Recently there has been a news story about the game Culling Origins, which is a third installment in the poorly received Culling franchise. The Culling is an indie series of Battle Royale games, and in fact it was among the first games to participate in the modern Battle Royale phenomenon. The first game did ok but eventually lost its player base to the deluge that was PUBG and Fortnite. The second Culling was a total disaster with almost no one playing it or even caring that it launched.
Recently the developer, Xaviant, of Culling Origins has revealed a new game with a monetization model that is getting a LOT of buzz in the gaming circles. Some of my favorite gaming youtubers to listen to have been very vocal about the negative opinions they have about the games monetization model, such as Angry Joe or Legacykilla.
(Culling Origins Trailer)
I will say as someone with tons of sales experience, I often see examples of developers making statements with it being painfully clear they aren’t salesmen, aren’t business types. It’s worse when it comes from AAA, but in the case of indie developers, I don’t blame them for not having a “marketing team”. Sometimes I do facepalm at the word choice and statements made by studios, knowing that if they had said it better it would have come off better. Salesmen-ship matters in the gaming industry! I mean, the Director of Operations Josh Van Veld, of Culling Origins literally calls it a “monetization scheme” in the video. I facepalmed hard when I heard that. Scheme? 🤢
The fact that this was executed and revealed so poorly, I want to place aside for a second and talk about what actually the monetization model is and why it is not nearly as bad as sensational journalism is making it out to be.
First off, I want to be clear that Indie Devs deserve way more slack than what they get AAA studios. They should be allowed more mistakes and more feedback instead of criticism. That’s just my opinion and how I personally act towards indie devs. Secondly I think it important to understand some context. This developer is not financially successful, they have two recently failed titles and now are trying a third time. If their game fails again it probably would be the end.
The sensational journalists are focusing on click-bait terms such as “Pay to Play” or “Pay per Round” and I don’t think they really understood the point.
Here’s what the monetization for Culling Origins looks like. The Game costs 6$ up front, with a 6$ monthly subscription for unlimited play with one free match per month.
Now...that breakdown alone it doesn’t seem too bad, and those unfamiliar may not understand why the backlash. If you’re a fan of a game this may seem doable. I personally have a few gmes that I would pay a monthly fee if I absolutely HAD too. Personally, I don’t think its a GOOD monetization model, I don’t think individual game subscriptions are the future in the slightest. Personally I have Xbox Game Pass and Apple Arcade. While I prefer purchasing games to own, if I must subscribe, I think the Netflix-style all you can play model is also pretty great. A subscription should net you a huge library, not one game. It also allows me to try out games I maybe would have been hesitant to purchase. I think individual game subscriptions are a relic of the past, but if I’m honest. At times, I’ve put more than 6$ a month into Apex Legends or Overwatch.
Where the backlash is coming from are the two alternate bundles besides the 6$ monthly unlimited play. There are 99 cent and 3$ bundles for a single or handful of matches.
I will admit that the idea of paying 99 cents to play a single round of a BR game is ridiculous. It is these two bundle offers that are causing such backlash and making the headlines. Journalists and youtubers are latching onto that “pay per round” because it makes for a good click worthy title.
The problem is I don’t think the developer really expected or wanted people to actually buy those bundles...
There is something called the “popcorn experiment” and it is a study of the human mind when it comes to making purchasing decisions. The study says that if a movie theater offeres a small for say 4$ and a large for 7$ they would sell a lot of the cheaper 4$. However if the theater sold a 4$ small, a $6.50 medium, and 7$ Large, they would actually sell more larges over all and make more money. The sole intent, the existence of $6.50 medium is to help sell the large. The theater has no desire or expectation to actually sell the medium. It’s purpose is to create the “pay a little more, for a lot more” in buyer’s head. Even though a buy is spending more m, they feel like they are saving money. It is an a marketing tactic that is designed to subtly help a buyer justify a larger purchase than they would have made if the item was offered only at that price. It is the same reason why Americans love sale prices, we feel like we are saving something and are more likely to spend more money on it. That’s why pretty much everything at Kohls is on sale all the time. If you see that the item you like is 20-25% off it makes you more likely to buy it. The item is rarely if ever actually sold at the full price.
With the culling origins, the monetization model is just a popcorn experiment meant to encourage a gamer to pay 6$ a month. The problem is the popcorn experiemnt only works if it is subtle, letting the subconscious mind make the decision. This game’s system is a poorly executed popcorn experiement and that’s part of the reason for the back lash. If a movie theater offered a single kernal of popcorn for 4$, three kernals of popcorn for 6.50$ and unlimited popcorn for 7$ it wouldnt work. It would just make people mad at the theater that they sell individual popcorns.
News outlets and youtubers are focusing on the game’s purchase bundles that I doubt the developer really expected anyone to actually buy. While some are calling it the worst monetization ever, I saw it for what it was. I was quick to point out a comparison to Final Fantasy XIV, and the hypocrisy of the the gaming industry’s compliance with its existence.
Recently I became a fan of Final Fantasy after having loved VII Remake! Check out the Gi review here! So naturally after finishing, I went to look for other Final Fantasy games to play. When I looked at FF XIV I was blown away at their monetization model. I haven’t played the game but I can’t imagine ANY game being worth both 60$ UPFRONT, with over the years having full price paid expansions, AND a whopping 15$ monthly subscription! I can’t imagine paying 15$ a month for a single game, especially one that charged 60 up front and has had multiple paid expansions. I know monthly subscriptions are not new to MMO’s but wow that blew me away and it was the first thing I thought of when I heard about the backlash to the Culling Origins. Imagine hating an indie developer because they ask for 6$ a month to play a 6$ game, when AAA is guilty of 15$ monthly subscriptions to a 60$ game that has also multiple offered 60$ expansions. I know it’s not an apples to apples comparison, but I is important to point out.
Again I reiterate, the positioning, context, and over all how this developer revealed and explained their “monetization scheme” was bad. The bundle pricing was poorly decided. But at the end of the day, the math is just not nearly as bad as some outlets will have you believe. To be honest, I’m getting a little tired of gaming news outlets that thrive on purely negative news. They jump on the click-bait titles and hot button phrases without examining the details or even questioning the context of something. The world we live in right now has too much going on to rip a struggling indie developer for wanting a few dollars to play a game they obviously care enough about to try 3 times, criticizing them for not offering everything for FREE.
There is no ongoing backlash to one of the world’s most popular MMO’s. There was some but far less back lash to Netherrealms latest 40$ expansion to MK11!
We can’t let AAA slide with some of the sleezy anti-consumer monetizations they do like 20$ skins, 40$ expansions, and then hop on the hate bandwagon about a 6$ game.
I don’t know if Culling Origins will be for me, but I think the hate against the game is hyper focused on the wrong thing and a little unfair when you actually look at the math.