Game design as marketing: How gam...
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1443907 Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management, Volume 5, Issue 1, 2010 Game design as marketing: How game mechanics create demand for virtual goods Juho Hamari Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT P.O. Box 9800, FI-02015 TKK, Finland Tel: +358 408359563 Email: email@example.com Vili Lehdonvirta Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT P.O. Box 9800, FI-02015 TKK, Finland Tel: +358 503841530 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Abstract Selling virtual goods for real money is an increasingly popular revenue model for massively- multiplayer online games (MMOs), social networking sites (SNSs) and other online hangouts. In this paper, we argue that the marketing of virtual goods currently falls short of what it could be. Game developers have long created compelling game designs, but having to market virtual goods to players is a relatively new situation to them. Professional marketers, on the other hand, tend to overlook the internal design of games and hangouts and focus on marketing the services as a whole. To begin bridging the gap, we propose that the design patterns and game mechanics commonly used in games and online hangouts should be viewed as a set of marketing techniques designed to sell virtual goods. Based on a review of a number of MMOs, we describe some of the most common patterns and game mechanics and show how their effects can be explained in terms of analogous techniques from marketing science. The results provide a new perspective to game design with interesting implications to developers. Moreover, they also suggest a radically new perspective to marketers of ordinary goods and services: viewing marketing as a form of game design. Keywords: online games, social networking, virtual world, virtual goods, business model, sustainability, captology
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1443907 Juho Hamari and Vili Lehdonvirta 15 1 INTRODUCTION Selling virtual goods has become a major new revenue model for consumer-oriented online services, social networking sites, massively-multiplayer online games (MMOs) and virtual worlds in particular. This is especially true in the East Asian market. In September 2005, 32% of titles surveyed by Nojima (2007) in Japan used virtual item sales as their main revenue model. In October 2006, the share had grown to 60%. The global volume of real-money trade of virtual goods was estimated at 2.1 billion USD per year in 2006 (Lehtiniemi & Lehdonvirta 2007). This dramatic rise of the virtual good model arguably merits increased attention from the disciplines of marketing and technology management. In practice, the so-called virtual good sales or microtransactions revenue model involves selling some form of virtual items, ���avatars��� or currencies to the users of an online service. Perhaps most frequently, the object sold for real money is a virtual currency, which is then exchanged for virtual items. The items can range from weapons and armour in online games to clothes in virtual worlds and simple two-dimensional graphical badges in social networking sites. The items are used as part of gameplay or to fulfil similar social and aesthetic functions as physical commodities are used for elsewhere in consumer culture (Lehdonvirta, Wilska & Johnsson 2009). In this paper, we consider the question of what leads consumers to purchase virtual goods. Previous studies on the topic mostly focus on the consumer, considering what motivations and decision processes lead individuals into purchasing virtual goods (Guo and Barnes 2007 Lehdonvirta 2005 Nojima 2007 Lehdonvirta, Wilska & Johnsson 2009). We adopt a different, complementary approach, focusing on how the rules and mechanics that developers build into their MMOs lead to virtual good purchases. Our theoretical perspective is based on marketing: we view game design as one aspect in the company���s marketing process that aims to create demand for virtual goods that can be sold for real money. This way, we are able to offer new explanations as to how certain designs and patterns create demand and to suggest designs that could still be explored further. Moreover, learning can happen in the other direction as well, from game design to marketing. Insights built into game designs, based on the collective experience of generations of game designers, can potentially teach traditional marketers new things about how people���s behaviour is shaped. In the second section of this paper, we discuss the virtual good sales revenue model in more detail and review related literature. We also provide a review of basic marketing literature that acts as a conceptual framework for the rest of the discussion. In the third section, we outline the research design of the empirical part of this paper. In sections 4 and 5, we present empirical analyses of design and game mechanics in a number of MMOs. In section 6 we summarise the results, and in the final section, present conclusions and discuss the implications and limitations of the study. 2 BACKGROUND 2.1 Virtual Good Sales As a Revenue Model Real-money trade of virtual goods first emerged in 1999 in the form of player-to-player trade in MMOs such as Ultima Online and EverQuest. Users would list their hard-earned game possessions on eBay and let other users bid for them (Lehdonvirta 2008). In recent years, the growth of the market has increasingly been driven by operators selling goods directly to their users. Instead of requiring users to pay a monthly subscription fee, operators allow users enter the service for free, with the expectation that some users will nevertheless spend money on virtual good microtransactions (Nojima 2007). For this reason, virtual good sales-based games like MapleStory are occasionally called ���free-to-play��� games. One example of a virtual world that follows the same model is Habbo. Second Life follows a similar but more complicated model, where users are the primary actors in virtual good production and sales. Successful subscription-based MMOs charge around $10-$15 per month from their users, while Liew (2008a) estimates that successful ���free-to-play��� operators earn around $1-2 in monthly ARPU (average revenue per user). The estimate is based on figures pertaining to Second Life, Club Penguin, Habbo and RuneScape. Korean-based MapleStory is estimated to have a monthly ARPU of $20 in the United States (Liew 2008b), while Hyatt (2008) estimates the average ARPU of ���free-to-play��� titles being around $5 per month. At first glance it would therefore seem that the subscription model is often the more attractive option, but if we consider other metrics such as registered users, active users, conversion rates and costs, the situation may change. Users that are willing to pay a subscription fee belong to a fairly limited segment of hardcore users, while ���free-to-play��� services have the potential to court much larger audiences.
Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management / Business-and-Management.org 16 For these and other reasons, operators are increasingly applying the virtual good sales revenue model in virtual worlds, MMOs as well as other online services. Understanding how to create and maintain demand for virtual goods is therefore an increasingly pertinent question. How does a service entice users into virtual good spending? How can sales be sustained over time without saturating the demand? To begin answering these questions, in the following part we review relevant literature from MMO related studies. 2.2 Understanding Virtual Good Purchases In the academic literature pertaining to MMOs, the majority of works focus on fascinating legal and philosophical questions that virtual worlds and real-money trade of virtual goods give rise to (e.g. Fairfield 2005 Lastowka and Hunter 2004). Works that deal with virtual goods from a business perspective are relatively scarce. MacInnes (2004) and Lehdonvirta (2008) discuss different approaches that MMO and virtual world operators can take towards real-money trade of virtual goods on a strategic level, without going into detail about what creates demand for the virtual goods. Nojima (2007), Lehdonvirta (2005) and Guo and Barnes (2007) focus on the individual user, examining motivations and decision processes that lead into virtual good purchases. Nojima (2007) examines relationships between the revenue models and players��� motivations for play. The motivations are based on a model by Yee (2005). Nojima finds that players who buy items report higher levels of immersion in a game. One explanation offered is that it takes a certain amount of immersion before virtual objects begin to feel desirable enough to purchase. Using a similar approach, Lehdonvirta (2005) examines different motivations that players have for purchasing virtual goods: advancement in a status hierarchy, advantage in competitive settings, keeping up with co-players, experiencing new content, customisation, and self-expression, among others. According to Lehdonvirta, users��� attitudes towards virtual good purchases are linked to their general motivations for participating in the service and the activities they engage in. Guo and Barnes (2007) use a technology acceptance model in developing a preliminary model for virtual good purchase acceptance. Lehdonvirta (2009) approaches the question of why people buy virtual goods from the point of view of attributes pertaining to the goods themselves. Lehdonvirta categorises these attributes to functional, hedonic and social attributes. Lehdonvirta, Wilska and Johansson (2009) examine ���virtual consumption��� from a sociological perspective, documenting the way in which virtual goods are used as social markers to draw distinctions between ���haves��� and ���have-nots��� and to build and communicate self-identity to other members of the community. Table 1: Explanations offered for virtual good purchases in previous literature Work Perspective Explanations offered Lehdonvirta 2005 individual/psychological (various) Nojima 2007 individual/psychological high immersion Guo & Barnes 2007 individual/psychological psychometric model Oh & Ryu 2007 game design (various) Lehdonvirta 2009 virtual item attributes functional/hedonic/social Lehdonvirta, Wilska & Johansson 2009 community/sociological social distinctions, identity, self-expression The different approaches to understanding virtual good purchases in previous literature are summarised in Table 1. Most studies adopt the individual user as their unit of analysis, focusing on the individual���s motivations and decision processes that lead into virtual good purchases. In contrast, Oh and Ryu (2007) examine ways in which game design can successfully accommodate and enhance virtual item sales. Based on observations from two Korean online games, KartRider and Special Force, they present examples of how design and game mechanics built by developers can be used to create and sustain demand for virtual goods a fact fairly obvious to gamers but little explored in literature. Oh and Ryu���s paper is a start in analysing these mechanics, but it lacks ties to any previous body of knowledge that could be used to put the observations in perspective. In the following part of this paper, we outline a perspective from marketing that can be used to examine efforts aimed at promoting virtual good sales. 2.3 A Marketing Based Approach Traditional authorities in marketing emphasise that marketing is about identifying and meeting human and social needs (Kotler and Keller 2006 Drucker 1993). In the ideal case, marketing results in a customer who is willing to buy. Thus the aim is to understand the customer (Durcker 1993). On the