All aboard the monetization train – pay for levels, ads in games

Just when you thought it was safe to step out of your computer room, a couple more companies are experimenting with additional ways to get their paws on your hard earned moolah.

Buying levels in WAR

Arkenor covers the new Warhammer Online account entitlement purchasing service –- a cash shop by any other name. As well as the (now usual) server transfers, vanity pet, shiny cosmetic trinkets for your armour and mounts, they are also selling a ‘specialised training pack’ which grants one level to all of your characters.

Naturally this has the blogosphere up in arms, but I wonder if selling a single level for an inflated price is really such a game breaking issue. I remember many times when playing DaoC wishing I had the option to pay to jump ahead a level or two, particularly if I’d hit a hell level or was just tired of the final stretch of the level grind.

The fact that players even adopted the name ‘hell levels’ for levels that seem unusually difficult to pass during the levelling phase of the game  shows how common a phenomenon it was in older games.

Obviously we like to think that slicker design solved the hell level problem in modern MMOs, but does it matter if someone is desperate to pay to level up?

Hadrune argues that none of the new WAR cash shop items are gamebreakers, and feels that they are all optional.

To my mind, the proof of this particular pudding will come not when cash shops are added to sub games, but in how game design changes in future to make better use of them. Maybe adding the facility to buy a level is not a great solution to the hell level problem, but it’s far worse if hell levels are deliberately designed into the game to entice people to buy.

That’s the slippery slope argument. And it hasn’t happened yet.

Zynga takes in game advertising

Zynga, as we know, has no qualms about maintaining the purity of the gaming environment, and what could be more immersive than finding an advert for Megamind inside your Farmville?

Gamasutra notes that their current partnership with DreamWorks isn’t the first advertising promotion that they have run. Presumably it’s another good source of income for them so expect more in the future. And there’s no mention of allowing players to pay to avoid the ads.

I would argue that Zynga’s route is likely to prove far more ruinous for MMOs than WARs. Buying your way past a hell level isn’t in the same league as encouraging all your players to dismiss the idea that immersion in a virtual world has any value at all, or is something they might miss when it’s gone.

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23 thoughts on “All aboard the monetization train – pay for levels, ads in games

  1. “That’s the slippery slope argument. And it hasn’t happened yet.”

    But how would we know? They would never come out and say that they were deliberately designing their games to encourage us to buy extra stuff to overcome it. (Well, Allods did, come to think of it, and it did not go down well.)

    • I just don’t think they would have planned far enough ahead to put an awkward level spread into the game with the idea of selling levels 2 years from launch. (and I’m honestly not sure what levelling in WAR is like now since I haven’t played it for awhile, it probably isn’t that bad.)

  2. I must admit to whiling away my time at work with a plethora of FB games, because I have a job with a lot of downtime. Poor me. ;)

    One of the Zynga games I play is Cafe World, and in recent weeks, you get a lot of game ‘missions’ that involve big food/beverage brand names that sponsor stuff. At the moment it’s some single-cup coffee maker that involves missions. At least it fits the theme somewhat? I am not bothered by it so far.

  3. The argument made is that WAR is a lot more PvP centric than other MMOs, and some say levelling out of “hell levels” or rather RvR tiers in WAR’s case is asocial leaving the others behind in a way. But it is also sad that some things seem to be that bad that they can only be endured as a shared pain…

    But you pointed out correctly that 9,99 EUR or USD, whatever, for one level is quite expensive. Who is going to pay 5-10x that to skip the same amount of levels? And they won’t earn gold and other stuff through skipping, not specificially talking about WAR atm.

    We also have LOTRO which recently went F2P. Grind killing for virtues is quite common.

    Many people that want Determination sooner or later go to Evendim to kill 250 or was it 500 Salamanders.

    495 points in the shop. 500 points cost roughly 4,60 EUR if you buy the highly discounted 5000 pts package for 45,68 EUR. If you only buy 1200/1550 points (350 are bonus points for buying 1200 at once) they cost 5,94 EUR.

    So basically, 250 dead Salamanders equal 5 EUR. ;)

    They also sell +10 stat (Vitality) for instance for 495 points. Apparently you can do that up to 5 times for each individual stat. But who will pay x times 5 EUR for a in the end not that major increase? Unlike WAR LOTRO does not have a real pvp environment besides the monster play F2P players do not have access to anyways, so I can see that something like that would upset WAR players way more than LOTRO players.

    I absolutely share your sentiment that it is a rather questionable solution that shops offer people a way to buy themselves out of SHITTY DESIGN, be it the system itself, the zone, the area, the tier, the level range, instead of addressing and improving the flawed part of the game.

    Regarding Zynga/Farmville: I can’t really comment on that, as this kind of casual game or whatever it is simply holds no appeal to me personally. But I can guess their target group probably does not like those silly ingame ads any better than I do.

    • This is another interesting side to cash shops which is that they can put a monetary value on playing time.

      If you have an hour to spare and could either go get another level or raise a trait, but the level is worth more if you bought it in a cash shop, does that change how you set your goals?

      • Sub games put monetary value on playing time, it’s just so variable per player that it hasn’t been a well defined issue. Normalizing those values a bit is a Good Thing for the industry, methinketh.

        Tangentially, though, I still say that levels are dumb in a PvP game in the first place. *shrug*

  4. The WAR auto level for one time is expensive, but hey…having money has its privileges.
    The real concern is what is coming for their RvR packs
    The new patch notes state
    “The Progression Pack gives players an opportunity to advance through the Renown Ranks faster”
    So, pay to level faster. And lets not even note that paying for this gives players an extra 20 renown ranks and access to better armor…all to stomp on the lower class with.

    As others are left behind due to wanting to only pay a monthly fee..the gap between those who can pay and not pay becomes an issue of balance now.

    • Yeah but the ‘pack’ isn’t so much an addon cash shop item. Its much more a paid expansion like wrath was for WOW.

      The only difference is whereas with Wrath if you wanted to play PVP you HAD to buy it, with the RVR pack you dont unless you want to be top RR level.

      I’ve never been above RR64, my main now is 55, so I’ve been 20 RRs lower than max level just since I havn’t played that much.

    • Just to be clear, they’re not giving you 20 extra renown ranks with the pack, but unlocking the ability for you to earn another 20 renown ranks, with what appears to be a boost in the speed that you will earn the first 80 ranks.

      The $10/rank is a pretty ridiculous amount of money. If I had the option of buying something that let me unlock the ability make new characters at rank 10/20/30/40 (with renown rank 0), for $10-$20, that I might have considered.

    • I take issue with letting players become more powerful in PvP for money, plain and simple.

      The leveling doesn’t bother me at all, its the Renown Rank advantage that does.

  5. “That’s the slippery slope argument. And it hasn’t happened yet.”

    In a different context, another “slippery slope” argument has been proven correct by this announcement. That was when cash shops were first introduced, selling “sparklies” like vanity pets, mounts and so on. We convinced ourselves that this wasn’t a slippery slope leading to the big MMOs selling anything (for instance weapons or armour) that would actually make any non-cosmetic difference in-game. We were wrong. Selling level advancement is far more game-changing than selling a sword.

    Now we’re advancing a new slippery-slope argument, ignoring the fact that we got it wrong last time. Last time, when sparklies were being sold, we said “yeah, but they would never do X” where X was selling items that had a more-than-cosmetic effect. Now we’re ignoring our past mistake, and creating a new argument: “yeah, but they would never do X” where X is creating levels that are so hard they make you want to buy your way past it. We are not learning from our past mistakes.

    How will this pan out? It’s hard to say, but if it is a success, if people actually pay Zynga for the pleasure of skipping content, I guess it will be introduced into all or most of the other big MMOs. For instance, I can’t imagine Robert Kotick missing the chance to milk Blizzard’s customers.

    What the long-term effects of this will be, though, I can’t say. I certainly know that I would not be happy playing a game where the players’ wallets decide their characters’ possession and abilities. I think I’m not alone in that. As Arkenor says, “When you create a perception that people can buy their way to power, you reduce how much people care about the result”.

    • “When you create a perception that people can buy their way to power, you reduce how much people care about the result”.

      Exactly, and *that’s as it should be*, at least in a PvP game. Play the thing, exert your player skill, and stop worrying about how someone else got where they are as far as avatar levels. They will either put up or be shut up.

  6. Pingback: The $10 Level | Kill Ten Rats

  7. As a few people already pointed out on Tobolds blog about this topic.

    If you buy yourself another WoW account and make use of the “recruit-a-friend” leveling bonus, what are you REALLY doing? Think about it.

    My Blizzard did not intent it as such, but the fact of the matter is you can buy yourself easy leveling in WoW which is no different than this .

    Age of Conan has had the same concept for awhile now too. Every week you subscribe they give you like 4 levels to you ACCOUNT. You can then “assign” these levels to any character you want. I’ve used it exactly like you would use the WAR leveling scheme here, i level my char up to a point and then plonk a few levels into the char to get past spots i’m sick and tired of or i feel is particularly boring.

    I can’t really complain too much about this to be honest, it’s another option, no one is forcing you to do so. I also don’t believe in this “but but players are not going to understand the game at level cap” , so what? Maybe this is exactly what we should be doing at the level cap, “learn to master the game” ? Just because people have been sitting at the level cap in WoW for -years- doesn’t mean this particularly argument applies at all to other MMOs, why should players be “experts” the moment they hit the level cap? Wouldn’t it actually make the level cap more interesting if i actually had to learn a ton of new things then?

  8. I have no problems with players buying a high, even max level character if they have a max level character.

    My preference would be for the character to have no profession and no gear. You can easily max out herbing, mining, and skinning in two evenings and supplying the toon with rare items is easily done via the auction house (instant market for the rare items I manufacture).

    I doubt I would ever take advantage of such an offer – I like levling alts too much – but I can see it being an atractive option to some players.

  9. Why Zynga? Immersion dies when you are given a nag screen to upgrade in a game like EQ Extended, or they prevent you from chatting, or the first thing greeting you on login is a cash shop daily special screen.

    But hey, I guess playing for free trumps immersion anyways.

    • “But hey, I guess playing for free trumps immersion anyways.”

      For some, yes. Their prerogative. If a game has several options, why do we piss on other people who don’t play or pay the same way we do?

      • I think there’s more to this than just dissing other people for being scroungers.

        It may well be that people who play for free don’t feel that they have the same ‘rights’ to an immersive experience or to complain if the dev seeks other revenue streams as subscription players would. After all, most of them are getting it for free.

        (I’m not including people who actually buy from cash shops. I think a customer is a customer, and deciding whether you are getting good value is part of the purchasing process. But there is definitely a feeling with subs that you are buying a service rather than just a block of hours — to me, at least.)

      • Here’s an example of why that doesn’t work Tesh. Fiesta Online advertises cash shop sales in zone chat. That means pay or not, you are getting an ad.

        Even if you sub, they still want sub players to buy from the cash shop, just the optional items. So we get turbine sales, stuff we can’t even get doing the game, and constant nudges to buy the latest mount.

        It affects the whole game. The free or underpaying customers have to be balanced out by people who pay more, and beyond the “sub” monthly cost they have to push cosmetic and other items.

      • Maybe, it’s going to be interesting to see how things play out.

        But basically as a hypothetical F2P player, how much are you willing to give up from your virtual world/ game in order to get your preferred payment model (hypothetical question, not intending to single out Tesh)? Given that the design of the game is not independent of the model.

        Are you willing to give up immersion? To be constantly bombarded with ads? To have a model which relies on you buying regular amounts of consumables OR grinding several hours to acquire them (ie. rather than adjusting the game so that it wasn’t necessary)? To be on a server where everyone else seems to want Farmville?

        I am sure Puzzle Pirates doesn’t do that, but the next wave of F2P games very likely will.

        I’m still wondering if this payment model is going to lead to games that are more fun for me or not.

      • *chuckle*
        Even if you did single me out, it’s a fair question. ;)

        I’ve long said that I’ll pay happily for content, but I don’t like paying for time. That’s the Guild Wars/DDO way, and I’ll prefer that for the forseeable future.

        If I could play a game completely free, “paying” for it by watching ads or dealing with in-game spam, yes, that’s giving up a little immersion, but if the game is any good, I’d probably just tune it out and play on. Like I tune out TV ads. Like I tune out radio ads. Like I tune out local chat channels full of spambots. Like I tune out jerks in any chat channel.

        If the game isn’t good, or is based entirely on buying junk consumables to actually play (I don’t care about being competitive, just being able to play), yeah, I’m going to consign it to the rubbish heap. I don’t care to pay for time or crutches. I buy games. It’s that simple for me. *shrug*

        I’m sure we’ll get some games that angle deeply into the “buy stuff” territory or the ad-driven games. There’s a market for them, even if I don’t like them. Ditto for sub games. Why fuss about something that isn’t for you in the first place, though? (Noting that games that convert models are definitely asking for grumpy customers.)

  10. Pingback: Slopes and Sales « Tish Tosh Tesh

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