EA Experimenting with Mainstream Virtual Goods in BattleForge

EA is taking a big step in testing out a virtual goods model in a mainstream game. BattleForge, launched in beta last month, is one of the first games of its caliber to embrace this monetization strategy.

Although the game will be sold for a retail price of $49.99, unlike other mainstream MMOG titles, it will not charge a monthly fee to its players. Instead, the company hopes to fund its post-production costs (and updates) through the sale of virtual goods.

BattleForge is not your traditional MMO because it is not a Role Playing Game (RPG). Instead, the game focuses on a real-time strategy, where players battle against one another, or, if they wish, against the computer. As the units are used, they gain battle experience. In turn, they become stronger. A player’s armies are represented by various virtual trading cards.

The cards serve as the basis for EA’s pending virtual goods sales. When new users join up, they are given four “starter decks” (16 cards), armies based around the games various factions, and 3,000 “BattleForge Points,” the game’s virtual currency.

In order to build up your army and receive more units, you must purchase card booster packs — much like you would in a collectible card game (CCG) — for 250 BattleForge Points. Each booster pack will contain five common cards, two uncommon cards, and one rare or “ultra rare” card.

Ideally, this will entice players to buy more cards. Unlike CCG games, which provide limited means for playing against a lot of other people, BattleForge will have the competition readily available from your PC. This will cause players to quickly burn through their initial set of 3,000 points — and from a business perspective, that is what EA is banking on.

In order to purchase more BattleForge Points, users will have to spend about $20 at a retail store or the BattleForge website. The purchase will earn them 2,000 points, so the cost per pack of cards is about the equivalent of any other CCG booster pack ($2.50).

Virtual goods sales have typically been carried out via microtransactions, where, by its very nature, the purchase is impulsive.  Over time, the $2.00 spent here or there adds up. Users from a wide variety of ages might buy them in different quantities. An older player might buy an entire box of cards for $50, while a much younger one will probably only buy one booster pack at a time.

This is certainly a pivotal experiment not only for EA, but the industry as a whole.