Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management, Volume 2, Issue 1, 2007
The Value of Virtual Assets The Role of Game Characters
in MMOGs
Tony Manninen
Game Design and Research Unit, University of Oulu
PO Box 3000, FIN-90014, Finland
Tel: +358 (0)40 766 0420
Fax: +358 85531899
Tomi Kujanpää
Game Design and Research Unit, University of Oulu
PO Box 3000, FIN-90014, Finland
Tel: +358 (0)40 825 2152
Fax: +358 85531899
Game character, or avatar, acts as the nexus of virtual assets that the player collects and produces while
exploring online game worlds. What is the value of this virtual identity in the online game community?
Furthermore, what are the components of play that provide added-value to the players? The evolution
of Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) has been dramatic for the past 30 years. What has
remained stable, however, is the role of game characters as the main channel for value growth and
perception. In this paper, we apply game studies background in order to offer implications that would
contribute to the field of business. By using the motivational framework with the game characters as
focal point, we will point out the specific value structures that emerge in contemporary MMOGs.
Keywords: games, virtual worlds, virtual economies
Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management /
The seemingly virtual domains of massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) have escaped
the boundaries of cyberspace. Virtual economies, artificial currencies and intangible property are all
inherent phenomena of contemporary virtual worlds that exist in the depths of the computer devices
and networks. The likes of science fiction authors William Gibson (1984), with his Cyberspace, and
Neal Stephenson (1992), who used the term Metaverse, have long ago predicted the future of
networked online communities. While the society has perceived these as mere fictional playgrounds,
the virtual worlds have slowly evolved to places and spaces of at least half-real assets.
There are numerous examples of cases that illustrate the shift and crossover between virtual and
real. Making a profitable business by selling virtual property (Anshe Chung Studios 2006;
BusinessWeek online 2006), running a ‘gold farmer’ company whose only aim is to collect and sell
virtual resources (BBC News 2006; TheObserver 2005) and of course the wide spread auctioning of
ones game characters (Washington Post Online 2005; BBC News 2005) are just but a few occurrences
of future trends in economy. From the business point-of-view, these examples are far from the domain
of ‘playgrounds for kids’. The money involved is real money and these people make a living out in the
In this article we discuss the evolution of MMOGs by analysing the value of virtual assets in these
non-physical realms. Since the central role of game characters as virtual asset ‘warehouses’ is the key,
we align our approach to character-oriented study. We tackle the question of what is the value of ones
virtual identity in the online game community. Furthermore, we delineate the motivation components
of play, in relation to the perceived net worth of different aspects of character value. We approach the
topic from the field of game studies, but we focus on the implications that would contribute to the field
of business.
Before venturing into the intricacies of virtual assets, it is necessary to offer a rationale behind the
evolution and success of MMOGs. We will start by defining the concept of MMOGs by outlining the
most distinctive characteristics of these virtual worlds.
MMOGs belong to a distinctive field of virtual worlds which are neither plain chat rooms nor
traditional video games. Although MMOGs generally possess qualities and features from both of the
aforementioned ‘sisters’, they have many properties that are unique in the domain of online systems
and services.
According to Bartle (2003, 4), most of the MMOGs adhere to certain conventions that distinguish
them from other virtual spaces. Table 1 outlines the most important of these conventions and describes
the potential business implications of each of these.
Table 1: The conventions of MMOGs.
MMOG Convention Potential Business Implication
The world has underlying, automated
rules that enable players to effect
changes to it.
There is a more or less dynamic physics model that allows,
for example, construction of buildings, harvesting of
resources, or other manipulation of the surrounding objects.
à construction of virtual goods, value-chain structures
Players represent individuals in the
world. This is their character and all
interaction with the world and other
players is channelled through
The player has a proxy in the form of game character, which
is the main instrument and interface for interacting with other
players. Usually, only one acting character at any point of
time is allowed, although the players may alternate among
à virtual identity, trust catalyst, transaction platform
Interaction with the world takes place
in real time. When you do something
in the world, you can expect
feedback almost immediately.
The MMOGs operate like simulations of artificial worlds
where majority of the activity is executed by human
participants who all add to the emergent nature of the system.
à consumers-producers, diverse motivations and needs
Tony Manninen and Tomi Kujanpää
The world is shared, so there are
other participants that act and play in
the virtual world.
Massively multiplayer means that the online games can have
hundreds, or even thousands, of simultaneous players. The
large number of users generally create interesting potential for
virtual and real economies.
à markets, communities and trends
The world is at least to some degree
persistent, i.e., constantly up and
Since the MMOGs are usually persistent virtual worlds that
stay on even if the player is not logged in, the worlds evolve
and other players continue their activities 24/7 there is no
downtime, except during the maintenance breaks.
à long-term value, ‘stable’ investments, constant processes
While the history of MMOGs is by far too rich to be exhaustively discussed in this paper, we will
provide a brief outline of the most influential developments by bridging the key issues with the
potentially important implications for virtual and real economies. Figure 1 illustrates some of the key
MMOGs that emerged during this 30-year period. The history of MMOGs starts in the late 70s with
systems that hardly resemble the contemporary multimedia spectacles available on the today’s Internet.
Figure 1: Development of MMOGs from MUD to World of Warcraft and Second Life.
MUDs Multi-user Dungeons
The first multi-user dungeon, or MUD1 as it was later dubbed, was programmed on a computer
mainframe at Essex University, England, in the fall of 1978 by Roy Trubshaw. His work was then
continued by Richard Bartle. The inspiration behind MUD came from single-player adventure games,
like Crowther and Woods’ ADVENT and Anderson, Blank, Daniels and Lebling’s ZORK. (Bartle 2003,
5). The MMOG phenomenon, therefore, can be said to have started almost 30 years ago.
As an interesting side note about the evolution of MMOGs, the original text-based MUD (MUD1)
had no formal currency whatsoever. Although the idea of putting money into MUD1 was suggested
many times by its players, the designer resisted because of the fear of inflation in the virtual world.
(Bartle 2003, 299). Had this tendency continued, the world of MMOGs would be quite different today.
From the 1985 onwards many of the MUDs went on to achieve commercial success as part of
early online services. However, most of the evolution of these text-based virtual worlds occurred within
the academic domains of universities. This spawned MUDs like AberMUD, TinyMUD, LPMUD and
DikuMUD (Bartle 2003, 9). Of all these examples, it was TinyMUD that laid down a track that still has
important consequences. Since TinyMUD was not actually a game, the players spent most of their time
creating things and talking about their creations (Bartle 2003, 9). Naturally, all of these were textual
representations stored within the memory banks of the computer network. Regardless of the media, the
self-created virtual assets were valued as one of the most significant artefacts in the online domains.
The likes of Second Life (Linden Lab, 2007) follow this path even today.
Finally, the big bang of virtual worlds emerged in the form of LPMUD. The author Lars Pensjö,
having played both AberMUD and TinyMUD, decided to write his own game with the adventure of the
former and the user extensibility of the latter. He developed an in-game programming language LPC
that allowed players of sufficient experience to add not only objects, but also powerful functionality to
the game as it ran. (Bartle 2003, 10). The era of user-created game content had begun.
Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management /
Dawn of Graphical MMOGs
Although there are early examples of graphical MMOGs like Oubliette (1977), Avatar (1979 on
PLATO), NeverWinter Nights (1991 on AOL) and Shadows of Yserbius (1992 on ImagiNation
Network), the biggest impact was made by Ultima Online (1997) with its 100000 subscribers by the
end of the first year of operations. From the start, Ultima Online was conceived to be a richer and
deeper virtual world than a typical MUD, with an emphasis on community building, player-driven
action, and the ability to accommodate different playing styles. (Bartle 2003, 17-22).
The innovative nature of Ultima Online, however, caused some interesting problems. For
example, the means by which players were punished for attacking each other’s characters was not
effective. Furthermore, the detailed ecological model employed broke down when players rapidly
killed everything that moved and, thus, the economy collapsed after a bug led to hyper-inflation.
(Bartle 2003, 22). Nevertheless, Ultima Online was the benchmark MMOG for several years before its
rivals could catch up.
While Ultima Online was a commercial success, the same cannot be said about Meridian59
(1996). Launched a year ahead of Ultima Online, Meridian59 was the first graphical virtual world,
since the days of Avatar, to employ a first-person point-of-view. The reasons behind the failure of
Meridian59 are numerous, but the main reason for its only modest success was that it came to market a
touch too soon. This, however, was not the case with EverQuest (1999). (Bartle 2003, 23-25).
Among the Big Ones
EverQuest was exactly in the right place at the right time. It was basically a DikuMUD with a
graphical front-end (client) bolted on. But, on the contrary of its competitors, EverQuest was able to
reach the critical mass of players. Actually, EverQuest was so successful that within two years of its
launch, over a hundred of graphical virtual worlds had been announced as being in development. These
include the likes of Asheron’s Call (1999), Anarchy Online (2001), Dark Age of Camelot (2001), Sims
Online (2002), Star Wars Galaxies (2002) and Asheron’s Call 2 (2002)
Outside the published success of the western MMOGs, there have been others that are even bigger
in terms of number of subscribers and revenue collected. The first place would clearly go to Lineage,
which was published in 1998 by NCSoft in Korea. Being a year ahead of EverQuest makes Lineage as
one of the pioneering successes. Unfortunately, the 2001 launch in US did not produce as successful
subscription rates, hence the western world seems to have ignored the massive number of customers
Lineage was able to attract. (Mulligan & Patrovsky 2003, 327).
With all the preceding success stories and quiet failures, there is one MMOG that has risen above
everything else. World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment 2007), with its claimed 8+ million
subscribers, dominates the field of virtual game worlds. What seems to be even more significant is the
fact that World of Warcraft has been able to break the East-West boundaries of MMOGs. Naturally, all
this means tough times for potential competitors. The sheer mass of players brings the impact and
complexity of a virtual economy to a totally new level.
Finally, the recent years have witnessed another track on virtual worlds that essentially draw upon
the likes of TinyMUD. The over 2 million registered users and numerous real businesses with virtual
branches have made Linden Lab’s Second Life (2007) as a truly interesting phenomenon. While
gaming is not the main focus here, the modifiability and possibility to bring in your personal content
have captivated the dwellers of virtual worlds. The free basic entry policy guarantees the influx of new
members and, hence, attracts the businesses that produce added value. Being together is the key - with
more users there are more possibilities for business and pleasure.
Playing together is inherent to both animals and humans. Multiplayer games are by no means a
new innovation. Football, ice hockey and numerous other games cater for multiple simultaneous
players who jointly participate in creating the overall game experience. Playing together is as old as
games themselves - people (and animals) have shared the play experience with their peers since the
dawn of existence. There definitely is social function involved with games. To quote the words of
Roger Caillois: “Play is not merely an individual pastime. It may not even be that as frequently as is
supposed.” (1961, 37) Actually, one of the seminal accounts on playful culture, discussed by Johan
Huizinga (1950, 1), starts by illustrating the young puppies playing together and experiencing
tremendous fun and enjoyment while doing so. Being together is more fun than being alone.
This pull towards social play activity can be seen as one of the driving forces behind the evolution
of multiplayer online game worlds. As commented by Csikszentmihalyi (2002, 168), almost every
activity is more enjoyable with other person around, and less so when one does it alone. People seem to
Tony Manninen and Tomi Kujanpää
be more happy, alert, and cheerful if there are others present, compared to how they feel alone. Based
on this, it has been only a matter of time and technological development before the social
togetherness transferred into the domain of virtual worlds.
If the digital game is played together with other people, the social interplay is enhanced by
numerous traditions that are inherent in the interactions of physical world. The greatest advantage of
these multiplayer games is that they transform computer games into truly social experiences. The social
bonding can be so strong that it becomes one of the most important motivating factors for people to
play games (Rouse 2000). Furthermore, the social presence of other human beings demands additional
skills from the players. In most of the multi-player games, social skills are needed, or must be
developed in order to succeed (Aarseth 2001). All these skills and actions need a platform where they
are projected from. This is where the avatars, or game characters, come into the picture.
The main difference between virtual worlds and the physical one is the need for avatar, or game
character, to act as a representation of your physical self. The character is player’s representative in the
game world and can generally take any form, shape, or a specific perspective (Friedl 2003, 172). Since
this avatar is the proxy for most of the actions you do in the virtual world, without it you are nothing in
MMOG you do not exist and, hence, there is no value to be calculated. Without a character the player
is just an invisible spectator who has no say in the happenings of the virtual world. The importance of
game character originates from the early pen’n’paper role-playing games (e.g., Gygax & Arneson
1974) where your main aim was to execute adventurous quests and develop the stats of your character
while doing so. The game character became a tool for player’s actions. The role-playing, fighting,
micro-management and all the other actions were channelled through game character.
Furthermore, a game character in MMOGs is also one’s interface to other human players (Friedl
2003, 173). Game characters are constantly read and interpreted. The expressions and movements,
performed by the players, are communicated through the characters into the game world. Players adjust
their behaviour and decide their responses based on the cues they read from other characters.
Moreover, besides being an interface between individual players or the player and the game world,
player can form a relationship directly with the character. By giving the character a sense of
personality, unique behaviour, intentions, and style, a player starts to form a relationship with the
character. The player starts to understand the game character as a second self, as something to protect
and worry about, as one’s role in the virtual game world. (Friedl 2003, 185).
While the game worlds consist of other objects than just a collection of game characters, many of
the actions revolve around these virtual proxies. There may be a possibility to buy a house (a home for
the game character), collect better armour and weapons (protection for the game character), or just chat
with your fellow players (words projected out of the game character). The game character, hence, is the
focal point of all these virtual realms. While the games have evolved during the past 30 years, the
importance of the avatars has remained.
Since game characters play essential part when participating in game activities, we will examine
the elements that constitute a character’s value to the player. As a framework for different character
value components, we use Yee’s (2006) categorisation for motivations of play in online games. Yee’s
model is formed through factor analytic approach utilising survey data collected from 3000 players on
several different MMOGs (e.g. EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, Ultima Online, and Star Wars
Galaxies). Yee (2006) divides motivations of play into three main categories: achievement, social and
immersion. These categories are further divided into subcategories that depict the nature of each
category in more detail (see Table 2). In our examination, we use the main categories to structure the
discussion and point out examples that relate to the subcategories.
Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management /
Table 2: Motivations of play in online games (Yee 2006, 774)
Achievement Social Immersion
Progress, Power,
Accumulation, Status
Casual Chat, Helping
Others, Making Friends
Exploration, Lore, Finding
Hidden Things
Numbers, Optimization,
Templating, Analysis
Personal, Self-Disclosure,
Find and Give Support
Story Line, Character
History, Roles, Fantasy
Challenging Others,
Provocation, Domination
Collaboration, Groups,
Group Achievements
Appearances, Accessories,
Style, Color Schemes
Relax, Escape from RL,
Avoid RL Problems
Salen and Zimmerman (2004, 80) define game as “a system in which players engage in an
artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.” Even though they criticise
role-playing games having no final end game (i.e., final quantifiable outcome), they agree that session-
to-session missions, or quests, may have quantifiable outcomes. Besides the quests, character
development, as part of the game, has stages that can be seen as quantifiable outcomes. In MMOG, a
player needs to invest time in learning how to play the character. Especially in the case of role-playing
games, the player needs to invest time in improving the character’s skills. Creating competent enough
character for the challenging quests is a long and time consuming process. In the beginning, characters
have only modest skill levels which need to be trained. Completing quests or missions, slaying beasts,
crafting artefacts, or harvesting minerals gain experience points that, at times, result in levelling up.
This means that the game character gains an amount of numerical points that the player can use to
increase different skills the character possesses (e.g. weapon handling, healing, or magical abilities). In
this manner the character advances periodically towards the chosen direction (e.g., becomes more
skilful warrior, thief, bard or monk).
Completion of the quests and levelling up the character statistics (i.e., the quantifiable outcomes)
are clearly achievements for the player who controls the character. According to Yee (2006),
achievement is one of the thriving forces for playing an online game. Players get satisfaction from
advancing, competing, and being self sufficient in the game. Players enjoy becoming better in
achieving the chosen objectives and excelling over each other. From the business point-of-view, this
indicates the potential of development structures that allow the players to increase the value of their
virtual assets in concrete.
Achievement value of the character can, therefore, be seen as covering two main aspects: 1) the
elements that constitute to the overall numerical competence of the character in the game world, and 2)
the status achieved either through social dealings or through excellence in competing with other players
or mighty non-player opponents. Elements constituting to the overall numerical competence of the
character are the artefacts and wealth the player acquires for the character (such as weapons, armour,
potions, gold, and even virtual property), as well as the improvements in the character’s skilfulness
(i.e., the character statistics). Artefacts and wealth can be collected by completing quests and executing
other gameplay activities. The second aspect regarding the value of the status is harder to measure.
However, it sums up in the admiration the player, or her character, receives from her fellow players.
The greater the legend you become amongst your online friends, the better the feeling.
Most of the MMOGs cater for activities other than pure gameplay. This provides players a
possibility to select goals of their personal liking, or to simply hang around in the game environment.
The freedom allows players to share their experiences about the game but also strengthens the
possibilities for the emergence of more permanent play-communities. As Huizinga (1955, 12) argues:
A play-community generally tends to become permanent even after the game is over. Of course, not
Tony Manninen and Tomi Kujanpää
every game […] leads to the founding of a club. But the feeling of being “apart together” in an
exceptional situation, of sharing something important, of mutually withdrawing from the rest of the
world and rejecting the usual norms, retains its magic beyond the duration of the individual game.In
the case of MMOGs, players may follow the built-in game structure, but they may as well choose their
own game independent elements such as exploring the game world or taking part in social activities.
Therefore, character’s value is not only about how competent it has become game-wise, but also about
the areas of social connections and experiences built during and after the gameplay.
Many of the quests in MMOGs are built to encourage teamwork. It is often really hard, or even
impossible, to complete certain quests without teaming-up with a properly formed group (i.e., the group
that has game characters with complementing skills) (Jakobsson & Taylor 2003, 83). Since the death of
a game character often results in the loss of experience points and other virtual assets, the players
generally feel the need to trust in each other. Your character’s life is partly in the hands of your team
players. If you do not manage to communicate properly, or, if your group members decide to flee and
leave you in the midst of the raging battle, your character is most likely to die. After playing several
quests within a same group, or after taking part in guild activities, the player and her character start to
gain reputation. Some of the players/characters are known as trouble makers while others are known of
their just behaviour and/or good playing skills (Jakobsson & Taylor 2003, 85-87).
Social value of the game character concerns aspects related to other players. The value can be
considered from at least two perspectives: 1) meaningful social interaction with other players, and 2)
the image of the player formed in the eyes of fellow players. The social value is, therefore, a resource
for being able to form meaningful connections that, at their basic level, provide a possibility for casual
communication and teamwork. On a deeper level the casual connections can turn into friendships, or
even romantic relationships, in which the social value may well exceed the boundaries of a mere game.
From the business point-of-view, the strong bonding of players offers interesting possibilities, for
example, in the form of community services, trust-brokers, transaction mechanisms and reputation
ladders. Many of the conventions of real world commerce apply to the MMOG societies. However, the
ambiguous implementation of aspects, such as, identity, contracts and social-components of transaction
procedures, makes it challenging to integrate traditional business models within the online games.
Finally, the image of the player comes into the picture especially in the organised forms of social
play, such as, guilds and other consistent groups. It is not necessarily the other players that form the
addictive component, but the image one gets of oneself from other players (Ducheneaut et al. 2006,
413). Furthermore, in guild activities concepts such as trust and reputation become essential as part of
the player image (Jakobsson & Taylor 2003, 85-87). Some of the guilds require a certain amount of
playing hours or certain percentage of attendance in guild activities, such as, meetings and raids. If you
are willing to live up to your responsibilities, you may advance in the guild. If you fail to meet the
requirements, you may be kicked out. Letting someone else to play your character could, therefore,
potentially result in tremendous consequences.
Immersion into the MMOG can be achieved through many different elements. Yee’s (2006)
subcategories list elements, such as, discovery, role-playing, customisation and escapism. When
considering immersion from the game character point-of-view it is obvious that some elements are
more essential than others. What is elemental, however, is the need for the player to be able to identify
with the game character. Sociologist Gary Alan Fine (1983, 214-215) discusses the importance of
identifying with the character and comments that players must invest their character with meaning.
[…] For identification, the character must have attributes that permit a player to esteem that persona.
Quite similarly, but from a bit different point-of-view, Friedl (2003, 185) argues that if a player has
the possibility to give this avatar a sense of personality and contribute his unique behaviour, intentions,
and style to the game world, he will establish an individual relationship with the character.
MMOGs commonly provide game characters that have attributes such as distinctive appearance,
changeable clothing, as well as, armour and weaponry that indicate the desired playing style.
Furthermore, interaction with other players and the game world, through the game character, offers
possibilities to develop and share a unique personality, story lines and character’s history. This type of
interaction enables the role-playing of the character. The role-playing may be about constructing and
representing a fictive persona, or just an experimentation of the selected parts of players actual self (cf.
Turkle 1999, 643-644). However, the persona of the game character does not form immediately. When
playing a character for a long time, the player starts to identify with it and begins to feel what the
character “feels” (Fine 1983, 217).
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Based on the aforementioned theories, immersive value of the character deals with aspects that
build up an image of the character and make establishment of individual relationship possible. A player
may not be actively trying to role-play the character, but through discovering the world, taking part in
quests, and socialising with other players, an image of the character starts to emerge. This image can be
further altered through customisation of appearance and style of the character. Player invests her time
and shares memorable adventures with her game character. If the player also empathises with the game
character, it is possible to immerse into the character, as well as, to the world - through the character.
The investment of time and the empathic approach to the character may also result in player wanting to
think back the events shared with, and the qualities built for, the character. In this way the character
gains sentimental value.
The immersion aspect of character value has mainly been ignored by the business applications.
Although the games provide a platform for player immersion, there are no mechanisms that would
directly support, or even increase, the construction of added-value. Personal records, virtual scrapbooks
and other fan sites indicate the need of the players to both share and store their game experiences. User
created content, in this form, could be integrated to the commercial game systems since the role of the
content is mainly that of supporting to the overall gameplay experience.
Even though players may have clearly dominating motivations to play, it is common that the
overall motivation arches over multiple elements from different subcategories (compare Yee, 2006).
Most of the MMOGs have been built in a manner that requires most of the motivations to be pursued,
at least to some extent, if the player wants to advance in the game. For example, it is hard to explore the
world (immersion) without developing your character (achievement), since some areas have so
powerful foes that the low-level character would not be able to survive. Similarly, as already noted
earlier, many of the quests are built to encourage teamwork, hence character development and social
communication are equally important. The overall value of the character cannot, thus, be measured by
only basing it on a single value component.
The overall value of the character can be seen as a sum of the achievement, social and immersive
components (see Figure 2). Depending on the case, one or more value components will be emphasised.
By using this model, the game activities and player preferences can be analysed and their effects on the
gaming community with potential business implications can be considered. For example, a player may
dislike levelling up the character, but because of the immersive and/or social motivations he needs to
pursue the achievement element. In this case, she might want to get a higher level game character
without needing to go through the tedious achievement process. These types of opportunities can,
however, have reflections on how other value components are viewed. The value of the character
becomes evident only through the individual relationship formed via interaction between the player and
her game character.
Figure 2: Different value components overlap and sum up as the overall value.
Overall numerical
competence and
achieved status.
Statistics, wealth,
Image over the
history, role
dealings, player
Friendships, trust,
Emphasises in
player behaviour
Virtual identity
Tony Manninen and Tomi Kujanpää
The relationship between a player and her game character forms during a period of time that can,
for many players, be rather substantial. The players will generally go through most of the motivational
forces - at least to try these out. Some parts of the game character may be more or less trivial for the
player, but can nevertheless contribute to the overall image of the character. A player may, for
example, purchase some additional levels for her game character, but this does not necessarily mean
that the character’s identity becomes different. It is the overall time the player invests in different value
components that matters to the player. The interaction between the player and the character creates a
role which becomes the virtual identity the player assumes while present in the game world. It is this
virtual identity that holds the value of the game character in the online game worlds.
In this Section, we illustrate a series of empirical cases that offer insight into the various value
constructing examples evident in MMOGs. The examples are organised according to the
aforementioned player motivation model and each of the cases illustrate different approaches to
perceived value of a game character.
Achievement Value
Achievements can generally be seen in the character. Level 60 character looks a lot different than
level 10 character. High-level character’s armour and weapons have become bigger and/or more
fanciful. Experienced character possesses items that low-level characters have not even heard of.
Veteran character has guts to attack powerful foes and it can spread tremendous damage. The progress
made in game, thus, affects many of the aspects of the game characters. But what is the worth of all the
experience levels? Basically everyone can reach high levels. MMOGs do not ask that much skill for
playing. On the contrary, they are rather easy to play but ask a lot of time and patience - at least if
concentrating on improving character statistics to high levels. This has made character, experience
level, and item sales possible. Companies such as buy and sell characters, levels, gold
and other valuables that can be used in the game. The service includes many of the existing MMOGs,
such as World of Warcraft, Everquest 2 and Star Wars Galaxies. For example, a general price for a
World of Warcraft account having 50-60 level character is ranging between $200 to $400 and power
levelling of one’s existing character costs about $20 to $300 depending on wanted levels. In this way, if
a player finds levelling a tedious task, she can cut down the character development time and make a
shortcut to the activities requiring higher character level.
The nature of achievement value cannot be measured only in selling or buying of ready made
characters and levels. Value is also related to the advancement of the character itself. A player may
receive sheer joy from the advancement as in: It gives me the illusion of progress, I know that. I hate
the level of frustrated progress in the r/w so I play the game and lvl up instead. It is *crack* for the
achievement center of the brain, like cocaine affects the pleasure center. [M, 34] (Yee, 2005).
Advancement is, however, also used to gain recognition from other players as clearly illustrated in: I
basically play these games to become the most powerful force the game can allow. I want the best of
the best items and people to truly respect my play style. I want to become a legend among players
within the virtual mmorpg world! [M, 25] (Yee, 2005). But what happens to the value of the character
when the player buys it from a shop instead of investing all her time in fine-tuning the character stats?
Is the player still proud of her character? Or, more importantly, is the player having fun?
The boundaries between play and work seem to be immediately demolished when one thinks
about the value of achievement. If the player decides to invest her time in advancing her game
character, there is a great chance of playing turning into work. Or, as stated by a competitive player:
"My desire to stay competitive drives me to want to level fast, min-max, and gain rare drops. Those
things in themselves aren't important to me, and I'd really rather it weren't important to the game, but
if I intend to be competitive I've got to do the work to have the fun.” [M, 19] (Yee, 2005). The value of
achievement, in this case, is so high that the player is voluntarily ‘working’ in order to reap the rewards
in the form of occasional fun and all of this in-game. Naturally, he could just purchase the laborious
parts of the resource-gathering and invest his time on the more ludic activities. Value, as in all of these
cases, is in the eye of the beholder.
Social Value
Players in MMOGs approach in-game relationships differently. Some regard them as being
superficial while others value them similar to real life relationships (Yee, 2003a). The approach a
player takes on the game will have an effect on relationship forming. One player comments the issue of
Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management /
meaningful relationships in MMOGs as follows: I've made many friends in games who become
outside-of-game friends because we have a lot in common, same maturity level, looking for the same
things in a friendship, and just click. I would call these very meaningful. But I also have many friends
in games who are just sort of there to pass the time while I play... they're silly and fun to chat with... but
I'd never want to deal with them outside of the game. Those relationships I would label as superficial
[F, 22] (Yee, 2003a). According to the questionnaires collected by Yee in Daedalus Project (2003a), it
is common to form lasting online friendships. The results reveal that 40% of the players feel that their
online friends are comparable - or better - than their real life friends. This clearly suggests that the
social role assumed in the virtual community adds immensely to the overall value of the game
character. Many players have made good friends and some even got romantically involved through
online relationships (Yee, 2003b). Players may try to be themselves or a fictive persona, but in both
cases the relationships have been formed through the character.
Furthermore, MMOGs do not usually let you to change your identity (i.e., name and character
appearance, excluding wearable items), which can greatly raise the value of your character. If a player
would sell her account, she would potentially loose many of the formed relationships. A player could,
in theory, build up these relationships by stating who she actually is, but this could be rather tedious
task to perform. According to Yee (2003c) some evidence for this can be found from the results that
over 50% of female players (who value relationships in game more than males) and more than 30% of
males wouldn’t sell their account for any price.
Guilds are rather common structure for organising play activities in MMOGs. The guilds offer an
interface for getting in and familiar with gaming communities. Through a guild a player can find
regular company to tackle different quests. Casual friends or even friendships formed through a guild
activities are, however, not the only social value guilds have to offer. Since guilds are active
communities arranging playable content, they need players on different levels to organise various tasks.
By being active in guild organisation, a player can improve her social skills but also learn organising
and leading skills. One player describes this as following: “Last year, I was elected as the leader of the
guild I'm part of when our old leader (a good RL friend) left. At first, I was a bit concerned about my
ability to organize 100 some people from all over the world, but, as it turned out, I learned that I was
much more organized that I had thought I would be, and ... that I had an uncanny knack for diplomacy
and leadership. The experience made me feel very empowered, and good about myself […] [F, 34]
(Yee, 2002). This suggests that MMOGs can have life changing effects.
Perhaps the most interesting set of case examples considers the far reaching and intense effects of
social values. For example, “A Story About a Tree” by Raph Koster is signifying the issue that
MMOGs are not “just a game” (Bartle 2003, 209). In this case, a player named Karyn was found
missing from the LegendMUD and after a quick check on her personal website, the community realised
she had died two months ago. This started an immediate outpouring of grief in LegendMUD. There
were numerous email consolidations, memorial service, and even a garden of remembrance with a tree
bearing a plaque: “In memory of Karyn.” (Bartle 2003, 209). Whether real stories or urban legends, the
heart-breaking accounts of genuine sense of loss over someone the players have never actually met in
real life, signify the uttermost personal value. The value of a player feeds the value of community, and
vice versa.
Immersion Value
In terms of customisation, as part of the immersion component in the motivation model, the
current value structures are more or less straightforward. You either invest your time in collecting
personal gear, or, you pay extra to become more individual. The extra-payment scheme is actually a
valid business model of the likes of RuneScape and Habbo Hotel. While the basic entry is free, you can
purchase something extra with real money and, thus, become different from everybody else. For
example, in Second Life you can spend your (real) dollars to customise your avatar. The science-fiction
vision of Stephenson’s (1992) Metaverse, with its budget-segregated avatars, seems to become more
concrete year by year.
The final set of value cases is perhaps the most difficult to concretise since the concept of
immersion by nature is highly psychological. There are, however, some typical trends in MMOGs
that provide us clues about the potential value structures. Let us start with our personal expedition as
Gopher Tail Minstrels (or GTM). GTM was a group of adventurers in the world of Asheron’s Call 2
who, just out of curiosity and for the sake of fun, formed a party of troubadours. The main point here
was not the public performances although those occurred frequently and usually with keen crowds
but the role-playing of something that fell outside of the pure hack-and-slash pursue of points. After
several months of gigs, numerous explorations to remote and desolate areas, and constant gathering of
data (i.e., screenshots), the motivation to play faded. However, the memory of GTM never disappeared.
Tony Manninen and Tomi Kujanpää
After a disastrous server crash, the only survived screenshot (Figure 3) remains as a testimonial of the
days long-gone. The price tag for the additional images might easily become phenomenal, since there is
no other concrete evidence of the life of GTM.
Figure 3: Gopher Tail Minstrels in action somewhere in the realm of Asheron’s Call 2.
Actually, the case of Gopher Tail Minstrels is by no means unique. The loss of one’s game
character may well be more than just a loss of virtual artefact. And people may react very strongly in
that kind of situation: “On December 25th, 2006 I woke up to a big surprise. No, not a big pile of
presents! I woke up to find my World of Warcraft character no longer existed. You may say, Sure it’s
just a video game, what’s the big deal? Oh, when you put 286 days of playtime in one character, it is a
huge deal.” (My Crazy Blog 2006). This player, according to his own testimonial, was prepared to sue
the guilty party with no expenses saved approach. He continues: “Now, for the fun part. Finding a law
firm that will pursue this case. I will be suing for the 286 days of life this man stole from me, and the
$2000 it cost me to figure out everything about him.” The value, in this case, is not just memories. It
can grow to become something even money cannot buy.
The aforementioned cases provide some practical implications to the field of business studies.
While the roadmap from existing MMOG to a future business platform is not always clear, there are
several key areas that could be harnessed. In essence, all the motivational components of play, form
potential areas for commercial applications. This, however, should not result the players being charged
more rigorously. Instead, the existing subscription-based business model, could be replaced with
transaction-oriented mechanisms that offer ways for user-created content and business. Second Life is
a living example of value-adding procedures and virtual asset transaction.
The initial argument states that the more persistent the virtual world is, the greater the need for a
formal economy (Bartle 2003, 299). This, however, is not the only approach in contemporary MMOGs.
The spin-off businesses (e.g., auctions, gold farming, power-levelling, etc.) all add to the original
economy model of the MMOGs. In addition, the concept of MMOG aggregators that integrate several
different virtual worlds would make it possible to achieve true interconnectivity between the games.
The virtual is not bound within the frames of formal computer systems. The cross-over to the real
world has come to stay.
In their own field, MMOGs are rapidly advancing our shift towards game society. Basic ICT and
Internet skills will not be enough since people need to master games and playing. Furthermore, people
may need to master the business models and structures of virtual economies - with all the ripple effects
to and from our real economies. The secondary markets with trading of virtual assets outside the
MMOGs, and the novel but difficult to harness value chains provide interesting challenges for both
researchers and practitioners.
Still, perhaps the strongest implication of the evolution of MMOGs might be the level of
persistency these worlds possess. They currently do have a limited, yet substantial in duration, life span
of 5-15 years. What will be the outcome if we truly have MMOG aggregators and systems that can
keep your virtual property current year after year? When will the virtual become non-virtual? What is
the threshold that needs to be crossed in order for us to start thinking these artefacts as real as the
physical ones? Mobile phone life-cycle may be 1-2 years, average consumer products tend to ‘last’ less
Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management /
time than they did 10 years ago. The virtual home, built in AlphaWorld (nowadays ActiveWorlds), that
is 20 years old cannot, by any means, be defined as quickly vanishing fad. Actually, it may have lasted
longer than many real world houses.
Finally, the question of what is the value of ones virtual identity in the online game community
remains a multifaceted problem. Since the perception of value differs greatly from one player to
another, there is no concrete solution to the problem. However, through the motivational framework,
and by illustrating the role of the game character as main tool to operate in MMOGs, we are able to
point out the specific value structures that emerge. If the future business models are able to harness
these basic value components, there may be room for development in MMOGs. With diversified added
value mechanisms and clear option to select ones personal format of investment, the online games
could truly become the cyberspaces and metaverses of tomorrow.
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