Tenfold Hate

The Viability of Microtransactions
January 16, 2008, 2:05 pm
Filed under: Gaming, MMORPGs

There is a great thread that’s been going for several days now over at The Common Sense Gamer instigated by some comments SOE’s John Smedley recently made regarding microtransactions. I urge you to check it out if you haven’t read it yet.

There is no question that microtransactions are a viable business model–especially since they provide access to games for very young players still tied to their parents’ purse strings who might not be able to scratch up the nominal $15 dollars a month in subscription fees.

For social MMOs that aren’t “games” in the traditional sense–Second Life for example, microtransact away if that floats your boat. It’s not so much the nickel-and-diming that comes with microtransactions that turns me off to them. It’s the uneven playing field they create. Money and fairness don’t mix. Look at politics. Look at class structure. Look at professional athletics. Anyone ever see Eight Men Out about the White Sox throwing the World Series?

Face it. In most MMORPGs, competition for resources–be it currency, materials, or gear–is a major element in the game, whether the game is PvE, PvP, or a hybrid. If these resources can be purchased with real money, this not only devalues the time and effort put in by folks that didn’t buy their way to their goals, but also has as much of an adverse effect on game economy as gold farmers do. The only difference? The money is going into the pockets of the designers instead of some cyber-sweatshop overseer in Singapore.

My main problem with SOE in particular is perhaps Smed should not look at payment methods as the “barrier to entry” for getting people to play MMOs. SOE spread themselves too thin. They have what–around ten plus games and 90% of them are lemons?

I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, though, since he is as much a businessman as he is “Joe Average gamer who happens to be at the helm of the MMO division of a huge multinational corporation.” 200,000 subs is a healthy monthly subscription number, but thanks to Blizzard, suits look at those numbers (which are by no means representative of any other pay-to-play western MMO before or after WoW) and $ay, “Hey, how can we do that?” Not every athlete can be Rocky Marciano or Jackie Robinson. That doesn’t make them bad at what they do.

Make a game that’s fun and people will play (and pay), regardless of the payment method. That’s one thing Blizzard has proven that is attainable, whereas CEOs lu$ting after nine million $ub$criber$ might be setting the bar a bit high at this point. Continue to churn out mediocre title after mediocre title and pissing in the wind, and no one’s gonna care whether it’s free-to-play or you’re paying us to play it.

Build it, and they will come.



Dammit you stole my story idea.

It’s OK though because I was basically going to write what you wrote. I think microtransactions to have a fail point though where subs just keep ticking along. I can see a point in any game where I say “no more” and quit microtransacting. Where does the company get it’s revenue from then?

I don’t mind paying a monthly fee to play a game. Hell, I’m paying 3 or 4 of them right now. For some reason the idea of the microtransaction reminds me of the Compuserve days and the dreaded “how did I run up a $300 bill this month?” moment.

Let me pay what I want to pay each month to play the game and quit trying to nickle and dime me to death.

Comment by grouchygamer

Where do the companies get their revenue from then? Companies get the revenue from additionally created content or new players – which should be continually churning through a non-subscription game due to the low entry barriers inherent in a “free-to-play” environment.

Also, keep in mind that of those 9 million subscribers that World of Warcraft maintains, over 7 million are from a part of the world where RMT is status quo. Blizzard could shift to an RMT model tomorrow for World of Warcraft, lose all 2 million western world subscribers, and probably still make more in RMT than they are with their monthly subscriptions.

…and though it’s a grand experiement I’d love to see, I don’t think anyone wants to mess around with that particular golden goose, especially while it’s still laying golden eggs.

Comment by Kendricke

Hehe, Grouchy. I was just bouncing off Darren’s original post anyways, so no harm if you keep running with it. Funny you should mention Compuserve. My first MUD experience was Gemstone on GEnie when I was probably thirteen or fourteen. I ran up a $300 dollar bill on my Dad’s account at a time where I was probably making $40 a week working at the local soda shop. Keep in mind, this was the mid- to late-eighties while $300 would probably equal $600 now. Needless to say, I lost computer priviledges for quite some time.

Comment by tenfoldhate

I really enjoyed this article. Couple of points:

1. I think you’re right about microtransactions for a game like EQ or WOW in that it demeans the efforts of players who put time into attaining resources and money. But if you look at it from SOE’s point of view, it at least legalises this system and allows to be scrutinised, and also facilitates the inclusion of richer casual players who haven’t got the time to build up an “uber” character. I’m not saying it’s right, I can just see where Sony are coming from.

2. Have you seen the CES demonstration of The Agency? Methinks that could be that game you were talking about, although it seems highly overambitious at the moment.

I look forward to reading more.

Comment by shoinan

I definitely agree with your points Shoinan. I think microtransactions are one of those things that make complete sense from a business perspective for those collecting payment, but are ultimately detrimental to players–at least in AAA MMORPGs.

I watched the trailer for The Agency. Personally, I find FPS games pretty dull. There are some that stand out in my mind–Medal of Honor and Doom for example. For me personally though, the genre has a dull sameness that just doesn’t interest me. Nothing terribly radical except for graphic improvements and change of setting has been done since Doom. I’m sure the same criticism could be leveled at MMORPGs since UO, and I haven’t played 2007’s slew of first-person shooters that have gotten rave reviews, so you have to take my opinions on FPS games with a grain of salt.

Comment by tenfoldhate

That’s fair enough – each to their own genre 🙂 I think The Agency is more interesting for being something out of the ordinary regards MMOs, but frankly SOE don’t have a great track record.

In any case we agree on one thing – real world currency and in-game currency should never have a relationship. I think Blizzard’s next MMO could be much tougher on microtransactions, but equally there’s as much chance of going the opposite direction. I doubt their stance will stay the same though.

Comment by shoinan

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