With the exception of performing in Second Life, I’ve faded from the massively multiplayer worlds, but I do still keep some tabs on the news. Seeing this article on Massively had me wondering what it is about so called “microtransactions” that have some gaming patrons in a stir.


Money In Games


Microtransactions are the purchasing of game content pieces and sections as a game is played. Some virtual spaces have this mechanism as an integral part of their structure, while others have it more as a seeming add-on to the intended experience.

Making money from digital content has been all the rage for more than the last decade. While a lot of products are presented as free, it is understood that there is usually at least some intent towards making money or breaking even. Music, movies, and programs share many of the same characteristics as games in this regard. In fact I think that whatever reasonable business model evolves in one sphere will likely generalize to the others in fairly short order.

Money touches on so many psychological levels. It resonates with power, stature, sex, meaning, place in family, place in society, work, leisure, etc. In conversation, in fact, it is often more difficult to talk about money than it is about sex.

For these reasons, considering money in any sense can be exhausting. There was a recent comic (which I’ll link to if I can find it … * sounds of electronic shuffling through the Internet * …) depicting the decision to buy a 99 cent app as taking more effort than buying the expensive technological host gadget in the first place. Though tongue-in-cheek, there is a truth to it.

It is little wonder then that we do not want such a heavy psychological burden in our places of leisure. When we buy a piece of music, we expect the continual pressures of money considerations to have been lifted. Instead, we would like to be left with an unadulterated joy of sound. When we buy a ticket for a movie, we would like to be see only its director’s vision and the actors’ and actresses’ portrayal of the human condition. When we play a game, similarly, unless it is a game expressly stated as involving money, we do not want to consider the existence of our own real supplies of money, and would rather engage in some form of play.

It is not the amounts of money necessarily, so much as its consideration at all that can spoil the joy of play and learning inherent in a good game environment. Money is a powerful psychological invention with many uses. But it is also something which we may like to forget in our leisure.


The Conversation


Hugh MacLeod of Gapingvoid has recently been doing a series of posts (1, 2, 3) remarking on having a “smarter conversation” when doing business. Livingston Taylor, musician, author of Stage Performance, and professor at the Berklee College of Music, also makes repeated comments about how “it’s not about you, it’s about them” in regards to performing for an audience.

The idea that there is a conversation to be had is a much richer and nuanced method of describing the goings on of the market be it in games, art or otherwise. Certainly money is a part of that conversation, but it is only a part. And when it is repeatedly thrown into the conversation by one party, especially when done unexpectedly, it is at least gauche, and, at worst, a relationship killer.

When game companies design their games and when artists craft their art, it is important to realize that money is a part of the work’s frame as an initial and up-front part of the conversation. Money is not the entire conversation, and it warrants just as much care in broaching as it does elsewhere in discourse.