Information courtesy of GlassWalls, SCEA Home Community Specialist; commentary provided by NorseGamer, HSM Editor-in-Chief
At the beginning of 2012, I predicted that this year would be remembered as the “Year of the Game.”
I have no particular gift for prognostication, but it seemed like a fairly obvious and logical conclusion to draw. Home’s shifting towards being more of a gaming platform, and for very sound business reasons. And the timing is spot on, too: how many personal estates can you own? How much clothing can even a prominent cross-dressing fashionista possibly want? But if there’s one thing that Mass Media proved, as soon as Midway entered the picture, it’s that gaming tokens offer a remarkable source of long-term revenue.
What we’ve seen, just with the first quarter of 2012, is a remarkable dominance of freemium gaming microtransactions. Here’s what happened in March:
#1) Digital Leisure Inc. 500 Chips
#2) Lockwood Publishing Lockwood Token Pack – 80
#3) Mass Media Inc. The Green Ticket
#4) Lockwood Publishing Lockwood Token Pack – 480
#5) Sony Computer Entertainment America Freestyle Dancefloor
#6) Sony Computer Entertainment America The Stick Up Kid Gold Guns & Tie
#7) Digital Leisure Inc. 5,000 Chips
#8) Digital Leisure Inc. Old West Saloon
#9) Sony Computer Entertainment America The Stick Up Kid Gangster Skinny Jeans
#10) Sony Computer Entertainment America Check Black Shirt and Tattoo (Male)
So — let’s dig into this and see what consumer trends we can divine.
1. Digital Leisure once again holds the top spot, and indeed takes up three spots on this list, with commodities somehow related to gaming. Keep in mind that this developer offers you a free weekly stipend of chips to enjoy, which may be a better incentive to try the games as opposed to Mass Media’s strategy of offering intermittent free-play windows. Think about it: if there’s a particular game you really want to try out for free at Midway, you have to wait for it to open up at a free-play window — and gamers are an impatient, truculent lot. Whereas with the Casino, you’re free to blow your stipend as fast as you want on any game of your choosing, without having to wait. This may be more conducive to getting people to spend money at a faster rate.
2. The only personal estate on this list is Digital Leisure’s Old West Saloon. And to an extent, this makes sense: I’m struggling to think of any other really superlative, knock-your-socks-off estates that have been released since the beginning of this year. And I’m sorry, but SCEA’s 2012 estate offerings so far have been as exciting as watching my ex-wife recovering from anaesthesia. You know the beauty is there, and you’re waiting patiently with genuine concern, but you really want to get back to the bikini and games. And Digital Leisure’s Saloon brought the games, along with background music and a setting that’s more than just one big box. Hopefully the Saloon’s sales, in a marketplace flooded with personal estates, will encourage developers to continue to innovate with what an estate does and is.
3. Lockwood Gift Machine tokens chew up two slots on this list. Is anyone really surprised at this point? The Lockwood Gift Machine has been an absolute smash hit since it started, and it capitalized on behavioral economics by giving people the ability to give gifts to each other. Sony has tried to copy this (rather badly) with the gifting feature in some of their recent estate offerings, but it astonishes me that no other developer in the last year has bothered to blatantly copycat Lockwood and open up their own gift machine. Look: it’s okay to copycat Lockwood. Companies copycat each other all the time (hell, even HSM isn’t immune to being copied and imitated). Just look at Apple’s influence on computers and tablets. When a successful product or innovation is introduced, it is natural for others to try to incorporate the most successful elements of it into their own business models. This is called competition, and it drives innovation. So will somebody please compete with Lockwood?
4. Mass Media is once again high up on the list with the Green Ticket. Big surprise there. Midway makes a strong case that really simple, easily-recognizable games with scaling difficulties and multiple rewards are a long-term cash cow in Home. Digital Leisure picked up on this formula, and it’s possible that Sony may be able to cash in on it with the new Cutthroats game. The potential downside is that it may discourage much more intricate and detailed freemium games — Sodium2 and Novus Prime, for instance — from being developed in the future, as their for-purchase commodities don’t seem to sell in nearly the same quantities. This is something which I dread, and I hope won’t happen. So go buy more stuff from Lockwood and Hellfire Games, please.
5. Fifty percent of this list is taken up with freemium gaming microtransactions and gifting. Just wanted to point that out.
6. The Freestyle Dance Floor. Not only does it appear on this list, but it’s in the top half. And it’s easy to see why: it’s a cool personal estate item that combines the best elements of some of Lockwood’s similar commodities, but it also gives you a few of the catchy dance tracks from the Hub soundtrack. See, this is called innovation. And it pays off. Where it gets interesting, I think, is when LOOT introduces some of its forthcoming virtual commodities onto the Home scene, such as the portable EOD. My guess is that portable RadioIO is effectively going to kill most standalone music items in Home. It’s interesting, sometimes, how one commodity in Home can actually exert tremendous downward pressure on so many others — and I suspect that’s going to happen here.
7. The Stick Up Kid. I don’t get it. Please explain to me why it’s selling so well. The fact that the torso component sold better than the legs (and appears on the list for the second month in a row) leads me to believe that avatars want to run around with guns. Certainly, there’s been an increase in firearm hand items in Home, and given the makeup of Home’s active population (predominantly young and male), I suppose that’s not surprising. Speaking as someone who owns firearms in real life, though: guns aren’t toys, kids.
8. Same thing goes for the Check Black Shirt and Tattoo. Why is it performing so well? I’ll admit, I’m culturally out of my element on this one. Tattoos turn me off. My grandfather, an oak of man who led a very hard, blue-collar life, had a beautiful tattoo of a woman with long hair — except, when viewed from a different angle, it became a flaming skull. It was a work of art. And when I asked him about it as a small boy, he smiled slightly and said, “You have to be exceedingly young and exceedingly stupid to get one.” Now, hey, I’m no prude, but our culture is going bugnuts with tattoos. As (I believe) Jon Stewart once asked, “Have we as a culture become so collectively bored that we’ve begun drawing on ourselves?” I live on a tropical island, so I see barely clothed bodies on a regular basis, and trust me — tattoos everywhere are not attractive.
9. There are no female clothing items on this list. None. At all. Huzzah! Is there just nothing appealing for actual women in Home recently, or have the (semi-)secret crossdressers decided to tone it down a notch? Or, since there are more freemium gaming options now available in Home, is the discretionary spending going towards gaming instead? I mean, guys love gaming. Possibly even more than women’s clothing.
10. How will Cutthroats affect the April list, I wonder? It’s a freemium game, and like Casino chips and Midway tickets, its coins aren’t a permanent resource which can be acquired once for a set price and then used indefinitely. I actually do wonder if the higher prices for Cutthroats’ coins will be a deterrent; there’s one value pack at the Cutthroats store which is fifty dollars, and I believe that’s currently the most expensive commodity you can purchase in Home right now. At those kinds of prices, gamers might want something permanent instead of renewable — infinite fireball cannon shot, for instance. I’ll be very curious to see if Cutthroats makes it onto the top-ten list next month.
Moving into the second quarter, what can we expect? Probably more of the same. More gaming microtransactions. Fewer estate sales. Value packs. Possibly the occasional bit of clothing. The real question is whether or not Home’s audience has dramatically changed in the last year, towards a gamer-heavy crowd, or whether it’s the same core group of spenders who have shifted from social purchases to gaming purchases. Either way, it appears that SCEA’s business strategy of shifting Home into more of a gaming platform is not just a successful venture, but indeed the correct course of action to have taken.