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MMPORGs, microtransactions, and user experience

Microtransactions provide a potentially great way to place a value on services. But, providers must be transparent about how the goods affect the experience.

Firebug pulls a sword
Firebug pulls a sword Champions Online

Microtransactions within online games and social networks offer one possible way to place a value on services while enhancing the experience for users. In addition to online games like Maple Story, virtual goods are launching all over social-networking sites, including Thursday's launch of PlaySpan's marketplace on Facebook and MySpace.

Funding for virtual worlds has grown dramatically over the last year and companies need to find sustainable revenue models. Transactions of virtual goods allow for new cash flow into both subscription and nonsubscription sites.

But some users don't like the idea that you can simply buy something to affect the game in your favor. Accordingly, games need to be very clear about the purchased goods unfold into the game.

The team at Champions Online have outlined how microtransactions will surface in the game in their State of the Game blog post.

Champions Online will support micro-transactions, but contrary to the concerns of some people, the game is not 'based' on them. There are the basic tenets for our micro-transactions:

  • The vast majority are aesthetic items, such as costume pieces, action figures, emblems, etc.
  • A very few are account-level management tools, such as being able to rename a character
  • Micro-transactions should never limit your ability to enjoy the game or reach the level cap
  • Any micro-transaction that has a game effect can also be earned in the game through play

Also, it's important to note that the overwhelming majority of micro-transactions are account-wide. This means if you buy a costume piece or an action figure, every character on your account gets it.

In addition to the best practice of updating the community of impending changes, the Champions Online team provides a clear explanation that should allay any fears.

Contrast this to the way that Facebook dealt with privacy changes (1,950,000 google results for "facebook fiasco") and you can see why transparent communication is the only way to deal with a user community.

Follow me on Twitter @daveofdoom.