Posted 02 August 2020 18:30 to category Shopgames by worldbuyer
Related categories: RFID, GPS, Social networking, Loyalty clubs

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Today I finally changed shopgames. It felt like converting to a new faith.

Sure, we all keep several shopgame accounts for emergencies. Say you’re a Wal*Mart World player in Davenport, Iowa. Wal*Mart’s shopgame has handily arranged a co-op deal with Exxon/Mobil in Iowa, so the gas money you spend helps your Wal*Mart World superhero earn points toward a faster flight belt. With the belt, you’ll rack up frequent-flyer miles on Wal*Mart World’s cooperating airline, Southwest. Yet on a road trip you stop a Shell station in Elko, Nevada, and it turns out nobody plays Wal*Mart World there. Buying a tank of gas in Elko only counts as game credits for TargetView or, Heaven help you, DisneyLife. With just one shopgame account, you’d be out of luck.

But you’ve kept a TargetView account as backup, and it happens that TargetView is big in Nevada. In fact, Reno is a big virtual settlement in TargetView. So you can still get in-game value from your purchase, like maybe sling stones for your strong-jawed Roman centurion. Then when you get to Reno, you can log in to TargetView’s online Colosseum for a few minutes, knock out a few bandits, and maybe win a free MP3 song or slot machine tokens.

That was me, too. I’ve kept my old game account, just in case. But now I’ve switched all my credit cards to send my buying info to a new game, and I’m logging in to a changed world. I feel like I can never go back. It’s one thing to keep a second-string game account, but who can live in two games? You have to stick with one, just one, or you’ll never get ahead – either in the game, or in life.

Vendor Lock-in
If you’re as old as I am, you probably used to have those old loyalty cards (buy nine lattes, get the tenth free) and email coupons – maybe you belonged to a discount club – you endured all those blunt techniques companies used to keep you from straying to competitors. A decade or two back, I happened to work for the first big-box superstore that started shoring up its customer base by paying employee salaries not with dollars, but with gift cards for merchandise in their own stores. All of us on staff loved the idea. As long as we could buy everything we needed at that store, we got more stuff than if we spent dollars, while the store saved cash. Almost overnight, I remember, the cards became a new in-store currency, an enclosed fishbowl economy.

So I wasn’t suprised when the major manufacturing and media conglomerates (General Electric, TimeWarner, Disney, others) extended that economy to non-employees. Each one introduced a unified gift card that worked at all their many products, brands, stores, restaurants, supermarkets, and other subsidiaries, all linked in a sprawling, self-sufficient corporate kingdom. Then the megacorps looked to society’s best secular method of creating communities (and addicting customers): MMORPGs.

By setting up virtual game kingdoms to match their real-world equivalents, and tying together performance in both, the conglomerates secured total customer loyalty. They built the new millennium’s version of the old-fashioned company town – an online simulation, widely distributed across meatspace but densely linked in virtual reality.

If you’re reading this blog, you know as well as I do the sooo-compelling reasons to stick with just one shopgame. Every game sells everything you could possibly need, cradles to coffins. Each game wants all your disposable income. From inside your shopgame you buy and arrange front-door delivery of everything from light bulbs to bulldozers; you can order a cheap pizza or refinance your house at favorable rates. And if you ever leave the house, you still stay in the fishbowl. Like, in my old game I always bought Tide detergent instead of a store brand, and ate at Applebee’s instead of Denny’s. My character rose higher in the game that way. Now I’m trying new soaps, new restaurants ….

My new game is better about earning me real-world loot, too. Every item we buy has a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip, so every shopgame knows precisely what you own, when you bought it, when it’s about to wear out, and how much you’re likely to pay for the replacement. But my new game tailors my character’s quests so my victory earns discounts on exactly the stuff I need. Other companies can’t beat that price. Even if they could, I’d buy it from my shopgame’s companies so my character can earn a nifty experience-point incentive.

My new game is taking over my life, just like my last one did. If loyalty cards were the consumer equivalent of raw opium, good only for a mild buzz, today’s shopgame is pure heroin, perfect Skinnerian conditioning. Breaking the addiction to my old game is already giving me the sweats.

Changing the Game
I really did enjoy my time in Wal*Mart World’s superhero game. I ended up working there, in both real and virtual worlds, doing customer support in exchange for in-game equipment and experience (and Wal*Mart gift cards, of course).

But the World finally got me down. A persistent reward bug in one mission kept giving players fake coupons for free lawn furniture, and I had to face the rage of aggrieved customers denied their chairs. Rival supergroups spawned real-world youth gangs who fought in the store aisles for dominion over corresponding virtual turf. Worst of all, somebody hacked the employee database and got onto my system. It happened that a relative had given me some real money, and I’d gone outside the shopgame network to make online purchases of, shall we say, a non-worksafe nature. The hacker found the material and circulated it to all my friends. That was a big factor in my decision to leave.

More important, I knew Wal*Mart World, no matter how well I played, would not really help me advance – not in a way that counts. The World gameplay is mass-market casual, so its demographic is too downscale. All the superheroes I met turned out to be retail clerks and shelvers and greeters. Nice people, but….

I can hardly wait to start networking in OprahTime. The player base skews strongly female, so it’s a great place to meet dates. The education level is higher, judging from the services players offer on their in-game blogs. (Need anything translated from Middle English?) The community news is filled with the doings of doctors and lawyers and university professors, all drawn by OprahTime’s unique in-game tax shelters based in Aruba and the Little Caymans.

Like all major life changes, a new shopgame is scary yet exciting. I’ll miss my friends at Wal*Mart World, and possibly if I see them in meatspace I may flash a recognition sign and say hi. But this is unlikely, because OprahTime works with BP, not Exxon – United, not Southwest – and Olive Garden and Red Lobster. I’ll never bump into Worlders there. Already that old shopgame is fading fast. …

But on the bright side, OprahTime is sponsored by Nokia, so it has a more global, cosmopolitan atmosphere. I’m meeting a lot of Finns and Scandinavians and trying to wangle invites to visit. Airfare to Helsinki shouldn’t be a problem; if my clan defeats Athla-Borgo in the Despond Caverns, we get round-trip discounts on Lufthansa!

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