The 5 Different Payment Models for Video Games

Urgh, DLC this and Early Access that, it sometimes gets confusing as to who pays for what! So here’s a handy guide to the various payment models in video games!

As video games and technology progresses, so do the different methods of payment for them. Sometimes, this all gets a bit confusing, and many people get lost in micro transactions, subscriptions and kickstarters, so here’s a quick guide explaining the different ways you can pay for games.


The Single Payment
This is what most people would expect to pay for a game. One payment, and you get the whole game. No extra payment to unlock extra costumes, no purchasing of online subscriptions, just fork over some cash at the counter, and you’ve got the complete package. Whilst still a popular choice with indie developers (but something that’s getting taken over) a lot of big developers and ditching it in favour for…


Downloadable content (DLC)
Downloadable Content (Or DLC as it’s more commonly known) is one of videogame’s biggest hotbeds of discussion. Basically, apart from the main game, you can spend a bit more to unlock extra features, from story missions to extra costumes. Sometimes you can pull it off really well (like Borderlands 2 and the Fallout series) giving costumers a bigger experience that feels well worth the extra money, or you can fail abysmally (Like Dead Space 3’s many “pay to cheat” options and Oblivion’s horse armour DLC). A lot of the time, costumer’s end up feeling cheated, feeling like most of the DLC they have to pay for should have been in the main game from the start. Another annoying factor is the “pre-order bonus DLC” where you can get special extras depending on where you pre-order it from. It hinders anyone wanting a completed game, even if they were willing to pay extra. Many gamers will have different opinions on this subject, but for now, here’s a list of the best and worst DLC. One thing’s for sure, it’s not going away anytime soon.


Free to Play (Freemium)
Free to Play games (or Freemium games as they have come to be known) have exploded on mobile phones ever since the iPhone landed way back in the latter half of the last decade. Essentially, you can play the game for free. However, building on from DLC, you can pay to access better weapons, faster loading times, stuff that will help you win the game. It also gets money from adverts. These games make crazy amounts of money due to their addictive nature, the most notable game being Candy Crush Saga. The game is free, but if you want to play it for, or get an advantage, you’ll need to pay. A lot of people end up paying a lot to win, making it unfair for gamers who don’t want to spend money on it. A lot of gamers are decrying it as the end times, and that we should burn all the iPhones and Androids, but Free to Play can be used in a very beneficial way.

There are tonnes of games that have a free to play model, like DOTA 2 and Team Fortress 2, where cosmetic items are sold for money. They have no gameplay impact, but make your character look nice, and people invested in the game will buy it. You can also make your own items, and sell them to people, getting a few quid here and there. The new virtual trading card game Hearthstone also has a Free to Play model, where the game is free, but you can pay for packs of cards, much like in real life. Alternatively, you can purchase cards with in-game currency, meaning if you try hard enough, you don’t have to spend a penny.

The place where F2P has been stirring up the most controversy is with MMOs (Massive Multiplayer Online games) like Aion, DC Universe Online and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. They’re free, but you can pay for extra features, weapons and benefits. Although a popular models, many gamers agree that again, if you are willing to spend big bucks, you have a massive advantage over other gamers. However, it gets the company a lot of money, and the only other payment model for MMOs is…


World of Warcraft is the biggest MMO in the world. It has around 7.8 million players, each paying around the equivalent of £10 a month. You don’t have to be good at maths to figure out that they’re making a lot of money. The concept is simple, you pay an amount each month, and you get to play for a month. At first it seems strange, and very cost inefficient to the player. After 4 months, they’re losing money compared to if they bought a normal game. However, how many of you have played a game non-stop for 4 months?  MMOs offer a massive community, endless content and a lot of fun. The subscription model also subconsciously forces you to play it as much as you can, to make the most out of your 30 day subscription.

However, with the rise of F2P, many companies are backtracking on the subscription model. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic went F2P, after subscriber number kept falling. Many other games have followed in its wake. Still, WoW has maintained that it is not going F2P anytime soon. A lot of players like the sense that you’re getting the complete package with one payment per month, and it means that rich players can’t play to win.

2014 will play a big role in deciding the future of MMOs with The Elder Scrolls: Online. The massively anticipated MMO took fire for being a subscription model in an age where many MMOs (especially new ones) were F2P. Not only that, but gamers have to buy a copy of the game first for the equivalent of £40. Not only that, but if you’re an Xbox owner, you have to be a gold member, which is £40 a year. Add that all up, whack in your standard £9 a month fee, and you have a pretty hefty price tag, which people aren’t happy about. We’ll have to see what happens, but the success of TESO will greatly affect the future of MMO payment plans.


Kickstarter/Crowd-funding and Early Access
The newest kids on the block, KickStarter and Early Access are not complete payment plans, but they’re equally viable. First we’ll tackle Kickstarter and Crowd Funding

Kickstarter has popped into prominence over the past couple of years. Essentially, it’s a crowd-funding source, where people pitch projects to the public, which then have the option to back the project, donating money to make it become a reality. In return, backers get a lot of features, whether it’s getting the end product for free, being part of the development process, concept art and other benefits. Kickstarter has raised many success stories, most that smashed their initial request of money and doubling it, giving the developers more money to play with. Without the need to go to a publisher for money, this also gives the developing team absolute creative control over their game. Double Fine’s game Broken Age has just been released, and it’s amazing. Wasteland 2 is being made as well, and no doubt it’ll bring the fans back.

However there are potential pitfalls with Kickstarter, namely that it is indeed someone pitching you a project. Usually, there is not a lot to show potential backers, just the concept. It’s all very well if its nostalgia based, but a brand new concept might get dismissed right away. Also, the end product might not turn out very good. However, you can’t ask for your money back.

Another point is that since the majority of people who want this project have already paid for it, you won’t make much profit, but that’s not why most people go to Kickstarter. Most projects are labours of love, things that developers want to make real but don’t have the capital. They don’t expect a profit, but they want their dream project to come true.

A very similar method is Steam’s Early Access initiative, where people can pay to play an early version of the game as it’s being developed. It’s very clever, as it kills a lot of birds with one stone. The players get to enjoy experiencing the development process, whilst developers get almost immediate feedback with every update. They can also use the money to improve the game. Rust is one of the biggest success stories which, despite being in early development, has passed over a million sales. Again, it’s a win-win situation.

So there you have it, the many different ways gamers can pay for games. Hopefully you’ve left a little bit wiser!


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