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The tricky balance of virtual items

In Gamasutra's latest feature, Certain Affinity's Tim Fields and Portalarium's Brandon Cotton write, "In-game items need to be considered in terms of the degree to which they alter gameplay for the user."
In Gamasutra's latest feature, Certain Affinity's Tim Fields and Portalarium's Brandon Cotton describe the design of virtual items, writing that "In-game items need to be considered in terms of the degree to which they alter gameplay for the user." The article is an excerpt from the duo's book Social Game Design: Monetization Methods and Mechanics. One major category is functional improvements, the pair write. "There are many types of goods that can grant a functional advantage in a game. In a shooter, this could be something as obvious as a more damaging gun, or a gun that fires faster than those available in the game for free." "When considering selling players items that give them a real advantage in gameplay, game balance should be a critical consideration." While selling advantages in a PvP game can risk alienating players, there's also a strong emotional incentive, they write: "Often, when a user in a PvP game has been killed or 'ganked' by another player, they tend to be emotional and want to strike back; this does make your player more likely to spend money in exchange for power, if your game design allows them to do so." "But you need to tread with caution when allowing this sort of behavior. You don't want to leave your revenue to the whims that divide a gamer between their wallet and their damaged sense of pride, and you don't want to foster the type of nasty online community which exists only for those who get their kicks from spending a few pennies to 'grief' new players. Certainly, this is an emotion to exploit, but also to control." The extract discusses the practical issues behind other types of functional improvements and many more types of virtual goods besides that, and is live now on Gamasutra.

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