Most MMO developers are worried about seeming “money-grubbing.” Whenever they introduce a new pay feature, they are stung by people who say the company is nickel-and-diming them. But in general, this is just another case of MMO developers paying too much attention to a tiny percentage of their audience. The general audience of WoW or EQ2, for instance, would pay good money for certain luxury services. But you need to know how to present these services in order to make them happiest, and in many cases this can be surprising: more expensive is better.
Let’s take in-game weddings, for example. One company I was close to planned to add in-game weddings for a small fee, say $20. Doing a simple $20 version isn’t where the real payoff is, though. Perhaps that makes it nice and accessible to roleplayers who want to have a half-dozen “marriages” in their character’s career, but it isn’t particularly appealing to people who are actually getting married. Diamonds aren’t the traditional wedding ring because they’re prettier than other rings. It’s because they’re also really expensive, and they make good tokens of tribute. At times of celebration or gathering, many people want to spend top dollar in order to have top-dollar accommodations. The $20 marriage package comes off as cheap.
Not that you shouldn’t have a $20 wedding package if you feel strongly about it. But have better versions, too. If the $20 version gets you a room, cake, and costumes, then the $50 version should get all that plus an NPC band, catering NPCs, a fountain that buffs everyone in the room for a week, etc. But that’s small potatoes. Go further. Let people have really special events. The $500 version has a customer service rep on-hand for two hours, providing services such as crowd control (keeping rowdy players off the stage), creating custom effects as desired (perhaps the bride and groom want to ceremonially kill a monster together?), and to perform any other wedding roles desired, such as the emcee, DJ, whatever else you can make work in your game. Make it special. Put some time into it.
Then go further. The $2500 version has all of that, plus it’s attended by two game developers who will make short remarks at the in-game reception. This version also includes a real-life framed photo from the wedding, signed by the entire game team. Maybe a unique in-game trinket, too. Add whatever else you can think of to make it feel worthwhile and special.
It’s not really about making money. Even at $2500, the development investment combined with the disruption to your dev team means that your ROI (return on investment) is probably pretty low compared to other things you could do. But man, will it make people feel special! In a game with 100,000 players, I’d expect you’d get 10 or so $2500 weddings a year. Those will be events that participants talk about for many years to come. Plus, you have a good chance of turning those people into lifers — dedicated fans that will stick with the game through thick and thin, and who keep other people playing, too. You should always work hard to create lifers. And the best way to create lifers is to give people personal attention.
Anyway, I got a bit distracted. But the point is this: make your luxury services luxurious! Services in this vein can include weddings, bar mitzvahs, company meetings, funeral services, memorials, sweet 16 parties, and so on. Don’t skimp, and don’t worry about people saying you’re nickel-and-diming them to death. Those people weren’t going to buy your luxury services anyway.
PS – a tip: start by designing and implementing the most elaborate version first, then create the stripped-down versions second. Don’t try it the other way, it’ll be much harder and a lot more frustrating for everyone involved.