Second ClassOctober 19, 2012
How do you offer a first class option without making others feel like second class customers?
People are willing to pay different amounts for your game, app, or service. Some may not be able to pay anything and others would pay more if given the chance.
In most cases, one customer paying more than another is a good thing for you, but irrelevant to your other customers. If you offer tools or services for businesses and I pay a higher price because I have more employees, customers or data, or send more invoices or process more credit cards, another customer’s experience doesn’t suffer. Customers paying less makes sense because they are getting less of whatever it is by choice, even in cases involving support. It’s a straightforward business decision: Is it worth paying more money to get help a few hours faster?
Games and others services with a social component are more complicated. Do the people that pay more have a better experience? Do their words and pictures look better?
By paying more, do they do better?
Kathy Sierra talked recently about helping users be badass. If a person pays to become badass faster, does it change the experience? Does it change the experience for other people in the community?
I don’t think this is a simple question; there isn’t one answer that applies in every situation. I do think it’s something to think through carefully, though. Why? Because a sense of equality amongst your customers, particularly within a social or gaming community, is important.
An essential element of our online lives is the level playing field. My Tumblr site or Twitter feed is largely indistinguishable from a celebrity’s or brand’s. People from around the world can play an online game and have essentially the same experience as people very different from themselves.
There will always be people who love your game or service more than anyone else and are willing to pay a lot more for various privileges. The key question is, what should those things be? If people who pay more, win more (whether in the gaming sense or in being more badass than someone paying less), your community takes on a very different feel. It’s true that jealousy often drives sales, but it can also poison your ecosystem.
The distinction I’m making is between things that change my experience (removing ads, more storage, a t-shirt, previews of new stuff) and things that change how I appear to everyone else on the site (better design, unique abilities, special designations, and more success generally).
The people who are most successful at your game (Level 81!) or service (103K followers!) can serve as great examples of how to be badass. They can inspire others and in the best cases, encourage and teach them how to get to where they are.
But don’t let the only difference between badass and average be the amount of money someone spends.