i could have been doing something productive like smoking weed, kicking the elderly or setting fire to the bins behind EA again. I also think I may be too fond of my own keyboard-typing sounds.

6:53 AM  
Blogger andyc said...

Gears of War is the greatest game for Xbox 360

8:26 AM  
Anonymous scratchdisk said...

I was an engineer on Tiger. I was curious about what you said about the MMO that let you pay your subscription with gold. It would be really cool on Xbox Live if you could use your achivement points to buy stuff in the marketplace. But that might open all sorts of security issues.

10:02 AM  

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