Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The gamification of ... games

It seems you can't buy a can of tuna or go to a movie without someone hawking some kind of "membership" promising exclusive benefits.  Buy a week's worth of groceries, for example, and it's likely you've earned "points" that knock a few cents off your next trip to the gas pump.

It's called gamification and its so prevalent that it's effectively part of the culture. So forgive me if I seem a bit naive but why do we need it in of all things, games?

We already have skill trees, ranks, badges and achievement perks.  Using even more gamification to "enhance" the game experience seems to be more of a crutch than a feature.  I'm specifically referring to triple-A titles using subscription models ordinarily only seen with free to play games.

Something's been lost in the translation when you can buy the same game DLC as is available with a subscription but get an inferior experience.  Battlefield, for example, will offer you all the upcoming DLC for Battlefield 3 with a subscription but also includes additional skill trees and perks unavailable otherwise.  In other words, membership has its benefits.

361259_Enhance your Game - Shop Video Game Accessories for LESS at GameShark Store Purchasing all the DLC and available upgrade packs separately can actually cost more than the current $50 fee EA's asking.  So what's the reasoning behind it if it's not profit? 

We come back to our supermarket example.  Using your discount card provides them more information than the normal customer which ultimately benefits the issuer.  It's far easier to track market trends with a captive audience compared to generic information from the masses.  If most of your "subscribers" enjoy a particular brand of peanut butter, for example, you know how much and when is the best time to stock more of it.  Thus minimizing stale inventory.

Do games suffer the problem of stale inventory? I think not.  We're not talking about perishables here, just bits of code.  If you have to gamify a video game to make it popular something's wrong with the game itself.
It's no secret that most marketing focuses on vanity and ego but it's usually for commoditized products.   Commodity products are meant to be used, disposed of and purchased again.  I don't know about you but I don't plan on buying Battlefield 3 again every 2 months.  I may, however, purchase Battlefield 4 if I have a good experience with its predecessor.  If that experience is diminished by the act of not buying a subscription when I'm willing to purchase DLC without it, it's not a good sales metric.
Postal 3 - Inferior Product :-)

Treating games like peanut butter can only lead to inferior products.  I'm not suggesting that video games are some form of high art but they're at least as important an any other entertainment medium and should rise or fall on their merits not their promotion.

Some may use the example of Team Fortress 2 as the shining example of how gamification works in gaming but remember that TF2 is free to play.  It survives based on revenue from purchases of in-game vanity items and user contributed content.  Triple-A titles don't need it unless the publisher is desperate to crutch the game into legitimacy. 

In the case of Battlefield 3, the "membership" benefit gives you a "premium" badge for all your friends to see, weapon unlocks, dog tags (another badge) and skill trees that allow you to have an advantage over other players. 
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In effect, Dice and EA had to offer a legitimate cheat to ensure the sale of their DLC. I suppose the game wasn't good enough to stand on its own.  Regardless of how many hours you have invested in it, EA doesn't find their own product any more important than a jar of Skippy.

It's just a business, we all understand that but the net effect of their promotional efforts provides faulty metrics and cannibalizes their own sales.  I'd rather have a better game than a browser full of badges.
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