Play-o-graphics vs. Pay-o-graphics

Coming out of the inaugural PaxDev, I was impressed by the number and quality of talks about gamer segmentation–that is, all the different ways gamers like to play.  Similar to demographics, lets call these “Play-o-graphics.”  Some like to explore, some compete, others socialize, and then there’s the obsessive-compulsive crowd who must complete any goal or challenge you put in front of them.  With all these different types of gamers, it makes sense to think through how game design should adapt to best map to the Play-o-graphics of their audience.

But I didn’t see any talk or theory about how gamers prefer to pay for the games they play.  Let’s call these “Pay-o-graphics.”  And Pay-o-graphics seem just as important when thinking through game design as Play-o-graphics.  The most advanced Pay-o-graphic segmentation I’ve heard is the simplistic Whales v. Minnows grouping.  Whales spend a lot of money on your game, and Minnows don’t.  So the game design theory says to identify the whales and make them as happy as possible.  But that seems too limiting of a theory and also punts on the idea that you can monetize the minnows as well.  Or, more to the point, gamers likely have a range of ways that they might prefer to pay for a game, and exceptional game design should find a way to adapt and include each Pay-o-graphic type.   For example, some folks might want to pay as you go, making small payments for the things that most interest them.  For others, that would feel like nickel and diming, and they would prefer to make a “one-and-done” payment for full access.  Others don’t want to part with money in any form, but wouldn’t riot or notice a restricting of premium features or the insertion of ads along the way.

Most games so far have only accommodated a single Pay-o-graphic.  And there are lots of internal fights about which one to serve.  Should we be a subscription service like an MMO?  Should we just sell a retail version, and maybe some PDLC down the road?  Do we offer micro-transactions?  Do we include advertising?  Do we offer a free version?  And generally these debates focus on picking a single solution for ALL gamers.  But since Pay-o-graphics are just as varied as Play-o-graphics, that seems too limiting.

Just as game design has learned to accommodate multiple Play-o-graphics, I think it should start learning and accommodating various Pay-o-graphics.  And if we had a better model of Play-o-graphics, then that could help lead to better design.