Chi-Coder: Free-To-Play and Microtransactions Part 2: Your Thoughts.

Yesterday I gave you my thoughts on the free-to-play model, microtransactions, etc…  Feel free to give that one a read and see if your individual thoughts line up with mine.  In the meantime, let’s talk about the results of our latest survey.  In addition to giving you my own thoughts on free-to-play, I wanted to see what your thoughts were.  So let’s jump into it and discuss your thoughts.

Questions 1, 2, and 3.

Question 1 was, “How comfortable are you with free-to-play, overall?”  Two-thirds of you said that you were indifferent, while one third were uncomfortable with free-to-play.  None of you chose the “Comfortable” option.

Question 2 – “Do you actively play any free-to-play games?”  The results for this question were split exactly as the question 1 was.  Two thirds of you do play free-to-play games while one-third of you don’t.

Question 3 – “Have you ever bought anything in a free-to-play game?”  Once again, the results were the same.  Two-thirds of you have bought something, one-third have not.

The data here suggests that most likely, the two-thirds that are indifferent have at least engaged with the free-to-play model a little bit.  That’s certainly a position I can understand.  While I’m not a fan of free-to-play, my opinion has shifted many times over the last few years.  In addition, I don’t think that all free-to-play games are completely awful.  That said, the other third seem to be pretty stalwart in their unwillingness to participate, and I get that too.  As I mention in my own thoughts, a lot about the free-to-play model feels icky, and if that’s something that strikes you particularly hard, I can see why you would just stay away from it.

Question 4 – “How comfortable are you with microtransactions in paid games.”

The trend flipped here.  Two thirds of you were uncomfortable with the idea of paying for things in a game when you’ve already purchased said game.  One third were fine with it.

While the first three questions were meant to do some very simple gauging of overall feelings on free-to-play, question 4 begins to branch out in terms of subject matter.  The results of this aren’t terribly surprising as I think the general feeling of the gaming public as a whole is that microtransactions in paid games gouge gamers.  My personal thoughts were a bit different on the matter, but I realize that I’m definitely in the minority here.

Question 5 – “What types of payment models are you NOT comfortable with?”

This question allowed for multiple inputs.  It was a series of scenarios, and you were able to check as many of them as you wanted.  So if you were uncomfortable with everything on the list, you were able to say so.  Let’s look at the major offenders.

There were two scenarios that stood out as major offenders.  The first was, “Free to play with microtransactions for random beneficial items (e.g. Hearthstone).”  The second was, “Full price with optional boosts (e.g. Battlefield 4).”  I’ll admit, I was a bit taken off guard here.  The Battlefield 4 thing, I get.  It doesn’t bother me personally, but I can understand being upset if you’re being killed repeatedly because a player is using a weapon that seems impossible for you to obtain.  The Hearthstone thing was a bit more baffling, if only because the CCG genre seems like it exists outside of normal free-to-play paradigm.  Perhaps I overthought this, but what I came too was that games like Hearthstone present a unique problem in the free-to-play world.  Let me explain.

At first I was baffled with how uncomfortable the overall feelings were on Hearthstone because it mimicked a real life product.  In my mind, buying a pack of Hearthstone cards was no different than buying a pack of Magic: The Gathering cards.  Whether or not you’re a Magic player, I don’t think that there is a large outpouring of people who hate the idea of buying those cards (or baseball cards, etc…).  To me those purchases felt identical.  Then I realized that there is one major way that these purchases are different.  Hearthstone cards are bound to you, while Magic: The Gathering cards are not.  You can trade or sell your Magic cards if you stop playing the game, but you can’t do that with your Hearthstone cards.  That does make me feel uncomfortable.

Question 6 – “Are you comfortable with games like Dota 2 and Eve Online where players can make real-world money?” 

The answer here was a resounding, unanimous “No.”  100% of voters said that they were not comfortable with this type of scenario.  I’ll be honest, this is one that truly does baffle me.

I’m surprised by the response here if only because we as gamers get screwed a lot.  We’re constantly getting bamboozled into purchasing products that don’t live up to their potential.  I figured that any game that would afford us the opportunity to recoup a little bit of that lost money would be something that, at least conceptually, we’d applaud.  I’m never going to play Eve Online, but I cheer for the guys who have collected $10,000 in game-time.  Before Diablo 3 ditched the auction house I was fascinated by the few people out there making a full-time living from trading items.  Now, I’ll be the first to admit that no game has gotten it totally right yet, I think the concept of making money from a game you like to play is a novel one.  That said, clearly I’m in the minority here.  Since I can’t read minds I’ll have to venture a guess as to why.

As a guess based on gaming culture and the nature of our hobby I’d say that this idea wasn’t one that was embraced because most people want to separate their gaming time from their work time.  The biggest problem with Diablo 3 as a game during the auction house period was that it became less of an RPG and more of a stock market simulator.  Again, based solely on a hunch, I’d imagine that most gamers feel negatively about that.  I certainly did.  I wanted to play Diablo 3, not Diablo 3 Item Trading Simulator 2012.  So if the negativity towards making money in games comes from that place, I totally get it.  Games shouldn’t feel like work, they should feel like games.  And again, I don’t think any game has really nailed the idea of making real money.  Maybe feelings would change if the system were implemented in a way that actually improved the game, instead of destroying it.

Question 7 – “What is your most anticipated up-coming release?  Imagine it came out today and all indications point to it being amazing.  What’s more, you have the following purchasing options, which do you choose?”

Of the four available options the unanimous choice was “$60 with all content included.”  The other options; “Chapter based payments, ala Telltale games”, “Free with micro-transactions for lives, weapons, ammo, etc…”, “$30 with all content but includes periodic game-play pauses to show ads” were not popular at all.  This wasn’t terribly surprising, although I think that I’d personally consider the $30 with ads model.  I also felt like the free-to-play with heavy microtransactions option could actually open up an interesting gameplay mechanic.  “How cheaply can I beat this game,” would be the new metric of your gaming skill.  That’s probably not a good thing, and it’s certainly not something I’m advocating, but part of me thinks it would be interesting to have a vested interest in conserving ammo, not dying, etc…

Question 8 – “In free-to-play games, what are you most comfortable with?”

Two thirds of voters were comfortable with microtransactions, one-third with a in-game upgrade, and no one was interested in viewing ads.  These results felt surprising once again.

For one, I figured that the game-upgrade option would be the most popular as things like Shareware and game demos have been doing basically the same thing for the better part of 20 years.  In those scenarios you’re given a taste of the product and then the option to purchase the full version if you like it.  This seems about the same.  It’s also becoming obvious that people don’t like ads.  I understand that.  Let’s be honest, no one likes ads.  The people that make ads don’t like ads.  We’ve all been subjected to hours upon hours of commercials though, so I’m surprised that voters were not more open to an ad based system in favor of microtransactions.  What’s more, given the overall negative feelings on microtransactions in general, it was surprising that they were the popular choice for this question.

Question 9 – “More and more large, reputable game publishers are adopting the free-to-play model.  Which option most describes your feelings on this?”

There were five options that ran the gamut from extremely happy, to indifferent, to extremely unhappy.  The results were split even between three of them.  One-third of voters thought, “It just feels icky.  I’m used to paying for a game and not having to spend $5 for more bullets.  I’d like it to stay that way.”  Another third chose, “It’s great!  I’d rather spend $10-20 on a few microtransactions than $60 on a game.”  Finally, the last third chose, “I don’t really care.  I love gaming and if the games are good, I’ll pay for stuff.”

That’s definitely a split opinion.  Some like it, some don’t, some are indifferent.  That feels like a great summation to the discussion doesn’t it?  Free-to-play isn’t going anywhere, and it seems that we as the gaming collective don’t particularly care enough one way or another to take a stand on it.  Sure, we’re willing to stand up and shout at the most egregious offences, but we’re not particularly troubled by all of the hypothetical what-ifs.

Your final thoughts.

One commenter mentioned the game No Heroes Allowed: No Puzzles Either on the Vita.  That game includes microtransactions for extra lives and such, but also allows for a $10 purchase to basically turn-off microtransactions.  Personally, I think that makes sense, but only if the game is already free or very cheap.  Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain just announced microtransactions meant for players without enough time to explore the whole game.  That will already be a $60 game so paying another $10 to turn those microtransactions into free-to-use cheat codes seems ridiculous.  The No Heroes Allowed model at least allows players to pay in a number of ways depending on what their most comfortable with.