It’s one of the trickiest questions to answer for any game: how do you make sure it all pays for itself? Once those servers open to the public, the costs to run skyrocket. But if sales haven’t been built into the game design from the beginning, it can all become an over-bloated mess. And most of all, it has to be done tastefully and with fairness to the players. How do you make a system designed to get money from your customers that does not take advantage of them?
THE BIG PICTURE
In the beginning, all MMOs used the same sales model – the subscription. People paid between $10 and $20 per month to get unlimited access to a particular title. However, this model has lost a lot of ground to a new model, the Free to Play. The Free to Play approach has obvious benefits: people pay as much as they want, for what they want. Of course, it also has drawbacks: that upfront cost is a very reassuring thing to developers, who often have a lot of investors waiting for payback.
A few games, however, are a hybrid of the two, and City of Titans will be one of those.
THE DETAILS: Overall
The model we’ve embraced includes an up-front cost. This buys you full access to the game: all content, all systems, all features. This purchase also includes a set number of months VIP status, and the up-front cost is gauged by the cost of subscription. By default, you will pay the equivalent of three months subscription status up front, and then receive three months of VIP status before defaulting to Free status.
Once in the game, it’s much like any Free to Play - there will be a cash shop, and the option to subscribe for benefits. Subscriptions will get, monthly, a stipend equal to their subscription fee, plus a bit more. So, a $15 subscription gets you $18 in store credit, every month. They also get earlier access to new material in the store, typically two months before the free to play can gain access to them. To be absolutely clear: no game content or features will be locked behind a paywall or require a subscription to access. All who buy the game will have equal access to content, features and systems.
THE DETAILS: Subscriptions, the Kickstarter, and you.
By tying our sales price to subscriptions, we create the opportunity to make limited time offers, or discounted sales, simply by including fewer months of subscription. Three months is the default sales unit, as market research shows people who play for 3 months are more likely to play for the first year.
There are also rewards for those who stay subscribed for longer. These loyalty tokens can be stored over time, to be redeemed for various bonuses and unlocks.
We want to make sure everyone understands how all this works with their Kickstarter perks, particularly the tiers that included game accounts and VIP status. The months of subscription our Kickstarter promised along with game accounts at certain donation tiers are in addition to the VIP months a game purchase comes with automatically. The default purchase includes three months subscription, so donors who qualify for the $50 tier will have those three months plus the bonus month mentioned in the tier description for a total of four, and those who elected for the $75 tier or above will get 5 months total subscription upon launch - the three default plus the two promised bonuses.
THE DETAILS: The Cash Shop
The cash shop will use a currency we’ve nicknamed Stars, and will primarily sell in-game global unlocks. In-game unlocks will cover a wide range of things, from costume pieces to Aesthetic Animation sets, and are, again, global. When you purchase an unlock through the store, it is unlocked for your account in perpetuity, available to every character you have made or ever will make.
If you can’t or won’t buy though, you can unlock any of the in-game store items for a single character through gameplay, by earning certain in-game badges. A few badges will be global, but only a few. Purchasing these items does not grant a badge: badges themselves are exclusively earned in-game.
Character slots are a special case. While these can be purchased normally, the free unlock works differently. Instead of badges, you will unlock a new character slot each time you level a character to maximum. Every character that hits level cap will unlock a new character slot. You will start with six slots so this makes getting new slots pretty easy. We did promise Alt-City.
THE PROMISE: No Lockboxes
One large problem in MMO’s today is something called Whale hunting. Whales is an old term for high stakes gamblers in Las Vegas, who would generate the lion’s share of any casino’s profits. When Free to Play became popular, those who paid the most were given the same nickname as these high stakes gamblers, Whales.
One unfortunate consequence of the Free to Play model were games that began to hunt these Whales at the expense of your average player, with exclusive content hidden in “lockboxes” or the like, designed to catch Whales and milk them for all the game can get. The gambling mechanism these boxes use can fuel an addictive cycle, which is good news for the game revenue but bad news in many other ways.
This is something City of Titans plans to avoid at all costs, and we’ve put a great deal of thought into how to finance profitably but ethically. We recognize the reality of game addiction, and want to ensure this is difficult for our players to develop.
Instead of lockboxes, our booster packs - bundles of related unlocks sold together for a discount - will include a bonus chance to win something else. So, for example, you might buy the Ninja Pack (just a random name for now), and you would gain the ninjitsu animation set, multiple props associated with the Ninja, Ninja costume set unlock, and a random extra piece from somewhere else in the game. Note that this random piece is not exclusive to the random chance. It will always be something purchasable directly elsewhere. The booster packs already contain a predetermined list of items of appropriate value - the random bonus is gratis.
Everything evolves, and each generation improves on the last. We at Missing Worlds Media studied the best and the worst out there very closely to find the best solution to an ethical business model that profits us and you, and we look forward seeing all you Titans in Titan City one day.
Written by DC 'Terwyn' James and Nathaniel 'Doctor Tyche' Downes
Read more stories about Titan City at Hijinx