Microtransactions and Path of Exile

Posted by Nate (702 posts) -

* This was originally posted when the site was being migrated, so I'm just re-posting, as it got deleted.

Microtransactions in games have been around for a couple years now, and by the looks of it we'll only be seeing more of them in years to come. Xbox live was one of the first to popularize this model, selling t-shirts for your avatar and new themes for your dashboard. Facebook games and Apple's App Store have proven to be environments in which microtransactions flourish. While the model makes big bucks (just look at the consistent top earners on the App Store), to many of us it all feels a little dirty, perhaps even predatory. These companies are very good at getting our money, bit by bit. Frighteningly good.

This shot of the skill tree isn't even the half of it.

There are, however, quite a few bright spots in the free-to-play space.More and more actual video games are using the model and allowing gamers to have really good, complete play experiences without having to spend any money on microtransactions, and without being constantly hounded to throw down some cash for a more complete experience. To name a couple - I was thoroughly impressed by Age of Empires Online's offerings, and over the summer I had a really good experience with Tribes: Ascend. I didn't drop a penny in either game. Even more impressive to me is the game Path of Exile, an action role playing game in the style of Diablo. Coming from New Zealand developer, Grinding Gear Games, the game just entered open beta a few weeks ago. For the legion of fans disappointed by Diablo 3 last summer, Path of Exile has provided much of what they've been looking for. The game caters to the hardcore player with its darker setting, gameplay designed for hours and hours loot-hoarding and leveling up, and its utterly insane passive skill tree. Personally, I can't say I love the game. I am not that hardcore action RPG fan, heartbroken by Diablo III and hungry for a more lasting experience. Still, we're here to talk about the microtransactions, and I think that's where I find POE setting itself apart from most other free-to-play games.

Here's the description straight from POE's website:

Completely free to download and play. Supported by ethical microtransactions.

Path of Exile is completely free to play - no upfront costs or monthly fees are required to enjoy 100% of the game content.

To fund the development and maintenance costs of the project, we plan to let players purchase aesthetic perks for their characters such as:

  • Additional character animations (for example, taunts or PvP victory animations)
  • Dyes and item skins
  • Alternate spell effects
  • Social pets

We will also offer some optional paid services such as:

  • Inter-realm/inter-account character transfers
  • Character renaming

You’ll notice nothing in the list above confers an actual gameplay advantage.

So there you have it - No gameplay advantage. Obviously this is a reaction to the “pay to win” reputation of many free-to-play games. I really respect this decision, and find it refreshing that they aren’t offering an easy way out ($) for overly challenging gameplay. They legitimately want a game with a level of integrity to each character. You can’t buy your way to double XP, better weapons, or a new character class. In this world your character and loot are products of your effort, time investment, and possibly skill, and there’s no way around it.That said, they still have to make money. So, if you feel like customizing some of the look of your character they give you some options, and when and if you spring for it they get paid. Sounds good, right? Personally, I think it mostly is good. Still, I have some concerns.

First off, I do wonder if they’ll make it. Will people spend enough money on these aesthetic changes to pay for the the development team, years of development, and ongoing support they need to provide?I suspect it’s possible.In 35 weeks of closed beta, the team made 2.5 million dollars off this stuff (granted, you had to pay $10 just to get into the closed beta).Secondly, I’m concerned about the price of these virtual goods. Since I really did appreciate the approach Grinding Gears was taking with this game, I wanted to pay them something to help contribute to their quality work. As I headed over to the store, however, I was pretty disappointed with the offerings. 5 dollars was enough for me to buy a lavender glow for one of my weapons (the cheapest color) and … that’s it. I’ve got 21 points left, which is about 2 bucks. The only thing that will buy me is the ability to rename and re-color two of the tabs in my “stash” or buy one simple spell effect (changes the look of a spell). Thanks, but no thanks. It’s easy to spend $20 dollars on a pet to follow you around, or a cool looking weapon effect. About $8 will buy you a new character animation. You get the point. I’ve enjoyed the game so far, and I want to give the developers my money, but I’m going to find it hard to spend much more when the return is so trivial. I suppose in a way, I’m treating my contribution as the virtual tip jar.“Fun game guys. Thanks for giving it away for free. Here’s a little something for the effort.”

I think it’s great that Grinding Gears is taking such an “ethical” (to use their word) approach to microtransactions. However, it seems that by making the items for sale so downright un-impactful, they’ve shot themselves in the foot. Damned if you, damned if you don’t, I suppose. I do sincerely hope this game is a success for them and I hope this microtransaction model can work. It would also be great if others took note of what Grinding Gears is doing here and began to question the less ethical ways microtransactions are being implemented in games across the industry, from EA to Zynga.

To conclude, Path of Exile is a fine game that has already been satisfying the appetites of hardcore gamers as well as more casual passers-by like myself. If I sink a dozen hours more into the game I’ll likely drop another five or ten bucks to show my support. Again, I just wish that five or ten dollars was getting me something I actually wanted. Grinding Gears has come really close to nailing the microtransaction model, but there’s still room for improvement here.

Have any of you tried Path of Exile? What do you think of their microtransactions and "crowdfunding" model? Are there other games you think really get it right when it comes to microtransactions?

#1 Posted by ZombiePie (5588 posts) -

Hey thanks for re-posting this! Anyways well articulated blog.

Moderator
#2 Posted by ogto (86 posts) -

that bolded text is making my eyes bleed. it's like it's blurry. WEIRD

#3 Posted by Fredchuckdave (5339 posts) -

I think in PoE's case the best solution would have been just to keep the $10 price tag, or maybe lower it to $5; now there's no chance in hell I'd have played the game since I already have 7 other D2 clones but the game doesn't need the 75000 people that don't pay anything for it (and they clearly didn't have the infrastructure to handle that many players); plenty of people play Torchlight 2 and while that's certainly a better product than this you could probably get away with PoE at a 5 dollar price point with occasional sales.

#4 Posted by Nate (702 posts) -

@zombiepie: Thanks! Definitely looking for feedback and trying to take my writing a little more seriously.

@fredchuckdave: I'm not sure I agree with the assessment that Torchlight 2 is a better product. I'm not a huge fan of either, but personally I'd rather play POE. Maybe better is not the right word because although these games appear very similar in lots of ways, I'd argue they are quite different. POE is really going for that hardcore audience who will play and replay this game online for the next 10 years (that's GGG's plan and goal anyway). I think they'll manage that. I highly doubt people will be playing much of Torchlight 2 in five years, even. Anyway, I think the F2P model is right for this kind of game. I think they'd do much worse if they charged 5 or 10 bucks.

#5 Posted by Tyashki (211 posts) -

I think this company realises that if they go anywhere near 'Pay to win' the deluge of "That just grinds my gears!" jokes would drown them.

#6 Edited by Fredchuckdave (5339 posts) -

@nate: Torchlight 2 has an offline mode, better music, better graphics, better combat, more distinct classes, more interesting environments, better bosses, better singleplayer drop system, and oddly roughly the same level of optimization (this is the one thing that D3 destroys these games in); just because the leveling system is more diverse in PoE doesn't negate all of these. 10 years is a comical projection for any game; even when D2 came out saying people would still be playing it in 10 years would have been insane. But PoE is not a high quality product and doesn't have a lot of financial backing so most people will drop off within say 6 months and maybe you'll have a handful of players like a dead or dying MMO until the game shuts down.

D3 might still be a mediocre at best game but you can rely on Blizzard to continuously update it as long as people are playing it and there's some mild chance that the itemization won't be God awful in like 5 years or something and people will check in on it every so often since they're actually invested in the product. If you pay nothing there's not really anything pulling you back to PoE; you play it briefly and you move on; you can even profit off it right now rather easily. Also D3 is unequivocally a better game than PoE; with its numerous issues and having a much worse "free to play" (even though you have to buy it) model. I'd give D3 maybe a 7-7.5, Torchlight 2 an 8, and PoE a 6.5-7 or so (Titan Quest and D2 both being about 8.5); I guess PoE working on a limited budget gives it some credentials but not that much.

Personally there's one thing that would make me play PoE and that's the ability to make a summon character with up to 40 summons on screen that have multiple stacking slowing effects a la summon necros in D2; but summons are pretty terrible in PoE as well.

#7 Edited by djou (860 posts) -

I agree that the microtransactions in this game don't strike me as the dirty sort of nickel and dime tactics I see from other play-to-win games. On the other hand, I didn't pay a dime to Grinding Gear because none of the things they offer appeal to me. For the five hours I played, this was a fun game and I would have gladly paid a few bucks if only to support a developer doing it right. Personally I would love to see a $5 or $10 option that lets me take the game offline. One of the reason I stopped playing was the constant server instability (I know its in beta) but after the third crash where I lost a bunch of decent loot I didn't return to the game.

#8 Posted by Nate (702 posts) -

@fredchuckdave: I gotta admit. I haven't played Torchlight 2. I haven't played Diablo 3. I played a bit of Torchlight and it just didn't grab me. Based on what I've read about it and seen I can see how someone would prefer Torchlight 2 over POE, but ultimately I think you are comparing apples to oranges. Saying that the graphics are better in Torchlight 2 is like saying Led Zepellin is better than the Beatles. We all have our tastes, but they are very different bands. I can clearly tell the games are very different in a number of ways. Better just doesn't seem to cut it for either one. Anyway, as I haven't even played Torchlight 2, I should probably stop now :) *ducks behind desk*

#9 Posted by Fredchuckdave (5339 posts) -

@nate: No they're all just slight variations on the original formula. I should note that Diablo 2 isn't even close to perfect and it wouldn't be all that hard to make a superior game of a similar type; just people stick too damn much to the basic formula instead of expanding on it and we wind up with static clones instead of more interesting stuff. The clones have gotten better in recent years I suppose and the mods (especially for Titan Quest) go much further than developers do but it would be interesting to see a D2 clone with a cerebral story or a D2 clone with more in depth mechanics than clicking. I guess ultimately I want something in between Dark Souls and Diablo; a game with random loot, lots of challenge (note: not everything in the game one shotting you no matter what, that's just broken), an immersive world, and a ton of visual variety but it doesn't really look like that's going to happen any time soon.

Of course there's an argument that Diablo has to be fairly mindless in order to be Diablo, that the game is more about how you build your character than actually playing that character; but I don't think that's mandatory. If nothing else in Torchlight I'm able to accumulate a massive amount of unspent skill and stat points and it shows me how many I have at each loading screen; another thing I used to be fond of in D2.

#10 Edited by Grimluck343 (1148 posts) -

I love PoE. I've been playing in closed beta since last June. The one issue that PoE has that keeps me from getting to D2 levels of addiction is that the combat is so fucking awful. Yes, there is a lot of variety in the skills and what those skills do and how they look and how you can modify them, but the actual pushing the buttons to kill things is just the worst. Maybe D3 just really spoiled me as far as super fluid, great feeling combat, but Christ I can't stand actually fighting shit in PoE. The terrible desync issues really don't help either.

And yeah, it's nice that it isn't pay to win. They're smart enough dudes over there that they knew if they went they route the game would have been dead in the water. The pricing on a lot of their microtransactions seems pretty bat shit crazy, but hell they had hundreds of people pay $1000 for their diamond supporter packages, so maybe I'm just in the minority there.

Edit: I should note that my substantial bitching about the combat really only applies to melee characters. Ranged plays okay minus the desync.

#11 Posted by Forderz (247 posts) -

@fredchuckdave: You might be interested to know they've rearranged pretty much the entire soundtrack in the latest update; no longer does the game "try and put you to sleep," as I believe you've said in the past.

And if GGG keeps up the ladder resets and has zany modifiers for some of its ladder challenges I can see people playing it for a long, long time.

#12 Posted by Mystyr_E (1189 posts) -

The combat's alright (even if that bit of latency is annoying) but the prices in their store is god-awful and made me wonder if their company were secretly EA supported. I did the math on this: it costs almost 20$ to get a cool glow effect on weapon and, I'm not kidding, a little over 100$ to get a lightning pet.

Really?

#13 Posted by ajamafalous (11866 posts) -

@mystyr_e said:

The combat's alright (even if that bit of latency is annoying) but the prices in their store is god-awful and made me wonder if their company were secretly EA supported. I did the math on this: it costs almost 20$ to get a cool glow effect on weapon and, I'm not kidding, a little over 100$ to get a lightning pet.

Really?

Eh; you can easily just not buy any of it because it doesn't actually do anything. If you're trying to say that you think they'd sell more if their prices were lower/more reasonable, I think that argument directly applies to many (most?) F2P games.

#14 Edited by Grelik (144 posts) -

I think many people will find the combat of PoE to feel "off" simply because they have given every ability (at least melee) an inherent chance to miss and it's fairly significant. Which leads to this weird feeling that your attacks aren't connecting, or there's lag.

The game felt so much better for me once my marauder unlocked the "always hit, but can't crit" perk.

#15 Posted by StrikeALight (1114 posts) -

GGG are doing an amazing job with the game. Once the de-sync issues are resolved (which prevents a lot of folk from even attempting HC mode) and the art assets bumped up a notch, the game will do fine.

If you like ARPGs, its a bit like living the F2P dream.

#16 Edited by expensiveham (289 posts) -

I am not big into ARPG's but i have been following the development of this game once in a while and the devs really seems to be listining to the community and updating the game constantly. So i assumed they would know better then to go P2W and was right. These dudes seem to know what they're doing and i think the end product will be an excellent game.

#17 Posted by Mystyr_E (1189 posts) -

@mystyr_e said:

The combat's alright (even if that bit of latency is annoying) but the prices in their store is god-awful and made me wonder if their company were secretly EA supported. I did the math on this: it costs almost 20$ to get a cool glow effect on weapon and, I'm not kidding, a little over 100$ to get a lightning pet.

Really?

Eh; you can easily just not buy any of it because it doesn't actually do anything. If you're trying to say that you think they'd sell more if their prices were lower/more reasonable, I think that argument directly applies to many (most?) F2P games.

generally no, I think one that does it worse is League of Legends cause to get the in-game points to buy either rune pages, runes themselves, or the champions you have to play a LOT of games. Compared to say Smite where you can rack up the points pretty fast. I get that PoE's stuff is cosmetic but what you want is to entice people like "hey I can make my weapon glow, and it's really cheap...think I'll cave in and buy it". But when you have a pet that costs 50, 75, 100$....why would you want to?

#18 Posted by ajamafalous (11866 posts) -

@mystyr_e said:

@ajamafalous said:

@mystyr_e said:

The combat's alright (even if that bit of latency is annoying) but the prices in their store is god-awful and made me wonder if their company were secretly EA supported. I did the math on this: it costs almost 20$ to get a cool glow effect on weapon and, I'm not kidding, a little over 100$ to get a lightning pet.

Really?

Eh; you can easily just not buy any of it because it doesn't actually do anything. If you're trying to say that you think they'd sell more if their prices were lower/more reasonable, I think that argument directly applies to many (most?) F2P games.

generally no, I think one that does it worse is League of Legends cause to get the in-game points to buy either rune pages, runes themselves, or the champions you have to play a LOT of games. Compared to say Smite where you can rack up the points pretty fast. I get that PoE's stuff is cosmetic but what you want is to entice people like "hey I can make my weapon glow, and it's really cheap...think I'll cave in and buy it". But when you have a pet that costs 50, 75, 100$....why would you want to?

I think that's another issue entirely, but you're right, it's one that both League and PlanetSide 2 suffer from. They make the ingame grinds so huge and the cash prices so high that it makes people just stop playing altogether.

#19 Posted by Nemi (2 posts) -

I played 103 hours this game since his release on Steam and I found it a great game.

I just hope they will fix the spike lags and the random crashes. And most of all, that they will improve their store to let me support them. Sales are awful (the fire effect was in sale but the price forced you to pay 20$ anyway) . As a student i am tempted to spend 5/10$ every month or two but i wont actually spend a single dollar if they dont change their offer. I cant buy nothing that id love to (like the black cat, fire/verdant/ice effects etc.) They costs way too much now and arent that 20$ worth imo. For 5 dollars or 10, i would be tempted to spend a lot of money on it. They are losing a lot of customers this way and i think they will certainly do something about it.

Sometimes i feel like they chosen this way just to make their diamond supports to spend all their free points asap and they will probably and permanently discount prices after that.

Sorry for the bad english!

#20 Edited by Epicurwin (8 posts) -

None of the cosmetic stuff is worth what they charge, that's because the game is free. Your paying to support the developers, the effect you get is like a little thank you. Coffee mugs aren't worth $100, but people still give money to NPR.

#21 Edited by Nemi (2 posts) -

well, i never bought and i will never buy a mug for 100$ but 1000% more people will pay 5$ for that mug, which is a better and a much more stable introit.

i want to say thank you but fairly and without being robbed with a 100$ mug.

At least they can offer a wide range of mugs for all types of pockets, starting from a pretty mug til a beautiful one. Now theyre offering poor mugs for an average price and decent mugs for a pretty consistent price. I say: offer pretty mugs for a friendly price, beautiful mugs for an average price and stunning mugs for a relatively big price.

Customers, from students to employees to executives are all satisfied, and they make way more moneys.

I really wanna say thank you and I will probably will with my 5 dollars, but Id loved to spend more and right now it sounds like a gamble. And this is not my idea of ethical.

#22 Posted by Epicurwin (8 posts) -

I don't think you get my analogy. You're not paying for a mug your paying for the station. You paying $100 to support something you enjoy (the station) and you get a FREE mug.

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