A Space for Celebrating Spend-Capped Games

Streaming services like HBO Max and Netflix now match theatrical films in star power and production value. But television shows are not films. It would make no sense to say, “I just saw a great movie last night called Succession”. You may have seen the greatest ensemble cast to be filmed since The Godfather. But you didn’t see a film.

This distinction is not about where you see the content – theater or home. People can readily recognize that a film is not a television show, even if it never receives a theatrical release. And it’s not about a distinction in audiences… there is likely a near 100% overlap between people who watch films and television shows.

The format defines the art form.

Typically, television shows are open-ended at their start. If a show is successful, it’s expected that more seasons will follow. Drama builds from episode to episode. Film, meanwhile, has to complete every narrative arc it introduces in a couple of hours. It must stand on its own.

I was a film major in college. I could have been a television major if I had wanted to – both paths were offered. But the course work for these paths were very distinct.

In like form, I built my career around games that did not use recurring revenue models. I started working at the very start of the PlayStation 2 era as a games journalist, and eventually became SEGA’s US Creative Director off the back of deeply understanding what made pay-once-and-play games fun.

The games I grew up on and built a profession around were spend-capped. $50-60 up front. The goal was to make a game that people felt was worth the cover price. We relied on journalists recommending the game to their readers, and players encouraging their friends to play.

Later in my career, free-to-play started to take off. Those games don’t charge up-front; rather, they make their money by selling in-game consumable items over time. I immediately saw the comparison of free-to-play and premium gaming as analogous to films and movies. Very similar in many ways, and appealing in many cases to the same audience. But with formats that defined them as different art forms.

Premium games use transparent pricing, in fiat currency. Free-to-play games obfuscate costs through proprietary currency, offering uncapped spending potential. Premium games are generally finite, focused on delivering a compelling beginning, middle and end. Free-to-play games are not built to be finished. Premium games are part of a larger ecosystem of games for hobbyists that call themselves “gamers”. Free-to-play games aim to be the entirety of a player’s hobby, with no room made for other games.

I use “Premium” vs “Free-to-play” here because it makes the distinction easy to see using familiar terms. But the market has evolved in a manner that no longer makes these words work as differentiators. Why? Because a lot of premium games now have adopted the monetization practices of free-to-play games. They take a hybrid approach.

So then, how can we cleanly define these two categories of games in a way that works as well as “film” and “television”?

There is little industry desire to do this. F2P (free-to-play) games benefit from being seen as offering up $60 of value for free. FREE GAMES! Meanwhile, premium games want the prestige naming while still scooping up the incremental revenue that F2P models employ.

I have determined that the most sensible delineation is between games that do and do not sell premium consumable items (including premium currency bundles).

If a game does not sell any consumables, it is a spend-capped game. An SCG.

These are what we might consider ‘traditional games’.

Do you need to purchase in-game currency bundles in order to buy things in a game? Or can you buy consumables to speed up your progress? These are consumable goods games. CGG for short. It doesn’t matter if the game has an up-front cost or not. It doesn’t matter if some things can be purchased in USD. If consumables items are sold – including currency bundles – it is a CGG.  

Beyond this, there are games that are tied to the blockchain, which I would call blockchain games. BCG for short. I won’t be focusing on these at this time, because – fortunately – they haven’t taken off. We will leave it as a dichotomy.

This is not a perfect dichotomy. And it doesn’t necessarily represent how I will speak to these games consistently on this blog. But from a purely denotative standpoint, this is the best way to define these products. I am exclusively interested in SCGs (spend-capped games).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s