In 1990, in the wake of insider trading scandals that rocked Wall Street, the weekly news magazine Newsweek opined on its cover, Is Greed Dead?
Absent the context of the era, it probably seems an odd question to ask, but it was a reference to one of the most famous (perhaps infamous) movie monologues of its decade in 1987’s Wall Street. In its most memorable scene, corporate raider Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) proclaims, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Truncated to “greed is good,” it became something of a cultural sign post for the spirit of 80’s America.
It is hard to deny the recognition of a fundamental truth in the statement, if you divorce it from the excesses it came to symbolize. Businesses are not charities. The objective of business is to perpetuate itself and prosper through the acquisition of revenue. To sell goods and services that are desirable and that can provide an income greater than outflow.
Although businesses often get pilloried for being “greedy,” the fact of the matter is that this system has provided (most of) us with a certain standard of living. (To those regarded as beneficiaries of this, that’s certainly “good.” Mileage for others may vary.)
In other words, if we want to keep playing War Robots, Pixonic must continue to be able to do business. But as the Newsweek cover referenced, it’s not hard in a capitalist system to have “too much of a good thing,” either. All businesses must find the balance that charts the right course for their goals.
One time-honored way to do that is through discount marketing, and War Robots players have recently become acquainted with this to a degree unlike anything the game has offered before.
With the most recent update, Pixonic introduced turned up the volume of one of its marketing strategies. Most of us are familiar with the “new player incentive” offers that come at the start of the game. A lump of Silver and 30 days of Gold, or a Pinata Gepard for $4.99. These have been around awhile.
But now, Pixonic has greatly broadened the pool of available deals as all sorts of new offers are appearing ingame. Each offer is limited, both in time available as well as number of times it could be acquired, putting a hard cap on how deep any player can go on an individual deal. This presumably would allow Pixonic the latitude to offer the occasional deep discount without fear of tanking the economy.
Predictably, the usual and customary Greek Chorus of Cynicism has emerged from pockets of the community. These sales represent cash grabs. The playerbase is being exploited. They’re a sure sign of desperation. The company is floundering to stabilize the financial haemorrhage they’re suffering from players leaving the game over the matchmaker rollout. And so on.
I don’t have access to Pixonic’s books to evaluate these claims… but what I do have is my own iPhone. Let’s take a stroll and do some evaluating.
A superbly well-designed and unique game that revolves around making music, MSM has a constant stream of “limited-time” offers in its storefront. As with many games, these aren’t unique to spending real money (RM), but rather offer you a shortcut to something you could potentially acquire ingame. There are also frequent “sales” offering items at a discount.
Two Gekkos. Everything the game sells is attainable for free with persistence (and a little luck). This tends to be a better type of revenue model, so that players can pony up for shortcuts but still have all content in the game reasonably available to them. Some of the prices of rarer monsters runs a bit high, but rare monsters aren’t functionally different than their common versions, meaning it’s all about cosmetics instead of gameplay (a positive).
This is a polished Diablo clone that makes up in entertaining dialogue and irreverence for what it lacks in innovation. The commercial aspect of the game is fairly linear: buy currency with RM or grind it in-game, then spend it on upgrades, but note the glowing item in the third row. There is always at least one sale item on offer, and the game also offers discounted upgrade packs early in the game for rookies to boost up their power.
One Gekko. As with many games, you have the option to use ingame currency (Gold, Gems) to speed up your upgrades and unlock certain additional conveniences (more companions, extra abilities, greater storage), but the rate of return from grinding tends to put you on a solid path. There’s very little incentive to spend much real money here, as all you can buy are the premium Gems. Indeed, the devs even tacked on a very humble appeal. “Eternium is made with passion by a small band of old school RPG fans. Your support allows us to go on. Thank you.”
Unlike many, I’m not really a fan of anime art in my games, but the core CCG element of Shadowverse stands up. Note the “daily deal” in the first image, and the capped quantity buying in the second. As with any CCG-style game, there’s no real limit on how deep you can go if you want to build up a collection.
One Gekko. You get a ton of gameplay for free in the single-player mode, and it takes awhile before you begin to feel like you’ll need to get better cards to progress. I played a ton of this game for a few weeks on less than twenty bucks, and their preconstructed decks (in the second image) are surprisingly good.
Limited quantity? Check. Limited-time offer? Also check. I haven’t played this game in forever, but it uses the much-maligned “energy” mechanic to oh-so-helpfully limit your game time (unless you spend more, natch).
Two Gekkos, loud and proud. In addition to the “energy” mechanic, it also uses a random “treasure chest” system (called “portals”), which is essentially a virtual scratch-off lottery system. Finally, it completes the trifecta of greed by fostering a sort of “gotta catch ’em all” mentality with regards to its assortment of heroes. You can still play it a lot for a little, but just like casinos that don’t put clocks on their walls, you can feel the manipulation.
Bulk discounts galore! Also, a rotating inventory of different bundles and packages. For the bargain price of just $40, you too can offer up blood for the blood god!*
*skulls for the skull throne sold separately
It’s always interesting to contrast the pricing models of these games. For many, they only sell you a couple things, “gold” or “crystals” or whatever currency they want to flog, but you can buy huge bundles of them. You feel like you’re getting a ton of value.
Then there are games like War Robots, or Freeblade here, where buying a new mech or hero can cost you as much or more as an entirely new game. Value being subjective, it’s not always easy to gauge if the prices are worth it, but Freeblade has both PVE and PVP options. With War Robots being entirely PVP, it’s a different spectrum.
But what better way to show your allegiance to Chaos than to wantonly dip into next month’s rent to fund your tribute?
I’m including this one for contrast. It’s pretty clear this is a game company dabbling in the mobile market, rather than a mobile company, because it offers its wares in the traditional manner without an incentive-based purchasing model. Plus, look what you get for the price- Fantasy Flight clearly isn’t looking to milk a cash cow here.
A half-Gekko, and well deserved. Good on you, Fantasy Flight!
Bulk discounts, sales, limited offerings, artificial urgency… this matching puzzler checks off all the boxes.
The double-Gek! The game deserves some praise for giving you new packs of cards at regular intervals several times a day, but these are “basic boosters” that don’t offer a lot of value. If you want the good stuff, you’re going to have to either grind or spend.
So clearly, if the contents of my phone will suffice as a “representative sample,” then it seems clear that we War Robots players have been a bit spoiled. Commerce is front and center in so many of these games, many of which employ psychological tactics and manipulation to induce spending.
Imagine you could only play five games of War Robots before running out of “war points,” with a new “war point” regenerating in your account every 90 minutes (unless we “replenish” our energy through premium currency).
Or that each bot had an “epic version” you could “unlock” through ages of grinding and luck (or an open wallet) which maybe had a tiny buff to speed or maximum HP.
If we’re going to sit in judgment of Pixonic, it behooves us to consider not only what Pixonic is doing to get our money, but also what it isn’t doing.
All the same, we can only kick the ball that’s in front of us, so next time we’ll be breaking down Pixonic’s raft of new deals on the Gekko scale, seeing which ones pass muster and which ones would make even ol’ Gordon blush.