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rinelk
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Monetization categories?

Sat Mar 19, 2016 1:14 am

I've been thinking a bit about our typology. Right now, we tend to think of games as either premium or free-to-play. These categories seem to me inadequate to describe the experiences games offer us at the moment. Does anyone know of a good source for this? I presume someone has thought this through already somewhat carefully. I brought this up on the forums at one point, but it was during a different discussion and didn't get much attention.

My thinking is that we should ask a variety of questions in categorizing monetization:
1. Is there a ceiling on how much you can spend? How high?
2. To what extent do purchases affect success (relative to time played or skill)?
3. How clear is the effect of a purchase before it's made?
4. How does monetization corrupt (or benefit) the design of the game?

Probably some others, but those are the basic issues which come to mind for me. Are there others you think salient? Is there existing terminology for any of this which we should be using in our reviews?

Mirefox
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Re: Monetization categories?

Sat Mar 19, 2016 3:23 pm

While it probably fits into your listed categories, I think it is helpful to very clearly delineate where:

1) There are timers that can limit the amount of game you get without paying. While I don't like the idea of timers at all, there are some games, like Magic Puzzle Quest or Gems of War where timers technically exist but never actually serve as a barrier to play. On the other hand, there are games where timers severely limit your play time and you must either wait 30,60,90 minutes or pay real money to make another move.

2) Paying can give a player a distinct advantage in a multiplayer game. I know there is a big grey area where, in a CCG for example, paying can give you better odds of opening a good card simply because you've bought more packs, but there are some games where you only have access to certain cards/units/etc. through paid currency.

These are my two biggest concerns with the f2p model because they degrade the integrity of the actual "game" in favor of a digital money sink.

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Snotty128
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Re: Monetization categories?

Sat Mar 19, 2016 7:47 pm

I think the short hand Ive used in the forums is 'free to play done right', which I mostly take to mean the good old shareware model that lets you get a taste of some, or all, of a game before spending any money.

Your point #3 is one of my favourite, and f2p devs favourite, tricks that f2p games use to get money out of people. Opening that booster pack, or that chest, is a gamble and it triggers the same dopamine reward system that addicts people to actual gambling.

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rinelk
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Re: Monetization categories?

Sat Mar 19, 2016 8:57 pm

I think the short hand Ive used in the forums is 'free to play done right', which I mostly take to mean the good old shareware model that lets you get a taste of some, or all, of a game before spending any money.

Your point #3 is one of my favourite, and f2p devs favourite, tricks that f2p games use to get money out of people. Opening that booster pack, or that chest, is a gamble and it triggers the same dopamine reward system that addicts people to actual gambling.
So, there's the straightforward uncertainty of buying booster packs or whatever. But, if I buy a pack of Magic cards, I know going in what my probabilities are supposed to be. If it were to turn out that, for example, packs bought through Cardhaus had a different distribution of rares than those bought through CoolStuffInc, and Wizards of the Coast didn't acknowledge that fact, I'd think that was super shady. With blind-buy digital goods, it's entirely possible for devs to make random items bought by people who've recently spent real money better, on average, than those bought by people spending only currency earned by playing.

In between those two extremes are various measures some devs take to make it hard to know how important the stuff you're buying is. One common way to do that is to have a variety of different currencies which interact with the game in such complex ways that users are likely to misallocate their resources. Another is power creep, in which buying the most dominant gear today may not leave you with top-tier stuff very long. Still another is time-limited offers (because they usually deny you information about opportunity costs). Another is highly specialized options which are virtually required for some tasks (and often nearly useless otherwise), combined with measures which make it difficult to predict when those tasks will arise.

So, I feel like there are tons of ways games can undermine an assumption of market-based transactions: that buyer and seller agree on what's happening in the transaction. Sometimes, as with sealed packs of Magic cards, this is basically aboveboard; part of what you're buying is the uncertainty, and, generally, the seller knows no more than you about the outcome of your purchase. But then there's those other times….

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rinelk
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Re: Monetization categories?

Sat Mar 19, 2016 9:04 pm

1) There are timers that can limit the amount of game you get without paying. While I don't like the idea of timers at all, there are some games, like Magic Puzzle Quest or Gems of War where timers technically exist but never actually serve as a barrier to play. On the other hand, there are games where timers severely limit your play time and you must either wait 30,60,90 minutes or pay real money to make another move.
I think timers are hugely salient, but I get the impression that they focus our attention on time in a way which obscures the fundamental nature of the problem. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but I don't think it's time, exactly. For example, I play the daily challenge in Card Crawl most days, and that doesn't seem manipulative at all. Yet I can only do it once a day. I wonder whether part of the problem is denying people access to something they've invested in, or something. I'm really not sure. But however I end up understanding the problem with timers, it needs to explain why Card Crawl's daily dungeon isn't a problem as much as it explains why timers in some other games are problems.

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Wasp
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Re: Monetization categories?

Sat Mar 19, 2016 10:00 pm

Trouble is, there are about 50 different ways to monitize. Pay for full unlock, Pay to progress, Remove ads, DLC, Timers, T-shirts; and different types suit different markets, e.g. suprise boxes are popular in the Far East. I think a reviewer would have detail monetisation for every game and let the reader decide. But hopefully there won't be too many F2P reviews, especially of the obvious whale processing kind.

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rinelk
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Re: Monetization categories?

Sun Mar 20, 2016 12:03 am

Trouble is, there are about 50 different ways to monitize. Pay for full unlock, Pay to progress, Remove ads, DLC, Timers, T-shirts; and different types suit different markets, e.g. suprise boxes are popular in the Far East. I think a reviewer would have detail monetisation for every game and let the reader decide. But hopefully there won't be too many F2P reviews, especially of the obvious whale processing kind.
Part of the reason I asked the question was to figure out what bothers people. I get the impression that very few people have expressed an objection to the monetization of Super Tribes, for example. You can play it for free, and there's only one purchase you can make, for an extra tribe. I think I've seen more concern expressed that this isn't aggressive enough, and the dev won't be adequately rewarded for the excellent game. But, technically, it doesn't cost anything to play, and it does have an in-app purchase, so it seems to fit the definition of free-to-play. So your point about the obvious whale processing is right--that's where we really don't want to end up. My hope is that we might be able to find a common lingo for describing what's relevant to people's experiences without going into complete detail about every monetization method of every game--some of them just have so many different things going on that to do so would be tedious. If we do that, we can get feedback about which monetization methods our readers tend to find objectionable, and which they mostly don't mind.

The other way to do it just to trust our guts on the matter. We have pretty good guts, but it'd be nice to calibrate them, you know?

Mirefox
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Re: Monetization categories?

Sun Mar 20, 2016 2:00 am

1) There are timers that can limit the amount of game you get without paying. While I don't like the idea of timers at all, there are some games, like Magic Puzzle Quest or Gems of War where timers technically exist but never actually serve as a barrier to play. On the other hand, there are games where timers severely limit your play time and you must either wait 30,60,90 minutes or pay real money to make another move.
I think timers are hugely salient, but I get the impression that they focus our attention on time in a way which obscures the fundamental nature of the problem. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but I don't think it's time, exactly. For example, I play the daily challenge in Card Crawl most days, and that doesn't seem manipulative at all. Yet I can only do it once a day. I wonder whether part of the problem is denying people access to something they've invested in, or something. I'm really not sure. But however I end up understanding the problem with timers, it needs to explain why Card Crawl's daily dungeon isn't a problem as much as it explains why timers in some other games are problems.

The thing about limited challenges in games like Card Crawl is that you still have a complete game to play around with. On the other hand, a game that is almost entirely based on timers can at times completely prevent you from playing in any way except through using real money to refresh the timers. I recently tried Pokemon Shuffle, which is actually quite a fun game - when I can play. The game literally limited me to something like 5 30-second matching games every couple hours.

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rinelk
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Re: Monetization categories?

Sun Mar 20, 2016 2:59 am

The thing about limited challenges in games like Card Crawl is that you still have a complete game to play around with. On the other hand, a game that is almost entirely based on timers can at times completely prevent you from playing in any way except through using real money to refresh the timers. I recently tried Pokemon Shuffle, which is actually quite a fun game - when I can play. The game literally limited me to something like 5 30-second matching games every couple hours.
I think that's a useful data point for probing my intuitions, but here's my reason for thinking it's not right: Bonza. Bonza is a sort of crossword-ish puzzle game, which comes with a selection of puzzles, and more you can buy with in-game coins you earn by solving puzzles. There's also a daily puzzle. At this point, I've played all the stuff I can play for free and everything I've bought with in-game coins, so it's basically just a daily puzzle. I find that that doesn't bother me at all. When I've finished the day's puzzle, I have nothing left to do and go on to something else. I think what might be relevant isn't whether there's a full game available outside of the time-limited challenges, but whether the time limits kick in when the game has left you motivated to continue playing. So it's simply a very common special case of the more general problem of manipulative design, where the need to put people in a position to want something they can pay to get corrupts the design of the game. With Bonza, I finish a puzzle and feel like I've come to a good stopping point, and there's a perfectly sensible reason they don't give me another one right away: it takes time to make the puzzles, and they allow users to submit new ones which they then have to evaluate. So it doesn't feel like an artificial limitation they've instituted just to make me pay for one of the puzzle packs, it's just the nature of the design of the game.

The same goes for the Daily Dungeon in Card Crawl. It's not artificial that you can't play two dailies: if you could, they wouldn't be daily. The only thing which distinguishes the daily from the normal mode is exactly the once-a-day format, so it's inherent to the design of that mode, not an artificial limitation. You couldn't buy more dailies if you wanted to, so you never get the impression that you're being manipulated into spending more money.

So my intuition, of which I'm still not confident, is that what makes timers maddening is that the appearance of a malevolent, or at least callously greedy, intelligence behind them. They're intended to cause frustration to make money; it's basically low-level extortion. As such, I think it's reasonable to lump it in with all the other forms of low-level extortion which ruin games for me. Do you feel similarly, or do you think there might be something distinctive about timers which sets them apart from the other corrosive influences on game design, and which I'm missing?

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Snotty128
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Re: Monetization categories?

Sun Mar 20, 2016 3:09 am

I dont understand the draw behind skipping timers, maybe Im not the target audience.

I wonder if we had the option to skip card crawls daily challenge 'timer', and take another daily challenge would anyone pony up the cash to do so? Is it indicative of the games overall replayability? From what I remember card crawl had a distinctive 'one more turn' appeal to it.

Not meaning to pick on card crawl because most of us seriously loved that game. Maybe if I keep writing card crawl it could even help its SEO ;)

    

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