Retailers can still make money out of online-only games

OPINION: Where’s the ‘real’ money for retail?

Blizzard has introduced selling virtual items in its online game World of Warcraft (WoW) for real money.

So what, you might ask? Computer games have been doing this for years now – especially online-only titles, apps and Facebook games. Blizzard introduced a real money auction house into its PC action RPG Diablo III last year, plus you can already purchase virtual pets in WoW.

What’s different here is that Blizzard is experimenting with items that allow players to level up twice as fast as they currently can. You’ll be able to buy an ‘Enduring Elixir of Wisdom’ from an In Game Store in certain regions, and join the higher echelon of players in around half the time.

The fact is that WoW – although still the biggest MMO computer game with some eight million players – is in decline. At its peak it had 12 million. So Blizzard has to act to keep revenues steady. It already made the game free-to-play up to level 20, from which it charges players £8.99 per month; now it’s experimenting with more in-game microtransactions.

But where’s retail’s slice of the pie? WoW stopped being full-price long ago (it’s currently £5 new on the GAME website). And although Blizzard told PCR in July that there’s a “fresh retail opportunity for consumers” with its point of sale activation (POSA) card offering, I’d argue other more exciting opportunities exist.

How about letting retailers sell individual in-game items in stores? Indies would keep their gamer customers happy, perhaps the nationals could get a few in-store-only exclusives and Blizzard would increase its revenue. Mind Candy has proven with its Moshi Monsters virtual world brand that physical sales can boost digital content – kids can buy a licensed toy and receive a code for exclusive in-game item, for example.

Plenty of popular PC games are online-only, like League of Legends and Team Fortress 2, but there’s no reason why retail can’t be a part of the service. What’s more exciting: buying an exclusive in-game item from a real store or topping up your digital bank balance? I know which I’d prefer.

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