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Thinking about buying items

Posted by Chris Jones
On September 22nd, 2005 at 10:45

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I’ve been thinking about buying items in-game, in part as a way to get around the IGE RMT brouhaha, but also as a way to fund the game–as several MMOs and Chinese games are doing. See also, 1-ups for Sale: Korea’s Item-based Game Model.

Imagine that the game has lets anyone with a valid email address create an account (tied to the email address) with a single character slot. Additional character slots can be purchased for a nominal fee (say, $5 each) and will be permanently associated with that account. To encourage players to purchase additional character slots, my earlier idea about dynamic classing based on play style should not be used.

Justification: A player typically pays $40-50 for an MMO that has four to ten character slots per account or per server–and most players only play heavily on one or two servers. A player would need to purchase 10 slots before equalling the cost of a boxed MMO, minus subscription fees.


Players are packrats. Players should be able to purchase additional individual and shared bank slots, additional inventory containers or bags, and new tools to manage their characters’ inventory.

Justification: Storing many more items per character costs real money in terms of database storage–not much per character, but colossal over thousands of characters. This is a real cost that can and should be passed back onto the player.

When buying items, a reasonable interface would be via a web-store. After logging in to his account, the player would be able to go to the store and search for or drill-down to the particular items he’s interested in purchasing. When bought, a claim for the item is immediately delivered to the player’s selected character (on-line or off). Everything purchased must be no trade. Purchased, but unclaimed items, must never be lost, and players who try to redeem items but don’t have the inventory space to use them must have that claim preserved and available at a later time.

I figured that every item that could be purchased also has to have an equivalent in-game that can be looted, quested, purchased for in game currency, or in some way obtained. The difference is that the items purchased are immediately useable, not restricted in time, quantity, or level. Items may or may not be limited by class.

Justification: A player’s subscription fee covers their play of the game. The actual cost of a high level item isn’t just the subscription cost, but also the player’s cost in time. To reach level 60 in WoW, for instance, takes 20 days of playtime (480 hours). Given an average of 25 hours per week of play, this can take 19 weeks or around five months ($60 in subscription fees, with the first month free). At a value of $5 per hour as unskilled labor, the player is encountering an opportunity cost of $2,400 in potential lost income. The gear and cash earned by the character to level 60 should be worth as much as $2,500 (time + subscription + box cost)–though a player is more likely to assess their time as free or heavily discounted and only subscription and box costs being the only real value ($100).

A 60 Hunter + 60 Rogue was self-valued at $200. A 60 Mage with epic mount was self-valued at $375. An account with three level 60s and a level 58 was self-valued at $750. A level 60 Paladin was self-valued at $500.

A typical raid takes four or five hours to complete ($20-25 in lost income), and results in a chance to receive upgrade loot (usually less than 1 in 3)–epic level gear can be valued at $60-75 per piece based soley on time spent.

Games like Achea put a cap on character development: spending money on the game allows characters to exceed that cap. It seems reasonable that a free game should do the same. It is absolutely essential, however, that the game have compelling content beyond whack-a-mole or fed-ex questing. (N.B., players consume content like locusts, five times or more faster than it can be developed.)

Characters who purchase equipment, character slots, etc., may want to transfer them–they’ve spent money on entertainment, but it’s, in a way, more tangible to them than going to a movie or renting a DVD. Sending screenshots of the item, LEDO keys to recreate the item at a later time, or other tokens of ownership may help assuage concerns about purchasing virtual items. Players may be more or less likely to pay for items based on the financial model, and the choice of a financial model (sole proprietor, LLC, non-profit, or donation-based private ownership) is a topic for more thought.

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