The prospect of virtual goods as a gaming business model is truly a lucrative thing if you have the right formula. Inexpensive yet beneficial items, addictive game play, the ability to earn important goods through play as well as money, and so on. However, some of these elements are highly volatile, and if not given proper care, will blow up in the game developer’s face — as seems to have happened for Electronic Arts’ “freemium” title, Battlefield Heroes.
The phrase here is “freemium,” in quotes, because recent virtual goods changes to the game have shot the title in its digital foot, forcing players that want to compete to spend money. Of all the aforementioned elements to a successful freemium game, EA, according to the player base, completely “screwed up” the cost-to-play ratio of the game’s two currencies: Valor Points and BattleFunds. This is a classic problem for any game with a virtual economy to have.
In a nutshell, the cartoony, shoot-em-up game has players fighting each other in zany, almost satirical combat. As they play, they earn the currency “Valor Points” (VP). Players use the currency to purchase the primary items in the game: Weapons. BattleFunds (BF) are what can be purchased with real cash. Intelligently, EA made superfluous items like unique outfits cost BF only and BF weapons cost significantly less in relation to VP.
For whatever reason, the company’s boasts at having well over a million users and a revenue expectation (for 2009) of $80 million wasn’t enough. EA decided to gouge the prices of virtually every item of merit that could be bought using the free VP, while dropping the corresponding BF prices. Furthermore, items that could be purchased for a temporary amount of time had their lifespan reduced from a month to a pathetic one, maybe three days.
According to Ars Technica: “The amount of rounds you need to play each day to keep ONE weapon [is] about 60, which is about 5 hours of playtime, every day.” Until the change, reports about Battlefield Heroes have been generally positive. But now, if players want to earn the quality weapons needed to compete with other users, they have to spend money or play for ridiculous amounts of time. Already, the game’s forums have exploded with complaints.