Poll Question 051 – Would you consider paying a monthly fee to play single player games?

5th October 2007

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

We buy games and play them. There is a one-off cost and we play it as many times as we want or as little as we want. There are other financial models within video games, but none for Single Player.

This week’s poll question is:
Would you consider paying a monthly fee to play single player games?

The basic idea is that instead of paying for your game in one payment, you pay monthly. I have written a complete post detailing the idea but have separated from the poll question post because I have taken the idea further and discussed gameplay aspects, new content and possible financial models.

Back in April 2005 I wrote an article entitled A Unique SP/MP Gameplay Idea. The basic concept was to merge SP and MP gameplay modes. In February 2007 Arkane Studios and Valve announced The Crossing: Fusing single player and multiplayer.

Don’t think about games as they are now. Imagine a game that provided regular new content, by regular I mean at least every two weeks. A game that you could play with friends in co-op mode. A game that had a background story specifically designed for the introduction of new levels and situations. A game whose levels were specifically designed to have enemies, ammo and health randomly placed to provide plenty of replayability.

Now think of a game where the modding community could submit levels, characters, weapons, vehicles, in fact all sorts of content to the developer for inclusion with the game and actually get paid for it! Sounds to good to be true? Well, currently it is. But maybe one day it will be a reality.

The Gameplay Aspects

Imagine you start your single player game. The screens fades from black and you are given the background story and also your objectives. Let’s be clear, this is a single player game but it is also visible online for other players.

Perhaps you’ve played this section before, but as I said earlier this game changes. The system knows you’ve played it before and at what skill setting. This time it’s a bit different. Enemies aren’t where you expect them to be, the layout is slightly different, perhaps you even have less ammo and health, especially if you completed it easily last time.

But wait, there’s a message on your screen! “Another player wants to join for a short section. Accept or decline?”

If you accept, then the number of enemies changes to reflect two players. In effect it becomes a co-op game. At a certain point the players have to diverge and continue their separate ways.

Perhaps the playing world would be one huge city and each time you play you have different starting points and different objectives. Imagine a city like London. One day you play and you have to go from the center to one particular point of the city’s out wall. Next week you start from somewhere halfway between the center and outer wall and your objectives take you around the edge. You could crisscross the city a hundred different ways and it could still seem new.

Perhaps as MrStabby suggested on DIGG:
“Your “main quest” consists of the basic single player elements, make it through certain areas…defeat certain enemys…complete certain tasks/puzzles…but then you come across a task or puzzle which requires a pair of people to complete… This means you and another person who has made it to that area of the game can complete this task together, and cooperatively continue with your quest…after completing this task, you have more “single-player” objectives, which you may or may not encounter others in your world experiencing… Eventually the coop missions get larger, and require more people…sooner or later you have established a group of people who have come across the same path (or similar) and you work together to complete obstacles which can in no other way be completed…”

The Financial Aspects

The player, as opposed to an amateur developer, would have a choice of payment methods. They could pay a one-off fee like they do now and get a fixed game. The game that is available now is what they get. No upgrades, no new weapons etc. Or a player can choose to pay monthly and receive everything.

The exact cost would be very, very important. Too high and very few players would choose this method, too low and the developer wouldn’t make any money and the game would fail.

I’m no financial expert but I would think it would need to be approximately $2 a month. That doesn’t sound much but remember that it’s $24 a year and people still play Half-Life 1 and that’s nearly ten years old. With this concept you would have paid $240 dollars for a game!

Clearly, it needs more thought.

Perhaps the person who paid outright would be able to buy yearly or 6 monthly updates. Perhaps they could buy individual updates.

One possible model could include the game becomes free to a player after two years. This means I would have paid $48 for the game but then it’s mine. If I choose to play it for a year and then stop my subscription, that’s fine too.

There could be a developer edition which would cost more but it comes with an editor. This editor obviously allows people to create content, which they can then sell to the developer. This should include some sort of rebate. This means that people who create content and release it actually pay less than a player for the game.

Summary

I’ve never played an online game where they add new content but I don’t see why it couldn’t be tried in an FPS game. Perhaps if the pay monthly fee were coupled with the new content and possible co-op ideas it may work.

What do you think?

Please Note

This post is the detailed version of Poll Question 051. All comments related to the poll question should be made on this post.

The Poll

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10 Comments

  1. I love this idea. If this is something game companies are considering, then I may consider getting internet at home. I would love it if some companies re-released old games as online coop so we could play our favorite game together. Games like Doom 3 could be one level at a time. Only 4-6 people can join and if you don’t join in time then you have to wait for the next level to load when they are done. This is a great concept for war games because all wars need replacements. The story would be the mission and anyone can join as a replacement. They way they join is up to the company because it would need to be realistic to the genre. Like in WW2 games the replacements would have to parachute in when they join.
    It would be awsome to have some levels where you need to split up into teams to achieve the goal.

  2. Kerberos

    It could happen too. If the montly fee is no more than the predicted 2 bucks, no problem after all. This oculd be the evolution of something like World Of Warcraft today. Although Coop games exists, and some of them are mods for Half Life2. I partially agree with the idea, if it is in the way it is proposed, but would not pay more than 5 bucks a month for that, a game.

  3. Kerberos

    Phillip the link redirecting the pool page to this one is wrong, it is written “[…]an-online-single-player-game” instead of the correct “[…]online-single-player-games”.

  4. Phillip the link redirecting the pool page to this one is wrong, it is written “[…]an-online-single-player-game” instead of the correct “[…]online-single-player-games”.

    Fixed, thanks.

    BTW, you comment dissappeared from the Poll Question because it was set to No Comments. I don’t know why it initally accepted it.

  5. Paying monthly for a single player game does sound a bit duff. People seem more willing to pay for a multi-player on a monthly basis or even per play, since this si more jump in and go. Not so the case with a story driven single player campaign that you don’t expect to ‘modify” while you’re playing. It could bring a whole new meaning to “pop-up’.

  6. Paying monthly for a single player game does sound a bit duff.

    Only becasue we haven’t done it before. The idea of paying for a game in episodes might have sounded just as duff until somebody tried it. For some games it’s perfect, for others not.

    Remember, you not just paying for a “Single player game” but a “Single player game that is updated very regularly!

    Not so the case with a story driven single player campaign that you don’t expect to ” modify” while you’re playing.

    Perhaps this is simply because we haven’t had anything else.

    I know books and TV work in the same way but games don’t have to follow their example.

    Imagine a campaign that offered single player missions everyday. IF you missed a day then the computed outcome of that mission was configured into the story.

    Wars don’t stop just becasue players have too much homework.

    I know that’s an extreme situation but what I am trying to challenge is the accepted norms.

    Why can’t the story change? That’s what happens in life.

    In this situation the story would chnage because you played or didn’t. The story would allow “drop in and play” sessions in the same way that a normal game neatly divides the gameplay into managable sections.

  7. Manveru

    The idea is just another version of Online Multiplayer; the sense of having Single Player is to play it whenever we want: during the weekend, during some short moments of free time, being able to switch it on and off whenever we want and being offline (it is a case for me — I play when being back from job to relax). Also some people simply do not like to play with other people (they have enough of real life interaction). The example of Morrowind shows very well that it is possible to make absolutely enormous game with MMORPG gameplay but without multiplayer and there are literally thousands of free mods for this game.

    Some people search for involving storyline, a sort of interactive book/theater/movie.

    They also like to come back sometimes to the storyline they like, that is why a game with totally flexible storyline may be a disappointment for some people – it is like watching favorite movie – you know what will happen next, but the storyline has its own specific charm (for example a classic “Deus Ex” or the “XIII”). It changes a little from real life which is ever-changing for some people.

    As for an economic model which includes mods, many companies tried to make one; most of them failed. Bioware wanted the players to pay for some selected mods and content for Neverwinter Nights, they even made EULA in such a way that it was giving to Bioware nonexclusive right to publish any mod made by third party; the result were 3 average mods published by this company which have not achieved bigger success contrary to NWN itself which had spawned more than 1000 free mods and sold more than 2 million copies.

    Even Half Life is such a game that achieved good part of its success thanks to its mods. Personally I have found HL quite average game in the single player, that was well worth 2,5€ that I have paid for it. But its real value was made by numerous single player mods which are not only free but also in many cases they are better than original game.

    One of the biggest commercial successes for single player game was a game which does not even touch the multiplayer aspect from far and in addition is quite linear: I think here about Final Fantasy series — its advantage is a fact that it is complete.

    As for introducing the nonlinearity gradually, I think it is better to make a complete storyline with complete design including the nonlinearity before releasing a game – the author has to prove his capacity to enchant the player, to include artistic spirit and something original – that is why so many games include the secrets, interesting places to discover, hidden quests, etc. If he includes new stuff continually in the same game isn’t that more interesting to play some new game? after all part of joy comes from the fact that a player managed to overcome all obstacles put for him by designer, and in the online single player the designer will be creating new add-in stuff for player to overcome while what works better is an add-on approach where the player actually can visit new places, new adventure, meet new NPCs with deeper personalities and it is something that already exist. It is true that a designer may try to complete his work gradually in such online approach, since there are so many unfinished games for different reasons. But I can answer to this that designers became lazy and too dependent on marketing mumbo jumbo nowadays. They release untested and unfinished games, while in the far ages of 8 and 16 bit computers they where obliged to put a real effort to finish their creations (similarly to console games designers today) in such a way that the game really were complete. Such online single player/design approach would be equivalent to releasing constantly new versions of books and movies with the important corrections of the errors and changes in the storyline. It would be a legitimization of developer’s inability to construct a correct game.

  8. The idea is just another version of Online Multiplayer

    Just because you pay monthly? I don’t believe you can simply dismiss it by comparing it to something else.

    the sense of having Single Player is to play it whenever we want:

    I disagree. I can play MP games anytime I want to. My reasons for playing SP games are not related to timing.

    They also like to come back sometimes to the storyline they like, that is why a game with totally flexible storyline may be a disappointment for some people

    I never suggested that the storyline had to be flexible. In fact it could easily be fixed but have new elements introduced over a period of time in the same way a game introduces elements over the course of the game. Or in the same way the Valve introduced new elemnets in Half-lIfe 2, Episode 1 and no doubt I Episode 2.

    As for an economic model which includes mods, many companies tried to make one;

    Perhaps but because it failed before is no guarantee of failure this time. It might have only needed a little tweaking.

    If he includes new stuff continually in the same game isn’t that more interesting to play some new game?

    No. IS this exactly what Valve are doing with their Episodes? If there is a player fan base then they will always want more. They have invested time and effort into the gaming characters and want to know what’s happening to them.

    It is true that a designer may try to complete his work gradually in such online approach, since there are so many unfinished games for different reasons. But I can answer to this that designers became lazy and too dependent on marketing mumbo jumbo nowadays. They release untested and unfinished games, while in the far ages of 8 and 16 bit computers they where obliged to put a real effort to finish their creations (similarly to console games designers today) in such a way that the game really were complete.

    What you are discussing here is a production process. DO you really believe VAlve or Epic Games would release partly finished work just becuase they are bored with what they are doing.

    Such online single player/design approach would be equivalent to releasing constantly new versions of books and movies with the important corrections of the errors and changes in the storyline. It would be a legitimization of developer’s inability to construct a correct game.

    Forgive me for sounding rude but that’s absolute rubbish! I have not discussed errors and corrections to the storyline at all. I have been discussing PLANNED and CAREFULL THOUGHT OUT additions.

    Imagine the city again. Instead of allow the player access to the whole area in one game, the develoeprs provide clues and storlines that give menaing to each newly opened area.

    There won’t be a group of people sitting in a room saying “Okay, so what can we do this month?” Each and every monthly update will be part of a scehduled trickle of access, story and immersion.

    You seem to be under the impression that the thing the player will play will only be roughly thought out. I’m talking about a much larger concept where the player gets a full game and I mean a full game, at the beginning, with plenty of new levels and other items each month.

  9. Now that the Poll has been relplaced by the latest one I have added it to the end of the post.

    It seems this one was quite close with only 92% (133) of you deciding that you don’t want to pay monthly for your super-game.

    You lack vision is all I can say!

    The poll is still open if you want to vote and discuss it.

  10. People do pay monthly fees.. GameTap is one example. So why would this be any different?.. I think if it were available, a new blob of gamers would buy in not seen in this genre before…

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