A Free Game that Pays
Zhengtu is a MMORPG ( Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) developed and run by Shanghai based Zhengtu Network. The game is the most popular online game in China as of May, 2008, by peak concurrent users, with a peak count of approximately 2,000,
On October 20th, 2005, Shanghai Zhengtu Network Technology Co., Ltd. (the predecessor of Giant Interactive Group Inc.) quietly declared Zhengtu, or ZT Online a completely free game without the usual publicity of a game launch.
No one knew what Shi Yuzhu, the company head, had up his sleeve.
Before Shi Yuzhu, an entrepreneur famous for his marketing of a vitamin tonic called Naobaijin, entered the gaming industry, nearly all online games, both in China and abroad, used a “time card” profit model— namely, gamers pay for the time spent playing online games. However, Shi decided to discard the old model and created his own on the basis of free gaming.
Shanghai’s Zhengtu offers an optional program called the “stand-in elf (tishen baobao),” a game booster that plays the game for those whitecollar users who have no time to play during work, on the condition that they shall pay for it via prepaid cards. The most eye-catching feature of the “stand-in elf” role is that it can
earn 30% of the experience points for white-collar players, saving them time and effort in leveling up their characters. There are a large number of white- collar players willingly paying for this service, which brings in abundant profits to the company.
Though Zhengtu is only a 2D online game, Shi Yuzhu proudly claims, “We are committed to being the best 2D game ever in history.” He pays salaries several times higher than his counterparts to recruit dozens of the top art designers in China, and purchases high quality sound effects from Hollywood, which provide an immersive gaming experience with fantastic sequences of horses treading on stones and combat scenes in swamplands.
He worships the business philosophy that “wool comes from sheep (meaning, you always get what you pay for).” The fatter the “sheep” are, the more “wool (profit)” there will be. His passion and persistence for online gaming has finally paid off. Zhengtu has ultimately become a game for “the rich,” and the graphics are considered some of the best on the market.
Obviously, it is a game designed for “rich” players, so why are so many “poor” players addicted to it?
As we know, most online gamers are school-aged students or wage earners. At an appraisal meeting for teenager-safe games, many experts predict that players have to spend over RMB
3.5 million yuan to facilitate full character development in Zhengtu. How can many people afford it?
According to statistics released, 83% of the players of Zhengtu need not pay and only 17% of the players are the real consumers of this game. Shi Yuzhu says,
“In our profit model for Zhengtu, we earn the rich player’s money and provide free service to players who
cannot afford to pay. In our game, probably half the players need not pay. Yet even though they do not pay, they still play an important role as they become the possible channels that the wealthy players can gain experience and equipment from by paying them. For example, some players pay RMB 20,000 a month to purchase equipment for the ‘fellow players.’ We strive to create a player-friendly atmosphere so that the wealthy players can pay for services for those who cannot.”
As registration and the game itself are free, more and more people start to play the game, which makes the game even more popular. White-collar employees have great purchasing power, but they are also tied up in work during the daytime, so they naturally need the help of some well-experienced gamers who have no money but have plenty of time.
Thus, an economic chain has formed. The positive cycle of rich players paying and poor players playing for them inevitably falls into the model set up by Shi Yuzhu: a “game for the rich” that the poor can play.
In a well-formulated article, a comment was made on Shi Yuzhu’s marketing strategies: “When playing Zhengtu, you will find that it is not only a world for the rich, but a heaven for the poor.” Poor but skilled players can wait for high-income players to come and ask for their help in playing the game. The hardcore players not only earn money, but also secure many paid weapons and items. It is not difficult to start from scratch in online games. Once you master the skills, it is even possible to play the game for free forever.
Deeply aware of the psychology of the rich and poor, Shi Yuzhu has won universal acclaim for his maneuver. In this great “gamble” of an investment, he has had well-rounded success in both recouping his costs and making a huge profit.
( From The Biography of Shi Yuzhu, Southern Publishing and Media. Translation: Trans)