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A Gazillion Little Pieces

From Diablo to Marvel Universe, Gazillion's David Brevik has some stories to tell
GamesIndustry.bizYou're talking about free-to-play as a design concern, which it certainly is, but not everyone sees it as more than a business model. How does that change your role, and the sort of things you think about when crafting the experience?
David Brevik

Well, it's a definite learning experience. What should we charge for and what shouldn't we charge for, and making those decisions every day. You can be cruel or you can be generous, and riding that line, coming up with your rules, will greatly effect the amount of money you'll make from the game. My philosophy has been a little bit more generous. I would rather lean towards generous than cruel.

Let's take a for instance: we're going to charge for convenience items. You can get the same effect by just playing the game; you can jut beat up monsters or whatever, and every now and then a micro-transaction coin will drop, or you can spend $5 and get a packet of ten right now. That's integral to the design

Yes, you can tack this on. But the real science comes when it's really part of the game in a way that isn't mandatory... Getting those things right is important.

GamesIndustry.bizYes. Anyone switching to free-to-play won't have gone through that process of finely tuning and balancing where the paying begins and where the free stuff ends. So there must be a risk of alienating your existing player-base.
David Brevik

Yeah, absolutely. And not only that, but what do you do with your existing subscribers: How do they view this? How do you treat them? 'I've already spent X amount of money on this game. What do I get out of this?' There are some tough problems to deal with if you don't make a free-to-play game right off the bat.

We intended Marvel Universe to be free-to-play all along, and it will show us a different experience, a different type of free-to-play

David Brevik, Gazillion Entertainment
GamesIndustry.bizThat hasn't stopped a lot of MMOs making that switch, most recently DC Universe Online. Is that influx of competition a good thing for Marvel Universe?
David Brevik

Yes, because people are getting used to it. Now, I think that people's free-to-play experience, your mileage may differ here. The fact is that what one free-to-play game does is different to everybody else, but we intended Marvel Universe to be free-to-play all along, and it will show us a different experience, a different type of free-to-play.

GamesIndustry.bizOn the subject of payment methods, as someone who helped conceive the Diablo franchise I'd be interested to know your thoughts on Diablo III's real-money auction house.
David Brevik

I see it more as a customer service thing.

GamesIndustry.bizBut it's also just one more kind of persistent payment method. The industry is obviously moving away from one-size-fits-all pricing, but is this sort of thing going to be a feature of more games in the future?
David Brevik

It is. And the reason is that games aren't as profitable as they used to be - on a percentage basis. It takes so much money to make a AAA game these days you have to ensure that it's going to be a hit. That's why we see so many sequels, but another way you can go is to charge your customer more than once. The fact is that if you're going to have a game that's persistent - that continues - people expect you to modify it, and how are you going to pay for those modifications?

In the past we used expansions, but expansions have become more spread out and you've got little pieces of content...on a monthly basis. Very soon it will be down to weekly updates. In China there are games that change every day, and we're moving towards that sort of thing.

GamesIndustry.bizWhat Blizzard has done, though, is allow commerce to take place between players, which sidesteps a potential problem of the developer creating more content: if you're kicking out too much, people start to question the value of it.
David Brevik

Right. 'Hey. What am I paying for?' It's like I said, in a lot of ways the auction house is a customer service. There was a lot of calls in the past about people getting ripped off buying items on eBay, but that had nothing to do with us or our game. It was kind of a problem, but here is a way to allow secure transactions.

I think it's a feature that people will enjoy. Gamers are a little bit aghast by this, but everybody knows these are the same people that went and bought the Ring Of Jordan on eBay. At first people are going to be a little, 'Oh my God! They're draining us of our money!' But it'll turn out that they're not draining you. It'll take a little while to sink in, but it will.

About the Author

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Matthew Handrahan


Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.

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