Monday, November 18, 2013

Path of Exile: Monetization Strategy

Path of Exile is a free to play game. Anyone can download it and play any amount of time without paying a dime. The developers of the game, thankfully, are strongly against the concept of 'pay to win' so they're not letting people spend money on super powerful items or free levels or whatever. But clearly they do need to make money somehow, right? So what are they doing to get people to toss some cash their way?

They have an in game shop where you can spend cash on things (well, you spend cash on points and points on things but that's the standard scam of getting a little more of your money than you expect to pay and not putting an actual price on anything). You access it by hitting M, or clicking the $ button in game, or by hitting escape and selecting the shop from the menu. This is a fair number of ways to open the shop but it's pretty unobtrusive. It's a very tiny $ button and there's nothing really calling out that you should click it and give them cash. I hate the way Facebook games in particular throw BUY ME buttons on absolutely everything. It leads to a cluttered UI and to me leaving the game. That's not the case here, and that's refreshing. In the shop are a number of tabs leading to a bunch of different categories of items.

First up, non-combat pets. Little critters that don't impact the game in any way but look nice and follow you around. I had an awesome sunflower pet in World of Warcraft that I liked having around but I got that by doing a quest. I'm not the target for this sort of thing and am honestly astonished when I see they're selling a lightning scorpion for $110 but I'm glad they exist. They don't hurt me in any way and they get the company some money. They're not all stupid expensive either as you can get an insect thing for 50 cents.

Then you have item modifiers. These don't change the stats of an item; they change the appearance of it. So you can make your sword glow green for $2, or make your boots leave a trail of fire footprints for $12. These modifiers aren't consumed so you can swap it out when you get a new pair of boots which is nice. You can also buy a consumable for 60 cents that lets you make one item you have look like another item you have. WoW offers this transmogrifying service free of charge and it was pretty sweet to dress up in the wrath set while using new gear. I like that these exist because people get attached to how their character looks and giving them a way to spend money to look different is great. I bought a lot of League of Legends skins and I'd buy some of these if any really appealed to me.

There are also skill modifiers. So instead of raising zombies I could raise mummies. Or I could turn my fireball into a dragon. It just changes the graphics, not the mechanics of the spell. I like this a lot. They even went so far as to put rare monsters in the game that use alternate skinned player skills on you! Interesting content to fight and free advertising rolled into one! Very clever.

Many games have ways to make your avatar dance for you. In PoE you have to pay $4 per class to unlock their dance. Seems like a reasonable enough thing to take out and offer as a sale item.

For $1000 you can have the company build you a unique item. Well, you get to give direction for the art and mechanics of an item and they'll put it in the game for you. You don't get the item yourself or anything. But if I really wanted there to be Ziggyny's Monocle in the game and I was willing to blow a month's rent I could totally make that become a thing. This seems like a pretty good thing to have in the shop, and it can't give an unfair advantage or anything.

Then you have what would probably be best called convenience things. You can buy more character slots. You can buy more tabs in your stash. You can buy more tabs for your guild stash. You can buy more slots in your guild for more members. The default is 24 character slots and 30 accounts in a guild. Both of those numbers are definitely enough to play normally for most people I think so the ability to buy more is definitely a convenience. Players start with 4 stash tabs and guilds with none. I'd say getting a few guild stash tabs is more than just a convenience but you could manage without them and if you actually have a bunch of people playing enough to trade items around constantly then the $5 per stash tab is a pretty reasonable deal. And it's not removing an irrational annoyance or giving you extra power so I'm just fine with this existing too. We've already had people chip in to buy 7 guild tabs which is great for us but still less than the cost of a single copy of Diablo III.

I've read grumblings from some corners of the internet that the extra personal stash tabs are 'pay to win' because there are crafting recipes that become more feasible to use if you have access to a large amount of storage. The claim is that someone with 80+ stash tabs can make way more money than someone else and can use that to buy powerful items. That's probably true, but the time and effort to manage that many stash tabs makes my head spin a little and I get pretty obsessive about things. Maybe if I knew more about the economy I'd have a better handle on it and would think it's worth doing? I did run 4 alts in WoW just to keep my glyph selling operation running so I'm not above that level of insanity... But even then if I wanted to do that I could do it just by creating extra accounts and using their free stash tabs. So this would be paying for time and convenience, not power.

Is it enough to keep the game going? I sure hope so. I've definitely played enough that I feel like I should buy something at some point if something shiny catches my eye. Or maybe I'll buy more guild tabs if it turns out I think we need more than 7. I like the way they've gone with the options though and I hope that, like with League of Legends, it's good enough for them to thrive.

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