Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Wired covers Asian games and micropayments, Microsoft doesn't get it

Wired has a story on Asian gaming and the micropayment (or cash store) system. It's a topic that'll be familiar to readers of this blog but it's a good primer for those that don't know what's going on. Here's a good quote from a game consultant (man, those guys are good at talking):

"Microtransactions make Asian games more fun," said Nicole Lazzaro, president of XEODesign. "In games where people play together, the value of the game increases with the number of players. Everyone understands that $10 per month adds up to $120 per year. This big commitment limits the market. A free game removes the barrier to entry, connecting as many of a player's friends as possible. It is easy to spend more than $10 a month in one-dollar-and-fifty-cent impulse purchases."

Another consultant talks about finding the female audience:

"Female players, rare in Western gaming circles, are in ample supply in Asia. In fact, they're a coveted demographic. Korean developers have learned they can draw teenage users of both genders by winning over the women first. "They tell me, 'If we get the girls, the boys will follow,'" said [Michael] Steele [of Emergent Game Technologies]."

They make it sound so easy, I just want to jump right in and start using micropayments and pay female gamers to sign up! Unfortunately, it's not easy. Bringing these systems to the U.S. or State-side developers trying to get into this market has been extremely difficult. Remember the story about the Country Mouse and the Town Mouse? It's all about what you're equipped to handle and the limits of adapting to a foreign environment.

Systems like micropayments, are not independent of the culture and history that gave birth to them. Korean gaming culture was built on a foundation from a short game experience (StarCraft) rather than a long endless one (Everquest). Korean PC Cafes sprung up everywhere, catering to short, fun group experiences which appealed to casual gamers, including women. As interest grew, more games were created to serve this market. But as Lazarro points out above, there's no way one person could afford to try every game if there's a $50 purchase and $10 subscription involved. The best solution for Korea was a micropayment system.

Unfortunately, my Country Mouse cousins, micropayments may never be that successful in the U.S. market. In addition to the point I just made, some U.S. publishers are already screwing it up. Oblivion (not a free game at all) is charging players real cash for special horse armor (Joystiq covers the story, note the very negative comments). If you're not going to do it right, don't mess it up for the rest of us.... gaaah, stupid Microsoft!

Anyways, I don't pretend to know what the solution is but I think we need to tred carefully. I, for one, am going to throw everything out there and see what sticks. More than likely, it'll be a hybrid of many different methods.

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