Is the new world of gaming out of touch?

Guy GadneyToday’s games are still rooted to our current value systems as virtual goods try to mimic real-world purchases. But for how much longer, wonders Guy Gadney.

In the olden days, people paid for games in the iTunes store and then played them. In this new world, the games are given away for free, with players parting with cash for new levels in the game, or ways to unlock new features.

In the old world, the financial transaction was simple and singular. In the new world we are presented with the concept of virtual goods which turn our handheld devices into gamified shopping malls.

In this new world, however, there is still a level of mainstream reticence towards purchasing virtual goods that are ethereal. So they are brought down to reality by having parallels to things we would buy in real life: clothes, swords, cars and motorbikes.

However, as we grow more comfortable with buying virtual goods, this is expanding into a broader layer of purchasing things of value to us in the game. In a new world, we might pay to be more popular in a game, or perhaps to be an outcast.

We might choose to spend money making our experience match our real-world value system, or might spend that money tapping into a more schizophrenic desire to be someone with completely different values.

In a philosophical sense, we are now able to add a value to our values. This advance taps into our value system in general, asking us to put our money where our heart is.

In the games we build, integrating a strong value system compels people to remain engaged. We want to reward them with the things they like. In the old world this was similar to a frequent flyer program with points, status and kudos.

In the new world, we tailor these currencies to the values of our audience, rewarding them in ways that match their specific value systems, and in ways that connect with them at a deeper level than simply financial.

We are now in a world where we have a reflection of our value systems embedded into our entertainment, and this makes for a better experience for users from start to finish.

Guy Gadney is a director of The Project Factory, an interactive entertainment production company with offices in Sydney and London.


  1. Encyclic!
    7 Aug 12
    12:56 pm

  2. At the end of 2011, an analyst pegged valve’s “Hat” economy, virtual cosmetic gear in one of it’s most popular games – Team Fortress 2, at $50M annually.

    None of these items exist physically, most of them don’t actually provide a benefit, and yet, $50m a year goes into it.

    The subscription model is on the way out for games that have been traditionally P2P, World of Warcraft is the lone exception.

    Nowdays, Freemium is becoming quite common, where you get the game for free, then start paying for optional additional content.

    It doesn’t actually start to grate with gamers until you start charging for things that positively affect gameplay. Allowing a customer to pay for virtual success is just a way to milk idiots. (a tactic which Activision and EA have capitalised on with their most recent big-budget shooters, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and Battlefield 3.)

    I’m fully aware that people might see the act of paying for a hat in a game as similarly ridiculous, but when one purchase merely augments the social enjoyment you get from a game, and the other is actually necessary for progression, you can see the difference quite clearly.

  3. Me
    7 Aug 12
    2:21 pm

  4. Sold a rock in Ultima Online for $500 – in 1999.

    From my perspective, the above piece is about a decade out of date. Still interesting to watch the concepts catch on.

  5. Anonymous
    8 Aug 12
    9:33 am

  6. It’s an interesting model, and certainly a bonus for us cheapskates. But I’d not play in a game that’s influenced too much by paid features, especially if they’re unfair to free players. Rather just fork out a few bucks for a full game.

  7. Anonymous
    8 Aug 12
    2:37 pm

  8. Micro-transactions have become the new norm for so much gaming. In the end, a lot of people end up paying more than they would for a normal game. Why wouldn’t developers use this model?
    Also, Encyclic, I can’t see WoW changing it’s subscription model anytime soon. With 10 million subscribers paying $15 a month, why would you give that up?
    Although Guild Wars 2 is going back to the original pay once and it’s yours forever type model, so we’ll see how that turns out.

  9. Encyclic!
    8 Aug 12
    3:02 pm

  10. @Anon, I happened to have bought GW2 =D, big fan of Arena Net’s idea that once you’ve paid them, you own a product. Or a license to access a product until such time as the servers go down.

    WoW has now gone F2P in its early stages, as a way to draw in customers, as has ToR, which has modified it’s product offering from a subscription-based MMO to a freemium game in order to recoup some hilarious losses.

    Where GW2 differs from both WoW and ToR is that it will offer Microtransactions after you’ve bought the game, but, and this is important, nothing that actually affects the product you’re getting in any significant manner.

  11. Anonymous
    9 Aug 12
    2:01 pm

  12. @Encyclic!, I will be buying GW2 very soon…trying to find reasons not to, but the willpower isn’t there 😛
    I agree their model is much better, but I guess in the long run we’ll see if that’s where the market returns to.
    I believe ToR was doing the WoW F2P for the early stages to now F2P altogether with extra DLC you can buy for raids etc…Don’t know how successful that will be for them.
    I understand the reasoning behind the subscription model for games such as WoW because there are constant upkeep costs for servers etc, but at the same time, I shudder to think how much money some people have spent on WoW.
    The other interesting thing about in-game purchases is Diablo IIIs real money auction house. Now that’s some virtual purchasing gone out of control…

  13. Encyclic!
    10 Aug 12
    8:53 am

  14. The RMAH in D3 proved to be Blizzard’s undoing. It’s one of the main reasons why Blizzard decided to use the hilarious new DRM they’ve got, and also, it’s terribly implemented.

    Knock-on issues from it include the dearth of endgame content, as well as the fact that anything that made the first two titles in the series interesting to play (finding new trousers, equipping new trousers, selling sub-optimal trousers) has now been replaced by “If you don’t use the auction house we spent so much time developing, you’re going to have a bad time”.

    Again, this is the developer either by idiocy or by design (both) designing a game around microtransactions.

    And here’s how the market responded.

  15. Me
    10 Aug 12
    10:30 am

  16. @Encyclic!

    Probably a bit of niche comment for here that needs some translation for the non-Blizzard fans.

    RMAH = Real Money Auction House

    Blizzard attempted to implement an official version of unauthorised virtual item trading – which have created economies that rival the GDP of small nations for some games. (Early Ever Quest, World of Warcraft)

    The experiment has been less than optimal – massive problems in implementation. The RMAH economy is extremely unstable. Account hacking and item duplication are out of control.

    But it’s still in the early phase and may all come together. The need to participate in an online economy just to progress has turned me off the game, stalled in Inferno ACT II, but I still think it may succeed.

  17. Gamer Psyche 101
    14 Aug 12
    12:44 am

  18. I for one thank Blizzard for the RMAH.

    If you’ve ground out a Lvl 80 on WoW, (or several) you’d be itching to see a RMAH on WoW as well.

    Time investment in some gaming FAR outweighs real time for money, so call me lazy, but I’ve purchased my way through D3. Dropping a few bucks instead of grinding hours seems fair to me.

    Oh, and I sold my lvl 80 priest for $1,000USD.

    Small change for 85 days played….

  19. Encyclic!
    14 Aug 12
    2:08 pm

  20. Meanwhile, VALVE just released a new update to TF2, proving that not even Apple’s marketing department can challenge the power that VALVE have over the PC market.
    With Mann V. Machine, you can expect the size of the hat-economy to get even bigger,

  21. Encyclic!
    14 Aug 12
    2:13 pm

  22. Oh and I can’t believe this hasn’t been said yet. Guy Gadney, there is absolutely no reticence to purchasing virtual items, if it’s a worthwhile addition, there’s no problem.

    If it’s cosmetic and nonfunctional, it’s fine as long as it looks cool (Hats).

    If it’s cosmetic, nonfunctional and looks like arse (Oblivion Horse Armour DLC, I’m looking at you, buddy), then yes, there will be reticence.