For something to be a virtual good it has to have cost something, an in game currency value which ultimately translates into something else that has real world value, nope not real money. Effort. The exchange of effort (i.e. work) for goods whether digital or not, is how the world runs.
But what about in the world of gamification, that bridges both game and non-game. What is the value of virtual goods when playing perhaps at a gamified life? To answer this, I looked specifically at the virtual goods used in two of the platforms I use HabitRPG and 750words.
HabitRPG uses gold and silver accumulation for ticking off your good habits and getting through your to-do lists, which can then be spent on gear for your character.
These virtual goods sit alongside the rewards the ones I set for myself for any number of gold pieces. So 40 in game gold, will buy me a night-off to splurge or 65 gold will finally get me the Game of Thrones next season *woot*.
Yes I’d still have to pay real money for it, but feeling like I’ve earned the right to buy it, as part of completing my habits feels that much sweeter.
With such tempting real life rewards on offer, the question becomes why would I or all the other player ever choose to ignore our real life rewards and instead opt to buy a virtual one.
Unpacking the psychology of virtual goods
I look bad-ass
Customising my avatar is a form of self expression. This is my peacock moment of showing off what I’ve achieved.
Gear-up for a greater challenge
The stats on this gear like increasing my constitution with a new robe or the power of spells means the game needs to get harder to remain challenging. The gear therefore allows me to feel like I could expand my daily or take on an even bigger goal in my to-dos.
In the platform 750words, which gamifies your writing habits, the approach to virtual goods is completely different. The only item you can earn is the virtual coffee cup, which comes from completing monthly challenges or by being a paying member.
Here there is no way to spend these cups to either affect the game’s level of challenge or as a form of self expression. There’s no avatar. In this platform, instead you spend coffee cups on voting for site features or being allowed to post an inspirational note on one of the site’s pages. That’s it.
The cups of coffee encourage a sense of belonging to the community and investment in its future development. Its a form of philanthropy, which is further shown by the way you can also donate your cups to a winning pool for the monthly challenges. This gifting, like the inspirational notes can be seen as another form of self expression, but might also simply be motivated by altruism.
I wrote another more detailed analysis of the gamification design of 750 words, guest posted in Yu Kai Chou’s Gamification site