More than one way to get a gamer's dollar

I’ve recently been taken in by an addictive little PC game called DriftCity. A free-to-play online driving game that launched earlier this month, and it had me reflecting on the changing economy of online video games.

The subscription revenue system has worked for a long time on game-behemoths like World of Warcraft and Everquest, both of which have been around for several years and have raked in billions (yes, with a B) of dollars. But games with lesser production values and hype have been left with a problem of not being able coax players away from the game they are paying for monthly in order to try something else they will need to pay another monthly fee for.

The result of this dilemma has been a number of interesting new ways of getting money out of gamers and games.

DriftCity for example uses a revenue structure that is very common among games originating from the east, Korea in particular. A player can download and play their games for free, but the player is also allowed to purchase in-game currency using real currency. This allows them to obtain special items which will either increase their character’s stats and/or decorate their character to fit the player’s liking. An example of this would be a new hat costing about 30 cents in real-world money, allowing a player to look unique while giving them an in-game advantage, such as making the character slightly stronger or faster. Only a small percentage of players will ever actually reach for their credit cards to do this, but it is enough to cover the game’s server/staff costs, and then some. This revenue model has been surprisingly successful. The genius here is that people with only a passive interest in a particular game will likely at least try it out, thus creating a large community of registered players, the larger the group is, the more likely that game will be mentioned in the media, thus getting the attention of even more potential players.

Second Life, for example saw a tidal wave of new players join its ranks over the past year, due to the all the hype it received from news sources reporting on large companies, like Sony and Ford buying space in the game simply to advertise their products. The game itself is, and has always been free to enter and explore, but real money is required to purchase property, very similar to the Korean free-to-play model. The hype from name-brand companies creating their presence sent Second Life’s population from the hundreds and thousands, which it had hovered at for years, into the hundreds of thousands. Many groups and organizations from political campaigns to musicians and fashion designers have jumped in, and are buying up their own virtual space to show-off their real-world products.

That’s all I’ll say for now, but perhaps next time, I’ll address a new spin an old idea, in-game advertising.

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