At a Penny Arcade Expo Panel on Saturday, game designers analyzed current trends in online games. Category leaders in the area of casual, social and MMO (massive multiplayer online) gaming spoke about how these genres are blurring and how that effects their companies' monetization strategies.
Casual games took advantage of a new demographic of Internet user - women over forty years old. As senior game designer Paul Peterson of Gamehouse describes, the rise in this demographic of game player changed the idea of who the typical PC gamer is. With popular game models like hidden object, match-3 and time management, these games often are downloadable trials that prompt for purchase after sixty minutes.
Social games, including those that can be found on Facebook, are opt-in applications that users would typically play with their friends. Henry Stern, director of design at Zynga, compares this to classic CP games which are typically played alone. While social games are distributed for free, they involve microtransactions for monetization, as well as a viral element to spread the game to new users. Zynga's Mafia Wars, for example, follows both of these rules, encouraging players to recruit their friends to become part of their group to become stronger in gameplay. While this feature encourages new players, when it was mandatory in order to progress, the adoption rate was lower.
The balance between business models is a point of contention amongst these designers. While Blizzard's hugely successful MMO World of Warcraft relies on initial purchase and monthly subscription, it came late to microtransactions. Game designer James Ernest explains this as a typical US gamer business model, as gamers in this country often dislike the idea of buying one's way through the game. But Stern argues that the subscription model capped users from spending more than they were willing to. But due to a flourishing black market on eBay and other sites for in-game items, Blizzard decided to incorporate virtual item purchase into the game itself.