[This blog post originally appeared on GAMESbrief]
I was at the Games Gone Wild event in London yesterday (good attendees, format needs work).
I heard a fundamental misconception about virtual goods and entertainment purchases repeated a couple of times.
This is not true.
Consumers do not play a game, decide that they are enjoying it and therefore decide to buy a virtual good. And if that’s what you think, you are going to struggle to design games with viral mechanics and compulsion loops that monetise well.
Virtual goods only work in social settings: online games, virtual worlds, social games. And the compulsion that makes a player purchase a virtual good are the same as the compulsions that make us buy goods in the real world:
Understand this, and you have got the first principle of the difference between a traditional AAA game design and the designs needed to make a successful virtual goods business.
I often ask clients this question:
No-one has ever answered (a).
I then point out that the same is true online. If no-one else can see what you are wearing, why will you spend money on it?
This, in essence, is why Oblivion’s horse armour flopped so badly.
Many designers say “but we’ve always included wearables in our reward structure for single player games. Why don’t they work in online worlds?”
The answer lies in the difference between “rewards” and “purchases”. For a player to feel the need to purchase something, they have to get a feeling, an experience, a social benefit from it. They need:
(see Free to play gamers will pay for power-ups and self-expression, but not for new content for more on this topic).
Players do not buy virtual goods for the goods themselves. They don’t buy them for entertainment value.
They buy them for self-expression. For status. For all the same reasons that you buy branded clothes in the shops.
Harness this, and you will have a massively successful business. Fail to understand this, and you will be creating horse armour until doomsday.