In a world where blockchain powered cryptocurrencies frequently make headlines, why aren’t the same headlines being made by the virtual game currencies? After all, in 2016 the UK gaming industry was valued at £4.33bn, and by 2021 it’s expected to reach £5.2bn.
Where gamers are beginning to feel the pinch is in micro-transactions, certainly ones in Triple-A games (titles that have the biggest budgets). It’s created a reputation rift between some games studios and the gamers. Why should gamers spend between £50 — £100 on a new game, only to have the actual mechanics of the game push micro-transactions onto them?
The best games attempt to balance micro-transactions with gameplay. They exist as an option in the game to allow players to purchase items, but the same or similar items can be attained through so-called ‘grinding’; playing the game repetitively to win rewards. At a psychological level, a player must feel engaged enough to keep pushing forward. Similar to gambling, this seems to often be about providing small wins, enough to prove that grinding works.
It would be an understatement to say the game Destiny 2, developed by Bungie and published by Activision, has struggled. The Wall Street firm Cowen reiterated its market perform rating on Activision Blizzard shares citing increasing evidence players are leaving the Destiny community.
Personally, as a member of this community, they are spot on. Why? Mostly, Destiny 2 got the balance of micro-transactions wrong.
To understand, we first need to know what forms the basics of a virtual economy. It must follow at least one of these three ‘rules’:
Content creation: Introducing artificially scarce resources or items that naturally are seen to have a value in the game.
Attention: Giving out some scarce content for free as a way to attract players. This is often achieved by offering two currencies, one that can be bought with real money and another that is rewarded through gameplay.
Monetising: A simple one, selling virtual goods for real money. Gamers are often charged at what they are willing to pay.
When it comes to Destiny 2, the theory books have been followed and their in-game system follows all three of these ‘rules’. This is how the game organises its currencies:
Silver: Bought for real world money. It is the attention method, as this is the paid-for currency that gives gamers access to rare or unavailable items through normal gameplay.
Bright Dust: This is primarily a currency that is earned through game play, gained through rewards or by dismantling rare items. However, you can also acquire it through purchasing loot boxes with Silver.
The attention element is possible through the existence of two different virtual currencies (one paid-for, one through rewards). Content creation takes place as some items in the game are scarce and there is a desire to gain them. The monetising takes place through using Silver to purchase loot boxes.
Where Destiny 2 has struggled is on giving players content that will keep them hooked. Whilst many items are scarce, most items are cosmetic once the main storyline is over, so there really isn’t much point in spending hours trying to win them as rewards. The same applies for the paid-for items, as many are also cosmetic.
Unlike real world economies, virtual economies aren’t driven by real world concerns of living. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, gamers probably just want the gratification of self-actualisation. Competition drives you forward to be recognised as the best. Cosmetics may make your virtual character standout, but unless it gives you a significant advantage in gameplay, then it’s all rather meaningless.
In a nutshell, this has been Destiny 2’s issue.