There has been a lot of discussion lately about Micropayments in Flash games. New service offerings such as Mochicoins and Gamersafe promise untold riches for Flash developers beyond sporadic licenses and advertising pennies. Both the aforementioned services have plans to limit the amount of games in the system by vetting them for content that someone might pay for. Just one look at the chaff pushing the wheat out of the way on the Mochi feed these days tells you why these services have to start filtering content vigorously. However, this leaves game developers in a quandary. What will players pay for in a Flash game?
I've been thinking about this myself, and I've come to the conclusion that to if I was going to make a game that offered players some kind of extra content through micropayments, it would have to be something that I myself would actually pay for. So, to start thinking about this idea, I decided to list all of the virtual items I have actually bought in the past couple years.
- Adventure Quest: Yes, I not only bought a subscription to AdvnetureQuest back in 2006 for $15.00, but I also paid $5.00 for the X boost (or whatever it was called). I rarely play the game, but It is always nice to go back and see it once in a while.
- MacAfee Internet Security Suite: I only buy online subscriptions for Virus/Firewall, etc. these days. Never anything boxed. The automatic updates and billing are worth more than worth the hassle of trying to do it myself.
- Goozex Points: I use the Goozex.com game trading system. You never send cash with the system, you buy trades ($1.00 each), print labels, and send games out to whomever wants them through the mail.
- Bookworm Deluxe/Bookworm Adventures: I rarely buy PC games virtually (because I rarely buy PC games any more), but any game in the Bookworm line will get me to open my wallet faster than finding NIB Atari games at a local garage sale.
- VMWare Fusion: I bought VMWare fusion for my Mac virtually. I get updates the same way.
- Wii Virtual Console: I have purchased every classic Mario and Zelda game, plus the classic Mario RPG games, plus Bit.Trip.Beat from the Wii Virtual Console.
- Xbox Live Arcade: I will purchase any good Post-Retro/Retro Evolved/Neo Retro games like Pac-Man CE, Galaga Legions, Space Invaders Extreme, plus retro classic like Galaga and Time Pilot, and also, curiously, Peggle.
- Fonts/Graphics: I have also bought some font and graphic libraries mostly because they were cheap and I could not find them elsewhere
- iTunes: I have bought a few songs through iTunes, mostly ones that I could not easily find any place else (like a fully instrumental version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow for my daughter to sing in the school talent show).
- Amazon Music: I have bought a couple albums from music because they were CHEAP (i.e. $3.99 for the latest lackluster U2 album)
And that, right there, constitutes all of my virtual shopping over the past few years. Many of them are games ( which is good), but they are mostly games that I either feel an affinity for (classic games) or I believe will have long play value (addictive puzzles). Some are utilities that I have found indispensable and easy to use, while others I bought because they were cheap, or because I could not find the any place else.
After looking at those features, I brainstormed a bit to find some adjectives to describe the list of things I have purchased virtually:
- Easy to use/update
- Long term
Some of the things above are obvious for games with Micropayments. Yes, games should be Entertaining and Addictive, no doubt, and the Micropayment system better be Easy to use and make me feel Comfortable buying with it. However, those things should be a given. Without that stuff, no one will want to play the game much less buy anything from it. The same goes for value for money. We know these payments need to be Cheap and in fact, the market will probably set the price anyway (i.e. iPhone games for $.99) so we really don't need to consider that right now. What I'm looking for is some kind of common denominator that would make me buy something with a Micropayment.
One set of words from the list above seems to stand out to me: Nostalgic and Familiar. I seem to like to buy classic games or games that I recognize. However, I have also bought Bit.Trip.Beat, which is not classic, but it is familiar. This seems to be one interesting strand to mull over. A game might not have to be an actual license of an existing brand, or from a particular series, but it should contain some elements that will get the player into the game quickly, and keep them there.
Another word I see that stands alone is Long Term. I do believe that for someone to fork over any kind of Micropayment, they will need to play a game long enough to determine that it will be something they will come back to often. I did not buy the "X Boost" in Adventure Quest right away. However, a few weeks of playing led me to give-up my $5.00 because in the context of the game, it seemed worth the money. To me, this means that long-term adventure games, multi player games with leader boards and badges, single or multi-player RPGs, or game collections (i.e. a set of retro style games that lead to a common goal) might work better than your garden variety super-click game or physics puzzle.
Another set of words that stands out is : Unique, Useful and Indispensable. We've all heard the stories about companies trying to sell "virtual goods" that are no more than window dressing (i.e. a Coke Machine for your virtual room). That might fly for a crowd used to paying for their games in a subscription MMOG, but Flash gamers are used to *not* paying for anything at all. If you want them to spend any money, it better be for something that actually has worth within the context of the game. I don't think that "outfits" or "stickers" or anything like will sell at all. If an item does not effect the game in a unique, useful or indispensable way, then I would not buy it. For instance, in an overhead RPG, you could get around in the game world by walking and discovering things perfectly fine, but you could also offer the players "jump gates" to travel faster, or a "magic map" to see hidden objects and areas for a small price. For RPGs, whole magic systems could be based on micropayments, even to the point of buying a "Help From The Gods" while in battle to get you past some tough enemies. If you do not want to go that far, simple things like resurrection, healing or restoring magic points could be paid for by micropayments Likewise, adventure games could allow users to pay for hints (Infocom used to do this with Invisclues) or even to get past tough puzzles.
So from my quick analysis, it looks to me like if *I* was going to buy something with a micropayment, I would have to perceive a very high level of comfort and value from what is being offered. To me it means that 99.999% of Flash games I have seen (and made) would not be anything I would even think of paying for. It also means that, if a majority of people out there are like me (and I'm not supposing they are), then we all have a A LOT of work to do on our games before we see any kind of real return from Micropayments in Flash games..