But president Andrew Sheppard says pay-to-win model is no longer viable for devs
It is only a matter of time before studios are able to convince console users to splash out on in-game purchases without a major backlash.
That’s according to Andrew Sheppard, president of free-to-play giant Kabam, who says history has shown studios and publishers can eventually get a hardcore audience to trust new business models.
While in-app purchases have long since been a staple of mobile games, there was scepticism when Activision added microtransactions to Call of Duty: Black Ops II in 2012, and outcry when Microsoft incorporated virtual currency into Xbox One launch title Forza Motorsport 5.
But while he doesn’t condone such ventures, Sheppard observes that the same reactions could be seen with previous experiments to increase the value of a retail game – experiments that have since become standard practice in the console market.
“What you’ve seen over the last year is a number of triple-A games from consoles and PC try to reboot as free-to-play products,” he told Develop. “That violates something I believe as a consumer, which is an expectation of what the gameplay experience will be. You can’t ask for people to pay you if you haven’t earned their trust and presented value in a way that makes sense.
“The approach you’ve seen the traditional industry pursue is to sell a core game like The Sims and then sell expansion packs around it. Then with Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, you sell either subscriptions or map packs. In doing so, you’re saying the $50 box can be a $120 box.
“You’ve seen tension from gamers in the press, but over time it’s faded and people have become comfortable with it – especially with some of my favourite games, like Mass Effect 3.
“But if you try to take that brand and put it in a different business model, you have to change the gameplay to match that model, and then you’ve asked brand loyal customers to pay against it in a way they’re not familiar with.”
Mass Effect 3 also attempted microtransactions with its multiplayer, although furore over the game’s ending drowned out any criticism.
The Kabam president warned that, even if hardcore gamers are becoming less resistant to forking out for in-game content or currency, it’s vital that developers enable them to progress without doing so – something Forza was accused of preventing.
“Some games are very explicitly pay-to-win or pay-to-advance – that structure doesn’t really work in today’s world,” said Sheppard.
“It doesn’t present non-paying users nor casual spenders with the ability to progress. “It was something that could have worked back in 2009/2010, but the market’s more mature, more savvy now and that’s not really what people want.
“They want to increase their skills when they play games. They want to use skill to advance. So as a company that specialises in hardcore free-to-play games, this is a dimension that we’re very focused on.”