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.