Within the past decade, monetization has become a pressing issue for the broader video gaming industry. We’ve seen the advent of paid DLC, premium currencies, microtransactions, and other tactics. However, one sector where monetization systems haven’t seen the same level of scrutiny is coin-op.
The most immediate concern I’ve attempted to bring to light is increasing costs per credit in the face of diminishing gameplay value, but that’s not what this article is about. Rather, we’ll be focusing solely on Super Bikes 3, opening up what I consider a very important dialogue.
A cursory glance at the official Super Bikes 3 operator’s manual will reveal a particular omission: free races for first place. While it has long been tradition to award skilled players with additional races/matches/gameplay for “winning” whatever task the software places in front of them, this title does not. Free races are only administered to the winners of “H2H” (head-to-head) games.
Important to note is that free races are disabled by default. While it would be my personal preference that all operators enable the setting, it is not guaranteed.
Many older Raw Thrills releases did, in fact, allow operators to award free races for first place no matter what the circumstances. Discarding this option for single-player games (and disabling the H2H achievement by design) is, to me, very disheartening.
It’s uncertain why Raw Thrills didn’t include an additional on/off option for operators who might desire it. However, my best reasoning is that Super Bikes 3 is designed for lightning-quick throughput in an entertainment center environment to the relative detriment of less casual spaces.
The lack of free races for first place, though, is only half of the monetization structure present in this title. In lieu of multiple upgrade pathways that players can save to personal profiles, Super Bikes 3 presents participants with the paid option to upgrade their bike to “Ultra” before their race begins.
To provide the most accurate information possible, I reached out directly to representative at Raw Thrills to see what exactly upgrading players would receive. I confirmed that Ultra is a very substantial cosmetic intensification, but I also learned that it also grants players with infinite nitrous boosts and the ability to “take down” more computer riders.
Reportedly, the benefits are fine tuned to ensure these paying customers aren’t always beating non-paying ones. My assumption is that this is achieved through rubberbanding.
Ultra is a single enhancement that comes at the price of one extra “swipe” (credit). What this essentially means is that—in addition to prohibiting further gameplay through skill-based reward—Super Bikes 3 actively encourages players to sacrifice even more time for a stat/aesthetic boost.
I personally find tactic a bit similar to one we’ve seen in the home console sector. The use of “pay-to-win” microtransactions is common in alleged “AAA” releases but is not typically greeted with much praise. Although Super Bikes 3 upgrades have not been formally identified as pay-to-win, it’s hard for me not to draw parallels.
In my opinion, paying a full credit for a single upgrade can hardly be considered a “microtransaction” in coin-op. With each credit spent directly equating to more gameplay, the Ultra mechanic in Super Bikes 3 is essentially macro.
Whereas previous Raw Thrills games have allowed players to insert additional credits to purchase more upgrades, those releases at least allowed players to save unlocked bonuses to a PIN, meaning the progress wasn’t lost with future visits. Super Bikes 3 requires players to purchase Ultra every time they play. (Pictured below is the 2006 Super Bikes upgrade screen, courtesy of gameplay footage uploaded by YouTube user KawaiiFaceman.)
Also worth adding is that the Ultra upgrade can be disabled in the operator settings. Though this does remove content, it’s a good option for operators who are weary of potential implications. With that said, I should disclose that, according to the latest location information from Raw Thrills, the Ultra mechanic has increased game earnings by “12 percent”. Perhaps this macrotransaction has proven enticing.
Some would argue that a pay-to-win, gameplay-reducing enhancement is more harmful than the lack of free races—and I might agree. But both monetization tactics executed in tandem feels almost anti-player.
And while it has not been officially confirmed, I have a feeling that both of these methods were inspired, at least in part, by the new “E-Ticket Mode” present in the software. Implementing ticket redemption often results in shorter playtime per credit. Thus, fewer upgrades and no continues.
Since the arcade community hasn’t really found its voice the way the home console crowd has, I feel the need to start some sort of broader discussion surrounding this topic. The Super Bikes 3 monetization system may seem like a drop in the bucket now—but what if it becomes the norm? That’s not something I want to happen.
Fortunately, Raw Thrills does a nice job of maintaining open communication with both players and journalists. And as was proven when the track count in Super Bikes 3 was increased from five to eight, they’re willing to implement changes based on our concerns, too.
With all that being said, I’d like to hear others’ thoughts on this matter. Reach out on Twitter, send an email through my contact page, or sound off in the comments below. I want to start a genuine, gamer-centric discussion on a development in the arcade industry for once.
Maybe we’ll see some change in the future.