Besides tempting Nicole Ritchie to appear at E3, Namco Networks and Sprint also made an intriguing announcement around micropayments – where you’re charged small amounts of money in-game which are then added to your phone bill. The game in question is Galaga, the mobile version of Namco’s classic shoot ’em up.
How it works is this: when you fire up the game, you’re asked if you want to spend 25 cents on one play of the new Dual Fighter mode, where you get to play with two ships instead of one (an alternative way of getting the same effect is to buy a four-pack of cider and drink it all at once, by the way). The game has been produced for the 25th anniversary of Galaga, and is the first time this kind of in-game micropayments have been deployed in the US, thanks to technology from another company called Motricity, which runs Sprint’s mobile games community.
It’s a cool idea, but raises a bunch of issues. For example, Galaga supports an online high-score table, so will players who shell out for the dual-fighter mode have an unfair advantage? Not so, says Scott Rubin, VP of sales and marketing at Namco Networks.
"Most people say wait a minute, that’s going to be an extremely high score compared to a normal game," he says. "Well, there’s a whole leaderboard dedicated just to dual-fighter. One is not going to impact the other."
Is there also a danger that people will feel ripped off – that they pay to download the mobile game, and then have to keep paying incremental amounts to get the most out of it? Rubin says that Namco has paid particular attention to this.
"I don’t want the consumers to feel nickel’n’dimed," he says. "You get the full Galaga, and you don’t need to get the dual-fighter, but if you want it, it’s there for 25 cents. You’re not losing anything by not paying, is the key message to the consumer."
So will we see this kind of micropayment system in Europe anytime soon? Most of the operators are interested – it’s just a case of them getting their internal billing systems sorted out, and finding the publishers to support it.