Greedy Goblin

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"Pay to save time" in games is nonsense

There is a common view that "good" microtransaction games allow players to just "skip the grind". There are tons of pages about "time rich" vs "money rich" players. All nonsense. Why? Because games are selling the ability to spend time with something fun, like movies. Try selling the "feature" that would allow you to watch the movie in double speed with chipmunks voice for double price! It wouldn't get good results.

The players are enjoying the game or they stop playing. Of course there can be less successful parts of the game, but instead of expecting extra pay to skip them, you should fix them, getting a better game which draw more subscribers. No one would try to fill his movie purposefully with boring conversations, just to get money for the ability of skipping them.

To see what is going on here, we need no better example than EVE Online. The canon says that EVE PvP is fun, while grinding is horrible. CCP could just remove the bad part, turning EVE into a permanent PvP, super fun game. It wouldn't be hard, they just have to remove losses. If your ship just respawns, you can instantly rejoin the fun, without grinding delay.

I doubt if that change would be too popular among players. The unique selling point of EVE is consequences. Your victory means something, you get loot and your opponent suffered a loss: he has to regrind his ship. "The grind" is the punishment for defeat, this is what makes defeat different from victory. In gear-collection MMOs the bosses can be killed in lesser gear if someone dances perfectly. Those who suck must grind early bosses and daily quests for weeks to get gear, compensating for their fails.

You can't remove "the grind" without removing winning and losing itself. EVE PvP would be a meaningless time sink without losses and gains. If gear could be gained without grinding in WoW, everyone would have top gear on the first week, making killing bosses pointless. In World of Tanks and League of Legends, you need to grind much longer if your stats are bad to reach the next tank/champion, without this, winning and losing would be equal. Of course there are players who want just that, the lolling morons and slackers. But the majority prefers to risk defeat in order to win.

The "bad grind" is the punishment for defeat, it needs to be bad. When the developer offers you the option to "save time" by paying, they are actually offering you to skip the punishment of defeat. This should not be mistaken for "pay to win" where you can skip the defeat itself. If you have money in EVE, your ship can be killed just as easily. You just don't care as it's already replaced. Having money in World of Tanks doesn't save you from your tank being destroyed and the battle lost. But you can repair it and get back to action instead of having to farm with a tier 5 tank to get credits.

These are the pay-not-to-lose games. The reason why players accept it is that they still win and you still lose. He can still destroy your ship, tank or champion and win the battle. The fact that this is just a minor inconvenience for you and not a long grind as it would be for him is hidden from him or he may not even care.


maxim said...

"Time rich" and "Money rich" is not nonsense. There are players out there who have a lot of time, there are players out there who have a lot of money and there are not many players out there who have both. They also exhibit very different play patterns. So separating "Time rich" from "Money rich" is an important concept.

"Time rich" and "Money rich" is not about "skipping the grind", though. It is about delivering to people the game in exactly the way they would enjoy more playing.

A money rich person could feel good about himself after buying progress with money that other people don't have. A time rich person would feel good about himself by beating the grind that other people didn't. Both scenarios help fuel attachment to the game.

"Skipping the grind" is simply a one-sided explanation of what the process feels like from "money-rich" point of view. Which makes it a somewhat nonsensical half-truth. So you got that bit right.

Your mistake is in thinking that games are selling the ability to have fun with something else. That is not a business model that makes any sense at all. Games are selling the much more fundamental ability to feel good about oneself. "Skipping the grind" is the way to make "money-rich" people feel good about being what they are - that is "money-rich".

Making the grind itself enjoyable, on another hand, is a way to make "time-rich" people to feel good about what they are - that is "time-rich". You are right that a good game needs to do both.


As for "pay-not-to-lose", this does indeed exist. In fact, it is probably the most ancient method of game monetisation (second only to straight up sale), dating as far back as coin slot machines.

Every coin took you as far as your skill allowed it to happen, and then you could pay another coin to not lose your progress and carry on from the spot you died.

Interestingly enough, the only "grind" these games have was the skill grind - that is improving your progress-to-coin ratio by getting better at the game. In fact, skill grind was often rewarded with scoreboards, because dying and using a "continue" with a coin would often wipe your score.

Also interestingly enough, it was the opposite of free-to-play :D. Which is why free-to-play games trying to use this method feels so disingenuous.

Gevlon said...

@Maxim: try to define "time-rich" in other forms of entertainment! Like "he has lot of time to watch movies but doesn't want to pay for it". Makes little sense.

These players are needed only to create an illusion of consequences. Look around EVE reviews: "here PvP has consequences, because the lost ship doesn't return". This is only true if you can't afford to buy a new one instantly.

The "time rich" creates the mass of sucking losers, which allow mediocre customers (players with money) to get ahead, without infuriating the vocal hardcore minority and making bad press.

Anonymous said...

Haven't you proven yourself that in WOT you are getting more stuff with the same amount of time if you lose "on purpose"? LoL isn't a good example either because of the elo system that just gives you weaker opponents if you lose too much, and by that nearly the same amount of money.

maxim said...


"Time-rich" only makes sense in games and only because games are interactive. Other forms of entertainment are not interactive, trying to define "time-rich" in other forms of entertainment is pointless.

Also you seem to have a backwards view on game design. Players are not there to be "needed". They are there to be served. Both those that have a lot of money and those that don't are customers.

If you, as a player, don't need those players that you call "sucking losers"... Well, that's your perspective and you are entitled to it. Just don't pretend like it is an objective truth.

Tithian said...

If gear could be gained without grinding in WoW, everyone would have top gear on the first week, making killing bosses pointless

WoW is exactly at this point now; you can get decent (not top) gear within a day in Timeless Isle and then you are off to LFR to see the latest content.

As a result, a lot of people feel they have 'completed the content' and do not even bother with the normal or heroic raids, leaving the raiding guilds to struggle with recruitement.

Gevlon said...

@Maxim: customers are - by definition - paying to the company. Why would anyone serve someone who pays him nothing?

The "time-rich" alone is worthless. A game with only "time-rich" "customers" bankrupt.

They are kept in the game, because they serves as content to the real customers.

TBTSan said...

Patch of Exile is free with only "shiny items" to spend real money on.
Most useful item you can buy is bigger stash to hold items(you get anyway free 4 tabs of 144 slots).
I wonder HOW LONG company will survive.

maxim said...


Again you with your "kept in the game". Can you imagine a game company anywhere saying "we are done serving your kind, get out"?

Game cannot choose what kind of people it will be interesting to. Game design and marketing can build in some points of interest to attract people of specific type, but that's it. Whether people choose to play the game or not is not a decision that can be controlled, only influenced to a very small extent.

Saying that "money-rich" are the real customers, while the rest are apparently less so, is a good road to becoming irrelevant in the game industry. Many games tried to aim at the "money-rich" to begin with. To my knowledge, all of them failed.

A game that did not fail and shows no sign of failing so far is Dwarf Fortress, that only has "time-rich" customers. Still going strong after all these years, had major influence on quite a lot of games, too.

Time is the most valuable resource, ever. A person that is willing to offer his time to the game is much more valuable than someone who just drops cash and is gone.

If cash is your goal, then you also have to aim at maximizing player time spent in game. Because if you have that, cash is then just as easy as offering a vanity store with hats.

If people don't give your game the time of day, however, then any cash spent of you might as well be thrown in the pond.


Also i find it interesting how you resist separating people into "time-rich" and "money-rich", but jump at the chance to separate them into "real customers" and "those sucking losers we just keep around".

I guess you just don't like to associate the word "rich" with those you call "sucking losers".

Gevlon said...

@Maxim: I don't need to imagine! Just stop paying your WoW subscription and Blizzard will tell you "we've done serving you, come back when you have money".

The games that focused on the rich were doing it wrong. "Pay to win" doesn't work, because rich people aren't stupid. They saw that there is no real competition, winning comes from paying, which is stupid.

The pay-not-to-lose games are the solution, where big-winning comes from skill (no matter how much money you throw at EVE, you won't win AT), but mediocre scale winning (winning over an average opponent) can be bought.

This isn't obvious (as you can't big-win), but gives enough winning.

Also, I never said that "time-rich" players aren't useful. However they aren't customers. They are the content the company is selling to the customers.

Dàchéng said...

Maxim thinks that
"'"Time-rich" only makes sense in games and only because games are interactive.Other forms of entertainment are not interactive'.

I'm afraid that isn't true. I read books, and they require a lot of interaction. It is my imagination that allows me to see in my mind the scenes and actions decribed in books. It is a very interactive medium. Of course it demands time. I cannot begin to imagine how a money-rich but time-poor person could pay to gain any advantage in book-reading.

It also doesn't even seem to make any sense in games. I play badminton. We have to hire courts. The owners of the courts do not allow people who are "time-rich" to use them for free. Nor do they allow people who are "money rich" to pay extra money to skip the "grind" of playing in the early rounds of tournaments.

Anonymous said...

"time-rich" and "money-rich"

Since simply doing nothing creates no proof, you actually must do something non-useful, and create some non-useful product to prove that you did not spend your time with filthy work. Such "products" are artwork, prizes and insignias of unproductive activities like games, sports. WoW is a game, producing no useful item, so it can be a form of conspicuous leisure. You feel from inside that farming badge for an epic item is somehow better than going shopping food, or cleaning your room. 14. paragraph.

whatever "-rich" it's perfect for a never ending game.

Von Keigai said...

Other forms of entertainment are not interactive, trying to define "time-rich" in other forms of entertainment is pointless.

Not so. Entertainment providers almost always implement various forms of price discrimination based on having to wait, with an eye towards maximizing their share of the consumer surplus. For example, booksellers sell books as hardcover first for more money, then softcover. Movies come out in theaters first for more money, then in other forms that are cheaper -- but you have to wait.

Of course, play for free is different than just play for reduced price. But we see play-for-free outside of game in the form of advertising. You can use gmail, for example, for free.

In the case of EVE what you pay with is not advertising, but your very presence in the game. By existing in the game as a target and a producer, you add value to the paying customers. You are one of EVE's amazing AIs.

Lucas Kell said...

"I don't need to imagine! Just stop paying your WoW subscription and Blizzard will tell you "we've done serving you, come back when you have money"."
Someone that can afford a subscription is not "money-rich". Most people can and do afford a game subscription. Some then like to spend time in a game working towards things (like someone mining to build a capital ship for example) and others prefer to spend less time and spend more money (someone that buys some plexes and sell them on the market to buy their capital ship).
In a game like EVE, both of these players are needed. A money-rich player would not have anything to buy if a time-rich player had not spent the time building the items. Sure, you could remove one group and balance it with NPCs, but then you've just lost what makes an MMO and MMO. And CCP would not make anywhere near as much cash if money-rich players didn't keep the market stocked with plex.

I really don't know why you are feeling the need lately to try to talk so heavily about splitting the community into the "worthy" and the "unworthy". MMOs benefit from a broad range of players, and always will. There are a whole range of different method of monetising those games, such as microtrans, straight subscription models, vanity items, etc. They all have their ups and their downs and can all be mixed. EVE is pretty unique in the way that it allows players who want to spend more money to essentially buy gametime for others in exchange for isk. This allows time-rich people to run more accounts, increasing subscription revenue from players who otherwise would not be able to afford to run so many accounts. And based on their revenue and subscription statistics, it's working well for CCP.

Gevlon said...

@Lucas: wrong. The "time rich" doesn't have $15/month, otherwise games wouldn't go free to play.

Even better, in EVE, for every subscription someone paid $15. In order for someone to pay more than $15/month, someone has to pay less to have the average. In other words, some players play for free and replace it with grinding.

Anonymous said...

Except that all PLEX does is turn "ISK loss" into "real life money loss", thus not removing loss at all?

Gevlon said...

The real time money loss is in the magnitude of a cup of coffee (unless you manage to lose a titan)

Lucas Kell said...

"wrong. The "time rich" doesn't have $15/month, otherwise games wouldn't go free to play."
So nobody in a subscription MMO is time-rich, this is what you are saying? Nobody in WoW, or FF14 is time-rich, since they can afford a sub?

That's nonsense. You are drawing lines where there are no lines to be drawn.

Anonymous said...

Time rich means "I will grind all the LOTRO store items and buy them with turbine points, while maybe paying a monthly subscription"

Cash rich means "I will buy all the items in the store for cash"

In Eve, it is the difference between "I earn isk via playing for hours and buy plex from the market"
"I earn isk by buying plex with RL money and selling them on the market".

These two go together well.

Time rich, cash poor: I wash my car by hand and clean my house myself
Cash Rich, Time poor: I spend a few dollars paying someone to do both these things for me, because in the time it takes them to clean my house and car, I have earned more than I have to pay for these services.

In the real world, we have entire industries built around Cash Rich, Time Poor, and it is an idea that is sold to us, we do not have enough time, this is what takeaways, online shopping, and "added value" foods are based on, not to mention the entire domestic cleaning industry, and car washes.

maxim said...


Decision to stop paying WoW is a player's decision, not the company's. So it is not the company deciding not to serve the player. It is the player deciding that he doesn't like the deal offered anymore.

Also you are stuck in a very narrow definition of "customer". I guess it's my fault for using the word in the way you are not used to, but the world is changing, and the understanding of who is a customer and who is not is also changing. Nowadays anyone who provides basic traffic can and should be viewed as a customer.

Of course, it is your choice to not view them this way. You have already found yourself behind the times, though. Inability to attract traffic to your Eve projects indicates that quite clearly.

Pay-not-to-lose can be the next big thing. There indeed was something in the old school coin ops mechanic that was lost in transition to consoles.
So far, however, the industry seems to like most the results of companies that stay away from the win-lose thing completely and just sell pets, hats and "skip-the-grind".

maxim said...

"Pay-to-skip-grind" above in the sense of instant lvl90s and exp boosters, not in the sense of "pay 5 bucks to get your titan back". That nobody would like.

maxim said...

@Von Keigal
Time-rich in terms of books is not someone who can spend time waiting for a book. It is someone who spends more time reading the book.
Throwaway paperbacks (indicating time-rich) are a popular thing among those who don't spend much time on books. Highly expensive books with gold-studded pages (indicating money-rich) are a popular thing among those who really dig into them.


I understand and respect books, and am very willing to spend a lot of time with ones i really like.
That is not, however, interactivity.

Interactivity is when your actions change the state of what you are interacting with. And then the changed state of what you are interacting with changes the nature of your interaction.
Books can be influenced by scribbles and the like, but that is not actual interactivity. Nowhere near game level anyway.

Your imagination is, of course, a factor. But if you bring your imagination into definition of interactivity, then anything is interactive and the term loses meaning and purpose.

Phelps said...

The only way someone would pay to save time is if they are saving not fun time. That means that any game with a pay to save time function makes the most money by making the game less fun overall.

That's the long and short of it.

Sthenno said...

Late to the party, but just want to say, I'm pretty sure if you could figure out a way to market a movie exactly the way you are talking about, it would be a real winner.

If the $50 three-chapter version of the book was sitting next to the free forty-chapter version and somehow people didn't realize that was what was going on, I swear you'd sell plenty of $50 books.

I suppose your suggestion is to not read the book if you don't like it, but there are lots of companies out there making a lot of money focusing on trying to cash in on whales instead of trying to get a little from everyone. You say rich people aren't stupid but people put a lot of money down on roulette tables.