Blake Shelton, Atlantic City, Free-To-Play Gaming, and What They All Have To Do With Each Other

Neverwinter, auction house, Free-To-Play

A big warning to all of you out there: MMO Free-To-Play monetary tactics have left the gaming space.

“Well, duh,” I hear a few of you saying (those of you who still say ‘duh‘… people still say ‘duh‘, right?). New psychological tactics to separate people from their money are being developed all the time. When one part of the business world happens upon a strategy that works it’s only natural that it will be picked up and modified for others. Very true, but rarely do you see it done in so spectacular a fashion as happened recently on the Atlantic City beach.

On July 31st, 2014, Blake Shelton, one of the reality-show judges on “The Voice” and a decorated country music singer, performed a concert in Atlantic City, New Jersey free to any passer-by and those lucky enough to grab complimentary passes. The concert was held on the beach near the The Piers at Caesars, a large shopping complex on a pier extending out into the Atlantic Ocean, and presented by the Atlantic City Alliance and it’s “Do AC” promotional campaign. In other words, free concerts with big names to draw people to come down to Atlantic City. Jimmy Buffet had a concert last year and  Lady Antebellum just performed this past Sunday. Good music, ocean backdrop, a cool drink. Good stuff.

For the 60,000 attending, though, good luck on the “free” part. This show was far from “free”. In fact, it very heavily resembles the “free” we see in Free-To-Play games. Sure, listening to the music is free, but if you want anything else, and we mean anything, you will pay for it and at levels taking your “free” music price tag into account.

The news reports for this show are extensive, but lets be real. Blake wasn’t doing this out of the kindness of his heart, he was being paid. Well. Without ticket sales to back up the initial cost, how did they make the money? Why, on literally everything else they could.

A coworker of mine whose relative attended the concert came back and told her all about it. When she relayed the story onto us, I asked her to clarify some specific details on what some of these other prices were.

Get this.

  • Parking: Anywhere from $50 per car to as high as $75 were seen.
  • A 10 oz bottle of water: $8.
  • 10 hot chicken wings: $22.

Parking usually: $5-$10 at most during peak season, off times you can find it free. I was also told that the vendors that were selling these high-price wares were vendors specifically brought in by Atlantic City and they positioned themselves between the huge crowd and the struggling Atlantic City Boardwalk vendors. This is just an example of some of the prices, but I heard they all were around the same level of up-charge.

Star Trek Online, lockboxes, Free-To-Play

Lockboxes. One of the biggest money makers for Free-To-Play MMOs… similar to gambling.

Now before you get all huffy and throw around the word “entitlement”, yes, we all get it. Nothing in this world is free. Everything comes at a cost. And there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s the backbone of a mixed market capitalist economy. Believe me, Blake Shelton got paid, Atlantic City got paid, Live Nation got paid, and at the expense of the audience, as it’s supposed to be. Sidenote: If anything, Atlantic City is the real jerk here in bringing in their own vendors instead of helping the struggling boardwalk vendors…. but that’s beside the point.

MMO Gamers, though, we’ve seen this for years. The Free-To-Play vs. Subscription vs. Buy-To-Play fight is everlasting. Is it better to be let into a game for free only to then be subjected to a possibly exploitative cash shop, or to pay a blind up-front cost and recurring fee to enjoy a “buffet” style of game, or a combination of both? They all make money and have their good and bad points, certainly.

Just like in gaming, though, the only person seeing this concert for “free” is the person who really went out of their way and inconvenienced themselves to do so. They parked really far away, probably in one of the not-so-safe areas of AC and they didn’t partake of any refreshments while they viewed the concert. In other words, they paid for their convenience in other ways. The same exact way FTP games will often trade convenience for real money, after letting you in for free.

Free-To-Play, Lord of the Rings Online

On the other side, here’s a concert *inside* an MMO.

In my opinion, the best Free-To-Play games are the ones that will offer a fun experience and entice you to open your wallet for fun extras, instead of hinder you by putting up pay walls. It’s a fine tightrope, though, between entice and force, and I’m not sure we’ve seen it walked perfectly yet. It’s certainly a slippery slope leading down into exploitative territory.

So $22 for hot wings and $50-$75 for parking? I’m sorry, Atlantic City. If you were a Free-To-Play game, I’d consider you leaning heavily on the exploitative side of the equation.

// Ocho

P.S. – I do find it funny, though, that not long ago I posted about the tricks casinos use to get your money and Free-To-Play MMOs using very similar tactics. It was only a matter of time before the tricks came back around.

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