Monthly Archives: November 2014

GTA Online – A Missed Free to Play Opportunity?

The next-gen (or is a year long enough to start calling the PS4 / Xbox One “current gen”, and relegate the older consoles to “last gen”?) version of GTA V was released this week, and by all accounts Rockstar have done themselves proud again.

GTA V was already an excellent game, but as well as the graphical improvements you would expect from a generational leap, they’ve also added a bunch of new content to help sell the idea of “double dipping” to people who already bought it 14 months ago.

As with most (or all?) next gen games, GTA V is also available to buy and download directly from PSN and Xbox Live, doing away with the need for a disc. What I am surprised by, is that Rockstar didn’t seize this opportunity to really try something very new for the franchise and allow players to download the multiplayer component, GTA Online, as a standalone free to play (F2P) title.

My reasons as to why this would have been a good idea are:

  • There’s a portion of the audience who are still going to be resistant to double dipping. Allowing them to see the graphical leap first hand could sway them. Essentially F2P GTA Online would be a huge demo for the single player improvements.
  • GTA Online already has in app purchases (IAP) of currency, and an economy of consumable items and vehicles. Having consumable IAP in a £55 game is a stance that never goes across entirely well with a core audience. Having them in a F2P title is expected.
  • It would allow the game to reach its largest possible audience – I doubt a single console owner would not download it – which strengthens the appeal of the game for those who would be willing to purchase IAP. Nothing kills an online title quicker than empty servers.
  • GTA Online has had 14 months “in the wild” during which Rockstar have stabilised servers, added content and tweaked their balancing based on analytics data. Essentially this makes the PS3 / Xbox 360 version a long “soft launch”.
  • Speaking of balancing, the current version of GTA Online makes it harder for players to earn money than it was when the game launched. It is clearly being positioned in a way that to get the very best kit in the title players are strongly encouraged to buy.
  • It would fully separate GTA Online as a title from GTA V. Though I believe this is Rockstar’s intention (hence it not being called GTA V Online), that its delivery system is “comes free with a copy of GTA V” means that the two are inevitably linked in the minds of players. Separating them completely makes GTA Online its own thing, that can run on as a game-as-a-service without any conceptual difficulty in the minds of players.

Best Fiends Design & Monetisation Teardown

Seriously is a company formed from a bit of a mobile gaming dream team. A couple of months ago when Best Fiends, their first game, had just released I predicted that although it’s very polished & fun to play, it would not break in to the top 100 grossing. So I thought I should probably go back and check to see if my fortune telling skills need work or not.

Was I right? Find out – You can see the full report embedded below, or download the PDF file.

Monument Valley’s Expansion Should Be a Sequel

The popular and award winning Monument Valley got an expansion this week in the form of Forgotten Shores, adding a bunch of lovely looking new puzzles for players to enjoy. Ustwo, the developers, decided to charge to unlock these new levels – a Tier 2 in-app purchase.

Apparently this upset a number of customers, resulting in a couple of news storiesand a bit of an outpouring of support in twitter as developers and commentators rushed to decry the unreasonable actions of “entitled” customers.

I would suggest that blaming the customers for exhibiting the behaviour they have been taught over a number of years is Cnut-ish behaviour (yes, I meant Cnut). I’ll just quickly go over some arguments I have seen pointed at these evil 1 starers, and why I think they are wrong.

They’re complaining about something that costs less than a X. Value proposition varies from person to person. I don’t think your $3 coffee is worth anything (I don’t like coffee). Perhaps these people don’t believe that 3 hours or so of new levels are worth $2.

They’re complaining about spending $2 for a game on their $600 device. Phone companies are very clever at making people believe their telephones are free – they should be, they’ve been doing it for years (ever since I’ve had a mobile, at least). In a world where you can get a brand new $600 phone “for free” every 2 years, is it really so crazy to expect a few hours of entertainment to also be free?

They don’t believe developers deserve to be paid for their work. Clearly false, as they have paid for Monument Valley in the first place. If they didn’t want to pay for games, there are plenty of free games for them to play instead. This argument is most telling of the problem, to me. Why are customers who are okay with paying for games not okay with paying for this expansion?

The headline of this post really gives the game away as to my suggested course of action for any other developers who fear they might be about to find themselves in Ustwo’s position. Sorry, I’m really not good at writing click-bait.

But since you’ve read this far, I’ll briefly say why I believe this really should have been a sequel.

To be blunt, paid content updates are taboo in app stores. Not just the iOS App Store, but at least the Mac App Store, and probably others I don’t have regular access too as well. When a developer expects customers to pay for updates to their OSX software with new features, they get flack for it. You see, like telephone companies, app stores have spent a long time telling customers that upgrades should be free. I believe psychologically this is similar to the push-back that day 1 DLC and DLC that unlocks content already on the game disc gets in console land. People have trouble separating out content and delivery systems – that you’ve budgeted your game to have 10 levels for $50 and an extra 2 for $5 and set your teams to work accordingly doesn’t matter to your customers. All they see are 2 levels that “were held back for DLC and should have been in the game”. So when Monument Valley updates and a player’s device now has these extra levels on it, they expect to be able to play them.

In the world of games though, sequels are accepted. Expected, almost. In the days before Games as a Service came along, this is the way you’d get your extra levels and new features. These sequels (or expansion packs, or DLC if you want to be all modern) would still come on their own disk or download, but crucially they were always a separate delivery to the original. You pay, you get a new chunk of stuff delivered to you. Not the other way around.

If you want proof of this in action, take a look at The Room and its sequel. Both well received successes. None of the uproar for having to pay twice, despite mechanically being identical. (Yes, I admit there are friction issues with having to alert players and guide them to your new game to buy, but since iOS background updates apps automatically these days there are similar problems with getting someone to relaunch or possibly reinstall a long-finished game anyway.)

So, a messaging problem then, and one that is easily avoidable for developers in the future. Don’t try to change how players think about content delivery, work with their mental model instead.

*An interesting end result of Ustwo’s 2 tweets is that defenders of the developers rushed to the store to redress the balance of the 1 star reviews by leaving a huge number of 5 stars. These could turn out to be some of the most effective “please review our game” messages written.