Game Development Reference
9.1 Fake Estates
The very phrase “virtual goods” is something of a delightful contradiction.
Anything “virtual,” by definition, doesn't physically exist, and “goods”—at least
when appearing within the context of the marketplace—are typically an article
of trade. For our purposes, though, virtual goods are real enough that they gen-
erate billions of dollars in revenue each year, and are so important to players
that they can drive binge play sessions, provoke real-world fights, create (and
destroy) marriages, and keep users spending money 24 hours a day, in almost
every country in the world. Virtual goods may be an amusingly 21st-century
contradiction in terms, but they're also big business and a major part of social
and mobile game design.
Virtual goods can end up taking on many different forms in a game. They
can be literal items that a player or character buys in order to enhance their in-
game abilities, or they can be instantly consumed “items” that grant the user
more turns or access to some previously unavailable feature. They can also
be purely cosmetic items that stroke a user's vanity by letting them customize
the way their character or car or card or farm animal appears to other players.
These items can be a core component of gameplay, or they can be special—
even seasonal—items. We'll discuss popular items of all types, and talk about
how such items can be used to affect, alter, or destroy a game's balance. We'll
discuss how to avoid some of the game-balance pitfalls often created by offer-
ing functional items for sale, and ways to make visual customization features
appealing to your users as a way to distinguish themselves from the crowd.
We'll also briefly touch on user-created virtual goods. We'll wrap all this up
with an interview discussing game design and virtual goods across a variety of
social gaming platforms.