Once upon a time, we could sell a game for $50 in a box. Within that box, we could strive to craft the most fun experience possible that $50 could buy. Those days are largely gone now. As the entertainment landscape gets more crowded, larger budget games stand out the best, and they demand a bigger bottom line.
As the revenue demands have increased, we have invented all sorts of new ways to make more money from games over the years. Subscriptions, loot boxes, boosts, energy, DLC, and timer-rushing are the most prominent. All of these methods are effective, but have negative impacts to the player experience. Alas, this is more than just an ethical issue. It is a game design issue.
They aren’t the best possible player experiences. Each of the mentioned tactics does the same basic thing: it creates a need in the player, and offers to fill that need if only they will pay some money.
- Subscription: Add lots of grinding
- Pay for boosts: Add frustrating levels where you almost win
- Loot boxes: Add highly chase-able rarities of content
- DLC: Add cliffhangers for DLC or withhold content
- Timer-rush: Add lots of timers gates which can be rushed
Players now come to games with skepticism. “How are they trying to part me from my money?” the player must ask. Games used to be a trusted friend; a wholesome and revitalizing activity. There must be a better way.
There is a glimmer of hope. One kind of monetization is a shining example of enhancing the player experience without sacrificing what makes the best game: Cosmetics. Cosmetic economies are great, but they only work in certain types of games for certain types of players. It doesn’t seem like most games could effectively utilize a cosmetic economic model. Can we extrapolate from what is working so well here and apply it elsewhere?
I would like us to help usher in a new era of ideas around how the fun and the business side of games can work together to create a better experience. I believe it can be done…sometimes. Cosmetics show us that. The business needs of our craft are not going to go away – if anything they will become more demanding as the market gets more crowded. Let’s try to find some tools to guide us towards experimental monetization strategies that are as good as cosmetics for a wider variety of games.
- Are there any games have good harmony between design and monetization strategy? (Cosmetics are a good starting point)
- What can we learn from those games?
- What are the defining characteristics of a monetization strategy that doesn’t sacrifice the player experience?
- What are some new monetization strategies to try that would work in harmony with the games we know and love?