| Mail |
You might also like: WoW Insider, Joystiq, and more

Reader Comments (41)

Posted: Sep 13th 2009 7:59PM (Unverified) said

  • 2 hearts
  • Report
I have increasingly seen the distinction between "fluff and stuff" made in commentaries on new MMO business models. Far from being useful, it seems to me to be a false dichotomy. As some pointed out in speculating on Champion Online's monetization plans, cosmetic items that have no direct impact on the core combat mechanics are still just as integral a part of the MMO experience. These are social games even if large parts of them are played by oneself. One of the things that draw people back, sometimes for years on end, is the possibility of being a unique member of those virtual societies. In so far as clothing or items or character levels are constitutive of that, they function as the scarce resource that MMO developers are now selling in their item shops.

Yet it is a very artificial scarcity that exists in these virtual worlds, something that developers implement and exploit to retain players for long periods of time (for subscription based games) or motivate them to spend money on microtransactions (for "free to play" games). Their entire business model is predicated on gating or partitioning content and then making everything on one side of the "pay wall" an advertisement for what's on the other side. Want to be level 80 and hang out with your friends? Well all you have to do is spend a lot time - and a month or two subscription fees - leveling to get there. Frustrated by the normal run speed and transportation options in Runes of Magic? Here is a 10 dollar horse to solve that problem.

I think these are ethically problematic practices and ones that haven't been sufficiently analyzed thus far. I don't think developers design these sorts of game systems with any nefarious intent; most probably see them as ethically neutral if they reflect on them at all. With more work done in this area, I hope the industry will reflect and realize that perhaps the current monetization schemes, and the games they breed, are not good from an ethical perspective, whatever their financial success.

Featured Stories

Engadget

Engadget

Joystiq

Joystiq

WoW Insider

WoW

TUAW

TUAW