Monday, September 13, 2010

Self-Reinforcing Purchase Refusal

One of the features in DDO's next patch is a new raid, aimed at level six players (a third of the way to the game's cap of 20).  I'm concerned that the game's business model might get in the way of what they're trying to accomplish. 

Devil Assault In the Details
The stated purpose of the raid is for low level players to learn what raiding is like, in the hopes that they will want to continue.  Unlike many other games out there, completing the low level raids while leveling in DDO can be highly rewarding if you are able to find level-appropriate groups.  The problem is that the new introductory raid will NOT be free content.  It will, instead, be bundled in with the unpopular Devil Assault adventure, which is so underutilized that many players (myself included) never got around to purchasing it even at a price of $1.50.  The old adventure has been taken off the market until October's update, presumably because the new price will be higher. 

The issue that this particular raid has - and, indeed, any model in which the player gets flexibility into what content they have to pay for - is that the decision NOT to purchase the content is self-reinforcing.  When content requires a group to complete, the value of that content depends on the number of players there are who want to run that content with you.  That number of players will drop as the price increases. 

If the price gets as high as $4.50 - a possibility, as the last three adventure packs have come in at that price, albeit with much more content than one adventure no one wants and a raid - it will be very hard to recommend purchasing access to this new content to anyone who would be missing the numerous more versatile adventure packs in this level range.  In particular, anyone who is not that interested in raiding will - and should - stay far away.  That defeats the stated purpose of the content - introducing these same players to the raid game.   

Offering a deal they hope players will refuse?
In general, the idea of paying for only the content that you personally are going to use has a certain degree of fairness to the consumer.  However, you do not want to create a situation where players miss out on content that they would have enjoyed (and hopefully paid for in the future) because they called the developer's bluff on pricing. 

If it costs extra to try something that you already think you're not going to be interested in, you've not going to bother.  The catch is that you might be wrong - even after half a dozen MMO's, I routinely guess completely wrong on what classes I will like in a new game - and in that case you'd be missing out.  Meanwhile, the developers lose because their efforts at providing a new on ramp are wasted, and the other players (raiders in this example) lose because their "newbie hose" dries up. 

If that's where the business model is headed, the business model needs some work. 

10 comments:

Stripes said...

Maybe the model should be changed from everyone needs to have bought the adventure to someone must have bought it. That might cut buys for some content but should boost it for other content.

There is a lot of ground between the existing ALL and the proposed ONE to explore too.

Like half the party needs it. Or like the perodic sales make the restrictions looser sometimes. Or one character per account can share in, but after that it is assumed you have had the free taste and if you liked it you need to buy it to run again.

Or even normal price is $X and for an extra $Y you can upgrade that from all players must own to just you must own. Maybe a smaller fee to do it "just once".

Somewhere in there is a way to harness the gift economy and get more purchases then merely charging everyone...

Anthony said...

I came to reply to this but Stripes pretty much took my words. Although I will add that for the some suggestion perhaps each paid member can "vouch" for one unpaid party member they bring along into the area.

Green Armadillo said...

If Turbine Marketing were here, they'd tell the two of you about the "guest pass" program, in which players who have access to the adventure pack (either by subscription or premium F2P purchase) can buy a pass that allows them to bring a player along to an adventure for a limited time (30, 90, or 180 mins, not counting time you spend offline).

On one hand, prices are relatively reasonable - about 5-6% of the list cost of the AP for the 30 min pass (perhaps a bit short to get much done) and about 15% of the list cost for the 3 hour version (long enough to finish most shorter AP's outright).

The limitation is that the passes must be paid in full by the player who is doing the inviting - Turbine points cannot be traded or otherwise gifted between accounts by any means. So this is something that you'd do for a good friend, or maybe a reliable guildie who's agreeing to heal a dungeon run that they don't own for you, but probably not for a stranger or PUG member.

(In principle, you could request compensation in the form of gold or other tradeable items, but such transactions would not be secured by any sort of in-game trade interface.)

Xaxziminrax II said...

@Stripes, Anthony

Naturally I believe my idea is better regardless of whether it is or not:

Make the raid content free, but non-paying players cannot receive loot/reward from it, nor accept quests going to or resulting from said content. That is, everyone can see the content, but only paying members can experience it.

Ian said...

They'll sell a lot of copies, because as a non-cap raid, it'll be a great way to gear alts.

Which means subscribers will do it.

Which means there will be PUGs.

Frankly, if they sell 20k copies at $5 per, that easily makes the project worthwhile, as they can re-use models out of Shavarath etc

And that doesnt include the Guest Pass revenue from dual-boxers.

Yeebo said...

I already own Devil Assault, which pretty much bites as it stands. Far and away the weakest content pack I've paid for. Given that I'm about to get more stuff added to it for free, I can't help but be mildly enthused.

Stripes said...

@xaxziminrax2: very cool idea. I'm not sure how it would fly in real life, but it is a cool idea & should be tested.

@GreenArmadillo: while not far off from my guess that a 10% of full cost "one time rental" might be a good price to try, it looks like turbine's marketing department has failed to learn a few things about people and it is likely hampering sales.

(1) people hate meters. People love flat rates.

(2) the more people that can buy will buy

So for (1) having a "one run guest pass" would be a lot more popular then a half hour guest pass. Even if the price is HIGHER. Oddly enough sometimes the mere pre sense of a flat rate version increases the popularity of a metered version.

For (2) sales would go up if not only the dungeon owner could buy a guest pass, but if would be runners could as well. Sometimes by a lot.

In fact both rental rates and purchase rates go up if there is a "rent to own" type program. Spend 20 points for a one run pass and if you buy the same thing you ran you get 20 points of the purchase.

Oddly enough "rent to own" boosts rates of three things:
(1) rentals
(2) repeat rentals
(3) purchase of rented content

Rentals alone have had mixed results on purchases, sometimes boosting, sometimes holding back. Rent to own has almost always resulted in boosting sales.

Stripes said...

Er, and I just realized how disparaging of turbine's marketing department that sounded.

I'm in awe of turbine's marketing department for having the guts to take DDO F2P. The clearly have talent, and they likely know their marketing far better then I do.

Likely there is a bigger picture holding them back. Since none of this is all that technicallly hard, maybe it is political, maybe risk adversity (it is easy for me to talk about making bets with their money,but they have mouths to feed). Maybe they are far more current on the economics of rent to own then I am. Maybe it is just a "see how X works before we try Y thing"

After all I'm not an econominist, I just have an intrest. I'm not a marketer (even though I technically spent a year or 2 as one), I'm a programmer.

Green Armadillo said...

@Xax: DDO uses quests to gate access to instanced areas, but you could potentially block all exp and loot. Not a bad idea in principle.

@Stripes: I think the thing they're worried about is that players would buy a guest pass to run content once in a zerg group for the top end favor award INSTEAD of buying permanent access to the content. There are some quests that you will want to do many times, but once will suffice for others.

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