Friday, October 7, 2011

Exchange: A Nice Analysis in an Unexpected Context

YH&C has a very cool post on Gears of War 3.


Gears of War 3 is an Xbox game that retails for $60. In some online multiplayer, there are some purely aesthetic customizations one can make to their character, the relevant one here being "weapon skins," where the guns players uses can have different paint jobs or animated graphics to make their pretend guns dazzle. Some of these weapon skins are unlocked by completing specific tasks in the game, but a set of 22 was made that players have to pay real money to use.

For $3, you can unlock a static paint scheme like tiger stripes or a flower pattern for all five starting weapons. For $4, you get an animated graphic, like an ocean ripple, for all five. For $15, you can unlock all 22 skins for one of the five weapons, and for a poorly-spent $45 you can unlock each and every one of them.

Predictably, there has been a lot of complaints on the Internet, most of it whiny. The best articulated criticism I have seen is from a level-headed competitive player named K.L. who made a very reasonable video saying this isn't the end of the world, but he doesn't like the policy of incorporating money-making tactics normally reserved for freemium games into a retail game. He hit all the normal points, such as making people pay to use content on the disc, something I don't have a problem with.

Let me start by saying K.L., or "arCtyC" as he likes to be called, has hit upon a gut feeling I share. There is something disappointing about having to pay to use these fun weapon skins. He also does a good job of stressing that this is an entirely voluntary transaction.

Paying to make your pretend guns prettier goes beyond voluntary and satisfies all of the criteria of Michael Munger's "euvoluntary" or "truly voluntary" criteria. Epic Games created the skins, has the legal right to sell them and customers know what they're getting. The weapons skins have no impact on weapon performance, and there are still zero-dollar unlockable weapon skins, so players are not punished for failing to buy them. There is no coercion vaguely associated with this transaction.

So that leaves one criteria to be considered euvolunary. How terrible is the Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement, or BATNA? If not buying a product will result in the death of a consumer, the BATNA differential is said to be very large.

I have trouble imaging a smaller BATNA than not being able to use a pretty pretend gun without paying $3. Sure, it's foolish for most people to pay $45, and I imagine most people chose not it, but a lot of people paid an extra $90 to have their copy of the game bundled with a cheap desk statue, a few trinkets, fake documents and a few different weapon skins and aesthetic downloads. For some reason, offering special editions of games and movies to consumers doesn't draw the same complaints, but the same elements are all there.

Very interesting, and an application I would not have thought of. GoodONya, Michael.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?