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Friday, April 21, 2006

The Value Of A Two Dollar Download

Both Unfettered Blather and Dubious Quality take on Bethesda's current trend of charging for the download of relatively minute and meaningless Oblivion mods. I recommend heading over and reading both posts before going on.

The division between "mods", which would refer to small to medium sized tweaks in gameplay created by users ... which has given rise to such important concepts as Capture The Flag in FPS but also includes new skins or models, or "bonus material" ... which is usually content developed professionally by the original team and given to the community for free, or "MODS" ... the inane capitalization of which indicates that it's a game created using an existing engine by users but strives to be worthy of professional respect regardless and now we have this ... what should I call them? Bonus mods?

I'm just trying to put this in a historical point of view. If Id had offered a Doom Marine model for Quake, but charged a couple clams for the privilege of getting it ... would I have laughed? I mean, I've seen skins for Unreal Tournament 2004 done by actual professionals ... people who did outsource work for published titles ... and they were free. Free content, especially for PC gamers, has done nothing but increased in quality dramatically. So why would I pay a couple bucks for a horse?

The concept of charging a user base two dollars for a relatively meaningless download assumes there is a large bevy of users that find two dollars equally meaningless. It's possible that exists, but I'm from the arcade generation. Two dollars equals gameplay. Two dollars was a couple of hours of mindless entertainment at the mall. It was not a damn saddle.

Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo will all be toying with a downloadable microtransaction based marketplace. However, just because you can easily charge players low, low prices for any item in the catalog doesn't mean you should. Glutting the market with cheap downloads of low quality will create a backstop for the players to discover worthwhile ones. Once enough people are annoyed with your two dollar "nifty shield" or "shiny sword", nobody will be wanting to buy your "noble quest" for ten.

Mods, even highly successful ones like Counter-Strike, have always had one basic addition to the bottom line: a value add to lift up the entire franchise. It doesn't matter if it's a mod, bonus pack or a MOD. A little free milk can sometimes sell an entire cow.

If you can't give me the same amount of gameplay out of my two dollars that I got from my old arcade at the mall, don't even waste your time and money advertising it to me. I won't be buying.

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Jason "Botswana" Cox said...

Counter-Strike is another great example. While you could always download it for free, there is value to having mods on store shelves. Even so, it would have been a major mistake to have cut off the free downloads for CS.

Let's face it, making CS an official mod should be nothing more than a marketing ploy. Half-Life is now a franchise, and part of that is because we continually saw new content for it and Sierra did a great job of keeping the aging game in front of our faces.

That's also a reality of the market that neither I nor Bill Harris touched on, which is user made content. However, I had discussed in a much earlier post about a very well done user made mod for Dawn of War that did something very similar to the Winter Assault Expansion. One does not necessarily compete with the other.

However, that free user made content can be a big draw for players. I have bought PC games purely on the basis of the mod community or potential mod community.

It's not untapped potential anymore, but more like an unrealized reality.

Josh said...

Plus. it pretends nobody is aware of this fact. The "you have to pay us, because we worked on it" excuse is bunk because we know that even if it's free, they'll see a return.

So it turns out to just seem cheap and greedy. Not a good step for an online marketplace.