Every month the free-to-play gaming industry tries out different methods of monetizing their content. We’ve seen games that sell costume items for cents on the dollar (looking at you Team Fortress: Hat Edition), those that have lock boxes drop that can be unlocked with $1.25 keys (Perfect World Entertainment anyone?) and those that sell content like DLC. The concept of the “Founders Pack” that precedes a new MMO or expansion is also becoming common.
Some of these virtual services have seen an inflating cost to customers. The quality of the games a virtual sword or spaceship comes from may be questionable; but many Founders Packs and the like come for games that aren’t even on the public market yet.
Transformers Universe is a new MMORPG based on the Hasbro line of toys, developed by Jagex Games Studio Tranformers Universe will be a mixture of MMORPG and MOBA and it just hit open beta.
Like many free-to-play MMOs, Transformers Universe is offering Founders Packs—or bundles of in-game resources, virtual items, and other aesthetic items—as part of their pre-launch monetization scheme. Players who buy into these Founders Packs will receive early access to certain Transformers that other players will have to wait to receive either by earning in-game freemium currency or by purchasing for-pay premium currency.
The Transformers Universe Founders Packs follow the industry bog-standard of tiers with the first three at Bronze, Silver, and Gold Packs–$44.99, $59.99, and $119.99 respectively. With each increase in tier players get access to more virtual stuff in the game starting with season pass times (from 60 to 180 days), early access to Transformer warriors, and premium currency.
Up to this point, TU matches much of the rest of the industry; but there is yet-another-tier above Gold and that’s Cybernite. This pack costs $449.99.
No doubt the average MMO enthusiast will spend more on a free-to-play game that they’re deeply invested in than they would for even the most recent release from a AAA game series (which currently cost about $60 box price.) That’s equivalent to the Silver Pack in Transformers Universe and this would be for an as yet unreleased game.
By way of comparison. Star Trek Online offers a lifetime membership for $300 (includes a lot of perks and what amounts to $50 a month in premium currency for life) this service sometimes drops to $200 when sales occur. As for packs, one year ago STO launched the Legacy of Romulus expansion and with it the Legacy of Romulus Legacy Pack for $160—like any other pack it includes a bunch of spaceships and other items. Neverwinter Online launched about a year ago also and the Neverwinter: Hero of the North Pack cost $200.
These numbers are already becoming fairly high, but what Transformers Universe is doing with this Cybernite pack feels a bit like it’s headed to the moon. As Forbes contributor Paul Tassi put it, “…something is going a little screwy with the model.”
At this point, when you start offering $450 packages for free-to-play games, I think something is going a little screwy with the model. It’s almost like a Kickstarter campaign for a project that’s already funded and being released. Yes, these Founders Packs are optional, and if you spend $450 supporting a Transformers game that isn’t even out yet, you probably either have some stake in Jagex or Hasbro, or you sleep in Optimus Prime patterned sheets every night.
He goes on to add that the increasing cost of packs and currencies entering into free-to-play games will tend to expand the rift between free players and rich players. As yet-to-be-launched games are offering $450 packs to future players it sets a precedent in the industry of gouging a small number of rich players and putting people up on pedestals early in the game’s lifecycle.
While it’s accepted in the free-to-play game industry that a good way to handle premium currency is to allow people to trade money for time—the philosophy is rich casual players can get ahead by spending money, and poor hardcore players can play the game longer and get to the same place.
This philosophy does have a ridiculous logical extreme, of course, and the $450 pack is somewhere on that gamut.
Transformers has a vast cultural outlay and a historical following that is not at all small. The first Transformers toys hit the shelves in the 1980s and since then the property has wound its way into popular culture via animation, TV shows, and movies. The toy and TV series have seen numerous reboots, including a 2007 live-action film and further animated shows.
Perhaps Jagex and Hasbro see this huge audience and mutli-million industry surrounding it as an excuse to ask $450 before a product even hits the digital shelves? There’s already a lot of reasons to dislike video games that are extensions of other media properties and this is not going to help.