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The Free Zone: Can Revenue Models Be Too Complicated?

Column By Richard Aihoshi on January 15, 2013

Over the past couple of years, we've seen the topic of revenue models become more and more prominent, and sometimes even contentious. Some people are rather vocal about which they consider best, seemingly as if that means everyone else should think the same way. In general, I favor consumer choice, with the caveat that the extent be within reason. The goal is to improve and enhance the customer's ability to get what he or she wants without making the process overly complicated. So, it's a balancing act. 

Last week, Gazillion released information about its pre-release Founders Program for its upcoming F2P offering, Marvel Heroes. As you may know, the title is being touted as combining an MMO world with action RPG-style play. The studio has made references to the latter having core gameplay elements from Diablo. This isn't exactly shocking since the team is headed by former Blizzard principal David Brevik. And while implementation is always critical, the overarching concept, which also incorporates the huge and immensely popular titular universe plus the ability to play as many of its familiar superheroes, has definite appeal.

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So, I wish I could say that my initial reaction to the above-mentioned Founders Program was more positive. To be frank, however, the first impression I got was that it was complicated - maybe not ridiculously so, but did I think to myself “Oh cool, this will be easy and fun to look through”? Certainly not.

I'm fine with only having limited options if I choose not to pay at all. None among Daredevil, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Storm or Thing rank among my favorites, but that's purely personal, and the selection does seem sufficiently varied to accommodate a wide range of play styles. Buy beyond that? I wouldn't necessarily say the range of options I can purchase is confusing, but neither would I describe it as quick and easy to navigate.

Admittedly, I'm unaware of what if any constraints the people who created the program were under. But as a consumer, I don't particularly care. Their job is to make facilitate my spending my money. It's not up to me to excuse it if they don't - and whether they have credible reasons or not doesn't materially change this.

So what are my choices? At the low end, there are 16 supposedly different $20 “starter packs”, each with a specific character, two appropriate costumes, a related forum title, and a few other things that are all the same. What I don't get is why this isn't simply presented to me as one package including the ability to select one preferred hero from 16 alternatives.

For $60, I can get four characters. But... can I just take whichever four I want? It appears that was considered too straightforward. So instead, there are seven “premium packs”. Each has a pre-set quartet; for example, the Marvel Classic pack has Captain America, Black Widow, Cyclops and Human Torch. What if I'm fine with three of these but would rather have say Thor as the fourth? Am I happy to spend another $20 for his starter pack? In a word, no.

The third possibility open to me is to pay $200 for the “Ultimate Pack”, which includes all 22 heroes slated to be available at launch plus four more that have been announced but will debut later. Buyers will also receive other goodies including permanent 5% boosts to both XP and item-finding. It took about a nanosecond for the wailing to start about this, and I'll go on record that I don't like it. I'd much rather see temporary boosters. We know these will be in the game since they're in the lower-cost packs. Another plus is guaranteed beta access, but once again, there's a “but” attached. This time, it's that I have to be among the first 2500 purchasers.

While I could go on about a few more specifics, I think the gist of my feelings is pretty clear. I really hope Gazillion is willing and able to re-think this part of its revenue model immediately.


A couple of other tidbits

To my complete non-surprise, En Masse announced last week that TERA will go F2P. Since this will happen in February, the exact date should be available soon. The switch was already made in Korea and Japan, so it was only a matter of time until North America and Europe followed suit. It seems that both Asian markets have seen their user populations grow in the short term, so there's reason to think the same will occur here.

While China remains “out of sight, out of mind” for a fair number of gamers on this continent, it just keeps on growing. As I've said for a couple of years now, it's the largest market in the world by dollar volume. According to a report posted at GamesIndustry International last week, the entire industry generated $9.7 billion last year. This was up just over 35 percent compared to 2011. Of this total, online is said to have represented 90 percent, or about $8.3 billion. The proportion from MMOGs isn't stated, but it's obviously a very large sum of money. 


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The Free Zone
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on MMORPG.com every Monday.
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