What US Game Developers Need to Know about Free-to-Play in China, a presentation by Zhan Ye to the Virtual Goods Summit, 2009, delivering a snapshot of the most extreme changes in game design over the last few years (see The Shock of the Now for more details on this topic). In summary:
- Because of rampant piracy in China, consumers have no habit or expectation to pay for high quality AAA game content.
- Free to play games are designed simply to keep consumers playing until they start to pay.
- Game mechanics provide paying customers with huge advantages over free customers. To balance this, some Chinese game companies decided to pay poor customers to continue playing the game so that rich customers could continue abusing them!
- Rich content and a fun user experience is the old approach. Instead, games are trying to capitalize on their players own drives, providing a setting for players to create their own dynamic community.
- The modus operandi for game developers is now “monetization driven design” and “data driven design”.
What’s most fascinating here is the materialist social hierarchy that these games promote. Rich players are expected to organize clans, recruit poor players, organize them to fight with other clans, and reward them appropriately. These virtual economies are supposed to reflect the real world. As Zhan Ye says, “the concept of fairness in the game should not be taken for granted.”