essay, video games

Buyer’s Market

There have been many publicized attempts in recent days to make a splash and, in the returning wake, draw new people to their alluring shores of new monetary strategies First was Valve with their announcement of Team Fortess 2 moving to the Free-To-Play model. Next was Mortal Kombat with its own Pay-for-More-Play model to entice players for longer. The latest, and potentially more meaningful, is that World of Warcraft is moving to a “First taste is free” model. Each is trying, in their own way, to approach the hardly new but increasing common idea of Games as Services.

Each of these moves is trying to make the player stay longer with the experience. With the plethora of games available to even the most causal gamer, the industry is trying to entice the gamer to spend that little more time before moving onto the next game, the next experience. The companies know that the gamer will move on eventually. More than any other time in the history of gaming, there are choices for any time, place or skill level of gamer. With that understanding close in mind, these companies have moved to keep the player entertained, to keep the player with the product, but on the player’s own terms.

We are moving beyond the ability to just buy a game and have a singular experience. (Well, for the most part) Games, by the small and large, are moving to a model that allows the player to fund their experience and stop whenever they want. The authorial control, in part, is moving to the player. They buy into the experience for as long as they want to and, when they grow bored, can move on without additional cost, having only paid for what they want… or can afford.

This is the service model: there is some initial fee or offering and, once the player is hooked, they need to continue to pay for more and more content. Like with other service industries, the model is make the experience likable enough that the patron continues to come back again and again for a delicious morsel of content. The key then to how this would and is changing the video game industry is in that selection process. Certain wares are cut into unit, tiny digestible units that the gamer consume but without them being sated.

The dark side of the player having to buy into and just getting what they want is that developers could plan for that. In other words, that the developers will market the game as a unit and then additional content, additional downloadale content, additional content to be bought as more units. Not just as personalizing options but as narrative locked behind a paywall. “Give us money,” says the developer, “and we will show you want happens next, we will give you the better weapon.”

These are not all bad for the player though. These options, right now, are not setup in such a way as to prevent the player to but to enable them. However, each does come with a cost. For TF2, it is in getting items faster. For Mortal Kombat, it is in getting things sooner or at all. For WoW, it is in getting more access. None of these are created in such a way as to harm the player but the potential is there more and more. Gone are the days of Horse Armor, we have moved onto Episodic Content. Each bite costs some more.