A quick guide through microtransactions and free-to-play

Although microtransactions and free-to-play look like the flavor of the month, they have been part of the industry for years, garnering enthusiasts and critics alike. Part of the prejudice around this type of monetization comes from many poor implementations and a lot of excessive use.

Microtransactions

However, when the free-to-play approach is well crafted and an inherent part of a game, it can be successful not only for the companies, but also for the players, reaching a broader audience and catering the experience to different needs.

Given that now even Nintendo is experimenting with free-to-play, I thought it was a good moment to bring the Extra Credits team to give a quick guide through the art of microtransactions.

Hearthstone (2014)

Hearthstone (2014)

In this 9-minute video they cover why you should allow non-paying players to earn hard currency, and at the same time, why you should never sell power, but convenience. There other practical tips as well:

  • Make the game more enjoyable.
  • Make paying more palatable.
  • Make the whole experience feel cohesive.
  • Never split your community.
  • Market test your prices.

In summary, always keep your monetization model in mind when building your game.

Here’s the video:

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Nintendo’s first free-to-play experiments

Nintendo's RustyLately, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has been a lot in the news, be it to address the company’s surprising annual loss or to outline some of its next steps, including the much-commented possibility of expanding its business to smart devices. Everything had a refreshing honest approach:

The way people use their time, their lifestyles, who they are have changed. If we stay in one place, we will become outdated.

It is our intention to release some application on smart devices this year that is capable of attracting consumer attention and communicating the value of our entertainment offerings, so I would encourage you to see how our approach yields results.

Apparently, the moment of truth is here (or at least, part of it), as  Nintendo is starting to chart the free-to-play waters with Steel Diver: Sub Wars and Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball. Both of them are exclusive for the 3DS eShop.

  • Steel Diver: Sub Wars is a submarine-based first-person shooter.
Steel Diver: Sub Wars

Steel Diver: Sub Wars

Its free version offers a couple of submarines, some singleplayers and the multiplayer mode. Paying $10 unlocks the rest of the game. In other words, the Steel Diver: Sub Wars’ free-to-play approach looks a lot like a demo.

Steel Diver: Sub Wars' free-to-play approach

Steel Diver: Sub Wars‘ free-to-play approach

  • Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball, in turn, is a collection of baseball-related minigames, and is scheduled for April (it was originally released in August for the Japanese market).
Rusty's Real Deal Baseball

Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball

The game comes with some free minigames, but additional ones must be unlocked by paying $4 for each of them. However, here the free-to-play approach comes with a tweak: the players can bribe the shop owner (Rusty) to get a real discount on each minigame.

(…) Players can purchase additional mini-games in a unique way: by haggling to lower the real-world price for each downloadable game. Additional games start at $4 apiece, but giving Rusty items or listening to his problems might improve his mood and motivate him to offer steep discounts.

Rusty's Real Deal Baseball's bargain system

Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball’s bargain system

In the year in which Sony and Microsoft have a lot of guaranteed press coverage because of their new consoles, Nintendo is doing a remarkable effort to stay relevant. Fortunately for us, so far every announcement seems to be part of a bigger strategy.

We’ll see how this attempt at free-to-play works for Nintendo. The good news is that, putting the monetization experiment aside, both games look fun.

Source: Gamasutra

Amazon acquires Double Helix, Killer Instinct developer

During the last years, Amazon has been giving strong signals of its gaming ambitions. It launched its own game studio back in 2012, consistently expanded the games catalogue for its Kindle Fire and now is going to launch its own Android microconsole this year, to compete against Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.

Given that scenario, a studio purchase felt natural for Amazon, especially since offering exclusive titles can be a good deal for a console. However, when the acquisition news broke out yesterday, there was something unexpected: Amazon was buying Double Helix, the console-oriented studio that developed last year’s Killer Instinct (the fightning Xbox One exclusive). According to Amazon, it “acquired Double Helix as part of our ongoing commitment to build innovative games for customers.”

I hope I’m getting Amazon Prime along with my new health plan

It’s worth noting that, even if it may look like a usual fighting retail game, Killer Instinct has a novel approach to free-to-play games, as it only offers one character for free. You can either play using that character forever, or you can spend around $5 for adding a new one.

So far, that strategy has been criticized by fans, but apparently also quite successful. Perhaps it’s precisely its popularity what triggered the need for a “jail” system. Given this precedent, it shouldn’t be surprising to see Amazon looking for new ways to monetize big scale games.

After yesterday’s announcement, Microsoft has confirmed that it will be working with a new “development partner” on Killer Instinct. Double Helix, in turn, had a platform game set to be published by Capcom this year, Strider (a reboot). I guess that project will remain unchanged (it’s probably in its final stage of development).

Amazon is well known for betting high when a business is attractive enough for its overall strategy. Combine that ambition with its experience in digital and retail services, and you have a strong contender for becoming one of the big players in the industry.

I don’t know how much time we’ll have to wait until seeing Double Helix’s new contributions, but I’m sure that Amazon will do its part to make 2014 a great year for gaming.

Sources: Polygon, Gamasutra

“Jail” for quitting a Killer Instinct fight

Anyone who has ever been part of a multiplayer game knows that quitters can completely ruin the experience. Be it a football/soccer match, a 1-on-1 fight or a squad-based shoot-out, playing against someone who quits can turn a pacifist into a demon in a matter of seconds.

In that sense, last year’s almost free-to-play Killer Instinct has decided how it’s going to deal with players who abandon a multiplayer match early. Double Helix, its developer, calls the new system “rage quit solution”.

The first time your disconnect percentage goes above 15%, you’re sent to “Jail”. For 24 hours, you can only fight against other jail members.

However, each time  you return to jail, the amount of time increases by 24 hours (up to a maximum of 5 days). When your jail time is up, you are free again… until you quit another match and go back to the Big House (as long as your disconnect percentage is above 15%).

Just in case you forget where you are and what you did, while in jail your profile icon is automatically changed to a custom jail icon.

It isn’t the first game in its kind to implement a solution like this, but the combination of the “Jail” and the icon sounds really cool.

Source: Kotaku

Sony offers a single subscription for all its MMOs

Starting April 02, Sony Online Entertainment will offer a single membership plan called All Access, that will cover all its MMOs (EverQuestEverQuest IIDC Universe Online PC, PlanetSide 2 PC, VanguardSaga of Heroes, and the upcoming EverQuest Next and EQN Landmark).

For $14.99 a month (with extra savings for 3, 6 and 12 month plans), subscribers will be able to:

  • Claim 500 Station Cash monthly from within the game marketplaces.
  • Receive a 10% discount on marketplace purchases.
  • Gain access to exclusive promotions and offers throughout the year.

Besides, all players with existing memberships will be automatically upgraded into the new plan. As IGN points out, free-to-play members will still be able to play games without paying for them and the new consolidated payment options are only available on PC right now.

I’m interested to see how this single subscription model works. As I see it, lowering the barriers for those who want to play (at least) more than one MMOs is a clear vote of confidence for the free-to-play model. Why? Because now the only way to monetize those players (outside the single $14.99 subscription fee) will be through in-app purchases, as they will be spending less per game. Of course, those who only play one MMO won’t see any change.

In the end, it’s about giving people more for their money.

Source: SOE Community