Game portals like Aeria Games come out with new games all the time – not your average Farmville or Mafia Wars variety, but high-end downloadable epics, or high quality browser games.
How can they get away with offering free-to-play, high-end graphics*, constant updates and addicting game play without going broke? Wouldn’t they have to spend thousands to license and implement the games on their portal, hire game moderators and advertise the games’ launch? *maybe not top-of-the-line
Simple answer: micro-payments
To be more thorough, many free gaming portals out there, make their money by players committing real money to purchasing a virtual currency enabled by incremental online payments via Pay Pal and such for as little or as much as demanded by the player, and is totally voluntary. This virtual currency is then used in-game to buy virtual products in the form of game items, weapons, armor using the online item mall, a platform that allows you to exchange your virtual cash for your desired wares.
Many games that portal sites offer are free to download, that is, if your computer has the specs to play the game. Patches and other fundamental content updates are also usually provided at no cost. Many may call this a sweet deal, until they see other players leveling up by leaps and bounds or faster than seems possible for a games that just launched. In Caesary, spending AP (Aeria’s virtual currency) can enable faster building/training completion and greatly reduce the time needed to build up one’s city and rank to compete with others – which leads to the criticism of “free” games.
It’s a Scam! …perhaps not.
Many say that the “free to play” farce is a tease to make players buy virtual currency like AP in order to fully enjoy the games they play and in turn, has generated an industry-wide bias that “Free mmorpg” isn’t really “free”.
Some players invest several times the cost of a standard retail game or even thousands of dollars into one or more free games via micro-payments. Those that can’t afford that kind of spending behavior are left to grind it out the old fashioned way and some players claim that the absence of available virtual cash make the games “incomplete”. Any attempt to get closer to the “full” experience would have them digging into their wallets after all.
The author wishes to comment that paying to help level up your character and buy special items is only a means to accelerate advancement or give yourself an edge in-game. You can just as well level up manually and find the items yourself by playing it like any other traditional game and this is probably the way the majority of players enjoy themselves. The choice to pay-to-play is up to the player and despite the feeling that game portals appear to make their games’ purchasable items so attractive it’s impossible to enjoy the game without spending, it is not so. On the other hand, you’d be kicking yourself in the backside for sinking $50 into a bad game like The Saboteur or for a game in which you only have use for a minor % of the available content – for example: You only like Ranger stuff like bows, daggers and stealth power ups and could care less about axes, broadswords and magical spell items. Micro-payments allows you to buy what you need or buy the thing that will give you the power to obtain what you want in-game. Is that not just as satisfying if not more so than playing while being forced to pay a subscription for a game that has been hacked to death? Or better than contending with a hyped-up waste of time like CNC3 after picking it up on reserve at Best Buy only to discover the game disks are defective? Hey, it’s your money.
The idea that micro-payments need not be large is also appealing to a larger audience and even the smallest investment can mean a whole world of difference the next time player venture out into their virtual worlds. Micro-payments aren’t going anywhere.
Free Game Companies: Foolish or Smart?
All of the above begs the question, what if nobody puts one wooden nickel into a free game, which may in fact be supported solely by the revenue generated from micro-payments? Are companies just sitting back hoping someone will spend only having to shut the game down when no one does? Pretty stupid right?
Apart from the group of hardcore gamers almost guaranteed to buy into the micro-payment model, portals are also aware of the stigma surrounding the free-to-play tease. So, in order to give players a taste of the benefits of using virtual cash, many portals hold campaigns and events that award the cash just from playing the game – no credit card info needed, just the (virtual) cash. Take for example when Caesary (browser based mmorts) launched on Aeria’s portal. 200 AP (approx. $2.00 USD) was offered to all players who played until their main building (‘Rectorate’) reached a certain level by a certain date. After their efforts, players are given the 200AP which can enable them to progress further in Caesary or use the AP for other games, which gives them the experience what it’s like to use virtual cash to improve their game.
Was this implemented haphazardly or was there some thought behind it? The author suspects that by motivating players to play through to the required level (enough for the AP reward), players are more exposed to the game which has potential to get them hooked on the game and spread it to non-players. This not hard to understand as the best marketing a game can do is by word of mouth from inside the gamer community to the outside. Companies can kill two birds with one stone: Keep people playing and get them interested in micro-payments. The ultimate goal is making the game viral enough that companies can expect a certain % of all players to produce a turnover (micro-payment purchase).
Micro-payments are here to stay. Games will continue to be advertised as “free-to-play”, and masses of people will play them and perhaps some of them will invest money in the games. However, the games are just as good without paying anything.
Free virtual cash events and presents give players a taste of the micro-payment system and further increases the likelihood they will become playing players. Not guaranteed to work, but companies like Aeria, Zynga and others wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t work.
What do you think of the idea of micro-payments?