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Friday, February 20, 2009

MTS? WTF? - Editorial

Gamasutra recently posted an article by David Chang, Executive of Business Development and Marketing for GamesCampus, who suggests eschewing the term “Free to Play,” as it currently applies to MMO’s that include micro-transactional content. He makes some interesting assertions about the future of a specific segment of the online gaming space; however, his idea that simply renaming a particular type of content delivery will somehow increase its overall success rate, seems a little misguided.

His “rebranding” idea basically just entails changing the “free to play” label to “MTS (Micro Transaction Service) Games." Mr. Chang feels this semantic change is necessary to address the complaints of “bait and switch” he hears from players frustrated by the experience of playing a free MMO, only to find out they need to pay to access certain members-only areas, or to increase the level-cap. These games would:

1. Require no purchase to download and play the game
2. Not have a level cap or content cap beyond which you need to pay
3. Be at least partially monetized by sales of in-game goods

Other than the fact that the term "MTS Game" isn’t really consumer-friendly, the main problem that I see here is with item #3. Mr. Chang is referring to in-game goods that are “optional” to purchase. If the in-game “goods” are neither required to play successfully, nor do they include exclusive gameplay content, then what is it that players would actually be purchasing? It seems to me that the type of micro-transactional content available under Mr. Chang’s model would be relegated to cosmetic changes. A lot of these free MMO’s are basically more social chat rooms than proper games anyway (Habbo Hotel and Club Penguin, anyone?), but should that model become the standard?

I'd argue that this is a scenario where it's not really realistic to have your cake and eat it too. You can't really make a game that offers a complete content package to players, and then expect a significant number of those folks to spend real money for extra stuff that does not significantly change or improve the gameplay experience. Sure, some folks will pay for that kind of stuff, but I think that most folks will recognize it as the same pig with different lipstick.

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