Last year, several games and platforms with in-game economies flourished. Roblox announced in August it would hit $100 million in developer revenue before the end of the year. Fortnight introduced its creative mode at the end of 2018 and has steadily grown in popularity since then. Currently, more than 100 million people use the tool to create maps. And although Minecraft was released over a decade ago, its player count continues its upward trajectory.
What does this mean?
This triad embodies a new category of successful virtual in-game economies. Contemporary game platforms such as Fortnite, Roblox and Minecraft are not the great architects of in-game economies. They are preceded by games such as World of Warcraft (WoW) and virtual world Second Life, which both originated more than 15 years ago. Yet, they differ fundamentally from their successors. World of Warcraft’s initial goal for participating in the in-game economy was never to make real money out of it. Furthermore, WoW and Second Life have a virtual currency at the core of their in-game economy, which, at first glance, may seem a logical choice. However, emulating a real economy also makes you vulnerable to real-world problems such as hyperinflation and Ponzi schemes.
While WoW and Second Life are struggling with a declining user base and virtual economic turmoil, the new pioneers are currently exploring different business models to develop sustainable in-game economies without falling into their predecessors’ in-game economy pitfalls. For example, Roblox and Fortnite don’t pay the creators directly. Instead, money flows to them in the form of commission on in-game purchases of players. Moreover, as some of the money flows back to the community this way, they are somewhat less susceptible to the criticism often invoked by common in-game monetization strategies such as loot boxing and pay-to-play. This year, we can expect these companies to further expand their monetization possibilities for developers. For instance, Roblox intends to bring the developer tools to the cloud, so creators will be able tocollaborate in real-time on projects. Furthermore, in addition to making money on a complete game or map, creators are now also allowed to sell parts of it. Developers can already sell digital assets such as plug-ins and Roblox has hinted that in the nearby future, all marketplace assets will be sellable.