Monday, April 20, 2009

On CCGs, Fun, Money, and Business

I've been doing a little bit of research on CCGs (Collectible Card Games, e.g. Magic, YuGiOh, etc) lately - both digital and physical - and generally they run into a few basic problems. The biggest of these is balancing money vs. fun.

Essentially the way these games work is that you pay for either a service or for actual cards/pieces/whatever, to expand your library and create the deck/arsenal you want. The obvious, inherent problem here is that in addition to the cost of entry (buying a starter deck or buying the game) you have to pay extra on top of that to get to the entry point you want to be at.

This is a tricky problem because anything you do to help the player out will immediately and drastically affect your profits. CCGs are pretty much money machines, but then, this isn't the Better Business blog.

So we'll take a hit on profits, specifically the constant stream of it. Create a digital package (which we call a "video game") with a base of cards, with something like 20% unlocked at the start, 40% unlocked through a single player campaign, and the last 40% unlocked through competitive play.

Now there are two routes we can go: leave the base game as standalone and create expansion packs with new cards and a new single player campaign, or charge a subscription fee for competitive play online.

Expansion Pack Goodness
The key thing about using expansion packs is that, development-wise you already have an engine built, so all you really need to do is focus on new content. If you're feeling adventurous you can add in new features as well. It's compact, it's optional, and if you add enough content your customers will never feel ripped off.

This is the key here, as you keep a healthy community going because, well, no one has to pay to play - and community is the most important aspect here. It becomes very cyclical, in that the better your community is, the more likely you are to sell your expansion pack. Of course, this is the least lucrative of the available options, but will also keep your player base fat and happy.

Subscription Fees and Fears
The main thing with subscription fees is that there's more to consider than recouping development costs and paying for bandwidth. You have to be certain of two things:
  1. That your service is good enough to be worth a subcription fee. Glorified chat rooms are NOT paid services!
  2. That your subscription fee is reasonable compared to the quality, content, and support of your game. There have been several games that could have been infinitely more successful if they had lowered their monthly fee to a price point fitting of their game (ex. D&D Online, Age of Conan).
These are the downfalls of many pay-to-play games, it becomes hard for people to justify a price point so high ($15/month isn't a lot in the scheme of things, but when you've just paid $50 for the game it's asking a lot) for a product that is clearly in its early stages. Keeping customers, and keeping customers HAPPY, is far more important than the extra loot you'll pull in for those first couple months.

While I've spilled over a bit into MMO territory, I do believe that this sort of model will be vital to CCG-esque games soon enough - they're practically built for the medium. These are somewhat random thoughts on the matter, but it was something that popped up in my mind recently (while considering game design options) and I wanted to regurgitate my thoughts onto the internet!

1 comment:

  1. I've been thinking of this too recently, and I wonder if it would be possible to implement a staged subscription fee. Specifically, charge no subscription fee to the first 1000 players, then start at $4.99 a month till you hit 10000, and $10.99 a month after that. People will be grandfathered in at the rate they were at when they signed up. This way you incentivise and reward early adopters who lay a lot of the groundwork that makes your MMO platform worthwhile and at the same time disincentivise people quitting, because if they choose to sign up again later, they'll have to pay a higher monthly.