I have been playing a lot of Warframe lately, and I have such a love/hate relationship with that game. In trying to resolve why I feel this way, there's one thing I keep coming back to, and that's business model, business model, business model. It's quite hostile, actually. It asks me to either wait to have fun, or pay now to have fun.
Sound familiar? Then you've probably heard the controversy surrounding the new Dungeon Keeper mobile game; well, I hesitate to call it a game, really. There is nothing to that game other than mining, the mining is ponderous at best,
This issue has largely come on to peoples' radar in a big way with the egregious example of Dungeon Keeper Mobile, but it's been around for a while. Games have increasingly been built around the idea of microtransaction business models and developers have been finding new and creative ways to hold our game experiences and coveted shiny item behind increasingly large pay walls. It used to be that the whole idea of microtransactions was to be, well, micro. It's right there in the name, after all.
A quick survey of games using these models show the average game to be offering anything but micro in what they ask of the gamer, however. Warframe essentially asks the cost of a newly-released game for a single in-game hero - which, I suppose I could come to accept if there was something like the rental system we have in modern military shooters, to see if the new 'warframe' (your character essentially) was to our playing style, and effective. But there isn't. It's galling, quite frankly, to think the game developers would expect us to fork over the amount we would for a new release for something we are essentially taking a risk on. And of course, no refunds if you don't like the Warframe; you're stuck with it. Although to be fair, most games don't offer refunds on these purchases.
Warframe is hardly the worst offender though. Those who picked up STO again because of the Legacy of Romulus were greeted with Cryptic's standard grasping for money.
It's price creep is what it is, in it's purest form. As consumers are over time essentially trained to accept certain price points for the in-game purchases, the amount that game developers continue to ask slowly increases - or well, not so slowly to look at the legacy pack. Hell, I got my lifetime subscription for less than that on a promotion, infinitely more value in that proposition certainly.
Microtransactions in and of themselves are here to stay, because the market accepts them, and ultimately developers are going to use the business models that are effective. It's worth bearing in mind that this is the case. Part of the blame is as much on the many unsavvy consumers of the world as it is with the developers. They make the things that they think we want, at the end of the day.
However, I certainly hope these wait-or-pay mechanics, as I coin them, are not here to stay. It's a blatantly anti-consumer practice that holds your gaming experience hostage for a time, unless you are willing to shell out the cash. I used to see it in the browser games of the late 90s all the time - and you know what, it essentially died out in that market, as the games that used those business models failed. And with good reason - people get very frustrated when it feels like a game is holding their experience hostage. It's seen a resurgence lately in casual gaming, things like Facebook games and mobile games such as the aforementioned and much-maligned Dungeon Keeper Mobile. It's such a soulless business practice, really, when a developer puts their need for money above your enjoyment as a gamer. To me it says all you need to know about a developer when their business model is based upon essentially extorting you.
Jim Sterling recently did a piece of what he calls "Free to Wait" mechanics, the same model I discuss there now, and I will link it at the end of this article. He calls it the "most blatant of psychological warfare". And that's really what it is.
"Pitting the player's patience against the player's wallet. Rather than earn resources through gameplay, gamers are expected to sit and wait for a contrived amount of time, to get the resources they need to keep playing, or, of course, bribe their way to the top. And it's the most disgusting of fucking scams."
- Jim Sterling, Jimquisition: Free to Wait
I couldn't've put it better, really, which is why I mention it.
I have such a love and hate relationship with Warframe because it uses such a despicable business model. This is not the Dungeon Keeper mobile example, where the game is the thinnest of wrappers simply presented as a idiot-money-delivery-method for EA, this is an actual game with development work that's been put into it. It has fun gunplay, neat little parkour abilities, a high level of visual fidelity. And a terrible business model that puts a crimp in enjoying any sort of progression in the game. It's not quite pay-to-win, because hey, you can just wait, right?
To expand a little on the game's business model and mechanics for those that are unaware, Warframe is a free-to-play third-person shooter that is always online even though it uses a match-making service for the multiplayer component. I probably already lost half of my readers already the moment I said that, didn't I? The always online thing is another discussion for another time however. In this case, it is there exclusively because it has to govern the creation of items To create new gear and progress in the game, a player essentially has two options: you can pay with a premium currency called platinum to receive the item now, or you have to buy or get as loot a blueprint, grind a contrived amount of materials, get a bunch of in-game currency, and then wait 12 to 36 hours before they get the gear. So essentially the game holds your game experience hostage for a day or two unless you pay a bunch of money for an item.
The problem with this is two-fold. The first you already know, as I've already said: it's a pretty hostile and anti-consumer practice. You're extorting the customer, saying if they want to progress in the game they either have to pony up or wait. The second problem is that this business model actively sabotages the fun I would otherwise be having with the game. I get frustrated time and time again because I have to wait an arbitrary time to get something. It's starting to happen that I'll start making something and then promptly forget about it because it takes so long. I would probably be sinking a ridiculous amount of money into Forma to make a neat little clan hall, because I'm a sucker and a half for those kind of gameplay elements that let me create and design, but because I have to wait a full day to get those clan hall features - in this case, regardless of whether I paid for those forma, or waited a day on top of that to get the forma. Even with my weakness for wanting to design the prettiest everything, that wait time does a lot to murder my enthusiasm.
Is this how gaming is going now? With more and more blatant crash grab monetisation, and more and more absolute tripe on the previously-lauded Steam, it is getting increasingly difficult to find a game you can just play from the get-go. Let alone one that's any good. It's not healthy for the industry and I sincerely hope - probably against probability - that it stops before the games industry short-sightedly drives itself straight into the ground.
(Or, perhaps hope it does, so we can get something less monstrous out of the ashes)
Jimquisiton: Free to Wait: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/jimquisition/8773-Free-To-Wait