Pricing Games According to Player Behavior

Pricing Games According to Player Behavior

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.”

So, ideas?

“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.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

3 Comments

  1. I can’t agree with the authors side. For multiplayer games, especially something like an MMO where the community essentially IS the game, why NOT charge someone more for being a prick? If said prick makes other people leave the server, and possibly the game, they have caused DIRECT LOSS OF REVENUE for Valve.

    The OP has a bit of a double-standard. If you reward players for being nice (ie- keeping people around, thus increasing longevity/revenue) why not punish the players who shorten the lifespan of the game, causing loss of revenue?

  2. So, essentially, you think it’s a bad idea because you cannot think of way to implement it?

    I don’t play multiplayer games online because I don’t enjoy having 12-year-olds scream invective at me. If Valve finds a way to make online play enjoyable for people who don’t suffer from adolescent-onset Tourette’s syndrome, they stand to win a lot of business from me and others like me.

    There’s any number of other games out there for those who want to scream “gay” every 30 seconds.

  3. I question whether this is a good idea or not purely on legal grounds. Is it legal to charge people different prices based purely on whether or not you like them?

    Sure, there can be discounts and things as rewards for good behavior, or maybe even fines for abusing the system somehow, but that doesn’t sound quite the same as what is being discussed here, which seems a bit more extreme.

    A hundred dollars more just to speak? Seriously? Is that even constitutional?

    The lawyers would have a field day with this.

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