Virtual Vanity Items are Big Lootz for Developers

So, for about $15 – real dollars, you can buy a “tome” on one MMORPG that will raise your character’s attributes by two points.  Or, you could pay about $40 and boost them by 4 points.  Say what?  Yes, that’s exactly what I said about DDO Unlimited, unbelievable.  So, today we’ll look at mobile games and MMO in-app purchases.

A lot of games started out with a subscription model only to move to a Free to Play platform and become more profitable by selling game specific “virtual merchandise” ranging from potions to pets, to armor, weapons, fancy clothes, woolly war mammoths, dragons, new types of tanks, aircraft, you name it.   We’re talking pixels, digital goods that require virtually no physical inventory space or shipping and handling.  It IS the ultimate money making system — IF you can get a few hundred thousand people, preferably a few million people to play it.

The mechanism is simple enough – you create virtual products, associate them with a price in your virtual currency.  Then you determine how many gold coins a player’s real dollar can buy, typically offering discounts on bulk purchases.   Variants, well at least until Spring of 2014, Diablo III has a real currency auction house, but that is closing due to its adverse impact on game play.  For World of Warcraft, the “Black Market” gold vendors would buy game currency and items to resell.  At one point, the cost of Epic WOW PvP gear acquired this way cost more than the real Black Market rate for a real T-72 tank.

People take their entertainment very seriously.   More people will get upset and possibly /ragequit over changes in a game than if they lost their job, their wife, their house, their car, and their dog.  That says a lot of things, and as a developer — you can take advantage of it.  Ethical developers will want to put a cap on that — there’s a fine line to walk there and if you are blatant about it, people will stop playing.

There’s also a fine line between Free to Play and Pay to Win.  The more a game depends upon players to pay for anything “meaningful” – the fewer free players you will have and that will cascade to reduce the number of paying “vanity” players, too.  The Free to Play mechanism is critical these days given the near saturation in online games of all varieties.  The best games with the the best play AND the most players typically wins.  It’s hard to get one without the other.

Many games have adopted a policy that their online stores will only feature cosmetic and convenience items.  Consumables tend to do very well simply because it’s more “cost effective” to drink a healing potion than wait 3 minutes for your character to heal.

Some people will pay unbelievable amounts of in-game currency for the “right cloak” or for a limited edition pet.  Both are typically vanity items.  Mounts that move faster and that are visually impressive can be vanity and convenience items.  They don’t necessarily impact game play.

If you are developing to take advantage of the Vanity Market, then your #1 task is to create a wide variety of each item you want to market.   Like Warcraft, items are divided into common, uncommon, rare, epic, unique – each with a different look.  And, there’s the potential of adding additional customization – like gems or dyes.   Face it, some players will grind for hours, sometimes months to get a specific piece of gear just for the stats.  So, being able to customize that further – with a few “extra gold coins” or “diamonds”, seems perfectly reasonable.

First, you need the players… or do you?  There are countless mods for countless online games and some of them do charge on a per download basis.  The real question is whether your mods (apps) will comply with a specific game’s terms of service, limitations and conditions.   Concurrently, there is nothing to prohibit you from making a proposal to a major game publisher to sell or license your apps through them.  Security and liability issues are the biggest sticking points here, aside from some publishers who insist upon doing everything in house.

But, as I suggested a long-time ago in relation to Warhammer Online – publishers should begin looking at letting its customers actively assist in game development — creating their own quests, for example.  Neverwinter Online took this to heart and in consequence has a constantly expanding amount of unique content.  In the future, we can expect online publishers to engage their customers more actively – and that also means engaging independent developers, too.

Here’s the kicker — Vanity Items need not be restricted to online games.  It may take some creativity, but for all of the things that apply to entertainment – some apply to their work, to family, to pets, to their vehicles.

One approach is to tie repeated use of your application to “unlocks” – perhaps new features or perhaps a discount with different businesses in the same niche.   Many businesses have discount cards that they practically give away, but don’t advertise.   Rounding up and enabling a coupon or membership-card like system in your app should not be particularly difficult in taking advantage of this idea.

Depending on how extensively you network within your niche, Vanity Items could include such things as:

  1. Vanity titles
  2. Dinner with an industry VIP
  3. Invitations to reserved/closed events
  4. Co-chairing on a panel of judges in an industry event/contest
  5. Special advertising arrangements
  6. Private consulting sessions

With these, you might even consider going the way of different paid memberships, each with its own set of services and features.  Point is to be creative, think beyond your app – and to the industry it serves, the people and businesses in it.   Just because you may not personally have the resources for something, does not mean that you don’t have the resources.  You aren’t just creating an app… well you might be, but you could be creating links through your app between people.


Market reach counts – advertising on Opera Mobile Store can get your app in front of millions of end-users you are not likely to reach otherwise. Contact our sales team today!

If you are looking for different ways to monetize your app, you may find the following articles of interest to you:

Project Manager at the Opera Mobile Store providing Sales-Marketing support. Content development and research.

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