The virtual economy is booming.
There’s no better proof than Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) and mobile games. They represent burgeoning virtual economies brimming with lucrative potential.
More and more gamers exchange virtual goods in-game. Some do it to supercharge their progress and others are after profit (real money).
Game companies have taken notice and refined their monetization strategies.
They turned free-to-play titles into cash-generating machines. Valuable property can be any virtual resource, from player avatars to weapons. Gamers are more than willing to substitute real money and time for these items.
Here are some of the most prominent digital ecosystems to this date.
1. Linden Dollars (Second Life)
Life simulation games have ventured further than any other genre did.
Take the example of Second Life, which allows players to do pretty much anything they want. The game also bridged the gap between real and virtual economy. Namely, players can generate Linden Dollars (L$) by completing tasks and jobs.
It’s also possible to trade real money for them.
The game is unique for embracing laissez-faire policy toward currency transactions on third-party websites. It even recognized the intellectual property rights of in-game assets. The result is one of the most player-centric virtual economies ever to emerge.
2. Interstellar Credits (EVE Online)
Interstellar Credits (ISK) are the economic bloodstream of EVE Online.
They differ from L$, as they aren’t freely convertible to real currencies. One can only use cash to buy certain items from non-player characters (NPCs).
The reverse process doesn’t work. This means you can resell possessions within the EVE economy, but only for L$.
Another interesting feature is none of the resources are finite in amount. Laws of supply and demand apply to their full extent. This level playing field gave rise to market manipulation and confidence schemes.
CCP Games was even forced to hire a real economist to monitor in-game transactions.
3. Gold (World of Warcraft— WoW)
Gold is hands-down the most common of all virtual currencies.
The one from WoW still shines the brightest for many gamers. Blizzard’s megahit launched MMORPG into the mainstream and attracted swarms of devout gamers. At the peak of the gold rush, there were dozens of websites for purchasing the currency.
As years rolled by, the economy became more regulated. The powers-that-be imposed trade restrictions (for real cash purchases). Still, nothing would prevent black markets from popping up.
Blizzard could only hope to steer players away from them.
4. Gold (Runescape)
Before the WoW craze, there was a fantasy MMORPG called Runescape.
It was one of the first games to enable real-money trading between players. This level of virtual economy is known as the global secondary market.
For a time, its growth was unhinged, as there were no trade restrictions. Many individuals amassed wealth over the years via the method of gold farming.
Then, the game studio suddenly decided to start removing unbalanced trades. Many players protested and many of them unsubscribed for good. As for diehard fans, they continued to fill up their gold treasuries.
5. Project Entropia Dollar (Entropia Universe)
A space-themed MMO Entropia Universe has a highly-sophisticated economy.
It employs a micropayment business model. Project Entropia Dollar (PED) is the official game currency. It can be exchanged for hard money at a fixed rate of $1USD for 10PED.
The company makes income by charging a transaction fee. In return, it offers a stable and reliable system. One standout feature is the ability to deposit money to the bank account.
This all means a plethora of virtual items are infused with real value. And we’re not talking about meager sums. Believe it or not, one space nightclub was sold for $635,000.
This is the largest virtual purchase ever recorded.
6. Multiple Currencies (Clash of Clans)
More developed mobile economies tend to have multiple currencies.
Clash of Clans is a prime example, a game that has been dominating top-grossing charts. Three available currencies are Purple Elixir, Gold Coins, and Green Gems.
Economies like this always feature a hard currency (Green Gems). This is a premium asset that can only be purchased via a real money balance. On the other hand, soft currencies (Elixir and Coins) are purely a virtual resource.
To obtain them, a player has to spend enough time and effort.
A mobile studio has to consistently create new content and track player progress. This is the only way to keep the economy going.
Virtual Economy Is a Real Deal
Virtual economy is becoming a very real phenomenon.
Thanks to the growing video game sector, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry already. And that’s just the beginning. We are poised to reach new heights in 2019 and beyond.
The landscape is also getting increasingly diverse. The virtual economy encompasses all games loops, genres, and platforms. Players seek all kinds of objects and items with in-game utility.
Bear in mind this state of affairs is the product of game design, but also game monetization. It’s a double-edged sword one has to wield carefully.
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