One of the most interesting — if sometimes creepy — talks that I sat in on today at the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco was "Applied Real Money Trade Design," with Eric Bethke of GoPets (a kid-oriented virtual world with a active market for buying and selling virtual goods) and Andy Schneider of Live Gamer (which runs the marketplace in GoPets). I took a bunch of notes — this is thought-provoking and odd stuff that crosses the boundaries of fairness, economics, play and work.
Balancing methods: How can you screw up?
* You can't get this right a priori
* You need to iterate
* Free to play isn't a business model, it's a name for thousands of business models
* Things that are defensive in nature can be charged for, and the time-rich skilled players won't resent lamers having more health or a shorter corpse-run, because they'll still kill 'em
* But give the lamers big weapons and it amounts to an "I win" item — instead, sell things like awesome
* Rental is awesome — an item that's too powerful disappears from the game when the rental period expires
* Limited edition items — they're scarce, you unbalance the game for 2-3% of the players
* If it's really bad, you can buy them back
* But it's a bad habit to get your users into
* Every couple months, come up with a whole new roster of items that are 10% more powerful than all the
previous items; the inflation washes away all your past sins and your players are happy to spend all their
time grinding those new items