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I think this would hold a lot of promise for episodic gaming. Consider getting the first level of a game for free, and then paying a small fee per level or so after that if you really enjoyed it. Independent developers could give themselves a chance ot shine without kowtowing to a monolithic publisher, or, on the other hand, a publisher could try out a risky concept, secure int he knowledge that if the public wasn't interested, they could discontinue development of a title (rather than invest all the time and monye in a full-blown game), or, on the more sinister side of things, jack up the price if interest was high.

There may already be examples of this of which I am unaware (and I don't think Majestic counts).

After all, the whole arcade industry was based on a system of micropayments.


a publisher could try out a risky concept, secure int he knowledge that if the public wasn't interested, they could discontinue development of a title (rather than invest all the time and monye in a full-blown game)

Unfortunately, any title that a large publisher puts out these days (and at this time the only publishers are large and itty-bitty) requires so much pre-production work that this business model is unlikely to be successful. All the developer-hours the publisher pays for to get all the art, engine and game balance in place would still need to be there, whether they generate only one playable area or 50. For many publishers, creating anything short of "AAA-class," let alone doing it on purpose, is taboo.

To really get a "scalable" game like you describe is not impossible, however. Consider a designer that comes up with a single cool play mechanic. A programmer and an artist come on board and put together a little prototype game over the weekend. It uses either horribly ugly 3D, or sprite-based graphics, and has maybe about 5-10 minutes of gameplay. They throw it up on the web and charge people 1 penny-per-play (or something). It becomes popular, so they get a modeler to come in and make real 3D art, and texture it nicely, add some new levels, and we go from there. This is a very different sort of development style from that practiced at most companies, but there's no reason why the independent not-quitting-my-day-job-yet developers couldn't experiment with something like that.


Re: Gods and Undergrads.

Damn you. Damn damn damn you.

You couldn't have posted about that when more of the story was on the web so I wouldn't be sitting here, already hooked, with only 1 part and 3 pages out? Grr. :-)


There might be an argument about what micropayments means. Does it have to be 25 cents or is $3 for a comic a good price? But, anyway, here in Japan it seems to be doing just fine

There is a giant underground manga, comic, dojinshi, indy game, picture collection underground in Japan and there are several websites to support their market. Examples




WARNING: There is lots of *adult* stuff on those sites. You have been warned.

These sites allow you to sell things in that market. I've seen collections of 10 hand drawn images. I've seen poetry. I've seen flash anims, movies, games and manga. I think the lowest price is $3 and the highest I've seen is maybe $25. The site takes like 10% to 20% and they host the downloading and take care of all the sales issues. The interesting part is dlsite.com lists the sales and calculating it out there are several people making $50k to $80k a year on their works.


The problem facing game micropayments is the same one facing micropayments from comics: We need an infrastructure to extract this money from the nice people who want to give us the money. Which requires someone to invest in the infrastructure.

The reason that coin-ops work so well is that the taking-you-money infrastruture is built into the machine. It doesn't require you to have any special equipment or to fill out any forms or to provide any important personal data to a untrusted third party.


I hate micropayments for three main reasons:

1). As Snowmit mentions, the infrastructure problem. But my distain stems from the idea that the time it takes for me to register a method for me to make the micropayment (pay pal, credit card, etc.) is worth more money than the micropayment itself.

2). "The Arcade design of yore" was designed to do one thing: separate a kid from his quarters. It's rare to find an individual (or a game) that can play a game "all the way through" for just one quarter. Commonly, the micropayment idea behind arcades was just a way to whet the player's tastebuds and then fleece them for the five or twenty dollars in their pocket. I probably spent over $200 on games like Mortal Kombat II or even older games like Dragon's Lair. I could have purchased that game for much, much less in today's at-home gaming model.

The Arcade system's gameplay was designed around *forcing* the micropayment in order to make more money. Once you institute the micropayment, you're instituting a now archaic form of gameplay that punishes rather than rewards the player.

3). You get what you pay for. I typically look at a pricepoint as a general indicator for quality (if the product has just launched). In today's market, you're going to be hardpressed to find someone who's even willing to take a look at a game that wants a penny per play. As I mentioned in the first point, taking the time to register to *pay* a penny makes the idea of paying the penny a waste of time, and the thought of going through all of that mess for *just a penny* makes me shrug my shoulders and walk away from the experience.

Because hey, I've played games for quarters before, and I prefer to play the ones that cost $50 now. At any rate, that's what I think the micropayment is truly up against.


The solution to the "registering a credit card to pay a penny" problem is to have an aggregator. Every month it bills your credit card (or whatever) the total of all your micropayments. That's not so different from your cell phone, really.

Another option is a variant of the Bitpass system, where you prepay a certain amount, but treat it like "credits". For example, you could buy 15 credits, then get charged 1 credit per SMS, 3 credits for a ring tone, 5 credits to play a game of Joust, etc.

It's possible to make these portions of micropayment schemes work. The real question is what content people are willing to pay micropayments for, and is there a big enough demand to keep an aggregator in business. Could you consider iTunes a micropayment scheme?

Hopefully we'll see more experimentation in these areas soon. Creating more alternative business models, so indy developers can get their games seen and played and perhaps make a living off them, is definitely a good thing.


I think ideally you'd want the payment system to be divorced from the game itself. You want people to, in theory, register once, and then be able to pay-to-play any micropayment game anywhere forever. Right now, there are a lot of pay-webcomics that use the Bitpass system, and once you've registered that's pretty much it.

The real comparison should be against other online pay-games: Yo-ho Puzzle Pirates, Pogo.com, and the MMOs, where you have to sign up for a monthly fee for unlimited play. The registration process should be no more time consuming than the registration process for those things.

Now, I'll be the first to admit, I have yet to sign up for Bitpass to read a webcomic, but it seems like every month or so, there's yet another comic that I think would be cool to read for 25 cents, so I imagine someday I'll cave. A micropayment games market would probably have the same long ramp up period (which is, again, why it would work best for indie and hobby developers), although there would be the existing market of micropayment comics readers, and there must be some sort of cross over between gamers and comic readers.


fun web comic, i want more too,
nice style

but here's another comic.. off that site..
maybe a prequel




I agree, there's still a huge audience of people who are afraid of entering their credit info on a webpage, and who also don't understand anything other than going to a store and buying a copy of a game. Counter-Strike can be downloaded for free, but is available in the store for those who prefer that experience.

They throw it up on the web and charge people 1 penny-per-play (or something). It becomes popular, so they get a modeler...
The proof-of-concept/work-in-your-spare-time approach has been difficult in my personal experience, but getting the moral and financial support from a community might help. But isn't this pretty much the shareware model, with smaller payments?

For many publishers, creating anything short of "AAA-class," let alone doing it on purpose, is taboo.
Plus on the developer side there's a stigma against making budget games. But despite not being "hardcore" they do quite well--look at Deer Hunter and think of the games aimed at the increasing market of older female gamers.


But isn't this pretty much the shareware model, with smaller payments?

Well, yes. That's what I said I thought was the most natural fit, and the area that I would most like to see explored with this billing model.


Glad we agree :)

Laser Squad Nemesis (by the guys who did X-Com) has an interesting subscription model: the client is free and anyone can play as the Marine class, but only subscribers can initiate a game, play other classes, and participate in leagues. The subscription is relatively cheap and doesn't automatically renew, which is one of the most annoying part about subscriptions.

The game itself is cool because it's turn-based and real-time strategy, where you email moves back and forth.


"... this model could help consumers warm up to the idea of buying something without getting a physical artifact."

When you die, the only way we have to measure how you spent all your money is by how much junk you've left in your storage locker. I'll take concrete, self-contained items over data any day. And I'm willing to pay more for the privilege -- which I already do in buying pricier compact discs as opposed to the same music at discount from the iTunes Music Store.

SM (1898 - 1967)


Right, because that's how your contribution to the world should rightly be measured when you're dead... ???


Misuba, it was a bit of a joke. I usually, don't give my dates of birth and death as 1868 and 1967, respectively, either.

If it were Monday morning, I'd give you a break. But it's *Thursday* already.

Mark Asher

The problem is that people don't like micropayments, so they probably never will catch on. People have tried to set up micropayment systems in the last 10 years and all have fallen flat on their faces.

Why would you ever pay a quarter to play Bejeweled when you can find something similar to play for free? Or if there does seem to be a market for something like that, a competing flat-rate service will emerge that will kill the micropayment scheme. It will be, "Why pay a quarter to play Bejeweled when for $1.95 a month I can play any of two dozen games like Bejeweled at Acme Online Fun, Inc."

Scott McCloud has been preaching this stuff for years, but it will never work. McCloud even ignores gaming's past, when we had micropayment schemes in place with online games on GEnie. You paid by the hour. The marketplace doesn't want to pay by the hour anymore.


"The marketplace doesn't want to pay by the hour anymore."

Exactly. It's the same reason people don't want to pay by the data parcel for mobile phone Internet access. I would probably pay *less* per month than my flat-rate plan based on my usage if I were using a pay-as-you-go plan. But the knowledge that I can't go *over* and incur unexpected charges is comforting.

Flat-rate plans of any kind often favor the vendor not the customer; although it always seems to be the customer that campaigns for them. People tend to use less of the resource than they expect and vendors reap the benefits of usage that doesn't measure up to cost of the flat-rate plan. But that's the way we (Americans) like it.

If McCloud really wants to have a go at micropayments, he should start in Europe where people are accustomed to metered service not only on their mobile phones, but on their landlines as well -- for "local" calls. Hell, most Europeans even micropay to use public toilets.

McCloud is like a novice mountain climber who's picked the steepest, most treacherous ascent for his first shot: by trying to hustle micropayments in the stateside economy, he all but dooms himself to failure.


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