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Crossout, and how free to play gaming is often accompanied by an unrealistic grind that incentivizes real money transactions

Gamingtodaynews1f - Crossout, and how free to play gaming is often accompanied by an unrealistic grind that incentivizes real money transactions

Everything written here is unsourced and anecdotal, I am happy to engage in spirited discussion regarding the merits of this write up.

Free to play games survive because they make money. So how do they do it? There are essentially 2 options: ads, and MTX. I'd like to focus on the latter in regards to Crossout, a game I enjoy.

MTX come in many forms. In-game currency is the most prevalent; a less familiar form is the season pass. In general, these approaches favor players with the deepest pockets and ensure they're equipped with the best items (cosmetic or otherwise) and thus incentivizing other players they encounter to pay out as well. Because it's generally less ethical, it seems to appear less often across the industry, at least to the level of incentivization that you see in Crossout.

Crossout is a free to play online multiplayer game featuring vehicular combat. It truly occupies a niche, being equal parts Minecraft, Burnout and Fallout. They know this and lean HEAVILY into the MTX margins. Meaning that they are extremely successful in bartering your credit card for in-game currency by offering an exciting experience coupled with a near insurmountable grind a la GTA Online.

One thing you've no doubt noticed in the past decade is the slow disappearance of player-to-player trading. To add some perspective, WoW has always had an open trading system wherein the in-game currency and the overwhelming majority of items are tradeable. Despite the existence of their in-game currency, this has never been a problem to their profitability. Yes their playerbase has declined slowly but it's extremely sustainable (the subscription model and charging for retail DLC is a discussion for another time). I believe the reason is glaringly obvious: they do not offer real world trading for their in-game currency.

For companies looking to optimize their returns strategy, in-game currency as a tradeable item is an enormous bottleneck. The viable monetization of in-game currency is threatened when players have the option to trade amongst themselves. I think mainly it applies to players that leave the game and dump their inventory to a newcomer/friend, but it also extends to those kindhearted players who help others with free items. Maybe you see where I'm going with this.


Crossout, being among those who offer MTX for in-game currency, are keenly aware of this bottleneck and thus do not offer a player-to-player trading system. It should be noted that Crossout has a player market, where items can be sold for in-game currency to other players. Like in most games, the market taxes the payment received by the buyer. Understandably, they patch exploits to their market and generally strive to prevent players from engaging in private transactions.

Which brings me to the player attrition rate. The game has a bad rep for losing players after the first couple of hours. They run through the tutorials and first few matches, they love the unique and optimized gameplay. But as soon as the tutorial and warm-up matches are concluded, the new player is inserted into true online matches and immediately confronted by a superior weapon or build. They then look the weapon up on the market and find it costs the equivalent of $40. Sure, you can craft it, but god only knows how many hours of grinding just to unlock the ability to craft it. And that's it…they either buy an MTX, suck it up for the grind or the most likely result, uninstalled and gone forever.

Now, clearly this has worked well enough to keep a large, happy international playerbase for a couple of years. I've said nothing about the limited inventory space, expandable only for a nominal fee, or their really fucked up strategies such as repeatedly releasing new weapons heavily overpowered to drive initial sales and then nerfing them into a balanced state once their money is pocketed. Summarily, I realize that game developers need to be profitable, but I can't help but wonder how much bigger/healthier the player bases for games of this feather could be, were the devs and publishers open to "breaking even" just a little bit later…

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