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I really hope this game model suffers the same kind of crash that felled the arcade business in the 80s. At some point I think people are going to collectively realize that they're being manipulated and burn out en masse.


The overwhelming dominance of this kind of app in the app store has killed a lot of my enthusiasm for mobile, unfortunately. There are a lot of very interesting things you could do with a pocket computer that's always online and equipped with a bunch of sensors but nobody cares because if you're not playing these kinds of slimy games with the rest of the top 20 you might as well not exist in the store.

What really annoys me is when a game that might potentially interest me chooses to go the pay2win way.

For instance, tribes:ascend. I wanted to get into it but forums were full of people saying each time they released a paid upgrade the balance went FUBAR.

What annoys me the most is there's no way to do it "the old way" and pay a bigger sum of money once and get the full game without having to upgrade for every single new weapon. That's where you realize that the microtransaction model is a scam, because if you want to buy all the upgrades at once it would cost you several hundreds of dollars.

I wish they'd go back to the older model of freeware demo + one time buy full game. I remember buying Doom that way.

I agree with the general premise that pay2win is annoying as hell.

I think it's hard for a lot of kinds of games to fall back to the traditional model when they're competing against other similar games that are free to play on the surface, but pay to win underneath. Free to play gets people hooked. There's a reason why game developers are doing this, unfortunately, because it works :(

As a stingy bastard I just have to resign myself to finding games that don't give you overwhelming bonuses for fistfuls of cash, and just suck it up for the beginning.

As an aside to your tribes example:

Tribes:Ascend is probably not a good example of this, but for a slightly unique reason. It's not really pay2win, it's still sinklotsofotime2win. Only because it has such a bullshit high difficulty curve that you need to play an inordinate amount of time into the game to be able to do anything, regardless of whether or not you're paying money. By the time you figure out how to move, shoot, and play a single useful role (which is a colossally difficult task), you'll have gotten enough in-game xp to build up enough that buying gold is pointless.

If you were looking forward to Tribes:Ascend, go for it. Don't let people complaining on forums turn you away - people will always complain on the forums, no matter what the game is. Tribes is one of the few games I've played where it's fun to just run circles around the map:


I'm creating a strategy game right now and I'm facing this dilemma. I'd like to get $20 from each customer during game lifetime, but it seems that it would be easier to make it free to play and then charge for something in the game. And it's hard to charge for anything that would not make you advance in the game, otherwise it's cosmetics and you're not charging for the game, but almost the same as asking for a donation.

Most people would like to play for free. This model enables you to attract more users, which means a larger pool of potential customers. For example, would you pay $20 for my game (see link at the end), or would you rather play for free and then pay $1-$2 a month for some stuff that advances your gameplay?

BTW, in case you're interested the game should be out in a month. See gos.bigosaur.com/cards.html for more info.

The Kingdom of Loathing's model seems to do pretty well. (And they've been at it for 10 years now, well before "free to play" was a thing.) You can pay for in-game items, but you can also buy them with in-game currency[1].

So you could let players pay to get the special items/upgrades instantly, but still let hardcore players get them without paying through some sort of grinding. So long as you don't have to exchange too much time to be maximally powerful without paying for the privilege, players don't seem to mind in practice. (You will get people loudly bitching about things no matter what you do -- this is the internet.) So: you make it so that players only have a few of the upgrades active at a time, then you can introduce new items in a regular stream without unbalancing things.

1. Well, in KoL you can only buy them from other players with regular currency. Unless your game plans to have a full fledged economy, I guess you'd want to sell them directly.

Thanks for the KoL tip. My game is really rather simple card game strategy, with strict rules and requires skill to play, no luck involved. Players don't have "decks", they all share the same deck of cards. Basically, it plays like chess, all players are equal. So, there's no room for in-game economy between players.

Currently I'm considering the following models:

1. pay for some additional units (cards) which would basically mean that some players who pay have additional strategies available (not necessarily more powerful, but rather more diverse).

2. pay to play more. Amount of duels per day would be limited, and thus the player's progress. The game will feature a ranking system with levels, so paying players could advance faster.

The second one seems closer to KoL model. Which now gives me an idea. I could separate the rankings system (leaderboard) from the player leveling system, so that leaderboard is limited to, say, first 5 matches each day, while you could still play additional duels to level-up faster. Although, leveling-up has no effect on the gameplay, it's purely cosmetic.

I'm still not sure if 1. or 2. would make more money, but making more money is not my primary concern. I just want the game to be sustainable and attract as many players as possible.

I believe many indie developers like me are facing the same questions themselves, esp. when they read that Supercell is making gazilions.

Avoid #2 at all costs. Nothing drives me away from games faster than "Please wait X time (or pay more money) before you can continue playing," whether it's a daily action limit, or some kind of "endurance" hack, or whatnot.

You want people to invest themselves in your game, and being multiplayer having more players online at once is only ever a good thing. Turning away players is counter-productive.

Notably, the designers of KoL have also abided by that -- your actions per day are limited, but there's no way to directly turn real world money into more turns. (There are indirect ways, but you can almost always get them cheaply with in-game currency as well.)

I've had some of the same thoughts about my own card game. Here's one adjustment you could make to your option 1: if one player has purchased the additional units (cards), then both players get to use them. This is what Blizzard has just enabled for Starcraft II, and is what Goko (sigh) did for Dominion. (please do not use Goko as a model overall however - I can't stand the UX)

This is a fairly common model. One of the best examples I've encountered lately is League of Legends. The game is a MOBA (coined: Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) for team fights on a map that is similar to Defense of the Ancients from Warcraft III. The core of the game is that you learn how to play champions, of which there are over 100, and you boost them up a bit with runes. The game has two currencies: Riot Points and Influence Points. Here's how they handle maintaining balance and rewarding payment with acceleration:

- You start with a few Riot Points. Enough to buy a starter champion, but not much else.

- Riot Points can be purchased.

- Influence points are earned along with experience by playing matches.

- Champions can be purchased with either currency. However, most of them take far more Influence Points, so you can achieve instant gratification through cash outlay or you can play for fun over time and pick up a few more advanced champions.

- Runes can only be purchased with Influence Points. Therefore, you cannot simply drop cash and get the best runes, then have an edge over other players. You earn them by playing. You can earn them faster by getting Influence Point boost periods by paying Riot Points, which of course is cash for acceleration, but not instant gratification since it still encourages you to play and practice the game.

- Every week, there is a free rotation of a set of champions. If you are patient enough, you can try out tons of different champions before spending a dime. If you like one enough to want to keep playing it after it rotates back out, you can drop cash to buy it or spend a giant pile of Influence Points that you've earned. Or, you can simply play with them for fun, endlessly, and enjoy the variety.

- The only "pay to play" thing I've found is that you can purchase extra pages for rune configurations. This can't be earned any other way. It's not overly expensive, it's not mandatory, but it seems like you probably need to do it for any serious competitive play in order to be efficient and prepared for different matches and roles. I wasn't put off by this.

I thought this was a pretty good implementation. I've spent a reasonable, tolerable amount of money so far on the game and have more champions than I probably should have right now, due to enjoying them. The experience felt very much not "pay to win" and that it scaled very well with your interest. The one thing I really liked is that even paying to accelerate your experience was always still contingent on you playing lots of games and therefore getting better and trying out lots of roles and champions. That felt very smart because it doesn't burn you out but invests you further.

If you're researching this kind of model, I would highly suggest trying the game out to get a feel for what the customer experience is like. It seems like a good reference implementation that could be adjusted to match games that aren't based on this champion asset model.

Guild Wars 2 is a game that charges for basically cosmetic items. You cannot buy better weapons or better armor, but you can buy costumes that make your armor look cool, or you can buy little things like 2x XP potions (30 minute limit). There is a way to make a game in which in-game purchases don't distort the game mechanics but that people are still interested in.

I believe Team Fortress 2 does something similar, selling hats and such.

Guild wars 2 also sells revive-where-i-am in case you die. (doesn't work in PvP).


that's over the line IMO.

It can't be used in PvP so it doesn't give you advantages over other people. It's only useful when you're playing on your own out in the world somewhere. "Revive where I am" is already free if there's another player around willing to revive you.

I'd say it's the opposite of over the line. It's a very useful purchase which doesn't have any big game changing consequences. It's just a replacement for party members. It facilitates solo play for people who enjoy it. And the gem store isn't the only way of acquiring this item.

That's one of the items that probably looks ridiculous if you haven't played, but it took months for the player base to find any good use for it. At the time I was playing, nobody was really using it for anything but terrain exploration - rezzing using the orb after jumping off the map edge.

Here's a thread of players complaining about how weak it is: https://forum-en.guildwars2.com/forum/game/gw2/Revive-Orb-Is...

Tangent: one of the best parts of GW2's paid model is that if you stop playing you can get a full refund including what you spent in the cash shop.

You could do a limited-time free play game. That's what Order and Chaos did long time ago, but since then they switched to in-game store. Maybe it's not that profitable... I don't know. But I can definitely say it was free for (IIRC) a month and was fun enough that I paid the monthly to continue playing.

I came back to it after ~a year and it seems like you can buy lots of items, but they're not really required. The economy is completely messed up on all servers, but that was the case when I started already.

Hey, I've worked on some similar games and can give you some tips - contact me if you're interested.

Some thoughts about the economics (and ethics) of games:

  * if a game isn't fun (to me), I shouldn't have to pay for it
  * if a game is fun, I should pay for it
  * generally, "better" games deserve more money (non-linear)
  * ... but I'm skeptical that $500 is ever the right price (e.g. for every LoL champ)
  * "time spent playing" is a half-assed proxy for "better"...
  * ... but not if you rig your game mechanics around this proxy metric
  * pay-to-win games are "bad" (personal subjective perspective)
  * if I don't have to pay for a game, I probably won't (sorry!)
  * if I'm paying per-month for the game, I feel artificial pressure to play it...
  * ... and if I stop playing, I'll cancel
  * ... so I can't casually pick it up 3 months later
  * ... and I think maybe most people have a limited monthly-subscription budget
  * games that have free options have better word-of-mouth marketing
And a few observations derived from these:

  * gotta have a demo
  * the demo needs to demonstrate the actual gameplay
  * getting demo-length right is really hard
  * if you have the infrastructure to charge $2/month, you've got options
With all that in mind, here's what I would do (hopefully will do, one day):

  * lots of gameplay should be free
  * where it makes sense, put roadblocks that players will hit after a while
  * .... and then some more after some more while
  * charge say $5 to get past each roadblock
  * have say 5 total roadblocks
  * to assuage cheapskates (5-years-ago me!), give alternatives to paying real money
  * maybe crazy grinding?
  * even better would be if you could find a way to give players credit-towards-roadblocks if they are helpful to the game community, or to game development
Be up-front about all of this: "Early parts of the game are free! To feed my family I'll be charging progressively for access to the later parts of the game, but I'll never charge a given player more than $25" (or some other promise you are willing to keep)


By the way, $20 is a lot for an indie game, especially up-front. The humblebundle this week includes ELEVEN games, including several great ones, and the "average price" (unlocks all 11 games) is around $6. So no, I will not pay $20 for your game, are you crazy? Instead I'll go buy the humblebundle for $10, give half of that to charity so I feel like a social justice crusader, throw away 54% of the games in the bundle, and STILL have dozens of hours of gameplay, and $10 in my pocket for the next humblebundle.

Yes, I'm a cheapskate. But this is the reality of the market at work. I'm not saying your game isn't "worth" $20. I bet your game is more fun than a movie-plus-snacks, and people pay $20 for that, right? But your game will be compared to games selling for $10 or less.

Man, I just realized I sound like I'm trying to talk you out of a career in game-dev, and that's not what I want (as a gamer).


One more thought:

You said "(not necessarily more powerful, but rather more diverse)". Yeah, listen, when you play my Rock Paper Scissors online game, you get Rock for free, and pay for Paper and Scissors. They're not necessarily more powerful, just more diverse.

Pay gated content has been tried in the MMO space to varying degrees of success. The main problem with it is that the gates split your community, effectively reducing the userbase of your game. As a non-pay example, take WoW (I did Vanilla->WotLK) where Blizzard continuously reduced barriers to entry for content so that a larger portion of the playerbase could experience it. I honestly haven't seen a gated solution where everybody is happy but I haven't surveyed every game out there and gating works well for single player games.

The other issue is that studios generally feel a need to put a carrot on the other side of the gate. At the moment, I'm tracking Warframe and the current update has (essentially) pay gated zones with a reagent drop that drives both additional character progression and player housing. Neither is necessary to complete any of the other content in the game–the game has a mechanics problem where weapon damage scaling is excessive, the relative ease of content clearing is one–and the playerbase is whining about P2W.

My inclination would be something like:

    * Subscription based
    * Sub payment produces in-game tradeable item, time added on use
    * Subscription use suspends X days after not logging in
    * Payment auto-renewal only triggers when 2 days left
    * You start off with X weeks of playtime
This covers revenue, pay to win, real money trading, free players and (IMO) is both transparent and fair to players. It's basically a F2Pish variant of EVE's PLEX system. The challenge then becomes maintaining engagement and having the economy under control meaning that currency remains useful and inflation remains reasonable.

I haven't actually seen it done, probably because it's not a reliable recurring revenue stream like traditional subscriptions and isn't that strong of an impulse buy. I have seen somewhat similar ideas in a game with limited moves per day but from memory (been a while, blanking on the name) they also used the time item as a catalyst for weapon upgrades which for me veered too far into P2W so I dropped.

Thanks for this comment, it was really useful to me, at least, it gives a better perspective what players want. And it also confirms that people would not pay $20 in advance for a game. But roadblocks seem like a good idea. Maybe I'll try that.

And the last paragraph is hilarious ;) Well put.

I'm an indie game dev working on Tribal Hero ( http://tribalhero.com ). I've actually been getting a lot of players because they played similar games which are pay to win and we aren't and never will be. We'll have paid graphical customizations you can purchase but nothing that you can get an advantage in the game.

I'm facing the same dilema.

I'd be happier if there was an option for a monthly subscription that was somewhat equivalent to the microtransaction route. I'd feel more comfortable with that route than with the micro option, which as you mention, feels like a scam.

Clash of Clans needs a revenue stream since there's a server component. The alternative to in app purchases would be a subscription for everyone. One non cynical way to look at it is: here is a free game for many people that is funded by obsessive/competitive players.

There won't be a similar "crash" because there's no "race to the bottom" in prices. There could be a shakeout where there are a lot of low-quality games that fail and take their companies down with them, but that shouldn't affect the existing games that are already making money.

Also, if you think these games are all that's available, you're missing out. There are plenty of great games for free and purchase. Some of my personal favorites: Fieldrunners 1 & 2, the Angry Birds games, 10000000, Doom, Wolf3D, the Doom and Wolf3D RPG games, and my personal favorites, I Dig It and I Dig It: Expeditions.

The 85 crash wasn't triggered by a race to the bottom in prices. It was triggered by a glut of games that just weren't much fun to play.

Sound familiar?

I couldn't agree more, nothing is more frustrating than getting hooked on a game only to realize that progress is essentially crippled without massive amounts of free time or a few in app purchases. I would much rather pay an up front fee (or perhaps instead of crippling the game, a one time fee to unlock the rest of the game).

That model doesn't really work for apps which are dependent on external servers for multiplayer, etc. as the vendor has on-going costs. Hence revenue needs to be recurring as well.

In practice that means ads, subscriptions or IAP.

If you look at the rankings for free (non-iap) apps, those charts are also dominated by games as well.

Fundamentally people like playing games more than using "tech demo" apps.

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