Employee 1: Hey so I had an idea last night.
Employee 2: Oh yeah? What’s that?
E1: You know all of these little minipets we’ve got laying around from the card game?
E2: Oh sure. My friend in character design worked hard on one of those. He was angry when he found out it wouldn’t be used.
E1: Well I’ve been playing Farmville, and I had a thought. What if we just, you know, sold them?
E2: Sold them? What, you mean like for gold?
E1: No, I mean… like… for money.
E2: Wait, real money? Are you nuts?
E1: Not a lot of money! Just a little money. They’re just sitting on our art database, it’s not like they’re getting used any more since the TCG went bottoms up, right? We might as well liquidate them off.
E2: But that seems, like, wrong. It’s a game. You’re supposed to play and earn stuff, not just buy stuff.
E1: Well you won’t need to earn these, it’ll just be a fun thing. We’ll sell them for like ten bucks. They’re just pets — nobody will buy them anyway. We’ll probably get thanked for helping clean out inventory before the expansion.
E2: I guess we did just create that online store and the online identity thing — all we’d have to do is create a SKU and then mail them out in-game. But pets for real money, doesn’t that seem kind of… skeevy?
E1: Bah, no one will care. People who want real pets will still earn them, these will just be one of however many thousand we’ve got. A fun little thrill for just ten bucks.
E2: Five bucks?
E1: Ten bucks seems good to me.
E1: Ten bucks, and on one we’ll give half the profits to charity.
E1: Oh, come on! What’s the worst that could happen? We’ll make money for the company?
E2: Fine. But if the bosses find out, it’ll be your fault.
Boss 1 and boss 2 break in the door.
Boss 1: Who’s in charge here?
E1: (was sleeping) Huh? Wha?
E2: Holy crap! If anything went wrong, he did it.
E1: All right, fine. I’m in charge. What do you want?
B1: Why is all of this money being deposited into our online store account?
E1: Wait, which account is that?
E2: Is that…? Oh crap, I knew it. I told you! I told you this would screw us over!
E1: Ok, listen, I can explain. This is just a little thing we tried, I can turn it off.
B1: Listen. You two are just menial employees here, and this company has grown very big in the past few years — there are all kinds of people wandering the halls whose faces I don’t even bother to try and recognize any more. All I want to know is: One, what have you done to get all of this money in our account?
E1: It was just a –
B1: Two, is it legal?
E1: Look, we’ll fix —
B2: And three, how can we get more of it?
E2: Look, this is all just a misunderstanding. We had this little idea to get rid of some old designs we had that we weren’t going to use, and it just got out of hand. Wait, did you just ask how you can get more of it?
B2: Son, I know you’re probably some kind of “video hypercoder” and that you didn’t go to business school, or probably any school at all, given the way you smell. But this building you’re in is a business, and the goal of a business is to make money. So either tell us what you did right now, or you won’t be making any money here ever again.
E1: Look, we sold a few pets. That’s all. We had them designed, they didn’t take any time, we just figured we’d put a store up and sell them. It wasn’t a big deal, and it’s over — we’re really sorry. We’ll refund the money and we’ll give the pet out to everyone in the game.
B1: Give the pet out? Why?
E2: People weren’t happy about it — they don’t want us selling pixels for real money. The game is about making your character better, not buying things with real money to make it better. People don’t like it, we’ll end it, we’re sorry.
B2: Wait, people aren’t happy because they didn’t get anything real? But they still paid?
E1: A lot of people paid, actually. Like, a whole lot of people.
B1: And they each paid $10? Do we have anything real to sell?
E2: Well we’ve got these plushies sitting around — we usually sell those during the big convention every year. I guess maybe we could put those on the site and include these with it.
B2: Do it. We’ll check back in after it goes live.
E1: Wait, you don’t want to fire us?
B1: Fire you? You just earned us more money in one day than we spent making the last content patch, and the online store is still going gangbusters. If we’d known we could do this three years ago, we could have given an expansion away for free!
E2: Wait, really? But it’s not fair. These pets aren’t worth $10 — they’re not even worth $5. We’ve been giving them away for years! At least when people buy an expansion, they’re buying actual content, an actual experience that they wouldn’t have otherwise. These are just pixels.
B2: Son, things are worth what people are willing to pay for them. I know these things are just pixels in your crazy video machines. But if people are willing to pay ten bucks to see pixels, then you take their money and smile when you say thank you.
E2: But that doesn’t seem —
B1: Look, do it. Put the pets up, add the plushies with it, and let’s see how those do.
E1: What should we sell them for? We sell the convention ones for $40, but that’s a special event, and there’s no pets with those.
B1: What do they cost to make?
E2: We got a bulk deal for next year — they’re each a couple bucks to make. They come out of China somewhere. The people who played them probably come home and spend the money we paid them on our games.
B1: Sell them with the pets for $20.
Boss 1 and 2 look at each other. They both laugh.
B1 and 2: $24.99.
They laugh again as they walk out of the room together.
B1: Ok, we’re back. How did the pets with the plushies do?
B2: Spit it out, son!
E2: Look, they didn’t do quite as well as the other pets.
B1: What? But they were worth more! They were real items — I thought that’s what these people wanted.
E1: Well we thought that, too. But then we talked to some players, and they said that they didn’t really want a plushie sitting around their house. And they didn’t really want to give their address and wait for it to be mailed, and wonder if it would show up or not.
E2: And some of them said that they didn’t actually want the plushie anyway.
B1: Wait, they didn’t want the plushie? I thought they wanted something real.
E1: That’s what they said. But they don’t actually want the plushie specifically. Digital is just easier, they said.
E2: Don’t get us wrong, we sold plenty. Just not quite as many as the in-game pets by themselves.
B2: Do we have anything else to sell?
E2: What? No, it was just the plushies. We’ve got t-shirts and stuff, but we have other companies to sell those for us.
B2: Nothing? What about this art vault you got? Anything in there?
E2: Well yeah, we have another little pet in there — we were thinking about giving it away on a test realm or something.
B1: That’s good. That’ll do.
B2: Sure, that’s good, too. But do you have anything bigger?
E2: We did make this one thing, but that’s not really…
B1: What is it?
E1: There’s this horse. It was supposed to drop from a boss on one of the instances, but he wasn’t the last boss of the expansion, and we figured we’d want to save the coolest mount until the last boss. So we just kind of put him away for a while — we were thinking of using the horse next expansion, maybe in another realm or something.
E2: Yeah, but we can’t use that horse. I mean — I wasn’t really comfortable with the pets, but the mount? That thing is a game changer — people won’t have to buy a mount ever again if they get one of those. Plus, this whole thing is wrong anyway — it’s all gotten out of hand. There are people that do this, companies that take money like this, but not us. We sell experiences, not designs. We make games, not virtual item stores.
B2: We make money, son. This mount — can you put it up on the store? Like by itself, without a plushie?
E1: Sure, wouldn’t be hard. The code’s all there.
B1: And people would want it? Like there’s not anything else like it in the game?
E1: Well, the model is in the game, but not the textures or anything. Yeah, I think people would want it. I mean, I wasn’t even really sure people would spend money on those pets, but they did, right?
B2: They certainly did. Do it. Put the mount up.
E1: What should we charge for it?
B1 and B2 smile.
B1: Same as the plushies. $24.99.
B2: Wait. $25. Take a penny, take a penny, right? (smiles)
E2: You can’t be serious, though! Just a cosmetic mount for twenty-five dollars? There are really incredible full games that cost less than that! You’re talking about a situation where people might actually give us thousands of dollars for this thing. I mean I don’t think it’ll go this high, but we might get a million dollars from people, just for this mount. $25 is two months worth of the subscription, if you go with a longer plan. If half of our user base buys this thing, we’ll earn more on the mount than on the actual game this month! I thought we were a game company here — I signed up to be a game designer.
B2: I told you, son. We’re a business. We make money. It’s tax day — they’re all getting their refunds, they can pay. Put the mount up.
E1: Will do.
B1: We’ll see what it does. If you’re right, and nobody buys it, lesson learned. We’ll go back to making our games, and we won’t ever bother with just selling pixels for many, many times over what they cost us to make. Like he said, something’s only worth what people are willing to pay for it. If this mount isn’t worth $25, then nobody will pay for it.
E2: But what if people do? I mean, I don’t think anyone’s crazy enough to spend $25 on a virtual item — it’s a cosmetic change in a five-year old game. And once we announce the new MMO in the next year, no one’s going to be interested in this game any more, anyway.
B2: The new MMO! I forgot! Oh man, I can’t wait to see what we can do selling items in that.
E2: Ugh, thank goodness I’m not on that team. But here’s what really scares me: what if this mount thing works? What if it sells? This company got huge because we worked really hard and made really great games — the only reason you can even pull off a scam like those pets is because of the hard work people did years ago, not just on this game, but on all of the great ones before it. Because of the solid, polished, impressive work that that small team of folks did years ago, our company is a behemoth today with thousands of employees globally, and we have an extremely dedicated userbase that dwarfs almost everyone else in the industry. And you’re going to use all of that good will and all of that love we’ve earned to charge people $25 for a bunch of pixels that look like a pony? That’s what really scares me. What if they pay?
B2: Son, if they pay, then we will have ourselves one very successful business. [Laughs]
They both exit the room and walk down the hall lined with posters of classic PC games, laughing all the way.