原作者：Chris Cobb 译者：Willow Wu
说到微交易，它所涉及的内容可以是固定、直接的，也可以是随机礼包，也就是loot boxes。要判断前者的交易性价比会相对比较容易，然而随机内容就比较难了，玩家必须先付钱才能知道他们会得到什么。Loot boxes一般会包含不同级别的稀有物品，另外，即使是同一稀有等级的物品也有价值区分，可以根据它们在游戏中的受欢迎程度以及具体作用来评估。有些国家（比如中国）要求开发者们在游戏中标明loot boxes中的物品配比，这就大大提高了微交易的透明度。然而，这样做并没有关注到玩家对同一稀有等级物品的不同偏好，但大方向肯定是对的。问题思考：这样夺取玩家的内容购买控制权的价值主张是什么？除了选择购买loot boxes之外，玩家还应不应该有选择去购买直接内容？
付费内容大体上可以划分为两种：装饰类和玩法类。装饰类内容可以在一定程度上增加美感而不影响游戏玩法。玩家可以利用它们来表达个人品味和风格，也可以当做是地位的象征——尤其是当这些装饰体现了玩家的技能排名或者是游戏中的社会地位。玩法类内容指的就是具有强化作用的装备、升级道具，可以直接提升角色的技能，有的内容是有时效性的，过了一段时间就会失去效果。如果付费内容是纯装饰品，这就意味着非付费玩家的游戏体验也不会因此受到影响，对于对抗、竞赛类游戏来说是非常重要的。反之如果玩家购买的是强化道具，这就会造成一种等级差异，付费玩家在对抗中就会拥有竞争优势。在F2P游戏中，付费玩家在总体上只占了不到10%，所以大部分活跃玩家是在没有优势的情况下玩游戏的。问题思考：“氪金变强”所导致的玩家流失加剧、信任度下降从长期来看会有什么影响？玩家对装饰类loot boxes和玩法类loot boxes的看法有什么不同？无时效性内容和消耗性内容之间的感知价值有何差异？
F2P游戏一般会让玩家通过玩游戏来慢慢挣取相应的游戏物品，不会硬性要求玩家付费。这种策略是最复杂的，但是我会用实际例子来帮助大家理解。想象这样一个游戏：玩家每玩一个小时，游戏就会奖励他们1个loot box，玩家也可以花费1美元购买。因此，沉浸度高的非付费玩家或许能在一个月中获得30个loot boxes。而付费玩家可以选择每个月花费30美元而不投入那么多时间来跟上非付费玩家。在这种设定下，非付费玩家所挣得的内容与内容成本之间的比值一目了然，非付费玩家完全可以跟得上付费玩家的脚步。再来设想一下另外一种游戏：玩家要玩10个小时才能挣得1个loot box，但也可以花5美元单独购买。所以非付费玩家如果每天玩一个小时，一个月下来只能挣到3个loot boxes，而付费玩家如果每个月花费30美元可以获得6个，是前者的两倍。在这个游戏中，非付费玩家是很难跟上付费玩家的。
我用这两个例子是为了说明游戏内容价格和所需时间投入这二者之间的关系非常重要！如果成本与时间之间达不到平衡状态，非付费玩家就必须背负着一种无法弥补的劣势。换种方式来说就是获得loot box所需的时间如果很长的话，非付费玩家与付费玩家之间的差距就会非常大。玩家的消费是上不封顶的，然而玩游戏的时间肯定是有限的。问题思考：对于玩家来说，可以接受的时间/金钱比值范围是多少？如果要玩上很多个小时才能得到一个loot box，那你让玩家玩那么多次不带奖励的流程有什么意义？你得怎么做才能让免费玩家继续玩下去？
提到微交易和loot boxes就不得不说到一个非常重要的概念——操作性条件反射（operant conditioning）。我总结了斯金纳的经典实验：如果一只老鼠按下了按钮然后获得食物，那么它很快就会明白这个按钮的功能，饿的时候自己就会去按。如果按下按钮什么事情都没发生，那么老鼠就不会再去按它了。如果按下按钮并不一定每次都会出现食物,那么老鼠就会连续地去按直到食物出现为止。这种行为的消失速度非常慢，也就是说老鼠仍然会不停按按钮，持续很久一段时间。即使按钮失效或者没有食物了它也会继续下去。这个实验就解释了为什么人们会对赌博上瘾（或者是其它类似的行为），这也许就是为什么有越来越多的游戏选择loot boxes而不是直接的付费内容，这答案应该是挺让人不爽的。从行为心理学的角度来评估盈利策略的道德标准是很重要的。利用这种人性弱点来盈利的游戏是危险的，我们应该进行深入分析。一个实际例子就是游戏中的幸运轮——很多游戏的幸运轮上都会显示很多超级稀有的物品，让玩家觉得这些东西很容易拿。转盘会在快结束时减速，看似就要停在一个令人垂涎的珍品上，然后它又慢悠悠地多转了一格，于是玩家获得一个普通得不能再普通的小奖品。这是一种非常恶毒的设计，因为它欺骗了玩家。获得这些稀有奖品的可能性实际上是微乎其微，而轮盘所暗示的可能性则是为了吸引玩家继续转下去。虽然我的打算是对文章中所提到的大部分实例不做评判，但我必须对这样的剥削行为表示强烈谴责，它完全不符合道德标准，人们应该抵制这种盈利设计。游戏公司一直在抗议相关的赌博责任条款，因为这些奖品即使获得了也无法转化成现金，所以他们拒绝为这类机制负责。这是一个荒谬的漏洞，剥削行为是在前端发生的，而背后是商家利用人们的心理“操纵”他们投入真钱。
·大多数游戏都会包含进阶系统，玩家可以在玩游戏的过程中有阶段性地解锁新内容，loot boxes则起到辅助作用，从中可以获得装饰类物品或者是升级道具。然而《前线2》除了loot box没有任何进阶方式，这就在很大程度上限制了玩家的个人游戏体验。
玩家买了游戏却还要投入大量时间/金钱解锁其它内容；游戏中的进阶方式只有随机loot boxes，不存在直接购买内容；loot boxes中的物品能赋予玩家竞争优势，这些游戏特性形成了一种对玩家不友好的游戏体验。后续改进可以是加入一个与loot boxes没有关联的进阶系统，减少内容解锁所需的投入以及加入可以直接购买的内容（可能放在游戏发行后的DLC中会比较合适）。从最近这些天的消息看来，上述的这些改进或许真的能实现。
The purpose of this article is to provide a lens for understanding and evaluating monetization strategies in games. It’s a topic that requires considerable effort to understand due to the complex and interconnected nature of various approaches. In order to assess the ethics and quality of a strategy, the details matter a great deal. I hope this tour provides a framework that will help facilitate productive discussions for the gaming community as we navigate the challenges of building and maintaining a sustainable environment for gamers and developers. There is an important related topic of in-game currencies, but it will not be addressed in this piece to reduce scope. Topics covered include identifying the ways game content is sold, assessing direct content purchases versus random content purchases (loot boxes), cosmetic content versus gameplay content, content that offers a competitive advantage, the cost of purchasing content in money versus time, and viewing this space through the lens of behavioral psychology.
The most traditional monetization approach is to sell a game in its entirety for a single purchase price. In addition, developers sometimes release game expansions that offer additional game content for a fixed price. As digital distribution has become more popular, this has evolved into downloadable content (DLC), which can deliver large new expansions or small content upgrades for a fixed price. As games have become increasingly online, multiplayer, and designed to live indefinitely, new monetization strategies have been developed. Some games offer subscriptions where players pay a monthly fee to play on the game servers. Other games offer a free-to-play model, where players can play some of the game for free, and are able to purchase premium content that somehow enhances the experience. This premium content is generally purchased in bite-sized chunks, known as microtransactions. These microtransactions can provide permanent content that lasts indefinitely, or consumable content that can be used once and then must be repurchased. Games have experimented with many combinations of these various monetization strategies.
Regarding microtransactions, content can either be purchased directly or through randomized content packs known as loot boxes. When content can be purchased directly, it is much easier to evaluate the value of the transaction. Randomized content is more difficult to assess because the player must purchase the content before knowing what she will get. Loot boxes frequently contain content of different rarities, such that highly sought after content is very unlikely to appear. In addition, even within the same rarity tier, some content is considered more valuable based on its popularity or strength in the context of the game. Some regions such as China requires developers to publish the probability distribution of their loot boxes, which significantly increases transparency. It doesn’t however address the difference in desirability for content of equal rarity, but is clearly a step in the right direction. Questions to ponder: What is the value proposition of taking away control of what content players can purchase? Should players have the choice to purchase content directly in addition to having the option of loot boxes?
Purchasable content generally falls into two categories, cosmetic content or gameplay content. Cosmetic content provides an aesthetic enhancement without impacting gameplay. Cosmetics allow players to express their personal taste and style, and can also serve as a status symbol, especially when cosmetic content is associated with a player’s skill ranking or social standing within the game. Gameplay content could mean improved gear/equipment, upgrades that directly increase character strength, or temporary boosts that work for a while and then wear off. When microtransactions are purely cosmetic, it means that players who choose not to monetize receive the same game experience, which is especially important in competitive games. When players are able to purchase gameplay upgrades that increase a player’s strength relative to other players, it creates a class disparity where paying players have a competitive advantage over non-paying players. The percentage of players who choose to monetize in free-to-play games is generally below 10%, creating an environment where the vast majority of active players play with a disadvantage. Questions to ponder: What are the long term implications of the increased churn and damage to player trust when players are able to purchase power? What is the difference in player perception of loot boxes that contain cosmetic versus gameplay content? What is the difference in perceived value of permanent content versus consumable content?
Free-to-play games typically allow players to slowly earn content by playing the game without requiring them to pay. This section will get the most wonky, but I will use a concrete example in an effort to make it more understandable. Imagine a game that allows players to earn 1 loot box for every 1 hour they play. A loot box can also be purchased for $1. Therefore an engaged non-paying player might accrue 1 box per day for a total of 30 per month. A paying player could spend $30 each month to keep up with the non-paying player without putting in the the time each day. In this environment, the rate at which the non-paying player earns content compared to the cost of the content is understandable, where one can imagine a non-paying player keeping up with the pace of a monetizing player. Imagine a different game that requires 10 hours of gameplay to earn 1 loot box. A loot box can also be purchased for $5. In this game, a non-paying player who plays for 1 hour a day will only earn only 3 loot boxes per month, while the player paying $30/month earns 6. In this scenario it will be very difficult for the non-paying player to keep up because the paying player purchases twice the content that the free player earns.
This example is meant to illustrate that the price of the paid content relative to the amount of time required to earn the content is VERY important. If the ratio of cost versus time is imbalanced, non-paying players will be at an unrecoverable disadvantage. To state it another way, requiring a large number of hours of play per loot box makes it very difficult for non-paying players to keep up. It’s worth noting the paying players have no upper limit to the amount they can spend, while the number of hours a player can play has an absolute limit. Questions to ponder: What is a player friendly ratio of the time it takes to earn content relative to the cost of the content? If loot boxes require many hours of gameplay to earn, what are the engagement implications for requiring many sessions that result in no reward?
Behavioral psychology is a subject relevant to everything that involves people, making it one of the most powerful, cross-cutting, lenses, by which we can analyze a topic. Entertainment is an industry that aims to delight and surprise. At a fundamental level it taps into the way our brains work, on a conscious and unconscious level. From heartwarming family films to a survival horror game, in order to invoke the desired experience, creatives must understand behavioral psychology. It’s important to remember this as we assess the ethics of various business practices because this topic is pervasive, and applies to all mediums and business models.
Regarding microtransactions and loot boxes, operant conditioning is an extremely important concept to understand. Skinner’s classic experiment is summarized as follows. If a rat presses a button and receives food, it will quickly learn this relationship and press the button when it is hungry. If pressing the button does nothing, the rat will stop pressing it. If however, food comes out at only sometimes when the button is pressed, this will create a compulsive behavior whereby the rat will constantly press the button. This behavior is very durable, meaning that the rat will continue pressing the button for a very long time, even if the button is disabled and no longer vends food. This is the phenomenon that explains gambling addiction and related behaviors. It also offers an uncomfortable insight into why games might be increasingly offering loot boxes instead of selling content directly. It’s important when assessing the ethics of a monetization strategy to look at it through the lens of behavioral psychology. Strategies that take advantage of this apparent defect in our wiring are suspect and should be closely analyzed. An example of a malicious practice is the ‘near miss’. An example is a game that shows potential rewards on a spinning wheel. Frequently the wheel is packed full of extremely rare content, giving the appearance that these items are likely to be won. The wheel might slow down near the end, tantalizingly hovering over a highly coveted reward. Then the wheel ticks one further and the player is rewarded with a common, uninteresting prize. This is a particularly pernicious practice because it is a complete fiction. The real probability of earning those rare prizes is vanishingly small, and the odds implied by the contents of the wheel are designed to entice players to spin one more time. While I have aimed to withhold judgment on particular practices for much of this piece, I will state strongly and clearly that exploitative practices like this are ethically and morally wrong and should be actively shut down. Companies have been fighting against being held accountable to gambling regulations because the rewards of these slot machines cannot be converted back into cash. This is a ridiculous loophole because the exploitation is occurring on the front end, where people are being manipulated to spend real money on a cycle that takes advantage of the way our brains are wired.
I will conclude with a few case studies to test whether this framework helps assess the merits and potential pitfalls of specific strategies. I hope that this piece will facilitate a more thorough assessment of monetization practices and help players hold companies accountable for practices that exploit or otherwise obfuscate what ought to be a clear transaction of trading money for goods/services.
Hearthstone is a competitive collectible card game (CCG) created by Blizzard. It pits players in head to head matches that last ~5 minutes.
How game content is sold
·Content is sold through random card packs.
·As a method for direct purchase, players can trade in unwanted cards for a specific card they want. Card rarity is accounted for both in crafting cost and trade-in value.
Direct purchase versus random chance
·Primarily random chance, with a trade-in system for directly acquiring content.
Cosmetic content versus gameplay content
·Card packs contain gameplay content.
Purchasable content that offers a competitive advantage
·Purchasable content offers a competitive advantage.
The cost of content in money versus time
·There are many examples of non-paying players competing at the highest level. This indicated a healthy balance of the time it takes to earn content for non-paying players.
Lens of behavioral psychology
·Digital CCGs have very similar characters to traditional (analog) collectible cards such as baseball cards or Magic the Gathering.
·The solution of allowing players to convert unwanted cards into desired cards means that players have a clear path to earning desired content without waiting for it to appear in a random pack. The trade-in cost is balanced such that there are many examples of non-paying players that are able to build decks that compete at the highest level.
·Pack opening celebrations are intentionally crafted to increase anticipation and excitement. The reveal of cards is staged into multiple steps to increase excitement.
By offering the core experience for free, providing a consistent and understandable path for unlocking content, and allowing players to earn content at a pace that allows non-paying players to stay competitive, the overall experience is quite player friendly. Offering an easy to understand path for obtaining specific cards, and probability tables designed to ensure players obtain rare cards at a consistent pace, demonstrate an orientation of prioritizing the player experience ahead of the monetization system.
Star Wars Battlefront II
Star Wars Battlefront II is a game published by Electronic Arts. It is a large scale action shooter that includes single player and multiplayer experiences.
Note: EA announced on 11/16 that based on community feedback, they are suspending all microtransactions as they are “listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning”. This case study is based on the design of the system that was intended for launch.
How game content is sold
·Battlefront II is a full priced game at $60 USD, with a deluxe edition offered for $80.
·Not all content is available for the purchase price, and is only available through loot boxes.
·Loot boxes are the only mechanism for players to level up and unlock the content in the game not unlocked with the initial purchase.
Direct purchase versus random chance (loot boxes)
·There are no direct purchase options available for locked content, nor are there any published backstops that provide probability guarantees or alternative mechanisms for unlocking content.
Cosmetic content versus gameplay content
·Loot boxes are the only mechanism to unlock gameplay upgrades such as new heroes or powering up heroes.
Purchasable content that offers a competitive advantage
·Purchasing loot boxes provides a competitive advantage.
The cost of content in money versus time
·The number of game hours required to unlock content is very high. Some estimates suggest that it will require more than 4,000 hours to unlock all of the content, or more than $2,000.
·Most games offer a progression system where players consistently unlock content while playing, enhanced by loot boxes that provide cosmetic or minor upgrades. BF2 does not offer any progression systems except for their lootbox system, making it difficult for players to customize their play-style to their tastes.
·Players are being charged for a full price game, while still being required to engage in a loot box system to unlock core content that is unavailable despite the purchase price.
·The time required to unlock loot boxes means even moderate progression takes a very large number of game hours. This means that the relative strength of paying players will be quite high and make it difficult for players to compete without purchasing loot boxes.
Combining a full purchase price that does not provide all content, progression offered only through random loot boxes, loot boxes containing content that provides a competitive advantage, a very high time investment required to unlock content, and no mechanisms for direct content purchases, results in a less player friendly experience. Potential improvements could include a progression system unrelated to loot boxes for gameplay content, a friendlier rate of earning content unlocks, and the ability to directly purchase desired content (though this may fit more naturally into paid DLC post-release). Within the last couple of days it sounds like some of these improvements may already be coming（source:gamasutra.com ）