Real world resources in video games

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Real world resources in video games

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A lot of us play video games – some more than others. With the explosion of smart phones in the last decade, many games have been created to bring the experience to phone users that were not game players. Facebook and other social networks also realized the value in incorporating video games so that casual computer users could be converted into gamers.

Around the same time, video games introduced the micro pay – a device for the player to pay actual money in exchange for in-game resources. Suddenly, the casual gamers were able to keep up with the die hard gamers simply by spending a bit of money. You might take 2 hours of game play to earn the virtual gold necessary to upgrade your avatar, but I can do the same thing by paying a dollar. Inasmuch as Zynga quickly became a monolithic company in the video game world, it is clear that many people are willing to pay the money rather than spend the time.

Many games that incorporate micro pays are free to initially download. These games are usually heavily advertised as being “free”, though when you have installed it and started to play, you learn that progress is more quickly made if you pay money in the game. Sometimes the pace of these games is painfully slow unless the player is willing to remit at least some real world money for in-game resources.

During approximately the same time period, other video games (the more traditional kind) underwent a shift comparable to the introduction of the micro pay. Fifteen years ago, most traditional games made for consoles like X-Box Playstation 2 were things that were purchased with no further charges to the end user. Over time, the game makers introduced downloadable content (DLC). At first, DLC was free, but this changed quickly, though some companies continue to release it without charge. Now, the traditional games playable on consoles and computers cost an initial up front amount (usually around $60) and have DLC for several dollars per download.

By my understanding, from the inception of the video game until about 2007, games were either free or had a certain cost paid when you went to a store to purchase them. Over time, these two types merged so that many games have an up front cost followed by delayed costs in the form of either DLC or micro pays (or both). While there continue to be free games and fixed-price games, the hybrid type allows end users to use actual money as an in-game currency to develop their characters or play the game more to their liking.

If I was not so profoundly stricken by the apparent increase in cost of gaming in the last several years, I would be more excited about the propagation of micro pays and DLC. I think one of the next logical steps for these games will be the conversion of the in-game resources back to real world cash. Imagine if the ore harvested in Command and Conquer could be deposited in the form of dollars to your bank account. To some degree this already exists: in many games where rare items can be acquired those items can be sold on sites like eBay. So if you have a legendary ax of smiting in a game where items can be traded, you can often find a buyer for that item that is willing to pay real money for you to meet them in the virtual world and give them the item.


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