Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Micropayments

Today I'm going to be looking at micropayments in games and there are a lot of different viewpoints to consider. On one hand, it allows you to customise a game exactly how you want it, meaning that you don't pay a bulk price for everything, but a lower price for specific items. On the other hand, a lot of us see it as the EA or, 'Sims approach' which involves grabbing a game by the goolies, and squeezing as much money and gushing fluid out of it as possible.

Just talking about the Sims briefly makes me feel like I need to wash myself. With the latest expansion in the never ending tide of crap being The Sims 2: Ikea Home Stuff, it really does seem like they are scraping the bottom of the barrel. For just £9.99 you can turn your virtual house house into a tacky Swedish look a like chalet, with all the flat packed furniture love you could ever want. I wish I was present in the meeting when they were debating whether to have The Sims 2: Linda Barker Loose, or DFS Sofa Set, before finally settling on the frustrating to build, affordable furniture shop. This is a perfect example of someone trying to squeeze all the money out of a game, by making the owners of the original continuously fork out for new content. A few expansion packs I could understand, but EA are frankly taking the piss with the latest offering. What happens when The Sims 3 comes out? Rinse and repeat.

Micropayments is kind of an evolution of this idea. Paying small amounts of money here and there in order to get access to new content. The main controversy surrounding this idea is that most people (including myself) feel that they should be able to buy a game, and have all of the content from the start. With micropayments in the picture however, it might feel like you have only bought half a game, as the rest of the stuff you want needs to be purchased separately. This is one thing that I had against the Windows Live service when it needed to be paid for on a subscription basis. To take the game online, I needed to pay more. This meant that I did not get to sample games like Gears of War in their online modes.

One game that in my opinion has the micropayment issue sussed is surprisingly from the money hungry, game bleeding giant, EA. Battlefield Heroes is the next in the series of Battlefield games that have now covered past, present and future conflicts in the form of a mass multiplayer frag fest. The previous games all had a few things in common, especially the fact that they were bought with a one off payment from your favourite retailer. What heroes does differently however, is that it is free to play for everyone. The way that EA plan to make their money is by giving the player the option to buy items for their character through micropayments. These are not game balance killing items either, but they are merely cosmetic in nature. This will be a pioneering project to see if a game can be run off of advertising and micropayments alone, and could well revolutionise the industry.

I am in a split mind about micropayments. If I am forced to pay more money than I have to for a game, just to keep on the edge of competing with other, more financially secure competitors, then I really can not lend it my support. If on the other hand I can not wear a funny hat unless I pay for it, then this is bearable. It will be interesting to see how Battlefield Heroes plays out and how many of us will invest in Hawaiian shirts and pointy shoes.

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