Friday, March 13, 2015

We're Doing It Wrong

We’re doing it wrong.

As an avid game enthusiast, I really believe that my fellow consumers and the companies that we consume from, often get confused with our expectations of the game products that we acquire.
The internet is, of course, a rampant cesspool of negativity and “comments.” I only describe “comments” with quotations because they’re hardly worth mentioning when they didn’t even require a brain synapse to fire to develop them. 

With that in mind, I like to analyze the critiques of games that develop over time, and compare them with my own notes about the recent releases to get a better feel for the market and the consumers that inhabit it.

This post is split into two sections, one for the game companies and one for the consumers.  Feel free to read both if you'd like to glean a better understanding of how I feel about the industry.

Developers/Game Companies

I’ve developed some strong beliefs when it comes to games and which business models they choose to follow.

The Rules of Game Costs:

If you think of your game as a product and your goal is to make a game in a specific way for a specific audience, then you should have a set one-time price on your game.

If you view your game as an on-going test of game evolution and feature creep, then you should go for a subscription model.

If you view your game as a core ideal that should be played by everyone BUT you want to monetize it, then go for a micro-transaction model.

Micro-transactions come with some additional rules.  This is where we venture into the dreaded “Don’t make a game Pay to Win” topic.

If you are going to use microtransactions, then determine how they are being implemented.
When the game is complete, but you’d like to add gameplay to it…

Determine the average amount of time spent playing until your games’ end state and compare that with the total cost of your game.  Then use that to determine the price of your DLC by comparison. 
For example:  If I buy a sixty dollar game that takes me twenty hours to beat, then I could expect a five hour DLC to cost fifteen dollars.  Obviously giving more gameplay to your consumer for a lower price always increases demand, but this should be used to determine the maximum cost of the content.

When your game is continually being developed and you set a price point of FREE…
Determine the things you can add to your game that would enhance the player’s experience without changing the core gameplay.  Re-skins of in-game assets are really popular, or just cosmetic things in general.  Why not add pets that just follow you around and look cute?  Never discount the things that might seem just like trivial addons.  They might be the most appealing to one section of your audience.


If you skimmed over that last section then you understand where the development should be aimed.  A lot of companies and games are confused and even fail because they didn’t follow my idea of the rules of game costs.

We should cater our expectations to how the game is priced.

The Complete Product

If you purchase a game for a one-time price, you should expect to get a certain amount of enjoyment out of it, and it should be as bug-free as possible. 

I usually equate a sixty dollar game with about twenty hours of gameplay to be worth it.  I only developed this metric from the cost of going out to dinner and/or a movie.  Obviously, a lower price = less time enjoyed, etc.  Some people have their own algorithms, that’s just mine.
However, even though I have my own method of determining worth, I expect a game that has a set price without additional costs to be as complete of a product as possible.  I’ll be lenient if there’s an errant bug here and there, but anything game-breaking is unacceptable.

The Subscription

The subscription based game is a different beast.  I’ll give a little more leniency for bugs and errors.  I still will use my value metric to determine if the initial release of the gameplay was good enough, but it depends on the price.  Subscription based games can require an initial game purchase cost (i.e. World of Warcraft) or they can be a free-to-play model that is enhanced by a subscription (Airmech, War Thunder, etc.)  This game should be viewed as a service.  You need to keep improving and adding to it in order to make it worth the monthly fee.

The game should be worth the initial investment.  If it has a high price, I expect a lot of gameplay out of the base price.  If it’s free, I expect to be convinced that the gameplay is worth subscribing to.
Then after you determine if it was worth the price of engagement, you look at how it’s developing on a month-to-month basis.

Are the companies actively improving the game?  Are they actively adding content?  Is that content improving your gameplay experience?  Or is it not worth the investment?

Regular updates and content releases are usually the sign of a healthy studio that has a good plan of action, so that makes me feel better about the product that I’m investing time into.

The Micro-transaction

The core gameplay should be engaging.  I strongly believe that the game should get you to it’s intended play-state as fast as possible.

What I mean by that is this…  The game should have to playing the intended game experience as quickly as possible.  As a player, you should be able to see the vision immediately, or very quickly. 
One example of this kind of moment was my recent play session in Cities: Skylines.  It’s not a free-to-play title, but bear with me.  I had played the most recent release of SimCity, so I had certain expectations of how the game should pan out.  Within five minutes of playing, I was able to place pipes for my sewage and water, power lines for my citizens, and watched it all come to life and the population began moving into my fledgling city.  I remember calling my girlfriend over to check it out, and we watched as one of my citizens got into his car parked on the street by his house, drive to work, park, and enter the building. 

I immediately understood the depth and the core gameplay aspects of the game.
We should expect games to pull us in, but also that they’re not complete.  We should expect the game to ask us for money at some point.  Unless it’s a game made by a non-profit, we should expect the game to monetize in some way.  (Or a student project… you get the point.)
We should also expect the free-to-play games to have mechanisms in place to keep from “richer people” getting an advantage over “poorer people.”  The Pay to Win model is an ugly one that can get your game thrown into the bin of shovelware.  There can be many ways to do this, but it’s up to the developers to determine the gameplay experience, and I’m sure there’s more inventive ways to prevent this from happening that even I haven’t seen yet.

For a TL;DR version:

We should cater our expectations of games to the way that they’re priced.  Different pricing models should mean different things for the developers and the consumers.

We often get upset by our expectations of games and feel the need to express these in a variety of formats, but we should take a minute to consider if our complaint is valid, or if it’s just a waste of our concern.