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.