Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Worst Case Scenario - Gambling with Games

Allow me to begin with a story: There is a Wal-Mart near my home I go to pick up groceries at, and if I have some time, I like to wander the electronics section. For a while now they have had a large Skylanders display set there. For those who don't know, Skylanders is a game that includes a platform you hook up to your system, and when you place any of their figures onto this platform that character appears in the game for you to play as. It combines a fun hack-n-slash kind of gameplay with a collect-em-all sort of mentality that I have found very charming.

I found myself wondering how this sort of marketing could be brought to true online gaming (Skylanders has an online version, just not a fully fledged online world) and my thoughts drifted to other miniature based games...and then found myself mortified at the possibilities.

Online gamers are familiar with the recent trend that some F2P titles have picked up of the grab bags. You pay actual money for a bag/box/safe/thing and you open it, receiving a random prize. Those titles have received flak for it, because this typically requires throwing a lot of money at it in order to get something you want. The numbers for getting everything are astronomical.

How does this relate to Skylanders, you ask? Well, currently Skylanders shows you the kind of figure you are buying. Imagine a game, like the HeroClix or any trading card game ever, where the characters, items and power ups you get are random. And that is the point of the entire game: An electronic trading card game.

That is my Worst Case Scenario of the week. A game that blatantly and obviously sells random chances at electronic items. Cards and physical objects have collector's value and could be worth something if the game becomes popular. But electronic items are at the mercy of the game itself. If the game ever shuts down, everything you spent collecting those things is gone. This is no different than any other game, but a chance system requires far more monetary investment than a subscription. Hundreds of dollars gone without a chance of turnaround.

Chance bags are currently a nightmare for games, yet nearly an unavoidable option. Sure, they paint your game as being unscrupulous, but the amount of money they rake in is no small amount. I'm sure the temptation arises, with the intention of using the profits to make things that are fair to gamers. And I'm sure the temptation to do it again is always there. Now imagine an entire game based around that. Let's assume two different types of currency: In-game earned and cash bought, similar to League of Legends style. Each can buy the same things, they just require different amounts depending on the currency used. Winning card matches gains you currency to buy booster packs to get more cards to win with. It's gambling and skill based gameplay all in one. There is a reason the real thing is so much more popular.

Yet, an electronic version requires so fewer resources and balancing is simple. The temptation of the chance bag profit? Multiply that into an entire game and you have an untapped market that just reeks of exploitation. Should it ever rise into major popularity it will be a sad day for online gamers, and I think the company behind it would deserve all the hate mail they get.

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