Less charm, more money? Commercialization of browser games
While in the past browser games have been coded by developers in their free time, lot?s of them are now replaced by profit-oriented companies fighting for money and players on the big ?browser game pitch?. Where the business interests are confronting each other, the opinions seem to be different as well: Commercialization of PBBGs ? A boon or a bane?
The browser games scene is more and more centered around for-profit companies who are starting to discover the sector as a cash cow, which they are trying to milk. Some developers and players wish back the “good old times” where there was no aggressive promotion and companies trying to boost their sales by more and more premium features or the purchase of in-game advantages. But, they don’t want to admit, that it was in this time commercialization began.
After collecting their first couple of hundreds players, the games needed bigger servers and the traffic kept rising and rising. Coding browser games for fun started to become more expensive and the developers tried to get some of their costs back in by asking the players to donate, selling premium accounts or adding adverts to their games. The knowledge that PBBGs can make money is actually a fact discovered by small developers, not by today’s big players.Nevertheless companies such as Gameforge and BIGPOINT are getting more and more stricture from all sites. They invented new, profit-oriented features such as item sales or in-game advantages. These features are usually not sold for real money, but for an in-game currency which in turn can be bought or won by the players.
But what did really change since BIGPOINT established the assembly line for PBBGs? And is all getting worse now or are there real advantages as well? Most often discussions are based on whether it is a rip-off to be paying for in-game advantages and premium features using real money.
Our dear friend Wikipedia defines rip-off as:
“A rip off (or rip-off) is a bad deal. Usually it refers to an incident in which a person pays too much for something. A rip off is distinguished from a scam in that a scam involves wrongdoing such as fraud; a rip off, on the other hand, is in the eye of the beholder. “
So can you really say these companies are ripping the players off? In my opinion the players are able to decide for themselves whether they want to spend money on something or not. Nobody forces them to play a game or even pay for services of a game they don’t like. There is no need to question, that players purchasing in-game advantages are usually better off then players who try to play the same game for free. But don’t you think that’s fair? Isn’t a player who actually pays for services facilitating the development of new features? I think people paying for services have to be better than others – Just think about it, would you pay for something you could get for free?
Yes, in some points this might appear unfair, not everyone wants or can afford to pay a certain amount of money every month just to play a browser game. But even these people are taking advantages of the further development within the market. Some people, especially in the German market assume that a browser game has to be free to play. This might be an idea they got from the past, when the scene was still waiting in the wings. Don’t you think games should be paid for in general? As far as I’m concerned both sides are important for a game. The players who are willing to pay for certain extra (usually called premium) features who provide the game with the money it needs and the “I want to play for free” players who fill up the servers. Both are important parts of the community.
Releasing their new game “Space Invasion” for the German market, you could think BIGPOINT supports the free play now. No item sales, no premium features, no adverts. You might think: Where’s the catch? Well from the player’s point of view: There is none!
But by opening their gates to the public, BIGPOINT is trying to trip Gameforge’s pig player OGame up which is responsible for a major amount of Gameforge’s turnover.
Nevertheless these companies are pushing the market forward, always trying to push the limits of what’s possible. And thinking realistically: We’re still in the first half of the progress. The rush for new players is not to be ended soon and the sector is expecting double digit growth for the upcoming years. Using all sorts of advertising and promotion, even TV and radio spots, BIGPOINT is trying to push their branding process forwards whereas market leader Gameforge is struggling to stay at the top of the game by using viral marketing only.
Do we have to be worried about the future of the scene? What is going to happen to all of the small developers? How can innovative developers be motivated to compete against the giants, even though they already now they are going to loose the fight? Without these major companies, the whole market would still be in its infancy and you would hardly be able to make any money to live on developing these games. These companies are helping the market to grow and reach out to a lot of new players. But how can a small developer become a part of this business? The solution might be a mixture of both sides.
Adding up Gameforge, BIGPOINT, Redmoon Studios and Travian Games (only to name a few) you can also see the social aspect of this business, employing over 200 employees, with an upward trend. I assume about 300 people are living on the money and new jobs have been safeguarded and provided in areas such as marketing, graphic design, and press communication.All in all, Money does equal progress. Manpower can be bundled and focused on new features and development. Design, layout and graphics are more and more adjusting to the normal “client based” games published by companies such as EA, Rockstar Games or Ubisoft adding value to the player’s prospective. A discussion comparing quality and depth of the game of big publishers and small developers is as useless as comparing SimCity and Half-Life. In the end it’s the player who decides whether a game succeeds or fails.