In the world of online gaming, no issue has divided the populace more cleanly than the concept of virtual goods and their relationship to real world values. To some, virtual goods are little bits of code, tucked away on some distant server, ready to be changed, rebalanced or even made obsolete at the whim of a bored content designer. To others, however, virtual goods can be just as tangible as any other real-world purchase, as the utility and entertainment a virtual purchase might bring in game can be equated to any real world hobby that requires some sort of monetary upkeep.
Regardless of where you or I stand on this issue, it's clear that the online gaming industry is on the move, as evidenced by the big free-to-play microtransaction shift that has swept the North American MMORPG industry, or Blizzard's recent announcement that Diablo III will feature a real money auction house for players to sell items, gold and even character accounts.
With all of these new monetization models being explored in online gaming, discussion on the topic has become more important than ever before, and this is why GDC Online (Oct. 10-13) is hosting a Virtual Items Summit to explore the ways virtual goods can help studios around the world. Recently, I sat down with GDC Advisory Board Member Gordon Walton, who is also a VP and Executive Producer at Playdom (previously the VP and co-general manager at BioWare), to talk about the monetization of social games, virtual goods, and MMORPGs.