Dienstag, 1. Mai 2018

Game Monetization: Cosmetic items

As last part of the game monetization and criticism series we look at the influence of "cosmetic items"

Cosmetic items are digital items that have no influence on game play - just in a usually very limited way on the optics of the character / the player's representation within a game: From costumes to animations to decoration, lodgings, pets, furniture, colors, accessories and so on. Since these items do not enhance a player's performance within a game, they're often marketed as "benign" ways to get more funding for a game. Activision Blizzard's Overwatch is a prime example of the success of these cosmetic items.

In general, there is nothing wrong in funding a game with micro transactions and offering cosmetic items. First of all the big argument for only selling cosmetic items and not player-enhancement boxes is that every dedicated player has the same chance to succeed within a game - it's not pay to win. As previously discussed, an already full price game excluding game content that had been free for previous editions of the game or gambling mechanics skew the positive light on those extra revenue streams for developers / publishers.

Cosmetic items used to be an in game reward system - for certain play styles or achievements the player could "win" different optics.
One way to get people invested into spending money / more time on is cutting an outfit into pieces (pants, shirt, jacket, shoes and so on) and put them in loot boxes - the player now cannot go to the in game store and spend money on a full outfit but gets randomized boxes with just a chance of including the missing piece. If a player by chance got already 3 parts of an 4-part outfit and is very invested into the game, its likely he or she might spend money on the missing piece.

Cosmetic items do have value:

Some people make their money with streaming games. For them it is important to have a visual signature, seem competent and invested into a game. If they can show off sought-after costumes or hilarious visual changes (like a wobbly fish as effective weapon in a gritty, dark horror shooter), the viewers might be way more entertained and intrigued and stay longer. Novelty value could increase a streamer's visibility, which results directly in more revenue.

Online games have a strong social component. Being recognizable and working towards standing out (not just play wise but visually) is important to people. Personal preferences and style choices ("all my characters wear exclusively pink!") or group affiliation ("Our whole guild wears pink to battle!") matter as well and can get players into collecting mood.

There are online galleries for offline / non multiplayer games with costume collection options where people show how they combine found clothing items and style their characters. (Like the wiki page "fashion souls" for dark souls 3. Dark souls does have a limited multiplayer component.)

Some costumes are rewards for exceptional achievements within a game and can show other players that the wearer is very experienced and therefore more likely to be included in groups / asked for advice. Many people find joy in being recognized and admired, which they are prepared to invest for.

Visual differentiation and personalization matters a lot to people and pretending that selling "only" cosmetic options for a game is more benign than ingame resources is not entirely honest. People are drawn to a personal visual identity.

Further reading:

I recommend this light hearted but insightful video by Jim Sterling. His tone is raunchy and some of his punchlines hit below the belt, his arguments are very interesting and he's an authority on gaming journalism: It's Just Cosmetic (The Jimquisition), December 2018, checked on 29th of April 2018

It Feels Like Overwatch's Cosmetic Monetization Model Will Become Unsustainable, Forbes, Jan 18, 2018, aufgerufen am 28. April 2018

1 Kommentar:

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