The latest edition of Netease Games’s ongoing “Dispute” discussion series (see here for our previous coverage) tackles a question that’s on the mind of every developer trying to design and market games for China: what should games cost? It’s an especially interesting question in China where rampant piracy, which has been the norm for years, is starting to give way to free-to-play-but-pay-to-win models that rope in players with no or minimal cost of entry and then monetize in-game transactions. It’s one of the only models publishers have had real success with in China so far, but how is China’s gaming community taking to the switch from pirated PC gaming to microtransaction-based browser games, and how to they view the pricing of games today? Netease put the question to gamers on its games portal, and found that while most people still think games are pretty affordable, nearly a third consider them to be expensive.
In the comments, many gamers said that it depends on what kind of games you play. “If you have to play games like Long Journey where even 10,000 RMB [~$1,500] doesn’t count for much, no one’s stopping you,” wrote one 21-year-old female gamer. “But poor people have our own ways of gaming.”
Another commenter felt that China’s gaming community had become split between two different kinds of gamers:
Chinese gamers are easily polarized. One group has gotten used to eating free lunch, and they don’t think you should spend money on any game. The other group is just chasing stimulation, and doesn’t care how much they spend.
A young commenter also addressed the question of legitimate versus pirated games directly, in a comment that offers yet another reason why unbanning consoles in China wouldn’t result in a stream of revenue for game console makers:
Of course games are expensive, that’s why I have no way of buying the legit versions, otherwise I would have bought a Playstation Vita long ago. But I hear the Playstation 3 will be hacked soon [and thus able to play cheap pirated games], that’s a good thing.
Traditional console game pricing was always going to be a non-starter in China, but Netease’s results would seem to indicate that a significant number of gamers also perceive the free and cheap-to-play microtransaction-based games as expensive. The again, many Chinese gamers grew up playing pirated games for free, so paying anything at all for a game can make it expensive in the eyes of some people. Although piracy is slowly becoming less common as games move to subscription and microtransaction models that can’t be pirated in the same way, even China’s younger gamers are used to an ecosystem where many high quality titles are available for free online or at extremely low prices on pirated disks sold everywhere from game shops to subway tunnels. If China ever really drops the banhammer on games piracy, it’s going to be a very rude awakening for some members of the Chinese gaming community.
(via Netease Games)