Are you traditionally well-behaved when you game online? Do you refrain from screaming and swearing at other players, or hold back from implying that their mothers earn their livings at houses of ill repute? In the future, Valve boss Gabe Newell might reward your good behavior on Steam by having you pay less for games than the cussers and the cheaters.
In a May interview with Develop, Newell said that the industry’s current formula of charging every consumer the same price for a game is a “broken model,” and a “bug,” and that Valve wants to start changing things.
“What you really want to do is create the optimal pricing service for each customer and see what’s best for them,” Newell said. “We need to give customers, all of them, a robust set of options regarding how they pay for their content.”
“An example is – and this is something as an industry we should be doing better – is charging customers based on how much fun they are to play with. Some people, when they join a server, a ton of people will run with them. Other people, when they join a server, will cause others to leave. We should have a way of capturing that. We should have a way of rewarding the people who are good for our community.
“So, in practice, a really likable person in our community should get DOTA 2 for free, because of past behavior in Team Fortress 2. Now, a real jerk that annoys everyone, they can still play, but a game is full price and they have to pay an extra hundred dollars if they want voice.”
Valve is, without a doubt, one of the best studios in the industry today. Its games are top-notch, polished to a shine, fun to play, and boast quotable scripts. But even the best studios churn out a bad idea on occasion. Newell’s idea, for instance, is a pretty bad idea.
There’s nothing wrong with rewarding well-behaved players, but pricing games on an individual basis based the player’s online popularity would go wrong quickly. What determines “good” behavior versus “bad?” Sometimes it’s obvious: Most of us are tired of racist and sexist speech online, and it’d be nice if there was some incentive offered to help make it go away. But who monitors Steam and makes sure players are on the level? Presumably, users could rate one another, but there’s sure to be problems with Steam users getting their friends to inflate their scores for them, or exacting revenge on another user by attacking his or her standing.
What about people who prefer Steam’s single-player offerings and don’t play the team-based games as much? How would they get a chance to prove they understand and practice online etiquette?
At this point, Newell seems to just be poking around with the idea of a tier-based payment system. Hopefully, it’ll remain an intriguing if slightly twisted bit of brainstorming. Although, it’s still an okay idea to reward good players, if their good behavior can be confirmed by Valve. A discounted game is an example, or access to an exclusive in-game item. Bad online behavior should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, with gradually harsher penalties for repeat offenders, but making users pay more money to access new games and even basic game features will seed alienation and resentment through the community.