The Valve boss thinks it’s time to fix “broken” industry pricing structures.
Game discourse is often somewhat less than civil, but Gabe Newell might have a way to fix that. The Valve boss recently discussed the industry’s current pricing models in a lengthy interview with Develop, and he believes that there should be consequences for boorish online behavior.
“The industry has this broken model, which is one price for everyone,” said Newell. “That’s actually a bug, and it’s something that we want to solve through our philosophy of how we create entertainment products. What you really want to do is create the optimal pricing service for each customer and see what’s best for them.”
One of Newell’s more radical solutions is the creation of a scaled pricing model tied to the entertainment value of particular players. For instance, a popular figure within the community might be able to play for free, while an unpopular player – like, say, an individual who habitually spews homophobic epithets during gameplay – would have to pay a premium to access voice chat during an online session.
“An example is – and this is something as an industry we should be doing better – is charging customers based on how much fun they are to play with. Some people, when they join a server, a ton of people will run with them. Other people, when they join a server, will cause others to leave. We should have a way of capturing that,” explains Newell. “We should have a way of rewarding the people who are good for our community.
“In practice, a really likable person in our community should get Dota 2 for free, because of past behaviour in Team Fortress 2. Now, a real jerk that annoys everyone, they can still play, but a game is full price and they have to pay an extra hundred dollars if they want voice.”
Newell says that some of these ideas are already being implemented through Steam, and that the people making hats for Team Fortress 2 are even able to earn money for their contributions to the community.
“One thing we do have are these high value customers,” Newell continued. “We’ve now started connecting their Steam account to their PayPal account, and now these people aren’t just paying for games, they’re making money from them. And it’s not just a little bit of money, it’s $20,000 per week some people were making. Their cost for Team Fortress 2 is negative $20,000 per week. You’re never going to see that in a retail store.”
While Newell’s idea is great in theory – offensive gamers would think twice about mouthing off if they have to pay for the privilege – I do have a few concerns about how well it would work in practice. Charging customers based on their “fun” factor inevitably invites subjective judgments, and you risk the creation of a double standard that unfairly punishes otherwise decent players. If fan boys can review-bomb Portal 2 on Metacritic, a motivated sub-community of sore losers could just as easily trash another player for trivial in-game reasons, and nobody should have to pay extra simply because some people are petty.
A subjective pricing structure could also create some serious liability issues for Valve. The one-price-fits-all business model allows companies to avoid potential lawsuits from people who feel that they’ve been mistreated on their monthly bill, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a litigious customer sued for discrimination. I’m not saying that Valve’s plan can’t work – I’d definitely be curious to see someone implement such a system – I’d just want to know how the company plans to evaluate their players before signing on.