Popping the Question
As far as questions go, this one is sort of impossible to definitively answer, I know. But it's one that came to me about a month ago, when I was reminded of Team Fortress 2's "Something Special for Someone Special." Added nine years ago to the day, the Something Special is a 100$ engagement ring which the user sends to whomever they wish to have it. If the recipient accepts, a short message is broadcast to every player currently in-game, announcing the happy couple. It mostly gets used as a platform for people who have jokes to tell and too much money to do it with, but it has definitely seen some amount of use by people seeking to declare their joint love. Online games are no stranger to marriages, even ignoring the infamously... love-fond communities, such as Second Life. In fact, for a while now it's been fairly common for players to get married in MMOs, from major guild events to small ceremonies for EXP bonuses. But... the Something Special, at its unthinkable triple-digit price-tag, seemed to be the most expensive marriage mechanic any video game had ever implemented. It had to be, right?
In search of a more expensive virtual wedding ring, I tried to think of all the games I knew of that had official marriage mechanics. Maplestory and Final Fantasy XIV both came to mind, given my time with them in the past, but for both games marriage only costs about 30$ at most, less than a third of TF2's asking price. I racked my brain for other MMOs I had played even a bit over the years: Mabinogi, Guild Wars, Dofus, etc. The list kept growing, but of the games that came to mind, marriage kept getting less and less expensive, if it was even present in the games at all. As my investigation continued and I started to realize the Something Special might truly be the most expensive, my question started to shift from "What is the most expensive marriage item in any video game?" to "How much would it cost to marry someone in every video game possible?".
A Labor of Love
This may come as a surprise, but there aren't many write-ups, lists, or videos detailing every game that will let you marry another player. Instead, I was going to have to find this information the hard way, by forming a list of games and then looking up, per-game, whether or not they fit the bill. My list began a collection of games which I either knew to have, or felt were likely to have marriage mechanics, whether it was games I had already played, or games that were simply too big not to know of. However, this alone was never going to approach a complete overview of every game which allowed for marriage. If I wanted to even approach an answer, I was going to have to expand my investigation. First, I skimmed Steam's "Online" and "MMO" tags for ten pages each, alongside Giant Bomb's own "Online" concept page, adding to the list anything which seemed even remotely possible to get married in. Second, I found as many MMO-dedicated news sites as I could, and searched each one for any keyword related to marriage, including but not limited to: "marriage", "bond", "wedding", "engagement".
As I was assembling my list, I knew that I was going to have to set some guidelines on what I was and was not counting as a "marriage mechanic". As I've already stated, I only counted games in which the player could marry another player-controlled character. Not only would including games in which the player can marry NPCs - but not other players - drastically increase the number of games being looked at, the effort to chronicle that already exists. Also, in the case that a game was online, the servers had to still be online and accessible. After all, if the player can't login, they can't get married, now can they? Finally, whether it's as big as FF14's Eternal Bond ceremonies, or as small as an in-game box declaring the two players wed, the marriage has to be officially recognized by the game. I've seen some amazing (and amazingly ridiculous) marriages in role-playing engines like Space Station 13, but they were all achieved through player organization, rather than systems created by the developers. If I had included games where role-playing a marriage was possible, the list would include practically any game with text or voice chat. Coincidentally, this rule also removes AlphaWorld, although I'd like to take a minute to acknowledge the game as, from what I've seen, it seems to have played host in 1996 to the first wedding ceremony in a virtual world, between Janka and Tomas, two regulars of the game at the time.
With these preliminary rules set in place, I began organizing a spreadsheet to track which games I had checked already, as well as a number of details I deemed relevant information:
- Do the item(s)/ceremony required for in-game marriage cost real money?
- How much (if anything) does it cost?
- Are there any prerequisites before players can get married?
- How much (if anything) do the prerequisites cost?
- Does the game allow players of the same gender to get married?
- Does the game offer a public public ceremony?
- Can players get divorced after marriage?
Finding this information was by no means an easy task. It was typically easy enough, if a bit tedious, to find if a game had marriage mechanics or not, but it proved far harder finding details of how it was done, what was required for it, and what it did and did not allow for. Ultimately, that information was gathered through a mix of searching, looking through a variety of guides, and looking through videos of the games in question. In one specific case, Dream of Mirror Online, specifics on the cost of in-game wedding rings seemed completely impossible to find, leading me to install the game to open the game's item mall myself, only for it to turn out that players have to play for at least 12 hours before the game will allow them to access the mall.
Ultimately, I found twenty-three games which met the requirements outlined above. I hadn't honestly expected to find that many, although I did expect there to be more out there. As I said at the beginning of this blog, there's realistically no way to get a definitive answer to this question, because it essentially becomes "what is a complete list of video games", something which can never truly be answered. Regardless, the raw data I compiled can be found here, although overviews and explanations of each column will be provided below, along with any noteworthy or interesting examples I found along the way.
Real Money & Item Cost
The question that started it all: does it cost real world money to get married in this game, and if so, how much does it cost?
The results of this field were fairly surprising to me. In all honesty I went in assuming the majority of them would cost money, figuring marriage paraphernalia would be an easy way to make some money from microtransactions and the like. However, the end results were closer to 50/50, which only split further when I accounted for an extra option: "kinda". Games that "kinda" cost real money are any game where the items required to get married cost real money, but can be obtained for free either through earning premium currency for free or by trading for the items, or where the items required to get married have both free and paid tiers, a fairly common practice wherein higher tiers typically come with more customization or more extravagant items.
While entirely free marriage is the most common method, even games requiring payment for marriage tended to stick within the 10-20$ price-range. The closest any game got to TF2's Something Special was Perfect World International's 60$ wedding price-tag, just over half of TF2's asking price.
Prerequisites & Cost
Another important consideration when calculating the cost of all of the marriages: are there any requirements standing between two lovebirds and eternity?
This was, predictably, the most varied field of all. The most obvious one (aside from those which had no restrictions) was Level, which just requires both players to have reached a certain level before they can hook up. Some games (like DOMO from earlier), have bespoke relationship levels which a couple typically improves by playing together, or for a certain amount of time. One requirement stands out from the crowd, however, with Grand Fantasia eschewing level or bond requirements, instead requiring two players be an in-game piece for 100 real-life days before allowing them to get married, making it by far the longest barrier to entry, even if it's not the most demanding.
Only two types of prerequisite require monetary input, being the game and subscription requirements. Of the games on this list, the only two that don't have free-to-play trials are The Elder Scrolls Online and Stardew Valley. As such, the price of both games counts towards the total price of getting married in them, with low and high estimates on the spreadsheet determined by average sale price and MSRP respectively. There are also two games, Age of Wushu and Dofus, which require one or both involved players to be actively subscribed before they can get married.
Same Gender Marriage
What good is love for one if there's not love for all?
This category was also fairly evenly split, much like Real Money, however games allowing two players of the same gender to get hitched are in a comfortable lead, with three entries over games that don't allow same gender marriage. Also of note is the "N/A" category, which I implemented for cases where it is allowed, but moreso due to the game having no reason to account for it (such as the player having no gender tied to their account), rather than actively allowing it. Games in which it is not officially allowed, but possible to perform by using gender change items during or after the wedding proceedings were not counted, however it was surprisingly common.
In games which do allow for gay marriage, the systems and proceedings are almost always the same, never costing more or having reduced features. The only exception to this is Ragnarok Online, which allows for gay marriage, but the NPC who officiates them is in a different town entirely from the standard marriage NPC. This would strike me as a bit odd, if not kind of annoying, if not for the fact that it turned out the NPC who officiates gay marriages in the game is a cat in a tuxedo, and the weddings are held in the town of Lasagna.
Sure it may be the greatest moment of your (digital) life, but wouldn't it be all the sweeter with friends by your side?
This field covers games in which the wedding process involves (or can involve) a proper wedding ceremony of some sort, wherein players not involved can be invited to attend the proceedings. When games do charge for part of the process, it tends to be this one, in part because it typically involves a unique server instance for the to-be-weds and their plus-ones' plus-ones, and also because many games offer different tiers of wedding with fancier, more permanent cosmetic items and consumables for everyone to take home, as well as more customization in the wedding hall. The "kinda" designation returns for this field for cases like TF2, wherein getting wed displays a message to the server but does not involve a ceremony.
Of note in this field is RIFT which, alongside having multiple different themed ceremonies, also held an event in 2012 encouraging players to get married on Valentine's Day, setting the Guinness World Record for the most wedding ceremonies in a single day, at just under 22,000 couples tying the knot.
Of course, even death do us part is not forever, especially when it comes to fairly low-stakes environments like online video games.
This final category is plain and simple, do games allow players to break apart after they marry? Maybe not surprisingly, the answer is an overwhelming "yes". I could only find two examples of games that without question do not allow for players to split up, although another two were scarce enough on information that I couldn't tell for certain one way or the other. Although of special note is Dofus, which requires one player to be subscribed in order to get a divorce, similarly to the game's marriage process.
Even the two games which don't allow for it have ways to work around it. The Elder Scrolls Online allowing the player to marry other players to their heart's content, meaning Daedra won't stand a chance against the largest polygamous marriage in all of Tamriel. The other case is Team Fortress 2, in which the Something Special can not be readily deleted from a player's inventory but has, at times, been unintentionally usable with transmutation items during Halloween, allowing it to be turned into something else.
If you love something, set it free
With all the data compiled, I can feel confident that I've answered both of my original questions. Totaling up the item costs, simply getting married to another player in every game possible would cost a minimum of around 247$, with a maximum-flair marriage-thon costing around 364$. Adding the prerequisite costs adds anywhere from 60$ to 145$, depending, for a combined total minimum of 307$ and a combined total maximum of up to 510$. An outstanding price-tag in the realm of video games, but certainly much cheaper than a real wedding would run.
Even with this sizeable sum, no game manages to come close to Team Fortress 2's Something Special, with only two games getting within even half of it's cost. With an investment like that behind it, maybe it's for the best the ring can't be deleted.