Here's a recent posting on "how the web makes money," focusing on the on-line gaming community.
The bottom line: successful game sites rely too much on questionable vendors.
Game players like to acquire game currency to improve their experience, especially as new players. They can often either buy game money or they can "earn" it by clicking allegedly "free" links. These sometimes give them game currency for free, but too-often involve scams.
While this Cryptosmith site pays for itself through consulting leads, I've always been interested in more direct methods (described here)
. I think it's fair to collect a commission if I directly encourage someone to buy something, and I gave them the link to buy it. The jury is still out on whether this is worth the effort of constructing the links. I'm also curious as to whether this opens me up to various forms of fraud.
When I do
provide links with commissions, I limit myself to links that I might use myself. I hope that that provides adequate quality control for my visitors.
Web monetization should in theory be the same as classic television advertising: the advertisers buy customers' attention by providing them with something they want, whether it's entertainment, information, or even education. Monetizing links in Cryptosmith seems OK to me: if my words encourage someone to buy something from, say, TigerDirect.com
(that's supposed to be a link that pays a commission), then I've earned that commission.
I hadn't appreciated how far monetization had gone in on-line games until I read a recent New Yorker
article on rural employment in China. (It's in the October 29, 2009 edition, but they won't show me the Table of Contents on-line, so I can't retrieve the title or author's name.)
The article described how one fellow started a small company that monetized on-line game money. He would play enough to collect some game resources, sell them for game money, and then exchange the game money for real money with another player. The game owners didn't especially like this. They routinely scanned their members for telltale behavior and shut down users who seemed to be doing this. A regular gamer noted that he came across lots of people doing that, usually perceived as people from China. They were recognizable by the fact that they generally carried nothing
in the way of equipment, while "real" players tended to collect equipment to improve their play.
After reading Michael Arrington's "Scamville" post
, I suspect these Chinese monetizers are among the more honest. Game vendors tolerate or even encourage alternative schemes that are arguably scams. One company asks you complete an apparently free survey with your cell phone, which allows them to charge your phone a recurring $9.99 subscription fee. Another company charges you $9.99 openly for shipping but signs you up for $189.99 in materials on a different web page. Arrington argues that the most financially successful games appear to be those who allow the broadest range of abuses.