5 min read

Why the games industry needs to let consumers decide how to buy their games rather than decide for them.

My thoughts on why the games industry would be better served by providing consumers with more choices about how they buy games.

Recently there have been quite a few cases of high profile company executives confidently announcing that free to play games are the future of gaming and proudly announcing the steps they are taking to transition there companies over to the model. EA is just one such example. Usually these announcements are met by lots of scepticism and scathing comments from consumers that buy games so the question is why are they doing this?


The problem is whenever any company announces that it is moving over to a new purchase method a lot of existing consumers will always assume that the motivation is for profit and tend to be viewed negatively. By changing the business model you may attract new customers and you may well calculate that you will gain more customers than you lose making it worth while, but the best option is to simply provide many ways of buying the same game.

The games industry also needs to start getting smarter about how it presents these buying options to the consumer so that they are never forced to combine purchasing methods. An example of this is the many different reactions consumers have to DLC. Why is it for example that there are many consumers who look forward to sequels to their favourite games but say they don't like DLC. The reason is that a consumer who prefers to buy something rather than rent it or pay for with micro transactions tends to be someone who likes buying a complete product. They have no problem with a sequel because they view it as a different product, but don't like DLC because they view it as an extension to the product they have already purchased. If you want this consumer to welcome the DLC then you should instead increase the cost of the full product and provide them with the DLC for free as a perk for buying the full product. You can still sell this DLC but only to those that bought the game in pieces initially. To give you an example of how this might work lets take a game like Modern Warfare for example and see the different ways you could sell it.


  1. Full Boxed Copy with free DLC for £50

  2. Full Digital Download with free DLC for £45

  3. 3 Month digital rental for £10

  4. 3 Month cloud streaming rental for £12

  5. Digital Pick and Mix £3 per single player level £2 per multi player map everything unlocked if total purchases reach £60.


If you presented these choices to the consumer then there would be a huge range of benefits to both the developer and the consumer. The consumer would be happier because they could choose how they want to purchase the game and by showing them the different options it would actually reinforce their purchasing decision. If you take option 5 for example. It says that everything will be unlocked if the user spends more than £60 on micro transactions in the game. To someone who likes micro transactions this is viewed as a bonus because it puts a limit on their total potential spend but at the same time it makes someone who doesn't like DLC happier buying the full version because they see they are saving money by buying it outright.


There has been lots of debate about how to solve the explosion of used game sales as it is perceived to be damaging the industry. If you provided an option for people to rent a game for 3 months this problem would largely go away by itself because why would a consumer that has no intention of keeping a game long term bother going through the trouble of buying and selling a game if they could just rent it instead. By having all these different purchasing options you also help reduce risk for your business and the potential for a distribution channel to exploit it's position because you are no longer solely reliant on it.


Even if a particular business model looks more attractive at a certain time than another one as is the case for a lot of people with free to play at the moment, you should never rely on it because there are lots of things that can change that are outside of your control and change the situation over night. Korea for example has started bringing in more regulations regarding micro transactions. Advertising supported games were once seen as the future of gaming until the advertising revenues went into decline.


Also by not focusing entirely on one monetization strategy you also help alleviate some of the negative effects a sole focus on one of them can have on game design. Micro transaction based games can sometimes suffer with there being a point were the game loses sight of being fun in an effect to get the user to make more purchases. Likewise a lot of full priced games sometimes suffer from tedious long winded tutorials or take a while to get going because they are not as concerned about someone giving up with a game they have purchased from the start. Because no one in the team is worrying about this, sometimes they get carried away in an effort to make the game as accessible as possible and take too long explaining things.


Even though it's true that some monetisation strategy’s may not make sense for certain games a game that at least takes into account multiple strategy's is more likely to be balanced as a result.


My question is why isn't the industry doing a better job of this? Why does the industry seem to be so obsessed with free to play and seemingly trying to build tailor made games specifically around it? Why does a large company like EA which has been quite happily selling games for the last 20 years feel the need to risk transitioning its revenue model over to free to play?

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