Pay-By-Zone Pitfalls

This past weekend I have been going through the final hub of Kroktopia in Wizard 101.  Being a Storm Wizard, this is actually more of a challenge than the fire-based hub and ice-based hub.  I like it though.  The “epic” storyline in Wizard 101 is mostly linear, and I was hitting through Karanahn Barracks, which if I recall correctly, had one storyline quest in it and maybe five other quests.  It cost me $1.83 to play this zone if I buy 2500 crowns at a time (the cost drops to $1.22 if I buy $80 worth of crowns at a time).

The preceding three-zones (Well of Spirits, Ahnic Family Tomb, and Djeserit Family Tomb) cost me $1.83 for all three, and included three or four times the amount of quests as Karanahn Barracks.  I finished everything I could in the Barracks, to then have to buy another zone Karanahn Palace to continue the story for, again, $1.83.  Karanahn Palace is a dungeon instance, so right away it feels like there will be less than a quest zone because the dungeon instances in Wizard 101 are insulated with their own quest chains, etc.  So, I knew that once I completed the Palace, once, it would be time to move on.  Except for alts, it was likely I would never return to the Palace.  I also had to refill my crowns in order to buy Karanahn Palace, and instead I just signed off and played other games for the rest of the weekend.

This pricing plan for Wizard 101, although like manna from heaven, still must keep some sort of objectivity within itself.  As a consumer, I am told that I can buy zones for money.  Great!  I love this business model.  The game is fun.  Let’s throw money at them.  Then, as I go along, the model within itself starts getting a little wishy-washy.  $1.83 for two hours of gameplay and three zones.  $1.83 for a good half hour of gameplay and one zone.  $1.83 for a hour of gameplay and an “one-shot” zone.  Even if the amount of money is trivial to me, the developers are the ones setting the inherent value.

All of Kroktopia costs $23.79  with the first two hubs each costing $7.32 and the final hub costs $9.15.  If I could buy a  “world” or hub at a time, the entry cost would be higher, but the value of each purchase averages out.  The feeling of getting gypped out of the value for a zone would not happen nearly so often.  Of course the main goal is to make the feeling of each zone purchase painless.  Shelling out more than $20 hits on different parts of my lizard brain than a sub-$2 purchase. (The option to buy “worlds” wholesale is not available.)

It feels superficially nice that each “zone” of Kroktopia costs the same amount, but that is not nearly the case once the surface is scratched.  I definitely will go back and finish up Kroktopia, but developers of buy-the-zone type games should watch for value pitfalls.  It gives the impression of a “the first one’s free”-lead in, which sends many intelligent consumers scampering away.  The goal should be to make consumers comfortable in each content purchase, and not feel like they have a mere $1.83 gate to purchase before continuing on their journey.

…twenty-two. Twenty-two?

13 thoughts on “Pay-By-Zone Pitfalls”

  1. Yeah, I kind of distrust the W101 zone purchase model. First off, they very carefully and deliberately do not publish the real world price of crowns anywhere on the part of the website you can see before you register for an account. If I ever have kids who want permission to make an account on a game, information on pricing (i.e. what is it going to cost in real dollars – not funny money crowns – when my kid wants to buy the next zone?) is going to be the very first question I require an answer to. Second, it does seem like the escalating prices mean that all but the most-infrequent players will eventually reach the point where it is more economically viable to subscribe (re-purchasing access to all the zones you previously purchased).

    I think you’ve also illustrated the danger of the hub-by-hub model for the publisher; it does drive the cost per transaction down to a less intimidating level, but it also presents the player with increasingly frequent decision points. It would be very interesting to see whether the player who gets to the end of the $20 world evaluates the game more favorably and makes the next $20 purchase more readily than the player who is in the position of literally evaluating whether each $1.83 chunk was worthwhile when deciding whether to purchase the next one.

  2. If the amount of money is trivial, then I see how this could be enjoyable, but to me it feels as if paying an average of 1.50/hr to play zones is asking a lot. People say that time equals money; so what does time, and money equal? Apparently not guaranteed enjoy ability.

    I believe that pay-to-play is far more engrossing than subscription. You pay for the start-up, get into it, shell out a little more, maybe take a little break and ya can’t stop thinking about it. The devs of pay-to-play games are damn geniuses. I’d say they’ve managed to find an infinitely resellable–so long as they keep it up–product. Where’s my pie?

  3. I’m not a fan of purchase by zone. I want F2P and I’ll do micro-transactions to support the game or I’ll subscribe. My first thought is that paying by zone is too many decision points and thought cycles wasted on micro-managing access to content. Then I ask myself, if EQ2 allowed the 1x purchase of access to content by tier would I be playing EQ2? I just might. But then you do fall into the problem of zones/areas not being created equal. Maybe they should charge by the number of quests + instances? That’s what you’re trying to do – complete the content which in W101 is quest based much more so than other games where you can just grind mobs if you choose.

  4. Its a benefit of the model though: they can change the prices if needed or if something isn’t working. Not only that, they can refund in-game currency for early adopters. Imagine if a monthly subscription game suddenly changed their monthly sub? Outrage!

  5. @Lorthic
    >>1.50/hr to play zones is asking a lot.

    so, $1.50 for an hour of entertainment is asking a lot?
    Wow.. I remember going to arcades in the 80’s and spending much more than that /hr on video games (I admit, I wasn’t that great).
    and I pay much more than $3 for a 2 hour movie…

  6. If you’re asking whether $1.50 is reasonable cost for entertainment–I would say so. However, what you need to consider is the relative time to money ratio you recieve for a normal sub.

    If you’re only planning to play for 1-2 hours, pay per zone seems to be a good choice. But if you are like me and want to bounce back and forth, craft madly, and/or avoid grinding…maybe or maybe not viable depending on the content there.

  7. Yeah i don’t like the buying the last little bit costing as much as the larger zones before,
    but otoh I really like purchasing by zone, I can go back to W101 anytime and pick up where I left off.
    Of course it gets me to spend more, which is what they want. But I can also take breaks which I can’t do with a subscription game, well I can, but the annoyance of stopping and starting subscriptions makes me not want to. “do I really want to pay another $15? for one month? Will I get the value out of that?”

    Whereas even with W101 I can say “ok i’ll drop $25, even though I’ll spend only $2 of it now, that should last me for another few months and I can come back whenever I want” less pressure = me more willing to spend.

    To me the purchase zone by zone vs subscription is like the difference between low pressure and high pressure sales. I hate high pressure sales and sometimes won’t buy products that I want just because I am uncomfortable with the salesman.

  8. The only problem I have with it is the lack of “world packs” that offer a mild discount. That would function more like the Guild Wars “expansion” mechanic in my mind, and I’d be happier with it.

  9. The problem with comparing costs to things like arcades and movies is that this is not valid for everyone. What if you played (free) flash games a lot? Those are much better entertainment value than Wizard 101. Maybe if you had to sift through a lot of bad games to get the good ones you might feel that flash games are worse value. So you can’t really put an absolute value on any form of entertainment. Whatever you prefer to do, you will pay for, and comparing price is just a way of complaining that you would rather have exactly what you are getting now, for less. :P

  10. Ravious, I appreciate the post and the discussion. As an employee of KingsIsle and someone involved in the pricing decisions I thought I would shed a little light on our internal thinking (not too much light due to competitive landscape :-))

    As you know we decided to offer our customers two basic options; full-access subscription and pay-as-you go micro transactions. Our reason was quite simple and can be seen in a number of these posts – people have different play styles and different preferences and we wanted to have an offer that addressed both sides. Pay by area is a great mechanism if you consume content at a slower pace. If you are a faster consumer of content the subscription is definitely the way to go. While clearly biased we believe that Wizard101 offers extremely high value on your entertainment dollar especially with options catering to different play styles (even more value with the current $60 special on the 12-month subscription :-))

    You have called out something we did on purpose as it relates to the “pay by area” pricing which was to keep the zone pricing simple. We kept price per zone(s) purchased consistent on each world instead of trying to price each zone in each world so that particular zone was appropriately “valued.” We did bundle a few of the zones where it made sense from a play perspective. In addition to simplicity we believe each world is engaging enough that you will eventually play all the zones. If one zone is slightly over priced one of the others is under priced and thus it nets out at the world level. (The linear nature of Wizard101’s game play also helps ensure that this is fair)

    We have also worked very hard to be transparent in our pricing. One of our goals is to present customers with the options for Wizard101 and let them choose based on their play style. Our buying options page ( has pricing for subscription and “Pay by Area” and has a link that calls out how many Crowns each zone costs. The challenge with putting an actual dollar value to the zones is it differs depending on what size chunk of Crowns (and therefore what potential discount) you purchased.

    We did think through and have reasons not to launch a “purchase a world” bundle. The first is quite simply $20+ is outside the range of typical microtransaction buyers’ idea of a microtransaction. Another (perhaps more important reason) is that we already give a discount for bulk Crown purchases. Folks buying an $80 block of Crowns get the same level of discount as those buying our 12-month subscription. If we gave another discount for buying larger blocks of content (ie a world) it would in a sense be a double discount.

  11. Fred, I appreciate the response. I do agree that in the end the value for each zone evens out, and I tried to deliver the message as best I could that the pitfalls, in my eyes, inherent in pay-by-zone model were the times a consumer would be faced with a purchase decision knowing that the purchase was below the average “value.” Gameplay momentum does a lot to overcome this as well as the linear nature of the game (both of which I consider benefits to W101).

    Anyway, I enjoy playing W101, and I love the business model you’ve chosen. I am also interested in seeing how you guys did Grizzleheim as far as zone “value” because just looking at it from the “Pay By Area” page it seems different, but I am having a tough time deciding whether to go there or Marleybone next. Marleybone has the next crafting quest. Grizzleheim is shiny. Decisions, decisions.

  12. Quoth Fred: “The challenge with putting an actual dollar value to the zones is it differs depending on what size chunk of Crowns (and therefore what potential discount) you purchased.”

    Though I do applaud you for adding dollar ranges on the description of the pay by area plan, you COULD also post the exchange rates from real money into crowns if you wanted customers to be able to make an informed choice. The last time I checked, this information was not available anywhere that a potential player can access BEFORE creating an account. This gives the impression that you don’t WANT potential customers to know that the only way to get that lowest price is to pay $80 at a time, four times above the $20 threshold you call “outside the range of typical microtransaction buyers’ idea of a microtransaction”.

    The point that “If you are a faster consumer of content the subscription is definitely the way to go” (and the “definitely” should really be bolded and underlined about a dozen times) is also conspicuously absent from the descriptions of the plans. Again, this gives the impression that you don’t WANT customers to know that they are going to want the subscription, if you can get them to pay for some zone access first.

    You’ve got a product to sell, and you’re well within your rights to present it in the most favorable light. I’m just saying that I’m less inclined to trust you as a company when you say that you have “worked very hard to be transparent in our pricing” but major details of that pricing are only clarified when they appear on major gaming blogs where potential customers might see them.

  13. I like to dabble in large numbers of MMOs. Seeing the basic design of an MMO is often most of the fun I get out of them. Pay by zone in Wizard 101 fits my ADD playstyle perfectly.

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