Micropayment – The Future of Gaming?

There seems to be a general consensus within the gaming industry that the current pricing model for games cannot continue as development costs have risen dramatically this generation of consoles as gamers demand a visual feast from their HD games.Even the big boys of the industry are starting to struggle, EA lost $82 million last quarter and have cancelled many games and has stated their intention to concentrate on core franchises, which means less perceived risk which in turn means less innovation and new experiences for the gamer.The gaming industry needs to find a way to pay for the experience that gamers are demanding and the current financial model isn’t working for the majority of developers and publishers. The industry has seen the explosion of casual gaming and the huge financial rewards that this has brought and want to adapt that financial model into the more hardcore gaming experience.Of course, there are other financial models already out there than that of the industry standard single fixed price, perhaps the most popular is the pay monthly plan. This is usually deployed by MMORPG’s (massively multiplayer online role playing games) such as World of Warcraft whereby consumers usually pay an initially lower fee for the game but then pay a monthly fee for continued access to the game and its content. This monthly fee entitles the user to continued access, bug updates and usually content updates as well (though big content updates are sometimes sold separately). This model allows developers to be more adventurous and try new things as they can release new content as and when its finished and gain instant feedback on it from the consumer whereas the more traditional flat fee yearly purchase the developer needs to play it safer in order to make sure that they get the sales they need to make a profit.Another model that gets trotted out a lot as the potential saviour of the gaming industry is the micro transaction gaming model, whereby the initial and base experience may be free but then the user is required to pay small fee’s in order to access more content or additional features.A popular example of this is the numerous games on the social network Facebook, with the prime example being FarmVille. The game is entirely free to play, though you can ‘enhance’ your experience by buying in game items for real cash.I’m not quite so sure however how the gaming industry expects to be able to transfer this model from such a casual game market into the more hardcore market that the Xbox and PS3 provides. The industry would suggest that gamers would look favourably upon paying less upfront for the game and trying the core experience and deciding if they like it or not before shelling out extra money for additional access to content or features. However as a gamer I will either know before I buy the game either by playing the demo (or playing previous years if its a franchise) or following the press’ coverage of the game as to whether I wish to purchase and play the game. Do I as a gamer really want to have to feel I have to shell out an extra $5 for a particular feature or item in game in order to feel competitive against other people as they all have it and I don’t?The industry argues that some people will be able to experience games for cheaper than they can currently due to the flexible pricing that micro transactions offers and whilst this may be true for the very casual gamer, for the hardcore gamer that has been supporting the game industry for years paying hundreds of dollars a years for games it will surely cost them a lot more in order to achieve the same experience that they are currently receiving for their $60.I believe that this micro transaction model also has a lot of risks for the developers and publishers, if the consumer is paying a lot less upfront then it requires the user to spend quite a lot in game to enhance their experience, this means that they need to be having a compelling experience already to warrant spending more. Currently shovelware still makes a lot of cash as the consumer has no choice but to pay the full fee upfront, if however a user buys it for cheap and then realises how crap it really is then the developer has lost out on money that it would have otherwise already got. This also works the same for more innovative and risky games, the industry isn’t guaranteed a certain profit from each copy sold which means that they will have to be more conservative in the games that they create in order to make sure they make the money back that the shelled out on creating it.The industry has been testing the waters with going towards a more micro transactional system this generation with the addition of DLC (downloadable content), whilst some of the content is clearly extra than that of which the developer had originally planned for the game, some content for games has been deliberately removed from the core package and repackaged as DLC in order to nickel and dime the consumer for every penny they have.In conclusion I feel that the industry must change something in the way that they either make games or the way that they price games in order to survive. Either we as gamers must accept smaller lower visual quality games to keep costs low or if we continue to want a movie like experience we must accept that we will be asked to pay more for the experience. It will be hard for the industry to try and persuade the gamer that its in their best interest to move away from the current pricing model as it is currently very favourable to the consumer, however im not sure that micro transactions are the future of gaming.