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Payment Model Perspective

I was browsing Kotaku the other day, and came across an article/review of a mobile game called Wayward Souls. Truthfully, I only read it because the byline mentioned Secret of Mana, which is relevant to my interests; it is, incidentally, probably my second-most played game of all time right behind A Link to the Past. Did you realize that SoM came out in the US 20 years ago this past October? Two decades.

Anyway, Wayward Souls is whatever – doesn’t seem to capture much of SoM’s magic beyond the pixel and music style based on the video alone. What was interesting to me though, was when they mentioned in the video that they’re going with the MineCraftian business model, e.g. selling it for $5 at first, and increasing the cost as time goes by. To me, this raises a number of interesting questions. First… is there a term for this payment model? I use MineCraft as perhaps the most well-known example, but surely it was tried beforehand.

Second, does it feel bad to anyone else?

I mean, I understand the logic behind it. Traditionally, game companies are going to want to charge full MSRP at release to capture the dollars of whom we now term “whales,” e.g. the people who would have paid $100 for the game, if they had charged that much. As time goes by, the price comes down via sales and whatnot to capture the players who would have bought it for less than MSRP. The MineCraft model seems like it should never work, but actually makes a lot of sense when you realize that the traditional model relies on a well-informed and excited playerbase for your game – in an ocean of crappy mobile games, you’re not going to have the whales spending money out of the game. This alternative model lets you build buzz somewhat organically, and then try and capture the big spenders as you ride the wave home. Plus, it sort of short-circuits the “wait until the Humble Bundle sale” strategy insofar as it will supposedly be more expensive the longer you wait (which ironically sorta is how Humble Bundles work).

Like I mentioned though, the MineCraft model doesn’t particularly work for me. It grates, like a piano out of tune. But I can’t fully articulate why though, especially when you consider nearly all games do this via cheaper preorders. Damn near everything is 20% off on GreenManGaming before it comes out. Sometimes a game will drop in price within the first three months (and sometimes faster these days, if they miss the forecasts), but it’s usually quite some time before it drops below the preorder price. So… what’s the difference, really? I can’t even claim that it’s because of psychological manipulation, because that’s pretty much behind all sales strategy. It just feels… bad, somehow. And causes me to mentally dig my heels in and wait for the Humble Bundle because screw you for defying the natural order of things. Or something.

Hero Academy

I have been playing Hero Academy for the last five hours or so, and I must say it’s one of the best iOS games I have ever played on my iPod. If you have never heard of it, basically it’s a turn-based tactical game that takes elements of both Final Fantasy Tactics and Magic: the Gathering and smashes them together. Now, obviously, it is not as deep as either of those, but I am as impressed thus far with Hero Academy as I was playing Plants Vs Zombies for the first time.

Strategery up top, drawing "cards" down below.

In that screenshot, there’s a mage, two priests, a special move scroll, and a potion in the player’s “hand” at the bottom, and 18 more “cards” in the deck. Each turn, you have five actions to: place a dude, use an item, equip an item, move a dude, or attack.

An archer in range of a target at the beginning of your turn? Feel free to lay down some pain with five attacks in a row. Or drop a priest, move two squares, heal your dead knight, have the knight attack (which pushes the target back a square), and then move the knight away. Equipment can be placed to increase physical/magic damage resistance or increase your attack, the special scrolls makes your next attack cause triple damage, potions offer remote healing/rezzing, certain squares on the ground can increase damage to the crystals or just in general, each unit has its own unique properties, and so on and so forth. Since you have no control over the “hand” that you draw, each fight ends up playing differently, especially if you happen to draw your faction’s uber-unit.

Did I mention this game is F2P?

At the moment, you can only use the humans for free; it costs $0.99 to buy the dark elves, and the recently released dwarf faction costs $1.99. Each faction has completely unique units with their own special properties. The dwarf priest, for example, can put up shields but otherwise heals poorly. There is a lot of nonsense you can buy in the shop – 100 Taunts is $4.99, which I believe is the most worthless cash shop item in the history of ever – but none of it affects the game beyond the factions (but they certainly appear balanced so far).

Anyway, if you want to challenge me, feel free to search for Azuriel. I’m 2-0 thus far, and out of the 15 simultaneous games I have running, I suspect another 7 have given up.

Or, perhaps, they aren’t playing iOS games at 3:45am on a Friday night. Either/or.