Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The value of in-game items

Do virtual game items have value? Well, that is just asking whether people are willing to pay for them, and that depends on the game and item in question, but in general the answer is "yes". Does that make them "real"? Perhaps that's the wrong question, but people ask it anyway, usually when trying to show that physical goods have more value compared to virtual items in games, or that physical objects are the only kind of property that can have value.

Your bank account is not physical. It's an entry in a database that says you have access to this many dollars (or pounds, euros, yen, whatever). There's not some vault somewhere with a bundle of notes in a pile with your name on it. You put in real work and time to earn that money, and if someone took it off you, you'd be livid, because it is yours. It is real, it is valuable, it is important, it is owned by you, but it is not physical in any way. How is that different from in-game items and gold?

Now imagine that every day when you go to work, if you do badly or if someone else swoops in and finishes your project before you do, they get not just your salary for the day, but some of your bank balance too. That is the kind of risk that games add to this kind of non-physical property. The only difference between the game items and your bank balance is the population of people who consider them valuable and would exchange goods or services based on that value.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - And that, so far in most social circles, game items are not taken seriously.
PPS - Suggested reading: the novel For The Win by Cory Doctorow.

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