Game Development Reference
Interview with Ryan Cleven: Social Platforms—cont'd
but only up to a certain limit. If you purchase the better ones with real
money, you can get roughly double that amount of bonus. Now because
this is not directly buying results, it feels different. There is a layer of indi-
rection to it, but you can definitely outpace everyone else's economy if
you buy these. People can still outperform other people by spending. The
same is true of other games that use virtual goods. They will do things
that make it really hard to earn the thing that will make you competitive,
but it is still, in theory, earnable. So they just put a big time investment
between you and that thing. The conceit is that it is earnable, but in actu-
ality, most people are buying it.
You have to be really careful about the performance-enhancing
items, though, because irrespective of the fairness, there is a player
investment problem. If a player can shortcut their way through to per-
formance, how much quicker do they go through their life cycle within
the game? From a business and game design point of view, if a per-
son comes in and drops $20, becomes really powerful, tears through
the content, and they then eject, would you have been better off if
you'd asked them for $5 five different times? So you have to be careful
with performance-enhancing items because they can erode the longev-
ity of the experience, in addition to the enjoyment of that experience.
Finessing this is an art.
Q: Talk to me about user-created virtual goods.
A: There are a few social games out there based entirely on user-cre-
ated virtual goods, but the general pattern is that they make money by
commission from people trading back and forth. The really interesting
one out there is Team Fortress . They introduced a crafting system, but
then they also released a storefront where users could buy both unique
and craftable items. On top of that, Valve takes submissions for user-
created assets. These assets, once approved, will go up for sale. Valve
takes a commission from these items, and there is no possibility of buy-
ing these items with credits earned in game. The whole storefront is
entirely based on real money. This is similar to games like Second Life
where users can put in arbitrary content and sell it. The key difference
is that there is a crafting system built into the game that mixes with this
item ecosystem. It creates three tiers of player investment. There are
buyers, crafters, and sellers. A person could be all three, but for basi-
cally a team-based, nonprogression game, there is a ton of player cre-
ation and involvement.