Charging for Time

| Thursday, June 23, 2011
I'm calling you out on this, Tesh. You're everywhere raising the scary specter of "charging for time" and how it encourages grinds and wastes of said time, in order to force more buying of time. A fair point, but how much does it actually matter?

At one extreme, if we were paying by the second, obviously there would be some major problems with grinds. Or even by the minute or hour. If a one hour grind is directly coming out of our pockets, then we will be reluctant to undertake that task. Conversely, the developers have an incentive to add many of them. It puts the players and developers in conflict.

But imagine if we paid by the decade. While I do stand by my claim that within certain limits the rate of power progression is all relative, clearly it would be unacceptable to most players if it was too slow. That means devs could not string us along on grinds and other time sinks to make leveling take years. In other words, if we paid by the decade, the devs don't have much incentive to add grinds. Unfortunately it also means they have little incentive to add content between subscription cycles, which would be a very long time. I think we can all imagine a dozen other simple reasons that a decade sub length wouldn't work well.

Now let's try a month. Is the hour delay significant? Day? Certainly week, and probably day. But it doesn't make much sense to line up month-long blocks up time with a few minutes here and there. So I propose a simple idea: complaining about "paying for time" when the time block is much larger than the grind, is bullshit.


I've just been informed by one of the voices that there may be additional factors here.

There are 720 hours in a 30 day month. That puts a one-hour grind at a mere .138% of the time. Which supports my "you're just being whiny about nothing" argument. However there are approximately 6-8 hours during which players are unconsciously and while vividly hallucinating, possibly about the game, are not making any progress. So let's remove a quarter of the available time, leaving us with only 540 hours, and you're still a whiner. Factoring in the unemployment rate of around 9% in the US, a one-hour commute round trip, and an 8 hour day plus half an hour for lunch, we arrive an average of another 8.645 hours unavailable for playing. At this point we have less than 10 hours per day, or 240 per month. Now that one-hour grind is edging toward significant, and by significant I mean the sort of significance you hear about when a study says that friend jelly beans in avocado was found to triple the rate of eyelash cancer, which sounds scary until you realize that the baseline rate is one in ten billion, so we're not going see a case for a few more years anyway, later if we consider the high number of people who rarely consume fried jelly beans in avocado.

The voice is telling me to skip ahead and pretend someone plays an hour a day. I think this is a good idea, because it allows me to complain about dailies.

If I have one hour each day that gives me only 30 hours for that month. In this sense, I am not buying a month, but merely 30 hours. Now the sub interval is small enough that the grind is relevant. So in that case, Tesh is right after all.


But I want to add this: some people have more time and enjoying 'wasting' that time. For these people, subs have a sort of double-benefit. They get a lot of time per month and the potentially resulting grinds are suitable for them.

To wrap it up into something with a point: People with a lot of time should play sub games and they should be designed for them, while people with less time should play games based on selling content packages. This somewhat corresponds with sub and f2p models, but not quite. Developers should recognize this and design their games accordingly. Players should as well and stop playing the wrong game and then whining about it, or at least recognize and accept that if they have less time they won't get as far as quickly and that's just how it is and perhaps must be for that game model.

Of course no one will ever listen to this. Players will want to pursue games that they enjoy, whether from gameplay, lore, or friends, with little regard for how the pay model affects the game. Developers will avoid 'purity' because if they can grab some of the other side without losing too much of their own, why wouldn't they? So I predict a terrible future in which sub and package games get mixed up for everyone involved, where we have grinds that half the people want and half the people don't and each half is annoyed at the other for ruining their game, while other grinds are arbitrarily removed, causing more problems between the halves.

Of course I've entirely left out any discussion of what content is, what a grind is, whether grinds can be content, whether grinds add to or detract from content, and whether my experience as a time-wasting no-life gamer is distorting my perspective.


Nils said...

Monthly subs encourage companies to put just enough content in that players don't want to quit the sub. No more. They have no interest in long grinds, because people don't resub for long grinds. They resub for short bursts of fun.

That's why there are almost no required long grinds in WoW left. Only short bursts of fun: a 20min dungeon, a 20min BG. 4 hours raiding every week, 30min arena a week.

Sure, you can grind achievements and pets forever, but there's really not a strong incentive to do that.

Tesh said...

"People with a lot of time should play sub games and they should be designed for them, while people with less time should play games based on selling content packages."

I've said as much in one way or another on occasion. So, yeah, agreed, though I'd note that a single game could actually offer both.

...and yes, the games that try to capture both audiences might wind up pleasing nobody, but I'd say that Wizard 101 and Puzzle Pirates have demonstrated that it's possible to find a happy middle ground... if you want to. If you just want to pillage and plunder a a playerbase, well... as Psychochild notes here and there, no business model will stop you from doing so.

Vudu said...

It's interesting you say that, I myself thought it would be a good idea as well, DLC's and etc. but then I remembered why DLC's wouldn't work. Most DLC's cost between $5 and $15 US. For a game like WoW or Rift or any other premium content MMO it requires a server, and when you have many people playing it requires more than one server, and when it requires more than one server it requires power and tech support. All of these factors incur debt for the company producing the game, thus jacking up the prices of the DLC's to a price that is not economical. (PS. DLC's are mainly meant for solo gamers and or FPS's)

The Sub model allows an averagely paid person to enjoy the same content as that of someone who makes $500K+ a year. Subs are not mandatory and while you may waist a bit of time sleeping, eating, working, RL, you also get the ability to actually afford the game.

The only way to balance the issue is to charge like the old school dial up internet / phone companies did, and balance the amount of time it takes to do content vs the amount of money spent. (And lets face it, if they can't balance PvP they won't be able to do this...)

The ONLY way to counter this is to go F2P (bad most of the time unless your Lotro or DDO) and rely on micro transactions to keep you (the company) afloat. This allows the spenders to spend on the things they need to play the game the way they like while allowing the 1 hour a week players to play the way they like and sponge off the rest. (All this really does is turn the tables)

Sadly beyond all of this, your right it's ultimately up to the player and his / her choice of game. Historically speaking the only way we will ever have a say is if we band together (not likely) and let the gaming industry know what we want and what were willing to pay for, no more no less...

Klepsacovic said...

@Nils: I doubt I'd resub specifically to finish a grind, but if I'm partway through something else, having been pushed back by the grind, then I would effectively be resubbing because of the grind.

@Tesh: I should check out this Puzzle Pirates game.

Vudu: Long before WoW started printing money, Blizzard had for Starcraft and Warcraft, which despite both being esentially one-time costs, somehow were able to sustain the servers. Granted Blizzard wasn't taking as much of the burden as with WoW or any other MMO, but continuous service can be paid for by single payments, as long as they can maintain the flow of payments with new customers or new content, such as expansions.

Nils said...

Klepsacovic, you are right with the server costs. I know that was a good argument when subs became prominent. But even then servers were dirt cheap. Nowadays the entire hardware cost is a no-brainer.

The biggest cost factor by far are the developers, the employees.

Kring said...

And the people running the servers like system administrators, Oracle DBA, GM and "hacked account recoverer".

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