Sunday, December 29, 2013

Bitcoins and MMORPGs.

I've been mulling over this question awhile now:

How do you make a free to play MMORPG that is not driven by a cash shop but is still sustainable as a business. In other words, how do you make a "clean" game in which no gameplay decisions are driven by the concept of microtransactions?

When gameplay decisions have to factor in the business side, the game inevitably suffers: see a million generic Korean grindfests where the only way to escape the monotony and get to the action is to pay for items. Very few games seem to escape this fate. The fewer players there are, the more expensive and disruptive items have to be in order to be profitable. The more players there are, the less items have to be disruptive -- the free to play community at large won't want to deal with players who "boosted" their way to the top but have no idea how to play the game.

But what if you designed a system where every player paid to play your game, but invisibly, in the background, with no effort and cash required?


It came to me a few hours ago as I was mulling over some game concepts. A minimalistic survival game, with no real UI to speak of, no macros or quest hubs. The game is its own user interface, similar to how Dead Space handled inventory management: every interaction you had with your inventory was part of the game. Nothing stopped, the world kept running as you fumbled through your equipment while the lights in the hallway ticked off one by one and the howl of monsters got closer and closer.

In a game like that, you can't have cash shops. Can you imagine walking up to an NPC vendor in the game, talking, then clicking through some immersion breaking dialogs to click through an immersion breaking gateway in order to buy some credits for $5 that will help you cut down trees faster, all because the tree-felling portion of the game was made more grindy to encourage players to buy something to cut down trees faster?

To me, it seemed like the only real option for sustaining a game like this was a subscription, which may as well make the game stillborn. The time of subscription-based games is over. WoW has sucked the air out of the room in that regard.

But I was browsing /r/bitcoin earlier, not even sure how I got there, but just passing the time when it hit me:

What if your users mined bitcoins for you while they played the game?

Their computers provide labor in exchange for being able to access and play your MMO*. In that sense, the concept of a subscription-based MMO* can survive through cryptocurrencies. You receive a currency (Bitcoin, Litecoin, even Dogecoin) while the user themselves put no tangible effort giving that currency to you.

It seems too perfect. For end-users, the entire thing is seamless: they turn on the game, they play, they turn it off. For you, you get paid when your players are playing. If you have a love of games, this is Heaven: the more fun you make your game, the more users you get, the more money you get. You never have to compromise your vision of fun in order to make money, because a fun game that people like to play is metaphorically a "gold" (Bitcoin!) mine.

It's a crazy thought, but it does make me wonder...