Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Founder Packs

Lately a number of games, especially F2P games, have started selling "Founder Packs". These packs give some goodies, but mainly give you access to the Alpha and Beta tests.  Many people in the community see this as the game companies taking advantage of their players. However, I am generally okay with this practice. Here's my reasoning.

First, Founder Packs allow F2P games to sell time. Eventually they will open up the game for free. The Old Republic does something similar by giving subscribers early access to features. In my view, this is more or less the same as sales of regular games or hardcover books. A regular game is available for $60. In a couple of months, you might find it on sale for $40. In six months or more, it starts joining bundles and crazy Steam sales where you get for $10. Or consider books. A book is first released in hardcover for $40. A year or so later it comes out in paperback for $10. Or consider movies. You pay $15 to watch the movie in the theatre. If you wait 4 months, you can rent it for $5.

All these are roughly the same situation. The consumer chooses to pay to access the content earlier. If the consumer is willing to wait, she gets the content later, but cheaper. This is same thing for Founder Packs. If you wait three months, the content will be free.

Second, Founder Packs are strictly better than Pre-Orders. How many people have pre-ordered Warlords of Draenor?  That isn't coming out for months. What's better: pay upfront and get immediate access to alpha or beta, or pay up front and not get any access at all?

Third, it's good for the game company. I think that Founder Packs give the company a more realistic idea of who is interested in the game. I'm drawn to the example of The Secret World, which had over a million people in the beta, but only 100,000 or so at launch. As well, the people who are willing to pay are your core audience, and it's better to get feedback from them rather than get feedback from people who just signed up for fun, and aren't planning to play at all.

Perhaps a thousand Founders who paid for Alpha access would have done more for The Secret World than the million who signed up for free.

Of course, this can go too far, in that the devs are listening to very small minority. But it's a small minority that's proven their willingness to pay. In an age where people expect everything to be free, this is not to be taken for granted.

Not to mention that the company gets a little bit of cash flow, which is always helpful for an industry that runs on the edge.

Fourth, wanting access to Alpha/Beta can be rational. A lot of people dismiss Alpha/Beta access as "paying for the privilege of testing". And there is some truth to that. But Alpha and Beta are also the times when the games can be changed. Once the game hits release, change becomes a lot slower. If you want influence in how the game develops, Alpha/Beta access is your best chance. You can test things out, and arguments drawn directly from in-game testing, which makes it more likely that the devs will listen to you. Without Alpha/Beta access, it's just armchair theorycrafting.

Ideally we expect to play these games for a long time. If you're considering spending the next three years in MMO X, paying for Alpha/Beta access so you push the game in your desired direction is a rational choice.

Ultimately, I think that most consumers are somewhat rational. If many of them are willing to pay for Alpha/Beta access, may as well let them. It's worth it to them. Those of us who are unwilling to pay can just wait for the game to be released.


  1. Do I sense some post-purchase rationalisation here? ;)

    I think that all your points have value, but personally I'm wary of Founders packs because of the increasing trend to ask for more and more money from people before much of anything is even known about the product. ArcheAge is actually a bit of an exception here since it's a transplant (and thus more of a known quantity) but companies have been doing this with brand-new releases as well (Neverwinter, Landmark).

    I think it's hard to talk about consumers acting rationally when they don't even fully know what they are buying. How can anyone know whether an unfinished game is going to entertain them for $150 worth of money? I suppose it's not a company's responsibility to save people from bad decisions, but I'd prefer them to sell products instead of promises.

  2. The one concern I have about Founders packs is that they have a bit of a crowdfunding feel to it --one without explicitly going through crowdfunding sites themselves.

    I don't mind the concept of a software company finding out who is really interested in the game by asking people to put some money up front for beta + early access, but I do wonder at the cost.

  3. I bought into the Landmark FOunders pack specifically because I wanted to see how the Alpha process would go.

    One argument given for the paid access to Alpha/Beta is to keep out the trolls, the people who will join up for free just to diss on the game.

    There's some truth to that, though in landmark's case things seem to have shot through to the other side, where everything remotely critical is shouted down by a very vocal group of people unable to take constructive criticism. One can only hope SO DEV's track the first posts in threads for constructive criticism as ell as listen to their worshippers.

    With Archage I'm intentionally leaving of getting the Foudner's pack because of what I've found to be true for most free-access (Closed) Beta's I've been in and that is that beta access shortens my time in the post launch game.
    It's a different beast post-launch, even if very little changed technically, the audience changes. I'll not use the ter community cause I feel that's not really an appropriate term for post-launch playerbase in these days of mega servers.
    So the audience changes, and usually not for the better. I find that the newness of a game I'm only getting into post-launch acts as a buffer that elts me stomach that longer.

  4. "How many people have pre-ordered Warlords of Draenor? That isn't coming out for months. What's better: pay upfront and get immediate access to alpha or beta, or pay up front and not get any access at all?"

    Well, if you pre-ordered, you got your insta-90, so you got access to at least one feature.

    That said, pre-orders for alpha/beta access can be rationalized from the company's point of view in that it gates access, limiting it to those who are truly enthusiastic about the game and who want to get in and help out. After all, how many people show up for "open beta" as a free trial as opposed to going in to help with whatever testing the company is trying to do?

    The flip side, judging by the Landmark forums, is that there is a possibility of ending up with a group with very entrenched views who feel that the company owes them something. During my limited access, I could literally see the people who will eventually be complaining that "things were better in beta" staking out their positions.

    I bought a founder's pack for World of Tanks way back when. But that came after open beta and was just a pre-packaged set of items and benefits at a special price in order to boost early sales and prime the pump for more.

    I haven't seen a game yet I would pay for in order to get access to alpha or beta. I don't doubt they have their uses, but it isn't for me.

  5. The panel I saw at PAX East had Dave Georgeson, Director of Development for Landmark, talk a little about the Founder's Packs (http://talarian.blogspot.com/2014/04/pax-east-2014-next-generation-mmo.html). They're effectively purely a gating mechanism, as you point out in your last point. People of a trollish nature aren't going to pay $100 to get into the game, so they really only get the people who are really interested.

    He mentioned specifically that the Founder's Packs were absolutely not even remotely close to paying the costs of development. I suppose every little bit helps, but money was not their aim there if you take Mr. Georgeson at face value.

    But on the other hand, it is a pretty easy way to gauge interest. If you have folks clamoring to get into your Alpha, even at $100 a pop, you have a good idea that your idea is a good one.

  6. Do I sense some post-purchase rationalisation here? ;)

    ... Maybe ...

    What I was trying to get at with my fourth point was that the very "unfinished" nature might in itself be a selling point. Buying in while the game is unfinished gives you a bit of influence in how it is finished.

  7. @Talarian, while Founder Packs don't really cover development costs, what they are really good for is leverage with potential investors.

    To go to a potential investor and say, "We already have 2000 people who have paid $100 each for our product, and we're only in Alpha" is a very strong piece of evidence that your product is desired. That $200,000 could be leveraged into a few million dollars of investment. Those millions could make a huge difference when finishing the game.

  8. Blogger needs a way to like posts, because I agree with your post about the investment angle, but writing an entire comment to say so feels silly.

  9. I really am looking forward to Eternal Crusade Founder Packs

  10. I love Founder's Packs and actually wish more developers would embrace them.

    I would love to see all the Kickstarter/Indiegogo projects begging for money to instead use a Founder's Packs system directly. That's pretty much what 90% of the computer game projects are doing anyway, so they should be more honest and not try to play the pity card of "we've spent $1m on this game and we need to raise $100k more or else we can't finish our game!" *cough*Hex, I'm looking at you*cough*.