Game Development Reference
In-Depth Information
Selling vanity items is a relatively straightforward proposition because
such items don't have any real effect on gameplay. From a shiny red hat for
the player's avatar to sweet, blacked-out rims for their favorite car, allowing
players to customize their game experience can be a very powerful user draw.
Even games without any player avatar can accomplish this personalization by
offering players prestige skins for almost anything. On the Xbox Live version of
Magic the Gathering , for example, players can buy shiny tinfoil backing for their
decks of cards. And they do, in droves.
Planning what sort of items you'll allow your players to customize is inte-
gral to the design and feel of your overall software project. It should be some-
thing you consider from the start, because customization can be very difficult
to retrofit, depending on what you hope to achieve. For example, a character
system with the ability to add “rag-doll”-style character customization might
be very costly to add later if the foundation wasn't in place when the game
was first architected. On the other hand, swapping out player icons or even
customizing UI elements in exchange for a dollar or two can be quite popular
and often involves little more than some advanced planning and a little extra
2D artwork.
One of the great features of vanity items is that they are, in effect, viral.
If a player sees someone else walking around wearing an item they want to
wear, the value of that item is increased, and some players will go to elaborate
lengths to acquire that item. Because goods that cost real money are automati-
cally rare (because statistically, more people play than purchase) scarcity is pre-
served, adding value to the virtual goods. World of Warcraft has consistently
found success with exploiting this feature by allowing the introduction of new
gear that can be found only in a certain area that just happens to be part of an
expansion pack. Of course, although the gear must be found in the new area,
players are free to wear it in the old. When players discover that the only way
they can get the new and wonderful items is to buy the pack and explore new
lands, they're motivated to purchase the expansion pack.
When designing vanity items or skins, remember that your games (should)
exist in a global marketplace. Consider the different sorts of items that might
appeal to varied markets. National flags tend to be very popular, because they
allow gamers to identify themselves by region. Symbols associated with dif-
ferent districts, sports teams, or belief systems can be popular as well. Of
course, you'll want to take care as to the sorts of iconography you allow.
Swastikas, for example, may be popular among certain subgroups, but you
probably want to avoid them in your game. For every icon that gets a player
excited, there's another that could upset a player to the point that they aban-
don your game. For this reason, allowing users to create their own symbols,
icons, or skins is likely to expose your team to a number of headaches. A
happy medium can be found in allowing users to create their own custom
liveries from a predetermined set of icons, colors, and the like. Both Need for
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