Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pay 2 Win in PvE - Good for Retention?

Is allowing players to pay small amounts of real money to advance in a Players vs. Environment game, a good thing for player retention?
In Festinger and Carlsmith's classic 1959 experiment, students were asked to spend an hour on boring and tedious tasks (e.g., turning pegs a quarter turn, over and over again). The tasks were designed to generate a strong, negative attitude. Once the subjects had done this, the experimenters asked some of them to do a simple favor. They were asked to talk to another subject (actually an actor) and persuade the impostor that the tasks were interesting and engaging. Some participants were paid $20 (inflation adjusted to 2010, this equates to $150) for this favor, another group was paid $1 (or $7.50 in "2010 dollars"), and a control group was not asked to perform the favor.
This is called the Induced Compliance Paradigm.
Can we apply similar conditions to various Pay to Achieve, Pay to Win and Pay to Advance Scenarios?

The outcome of that experiment is as follows:
When asked to rate the boring tasks at the conclusion of the study (not in the presence of the other "subject"), those in the $1 group rated them more positively than those in the $20 and control groups. This was explained by Festinger and Carlsmith as evidence for cognitive dissonance. The researchers theorized that people experienced dissonance between the conflicting cognitions, "I told someone that the task was interesting", and "I actually found it boring." When paid only $1, students were forced to internalize the attitude they were induced to express, because they had no other justification. Those in the $20 condition, however, had an obvious external justification for their behavior, and thus experienced less dissonance.
It goes without saying that the feeling of achievement is stronger when, you know, you actually achieve something, instead of buying your way to a new level, to new characters or weapons.
But, if applied to various Free 2 Play games, does this Paradigm still hold true? And what does it mean if it does?

Since I don't actually have access to various F2P game statistics - namely those with various leveling options that involve real money (even games like SimCity Social - where you can pay money to buy in game Diamonds and more Energy), I'll try to answer the second question.
In subsequent experiments, an alternative method of inducing dissonance has become common. In this research, experimenters use counter-attitudinal essay-writing, in which people are paid varying amounts of money (e.g. $1 or $10) for writing essays expressing opinions contrary to their own. People paid only a small amount of money have less external justification for their inconsistency and must produce internal justification in order to reduce the high degree of dissonance that they are experiencing.

Unlike in F&Cs original experiment, the players, presumably, start out enjoying the task - their newly downloaded or registered game. However, various missions and tasks in the game present them the option of either paying small amounts of real cash to unlock higher tier items or level up faster, skipping various conditions, or invest actual play hours, actual work, into the game to reach those levels, without skipping any conditions and needed items.

In this case, players who invested the "work" have a lot of internal justification to continue playing, having invested much time and energy into achieving goals and tasks, and building up their character/city/army. Players who, on the other hand, have only invested small amounts of cash [note: I'm taking the socio-economic placement of these paying players out of the equation for this debate], seemingly insignificant amounts of money, have less internal justification to continue playing.
Thus, maybe, reaching boredom faster? Dropping the game faster that those who don't pay?

And let's face it, the major selling point most of these micro transaction games is the fact that you don't pay 60$, but only small amounts, insignificant amounts, for stuff you pick. In essence, psychologically speaking, the starting point here is off, emphasizing the micro in the transaction.


On the other hand, maybe, big content filled DLC - maybe episodic content, maybe new really worthwhile characters and weapons to play with - that cost significant money (10$ and upward) - may just work towards that player dissonance, in favor of playing through and buying more.


I'd love to see actual statistics on player retention.
To see the co-variance between how much players pay and how long they continue playing.