Game Overdose 01: Expansions, DLC, Micro-transactions… and TF2. PART 2
Hello all and welcome again to the second part of the first article of Game Overdose: a series of not-game-reviews!
We’re going to be taking games as a whole and looking at them with an analytical light. These aren’t mere child play-things anymore, and I’m trying to push the envelope for them to be accepted as a genuine and artistic form of entertainment. Anything from gameplay mechanics to plot, to advertising tactics and even sweeping social trends. If it’s about games, and potentially interesting, I’ll write about it here!
So the question I’d posed to you last time was “what does this have to do with anything I’d said before?” namely: how does TF2 becoming free, having an in-game store and community based content reflect on or have anything to do with the states of games in 2001?
Rather than relying on MMO’s subscription base, players are given an optional store; convenient in that it gives items now instead of having to wait for them to randomly drop.
I won’t go to into the psychology behind microtransactions, and if you’re interested the guys over at Extra Credits did a fantastic episode on it recently.
But it’s the same reason why you might pay for a ticket on a bus each time rather than get a season-ticket, even if the season-ticket would be cheaper for your use.
Subscriptions are a recurring lump sum, and you’ll feel like you’re not making the most of it if you don’t use it to its full extent. But micro-trans? That’s entirely up to you. What’s 50p a day on items, or the odd fiver here and there? Bear in mind that if you spend 5 quid on in-game items each week, you’re essentially paying more than a standard (for MMO’s) £9 monthly subscription, but because it’s your choice, 100%, it isn’t going to make you feel as drained.
It’s on your terms.
Kommunity is Key
The community content is brilliant on two fronts. Valve can make money on other peoples work, and the community get money for what they do. It’s a win-win, both parties benefit.
Consider that games like TF2 tend to have a thriving modders base. This is stuff that people would have been doing anyway, but Valve have had the sense to channel it into a more constructive means. Better quality, and benefiting ALL players, not just those that bothered to download it. If anything the modding will grow, as valve will always skim the cream off the top and implement it fully into the game!
Also, free players (remember, TF2 is free now) aren’t segregated like they are in Runescape, everyone has access to the same game, meaning that there’s even more players, and therefore an even larger community. From my own experiences of playing games with “members zones” I can tell you that after coming from a sprawling free-zone the members areas can be pretty empty!
This in-flux of grubby free players rubbing shoulders with the old and established means that there’ll be more people exposed to fancier content.
They see a weapon they like (normally by having their head removed by it) they might go to the store and buy it.
Sure, each individual weapon costs less than the original price of the game but with such a larger player base (technically and potentially every person on the planet that can run TF2 on their hardware) the sheer bulk of people buying will increase their overall earnings.
That’s a damn site more people being exposed to community weapons as well, which means that with such a larger cast net you’ll see more community contributors, meaning more content for the game!
You might be thinking now that I’m not really talking about game mechanics, but TF2’s unique. The community practically are a mechanic. They’re the source of the gameplay (you play against and with other people afterall) and more recently a driving force in the content. Wrap this in micro-transactions and you’ve got an interesting business model for the future of games.
Back in 2001 the concept of “Downloadable Content” was foreign, the technology wasn’t wide-spread enough to deliver it. You either had a sequel or the occassional expansion pack, but they were essentially sold as an immutable package. Now-a-days we have everything from a series of episodic games released over a period of months, to games that are pretty stark and bare until you purchase the additional DLC.
DLC is an extension of the concept of expansions, only without the physical limitations of disc-space. You don’t need to ensure you’ve filled your disc with content if it’s a digital download! And what if you want lots of individual pieces of content, that maybe aren’t useful to every player? Micro-transactions allow players to customise the content they have access to.
Some people might complain about things like “Day One DLC“, (Content that you have to buy from the start of the game, which technically could have been included with the original game) but I personally don’t think it should be an issue provided that the initial cost of the game reflects this additional and optional content.
I mean, you buy a racing game which has a mode to view your car being beaten on by fat, naked thugs with half-pipes. This doesn’t interest you. Would you rather this feature be included in the base game, or that it were an optional £5 download and the original price of the game is discounted £5?
Additionally, both subscriptions and micro-trans change the concept of a game. No longer is this a lump-sum for a complete game, constant mini-charges turn it into a Service. Something you constantly pay for to get a stream of content and updates.
That’s only when it’s done right of course, some companies do screw things up quite badly…
Cost of costing things cost-effectively
Sometimes this makes developers lazy, they ship an unfinished game, poorly designed and balanced, in the hope that they can coast on the influx of subscribers and cash. The game should work in itself in its vanilla form, which TF2 did, and any extra content is exactly that. Extra, optional. A benefit if you want to pay for it, and not a promise for better stuff in the future.
This is why I love TF2. It’s a petri-dish. Take a look at it under your microscope and you might just see the future evolution of games. Strong community, optional in-game store, relatively balanced gameplay (there’s always a bit of an outcry when a new weapon is released, until either Valve properly balance it or people understand how to beat it) and all wrapped in the unique and highly polished presentation of the game.
Of course, it’s not all perfection. They introduced “crates“. Randomly dropping items that cannot be accessed until you pay a small amount. This is essentially a virtual scratch-card, offering anything from fantastic prices to a complete dud, with the probability weighted towards the latter.
You might sit there all high and mighty now, deciding that the risk isn’t worth it, but when your backpack’s clogged up with about 30 of the things, all chanting their “Or an Exceedingly Rare Special Item!” subtext, making them too valuable to just throw away, but useless until opened… You’ll be on the store like everyone else… But still technically under your terms.
Evil Geniuses, not just your harmless run-of-the-mill Mad Scientists…
To sum up…
So yeah, TF2 as a model for future games, harnessing the power of the community for both content and gameplay and adding constant, small updates that can be earned by sweat and blood or purchased for a nominal fee. Pretty cool stuff, right?
Right, now where’s my cheque…