Game monetization: losing the middle class

The comment of Noguff on my monetization post requires a bigger answer than what I gave.

You know, I am certain that at the beginning of the F2P/Monitization debates, that there was this heated debate that centered around the notion that “time is money” and that the M&S, basement dwelling or “time rich” gamer had an unfair advantage over the “money rich” gamers who felt their wallets should be able to be used to equalize the presence of the “time rich” gamer. Developers listened, or at least figured out how to manipulate both groups, and the subscription model died and the F2P concept arose out of the ashes.

I don’t disagree. I merely wish to point out the lack of focus on the middle class. I mean people who are both time and money-middle class. People who don’t want to or cannot play more than 2 hours a day (but they still play 1-2 hours a day), nor they can pay hundreds of dollars a month on a game (but they still pay $10-30/month). I believe this “middle class” is pretty big, even if it puts in less total hours than the “time rich” or less total money than the “money rich” class. People who work or study and don’t let their hobby consume their day – but do have their hobby. People who have disposable income, but not a top 1%-er.

The current monetization methods put them in worse position than either the “time rich” or the “money rich”. Consider World of Tanks (without rigging, because players make decisions assuming there’s none). The whales have gold ammo and gold tanks to earn XP, so they only play with fully decked tanks with overpowered ammo. The nolifers have thousands of hours of practice that allows them to aim as good as humanely possible. Both of them defeats the guy who pays premium subscription and maybe some credits to avoid playing farming tanks. The whale wins because his ammo penetrates your armor, the nolifer wins because he is aiming at the hole of your armor. What did the middle class guy get for his $15-20/month? A dead tank. His 50% accelerated training and 50% more credits won’t keep up with someone paying 300% more. His accelerated stuff give nothing that would make his tank any stronger. So why should he pay?

The same question can be asked in every monetized game: why pay anything unless you go full whale? Either enjoy the game for free (if it’s enjoyable), or pay enough to be the king of the hill and enjoy pwning “n00bs”. I believe more and more people will realize this and stop paying/playing. Which in turn creates the wrong impression that potential players are either free or whale, making the games more monetized.

I’m sure that if someone would take a leap for the abandoned middle class, he’d score big. What would be the “middle class game” holy grail? Equal subscription, no further monetization and time-locked servers. The last means that all servers are up 2 hours a day (in different times for different people). If you can play between 7PM-9PM, you go to such server and no one can out-nolife or out-pay you. Sure, someone can get more experience (not more resources) by having multiple subscriptions and playing in multiple timezones, but that would mean whale-nolifer, a rare combo besides professional players, streamers and their ilk.

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PUBG update:
pubg1a

pubg2a

Repeat the above 15 times, with computer restarts, checking internet, everything fine, then:

pubg3a

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Author: Gevlon

My blog: https://greedygoblinblog.wordpress.com/

16 thoughts on “Game monetization: losing the middle class”

  1. Unfortunately, as opposed to real life, I don’t think the gaming middle class is worth much of anything to any developer. The game has to be good enough to attract a solid, sustainable base of non-paying players to entice paying ones to download the client. Once you got the customer base in place, you have to… convince the shareholders not to make big piles of instant money from whales practically begging you to let them give you cash. Resist that urge, and you have a game that will require WoW-levels of continued success to be worth anything long-term, when the studio could churn out a few new titles each time the one they developed implodes. Based on what the market currently looks like, I’d say the chump-and-dump method is more successful.

    And releasing a game with a standard subscription model in 2017? Good luck. Better IPs have tried and failed.

    I cannot possibly imagine anyone playing your 7pm-9pm game. As a (mostly) time-limited adult, the biggest component of that is that fact that I cannot schedule anything. I can game for several hours a day, but not always several hours in a row, or at a set time. And even if I could… why? If I want to be obligated to play at certain times, I’d still be raiding in WoW.

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  2. Man that’s a hard one, eve can fill that bill the whales and the no lifer’s pretty much end up at the same spot, still a 1-2 hour junkie can work with others and bring down the whales. Anyways everything you post (less the dev stuff) seems to point back at the same source. Open server you find your thing you do it and enjoy.

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  3. @Azuriel: the “next big thing” Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds is buy-to-play with only cosmetic microtransactions. It seems your “middle class worth nothing” is wrong. I don’t question the “feed the freeloaders to the whales” model, I just claim that there is another model that can coexist with it.

    I realize the problems with 7-9 pm. But all other options are worse. You can’t have any MMO where nolifing doesn’t mean win (PUBG has max 25 mins long games, each game is fresh start). Do you have a better alternative than 7-9 to counter that?

    Theoretically an “every account can pay 14 hours a week at any time” could also be good, but that need very strict design to avoid alts being able to help each other. Which also means friends can’t help each other which would be a serious setback.

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  4. Maybe that is the cause of WoW’s success? Because WoW mostly satisfy what you wrote: subscription, you can buy gold for easy on farming time but it’s really not required nor you can get too big advantage from it. There is no time lock (which sounds horrible as a casual gamer who plays when have time) but given the instance lock you just can’t farm raids all day and in the end you will progress your character for a few hours / day (in average). So you can throw some gold to it and you can throw some time to it but there is really fast diminishing returns for both of them.

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  5. Sadly Azuriel’s first paragraph is completely on point. The only way to cater to the middle class is to have less emphasis on rewards, and more on gameplay and world building, but cutting off the whales is not something that would go down well in a board meeting.

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  6. @tithian: I agree and that’s the post is about. The game should be designed from the start with the goal to cater to the middle class instead of the whales + free players. Similarly as a blue collar restaurant is designed (likely implicitly by a blue collar background owner) to cater to blue collars.

    The board should be OK with that, just like the McDonalds board knows that billionaires won’t have their parties in the McD.

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  7. Or you can stop making games which require a progression in the first place…

    In a game like dota2 you get everything from minute 1 of playing and the only thing you get with cash is useless cosmetics.

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  8. Doesn’t that more or less describe vanilla WoW (the leveling experience)? Everyone payed the subscription and only the subscription and the rested mechanic more or less ensured that you were only able to effectively play x hours a day.

    And I would never ever play a game that only allows me to play exactly 2 hours per day because I would be forced to play exactly two hours every day and optimize every bit of fun out of my play time to not fall behind. That’s exactly the reason why people hate daily quests.

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  9. @Gevlon

    Well, PUBG is a buy-the-box game, not an MMO, so it’s a little tough to say who exactly is the middle class in that scenario. That said, as you’ve demonstrated in prior PUBG posts, time-rich gamers are capable of grinding countless games to the top of leaderboards. Middle-class gamers are not put in a disadvantage in any individual game, but if they cared about leaderboards or cosmetics at all, they are worse off.

    Honestly, the more we talk about issues like these, the more genius WoW’s design (since Wrath) seems to be. Frequent gear resets allow the middle class to feel powerful and have something to do each raid tier, without letting the time-rich to overpower them for too long. Weekly resets and (raid) currency caps enforce some pacing. For the money-rich, they can buy BoEs that drop from raiding and get some boosts of power without necessarily overtaking everyone.

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  10. @Anon: that would mean abandoning a whole genre.

    @Kring: non-rested XP was OK-ish, I always treated rested as some bonus. I regularly played 4+ hours.

    You never playing that game means that you aren’t competitive. Then the F2P game is for you, since there you can be non-competitive for free.

    @Azuriel: theoretically the PUBG problem will go away if they publish and stop the resets. I wouldn’t call the WoW solution genius, since they removed the in-game reason to play: whatever you get will be obsoleted. They might as well remove gear completely and let those who just want fun or achievements have it.

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  11. The following might sound off topic (and might as well BE off topic), but maybe there are some connections between these cases.

    The main reason I eventually dropped WoW was that Blizzard stopped catering to “playstyle middle class”. There was absolute casual gameplay – “happy farm”, “click-next-to-continue storyline”, pet battles and more. There was absolute hardcore gameplay – heroic (later mythic) raiding still continued to require effort and skill. But the middle-effort-skill content was being gradually removed from the game. They didn’t make anything like Shartuul event in TBC (solo event with some difficulty which provided interesting rewards including ones who could be sold @ AH). They did everything wrong with 5-man heroics several times (in the end they seemed to come up with something decent with challenge mode, but I already left at that point). They made normal mode raids useless due to gear resets, freebie epics etc.

    Well, that had nothing to do with monetization. What is the connection? Probably they stopped catering to “me” because they had no idea what to do with “me” and how to design the game for “me”. It’s easy to see what to do with whales – sell them power. It’s easy to see understand time-rich ones – give them grinding. Give raiders difficult raids. Give casuals shinies requiring no effort. But give “me”… what? Something of “that thing” but not too much? Both “playstyle middle class” and “financial middle class” are versatile and undiscovered in their preferences. That one needs solo events, that one needs PvP competition, he will pay for dungeons, she will pay for storyline (“paying” here doesn’t necessarily mean microtransactions, it might as well be “continuing to pay subscription”).

    Hence, one must make clear vision of what exactly to sell to the middle class. You suggest one: fair middle-class competition for fixed costs. This might sell, but it must be fully understood both by players and game developers, otherwise this could easily escalate to transformation into yet another F2P game for whales and nolifers (because “hey, this works”). So either this requires a clear goal protected from “the suits”, or… transformation into yet another F2P game “stops working”.

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  12. Even during the “time is money” debates when the F2P concept was first being implemented, hardly anyone could answer the question of if game development would be negatively affected from such a monetization scheme. Most of the proponents of the F2P revenue scheme(at the time the debates were raging) didn’t want to acknowledge, let alone consider the craptacular implementations of paywalls, P2W or the purposefully designed psychological manipulation embedded into the majority of F2P titles. The term whale didn’t even exist prior to this monetization scheme.

    @Gevlon

    If you take any F2P title that relies on microtransactions as a means of supporting itself, is there ANY method that a consumer can use to gauge what the costs will be “prior” to playing said title? At least with a set “boxed price” and/or recurring subscriptions, I can effectively plan out what my expenditures will be over a given amount of time. I simply cannot do that with the majority of F2P titles because the costs are hidden inside the game. Then there’s the issue that even in the most successful F2P games, roughly 2-3% of free players are converted into paying players. How is that suppose to work without the game design purposefully targeting the whales?

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  13. Back in the day there was this game called “Atlantica Online”. It had a pretty cool mix of RPG elements and tactics-based HOMM style pve/pvp battles. The original version had a curious limitation – you could only complete around 100 “mob battles” daily, after that you get no loot and no exp from them. Took around 2 hours of grinding daily to use up the limit, so your time figure is pretty close. Your suggestion reminded me of this system.

    Atlantica got sold and changed publishers later and became an immense cash grab, and, not surprisingly, they deprecated the system soon after, removing the grinding limit which gave hardcore players and bots enough rope to hang the game economy and damage it beyond repair, amongst other things.

    I don’t think we’re going to see another system like that in an MMO. The only people who would be willing to risk putting in a revolutionary system would be a small studio. And small studios can’t make good MMOs. They just can’t: not in 2017, not with the MOBA-ridden session-gaming hellhole of a market that online gaming has become, not while they have to compete against 10 year olds MMOs that can offer millions of $$$ worth of content and superior software/security/user experience.

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  14. “I don’t think we’re going to see another system like that in an MMO. The only people who would be willing to risk putting in a revolutionary system would be a small studio. And small studios can’t make good MMOs. They just can’t: not in 2017, not with the MOBA-ridden session-gaming hellhole of a market that online gaming has become, not while they have to compete against 10 year olds MMOs that can offer millions of $$$ worth of content and superior software/security/user experience.” ~Nick

    We already have small elements in place that are similiar to what Gevlon is talking about, namely dailies. Runescape actually has already gone one step further with auras, an item that can only be used for an hour before requiring a 4 hour recharge. A large amount of pvm content in the game is either difficult or impossible without using said auras. Like I said, the situation is only similiar, and someone can still pvm or switch to a worse aura after they run out, but it wouldn’t take much tweaking for that to change. As for whether large studios start doing this, it basically depends on whether this middle gaming class Gevlon is talking about is as large as he says. If the studios don’t pick this up, then this middle class will likely switch to private servers or single/co-op games.

    Also Gevlon, when are you going to finally start your own mmo? If moneys an issue, you could just start a minecraft server and customize it.

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  15. I don’t see any reason you can’t do both. Have full-time servers for the whales and no-lifers, and instead of having roleplay servers, have these time-locked servers. Or rather, have two different kinds of account, which go to these different servers.

    Sure, design the game up-front to cater mainly to the limited servers. However, there’s no reason the design has to go to waste for anyone who can’t play during the fixed schedule, and it’s not hard to tack on some half-ass whaling gear.

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