The drama this week around Star Wars Battlefront II’s monetization was, ahem, game-changing. Selling players more stuff after they already shelled out $60 is nothing new, and there has been varying levels of outrage about this over the years. But this one was different, because fair or not, gamers felt like they were getting the full free-to-play treatment on top of paying full price. Taking the intensity of the controversy to another level is the surprising accusation that loot boxes are gambling – certainly this is Belgium’s view (but not ours!). Surely many developers, especially those of AAA games, will give fresh thought to their monetization plans going forward.
None of this changes the fact that game development is staggeringly expensive and there is now an expectation of endless support. But here’s the thing: gamers by and large understand this costs the developer/publisher money and the market has shown they are willing to continue to pay for their favorite games to be supported, if it’s crystal clear (no pun intended) what they’re getting and how it impacts competitive play. A developer is well-served by sharing their approach as early as possible, and listening closely to the immediate feedback (but never posting corporate-sounding statements on Reddit). There was no revolt around Overwatch’s post-release monetization and the ever-growing marketplace within GTA 5’s online world (GTA Online) has been met with enthusiasm – and the communication to both of those communities was excellent. Once a hint of suspicion sets in that a company is going “punish” you if you don’t spend more money, watch out! You can make all the arguments you want that “video game content is still one of the cheapest forms of entertainment”, that perspective seems to come only from affluent people. To most gamers, $60 is a fortune. Give gamers what they want, overdeliver on value; passion of players will be harnessed in the right direction if they don’t feel like prey.