Should more social players pay less?

Here’s a great story, Valve/ Steam supremo Gabe Newell has a great interview with Develop, discussing his views on Valve, mobile gaming, social gaming, how he looks after his staff … and payment models.

The industry has this broken model, which is one price for everyone. <…> What you really want to do is create the optimal pricing service for each customer and see what’s best for them. We need to give customers, all of them, a robust set of options regarding how they pay for their content.

An example is – and this is something as an industry we should be doing better – is charging customers based on how much fun they are to play with. Some people, when they join a server, a ton of people will run with them. Other people, when they join a server, will cause others to leave.

Interesting notion – but recognising that some people will actively build the community and be seen as more fun to play with than others is quite an interesting step. In MMO terms, this might mean charging less for successful guild leaders, a bit more for soloers, and rather more for griefers.

He gives this as a hypothetical example but I wonder if you can actually reward your more social players like this. After all, they’re creating content for your other players and making your game community a more pleasant place.

And more to the point, if you imagine MMOs/ online games are all competing to attract these community builders (at least in a sense), what if one game did offer a more appealing reward and attracted a larger amount of these players?

34 thoughts on “Should more social players pay less?

  1. The obvious unintended consequence is griefers feeling like they can pay $100 for a license to be pricks with absolute legitimacy.

      • I think you have to assume that griefers were going to be pricks anyway and can still get banned, just now the dev makes more money out of it and maybe the griefers will decide they don’t want to pay the $100 and will switch to another game instead.

        And yeah, the weak link is how you measure which are your more social players because any voting scheme can be rigged. (tbh it’s probably easier to measure the griefers because they’ll not be trying to hide it.)

      • Spinks, how would you measure the players without voting? I think that an automated judgment system would be rigged more easily than voting. You can make a system where only selected group of players would have the right to vote but how would you select them?

        Also, I don’t think the developers have to use “the whole package” – they can only provide discounts to the social players while charging the griefers the same as neutral players. This would stop the griefers from trying to game the system and get other people marked as griefers. (They will try to; after all, they are griefers because they grief.) On the other hand, there would still be a problem with discount trading…

  2. Interesting idea – I believe DAoC gave out a few complimentary life subscriptions to people for things like identifying exploits and helping Mythic fix them with a minimum of publicity. I don’t know if the team leads (who were player representatives for each class) got their accounts comped or not.

    If you do run such a scheme, it’s probably best not to publicise it – the drama from those who feel they should be entitled to a free account but aren’t would be unbearable (“but I’m a community leader! Look at my forum post count!”) On the other hand, that kind of runs against the whole point of using it to encourage more sociable play.

    Maybe a better way is to make stuff like the random dungeon finder optional content – pay $10/month for the game without it, or $15 with random dungeon finder. Now players can save money by having friends lists.

    However, the best way to attract the sociable players is to build a sociable game that they WANT to play instead of having to bribe them 🙂

  3. Yeah, there’s people on Why Was I Banned, who are on their third or fourth account already, all being banned for the same transparent reasons. Charging them more will help keep the support cost/customer ratio down, because the sting of paying more for the same content will push it beyond their pain point.

    Unfortunately, some of the more advanced cases have become quite proficient at rules lawyering and they will learn to bypass any automated checks. For them, subverting the system is their primary form of entertainment, not the game itself.

  4. I’m working on a project that actually implements an approach to this in another way. A bit round about and not perfect though. I can’t (yet) talk about it, but it’s different from what I’m mentioning below. Now I would love to discuss on how this could be implemented in a classic MMO setting.

    What would be a metric that shows you who is a social player and who isn’t? How can you be sure it won’t be gamed, or the ones gaming it, are in the sub 1% margin of irrelevance? Giving the arbitrary number of 10.00 USD per month as a starting point, you would want that the average over all players still levels out to about that. Now how would the spread look like probably? A bell curve with a large average mass and a small percentage of extremes in both directions? In what steps would you create the incentives (1%, 10 cents, 1 Dollar)? Let’s assume some random Fantasy MMO, and everyone has the same game, content and features for this theoretical approach.

  5. It could work if “fun” would be something universal. But it’s not.

    Should I play for free as a guild leader who made a home for 200+ players? Or should I pay extra for actively trying to grief away players I consider M&S?

    Should the guy who is the joke center of /trade making everyone giggle pay less? Or should he pay more for being such a terrible player that everyone who get to LFD with him try to votekick him and drop group if that fail or on cooldown?

    How about the AH goblin whose name is not even known to the people who access items they want thanks to his work?

    • No point offering rewards for something that is already rewarded in-game. The point of such a system is to compensate for externalities. So the AH goblin doesn’t qualify, because while you’re performing a useful function you’ve already got your reward… You ARE making a profit, right?

  6. Well to some extent this is already in – the paid name changes and server transfers in most MMOs are a licence to grief as is the simple ability to buy another account after you get perma-banned.

    Still I think some sort of tangible reward is inevitable and here’s why:

    – originally being a facilitator of content to other people was necessary to advance. Hardcore players made groups, built guilds and formed raids because otherwise they couldn’t progress. To socialise was part of being an achiever.

    – WoW has taken MMOs in a different direction and its lead is reinforced by similar games like Rift. Now if you asked people what shows that a player is outstanding they will probably give you some kind of individual measure like performance on a damage meter or gearscore.

    – games inherit players from other games and culture change is gradual. WoW inherited a wonderful core of hardcore raid leaders from earlier games who facilitated access to content for the rest of us. Wow’s legacy is not however a pack of social players with great leadership. Arguably leading is a disadvantage – I know I’d have better gear if I’d guild-hopped instead of building a guild, if I’d played with the same small clique instead of dragging new people into T2 runs all the time.

    When the cultural change finally catches up with the design emphasis on self MMOs are going to really hurt for people who enliven the server. They’ll be some, socialiser is a Bartle type and they’ll always be part of the community. But the socialiser/achiever hybrids popularised by EQ’s design and Vanilla WoW’s design are a dying breed. And current game design works against us.

    • I think you’re probably right. Time was when being good at the social side was pretty well necessary to play hardcore, and MMO culture does lag a few years behind current design. And also, players in general are increasingly less tolerant of new or inexperienced leaders — it’s the same issue as came up with tanks, and for some of the same reasons.

      • Well quite, it’s the same issue as with tanks and WoW has already created a special payment that effectively means tanks are paid more per pug dungeon run.

        To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw:

        “What kind of game do you think I am!”

        “Madam, we’ve already established that, now we’re just haggling about the price.”

        We’ll probably see some kind of points system. “Tank 5 pugs in one day and get Tank Points as if you’d tanked 6!” “Get the highest Guild Points on your server and get a free Space Dragon personal mount for your Guild Leader!”

  7. The way you implement this differential pricing is to ban players more readily, then charge them a fee to be unbanned.

    Yeah, I don’t see it working terribly well either.

  8. Microsoft run an MVP programme for those who contribute to the MS IT community:

    It is *very* prestigious, probably adds 50% to your consultancy rate, and is decided through a fairly invisible process. People can be nominated by the community or invited by Microsoft. You don’t actually get very much (IE No cash) for being an MVP – invites to a few conferences, etc, but it’s a very effective way of encouraging community leadership.

  9. This is a very Capitalistic approach to game pricing: “those who succeed in gaming and create ne gaming opportunities should be rewarded via cost cuts, those who merely consume should pay full price.”

  10. But then there are guilds like Guild Perks on Proudmoore full of twinks (832) just to have free guild bonuses. What does that guild leader deserve?

    Just check out the achievements and you’ll get the point:

    Pay to play is a difficult thing to implement, and an easy thing to game. It might not be pure DPS (etc), but there will be another set of metrics that takes the place of true social skillz.

  11. Not sure that charging soloists “more” is the best phrasing. They are, perhaps, the baseline, neither adding directly to groups nor detracting from them. Maybe maintain the PR line that high social rep leads to perks and incentivize cooperation.

    …this might be best to do in-game and leave the sub price the same, incidentally. It might also be argued that it is already done that way.

    …and I still say that charging for content is the ideal. Why should I pay for time that I’m not using under a sub model, or raids I’ll never play under a “buy it all” model? As usual, though, that axis of valuation isn’t usually on the radar for devs who take the subscription as a given.

    • I’m going out on a limb and saying that if game devs are keen to reward people who provide more social interaction, that perhaps soloists are not the baseline they’re looking for.

      And charging for content is pretty much the effect they’re looking for here. Just the content they’re talking about is player provided, to a large extent.

      I guess what I wonder is whether it would bother you to know that someone else (who presumably was a key community organiser in some way) was being rewarded with lower charges? We are all used to playing alongside people who get press comps, for example.

      • If they are really keen to call social interaction “content”, then they need to get rid of levels and any other barriers to people playing together. A true newbie should be able to play with a grizzled veteran on day one and not just be a millstone about the vet’s neck. The pay structure isn’t going to compensate for game design structural problems.

        Beside that, it’s a marketing/psychology thing I’m talking about. For some reason, players getting in-game perks for certain playstyles is an easier sell than changing prices based on playstyle. Me, I don’t care if someone is paying less, but I’m looking at the marketability of the thing. Some people will care, and presentation of the scheme will make a difference.

        …and are we really calling player interaction “content”? I’m not sold on that either, but that’s a subject that’s probably bigger than this discussion.

      • The problem is, O Teshness, that the true newbie can never play with the veteran and not be a millstone.

        They can only be less of a millstone. XD Or a millstone that is worth toting around because eventually you get to carve it into a GIANT TASTY COOKIE OF DOOMY DOOM!


        Even when content isn’t gated by gear, it is gated by skill and knowledge. Skill is something newbies may have from day one – just look at FPSes where many of the skills are transferable. But knowledge is not transferable – at least not in the same way within games. And a lot of the time, that knowledge matters.

        I guess what I’m (tangentially) again saying is that even if ‘obvious’ gating indicators are removed (gear, attunement quests, etc, all that sor of thing), skill and knowledge will still gate people, and that removing the obvious indicators isn’t always a good thing.

        In WoW, if I wanted to nicely tell someone that I didn’t think we would group again (for whatever reason), or really – that we would group at all – I could give them the fig leaf of, ‘Sorreez, ur gear is not da leet enuff! Mebbe in da futurez!’

        In Guild Wars, if someone is simply a very bad or very inexperienced player, and I don’t feel like carrying them… I can’t let them cushion their egos with gear.

        And I miss that cushion.

        I don’t mind not being good enough for content, will happily bash my head against it until I figure out better, practise till I play better. But not everyone is like that, nor should they be. But for those who don’t like to hear that, sorry, you’re currently just not good enough, not having gear to hide behind… has got to sting.

        …probably enough to stop playing.

        In short, I’m not sure the millstone problem is solveable, just that there are many kinds of millstones to pick from.

  12. I already get enough social engineering – rewarding desired behaviors while punishing unwanted ones – from the government thought police. Just… ugh…

  13. I think it’s right that social networks are “lumpy” and that some players are worth more to a game than others. It’s good that developers are recognizing this. But I’m not sure that adjusting player subscription rates (or developing alternative compensation models) is the best response.

    What it does is apply a one-size-fits-all incentive (money) to even out those lumps. “Running with more people” doesn’t sound like fun; organizing group activities sounds stressful. Having a financial incentive to be a dynamic, positive force in a game runs against my temperamental inclination for solo-play, private exploration and limited groups. It would offer me the incentive to pay my bill with social stress instead of cash. That’s not a tradeoff I want to manage.

    On the other hand, I’m certainly not opposed to paying more to tailor my playing environment to be more fun for me, as I define it. That tailoring probably means micro-transactions.

  14. The real reason a business would want this kind of differential pricing is to maximize profit. If they charge a person 20 dollars but that person was willing to spend 40, they’e just left 20 dollars on the table.

  15. Pingback: MMO Pricing and Externalities « Tremayne's Law

  16. You always want to maximise profit (in an enlightened manner, that is – gouging the customer isn’t actually a great long term business strategy). The trick here is to realise that profit is what the customer pays you minus what servicing the customer costs… and since some customers cost more (but may be willing to pay more) and others may be cheaper to look after but can’t fork over as much cash, you really want a pricing strategy that copes with both sides of the equation.

    • To that end, I’d suspect that a social player would cost more than a nonsocial one, as they are likely online more (gotta hold that guild together), using server resources.

      That said, how exactly does one calculate the benefit they bring to the financials? And does this all go down the rabbit hole of charging per minute of connection, for every GM ticket and so on? I’m not sure that’s the right direction to go.

      • But a lot of longterm players will cite their social network as one of the key factors in their continued subscription. So anything a dev could do to boost the likelihood of someone building a good social network in their game is going to pay off, probably by quite a large amount.

      • What Spinks said. Without actually having hold of the financials, I suspect that the costs of a player actually being online for an extra hour are pretty minimal. The cost of marketing to replace players who leave is more substantial.

        What really eats through money, though, is anything that requires actual human beings. If you take up an hour of a GM’s time per month that’s going to wipe out the subscription you pay. Or to put it another way, if GMs spend just two minutes per day dealing with petitions that Leetkillr is sniping newbies from a rooftop again, then under the subscription model it’s not worth having Leetkillr as a subscriber.

        You don’t want to bill per minute of connection and GM ticket – apart from anything else, that means you then have a complicated and expensive billing system to build and run. The trick is to come up with a simple pricing plan that takes all of those costs into account and as far as possible passes them on to the right people without getting too complicated.

  17. I do not see how that model could possibly work without a backlash occurring. Voting models are stupid because then it becomes a political campaign. Rule triggers (“is a GM of an X-person guild”) are arbitrary and will get gamed. If I know Bob is getting everything I get, but $10 cheaper, I’m pissed. I could understand a penalty for griefers or whatever, but at that point why not just making griefing impossible (or minimized) within the game world?

    Generally speaking, being social is its own reward IRL, and anti-social its own non-reward. You can simulate that in-game like MMOs in ages past, when you had to group to get anywhere. That is not a model that works very well subscription-wise, however, as most people want a single-player option so as to not have to schedule their playtime.

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  19. I would like a griefer model where you can pay extra to kill and loot other players. I would also like to see a subscription model where you pay for advanced tiers of the game such as max crafting; ah limits w/o paying; heroics and raids and definitely the ability to gank same faction. It would cause some to not play but I wouldn’t know if it would have a largely negative effect nor would I care if they left. Something else to consider is using in game gold to buy extra game time which may have negative consequences as well but would help some find ways to spend their extra gold.

  20. My answer would be “yes” that players that contribute in a positive way to their server community should be rewarded both in-game and with lower fees. I think it’s a great idea.

    It’s much like auto insurance. People who have bad driving records pay much more for their insurance than good drivers.

    MMO developers need to start realizing the negative cost associated with allowing bad players to ruin the experience of other players.

    About 3 years ago I wrote an article entitled: MMO Developers: Community Should Be Your Most Valued Commodity:

    It seems I was ahead of the curve. 🙂

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