Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Paying for Less

There are five ways to spend money on Plants vs. Zombies two that I can see.

The first is to buy coins to obviate the need to collect them.  Coins appear to do nothing but buy in-level powerups.  The second is to buy permanent power-ups.  Both of these are basically buying the ability to play the game on an easy setting.

The third is to buy additional plants you can use.  These plants are mostly plants from the original game, and since you only get so many seed slots per level I don't feel that this would generate much advantage at all.  I guess this is for those who want to buy nostalgia and cosmetic improvements, though I will admit that the mime seed and the squash are both powerful tools.

The fourth is that you can buy keys.  Ordinarily you get keys at random from killing zombies.  You use keys to unlock gates that lead to plants and power ups as well as unlocking gimmick levels like playing a memory game.  If you want to play the game to completion, it seems like you will easily get enough keys to open all the doors without any extra grinding, so this option seems like it is there for people who want to play through the story of the game and get the powerups without playing through any of the challenges.

Finally, you can pay cash to unlock the next world.  Without paying cash you'll have to go back and win a certain number of the challenges to open the way.  Again, this is for people who want to play through the game without going back to redo levels with higher difficulty.

So, if you get this game and say to yourself, "I just want to play through the main levels, complete the story, get all the swag, and have a fairly easy time doing it," then I would expect the game has 4-5 hours of gameplay for you and it would cost you about $120.

If you get the game and say to yourself, "I want to complete absolutely everything, get every power up and plant, and beat every challenge there is to beat," then I would expect this game has 30+ hours of gameplay for you and it would cost you about $50.

And if you get the game and say to yourself, "I want to complete everything in the game using the bear minimum of tools and be challenged while doing so," then it probably has 40+ hours of gameplay and costs nothing.

Obviously there are mediums between these different ways to play, but generally it seems like the more you actually want to play the game the less you are expected to pay for it.

I think I understand why.  The idea is probably that there are different kinds of gamers out there and the amount of money you can expect to extract from each kind varies.  There are the people who treat video games like going out to movies - they don't play them much but they don't mind paying a lot when they do.  If you played this game only half an hour to an hour a week then maybe paying to unlock the doors so you can finish it in a month or two makes sense.  Still, it seems like a hell of an expensive movie.

There are also people who love shiny things and so it is important to put shiny things in the game to buy.  Buying all the plants and upgrades might not have a huge impact on your ability to win, but if you don't do it then you haven't done everything.

Finally there are the hardcore gamers who have strong opinions about games and how they spend their money on games.  If they like a game they are willing to put in a huge amount of time to beat it and they feel like spending money to get an advantage is cheating.

Group A - the game-as-movies crowd - are super easy to monetize.  Group B - the must-have-everything - crowd are super easy to monetize.  Group C - the game gourmet crowd - are super hard to monetize.  So the solution is just don't bother with Group C.

I think part of the reason this works is that once you've made a game for Group B it is really easy to make it fun for A and C as well.  For A just let them pay to skip most of the content.  For C just put in some endless level where things just get harder and faster until you die.  What's more, Group C is home to pretty much every game reviewer, so you letting them have the game they want to play for free is useful.

All that said, this is complete ass-backwards, pants-on-head stupid.  There is something wrong with our society.  I get to play a fun game for free because other people are willing to pay so that they don't have to play it.  There are apparently so many people out there who are willing to pay $100 to not to play a game for 20 hours that it is not worth charging the people who want to play the game for 50 hours anything for fear of scaring the not playing - but paying - off.

Do people put the four chapter version of a book that just goes over the key plot points on sale for $100 next to the 50 chapter version with all the detail for free?  Do they show the 30 minute condensed version of the movie for $100 and just give away the 24-hour director's cut?  Apparently they should, or at least they should if they can't come up with a payment scheme that hides what they are doing.

At least this game is not an auction-style facebook game where you can literally spend thousands.  I think the rational cap that can be spent on this game is far lower.  It doesn't feel like a scam or an attempt to manipulate people with mental health issues, but it sure does make me feel that capitalism can never work.  Of course I guess I thought that anyway.

You might want to play this game, apparently it's free.

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