Sports Gamers Online

Virtual Currency in Gaming: The “Ultimate” Business

Virtual Currency has been a part of Video games in some form or fashion for quite some time now. Before gaming consoles became sophisticated enough to have a build in digital storefront, there were already incentive based games. The idea was to play the game and earn some sort of currency, whether in form of coins or points, to then unlock greater skills or achievements within the game. It would allow gamers to stay engaged much longer then they normally would, but it did not really allow for game makers to capitalize on the added time spent on the games.

As games progressed, so did the add on content available for those games. It started with Downloadable content or “DLC”. Gaming developers would continue working on additional content for games, long after the initial release. Whether it was maps, characters or whole new game modes, developers quickly realized that people were willing to shell out additional cash to refresh their existing games they already own and love. Sports games, however never really had much to offer in form of additional content, until one soccer game changed the mold forever.

Today we take a look at micro transactions and virtual currency, specifically in sports games, and how it has affected and will affect the future of Sports titles. It has been 6 years to the day since the EA Sports’ Fifa franchise officially introduced a game mode across all platforms, that would forever change the Sports gaming landscape.

That mode of course is the beast we have learned to call “Ultimate Team”.

UEFA Champions League 2006/2007 on XBox360 got it all started
UEFA Champions League 2006/2007 on XBox360 got it all started

The idea actually dated as far back as 2007, when that years UEFA Champions League game, build on the FIFA ’07 engine included an Ultimate Team game mode on the XBOX 360.

The idea was to be able to collect and trade player cards with your buddies, to then form an “Ultimate” fantasy team out of these cards and to be able to compete with on the digital pitch. It is a free to play incentives driven game where by playing games within the mode, you can earn virtual currency or coins to then buy other packs.

The game mode gained fast momentum as anyone that has ever opened up a pack of baseball cards or collected Panini World Cup Stickers, knows the thrill you can get by pulling that super rare player from a pack.

Fifa Ultimate Team became an instant hit and EA Sports Madden adopted its model for Madden 10. By 2013 all of EA’s major sports titles had their own iteration of Ultimate Team and even Visual Concept’s Basketball franchise NBA 2K15 introduced their spin on it with a game mode called “MyTeam”. Gaming companies were fast to realize that there was additional revenue to be made by allowing players to purchase this virtual currency in the various marketplaces.

FIFA 09 introduced Ultimate Team as a downloadable add on feature in 2008

EA for example, has always been very vague about specifically how much money they are earning on Ultimate Team alone but a deeper look at their financial reports reveal some startling numbers. On a trailing 12 month basis, EA reported a net revenue of 2.178 Billion in digital receipts alone, which was more than half of all of EA’s net revenue (4.337 Billion). Granted, all digital sales are included in that astronomical figure, including DLC and digital copies of all of their games but one would be hard pressed to argue that Ultimate Team didn’t play a major part in those earnings.

The earnings report also shows a year to year growth of 82% just for Ultimate Team alone. So if you thought, UT was big last year and the year before, earnings have almost DOUBLED in the last 12 months. A detailed look of EA’s earnings can be found here.

Where cold hard cash turns to “virtual” currency.

Looking at these figures can make your head spin and another trend seems to become more clear as we move into a new era of sports gaming. It has become as, if not more lucrative for gaming companies to shift their resources into developing a fully fleshed out micro transaction based model, rather than spending time and resources on game modes that have been around for decades. Online franchise modes have become more of a novelty rather than the “norm” in recent years and even Sony’s flagship Sports title MLB 15 The Show, features a completely overhauled Card Collecting based game mode called “Diamond Dynasty” this year.

Earnings have been estimated to top 1 billion dollars this year alone on Ultimate Team and given the fact that the possibilities are near endless, it is sure here to stay.

Year round updated content keeps modes like MyTeam fresh and consumers coming back.

As a lifelong gamer, I do worry that some of the core principles of gaming can be lost within this business strategy though. As of now we all still pay for a retail copy of a game and it should give everyone the same experience. However, many game modes nowadays have some sort of VC or XP system integrated and in many cases this virtual currency can be purchased for real money. It can give people an edge over other players that may not have purchased additional currency,  in turn making it far from an even playing field. Additionally we need to be careful that stories like these don’t get overlooked and that developers still put effort and resources into game modes that may not be as lucrative for them but provide a cost efficient gaming experience to us. At the core, people who have purchased a game should be allowed the same opportunities and chance of being competitive as someone that has bought the game and then spent hundreds of dollars on additional content.

If there is one thing we do know, it is that gaming companies are making a push for micro transaction based game modes.They are not going ANYWHERE and have become the most popular game modes played on a lot of sports games.

It is very realistic to picture these modes becoming its own entity some day as stand alone titles. Developers could very well make Ultimate Team for example a “free to play” digital only game, getting even more people exposed to the game and  making them more likely to purchase a pack down the road.

Rare and hard to find cards can oftentimes go for millions of “virtual” coins.

What are you guys’ thoughts on micro transactions in games? Would you guys like to see Ultimate Team becoming its own title and branching off from the traditional annual sports games?

As always, comment, like and share this article if you enjoyed it and stay tuned to SGO for all the latest in the world of Sports Gaming.

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