Monetization: player happiness and economic viability

Vintage video game with Insert Coin screen isolated on white

Today, we want to share with you our view on a delicate topic: how we plan to monetize our game. Monetizing an online game is a difficult exercise: if it’s not profitable, it dies quickly. If it’s overpriced, it turns off players and the game dies as well. Adding the fact that there is no monetization model fitting perfectly for every type of game… and this can give a quite serious headache to make it right, even when the guys in charge have experience in the field. Finding the adequate equilibrium is never easy. We have given a lot of thoughts on the topic, collected feedback from the community and listed a number of related critical points and checked how each model is adapted for each of them. We wanted to share our conclusion with you.

Being able to play the game without spending money

Nowadays, this is an unavoidable topic when it comes to start playing a new game. This is something everybody would appreciate. It’s possible in some context, but there is always some inconveniences to balance it. But let’s see how each model can answer to this point:

 

    • Free to Play (F2P) thumbs-up-25x25
      This model has been created around this very idea. It gives the opportunity to gather a bigger community and it becomes easier for players to find people to play with. However, it is very difficult to apply it flawlessly, and it’s not always a fitting model for a game for many reasons, as you will see below.
    • Buy to Play (B2P) thumbs-down-50x25
      This model is completely the opposite. Even if sometimes you can test for a very short amount of time the game (limited in game time and/or gameplay), a player will have to pay the whole game at some point, and it might be a paywall that turns off players with a low budget.
    • Pay to Play (P2P) thumbs-up-25x25
      This model has evolved through the last decade and yes, it has become possible to play a game for free with a P2P model in its latest form, where the subscription fee can be optional. This evolution have already been successfully implemented by major MMO games, in particular Eve Online (the PLEX system) and it’s the one we are interested in. How is this possible? In any MMO community, there are generally two player categories: those with a small/tight budget for games but a lot of free time and those who have a limited time to play games but a significant budget for them. Many activities in a MMO require a significant amount of in-game money. Acquiring a large sum of in-game money takes time. Players with a limited game time generally want to skip that step if they can. The system offers them to buy a token worth a monthly sub and trade it with  another player for in-game money. Players with a low budget for games can play for free if they invest enough time in the game and gather a large amount of in-game money to buy a token from a player selling one. As there is also a free trial period, a player who is really active may gather enough in-game money before the end, and continue to play without having to spend a cent. Basically, this is the reward for contributing to the in-game Economy. Everybody wins.

 

Responsibilizing players for their actions

Most of the players interact nicely between them without feeling obligated to do so but a small part always like to cause trouble (especially harassment or cheating), just to annoy other people or to gain an unfair advantage. In general, the Terms of Service (ToS) and more specifically End User Licence Agreements (EULA)  exist for the troublemakers. To discourage them to generate chaos in a community, the rules put in place need to be efficient, and all models are not equal in this regard.

    • Free to Play thumbs-down-50x25
      This is one of the biggest weakness of the F2P model: Most of the troublemakers are players who do not spend money in the game. As they haven’t spent any money, they generally don’t care if their account(s) are banned. They just have to recreate new ones and can continue with the same behavior.
    • Buy to Play thumbs-up-25x25
       In a B2P structure, a player wanting to make trouble will think twice before creating disorder in the community, if their account can be banned and they lose the money they invested to  buy the game. Of course, this won’t make such behavior disappear completely. There are still a few people who will behave badly no matter what, but most troublemakers will refrain themselves if they have something to lose.
    • Pay to Play thumbs-up-25x25
      On recent P2P games some features are locked on trial accounts (especially features that could be abused to gain advantages with an unlimited number of accounts or harass other players). Once the player has invested a significant amount of time in the game or paid for it, they are no longer in trial mode. Hence if the player start a ruckus, they have something to lose.

Getting a high-quality Customer Support

For a MMO game, Customer support is an important aspect that can make the difference between a player who stays and a player who leaves. Customer support is there to help players to solve any problems they have, be it a bug (in which case CS transmit it to the devs), a question, or a conflict with another player. Again, all monetization models are not equally designed to handle the task.

    • Free to Play thumbs-down-50x25
      F2P games usually have a number of players far more important than the size of the customer support team can handle. The size of the customer support team is dictated by the global income of the company, where the size of the community is not. This tends to degrade the quality of the support, as trade-offs have to be made to handle the increasing number of requests.
    • Buy to Play thumbs-up-25x25thumbs-down-50x25
      Due to the fact that each player must pay for the game, the customer support team will be able to better manage the number of requests they have from the community as a part of the money coming from each sale can be allocated to financially support the customer support team. However, for an MMO (for which we can hope a very long life, like a decade or even more) this might cover the first years but after that, the situation will be the same as the F2P game, where the sustainability of the game will rely only on the players spending in a possible Cash Shop, unless a paid DLC or expansion system is put in place to generate revenue.
    • Pay to Play thumbs-up-25x25
      This is the only long-term, healthy way to support financially high quality Customer Support. If budgeted well, the Customer Support team should be proportional to the size of the community and should be able to handle all players without prioritizing or favoring some players before others. Having a regular income is justified for permanent Customer Support. It’s also true for other production costs like, for example, server maintenance (some MMO games have cheap server maintenance costs while other have expensive ones. It all depends on the amount of computation power needed on the server side. And on a game like Dual Universe, it will be far from trivial. This is the drawback for handling technological challenges).

So what’s the conclusion?

We have synthesized a bit all the things that were taken into account, but you have here all the main reasons why we are aiming toward a Pay to Play model. In a nutshell, here’s what we have planned:

  • Free Trial period: between 2 and 4 weeks.
  • Monthly subscription (optional with a PLEX-like system)
  • Possible (cosmetic only) Cash Shop. If deployed, we will make it in order that every month, players who have paid a subscription will be able to get some cash shop items for free.

Of course, we will remain open to discussion on this topic like any other: don’t hesitate to give us your feedback on the Social Media and/or on the forum! :)

The Novaquark Team.

 

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