When the videogame historians look back on this particular monetization strata, it will undoubtedly be the Season Pass era. Or perhaps the Microtransaction era more generally, to include loot boxes, but with legislators and science slowly turning against loot boxes, I feel like more and more games will be making a hard turn into the Season Pass model.
To be clear, I am not referring to the Season Passes of yore, in which you essentially pre-ordered DLC. The new hotness is basically a month-to-month subscription. This most recently slapped me in the face in Clash Royale:
Someone on Reddit wrote up all the incentives that your $5 will purchase, and the list is somewhat enticing. None of them are technically P2W, which is itself a moot point because you could drop $99 on shit from basically day 1 in Clash Royale anyway. Indeed, if you look at the package in comparison to what your hard-earned cash could buy normally, you’re effectively getting 10x-11x the normal value. Five dollars will get you 500 gems, which can convert to 10,000g or two emotes or two Lightning Chests… or basically give you 40,000+ gold, 800 more cards (including 60+ Epics) and a bunch of other stuff.
Of course, Supercell doesn’t want it to be an either/or scenario. You can do both. Having an exceptionally generous Season Pass can lure F2P players into making their first purchase, after which it is easy to make another. One of the “perks” of the one in Clash Royale is an auto-announcement in Clan chat that you purchased the pass, and thereafter your name shows up in gold coloring in chat and battling. Turns out that adding gold leaf to a scarlet letter makes it rather desirable.
The dilemma I face is the same as always: I am caught in eye of the monetization storm.
As the screenshot shows, I am one Miner card away from having a fully-maxed deck. I am sorely tempted to purchase the Season Pass entirely to get that last Miner card. It would normally not be too difficult to trade for it within my current clan, but there are at least three other members currently asking for Miners themselves, and none seem keen to trust me in giving up one of their so I can max the card and satisfy an effectively infinite number of trades thereafter.
After that though… what then? I have dozens of technically maxed cards that I cannot actually max out because I lack the gold to upgrade them all. Not that I would need to max them out in the first place, considering I don’t use them in decks. The deck I have is the one I enjoy the most. The last two slots are technically flex slots, but I have tried a bunch of alternatives and found them lacking.
Would the new Fisherman legendary card be a good fit? Completely irrelevant. New legendaries may as well not exist, because I would need literal dozens of them to get them anywhere near usable levels where I’m sitting on the ladder (~5800 last season) and in 2v2. Granted, the Fisherman has some utility outside of his base HP and damage – the ability to hook and pull troops around like Roadhog from Overwatch – but I’m still not bringing that to match that matters.
In any event, the Season Pass model gives me pause. In the context of cash purchases within Clash Royale, it’s a great deal. Would I pay a $5/month subscription to Clash Royale though? Nope. It’s not a subscription though, as there are no reoccurring payments. “Cancel any time!” And yet there will be tens of thousands who do re-up every month, for the rewards or the conveniences lost.
Technically this should be positive Consumer Surplus territory… so why do I feel so dirty?
Possibly because I felt the hook twitch. Supercell isn’t reeling in the line yet, but it’s there. Subscription versus Season Pass is a distinction without a difference, and yet those who would riot about the former in their game are praising the latter. It is a trick of psychology, a stark reminder we can be tricked, and evidence that we face amoral corporations that have a fiduciary obligation to their shareholders to trick us out of as much money as possible.
For however bad loot boxes may seem, never forget that loot boxes are apparently not enough.
We live in interesting times.
Eurogamer is reporting that even the /r/Fallout76 subreddit is rebelling against the high prices of the Christmas cosmetics in the Fallout 76 Atom Store. A Santa/Mrs. Claus outfit plus Stuffed Radstag CAMP decoration and matching player icons is retailing for 2000 Atoms, or basically $20. Then there’s a Red Rocket Mega Sign for $14, set of Holiday Emotes for $12, and the perennial Power Armor paint jobs that debut on release for $18.
The article ends on this note:
It’s worth pointing out all this stuff does not affect gameplay, beyond the aesthetic. You can’t pay for a powerful weapon or more perk cards, for example. Still, at these prices, it’s easy to see why players feel like they’re getting ripped off.
It’s also not a good look for Fallout 76 at this point in its life, a month after the disastrous launch. It is (was) a full-price game. Selling skins at the kind of price you’d expect to see from the free-to-play Fortnite doesn’t make a lot of sense for those who paid full whack at release.
It’s worth noting (again) that you earn Atoms from in-game activities. At level 70, I have accumulated around 3000. The bulk came from one-time “challenges,” but there is a trickle of daily quest-esque rewards and some weekly ones that, combined, will give you about 570 Atoms per week. The angle is clear for all to see though: Bethesda wants you to purchase a few big-ticket items with the first hit of cash shop crack, and then bust out your credit card for the rest.
This, of course, makes Bethesda a monstrous, amoral scumbug, charging nearly half the cost of the base game for the modern equivalent of horse armor. Did they think they could get away with it because Fortnite charges more?!?!?!
Clearly, you should log out of this always-online multiplayer game and log into Guild Wars 2…
When you convert the tricky gem prices, you get $8.75 for cosmetic clothes, $5 for glider skins, $12.50 for new resource node animations, $5 for random mount skins, $15 for a specific mount skin, or $25 for a super-special mount skin. This is to say nothing about selling bank tabs and bag slots in a game especially designed to fill your inventory with massive amounts of junk.
Let’s log into WoW instead…
Ah, almost the original home of the $10 pet and $25 mount, to say nothing about the completely outlandish prices for character services like name changes and server moves.
Or maybe log onto Elder Scrolls Online…
Crowns appear to be 100:$1 ratio when not on sale, so that’s about $4 for hair, $5 for emotes, and between $9 and $30 for mounts. There is also a housing section in the store that features, at the top end, “The Orbservatory Prior” clocking in at $150 (furnished). I don’t know enough about ESO to comment on the value proposition of that purchase, but there it is.
“Fallout 76 isn’t an MMO!” I agree. But we all knew going in that Bethesda was going to pay for Fallout 76’s ongoing costs by way of cash shop purchases. Some of these complaints seem to be from people awakening from cryogenic sleep, discovering modern multiplayer gaming for the first time. While many are saying that the prices should be lower, I am not entirely convinced it could ever be low enough to bypass the “controversy.”
Did I think at the end of 2018 that I would be defending Bethesda cash shop purchases? No. The Atom Shop stuff is certainly more expensive than I would ever pay, if I did not have about $30 worth of credit from playing the game. And I am sympathetic to the argument that a full-fledged MMO has a greater volume of content that could conceivably justify higher prices elsewhere.
That said, complaining about the Fallout 76 store is a reach. If/when Bethesda starting putting shit in lockboxes – like they did with Fallout Shelter, a F2P mobile game everyone praised – that’s when the knives should come back out. Until then, stick to the legitimate, if boring, stuff like bugs and PR.
The fourth quarter results are in for Guild Wars 2: 34,903 million Won.
What does the above tell us about the health of GW2? Well… there might be cause for concern.
Revenue for the two quarters encompassing Heart of Thorns was 67,888 whereas Path of Fire is 55,048, a decline of about 19%. A more concerning factor, IMO, is how these last two quarters encompassed the release of mount skins in the Gem shop. Based on anecdotal evidence, e.g. in-game observation and Reddit threads, the mount skins have been one of the most lucrative additions to the Gem store in months. The Gliders released in HoT were cool-looking, but only seen when, you know, actively gliding. Meanwhile, people are on their mounts a good 90% of the time these days. There are 50 total mount skins, and even if ArenaNet severely bungled the distribution thereof, it’s clear that they are hot items.
Despite that, the 4Q17 results barely moved from where they were in 4th Quarter 2013.
Having said all that, the situation is not dire per se. If you enjoy GW2 as I am at the moment, there is no particular reason why you could not continue for quite some time. Even with a lower player population, you are unlikely to notice a decline, as players are funneled together into event zergs, and the Diablo-esque loot (99% useless) pinatas keep the dopamine high.
What we are likely to notice is exactly what we are seeing today: a renewed focus on fiddling with Gem Store items and services. The Mount skins were a start, but have continued into the Black Lion Chest “upgrade.” The Fashion Wars endgame remains largely P2W, with rewards for actual content-clearing relegated to the junior varsity artists. And everyone is fine with that since there is no “power” being sold… only motivation. And besides, if you farm enough gold and convert it into gems, you can reap the rewards yourself!
The funny thing about it all is the fact that while you can purchase Gems with Gold relatively effectively over time, the biggest cut for GW2 is actually the Gem to Gold conversion. For example, as of the time of this writing, the conversation rate is 100g = 356 gems. However, if you wanted to buy gold, the conversion is 19g per 100 gems. So, basically you get only 2/3rds of the value buying gold. This means that ArenaNet should probably be encouraging more tradable (and thus sellable on the AH) items, rather than a laser-focus on Gem Store exclusives.
As an example, the legendary greatsword, Twilight, is currently selling on the AH for 2750g. If I really wanted that item right now, I would have to buy 14,474 gems and convert it to the necessary gold. That’s $180.92 worth of gems as of today. Or I could decide that that is absurd (it is), and start off on a journey to craft the Legendary myself, which could be a year-long endeavor that requires touching every part of GW2’s content.
Gaming has gotten pretty complicated for me these days.
The annoying part of this situation is that the complication is all by design. Clash Royale recently celebrated its 1-year anniversary, for example, which means I have been playing this mobile game off-and-on for about a year. Just the other day they teased a “one time sale” that included 100,000g and a Magical Chest for roughly $25. At the stage of development I’m at in the game, that amount of gold would effectively allow me to upgrade two units. Two. For $25.
And I was seriously considering it.
The only real thing that stopped me was that the deal wasn’t as good as the prior deals I did take advantage of. The $25 thing was only a “x4 value” whereas I dropped $25 on a different package several months ago that was a x10 value. At the time, it offered a rather significant boost of power, and allowed me to finally snag an Ice Wizard, which I have used in every deck to this day. Conversely, it is not entirely clear that upgrading two units for 100,000g would see similar returns.
In addition to Clash, I am playing three separate gacha-esque games with similar payment models. Four, technically, if you include Fire Emblem: Heroes in there. I haven’t spent near as much in those as I have in Clash, but I do boot them up every single day for the feeling of incremental progression. And all of them are offering “amazing” deals for $10, $25, even $99.
Then look what happened with WoW. There is currently a “sale” on character services, which means it “only” costs $18.75 for server transfers. Since I had over $180 in Blizzard Bux from cashing in WoW Tokens, I decided to use some of those funds to move the survivors of Auchindoun-US over to Sargeras-US. Moved about four toons thus far, and thinking of a fifth. That’s $75 already. Not $75 from my bank account per se, but I could have nearly bought StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void and 50 packs of Hearthstone’s latest expansion with that same amount of funds.
All of this is why I take a somewhat adversarial stance with game designers. If these were all B2P games, we would not be having this discussion; instead I would be lamenting about how there aren’t enough hours in the day to play all these great games. Instead I’m talking about services within a game, or progression boosters, any of which are more expensive than actual, other games. I just bought Mass Effect: Andromeda from GMG for $41 and some change. That’s roughly two character transfers in WoW, or a few unit upgrades in Clash Royal.
Now, there’s the argument that there aren’t that many games you could even play for a whole year and not tire of. Doesn’t Clash Royal deserve my money for how much amusement it has generated? Isn’t plopping down some cash on these games technically cheaper than paying full price for new releases every few weeks/months anyway?
I think those are the wrong questions, and intentionally engineered to take advantage of cognitive dissonance. Because we aren’t asking those questions up front – we are asking them after having “invested” dozens (or hundreds) of hours into the game. If you told me at the beginning that it took 50,000g to upgrade units in Clash Royal, I would have balked. But having stewed in a pot of nearly boiling water for a year, it all seems reasonable. “Of course it makes sense that I used to get upgrades every three days, and now only get one a month.” Not really, no.
(Especially not when they end up nerfing units a month later. No refunds here.)
The value of money is mostly relative. Going from making $20k to $30k is life-changing, whereas going from $100k to $110k is likely not. However, money is also fungible. Dropping $10 or $25 here and there might make sense in the context of whatever game you are currently playing long-term, but those same dollars could buy anything else.
It is important, IMO, to consider the full picture of what your gaming dollars may or may not be purchasing. A server transfer in an MMO that will save your waning interest may seem a bargain. Hell, it might actually be a bargain in the final analysis. Just be cognizant that the decision should not be “do I spend money or not,” but rather “do I give up X or not.” I decided that two unit upgrades in Clash Royal isn’t worth half a Mass Effect. Framing it this way helps me resist all the fallacies (Sunk Cost, Gambler’s, etc) working on the decision to make it seem reasonable (when it is not), and gives me an answer I can live with.
Maybe your gaming budget is such that you don’t mind dropping hundreds of dollars a month into whatever. In which case, feel free to Paypal some my way, chief. Otherwise, we all have to look out for each other a bit, because the game designers and the in-house psychoanalysts on their payroll certainly are not.
Any time you feel that MMOs like WoW have gotten too silly over the years… well:
This is TERA.
Well, the mystery of how Overwatch is going to make money in the future has been revealed:
The new skins, sprays, and so forth come from limited-time-only Summer Games loot crates. Players will receive a free crate upon logging in, but here’s the rub: Summer Games items cannot be purchased with your stockpile of credits, nor can Summer Games items be found in standard loot crates.
In other words, Blizzard has just created a set of new skins for all the characters, and are locking them behind limited-time paywall lootboxes. Specifically want the new Tracer skin? Good luck. You cannot specifically purchase a skin, nor can you craft one with in-game currency.
This particular pivot boggles my mind. Blizzard went from one of the most fair, egalitarian business models I have seen in videogames… to pretty much the worst possible one. Sure, they are just characters skins and “don’t matter.” At the same time, if any of these particular skins did matter to you, then, well, get fucked, I guess.
If this is indicative of Blizzard’s future direction with Overwatch, I just got a lot less interested.
[Fake Edit]: Jeff Kaplan has come out and specified that you can choose to receive a Summer Games lootbox when you earn a lootbox normally, e.g. when gaining levels. Good luck grinding that shit out in three weeks though. Making the in-game currency useless for these time-limited events is still a travesty.
Like with many bloggers, I have been playing Clash Royale for quite a bit lately. It has been an interesting experience – my feelings on the gameplay, the payment structure, and overall package has oscillated wildly, sometimes several times within the same day.
The basic structure of the game is dropping troops to go destroy towers, MOBA creep style. Resource parity (1 elixir per second) and the random nature of “deck” draws (4 cards out of 8) makes for an often nail-biting experience. While I hesitate to use the term CCG, considering there are nearly 50 different cards, Clash Royale does have that seductive element of deck-building and metagame strategy that makes the genre difficult to put down.
The game is not without its cheese, however. The reward mechanism are Chests, which are time-released and tied to the general Arena rank you were when you earned them. There are four empty Chest slots to fill, and the shortest timer is 3 hours; you can cap out your Chests in four matches, which can be done in 10 minutes. You can open these chests early with the cash shop currency, of course, or spend dollars buying gold, which is necessary to level up your cards. Cards, incidentally, which are randomly opened from chests.
The random card distribution mechanism is the source of most of my ire these days. There are card rarities, of course, and the Epic cards are some of the most powerful. It isn’t that they are impossible to counter, but rather they need to be countered somewhat immediately. The difference between not having a given Epic card and having one is immense. Getting a 2nd copy will let you level it up to level 2, which is a 10% stat gain. So not only is it possible that you won’t get a powerful Epic troop, you might be facing someone with one that will always win against your own even if you do get one.
The Prince in particular is one I have harped on elsewhere. He costs 5 elixir to deploy and can easily be swarmed with low-HP, high-volume units, sure. But if he isn’t, he deals double-damage on the first hit on your tower, and will often completely destroy it before you can even drop more troops… unless you are specifically pooling elixir to directly counter this strategy. The Giant can also destroy a tower if left alone, but his ponderous gait and inability to deal minion damage means 1-2 skeletons can finish the job. It’s hard to even say that the Prince is a high-risk strategy though, because even if he can be countered by being swarmed, he’s still, you know, a high-damage troop. One that you have to plan around in every single match lest you be taken unawares.
I continue to play Clash Royale though for a reason that’s somewhat surprising: I can. I still boot up Clash of Clans periodically, but my play is limited to ~3 minutes every 1.5 hours due to the structure of the game. I was originally playing Clash Royale the same way, mentally declaring it a toilet game, e.g. something you only play once you have empty chests available. But… you don’t have to. As Syncaine notes, you can still play and get rewarded with trophies for wins, which eventually pushes you to the next Arena rank, which makes the chests you acquire contain more and better goodies.
After a particularly brutal series of humiliating defeats dropped me out of the Arena 4 bracket though, I realized that hey, it’s actually kinda fun just playing the game and trying different things. You’ll encounter bullshit matches against vastly superior troops, sure. The leveling system structure even means you’ll face opponents who have towers with more HP and damage than your own. But… but! There is literally nothing stopping you from pressing the Battle button again. There is no Energy gauge to limit your screen time to some arbitrary, cash shop optimized level. Getting zero progress rewards does suck and makes my eye twitch with the inefficiency of it all… but, hey, I’m pushing buttons and playing a game.
Which is surprisingly and embarrassingly uncommon for phone games of any genre.
So I say give it a shot, if it sounds interesting to you. The early game experience is kinda terrible I’ll admit – people running around with Princes in Arena 1 and Arena 2 are terrible people – but once you get a handful of epics, the game opens up considerably. Well, as considerable as a two-lane MOBA-esque quasi-CCG can.
It’s been a few months since I stopped playing WoW, but the entire time I was I was psychoanalyzing the merits of purchasing the crafted gear to boost my characters further. That dilemma reminds me of a similar problem I have with many F2P games, or any game selling convenience items. Specifically: when, if ever, do you invest more money into the game?
I have mentioned it several times, but I am currently “playing” Clash of Clans. “Playing” gets the scare quotes because the actual amount of time I spend interacting with the UI versus waiting for bars to fill up has steadily decreased for months now. Indeed, I am solidly in the design trap that is Town Hall level 8, wherein you are losing more resources to raids than you could ever hope to replace with either raids of your own or passive resource gains. Being in a raiding clan might offset it some, but realistically, some actual cash exchanging hands will be necessary to progress further.
Of course, having played the game for so long, I have zero desire to do so.
All of us have been there before: you finally get annoyed or bored enough to throw money at a problem, only to stop playing the game entirely a few days later. Even if spending that money did improve your play experience, it was too late to make much of an accumulated impact. Had you dropped cash at the very beginning though? Then you could have gotten months of utility out of that purchase, and otherwise generating a return on fun.
The problem I have though, is actually timing the investment window correctly. In the case of CoC, no time actually felt “correct” because it was just a game I was playing as a diversion; I had no idea that I would still be playing it months later. In fact, that’s most games. Reminds me of those RPGs with the “+5% XP” talents you can select early on. While a dubious investment in the long-term (the talent is useless at max level), you can recognize that if you were going to take such a talent, you need to take it sooner rather than later.
While my dithering ends up resulting in more money in my pocket, it also in some cases results in a diminished experience. For example, not outfitting my alts with the crafted weapons in WoW. Did I save gold by not crafting them? Sure. I also lost gold by not crafting and selling them. I suppose having 8+ months of WoW Tokens makes this a bit moot in a practical sense, but old AH habits die hard.
So how about yourselves? How do you choose a time to make an optional purpose?
As I was browsing reddit a few days ago, I found my way into a thread talking about how you can play the Star Citizen alpha for free until March 15th (or March 20th depending on the code used). This is a game that I am somewhat interested in playing, but not 22gb of files interested. Makes you wonder about what the final download size is going to end up being. The Secret World is already over 40gb and making me think deleting it would be better than keeping it around in the off-chance I feel like… Googling the answers to ridiculous in-game riddles.
In any case, I continued reading the various comments to try and glean where Star Citizen was in development. As it turns out, they’re still in the “sell $2700+ ship packages in the store like it ain’t no thing” stage.
The Completionist Package is actually much more expensive at $15,000, although for some reason the $2700 tier galls me a bit more than the other. I think it’s because at some point the amounts are too ridiculous to contemplate, but these smaller ones are more “reasonable.” Could you even build a gaming PC that cost $15,000 without spending money on the equivalent of Monster Cables?
Once the game officially launches, the idea is that the cash shop for ships is going to close; thereafter, the only things sold for real dollars will be customization options… and a “small” amount of in-game currency, with a daily cap. The amount is supposed to be “miniscule” and the equivalent to whatever it costs to refuel and rearm a ship. Whether that amount will just cover a normal ship maintenance cost or one of the $200+ ships you can outright purchase right now, is anyone’s guess.
What is not anyone’s guess are the fascinating arguments being made that such purchases aren’t P2W:
There is insurance on the ships, if you bought the ship early you are granted free insurance.
Insurance will be cheap though, so if you lose your ship without insurance you kinda have to blame yourself. You won’t get a huge advantage with free insurance.
And what’s the problem with buying ingame cash? If I only have 6 hours/week to play the game I should be able to spend cash so I won’t get left behind by the players sitting 6 hours/day.
This bolded sentiment simply boggles my mind. I don’t even know where to start.
Perhaps I could start with an analogy: performance enhancing drugs in sports. If you only had six hours/week to train for a competition whereas your opponent trained six hours/day, I think everyone would still say that that is fair; if you wanted to legitimately compete with this person, you would put in the necessary hours to do so. I don’t think there is anyone here that would say you should just pop some steroids so you “don’t get left behind” by the person who is clearly more committed to playing the game than you. But suppose you do believe it’s fair, and everyone should have freedom to take whatever drugs give them an edge. In such a scenario, what happens to your advantage when the 6 hours/day person just, you know, takes performance enhancing drugs themselves? You end up where you started, except now everyone with even a modicum of desire to win is taking drugs.
Meanwhile, the people selling steroids are making bank.
The other problem I have with the bolded sentiment is what it says about time spent playing the game. If you are paying dollars to skip content, that implies the content being skipped is the unfun, grindy parts of the game. Which means all the players you are bribing your way past are stuck doing content they probably don’t find fun either. Which means that the game designers have a dilemma: they can either make the unfun, grindy parts more fun for everyone (and lose money), or they can do nothing and make more money. Or, you know, make that payslope even steeper.
Is that a little too tinfoil hat thinking? Maybe. Maybe there are good, legitimate reasons why my Air Defense tower in Clash of Clans takes six real-world days to upgrade. Whatever those reasons are, they can’t be too important though, as I can buy my way past the timer. As I’ve mentioned before, these sort of cash shop designs immediately throws every designer action under suspicion.
The final problem I have with the bolded sentiment is difficult to put into words. It’s like, when did we start expecting to have better outcomes than other people who play a game more than us? I would agree that a design in which no one can catch up to Day One veterans is bad, but I feel like there is a crazy expectation that skill should triumph over time-spent and yet the game still have character progression somehow. How would that work, exactly? And when did it become unfair for someone else to spend six/hours a day playing a game? And then fair for you to bring resources completely outside of game (i.e. cash) to make things even?
Sometimes I feel like we’re all just lost in the woods here.