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Business models driving game design? Twas ever thus

By on August 4, 2011
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The strange thing with everyone complaining about business models affecting game design is that this has always been true.

That perfect game that alway makes you want "just one more go"? A relic of the bygone era of arcade machines where you put a quarter in the slot.

A game that requires to spend months grinding your way up to level 80? A design decision that keeps you paying a monthly subscription.

Microtransactions allow those players who don’t like grind to avoid it. They can – legitimately – trade time for money.

Some dollars yesterday

It’s another way in which the business model and game design are intertwined, representing an attractive route for companies to make money AND for some gamers to progress faster through the game by avoiding grind.

I’m delighted that I now have the choice.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com
  • Ben Board

    Figured as much.  But while we’re promoting brave new business models, let’s not discount the sort of commercial success you describe in (as some see it) the creaky old ones 🙂

  • I typed too fast. It was intended to be a jibe at companies churning out derivative sequels because they now the fans will buy them anyway.

    But that’s why I’m not a stand up comedian.

  • Ben Board

    (I’m not sure if you meant ‘sell the *same* game 12 months later? The *next* game?  Did you miss an adjective?)

    Off the top of my head, there are perhaps only three ways the $60 business model impacts the game design – is it worth $60; will it appeal to the intended audience; and does it leave the player likely to buy the next version, or DLC?  I don’t think completion time is particularly significant.  The $60 model supports a six-hour adrenaline-fest like CoD, or a 100 hour adventure like Fallout, or a year of FIFA with your mates.

    By contrast, the briefest elevator pitch for, say, a freemium game must describe how monetisation will be included in the game experience.  The player cannot divorce the two during play, just as you can’t watch a movie on ITV without seeing the ads.  That effect on the experience is not to everyone’s taste.  The experience cannot be ignored while we compare the economic models.

  • You could argue that the business model of a $60 game is “give them a game that they can finish reasonably quickly, and then sell the game 12 months later when they[ve forgotten about the last one”

  • To get to the one-coin complete, you usually had to invest a lot of coins to get that level of skill and experience. Arcade games traditionally don’t remember your progress, so every time you started from the beginning. RMT titles typically remember your progress, so that each time you are adding to your achievements.

    Modern games have learned that if you want people to keep playing a title, you need to be a bit more user friendly than “one hit, instant kill, back to the start of the level, insert coin to continue”.

  • E

    Except for the Arcade Games that are beautifully designed and can be mastered and beaten on just one coin.  Modern games have lost touch with their past very quickly..

  • BenBoard

    Whether we make games for the art or for the money, we still need the money – but that doesn’t mean the money needs to intrude on the art.  There are many business models, each with their success stories: a game design might be up-front about its use of MTX, or its leveraging of your online friends (Zynga).  Or we can sell for a flat fee (CoD, Angry Birds).  We could ask players for an easily-ignored regular auto-payment (WoW), or we can ask the player for a quarter and let them play for three minutes (Space Invaders).  But of these examples flat-fee is the business model that least constrains the games it supports, that enables the widest breadth of experiences, that least drives the game design.  MTX and freemium and subscriptions and social network-powered games are all valuable and permanent components of the new commercial landscape.  But just as I’m happy to pay my dues and watch the BBC without ads, once I’ve bought a game I like to immerse myself, commercial free.

  • BenBoard

    Whether we make games for the art or for the money, we still need the money – but that doesn’t mean the money needs to intrude on the art.  There are many business models, each with their success stories: a game design might be up-front about its use of MTX, or its leveraging of your online friends (Zynga).  Or we can sell for a flat fee (CoD, Angry Birds).  We could ask players for an easily-ignored regular auto-payment (WoW), or we can ask the player for a quarter and let them play for three minutes (Space Invaders).  But of these examples flat-fee is the business model that least constrains the games it supports, that enables the widest breadth of experiences, that least drives the game design.  MTX and freemium and subscriptions and social network-powered games are all valuable and permanent components of the new commercial landscape.  But just as I’m happy to pay my dues and watch the BBC without ads, once I’ve bought a game I like to immerse myself, commercial free.

  • And I have very fond memories of playing arcade machines at my local LaserQuest, yet I’m kind of grossed out by microtransactions. Shows that what you consider to be acceptable is partially based upon what you grew up with.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, I tend to agree – there’s always a business model, and it always serves as a constraint. The arcade is an excellent example – and look what happened when someone realised (around 1984) “hey, instead of getting one quarter off each player, we could get *loads*!” The new games-as-service model reminds me of the arcade era in many ways, but particularly in terms of this need to get multiple “quarters” – because on the one hand arcade revenues increased substantially, but on the other long term play of machines plummeted, as players played only once (at great expense) instead of returning each day. Now, we have an appreciation of what was right and what was wrong about that change to the arcade business model.

    All the best!