On Game Monetization Practices

3 minute read

Recently there has been a lot of discussion about how games and game studios are choosing to monetize their games. I’m writing this because when we first started thinking about making a company and a game we discussed how we want to run things differently. We want to run an ethical company that respects both its employees and its customers/players. We took a stance that we would not build games that take advantage of addictive personalities or tendencies. Since the internet is abuzz with discussions around Battlefront II and other games choice of monetization, we wanted to share our thoughts.

Games are monetized in many different ways. Traditional console and PC games have charged a flat fee to purchase the game; sometimes with an additional flat fee for sizable updates or DLC. Classic arcade games used microtransactions – put a quarter in, play until you lose (or win). With the advent of browser and phone games the microtransaction approach has returned in a bad way. A huge majority of browser and phone games are “free-to-play” in the sense that you can play without paying anything upfront, but then must pay microtransactions for one reason or another. These microtransactions are a far cry from the arcade machine quarter per play. Even worse, some flat fee games are now also including microtransactions, so you pay up front and recurring charges to keep up with other players.

Many of these “free-to-play” games require paying exorbitant amounts of money. The games are designed in such a way that the game progression is monotonous without acceleration through recurring purchases. Or recurring purchases are required to get the necessary items/characters/etc to be able to compete with the other players that are also spending money on the game. These aren’t truly free-to-play games; they are explicitly designed to get the players to pay and to pay a lot. These games often end up costing way more than traditional flat fee games.

As I mentioned previously we are taking a stance against microtransactions, and will not use them as a means to monetize our games. I am happy to see other companies taking a similar stance. I’m a big fan of idle games – Matt is not quite convinced they are even games, but hey I’m writing this post – and played a lot of Clicker Heroes. Earlier this week Clicker Heroes 2 announced that they would not be using a free-to-play / microtransactions model for their new game. Instead they will be charging a flat fee up front.

The Clicker Heroes 2 post does a much better job describing the ethical failings of the microtransactions model than I can. I played Clicker Heroes 1, and I paid for rubies, but even though it had microtransactions they designed the game to be fun and have a good progression without the need to purchase rubies. I’ve also played a couple other “free-to-play” games that weren’t so generous with their progression and game design. I probably even could have been considered a “whale” in a couple games. I had fun playing them, but they were quite clearly intended to feed an addiction; usually to keep up with other players and especially with other friends also playing. I’m lucky in that I had a good enough job at the time that I could afford the purchases I was making, but for many players this isn’t the case. I am no longer playing such games, and I actively avoid them.

Since we don’t yet have a release date for our first game we haven’t decided exactly how we will monetize it. We can, however, say that we will not use microtransactions as a means of monetization. We may choose to do a free-with-ads approach with a single in-app-purchase to remove the ads; or we may have a free demo and a flat fee to purchase the full game. Whatever choice we make for monetization, we will make sure that it meets our standards of running an ethical company.