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Struggling with the idea of in-game purchases

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Right now I'm in the process of making a 2D turn-based RPG, and I'm thinking through and reading articles about how to make money off of it. It's still early in development.

One of the things that there's alot of discussion about in the industry currently is in-game transactions - people have been discussing them more and more frequently over the past several years, and currently the term 'free-to-play' has been getting alot more publicity.

I don't want to make my game free-to-play, it's a single-player game. However, the idea of in-game purchases both appeals-to and disgusts, me. Okay, 'disgusts' is too strong of the word, but I as a gamer, dislike in-game purchases. I, as a developer, need to make money to survive.

Thinking about my game with the assumption that I do add in-game purchases, I've been thinking about good ways and bad ways to handle them.

Here's some situations of in-game payments that I think I'd be okay with:
  • Allowing the player to get instant-satisfaction by paying for something he knows he would get later anyway ([size="1"]Leveling up, you get a skillpoint to spend on a new skill. But hey, you can spend $3 and get another new skillpoint and spend two this level instead of just one, so you can advance up the skilltree faster to get to that skill you set your eye on. [size="1"]Another example is purchasing a weapon you don't currently have enough regular game currency for, by using real-world money instead of waiting)
  • Having extra content that's not part of the regular game be available to the player ([size="1"]A whole different skilltree can be unlocked by purchasing it)
  • Purchasing the regular in-game currency, and/or buying in-game items with real money as an alternative to in-game currency ([size="1"]both payment options being available to the player for every item except cheap items like potions).
  • Paying for fancy cosmetic changes ([size="1"]Red fireballs? Lame. Mine are blue!).
  • Paying for extra awesomeness for no apparent reason ([size="1"]Bribing an NPC with real currency to kill another NPC, or paying to get the burn down an entire village).
  • Paying for an ability or combat accessory that you can't otherwise get, but isn't directly 'better than' the ones you can get, only different.
  • Paying to get an awesome teammate or pet animal you otherwise wouldn't get.
    Here's some situations of in-game payments that I wouldn't be okay with:
    • Making the player progress aggravatingly slow, unless he purchases something [size="1"](faster leveling or better equipment).
    • Having awesome abilities or content that seems like an actual part of the game that is locked away unless he purchases it ([size="1"]Can't get the final skills in his skill tree without paying, for example. Contrast with the earlier approved 'pay to unlock an entirely new skilltree' with this disapproved 'pay to unlock the skilltree that you are already working up')
      I also wouldn't like it if in-game purchases are super naggy. On the other hand, they must be plainly visible - hiding in-game purchases behind multiple menus is setting yourself up for defeat. So if I implement it in my game, I'll have them clearly visible as part of the regular GUI, but colored differently to distinguish them as separate from the regular game.
      I wouldn't have them flashing or have popups or glowing in and out, or draw your attention in any way other than any other GUI element - but I will distinguish them by coloration, so players know at a glance that color X means external payment color Y means regular payment, in the same way my GUI will also use the color red to mean something negative and the color green to mean something positive (like green 'Yes' and red 'No' on a dialog box).

      I'd probably even integrate the in-game payments to be better themed with the game world. Regular in-game currency maybe being 'silver coins', and real-world-payments currency being 'gold coins'.

      As a gamer, I don't like spending money while in games! I'm fine with buying the game itself and buying expansions; I'm even fine with monthly payments (for MMOs). I'm fine with MMOs that sell other players extra customization to their appearances (white hair or mustaches or glowing capes or whatever), but I never buy such things.

      The primary motivator for even considering such things in my own game, was reading some articles in favor and against in-game transactions, and coming across the statement "Never cap the amount of money your customers can give you", or something like that. That statement stuck with me - if my fans want to give me more than the $15 I'm charging for my game, I should let them, as long as I'm not manipulating them to give more, nagging them with constant requests for more, or cheating them by sell 'extra' content that should've been in the game in the first place.

      Basically, I think I'm fine with allowing players to purchase short-cuts to get to something their focused on sooner, as long as I'm not deliberately making them game progress aggravatingly slow to force them to make such purchases. My self-decided standard for my game is, "As a gamer who doesn't like making in-game purchases, can I play through my own game and enjoy it, without missing out on important content, without feeling cheated or tricked by having bought an 'incomplete' game, and without feeling nagged or pressured to buy something?"

      I'm still working through my thoughts, and I'd value your opinions. What do you think, not about in-game purchases in general, but about my specific case and the things I've mentioned? I know I haven't explained anything about my game (other than the loosely defined '2D turn-based RPG'), but really, it shouldn't matter too much.

      What are your thoughts about all this?

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My answers to my own poll, so you know where I'm coming from.

As a gamer, have you ever purchased an in-game item?
> Nope, never have and (hopefully) never will!

What kinds of things are acceptable to offer as in-game purchases?
> Cosmetic options (hair color, fancy cape, etc...)
> Convience (faster leveling, etc...)

What do you think (as a developer) about adding in-game purchases to your game?
> I'm resisting going down that road.

What games do you find acceptable for in-game purchases?
> Persistent virtual worlds like MMORPGs (WoW, Runescape, etc...)

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Ive never purchased anything as a gamer in f2p games with paid contents.
Cosmetic things are the only kind of paid content I'd consider buying if I get attached to the game for a while.
Convenience could be also acceptable but I wouldnt buy them honestly. These should be fairly balanced tho, it shouldnt be frustrating playing the game without these boosts.


If the content I could buy is of the kind of giving a competitive advantages to who helps letting them get privileges that you will never get by playing without paying I generally dont even start playing that game regardless of how good and fun it might be.
Exclusive contents would be lame aswell, they might not be too lame if they dont give a real advantage to those that buy em, like mini games to unlock cosmetic or convenience stuff.

From my gamer point of view I cant see how you could make money with a f2p game since Im not a paying customer, Id much rather pay 10€ once and have all the content avaible. Tho it looks like the winning choise nowadays, with some games keeping it balanced (LoL), and some other not.

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You're speaking about in game purchases in a single player game?
I remember playing Dragon Age, and at the camp some dude offered me a quest. However he told me I just had to pay a few quid.
Massive massive immersion breaker, and it really gave you the feeling you didn't get the full product. Even announcing future dlc upon game release is a bad idea (Battlefield 3 with Karkand). In Skyrim they may add future content (hopefully expansion sized), but they don't throw it in your face right away. They let you play the game, giving you a feeling that you've got the full game (which you have), and some time later (atleast a month), they may announce upcoming content.

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Yeah, single player game.

[color="#1C2837"]I remember playing Dragon Age, and at the camp some dude offered me a quest. However he told me I just had to pay a few quid.<br style="color: rgb(28, 40, 55); font-size: 13px; line-height: 16px; text-align: left; background-color: rgb(250, 251, 252); ">[color="#1C2837"]

Massive massive immersion breaker, and it really gave you the feeling you didn't get the full product.

[/quote]
[color="#1C2837"]



[color="#1c2837"]How can the immersion breaking be minimized? That's one of my complaints too, is immersion breaking. I was thinking of treating real money as if it's part of the world's economy, so the player actually has gold (real money) and actually has silver (the in-game currency), and NPCs list their wares in both currencies. Or maybe 'gold' is just a higher denomination of currency, that can be broken into silver, and likewise, silver can be converted upward to gold.

[color="#1C2837"]
[color="#1C2837"]

Even announcing future dlc upon game release is a bad idea (Battlefield 3 with Karkand). In Skyrim they may add future content (hopefully expansion sized), but they don't throw it in your face right away. They let you play the game, giving you a feeling that you've got the full game (which you have), and some time later (atleast a month), they may announce upcoming content. [/quote]


[color="#1C2837"]

I *think* the real issue is how fast you encounter a option to spend real money, and how naggy it is (correct me if I'm wrong).


[color="#1c2837"]If in-game transactions are integrated into the interface in a non-distracting, non-naggy way (like only on merchant windows), and the game doesn't stop you from doing anything for lack of paying extra, would it be as bad to you, personally?


[color="#1c2837"]I mean, the NPCs aren't nagging for money, the game isn't nagging for money, it just gives you the option to spend money, just as seamlessly as a game gives you the option of spending regular game currency (with the added hassle of a confirmation window and a paypal box when you spend real money, but that's hidden until after you already decide to buy).


[color="#1C2837"]Personally, I never play games the second they come out anyway. I always wait for the price to drop, so I can't really relate. [color="#1C2837"]If I buy Skyrim 6 months after it releases, and they just release DLC at the exact time I buy it... how's that different ([color="#1C2837"]

psychologically

[color="#1C2837"]

) from you buying it at release date, and them releasing DLC at release date? Oddly, there *is* a difference, with the

[color="#1C2837"]

feeling of having been cheated and slighted out of content they were 'holding back' if it happens at release date but not 6 months later.


[color="#1c2837"]However, if the game from the beginning is a 'full game' and the game never stops you from doing anything, and the full experience is available to you, is the option to expedite your progress to certain skills or weapons (that you'll get anyway with a little patience) still a issue to you as a gamer?

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I would have voted for convenience except faster leveling is a specific example I'm opposed to. Faster mounts would be fine.

As far as MMOs go, I prefer subscription games but in a cash shop game what I really want to see is players who buy cash shop items for cash then being able to auction those items to other players for in-game money. That's what makes everyone happiest AND generates the most money. The items could even be soulbind-on-equip such that each one can only be auctioned and used once, and people are still pretty happy. (Also, no single item in the cash shop should be more than $20, nor should a base item plus a bunch of upgrades to max out that item be more than $20. $40 mounts are freaking absurd. And absolutely don't combine cash shop and subscription, that makes an ugly mess.)

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Concerning micro transactions in single player games:

[color="#1c2837"]How can the immersion breaking be minimized? That's one of my complaints too, is immersion breaking. I was thinking of treating real money as if it's part of the world's economy, so the player actually has gold (real money) and actually has silver (the in-game currency), and NPCs list their wares in both currencies. Or maybe 'gold' is just a higher denomination of currency, that can be broken into silver, and likewise, silver can be converted upward to gold.

Then it's definitely in your face. Atleast that's what I feel whenever I see real currency cash shops (doesn't matter if you call it something like gold, or rubies).
[color="#1C2837"]
I *think* the real issue is how fast you encounter a option to spend real money, and how naggy it is (correct me if I'm wrong).[color="#1C2837"][/quote]
This is different. This is about adding expansions (probably small). Not a bad thing, but BF3 should have waited until a while after the game was released. It's important to feel satisfied with what you bought. Worse is when DLC arrives when game comes out (Dragon Age). To me that feels like they've removed part of the game, and charges extra for it.

[color="#1C2837"]
[color="#1c2837"]If in-game transactions are integrated into the interface in a non-distracting, non-naggy way (like only on merchant windows), and the game doesn't stop you from doing anything for lack of paying extra, would it be as bad to you, personally?[color="#1C2837"][/quote]
So what should people pay for then? Consumable pay to use items in a single player rpg, is in my opinion ridicilous. Only on merchant window does not make it non-naggy.

[color="#1C2837"]
[color="#1C2837"]Personally, I never play games the second they come out anyway. I always wait for the price to drop, so I can't really relate. [color="#1C2837"]If I buy Skyrim 6 months after it releases, and they just release DLC at the exact time I buy it... how's that different ([color="#1C2837"]

psychologically

[color="#1C2837"]

) from you buying it at release date, and them releasing DLC at release date? Oddly, there *is* a difference, with the

[color="#1C2837"]

feeling of having been cheated and slighted out of content they were 'holding back' if it happens at release date but not 6 months later.[color="#1C2837"][/quote]

Because you know that DLC at launch means it is something they could have added to the full game at release. They did not focus entirely on the game.
6 months later is after release, and buying the game later you would expect that they may release new content, because they have actually had time to do it, and many would welcome it. There's also many more who buy the game at launch.

[color="#1C2837"]
[color="#1c2837"]However, if the game from the beginning is a 'full game' and the game never stops you from doing anything, and the full experience is available to you, is the option to expedite your progress to certain skills or weapons (that you'll get anyway with a little patience) still a issue to you as a gamer?[color="#1C2837"][/quote]
How will you work out balance? Also what kind of message do you send to the gamer? The game is boring until you reach level xxx. It's fun after that. Trust me. People who play Skyrim are more likely to complain that end game is boring because it offers no challenge. It's more fun earlier when some things can kill you. It's the path that's fun.

Your model sounds very much like the micro transaction games intended for children (smurf gate). Where they get their hands on their parents credit cards and spend huge amounts of money without really realising the gravity of what they're doing. I'm not saying it won't make money, but they're more like frauds than real games.

I'd love to see a proper mmorts. Problem is they all jump on the microtransaction wagon. Stronghold kingdoms actually had a client (not browser based). It had quite a few balance problems, and it was also more of a grinding game thant actual strategy, but the micro transaction model (cards) totally ruined the gameplay.
Age of Empires Online (although not a mmorts which it claims to be) could be really good. There are several designs I really don't like, and they're very closely connected to the microtransaction model. Another is that the AI sucks.

I know many mmo games use this and with surprisingly bad games are able to make huge profits. Can't think of a single player rpg though.
It might work economically, but personally I'm very biased against this. I genuinely do think this is the major negative deleopement concerning games.
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