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Monetization, Fun, and the Grind

Games are made to be _____.

I’m a binge gamer; when I do get the chance to actually sit down and play, I set aside the maximum amount of time I have left in the day to do so. Indulging gaming in this manner also means that I generally intend to maximize my productivity when given the chance to partake. How do you maximize “fun” though? Are games even made to be fun anymore? The answer may not be as simple as one would believe.

Obviously games were fun at one time. Getting a group together in a single cramped basement to play Halo, waking up early Saturday morning and exploring the dungeons of Zelda for the 20th time, and even banging on plastic instruments after school are examples left over from a time more fruitful with fun. Sure, we’ve gotten older, but nostalgia is not the only reason we look back on these times with fondness.

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The gaming industry has aged with us. Fun used to be the soul purpose of a game— you bought it, you played it, you moved on. Every game today presumes itself immortal. The reality being that this immortality, however, is counterfeit in nature. Games lives are extended by releasing broken, withholding content, adding content post-launch. Patches and DLC are not a bane innately, but most modern implementations leave much to be desired. I, myself, applaud Ubisoft for their ability to maintain, improve, and change their games post-launch to keep up with their audience, but what if these games were expected to meet expectations at launch rather than having a “roadmap” to do so? Games like Anthem would still be years from releasing, but in today’s climate Bioware was able to release a shell on which to build, while charging us $60 for our feedback. The “Early Access” practice initially used by smaller indy developers is now abused by Triple A companies because we have shown ourselves willing to playtest and perfect their games for them. Yet we do so willingly, because fun is no longer necessary.

Fun vs Progress

The quest for immortal games was brought on by our expectation to be able to play a game forever. I never wanted to stop playing Halo 2, but eventually I reached max level and there was little reason left to play because the progression ended, and there were other games I had yet to progress in. Grinding, leveling, progressing— those are the features we so desperately crave today. Call of Duty implemented “Prestiging” and we showed the gaming industry we were willing to reset and lose our progress just to grind it out all over again. Had the graphics and technology been able to advance with time, there was never a need for another Call of Duty game, but that would not make Activision much money would it? How do you continue to sell someone the same game over and over?

Image: Dot Esports (Respawn Entertainment)

Enter the battle pass

The battle pass is the culmination of modern gaming. A game that I find fun can finally have the kind of longevity I crave because I pay a small entrance fee and I am constantly rewarded with more chances for progress and cosmetics. This is the best monetization model available currently and I expect any game that has not adopted it yet will shortly. For a small buy in I get to continue “enjoying” my game because there is always progress to be made. A game that I find fun can continue to be worthwhile because it is making enough money to be sustained. If I am constantly playing, the developer can put other, optional, microtransactions on the side and I am more likely to buy them. . Now if only Apex Legends had something worthwhile in their battle pass, because as fun as that game is, I feel there is no reason to play more than a few matches because there is nothing worth progressing toward.

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The struggle with this model is for games with content that is mostly intended to be played solo, or that is story driven. We are at a pivotal moment with the industry moving toward a digital future where story driven experiences will lose even more value if they are expected to be bought at the same price as their grindy/progression based peers. The first developer that is able to crack the code and both incentivize and monetize replayability in the story driven or single player space will no doubt change the industry.

The future we deserve

With all of the options at our disposal, it is more important now than ever that we as consumers use our wallets to show the industry what we expect. Support the games you love and stop pre-ordering those of which you are uncertain. Don’t be afraid to ask for a refund, return a bad game, or cancel a sketchy pre-order. Time is worth so much more than we give it credit for and we don’t have to waste it on unfinished drivel.

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Completely off base? I get that all the time. Let me know how you really feel about grinding/fun/monetization or anything else I touched on below!

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