By Nicole Hamlett
So last week I left you in suspense of what the most important question was
regarding Korean Ports and the micro- transaction market. You can re-read the
first part of the interview here -
http://www.mpogd.com/news/?ID=3052 . On to the goods!
Nicole: More and more companies are dealing in micro-transactions.
There are more casual gamers who don’t have time to grind out the experience and
it’s worth it to them to pay a nominal amount to “catch them up” So the
important question here is; how do you take on the solid hard core gamers who
don’t want to pay the five dollars to item X? How do you make them happy when
they are under the impression that if you want to be the best you have to fork
over the cash?
John: That is a critical design challenge. It’s the core design challenge
I think when you are designing these games. You need to make it so the people
who are playing for free who never intend to pay a cent and never will, they
have a good progression and experience most or all of the content with most of
all of the critical items. But if you choose to impart some money, you get some
advantage. It helps you, doesn’t imbalance the game totally and quite critically
doesn’t piss off the people who choose not to pay.
So you would think that in a game like ours where it’s upfront that this is the
business model and you come in knowing that it’s free and some people can pay.
You’d think that those free players wouldn’t complain. Uh uh. In some ways, they
are just as concerned about it as if they were in World of Warcraft. A lot of
the art in this comes in – for example in Upshift, if you want this really cool
heavily armored truck called the Thudmaster. We’re going to charge you a nominal
fee for that. That’s a potato based car. But you can get 13 great cars just by
playing the game well. It’s a status effect by driving this truck. It makes you
But then there are also some things that are more subtle. For instance, you have
a 3 car garage, but if you want 5 slots, you can buy extra garage space. It
doesn’t take anything away from the other player’s enjoyment or make them feel
somehow diminished in their achievements.
Nicole: It’s just like a bonus?
John: Right. So Special Force which is the number two FPS game in Korea.
Their number one cash op item is a scope. The impact of it is that the aiming
reticle is larger when you equip it.
John: I know! I feel good about playing with it because I’m looking
through my larger reticle. But that guy who is dashing across the alley and just
gets shot at… He didn’t know if I was a good shot or if I buffed myself. So
there is a lot of art in giving people an advantage without giving them too
strong of an advantage.
It’s a creative decision and you need really good designers to create that
balance. If you make it so that it’s too overbalanced and people feel like they
can just buy their way simply to victory, no skill needed, it’s going to be a
bomb of a game.
Nicole: So are micro-transactions the wave of the MMO Future?
John: Absolutely. It’s like You Tube VS. NetFlix Movie Downloads. You
watch a movie like Gigli and think “man that sucked.” Whereas with You Tube you
can watch something, and if you don’t like it, you move on to the next one. I’m
not going to put a toll booth in front of my game and say “You need to pay me
sixty bucks to try this game and then maybe you’ll play and maybe you won’t.”
That encourages everyone in a traditional publishing situation to focus on the
marketing bullets on the box and the cover art that sells that box because that
is all that matters. In contrast, what I have to do is reward game play. If
people play a lot and if I can really reel the player into the game and give
them a compelling game experience – that’s when we get the money, and not until
I’ve done that. So I love it as a gaming industry executive because it aligns
the incentives of the gamer and the company.
Nicole: So it enforces good game design?
John and I continued to chat about good game design and how free to play
games focus on good customer service and in game events to ensure that gamers
have a good time. Talking to John, it really does seem that this concept is
certainly the way our industry will run. With any luck, the people in charge are
as dedicated as he is. So when you think about playing a micro-transaction game,
think about the benefits vs. paying for the traditional subscription model. You
may just end up saving yourself some time and money.
To find out more about Gala-net and its games, visit