When we unveiled the new vendor economy system, we had no idea that the next month would be so exciting. I was able to follow the trail of ten students over the course of the implementation. This post is our story, a kind of telling of what happened on both hands and how we learned from it.
The vendors were created for a few reasons. The main reason is that many of the students have been looking for ways to individualize their avatars. Children love to be different. They do not wear similar clothing. If they do, it is usually not the decision of the student but the governing population of the school district. We are giving the choice to be different inside of the game. This is huge to them. It is offering them the choice.
Many people associate how they feel about themselves by the types of clothing that they wear. By allowing them to create an image for themselves, we are allowing Questers to become even more immersed in the QA experience. In QA, we are allowing a safe environment to children to explore this idea of identity.
The purchasing of clothing in game also shows to other students what can be achieved. Questers that purchase the more expensive clothing items have taken the time to work through missions, quests, and other in-game activities—with some clothing only being available if one has completed certain tasks and not simply because they have the funds. They have earned their cols. Having a clothing system allows those students to show others that they have been working through the game. It gives them a level of status and may also encourage newer Questers to explore QA and work in areas, such as a reviewer, that they did not realize was available to them. See Video of Progression of Choices.
They can be proud of what they are wearing because they have worked hard to get to this point.
Soon after the vendor system went live, many students were purchasing avatar items with their cols after completing a short Mission with a new character, Farmer Bob. Farmer Bob was originally created to help students only purchase clothing that they could wear. As the system stands today, we are unable to create a set of gender neutral clothes that would be used by both males and female. To work around this issue, Farmer Bob offers a card for specific card that will allow students to correctly purchase items that match their avatar.
Here were some of the students reactions the night that Farmer Bob visited the OTAK Hub.
September 5th, 2008
Student 1: Hey tash look at my new blouse.
Student 2: Wait first talk to this guy. Then go to culture world and healthy world. Elma is in the pink.
Alex was the hardest to find.
Student 3: This is soooooo cool!
The ten purchased over 100 items the first day and had 6 instances of trading cols or clothing. At the end of the first day, there was a change in chat. It was very slight but enough to be noticed. The chat became more focused on the clothing and cols. This was to be expected while the vendors were still considered to be new. Over time, the students came to accept it as part of the game.
September 6th, 2008
Student 1: can you lend me 2 cols
Student 2: yeah i guess but how do you change your clouths to the new ones
Student 3: ok that is all the stors and i hoped u have a great time shopping some clothes
I was unaware at this time that there was a design flaw on Farmer Bob. Some students were able to talk to Farmer Bob in a way that would give the student more cols for their purchase points than was originally intended. Students could receive the 5 cols after purchasing 10 items of clothing. Some of the students found out that they could refresh the page and keep receiving the reward. This would be similar to using an ATM card. When we finished with our transaction, the machine would continued shooting $20 at us. It was not the fault of the student that this failure happened.
September 7th, 2008
Student 1: how many cols do u have
Student 2: 1686 cols
Student 3: 100 cols is all yours for shopping!
Here were the spending and sharing patterns of the 10 Questers. The vendor release date was on 09/03/08. We realized the Farmer Bob issue on 09/05/08 and finally removed the cols from the students on 09/08/08. 75% of the money traded over one month were considered gifts (either the student gave or received the cols from another Quester). 25% of the cols were spent on clothing.
Interestingly, these students were kind enough to share their windfall with many other Questers in the space. Most of the earnings from Farmer Bob was distributed throughout the community and not held for personal gain. These behaviors are not to be considered “bad” or “negative.” These are just really smart, inquisitive, and in this case, generous kids who are used to finding loopholes in games.
I must admit that it took me a few days to come around to this point of view. I have been playing online games since ’97. There is a point when the game is no longer fun and it generally happens after an exploit that caused a player to become better, richer, stronger, or god-like compared to the regular players. This imbalance is quickly noticed and once it happens, it is difficult to correct it. When Farmer Bob failed to work as intended, I first felt guilty that I allowed the situation to happen and was a little bummed that the Questers did not let us know that it was happening. Once I saw the spending patterns, however, my view changed immediately. Unlike my previous games, these students were actually looking out for the welfare of other players. By and large, our Questers are the nicest bunch of kids that I have had the luck to work with.