There’s good news on the Dota front. Developers just announced that Dota2 will be free to play! Yup, completely 100% free for everyone. So how will developers profit from the latest Warcraft III live-action strategy mod? They’re implementing an item mall, of course!
When a game implements an item mall, it’s usually with the goal of generating real currency for the developers through the sale of virtual items. The concept is nothing new. Text-based MUDs written in C++ were employing the concept as early as 1997 when Matt Mihaly developed a concept for his newly launched game, Achaea. Other games were jumping on the pay-to-play bandwagon while Mihaly went in the complete and total opposite direction.
After a few successful in-game auctions, Mihaly scrapped his original plan to charge by the hour (which was apparently the norm for that past generation of gamers) and instead launch an item mall. Other games have since latched onto the concept and taken it to whole new levels. For instance, in Perfect World couples are allowed access to special couples-only items for sale in the mall. WarpPortal allows a “Friends with Benefits” program, allowing players to invite friends for a chance at premium account upgrades or special objects from the item mall.
Typically things in the item mall boost stats or give some kind of special power. For instance, in the Iron Realms Entertainment game Lusternia things stocked in the item mall are called artifacts, and there are three types: personal, dwelling, and loyals. Personal artifacts can be runes that will make certain in-game objects permanent and resetting to that character, things that improve weapons, objects that boost your stats, items that offer instant or quick travel methods, and some miscellaneous things that don’t fall into any of those other categories. The dwelling-related artifacts apply to the aethermanse and aethership, two types of personal spaces that players might obtain. And loyals are just that, things that are loyal to the player. So what are some other typical benefits of an item mall? Here are a few:
You can often gift items to other users. Most of my online friends prefer virtual items to real ones on their birthdays and at Christmas, which makes my holiday shopping virtually stress-free.
Item mall objects often never decay and reset to a player’s inventory if dropped or misplaced. This lulls players with a sense of security that lets them know that even if they take an extended break from the game, their items will be there upon returning.
Enhanced game experience is enjoyed by those who can afford the luxury of shopping in the item mall. I've shopped from the item mall in my favorite text-based MUDs and don't regret any of my purchases.
Helps keeps games free to play for everyone, even if developers offer some kind of elite subscription package or other monthly memberships that include statistic-enhancing pay-to-play perks.
The Dota2 item mall isn’t like those other MMO item malls. This item mall is filled with items that serve purely aesthetic purposes. That’s right. No large increase in stats. No super powers or abilities to give you an extra edge against your opponent. Just a bunch of armor to make your character look tough – or maybe look pretty, the choice is up to you. No really, the choice is up to you because apparently the items aren’t just ones created by Valve staff. You as a user are able to create items in the Steam Workshop.
The concept of allowing players to help create items isn’t new, either. Some text-based MUDs
allow players to alter how their items appear to others, and the social entertainment website IMVU, which boasts 10 million unique users per month, has a whole content creation program. The program shares IMVU software which allows players to create items for the program’s online product catalog with other player-created 3D objects. The difference is that IMVU allows players to make a slight profit from the sale of their items.
How do you feel about the Dota2 item mall? Do you think cosmetics alone will be enough to satiate players who are looking for reasons to keep playing? I’d love to hear from you!