Cruising the canals of Amsterdam over the weekend, I discussed my musings on virtual economies with my good friend (and WoWer) the good Dr. A. His response to my ideas about a virtual economy built on real money was to ask “why”?

Good enough question, I suppose. Why would a company make a risky game where players can lose money when a perfectly good subscription model exists?

One obvious answer is that, well, it works with poker. The company would be gambling that it can make money from low-level players to cover losses to high level players (kind of like insurance).

Another possibility is that, by opening up a world based on real money, the company could license out bits of it to other companies, to design adventures or campaigns or just spaces. This would lead to diversity in role-playing experience, which presumably the consumers are after (sometimes, looking at WoW, this is hard to see – but I play NWN2, so what can I complain?) There could also be the lure of players at high level getting to build their strongholds as a kind of licensed instance.

To this suggestion my friend Dr A replied – “But Blizzard do this perfectly well and people are willing to pay decent money to adventure in a world entirely controlled by Blizzard”.

To which I replied – “So you think players are happy with socialism, and unwilling to try a transition to a market economy?” By socialism I meant, of course, that this is exactly what Blizzard are doing. Everyone pays a fixed amount of monthly money, and in exchange they get everything provided for them – the economy, the environment, their workplace rights, and of course even the price of health care (i.e. potions) is fixed… that’s socialism man. My model is radical free marketeering!

My friend Dr. A’s response? “Of course – look at me, I live in Amsterdam!”

And Amsterdam certainly does seem to be a better place to live than London…