If you were there during the early days of the telephone, wouldn’t you have loved to have provided input? Maybe suggest to Alexander Graham Bell that telephones should issue low-grade electric shocks to teenage girls who talk on the device for more than half an hour? Or suggest a magnetic socket to Edison so that we could avoid all those inane “screw in a lightbulb” jokes for the rest of our lives?
Wouldn’t cars be better if they were on giant slots with computer guidance systems? You could punch in your destination and fall asleep at the wheel, with no whammies.
If you’re a Flash game developer, you’re in at the ground floor of a new service: payment systems for Flash games. These systems make it easier for game developers to charge money both for their games, and for things within their games. Here’s how it works:
- Player pays real money to buy fake money through one of these systems.
- Player spends fake money on virtual stuff. As a game dev, you can technically charge for whatever you like: level packs, hats, extended versions/director’s cuts, etc etc. The sky’s the limit.
It’s So Workable, It Just Might Work
i’ve been following the microtransaction model for a number of years. It’s been crazy popular in places like Korea for a good long time, and it was amusing to see the initial resistance and resentment in North America to the idea. Panels at the Game Developers Conference were filled with folks nibbling their fingernails and asking “Will it really work over here?” and “Won’t players be angry with us?”, with at least a few devs boldly insisting that micropayments are strictly a Southeast Asian cultural anomaly, and the system won’t work here. Meanwhile, in the other room at the Worlds in Motion (virtual worlds) summit, early North American pioneers of those systems were running panels titled “Can You Believe We’re Making All This Money?” and “Who Wants a House? Cuz I’ve Got a Bunch of Em”.
No – for real, guys. i’m, like, SO rich.
Of course, virtual currency systems do work here, as evidenced by Microsoft’s successes with its GamerPoints (AKA “BillyBucks”), enabling the creators of Rock Band and others to pocket obscene amounts of cash in dribs and drabs for virtual whatsits. Microsoft’s new fall Xbox 360 seems to exist only to take more money from people in the form of digital doodads for their avatars. Proprietary systems have been rolled out in numerous other games and portals, including Three Rings (OOO) Puzzle Pirates with its dual-currency system, and the WildTangent game portal, where players can spend virtual coins to “rent” games. But no one has thought to capitalize on the literal kerfillions of players in the Flash casual games space. Until now.
There are three companies i’m aware of who are rolling out virtual payment systems for Flash games: MochiMedia, GamerSafe and HeyZap. Please let me know if there are others. They all work roughly the same way: pay real money for fake money, and spend fake money for fake things in fake games for real thrills. One of the key take-aways for me from GDC 07, by the folks running the “Seriously. My Pants Are Woven From Hundred Dollar Bills” panel, was this: do whatever it takes to enable your players to give you money.
What they meant was that you should provide as many payment methods as possible if you want to take as much money as possible from your players. This came up in the context of the myriad wild and wooly ways that Europeans pay for things online. (The French, for example, pay by cheque. True story.) The speakers advocated pay-by-phone, PayPal, credit cards, debit cards, SMS, and a number of crazy payment methods i’d never even heard of. (Pay with your own hair? What the heck is that about?)
Untold Entertainment Enters the Fray
So here we are, poised to release a few games in the no-longer-free-to-play ecosystem. These are early days, and i have no idea which microtransaction system will take the biggest piece of the pie: MochiCoins, GamerSafe or HeyZap. And frankly, i don’t care. Why should i have to choose between them? Here’s what i want to do:
ME: Hey Player! Wouldn’t this game be more fun if your character was wearing SexyPants??
BUTTON: Hell yes!
ME: Great! A pair of SexyPants will cost you 95 cents.
BUTTON: Pay via HeyZap!
BUTTON: Pay with GamerGold!
BUTTON: Pay with MochiCoins!
Sounds good, right? i’m not shutting anyone out. i’m not preventing the GamerGold folks from buying SexyPants. i don’t particularly care which system the player supports – i just want to take his money.
The scenario i described above can’t happen at present, because MochiMedia has written into their terms of service that devs shall not hook multiple transaction systems into their games. GamerSafe and HeyZap have not made this stipulation. So i can have a game that either allows MochiCoin payments exclusively, or i can have a game that allows for GamerSafe and HeyZap payments. And that, in my professional opinion, stinks.
This type of exlusivity is NOT analgous to going into a restaurant and ordering a Coke, and the waitress says “Is Pepsi okay?” because the restaurant has an exclusive arrangement with PepsiCo. No – this is much more like eating your meal (Coke or Pepsi nothwithstanding), and trying to pay with your VISA card, but the restaurant only takes MasterCard and American Express. If i walk into a store and they don’t make it convenient for me to pay with a commonly accepted system, i walk out of that store and i don’t come back … but not before i punch someone right in the face, because that’s how angry it makes me.
Three Facts About Payment System Exclusivity
MochiMedia’s exclusivity clause is not good for developers. We want to lower the barrier to entry for our players, especially since getting people to buy goods in the formerly-free-to-play space is already an uphill battle.
MochiMedia’s exclusivity clause is not good for players. It’s forcing players to wait until a clear winner emerges in the Flash virtual goods space. Why would i sink my money into GamerGold only to find that every single game supports HeyZap or MochiCoins? i’d better play it safe and let early adopters figure it out for me. When a leader emerges, i’ll start spending my money.
No, Mochi’s exclusivity clause is only good for Mochi. It’s a clear attempt to be the only game in town, and to monopolize this service in its infancy. And we all know what happens with monopolies, don’t we? You end up rolling a “3” and landing on Park Place with a hotel, and then you get reamed up the pucker.
Thankfully, it’s still early enough in the make your voice heard about how this stuff will work. If you think Mochi should play nicely with others, why not toss them an email here?
Or, if you think they’re making the right decision, give them a call and let them know:
Or, you can just voice your opinions in a comment on this blog and bathe me in sweet, delicious Internet traffic.
For my part, i believe they’re hurting players and devs right out of the gate in an early, unnecessary bid for domination. Given the choice, i’d rather support two systems than one – HeyZap and GamerSafe. Ideally, i want to support all three, along with any other system that enters the space. So i’m making a public appeal to you, Team Mochi, to rethink your policy. i’ll even use your first and last names here so that your Google vanity searches will bring you to this article.
On George Garrick! On Jameson Hsu! on Bob Ippolito! On Vixen!
On Comet! On Cupid! On Justin Wong! On Eric Boyd!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the stair!
Renounce this proviso, and please grow a pair!