Friday, August 25, 2017

This Is The Modern World

Yesterday, Keen posted in support of a tweet from a particularly disgruntled game developer, who made the controversial - some might say bizarre - claim that "In a world of $5 lattes a game with 50 hours of content is worth $1,000." Wilhem responded with a hilarious rebuttal, which Zubon saw fit to reblog, so by now the topic has probably had about as much publicity as it needs, at least as far as this corner of the blogosphere is concerned.

It's unfortunate for me that the analogy chosen happened to be chain store coffee. I already have such a strongly negative, pre-determined position on the coffee-shop phenomenon that the mere mention of it in any discussion drives all other considerations clean out of my mind. Luckily there were plenty of more rational responders in Wilhelm's comment thread, easily able to dismantle and dispose of the entire spurious argument.

It only occurred to me this morning that there is a potentially relevant and apposite analogy to be drawn between the modern coffee and video game experiences. Comparing a $5 latte to the video game itself is ludicrous but comparing that same purchase to the purchase of a consumable within the game is not.

Indeed, once you step in front of that particular train, the argument in favor of video games being at a disadvantage when it comes to separating consumers from their cash gets knocked into next week and then some. Just open up your current MMO of choice and browse the virtual shelves of the in-game cash shop and see how the prices for boosts and buffs compare with your local coffee dealer. Then think about the production costs and marginal costs. We've come a long, long way from the days of the Ten Dollar Horse.

That $5 latte's beginning to look like a bargain, isn't it? No? Okay, but if it's still an insanely overpriced rip-off then what does that make a $2 Revive Orb?

The game developer who kicked all this off, Michael Hartman, is someone of whose existence I'd previously been as unaware as he surely is of mine, but it turns out he's behind a game that's been, very vaguely, on my radar for a while: Stash. And when I say "vaguely" I really mean it - apparently Stash went into Steam Early Access last year, something that completely passed me by, although it was reported on MassivelyOp at the time.

Michael Hartman is President and CEO of Frogdice, which claims to have been "arguably the first video game studio to utilize the "free-to-play" (F2P) business [model] in 1996", a model the company defines as one in which "players can play the game for free and have the option to purchase additional content, customization, cosmetics, boosts, etc".

His Linkedin entry goes on to say that F2P is "currently the hottest business model in the industry and Frogdice has 20+ years of experience with it". All of which leaves me somewhat confused as to why Mr Hartman was railing against customers' unwillingness to part with cash for games upfront in the first place. Maybe it made more sense on Twitter...

Talking of things that don't make much sense, given Keen's open hostility to the F2P business model and his deep suspicion of Early Access, he and Michael Hartman do seem to make unlikely allies but then I guess it makes about as much sense as the original proposition. I think I'd best leave them to it while I drink my tuppenny instant coffee and open the unsolicited free gifts that shower down around me in my own MMOs of choice.

In the end it comes down to this: make something I want, sell it at a price that's worth paying and I'll willingly give you my money. On the other hand, if you insist on shoving things at me, things that I also want, far more of them than I can possibly find time for, and all of it for free, then you can hardly complain if I take those instead and spend my money on something else, now, can you?.

If I promise not spend any of it on  a $5 latte, will that do you?


  1. I think this pretty much hits the nail on the head. I think the F2P model is really where the actual issue is. Games (especially mobile games) have gone so far down the rabbit hole of F2P that they have convinced us that FREE is the appropriate price. They have essentially devoured their own value proposition. I can't think of another industry that does this.

    The basic concept as I understand it is that the -value- of something is driven as much by how much the seller asks for it as anything else. And since the game sellers have chosen (in many cases) to allow their games to be sold for a pittance or even nothing, the consumer concept of how much those games is worth is affected. The concept of lockboxes and consumables notwithstanding, those things don't affect the perceived value of the game.

    1. Absolutely. That's why luxury fashion brands sue retail outlets that try to sell their products at bargain prices. Value is a perception. F2P developers have very skillfully managed to move that perception away from the games themselves and onto the contents of the in-game stores. The games are effectively just carriers for the stores now, commercially speaking at least.

    2. As much as I agree with the "pay for enjoyment" principle, and even employ that theory often, I do so only because so many games are f2p. I'm quite ashamed that the gamer movement caused the birth of trolling (arguably that was really the fault of early BBS forums, but I digress, and we usually get the blame anyway). I think that a pay to play game has less trolls and more grouping which to me is win win. However, EQ2 should think twice before asking me for about $3k to upgrade my Ascension skills. :P Not going to happen. Dreaming.

  2. INSTANT COFFEE? WTF! Get some beans, a grinder... maybe a man bun?

    You can't quantify things so easily. I will spend $5 on something I feel gives me value worth $5 or more.

    I won't spend $1 on a mobile game if the perceived value *to me* isn't equal to the cash expenditure.

    I do agree with you though - I often end up spending money on games after they have earned it by giving me enjoyment. Some times I don't even want what I am buying but after a certain amount of joy/satisfaction they have earned some cash =)

    1. I did the hipster coffee thing in the 1980s, before it was even a thing. Got bored with it in the 90s. All the paraphernalia is still in a cupboard downstairs somewhere. Going to Italy next month - that'll be *real* "real" coffee!

    2. All Mod Cons.


    3. I actually had a line in the post about Paul Weller at one point but it looked shoe-horned in so I took it out :P


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