Gamers are cheap; I think we can all agree on that. But until recently, they've haven't had many choices about how to spend their money. If they wanted to play a Super Mario Bros. title, they were going to need to cough up the dough. But the Internet, cracked consoles, and Bit Torrent have changed all that. So these days, publishers are reworking their business models to draw gamers/pirates back into the realm of legal gaming by giving them what they're looking for: free games.
League of Legends is sort of the grandfather of the microtransaction system, and it has proven to be very successful for Riot Games. Players still complain about having to pay for characters or items, but shelling out a few dollars for an in-game item is an easier decision than paying $60 to pull a box off the shelf.
The thing is, more and more publishers are adopting similar models and executing them successfully. When THQ announced that they'd be participating in the Humble Bundle, a pay-what-you-want event designed to raise money for charity, their stock increased by 40%. Free-to-play MMOs, like Star Wars: The Old Republic and Rift have been steadily on the rise, while World of Warcraft shed over a million subscribers in 2012. To be fair, though, no one can touch WoW's membership stats. They're still ridiculously large.
And the free-to-play model is infecting other industries as well. Freedompop, a U.S. Internet provider is jumping on the bandwagon by offering free Internet access to anyone who purchases their equipment. And, in a world where bandwidth is expensive, this is a pretty big risk on Freedompop's end. But it might give the ISP industry the same kind of kickstart that gaming experienced.
And what’s the next best thing to free things? How about cheap ones? The level of success that Telltale Games has had with The Walking Dead's episodic releases, for example, has been incredible. They managed to win Game of the Year at the VGAs (and here at Cheat Code Central) in a genre that hasn't been very well-received since the days of Grim Fandango and Full Throttle. And part of that success is undoubtedly due to the bite-sized transaction system.
Perhaps companies are being forced into these cheap business models because of our apathetic economy, or maybe consumers are looking just for a bigger bang for their buck. Either way, innovative businesses are finding clever ways to turn small amounts of money into very successful strategies, which means that we'll have more options and more money in our wallets.
Date: December 12, 2012