Nearly all virtual worlds have some sort of virtual economy that allows members to exchange virtual cash for virtual goods. You can buy clothes for your avatar, furniture for your house, gifts for friends and learn how to manage your virtual finances. No virtual currency means no virtual stuff, so players will do what ever is takes to earn more.
So lets throw kids into the mix. You try and teach them about the value of real money, how to save, budget and most importantly, that they can’t buy everything they want…. but in a virtual world anything goes. People say “The more money you have, the more you spend”, but does this apply virtually as well? AvatarGeneration are asking “How long would it take a child to spend 100,000 coins in Club Penguin?”
To answer this question I decided to use my niece as a test subject and engage her in an ongoing experiment. She is 8 years old, an active Club Penguin member and loves having money. Using a special program I deposited 100,000 coins into her Club Penguin account.
For a child that never had more than 6,000 coins in her account, she felt like she’d just won the lottery, and a spending spree was inevitable. I watched the events unfold in utter amusement, later to be astounded by what I witnessed. Within six months she had spent the lot! “I’m poor“ she told me, “I don’t like being poor, can you do it again?”. I didn’t think it was possible to spend that quantity of virtual cash without gambling or paying for illicit activities, but she managed it!
Just to put things in perspective, a casual top in Club Penguin will set you back around 300 coins, and 500 coins for a special outfit. Her wardrobe contained over 250 items including 116 tops/outfits, 53 head gear pieces, 31 neck items, 31 hand items, 9 face items and 16 pairs of shoes (Apparently not a big shoe shopper my niece). Not only accustomed to apparel, she bought two houses and eight virtual pets called “Puffles”, each had to be fed, groomed and played with.
She was in over her head, her two storey Igloo started to look like a junk yard and unable to devote enough attention to her Puffles, they started to run away. Working round the clock after school and at weekends she still couldn’t keep them happy, it all became too much and now she only has two. “Why did you buy so many?” I asked her. “They were just so cute and I wanted one in every color” she replied. More coins than sense I thought.
I was very curious if her newfound sense of wealth had affected her enjoyment of the games. Since she didn’t need to play games to earn coins, did she play them anyway? The answer was “yes”. Having an unlimited cash flow just meant she could buy whatever she wanted, when she wanted. This allowed her to enjoy the games without worrying if she’d played enough to buy her Puffle a new toy for example.
Looking at her dwindling funds, she remembers the days when money was no object and claims her spending habits will be different in the future. I’m not quite sure if I believe her though!