I was reading the news today when a particular article titled Your Virtual Cow Could be Worth $0. This is in reference to Google shutting down one of its Facebook games called SuperPoke! Pets.
Now, I’m not exactly a stranger to games that have virtual stores where you can buy cute things and in game advantages with real money. I’ve never personally bought items for real cash (aside from MMO subscriptions, but I view that as more as paying to play the game), but I know people who have. In fact, funny enough, the company I work for has a scheme set up that allows members to buy points (that you can also earn for free) in order to buy things now instead of having to wait until you can earn them. Every day we get notices that a member has purchased a point package…so there’s something to this particular business model that appeals to the masses.
However, the question that’s being asked is what happens to your virtual items when a company decides to close down a game?
This is a good question to ask because it’s not only Facebook and web based type games that have this real cash for virtual goods business model. Years ago SOE introduced the Everquest Marketplace where players could buy items with Station Cash. Mostly this is flavor type stuff, clothing, stuff to change appearance, or in house items (for EQ2). Later they started introducing character transfer tokens (allowed you to move servers), experience potions, and other items that affect in game play. If Station Cash or Everquest (1 or 2) were ever to fold, I’m pretty sure all the virtual goodies players bought would go the same way as their characters. It’s kind of buyer beware.
Then of course there’s all sorts of free to play MMOs popping up where you have to pay to advance levels, gain new skills, get awesome equipment and whatnot. What happens when those games fold? Is it the same as a subscription based game folding or does the companies owe players something for the investment? How about companies that let you buy games and play them virtually like Steam? Do they owe you something when they fold, especially after you’ve forked over $50 for the new CoD or American McGee’s Alice?
Personally, I don’t think Google owes their players anything. You have to know the risk when you pay real money to invest in something virtual be it an in game item, credits, or even a subscription for an MMO. When you fork over your $20 for your 100 gold points, you’re paying for the pleasure of getting that gold now. Tomorrow it could be gone with a server crash or a changed business model of the company that just bought your beloved game. It’s that age old saying that comes into play…buyer beware.