Though I don’t have time to be a hardcore gamer, I do dabble with a few to keep myself current with the state of the art in games, tools, infrastructure, and services. My experience last night validated an extensive post I did a few months back on the world of Games as a Service.
I decided to fire up Halo3 (yes, I know old, and far behind other new FPS games) to log onto to the “Team Slayer” playlist. In this mode, you are linked by rank and skill level to other random players on the Xbox Live network to form a team. Your “red” team attacks another similarly formed “blue” team with the goal to be the first team to get to 50 kills. You play on maps, which differ in environment, layout, buildings, weapons, etc.
Curiously, I could not log onto Team Slayer mode because I did not have “the required maps” (Non-Mythic DLC for those that care). Upon doing some digging, it turns out that Bungie/Microsoft was requiring players to purchase newer map packs that previously had been optional upgrades. Historically, if you did not buy the new maps, the servers would match you to players that had your same map packs. This of course would lead many players to play whatever maps were free, and only download newer map packs when they became free. Hard core players who wanted to learn the best strategies before anyone else would pay for early access to the new packs, but they would have a much smaller universe of players to compete against in those worlds.
Requiring subscribers to pay for the new maps to access the Team Slayer mode raises some really interesting questions. The blogosphere and forums were full of strong opinions. On the one side were the hardcore players who wanted everyone else to pay so their network would have more players. They also defended the need for Bungie to keep getting paid for an entertainment offering to keep it alive. On the other side were gamers who believe they had paid for the game, which included the Team Slayer function, and they should be allowed to play with whatever maps they chose to have and not be forced to upgrade. They would also claim they already pay Microsoft a monthly subscription fee for the Xbox Live network, which is intended to link them to other players.
I think this approach is a perfect example of a publisher extracting economics in a continuing GaaS driven model. The new maps cost me about $10, roughly 20% of the original game cost. As an aside, that seems magically to be about the same as the annual percentage charge for maintenance with licensed software, and the rule of thumb in what annual SaaS prices should be versus comparable license charges. And one can likely bet there will be new maps in the future for which I will have to pay for. I also pay $50/year or $5/month for the Xbox Live membership. If I was not forced to upgrade, then Bungie/Microsoft would have little incentive to keep developing new maps, and eventually a large portion of the audience would move on to a different game. From their perspective, it makes complete sense to communicate continuously with me through the game, enticing or forcing me to upgrade my game to continue to play the content. It extends the life of the service to a wider audience and helps them build a strong recurring revenue base. Both great examples of GaaS offerings and a marked departure from the old CD based model!
Disagree? Or more importantly have a strong opinion on the debate?