MMO Family: Are virtual presents a worthy holiday gift?

MMO Family Are virtual presents a worthy holiday gift
When it comes to picking out holiday gifts for younger family members, it's amazing how quickly it can escalate to the equivalent of organizing Operation Overlord. As I wandered around Toys "R" Us yesterday, I watched two mothers trying to make sense of Skylanders and figure out how to coordinate and buy the right packages. (At one point, one was having trouble understanding that the "Giants" weren't really that giant.) Picking out a gift for a kid might sound simple, but to the adults who aren't up to speed on the latest craze, it's not only complicated -- it's a potential nightmare.

Virtual presents and currency cards are two gift ideas that are growing in popularity. Young gamers are comfortable with the notion of in-game goods, but while the in-game MMO community has begun to accept it, it's not quite accepted by the mainstream as a valid gift option. I think there's good reason that it should be, though. In this week's MMO Family, let's take a look at why virtual presents still aren't seen as valid gifts and examine why that's worth reconsidering.

Pickled pigs' feet

About a decade ago, I received my first "virtual" Christmas present, from my sister-in-law. She played EverQuest just as we did, and although she was on a different server, she had "arranged" to get us each a nice piece of gear for our characters. So on Christmas morning, she gave us a card, and inside was a print out of the item, complete with stats and that little icon that resembles the gear. It was an odd moment, though, because while I could appreciate the time and effort to get us the items, no one else in the room had any idea what was going on, and the reaction was the same as if we had just received a jar of pickled pigs' feet. For all they knew, that's what we actually received! What followed were several polite questions about our gifts, which led to several polite questions about our characters and then several polite questions about our MMO. In the end, I don't think it cleared anything up, and I was all too happy when we moved on to the next gift.

Things have changed quite a bit since that awkward Christmas morning. For kid-friendly MMOs in particular, virtual goods bought through RMT are not only accepted but almost expected. And in most major retail stores, you can find a large selection of gift cards for in-game currency. But for all the change so far, there's still a hesitation to actually give it as a gift, particularly from non-gamers.

Tangible

The most obvious reason that virtual presents and currency cards aren't seen as acceptable gift ideas is that there's no physical representation of the gift. To some extent, I understand that point of view. Even though I like the idea of giving a currency card for a child's favorite game, I wouldn't pick one up for my child to give at a friend's birthday party for fear of the same sort of looks I got on that awkward Christmas morning. For the time being, I'm sticking with LEGO and Barbies unless everyone at the party is a gamer.

There's also a hesitation because it's hard to put a value on pixels. To a gamer, it's worth that price tag to have the ability to fly around a favorite game in a rocket-propelled jetpack or ride around on that adorable unicorn pet with floating hearts. But how do you justify the cost when it's something that's not real? And in the case of MMOs, what happens if the game shuts down and everything you've bought really does disappear?

MMO Family Are virtual presents a worthy holiday gift
Clutter

Many toy brands these days are all about mass quantity. "Collect them all" is a common phrase on your typical toy commercial, with "all" meaning hundreds. That's helpful if you need to pass along ideas to the many relatives who are trying to buy something for your child, but it's not so fun when they begin to take over the house. The Zhu Zhu pets from a couple of years ago still lurk under couches and tables, and every now and then one of them will suddenly come to life and start chirping, forcing me to play a game of "hot and cold" as I try to figure out where it's hiding. And my vacuum is full of miniature shoes from Polly Pockets, tiny accessories from the Littlest Pet Shop, and itty-bitty bricks from random LEGO sets. If anything, virtual presents give adults a breather from all the stuff that begins to clutter the house.

Longevity

When it comes to gifts, not every item gets used enough to justify its purchase. How many of those fancy packaged toys end up in a closet or on a shelf somewhere, left to gather dust? So when we give a gift, are we giving the item, or the experience that goes with it? And if we are attempting to give something with lasting value, does it have to come in a box?

If we really believe in the idea that "it's the thought that counts," it might be worth it to consider giving a currency card for a favorite game or even going in-game to gift a virtual present to your favorite gamer's in-game character. It might not come in a huge box with a big ribbon, but it might actually be a gift that lasts the longest.

This week, it's time to hear from you. Do you think currency cards and virtual presents are valid gift ideas (particularly for younger gamers)? And do you plan to give a virtual gift this season? I've added two polls below, so chime in!%Poll-79214%
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The MMO Family column is devoted to common issues with families and gaming. Every other week, Karen looks at current trends and ways to balance family life and play. She also shares her impressions of MMO titles to highlight which ones are child-friendly and which ones offer great gaming experiences for young and old alike. You are welcome to send feedback or Wonka Bars to karen@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.