Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Conflicting desires

Players desire a maximum amount of fun and entertainment from a game for a minimum amount of money. Game companies have a profit obligation towards their shareholders, and thus desire to minimize their cost while maximizing their revenues. While there is a lot of pretense going on in the communication between game developers and players, the underlying desires of the two sides conflict on a fundamental level, and that has consequences on game design.

People are most aware of that conflict in the so-called Free2Play games, which are obviously not totally free. The profit obligation of the game company forces them to sell things that people would actually be willing to buy. Which more often than not tends to upset the people who wanted to play the game really for free, and see somebody else getting an advantage in the game for money.

But monthly subscription games aren't actually any better: To be profitable, the game needs to hang onto their subscribers as long as possible. And that means NOT giving them all they want right now. Content is expensive to produce, and infinite content is impossible anyway, so there is a lot of redoing the same content over and over: From daily quests, to having to visit the same raid dungeon for months, to various other forms of "grind", a lot of game elements are just in the game to keep people subscribing longer and thus paying more.

Even classic single-payment games have their problems. If a game is sold on the strength of first impressions, demos, and day-of-release reviews, we don't have to be surprised that these games tend to be flashy, but short. Replayability is often lacking, or is being sold extra as "downloadable content" (DLC).

Blogs and game forums being dominated by gamers, there is a lot of discussion of how "unfair" various payment models are, and how greedy the game companies. That always makes me wonder whether those companies have internal forums where they are complaining how unfair the players are to want all these games and all this content for free.

I do not think that anybody has a "right" to get any specific game or content for free. The company making that game or content has the right to set whatever price they want, and the player has the right to either pay the price and play, or to refuse paying and not play the game. I do not think that any business model is inherently more fair or unfair than another, because you couldn't even get people to agree on a definition of fairness. Is a game in which everybody pays the same, but some people play much more than others fair? Is a game in which everybody pays depending on how much he plays fair? Is a game in which everybody pays whatever he wants fair?

Every payment model has different advantages and disadvantages. In the end the only thing one can do is to take a long hard look at a game and its price tag, and decide for yourself whether this is worth it to you. And we need to accept the fact that this decision is highly individual: There is no absolute measure with which we could determine whether a sparkly pony is worth 25 bucks, or whether a monthly subscription is worth 15. This is just what it costs, and we are free to take it or leave it. The idea that just because we don't want this game or content for this price, everybody else also should refuse to buy it is silly.

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