Posted on October 2, 2009
Game Macropayments: A Developer Subscription Model?
I was thinking about this on the way home yesterday, and I thought I would run it up the old 8bitrocket.com flag pole to see what people think. After writing about what I might pay for using Micropayments a few weeks back, it occurred to me that there is another model that appeals to me even more as a consumer: Macropayments.
When I find a developer who has made a game that I like I’m usually very interested in all the other games they might have for sale. This has happened, well, since forever actually. Back in the 80’s when I would buy a game from Synapse, Origin, SSI, etc. I always loved to pull out the catalog that was inserted in most game boxes to see what else the developer/publisher was planning to release. Much of the time these catalogs were filled with intriguing looking games that were not being promoted because they were not their “big” titles. For every Blue Max there was a Drelbs or Breakers. For every Ultima IV there was an Ogre or Space Rogue. For every AD&D Gold Box game there was a Roadwar 2000 or Demon’s Winter. In the PC era, smaller games from companies like Apogee, EpicMegaGames, Mountain King gave me a similar visceral thrill.
However, by the mid 1990’s, when PC and video game budgets started to balloon into the millions, these ” smaller” titles became an endangered species. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find any “secret” gems from any well-known publisher. One exception (and I’m sure there are others) however, is Pop Cap. I still enjoy going to their web site now and then to see what games they have on-tap that I’ve never seen before. Since Pop Cap does an awesome job of “vetting” their games for quality, I can be almost certain that anything obscure is also well made and playable. In fact, I enjoy Pop Cap games so much that I’d be willing to buy a subscription…err Macropayment for their titles. If, for instance, I was guaranteed that 6 Pop Cap games (2-3 premiere games and 3-4 lesser titles) would be released in a year, I would be willing to plunk-down a discounted $59.99 up front for the right to have those games the instant they came out. Even though I would be getting discounted games ($10 each), Pop Cap would get money up-front and would giving them funds for R&D, development and further marketing efforts.
This is what I mean by “Macropayments”. I suppose this is like an up-front subscription, but I like to think of it more like the “art patronage” model. In that model, the wealthy and powerful supported artists in their art by paying them their living expenses (and usually a bit more) to let them make art full-time. They key is, they usually paid them BEFORE the art was made. The idea was to support the artists and let him/her make art on their own. Now, I’m not suggesting Flash game developers find some rich uncle to support them while they make games, (but if you can do that, do it), but I am saying that if an established game developer can garner enough fans of their games, it might be possible to get them to pay $20-$30-$40-$50 a year if they were promised one good game every 2 months, three great games every 4 months maybe two amazing games every 6 months.
Of course, there are possible problems with this idea. First, the developer must come through and actually make the games. With money already “in the bank” instead working towards “the promise” of a payday might make some developers drag their feet and lose interest. The other problem might be complaints. If your games are not up to the quality standards that customers demand, you could find your self swimming in refund demands, with many less subscribers for the next year. The first problem might be hard to overcome, but the second one might be easier to mitigate. Developers could advertise the “types” of games they plan to make at the beginning of the year, and even include some sample art work for how they might look. That way, customers would at least know what they were getting. Adding bonus content like special holiday-themed re-skins and bonus levels could also help with sales. It would also be important to support game after-the-fact with updates, revisions and even new content. All of these efforts would be for one purpose: get people to subscribe again.
So what do you think about Macropayments? I know it sounds like a an odd idea (or even a bit old-school), but when you think about it, is it any odder than say, asking someone to pay $2.00 for a better sword, or $5.00 for more levels in a game they can already play for free?