Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Gaming Monetization: either the future or the fall of gaming as we know it.

I spent the last weekend playing Guild Wars 2 during its first "OPEN" beta weekend. By "OPEN" I mean a bunch of my friends and I paid full price for the game the week before the event to guarantee access to the beta weekend. This alone was a first in my memory a company has requested that you Pre-Purchase a game to get access to their "free" events before launch. Not to say that this isn't a good business decision, just one that I haven't seen people take before. This is probably due to the fact that if the game didn't receive amazing reviews during its pre-launch events then people would be clamoring for their money back and telling all their friends to avoid this title at all costs.

Before I get into the reason I mention Guild Wars 2, I'd like to state that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole weekend event. We spent hours exploring, questing, crafting, and pvping. The game is broken down into three distinct areas of gameplay.

PVE- Exploration, leveling, and the thin personal story for your race. I do say thin story for the fact that it doesn't really have much of an impact on 90% of your PVE experience. The story quests are meant to tell a specific story as you level through areas. This is not to say that games shouldn't have story at all, but after playing Star Wars: The Old Republic a little less story is refreshing. A game that I can just grind away and collect some loot and explore new zones is kind of appealing.

PVP- Immediately you realize that all PVP is done at level 80. You even are leveled to 80 while in pvp zones. There is no low level PVP at all. You have a completely different set of gear, and skill and trait points allocation than from your PVE ones. Meaning that even at level 1 or 80 you don't have to worry about not being powerful enough. This being said, there is a wide variety of customization that can be done for your pvp. Making your decisions in your exact player build unique and interesting. Without going into too much depth since I've only played one class in both PVE and PVP, there are so many choices in your specific character build that I could go on for many pages and still barely explain how everything interacts.

Crafting- I say this as its own category because of how deep the system is. Even starting at level 1 you begin collecting scraps of materials to use in crafting. You use consumable kits to salvage these materials to make useful items for crafting. You can have 2 active crafting professions at any time. This doesn't mean you can only level up 2 professions ever though. At any time you can go to another trainer for another profession and switch to it, without losing the progress you've made in your previous profession. So swapping back and forth becomes just a small effort to switch and then continue to progress. The second good part is that the recipes you learn come from the discovery tab in your crafting page. You can mix and match items for a particular profession and it'll tell you if there is an available pattern to learn. If you have all the relevant materials it will allow you to create this item and also learn the pattern permanently. You get substantial experience for crafting and discovery as well. So even if you do it while leveling, you aren't "wasting" your time in town buying and selling items you craft.Also unlike other games, your bank has a tab for crafting materials. This tab allows you to store all of your crafting materials in pre-designated slots for each type of material. Meaning that you can store all your crafting materials there without losing bag space for the rest of your goodies and gear. I didn't get to test it, but someone said that in Guild Wars 1 all of your characters could access this bank tab. Which would make having a bank alt quite handy.

So my verdict for Guild Wars 2 after 3 days of continuous play?

Quite good. The combat, leveling, exploration, crafting, and pvp all had refreshing elements that most MMO's I've played recently just don't innovate on. The combat truly disposes of the Holy Trinity (Tanking, healing, and damage dealing._ of all other MMO's. Making everyone self sufficient, but also reliant on friends to help you take down larger enemies. Having other players means additional damage absorbtion, healing, and people to take the damage from you. I played a Mesmer for the weekend which gave me a high damage potential, but also allowed me to spread "boons" to all my party members and allies while we fought enemies. "Boons" being the term for beneficial effects in this game. They vary from small heals, to outright dmg absorbtion, to increases in critical strike and flat out power of your abilities. From what I can tell almost all classes have a way to benefit their allies in this way, but some classes specialize in producing alot of these boons.

So do I plan to Guild Wars 2 when it comes out? damn skippy, it was a ton of fun.


Now onto the reason behind the title of this post.

Guild Wars 2 is a free to play MMO. This doesn't mean its FREE, just that once you purchase it you can continue to play it without a regular monthly fee as some other MMO's still charge.

Guild Wars 2 has decided to create a cash shop where you purchase a form of game currency that can be spent in a particular ingame store. The items vary from simple asthetic items to realm transfers. Some of the items are experience gain boosters, as well as a few other items that improve your over convenience level in the game. These items can be bank access from anywhere in the game world for 5 days or boosts in magic find, giving you a higher chance at finding rare or interesting items while in the game world.

Overall the items in the shop are "required". though a few are somewhat troubling, Bag slots, bigger bags, account access bank tabs, additional character slots.

Having items like this means that they assume that people are going to spend at least a marginal amount of cash to acquire some of these items.

On the flipside another game, Diablo 3 has another way to generate revenue post purchase.
An auction house that you can spend real cash in to acquire the items other people are offering. Blizzard entertainment will take a small cut of each transaction and a percentage of the final amount when you transfer the funds out to a real world account.

Both of these approaches have a chance to generate a large volume of revenue for each title. But is this a good thing?

Is having a game free to play, but have secondary revenue generation really going to be the future of gaming?

I've heard two ways that people feel about this. Either it is an amazing way for people to enjoy games with their friends without costing them alot of money each month. On the flipside making it possible for someone to progress faster and more efficiently by spending real world cash on items and boosts in exp, means that the average play will always be at a disadvantage to someone who has money to spend.

The latter argument has a truly frightening potential. If you know you are never going to be able to compete against someone else because they will always have access to far superior gear in a shorter timespan than you. Would you even try to compete? Would the game even be fun or worth playing? If people decide it is no longer worth playing games with these options. It could actually ruin a portion of the industry. This is a big gamble. Do you possibly alienate the consumers who have been loyal to your brand or your market just to make more money per active consumer?

The businessmen of the world would state that having the potential to make more money per active consumer is just good business, but at the same time people who view the industry as a form of entertainment or creative expression would view it as prostituting their creative vision in such a way that only those with extra money can truly experience their game as fully as it can be.

Just because a consumer has more money to spend than another should it really make him a more valuable person in the eyes of the gaming industry? Shouldn't the broader customer base who maybe has less money to spend but chooses their entertainment more carefully also be considered? Those customers who want to get the most out of their money do end up playing your games for as long as possible. MMO's in general are a prime example of this.

I'm just afraid that creating an imbalance within your gaming economy on purpose, and justifying it by the potential increase in profit from a smaller set of gamers, might just end up backfiring on the companies that try this route.

1 comment:

  1. Guild Wars is starting to sour... I wasn't aware there was a cash shop, that grants non aesthetic advantages. I'm all for glowing ethereal wings that you can buy for 4 bucks, but having to shell out cash for bag slots is a serious block to my interest.