Game Development Reference
Speed and Call of Duty have made great use of such features, allowing for lim-
ited user insignia customization while avoiding the problems of completely
freeform user creation.
People love a bargain, and when their motivation is to feel unique or express
themselves, they want to feel as if the item they are buying isn't something
everyone else will have. One way to accommodate both of these goals is to
have limited-time sales offers and to release certain goods only in a limited
number. (“Only 1828 Golden Hammers remain! Buy one now for only 200
points!”) By offering an item in such a way that it has perceived scarcity, you
create demand and appeal to the user's desire to get a special bargain.
Most of the sales and marketing tricks surrounding the concept of rarity
hearken back to traditional advertising models. “Buy one, get one free!” has
always been a great enticement for consumable items. “Upsize for an additional
$0.50” is a good way to sell users on a slightly larger amount of product than
perhaps they actually need. (In the dual currency world, this often manifests as
a bulk “discount” for purchasing virtual currencies in larger denominations.)
And of course, the same tricks used by retailers related to product positioning
apply in the virtual storefront. Want to sell more of an item? Put it at the top of
the list, or give it a brightly colored icon.
Likewise, consider offering items that are tied to the calendar in some
way. For example, Santa hats are always a top seller around Christmas time,
at least in some parts of the world. Here, again, a little attention to global
trends can go a long way. Are there special goods you can sell that will help
users celebrate Chinese New Year in your game world? What about Guy
Fawkes masks? Depending on your game engine and the flexibility of your
store and backend systems, you may be able to customize offers for a par-
ticular territory, which can help you target sales to those most likely to be
interested in them.
Almost anything that can be sold in real life—and quite a wide array of
things that cannot—can be sold as virtual goods in a social game. Because the
game world is limited only by the imagination of the designer, there is no fea-
ture, offering, or fantasy that a user cannot be enticed to indulge. Your game
can sell seahorses to ride, or shiny tinfoil rims for a virtual car, or a literal
horse-of-a-different-color, or a magic flamethrower that lets a user extract petty
revenge on a player who has recently wronged them. Deciding what to sell,
and what properties to imbue each virtual item with can be an incredible chal-
lenge, as can balancing the ways these items interact with other game systems.
As we move forward, we'll look at some of the ways that designers can further
nuance these decisions by offering different types of items for different types of