Been in games long? Well then you have seen every possible payment model known to mankind. Now the ESRB is finally getting involved and talking about setting up warning labels for loot crates. Here is a hint, warning labels on anything never stopped people from getting what they wanted. If anything it could make the problem worse. However, we have to start somewhere.
Subscriptions to Free to Play
About a decade ago, I remember walking around Austin GDC talking about Free-to-Play games. A payment idea that was unheard of in the subscription era MMO dominated market. We were saying, who would have through you might see free games where you buy items or possibly even content. Well, that came true. This after about a decade of subscription models were used for online games. I will never forget entering my credit card for Ultima Online in fear that information would be stolen. That was back in 1997.
The Free-to-Play era has, of course, morphed over time. Sadly, the drop in game quality pushed a lot of players away. It also became a haven for games which were imported but offered mostly a grinding mindset. Things had to change as these games targeted the 5% of paying customers to support 95% of the populace. This model has not really changed that much, but it now has entered into the Loot Crate era.
Spend Money and You MIGHT Get What You Want!
In theory, this is a fun idea. Spend a few dollars on a chest and unlock items. The more you play the more loot crates you may get, if you are bored and want something fun to buy, go spend, however, the results may vary. Mobile games have made a killing off of this design. It is simple and puts the buyer into a transaction which seems fun, but ultimately disappoints in the end, kind of like the lottery.
It all depends on the company, some companies have taken a “soft” approach to loot crates. Hearthstone has mirrored Magic: The Gathering’s design of opening a booster pack. The theory is all the same, you may get an awesome card, or not. The odds in a collectible card game that you will are much higher than say, other games. Most customers can swallow this design because it has been around for a while. It has worked for Magic since the early 1990s and everyone is used to the idea.
However, when you get too aggressive with the pricing model, well, suddenly the fun is taken out of the game. Enter Electronic Arts, they have done this several times. The first overly aggressive pricing approach that I took part in was on Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar. Does anyone here remember that little game? In theory, fun, in reality, as you adventured through the world, you found needing potions was critical to survival, how did you get potions, buying them online. The model Ultima-ly turned players away and the game was shut down. This was back in 2013. Lesson learned EA? Nope…
EA turned around this past year and forced a huge controversy with Battle Front II. It began to change loot crates forever. Now the rating systems, courts, and the general population are getting involved.
Where do we go from here?
You need to spend money on games. They are not free. Let’s begin with that, however, the best model seems to be something that allows the customer to make their own choice. You can buy the game, play it, and if you want to change the look of your character or add some cool elements that do not impact the gameplay or rules, well then you can. It seems like the timing of competitive gameplay and microtransactions came to a head in Battle Front. Other games offer full experiences, and you can buy skins, items, or some fun things on the side. If the game is solid and popular…cough…Fortnite…no one blinks an eye at the financial side of it.
Game publishers and designers should be thinking about their financial models right from the beginning. With everything becoming an online game quickly how you charge your customers will always be a topic of controversy.