Yesterday an article appeared over at Casual Stroll To Mordor regarding The Economy of Turbine Points. Written by Pinkfae (Why can’t people use a real name?) it explored the relative worth of virtual in-game currencies, specifically Turbine Points. Frankly I was somewhat confused by the author’s point and had to read the article twice to ensure that I had understood them correctly. They asserted that the relative worth of any item in the store was subjective and this therefore mitigated any correlation to the real price you had paid for the store points.
By their own admission, Pinkfae is a lifetime account holder for LOTRO and as such receives 500 Turbine Points each month. I would suggest that there is potentially a different mindset between lifetime account holders and VIP subscribers or F2p customers. A lifetime account usually denotes a fans commitment . They have made a substantial one off payment and then cease to worry about further payments ( with the exception of expansions etc.) A subscriber or a F2P customer make monthly or regular ad-hoc payments and as a result may focus more keenly on spending and what it can potentially yield. They will logically make a very clear correlation between how much they pay for Turbine Points and the cost of store items.
Turbine Points are a closed virtual currency. However, that does not in anyway absolve them from having a value. In fact we see clear proof that they are of financial worth in the small print of the Official LOTRO Sweepstake Rules. Terms such as ARV (approximate retail value) and more importantly the reference to the 1099 tax form verify this. You don’t tax something of no value. Furthermore the recent Hobby Horse debacle showed that Turbine have clear ideas of the value of Turbine Points by their “desire” to sell customers a store related item at the $50 price mark.
When discussing such matters as virtual currencies there is scope for the debate to stray into areas of abstract economic theory and the psychology of retail sales. Pinkfae’s analogy regarding the value of a dress to differing customers highlights this well. Yet not every player will see things in such terms. If you are a F2P customer with a modest budget, $20 worth of Turbine points will be perceived as exactly that. A single item that takes all the points you have to purchased will have that $20 price tag attached. It is both logical and human nature. Having a monthly Turbine Point allowance and not having to pay for them on a “as and when” basis, seems to foster a disconnect with regard to the immediacy of their value. Possibly those individuals who have the luxury of debating notional concepts of a virtual items worth, may well have a greater supply of Turbine Points at their disposal than you or I.
For me, I find the best things to compare Turbine Points to is either a store credit when you return an item or the chips in a casino. Both replace real money with an intermediate currency, that you can only use against certain items in a specific environment. The idea is to effectively disassociate the customer from the fact that they are spending real money. This hopefully leads to them spending more, as they do not immediately perceive the real costs. To further highlight this comparison let us not forget the issue of Lootboxes (which Turbine just happen to be promoting this week). These items randomly drop, as do keys. However, the two are not proportional. There is the chance that the Loobox may contain an über item so they are perceived as desirable. If you do not have a key, they are naturally available in the LOTRO store. Is this not gambling? If it is, then Turbine Points are most definitely the chips and therefore must have a real value.