In Money for Nothing, Steven Shaviro claimed that the virtual life is getting more and more intertwined with the real life, focusing a lot on its economic aspect (Shaviro, 2007). He discusses the book “Play Money” by Julian Dibbell, who describes the online world of Ultima Online and explains that there is a lot of trading going on between the virtual and the real.
The best known examples for this kind of trading is in the virtual community Second Life, where people create an avatar in order to interact with other people, while creating a home and identity in the form of items, housing and clothes. A lot of these items have to be bought by either virtual (in the case of SL Linden Dollars) or real money. Another example where this kind of economy is happing World of Warcraft, an MMORPG where users create and train their avatar while defeating monsters and other players, collecting shiny weapons and armor on the way.
It can be said that these games focus a lot on creating a digital community, where every player gets the chance to create an online identity and use this identity to interact with other virtual identities. Sometimes real money has to be paid in order to fully complete your identity, which shows the users need to stand out from the rest. Specifically the MMORPG genre is perfect for these kinds of possibilities.
A genre which initially doesn’t look suitable for this “mixed” economy and identity-shaping is the first-person shooter (FPS). Here, a player usually gets dropped in a digital battlefield, where they have to shoot other players in order to gain points and/or money. Here, their hardly seems to be a need for identity-creation, because most shooters just let you choose between pre-determined characters (Quake, Unreal Tournament), sides (Counterstrike, Alien VS Predator) or classes (Medal of Honor, Battlefield). It also seems that, the only time people could spend money on these types of games was when they actually bought it in a store or online.
Untill now. There seems to be a new subgenre in town: the MMORP-FPS or Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing First Person Shooter.
In order to explain this sub-genre I will look at two examples:
The first example is Battlefield Heroes. While Battlefield Heroes isn’t really a FPS, it does have some FPS-perspectives. BF:H is a cartoon-style shooter developed by EA and DICE and was released in public on june 25th, 2009 (#). In the game a player gets to choose between two sides, each containing three classes.
While the game is released under a “Play 4 Free” model, there is a possibility for a user to buy clothes, weapons, items and accessories. Where some of these don’t really alter the game, many do. Ars Technica wrote an article about the imbalance in the game that existed with the stronger weapons and items that could only be bought.
The possibility to give “your” character other clothes meanwhile showed a lot of potential. Users now had the chance to stand out in the battlefield by e.g. wearing a dress or a pirate hat.
This new approach of FPS-identification showed some succes: when playing the game you hardly ever see two characters that are exactly the same. While some still clinch to the standard free-clothes and items, others buy their way into identity and pay with real money to obtain this.
Team Fortress 2
The second example is Team Fortress 2 (TF:2), a game developed by Valve and released on October 10, 2007. This is a classic example of a multiplayer FPS, where two opposing teams (RED and BLU (No typo)) compete for an objective, which usually means killing the other team. The game has a unique graphical style, achievements and a unlockable system where players can obtain special items by simply playing the game. These unlockables consist of both weapons and clothing, but were limited (and controlled) by the developers, who only included a certain number of items in the game.
Here, players also have the chance to distinguish themselves by means of clothing, but this all was limited to the free items already included in the game.
On September 30, 2010 however Valve decided to hand over their monopoly in creating character outfits to the players themselves and launched the In-Game Mannconomy Store. Here, players can create their own weapons and clothes, and sell them at an online marketplace. While some items are normal and not very adventurous, some of them really are very special and are maybe even worth your money. Money of which 25% go to the creators of the sold item. It is even said that some people actually already have made a lot of money from this in a short amount of time.
In this short essay I introduced a new gaming subgenre, the MMORP-FPS. This is a mix between MMORPG and FPS, where players have the ability to differentiate themselves from others by wearing a different outfit or carrying other weapons, hereby creating an online identity in a game-genre that’s usually not focussed on this. The examples I showed made a distinction between free and priced items, with one actually containing a marketplace for sellers.
While people mostly think about community-based games like Second Life and World of Warcraft when talking about a mixed economy of the virtual and the real, I hereby want to show that there also is a lot of potential for First Person Shooters, and maybe even for other genre’s.
There is and always will be a need for identity-creation in gaming, even in games that center its core gameplay around a gun.
Steven Shaviro (2007), “Money for Nothing”;