Ever paid RM60 for a piece of cardboard?
That’s how much the above card costs on the first day the set was released (or more appropriately, ‘pre-released’). RM60 is slightly more than US$17.
Looks so cool, doesn’t it? One big black ball sucking up dead bodies. The bigger version looks even better.
To non-Magic (or more collectively, non-trading-card-game) players, seventeen bucks is a lot to pay for a piece of cardboard five inches tall and three inches wide. But that’s not the maximum amount of cash people are willing to shell out for a card. The holofoil Charizard of the Pokémon Trading Card Game reportedly sold for US$120 at its peak. Magic’s signature card, Black Lotus, is hitting four-digit sums on EBay.
Looking at online games, people are willing to pay for virtual cash and items, and for people to grind their characters. In short, people are willing to pay for games for seemingly trivial items that lose their value when brought out of context.
The trick of marketing products and services in games is to make said context as non-game-ish as possible. (I couldn’t find a better word)
Products in games are nothing much like, say, celebrity merchandise or stamps (The hobby of kings, the king of hobbies. Right.). People who aren’t into the hobby just don’t see its worth. A game company can try to pull people into playing their game. This is most often seen in roadshows and promotions in shopping malls, where the company gives out free trial CDs and other freebies in hopes that the receiver of said freebies woudl actually go home, install it, play it unti lthe free trial expires and proceeds to play the game. It’s largely a hit-or-miss process, much like traditional TV advertisements.
Coming back about the game’s context, what ‘traditional’ marketing does is they try to pull consumers into the context. In this sense, the barrier between real life and the game world still exists, hence there are terms like hardcore geeks and ‘otakus’, where they are so into a game that they are disconnected from the real world.
On the other hand, some companies expand the context into real life, blurring the barier between reality and game. This is otherwise known as viral marketing, where users of a product or service subconsciously ‘infect’ other people to use the product or service. In this sense, the context isn’t about the game, but of its players, and subsequently the player’s friends, and friend’s friends, and so on.
For a game, it’s even easier to spread the context by providing some non-game services to players other than just the game itself. MMORPGs sell by promoting the community as well as the game; Magic: the Gathering doesn’t just offer a hobby, but a career; XBox Live Arcade provides a platform for developers to sell their games and players to compete for scores. These are some other services a game could offer for a player before they decide to spend money on it.
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