Paying real life cash for in game items is not new. You have been able to by virtual items for games going back to Ultima Online, but it was Everquest that really started the trend. In EQLive it began with selling entire accounts. I personally knew people who put down the down payment on their car because they sold their Everquest character that has hot items on it such as the Golden Efreeti Boots, The Flowing Black Sash and Rubicite Breastplate.
From there came power leveling services, gold and platinum sellers and everything in-between. Originally it was looked down by most of the community, especially the developers, but as these startup companies raked in the dough, the message was clear.
One of the first big moves that I remembered was premium servers offered by the Everquest Team. The idea was that you went to a server where you had almost personal guide and GM support. There would be special events and even special loot on this server, if you had the cash to pay.
Oh, there was a flame war, but people did end up paying. In the end the idea was a bust, but by then it was clear that if you charged fans of your game for a service they wanted, they might protest, but they would pay.
Enter World of Warcraft. I myself was surprised at how much money I spent moving my characters from server to server to follow friends. Now you can pay to have pretty much anything done. Some MMO’s out there are free, but if you want the good loot you pay per piece for it.
It has been proven by Apple’s model that if you offer media, for a low price, consumers will buy more and more because it is no cheap. You can by a song or an Iphone application for ninety-nine cents, no big deal. Then you open your credit card statement and realized you spend over a hundred dollars for media you really did not need.
We are heading in that direction with not just MMO’s, but games in general. Don’t get me wrong, the Blizzard pet store with a donation to Make A Wish foundation is nice, but if you do not think this is also market research I have a bridge to sell you.
You have companies who will release games on X-Box 360 knowing they will make money on the back end by offering downloadable content for a price. Normally, this would not be an issue, but we are finding that companies are charging for things that used to come with the game or be a free download, Madden and classic NFL jerseys come to mind.
There is also the controversy over Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 and Activision’s (Blizzard’s parent company) decision to no longer offer player ran servers and PC mod tools. The stance is that this is for security and quality, but many think this is the start to charging for special servers, mods and maps.
In the end, it is your decision to pay or not to pay, but studies show that if the price is under $4.99 people are more likely to pay because it is the same price as lunch or coffee at Starbucks. While I think it is sad that we are being nickel and dimed to death, this is the nature of the beast and I have given in myself and paid for services or upgrades that I felt should have been either free or at least part of the subscription service.
Believe me these companies know that due to playing games like World of Warcraft their player base save money on computer upgrades since their systems should last longer on W.O.W than a brand new game. They know the money you save not going out and instead running TOC can be deferred to a pet that only costs a few dollars.
There is plenty of room for justification and even in an economic downturn there is still disposable income available. These companies are finding new ways to get the change in your pocket into theirs figuring you won’t even notice it.
Do I have an answer or solution to this? No. What I would ask is that before you click on that buy now option, think about what you are getting and ask yourself if you really need this. Maybe it is better to spend that five bucks on a latté, you just might find something interesting out there. Or, you can toss away your coins into the virtual wishing well.