WorthPlaying.com has an article today explaining how Microsoft wants to work "virtual storefronts" into as many Xbox 2 games as they can. The idea is that the best weapons in games cost actual real additional money, so if you want the grenade launcher it'll cost you $2, or if you want additional body armor it'll cost $1, or the decals for the Tony Hawk sequels could run you fifty cents each. The whole idea is called "micropayments". Microsoft's Xbox guru J Allard says "If you don't believe in the self-expression thing, so be it. Let's let it play out in the market." Microsoft, Sony, Electronic Arts, and anyone else thinking of implementing this: please don't.
Oh Microsoft, I know you're all hyped up to get your hands on a continuing revenue stream, but selling virtual items and decals is going to hurt gaming more than it helps it. Yes, it will allow new levels and items to be added to games after they are released, but you're going to get greedy. You always do. You'll start shipping half-completed games that sell for full price and then expect us to pay $5 per level for the last half of the game. You're going to send Master Chief into the fray unarmed and expect us to "customize his arsenal" (as you'll call it) by plunking down $2 per gun and $0.10 per ammo box.
It may work for a while, but before too long players will get sick of it. They'll remember the days when games were sold, you know, complete. "Selling the entire game at once, what an idea!" they'll say. You'll keep pushing the storefront idea though, offering incentives to buy into the idea. Buy One Get One Free sales. Discounts for frequent buyers. Virtual gift certificates. When those aren't an earth-shattering success you'll blame the players for not truly deserving the ongoing interactive experience you're offering and you'll take your ball and go home in a snit. And somewhere in the middle of all that you'll sue the guys who figure out how to score free items without paying for them.
Trust me; this isn't going to end well for any of us. We want your games and we want to pay for them once. And we want to pay a fair price for that one-time purchase. If you really want to sell things in a virtual store, do this: allow players to earn points to use as currency. Points can be earned by either completing in-game objectives or buying them with real money. 10,000 points for a dollar or something. Then price the big gun at 25,000 points. That way people who don't want to participate in this continuing revenue stream can still get the best items without handing over more money and those who are fine with the idea can buy points and get the gun that way. Let players choose how they acquire the best items, either through spending money or spending time to earn points. That way we all win in the long run.