Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
Payment wall (aka ‘paywall’) is one of the most popular ways to stimulate in-game sales. If you’ve ever played any f2p game, you’ve probably encountered this concept. In Candy Crush it happens when you run out of lives and the game provides you with a “timely” advice to purchase some gold. In Sky Force Reloaded you face payment wall, when all your airships get destroyed and you need to pay to refill your hangar.
Types of Payment Walls
Which Button Is Jump defines 4 types of payments walls in games:
1) The Classic PayWall
Paying for the unlocking of new content: a new storyline in an RPG, a locked character in MOBA and so on.
2) The PatienceWall
A single payment purchases the in-game currency needed to remove timed obstacles. This is used countless times in mobile games, especially in ‘time managers’ like SimCity BuildIt.
3) The PressureWall
Another variation of PatienceWall, where users are being exposed to what their friends are doing in the game, putting them under a form of pressure. This mechanics is used in Clash of Clans and similar ‘cooldown builder games’.
4) The AdWall
Basically the same thing as payment wall, the only difference being that instead of paying you need to watch an ad.
This is obviously not the finite classification. If you follow this link, you’ll find more ways to lock content behind payment wall and figure out if it works. The origin of payment wall comes from a more harmless concept you see in most RPGs: when monsters in a certain area are too hard to beat, you just have to do some work on grinding. Payment wall basically works the same way, the only difference being is that you have to pay with real money. Or it may come from the first examples of shareware model. Anyway, the fact is that this approach is definitely popular among game producers.
Payment Walls in Big Premium Games
One of the biggest companies, who’d been under a lot of heat for use of payment walls, is Electronic Arts. EA started experimenting with pay walls in big budget games, putting a huge part of endgame content behind a payment wall. This is the case with Star Wars: Battlefront, which was criticized for its greedy monetization model. EA covered most of the features, which were available in Battlefront 2 from the start and hid them behind a paywall in the newest edition of Star Wars: Battlefront.
Dave Smith from ‘Business Insider’ rightfully notes:
The problem with microtransactions and DLCs is that it makes the initial standalone game feel incomplete by default. It forces people to constantly shell out money just to play the full game they wanted to play. So while these practices work, they also hurt consumer confidence, and games in general.
Customers definitely lose confidence in their purchases. For example, when Activision/Blizzard just launched Overwatch, users were very cautious about the way they should approach the project.
Truth be told, Blizzard works in a much more refined and their monetization model for Overwatch works much better than most of the payment wall examples, which are featured in other projects. IGN did a nice talk about it, which you can listen to here.
Refusal to provide early copies of the game for review doesn’t help either. With no demos and no way to predict the future development of the game, how does the user learn about the way he’ll be treated in the product?
People don’t like being ripped off, they don’t like pieces of content missing, they don’t like paying for Season Passes. Players feels desperate when they discover payment wall hidden inside games. But is there a way out of this situation?
There’s no secret that modern F2P is doing great and sales are going up, but “there has been less focus on the relative success of premium games at different price points” (EEDAR report). There are companies out there, which treat their users in a dignified way and still achieve decent sales.
Witcher: Wild Hunt is an iconic example of the premium product done the right way. When the game was released back in early 2015, it featured hundreds of hours of content. The rich detailed world literally grabbed players and refused to let go. I personally thought that after a month or two, when the initial hype was down, CD Project RED would start pumping out add-ons and other DLC, looking for more fuel for the money train. However, it was not the case. The company did provide a lot of content, but it was free. This kind of approach completely broke the general idea of payment walls in games! There were a couple of add-ons, which were released at a later stage with normal price tags, but these were not met with criticism. On the contrary, players enjoyed them and begged for more.
Another great example of fair premium product is a shooter called TOXIKK. This is a small game, which was developed by a dedicated team of Unreal Engine followers. The game has virtually no in-game monetisation. It’s got no F2P, it’s got no skin sales, no additional characters or maps to buy. Completely transparent, very simple and pretty successful. With 300k+ copies sold, it’s a good start for that game, which was launched just a month ago (although it also was a success on Early Access).
The Room franchise, created by Fireproof Games, managed to achieve incredible success on mobiles (where paywall remains king). Its cumulative sales most recently passed 11.6 million copies. Which is an astounding number, for a series which launched as a game for iPad. To put things into perspective, original The Room was a relatively cheap game to make (£160,000) and the sales went through the roof (6.9+ million units).
These examples show that a clear premium model still has its rightful place on the market. Communities want to have a clearer understanding of the thing that they buy. And they don’t like being tricked by hidden payment walls. Fair pay2play games exist, they do sell in large numbers and they do bring money.
What’s going to happen?
The increase in the number of premium games (mostly coming from indie developers) has created some tension in the gamedev circles. During the last GDC 2016 the panel “What Do We Mean When We Say Indieapocalypse?” was actually devoted to this problem. It featured talks by Randy Smith, Rebekah Saltsman, Armin Ibrisagic, Jeff Vogel, and Jordan Thomas, including some sale numbers on a lot of popular game projects.
The situation is the same on the F2P and mobile market. The only difference being – the money barrier. User acquisition costs has risen so much, that most independent companies have no chance of getting their money back. Even big publishers like Disney tend to close their projects, because of the rising user acquisition costs.
The Fiksu Index […] shows that the cost to acquire a loyal user (one who opens an app three times or more) was $4.23 in December, up 19 percent from November and up 101 percent from December 2014. The all-time record beat out the previous record of $4.14 in September. That should give shivers to mobile app marketers, who have to advertise heavily to get a user and then hope that the user sticks around long enough to spend money in a free-to-play app or game.
PC still being an open platform is definitely a nicer place to be for game companies. You don’t have to invest a lot of money in marketing, you still have the freedom to distribute your content any way you want and you can find your audience.