DLC, In-App Purchases, and the Like

When I woke up today, I was hearing that an alumni from my university, who graduated with a BS in CS: Game Design, started a KickStarter for a mobile game his team had finished. Earlier this year I actually asked him if he was hiring, but he said he wasn’t. In any case, the game looked pretty good, and I hoped the best for them.

When I looked at it on KickStarter today, I wasn’t impressed, to say the least; I was actually rather disappointed. Why? The game was designed around micro-transactions, a practice commonly used in modern games, most common in mobile games, to maximize profit at the expense of the quality of their game (more on this later). The game I originally thought it was in my mind crumbled, and instead I was looking at, yes, “just another mobile game.”

Before I start my thoughts, I’ll say that I do think the concept of DLC (Downloadable Content), which is usually brought up in conversations about micro-transactions, is good, but only if done right. What does this mean? I’ll give a few examples:

-New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Nintendo 3DS offers free DLC, titled the Gold Classics Pack, for their Coin Rush mode which contains classic levels from the franchise’s history, including World 1-1 from the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES. This game also offers three extremely difficult levels, titled the Impossible Pack, for hardcore gamers for $2.50.

The Binding of Isaac offers cheap (~$3) DLC, titled the Wrath of the Lamb, and contains more levels, almost double the items contained in the original, and adds in new, alternate rooms to explore on each floor.

These are two examples that I feel are DLC done right? Why, exactly? Let’s break it down; I’ll list what the original games have and what their DLCs contain:

New Super Mario Bros. 2

Original: 9 worlds with a total of 92 action-filled levels (a full game)

DLC:
-Free homage to classic levels in the franchise
-Extremely challenging levels that are too hard to put into the original game in fear of players quitting, so they’re offered as an extra challenge

The Binding of Isaac

Original: 5 floors of randomly-generated rooms with roughly 50 different types of monsters out to kill you (a dungeon-crawling, roguelike game) and 100 collectible items to help you get through them

DLC:
-98 new items
-A new mode: Challenge Mode – tackle 10 different challenges
-11 new achievements
-34 new secrets (unlockables)
-4 alternative floors to the first 4 floors, and 2 extra end-game floors
-6 new room types that could appear on each floor
-26 new enemies
-More stuff I don’t want to list

If you look, these games were complete before the DLC came out. The DLC is icing on the cake and is not necessary to fully enjoy the game. The DLC is extra content added for those who want it and wasn’t originally planned to be put into the game. Oh, and the DLC is priced at less than $5, so it’s not like paying the price of an entirely new game and getting less for it.

Now let’s go back to micro-transactions in most mobile games. I think they compromise gameplay at the benefit of making extra profit, and I think this is a bad thing. To start, let’s think about why people play video games. In most situations, it’s to get away from reality and explore someone else’s imagination packaged into a computer program. When you’re scrolling through the shops in these games and you see something cool, you check its price and then get bummed out because it costs you money in real life. Not only does this completely break immersion, reminding you about your reality, but it also makes you more hesitant, if not completely turn you off, from wanting to get that item/feature in the shop because it’s unobtainable through normal gameplay.

 

An example of micro-transactions in a mobile game. Note not only the ridiculous prices but how much emphasis is put on the real-world prices. The real-world prices are at the top and clearly stand out more than the in-game prices underneath. It looks more like you’re checking out items on Amazon than an in-game shop.

 

smurfberries-smurfs-village-micro-transactions

The same image as above except edited to remove the real-world prices on each item. Doesn’t it look much more like an in-game shop? These now look like items you have to actually earn through gameplay. Such a small change makes such a big impact on how the player perceives the game.

 

As a game designer, why in the world would you NOT want your players to obtain something you programmed and made art for? Imagine creating an exciting game mode that took you months to make, only to have very few of your players actually experience it because you wanted some quick cash for a part of the game that was originally planned on being included. It just doesn’t make sense to me at all. If you want quick cash, do something else; feeding off those people that always buy everything isn’t exactly the best way to represent yourself either. In fact, it actually sounds JUST like a scam and that’s because it is indeed one. The worst part is this is happening right now in one of the most dynamic mediums ever: video games.

A couple of days ago I played Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage (SNES) and the day before I played Sonic The Hedgehog 3 (standalone, Genesis). I played one playthrough of each game to completion, and I never got up from my seat until I was done. I was completely immersed into the games, and it was a great feeling. I didn’t have to worry about not being able to obtain something unless I shelled out money for it; what I saw is what I got. Everything IN the game is what is accessible. With micro-transactions in all these mobile and Facebook games, what you see is not what you get. What you see is MORE than what you get, and that’s just dumb and stupid.

Childish remarks aside, it really is disappointing to see the game industry go this way. What’s worse is that people support this direction by paying for these things that frankly, they should already have when they buy the game. Micro-transactions seriously go against the art of game design, whether the games themselves are free or not, because they kill immersion and limit access to their game’s features.

That’s why I’m making any possible DLC in Streets of Peril 100% free, and I said “possible DLC” because I’m including everything I’m planning into the game. If any ideas come to me after the game’s release then I will gladly work on them and offer them as free DLC. After all, why pay for something you already bought?

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  1. Long Overdue Update | Streets of Peril - January 25, 2016

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