Bigpoint: Publishers don’t understand monetisation
Browser game company Bigpoint has harshly criticised the approach traditional publishers are taking as they make their first forays into free-to-play and explore alternative means of monetising their users.
In an interview, chief games officer Philip Reisberger tells us that the likes of EA, Valve and Ubisoft are wrong to focus on selling virtual goods that enable customisation, rather than a competitive advantage. Bigpoint, he argues, better understands monetisation by virtue of it never having been in the console business.
"I've never shipped a retail product in my entire life," he tells us. "We don't know how to do that, so we think differently. That's a big advantage in this new world.
"There are millions, hundreds of millions of people willing to invest even though they aren't obliged to. The crucial part of the design is not having to invest, but wanting to. Most people in the Bigpoint universe don't ever pay," he adds, before lining up Valve in his sights. "But if they want to pay, don't just offer hats – offer them something that will help them."
"In a nutshell, EA doesn't understand it," he adds, referring to EA's insistence that a Battlefield 3 pre-order bonus containing advanced weaponry would not give players a competitive advantage. "It wouldn't ruin the game. If selling an advantage ruins the game, you haven't done the balancing right…EA and Ubisoft, for example, they're both trying, but they're not really there yet.
"It's a delicate balance, though, and that's why I love my game designers. All of them have understood how to do this. If you have a sophisticated approach to free-to-play games, in the end you can monetise everything."
It's an interesting point, but Reisberger is happily overlooking the fact that where Bigpoint's and the likes of EA's businesses differ is that all Bigpoint's games are free to play. There, giving players a financial route to the top makes good business sense; traditional publishers have to consider those who have already paid £40 for a copy of a game.
Valve, too, would likely point to the fact that Team Fortress 2 has been a popular online game for almost four years, with a highly engaged community. It is already balanced as such, and therefore offering advantage through microtransactions would either ruin that balance, or require so extensive a rebalance that it might no longer be the same game. Traditional publishers are dipping a toe in the waters of free-to-play at the moment, and may well agree with Reisberger's view that they are not quite there yet.
Regardless, it's a strategy that has clearly worked for Bigpoint: it has 220 million registered users, a figure that grows by a quarter of a million every day. For the full interview, click here.