Hammerpoint Interactive MMO The War Z—it’s about zombies if the title didn’t key you in—is getting ambitious with the way it penalizes players for failure. Just like Brian Hall’s phenomenally popular DayZ, death in The War Z will make you lose all of the goods you’ve gathered in your backpack in the zombie-infested world. The War Z goes a step further than most games that use strict penalties to enhance immersion. If you die, you’ll also lose goods you paid real money for in the game.
Like most contemporary MMOs, The War Z lets you purchase weapons and items with cold hard cash rather than finding them in the game world. Since, the game is free to play up front, this is how Hammerpoint makes its money. Depending on the difficulty mode you play though, purchases don’t entitle you to bend the rules.
“Yes, you’ll lose what you have in your backpack when you die—both in Normal and Hardcore modes,” Hammerpoint’s Alex Josef told Cinemablend, “And yes, if you bought something using real money, you’ll lose that item as well. This is a price you have to pay.”
“We’ve discussed that a lot and at the end decided that this will provide a pretty good incentive for players to either be extra cautious while playing, or just not spend too much money in the game and, instead, try to procure all items by finding them in the game world.”
It’s an incredibly risky, and laudable, economic strategy for a free-to-play game. Money could easily be turned into a way to cheat the game. Just pay for goods and your items are disposable, unbalancing how non-paying players interact with paying players in the game.
The War Z and other free-to-play games need to be careful though. If free-to-play games don’t work to strike this kind of balance, the market could suffer the same way arcades did. People will simply abandon the model if prices grow to high. Arcades didn’t die for a single reason. PC and console technology caught up with the majority of arcade cabinets by 2000, but graphical and audio parity was only one reason that people stopped pumping quarters into video games only built to last for a few minutes. The bigger problem was cost. Even today, it’s unusual to find an arcade cabinet that only costs a quarter to play. By the time arcades were wheezing and Namco, Sega and Capcom were letting operators charge as much as a buck for a Tekken round, people had had it.
Free-to-play games have an even tougher job though. They need to be balanced, but they also need to maintain the low price threshold of a quarter. Easier said than done.