Sid Meier no fan of in-game monetization

Originally published at: Sid Meier no fan of in-game monetization | Boing Boing


He’s completely right about this, but his argument will fall on deaf ears for the following reasons:

  1. The companies making free-to-play (aka F2P or freemium) games are not game companies. They are tech companies. Places like Zynga and Jam City do not have cultures of game design and trying to make things fun. They have cultures of AB testing psychological dark patterns to extract money from people.

  2. The traditional game companies that do care about gameplay are dying. AAA console games escalate exponentially in costs every generation to make, but the purchase price of them has gone down over the decades. Do the math and it isn’t sustainable. You need to pay 500 artists and 40 programmers for 5 years to make a game you sell for $60 now. It isn’t working anymore because the price point was set in consumers’ minds back when games were made by a single person in the 1980s. They are scrambling to find other revenue streams to stay alive, and thus are forced to turn an eye to the money fountains happening over in F2P.

Indie games are what will save us. That’s where the fun is now. Enjoy the big budget AAA stuff while you can, avoid all the freemium dark pattern stuff, and support the indie gaming community with your dollars.

Source: I spent 20 years working in AAA and 10 working in F2P


So many firms these days would just fire someone like Sid Meier mostly because they’d think he’s “too old” to be making games or is out of touch but if the best sellers from the last few years are to be compared to the p2w and RMT titles it looks like he’s right. Jedi Fallen Order, God of War (2016), Horizon Zero Dawn and so forth show people just want a single player game experience that isn’t heavily loaded with micro-transactions or any casino style monetization schemes.


What’s your take on AAA titles that don’t go heavily loaded into micro-transaction or live services? Are they just following the indie titles or is it an actual trend among studios?


Those would be the “enjoy them while you can” category. :grinning: There are currently still lots of good premium games being made with few or no micro transaction/IAP nonsense, but be very suspicious of any game that goes beyond “hey here’s some neat horse armor you can buy with no special powers beyond looking nice”.

The moment a game designer is put in the position of “buying this item makes the game easier to win”, it’s all over for that game. It will become “pay to win” and “pay to keep playing” no matter what. It’s a design trap that there is no way out of, which is the core of Sid’s point.


Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but I also see Sid’s comments here as a subtle jab at his former collaborator Brian Reynolds, who left to join Facebook game-maker Zynga, and has since gone on to develop a “Freemium” competitor to the Civ series.


A game designer who cares more about gameplay and fun than squeezing money out of grinders and speculators – how quaint.


To be fair, the designers at the freemium companies are put in that position. It’s not easy to get a job in game design and they’ll take what they can get. Your manager tells you “design a tournament system where people who buy purple gems will perform better”, so that’s what you do because you need this job on your CV. Every F2P designer I worked with feels dirty doing it, but you do it until you can go make board games or whatever other “pure” form of game design you long to do.


Waiting for Wordle to offer in-app purchases of hints and such.

We can’t have nice things. Unless we pay for them over and over again.

They’re going to go with ads. They’ve already put in the data collection hooks, so that’s where they’re going, at least initially. Subscriptions to remove ads will be next.

I mean, we can, but blame the creator for that if you want to mourn something. He literally “sold out” to NYT for “low seven figures”. He could have built it into a business himself worth 100 times that in a year, but chose not to. It was his choice that we no longer have this nice thing. I don’t blame him personally. An effort that good deserves to be rewarded.


I’ve never bought anything in a game. Am I weird? After paying 60-80 bucks for a game, I’m done buying and want to play.


True. I would have been more precise to characterise him as a game studio head as well as a designer. The fish is rotting from the head down in the industry these days and has been for years.


How can we apply the idea of in-app monetization to other media?

Books: sell hints about whodunit in mystery novels. Or make you pay extra to view the last page.

Movies: add gambling on the outcome of fight scenes, and buy power-ups for your favorite characters.

A profitable future awaits!


Smart fridges? “This chicken looks really nice. It would be a shame if something were to happen to it. Click here.” 0_o


I like gaming, but I’ll usually wait a few months even on games I want to play, because I get really tired of downloading 5-gig patch after 5-gig patch after 5-gig patch, none of which ever fix the most annoying and game-breaking bugs. Wait long enough, and they’ll usually reduce the price and/or throw in the DLC. And, honestly, there hasn’t been a game in a good long while I’ve really looked forward to playing. About the only thing currently is HZD: Forbidden West, which I figure I’ll pick up around next xmas.


“79% of the game biz in 2021 came from in-app purchases, microtransactions and add-on content”

FWIW, I never play AAA titles anymore, and would be thrilled to pay 5x more for the games I do buy, in order to never deal with a freemium model again.

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Seems to me like a lot of recognizable developers seem to have managed to embarrass themselves badly over the years one way or another. Impressive that Mr. Meier has endured.

I took a detective fiction course many, many years ago, and the professor mentioned that back in the pulpy days, some mystery novels would have the endings sealed away (in onion skin, maybe?) with the idea that you could return them if you figured out the crime on your own and didn’t need to read the resolution.

It never occurred to me to Google if that factoid was actually true. Google wasn’t any help just now, but maybe I was using the wrong terms.


I have heard of galley proofs (I think…?) being sent out with the folded edges untrimmed. Authors would sometimes send these out for reviews, and will be able to tell whether the reviewers actually read them by the condition of the edges.


I found a couple of articles on this:

Sounds like the gimmick fell victim to the Great Depression. Nonetheless, it sounds like it was a real thing. Just not well documented.


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