Thursday, 14 July 2011

Microtransactions Week Part 4: Putting Their Money Where Your Mouth Is

Now, love them or hate them, you have to admit that Valve doesn’t do anything half-assed. When they screw up, like with unusual hats, it’s a giant bloody mess. But I’ve ragged on them enough for that at the moment. Right now I’d actually like to tell them that they’ve done a great job of: making microtransactions a meaningful way to generate revenue for high quality user generated content.

When Valve announced that the winners of the Polycount contest were being paid, no one, not the community, not the artists, not even Valve itself, realized just how successful the model would become. With the pay for the initial two weeks being in the tens of thousands of dollars Valve proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that microtransactions can be an invaluable resource for motivating future contributions from the community itself.

Microtransactions can do harm, but they can also do a lot of good. While I of course wouldn’t call TF2 a game that was on it’s last legs by any means, the Polycount entries allowed Valve to sit back and let the users do a lionshare of the work for them, and allow said users to get recognition and finance from it.

Being paid a small royalty on the dollar is a great way to encourage users to try their hand at making content that they feel is of a high enough calibre that it will make the time and effort invested worth it, and by doing so everyone wins. The company gets new weapons/maps/whatever, the users get paid and also get something that they can put on a resume that makes an impressive impact, and the community gets to enjoy the new content. In the case of the Polycount you didn’t even have to pay if you didn’t want to, but given the amount of money generated, it’s obvious that people were just as happy to get access to the weapons early, and those that could wait for drops or crafts could catch up soon enough as well.

Sure, TF2 is hardly the first game with user created content, but in some games like Little Big Planet and countless online flash games the user created content is quite often lacklustre to say the least. But if people are given the proper tools and told that if they do well enough that they could make a comfortable living off of innovative ideas, then you’re going to starting seeing a rise in the quality of all content. Sure, there will still be low grade stuff, but I’d imagine that hardly anyone is going to make a straight level that simply has a giant penis made of wood at the end of it (putting aside how many people might still pay for such a level, depending…). The high end content will be pushed even higher, and the company can easily reward users that can generate competent ideas over the long term.

What it ultimately boils down to is that microtransactions aren’t inherently good or bad, it’s just how they’re used. We’ve seen examples of both, and of course the bad tends to stick out more like a sore thumb than the good does, but just because they do doesn’t mean the good can’t come to the forefront and justify its existence. Is this what it feels like to be optimistic? How strange…

Now, this may seem like sort of a short entry, because it is, but hopefully the wrap up to this week will be well worth it. What is it? That would spoil the surprise.

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