Tag Archives: Cash Shop

The Cash Shop, Diamonds, and that Ten Dollar Horse

One of the things about my return to Runes of Magic has been the complete lack of monetary expense to me so far.  I have not spent any money on the game.

However, no game survives without getting paid and, while Runes of Magic operates under the banner of “Free to Play,” and more so than some games, there are clearly ways to spend money on the game and incentives, both subtle and overt, to get you to do so.

There are two RMT currencies in the game, diamonds and rubies.

And while I have not spent any money during my current adventures, back when the game launched and it seemed like the instance group might take a serious go at it I took up one of their special offers… they have sales and bonus events for diamonds frequently… and bought some just in case I needed to get myself a ten dollar horse or something.

140% bonus diamond offer again this weekend

However, back when I did that the game was suffering from some sort of credit card fraud binge so diamonds you purchased had to sit in a special escrow account for a while and you couldn’t trade or sell them to other players for 30 days.  Since we ended up not giving the game a go, those diamonds just stayed where they were.  I had stopped playing by the time I had free access to them.

This is part of why I was happy to get my original account back.  There were about a thousand diamonds waiting for me.  My characters were gone… they probably got purged during the server merges… but my diamonds remained.

And, given the RMT history of the game and the reaction in our little circle of blogs, one of the first things I had to do was find out the price of a permanent horse.

Base models…

As it turns out, the standard single person mount in the game is still about ten dollars, depending on what diamond package you purchase.  207 diamonds for $9.99 makes the horse about $9.60.  If you bought the biggest diamond package during the current sale it would be about $2.60.

There are other mounts in the shop.  There are more expensive, more exclusive single mounts as well as multi-person mounts.  But that is the base price to get yourself a permanent mount.

Now, you don’t have to buy the horse.  Mounts are obtainable in the game with gold, the in-game currency.  They are just not permanent.  You have to rent them for a short duration.  And that is not riding time, or logged in time, but clock running duration.  The rate is 300 gold for 15 minutes or 3,000 gold for two hours.

Not exactly what I would call long term…

But if you want to keep the horse, it is time for diamonds.

a permanent horse

The horse might cost you five to ten dollars… an amount that seems quaint to fret over in the current state of the genre… but at least you can keep it.  Inventory space should be so fortunate.

You start out in Runes of Magic with two 30 slot bags and one tab in the bank.  If you want more space, you need diamonds.  The rub here for me is that you cannot buy them outright.  I couldn’t find a way to buy more bag space.  Instead, you must rent it.

For how long would you like this bag?

Bank slots and bags both rent at the same rate.  For 3 days it is seven diamonds, but the time/diamond ratio gets better the longer the duration of your rental.  Thirty days, for example, is 31 diamonds.  And the bags themselves are not physical items in the game, as with EverQuest or WoW, but permanent in size and association to you, as with LOTRO.  You will never have more than six bags, and each bag will be 30 slots.

Two bags, at 30 slots per bag, doesn’t seem too bad.  However, if you’re lazy like me and turn on auto-loot so you don’t have to click through each corpse to pick out the good stuff, you will find your bags filling up fast.  The game drops a decent amount of gear, lots of items that are part of the daily quests, occasional recipes or other crafting related items, and runes, lots and lots of runes.

After all, the game is called Runes of Magic.  Runes are items that go in equipment sockets in order to enhance them.  If that sounds a lot like gems from WoW we can go back to the came coming into being as very much something of an Asian WoW clone during The Burning Crusade era when gems and sockets first became a thing in Azeroth.  The cash shop has plenty of items that allow you to add sockets to current items, since runes seem to be a big deal, but gear seems to drop with zero or one socket.

Anyway, runes drop a lot.  Your bag will fill up with them.  And then there are quest items.  When you accept a quest that is more than “kill ten rats,” one that wants you to, say, kill ten rats and bring back their ears or tails or some such as proof or for a potion or whatever, those item need space in your bags.  And, as an added bonus, if you abandon a quest… say you were on a solo quest chain and it ended with a group requirement that you could no solo… whatever related quest items remain in your bag.  And you cannot delete them either.  As far as I can tell, they live in your bag forever.

I realize that the devs were trying to keep people from basically deleting their hearthstone when it came to quests, but dude, my bags!   Also, it is often possible to get more items for a quest than it requires, so when you turn it in you have leftovers that you cannot delete.

So unless you are extremely diligent… or more so than I am… you’re going to need a bigger bag… erm, more bags, which means diamonds.

Now, you can buy diamonds from other players with the in-game currency.  That was part of the game’s pitch, that those with more time than money could grind gold and buy diamonds from other players, while those with more money than time could buy diamonds for real world money and trade them to other players for gold.  Everybody is happy and nobody needs to go deal with illicit gold sellers, or such was the theory.

That my diamonds of six years ago got stuck in escrow and were restricted for a stretch of time seems to indicate that all was not working quite as planned.  And, as noted previously, gold sellers were thick on the ground in public spaces and on the world channel.

Back in the day

As part of this post I went to go check at the auction house to see how the gold/diamond market was going.  I saw people on the world channel asking to buy or offering to sell diamonds, but figured that main market would be in the auction house.

However, when I looked, I didn’t see a single auction for diamonds.  That section of the auction house was mostly taken up with experience orbs.  Runes of Magic has experience orbs that seem to work along the lines of the XP Vials in EverQuest II, where you can buy them and they siphon off XP from your efforts and, once they are full, you can sell them to other players.

I was a bit confused by that.  And then I found a vendor outside the auction house that offered to sell me gold for diamonds.

Gold for Diamonds exchange

I expect that there is another NPC around that will do the same only exchanging gold for diamonds.  I suspect that unfettered exchanges in an unbalanced economy led to rampant inflation and that the solution was to create a dev regulated currency exchange.  Anyway, if I need gold I know where to go now.

Meanwhile, in going through the cash shop, I found that the devs will also sell you experience orbs.  Full orbs, that is.

Experience orbs in the cash shop… full ones

Again, I expect that this was done in an effort to put some sort of cap on inflation, but it still seems odd.  This is akin to CCP simply selling you skill points in EVE Online.

I am also not sure how useful such an orb would really be.  You could boost up your secondary class easily (more on secondary classes in another post) but what about the training points you need to boost up your combat skills?  It wouldn’t be much use to have a high level character with skills still in the weeds.  Or do training points come with levels when you use an experience orb?

And that screen shot above brings me to the second currency I mentioned, rubies.  It took me a bit to figure out where rubies come from.  You get them as part of buying something from the cash shop with diamonds.  I noticed that I had 40 rubies, then ran back through what I did and came to where I bought a perm mount.

Wilhelm on his mount

Buying the mount ran 199 diamonds, but also earned me 40 rubies.  So they are sort of like S&H Green Stamps or Blue Chip Stamps, if you are old enough to remember such things, rewards for purchasing things that can be used as currency to buy other items.

And the cash shop has a selection of items that can only be bought with rubies, and they are a damn sight better than what you get for diamonds.  The screen shot above shows a rubies-only “High Quality” experience potion and its diamonds equivalent next to it.

I am not sure how I feel about that sort of thing.  I get loyalty programs, and things like trading stamps simply gave way to things like club cards and the like, but in a cash shop with no competitors it feels off, less in the realm of a reward for loyalty and more in the zone of “naked cash grab.”  Not all the way there, but in that area.

The cash shop otherwise has a lot of the things you might expect.  I mentioned writs to add sockets to gear.  There are also the usual boosters for experience and training points, speed increases you can buy for you mount if you want to go faster, an array of cosmetic gear, lock-box grab-bags for things like runes, and the Wheel of Destiny, a straight up gamble to get something special for 99 diamonds.

Do you feel lucky?

So that is the state of the cash shop, such as I have observed it.  The usual stuff is there.  The odd parts… experience orbs and direct diamonds to gold via a vendor… seem likely to have come about as a reaction to what happens to an MMORPG economy over time.

Meanwhile, the strong push to get players to buy diamond… especially when it comes to bag and bank space… is part of what comes from not having any sort of subscription option.  Runes of Magic is strictly cash shop supported.  You cannot sign up for a $15 a month plan to bypass the annoyances.

Changing My Clothes in Space

Way back when, I bought the EVE Online Second Decade Collector’s Edition… and then CCP gave me a copy about a month later.  Comedy always finds me.

One of the items that was part of the whole big box of stuff was the Mystery Code, printed on the back of a piece of black plastic.

The Mystery Code Card

The Mystery Code Card

The Mystery Code, when entered, gave you a PLEX, a few special items, and the promise of more special items in the future.  Free stuff… for only $99… or free if they gave you a copy… or if I gave you my extra code as part of a contest.

Just this past week, CCP put up a note saying that there was some new special stuff for Mystery Code holders.  So I immediately went and tried to figure this out.  But since this is CCP, the process was somewhat… Icelandic?

Okay, the first thing you have to do is go to account management and claim your items, which is done by logging in and going to the “Vouchers” option under the “Services” menu, despite the fact that no vouchers of any kind are involved.

There you can pick your items to claim.  As it turned out, I had several items as I had never been to that option in in account management before, nor did I even know that it existed.

The new gifts for Mystery Code holders consisted mostly of clothes, something that disappoints children at Christmas and the perennially grumpy the rest of the year, but which was fine by me.  I am against CCP spending resources on walking in stations, but I still believe that your in-game avatar is important.  And while I would prefer hats, which you could actually SEE on people rather than, say, shoes, where you have to click, and click again, and then click a third time, and then resize a window, and zoom and rotate in order to even recognize that a shoe was even present, much less updated, I refuse to get too bent out of shape at CCP working apparel that is off screen 99.9% of the time.  More pants, more shoes, more whatever.  The people doing that probably are not working on null sec sovereignty fixes in any case.

So, new clothes redeemed at account management.

From there I had to log into EVE Online and, at the character select screen, redeem the items by dragging them from the bottom of the screen onto the character to which I wanted them to go.  After that I logged into the game and saw that I had a bunch of clothing items in my hangar in the station.

And I did not have a clue what to do with them.

Seriously, the EVE Online interface strikes again.  You can see these items of apparel in your hangar, but no amount of clicking on them, dragging them around, or getting info on them will tell you what to do with them.  Seriously, they tell you the amount of physical space they take up, but nobody could take a minute to paste in some text that says “Go to the character editor to use this!”

Where CCP fails, Google provides.  A quick search pointed me at several forum threads where people had asked the same “what do I DO with these clothes” question, which sent me to the character editor.

In the game.

Somewhere along the line I missed when this button showed up amongst the station services.

Of course, all the buttons look different now

Of course, all the buttons look different now

But there it was, and it brought up the full fledged, create your character editor.  That, in turn, allowed me to change all manner of aspects of my avatar, something I thought they were charging for at one time.  The character editor also told me I was owed a “resculpt,” which I am going to guess is the “start from scratch” option when it comes to your avatar.  Maybe that is was CCP was charging for… only they seem to be giving me one… because the first one is always free?  I don’t know.

Anyway, when you are in a station and in the character editor, then clothing items that are in the hangar of that station show up as choices amongst all of the standard selections.  I went through and picked out what looked to be “new” items and selected them to be added to my avatar.

After that I had to go and take a new portrait so that my change of clothes would show up in-game.

Wilhelm, before and after

Wilhelm, before and after

I am not sure that is much of an improvement.  But for most people my avatar will only show up as a tiny little square in a station list or chat channel. (One of the bigger shocks of watching people stream EVE Online is seeing how many people leave avatars on in chat.  The first thing I do when I open a new channel is turn off the avatars and set compact members list.  Maybe it is years of playing MUDs, but I do not need a tiny, indistinguishable picture next to somebody’s name in order to recognize them… I recognize the name.  Also, so many blinking chat tabs… you know you can turn that off, right?)

Of course, it turned out that these were not the new clothes I was looking for.  This was another set we got handed at some point for some reason… I don’t know… they were in my hangar as well.  The new set we had been given were dark, padded psuedo-combat armor style.  Oh well.  I might go back and change all that later.  And now I need a hat for the new avatar if I am going to use it elsewhere.  That requires old school Photoshop capabilities rather than anything in the game.

But having gone through all of that just to put on some new clothes… and you cannot even see my pants… a few thoughts jump out at me that might smooth out the process should CCP be taking this whole dress up thing seriously.

  • In the description on clothing items, tell us how to use them.
  • In the character editor, highlight in some way items of clothing that are not part of the standard load-out.
  • Give items from a matched set the same name please.  The new set had a jacket called “Impact” and pants called “Strider.”
  • Don’t just dump clothing items into the station hangar, to be lost amongst all of the other junk we accumulate.
  • Don’t make me be in the same station as an apparel item in order to use it.

The last two I think are especially key if CCP has some plans to make money selling people clothing so they can dress up their avatar.

I know that the last one breaks the “rules.”  In EVE Online, the fact that things have to be moved around, that there is no magic in-game bank or mailbox to deliver ships or modules or ammo to me no matter where I am is an important part of the game.  If nothing else, anybody who does a region-wide buy order in Domain should be made to feel the same pain I did a few years back.  I still haven’t picked up all those light missiles.

But I don’t think clothes really play into that.  What hat my avatar is wearing on a given day has no impact on the core game play in EVE, be it combat, hauling, mining, production, or playing the market.

So I think CCP ought to round up all that clothing I have left strewn about space and put it together in a nice little wardrobe tab as part of the character editor, so if I feel like wearing my Quafe T-Shirt when I am out in Immensea I don’t have to worry that I might have left it behind in Deklein or Jita or Amarr.

Of course, ideally I should just be able to go to the New Eden Store, buy a new hat, and be able to apply it immediately without having to go through the rigamarole of playing with the full character editor and all the positioning choices and what not.

I see that CCP is giving this some thought on the whole ship skins front, which says to me that the process is more convoluted that people are willing to work with.  We shall see if that gets translated over to the apparel side of things, because I would still like to be able to buy me a decent hat.

People Aren’t Wearing Enough Hats!

Last week Rixx Javix put up a post over at his blog about hats.

Specifically his post was about EVE Online avatars that he has adorned with hats over the years, including his own and others.

A selection of Rixx Javix hats

A selection of Rixx Javix hats

You should go look at that post.  He has done a lot of hats.  EVE Online avatars with hats on them appear to be quite a thing.  Even my own avatar on the blog is my EVE avatar with a horned helm applied to it. (I used that avatar at work as well.)

That lead me to joke that if CCP had given us hats instead of monocles with the Incarna expansion, things might have gone a bit differently.

I was, of course, being silly, and doubly so because monocles were never the main issue with Incarna.

But still, I felt in my gut that there was something to this.  Hats are fun.  Putting on a hat is almost the simplest form of costume.  Hats lend a sense of style, silliness, or personality when put on.  I love hats.

In fact, in-game if I cannot have a good hat I won’t wear any hat at all.  But I will go out of my way for a hat that fits my mood or forms the basis of a look.  One of the things I miss about Rift is that it had both a varied selection of hats available and a cosmetic system that allow players to easily wear what they liked.

Hillmar with his mean face on

I always liked that farmer’s hat on Hillmar

I realize that Blizzard wanted to use transmorg to get gold out of the economy, but the restrictions on what can be transmog’d into something else are too restrictive in my book.  I want to make my plate helm look like Whitemane’s chapeau or the Hydromancer’s Headwrap!  Is that too much to ask? (Also, the stuff you sell in the Blizz Store… the hats… they look awful.)

Fortune Telling Foursome

Fortune Telling Foursome

And in Lord of the Rings Online as well, I always had to find the right hat.

Manteca the Goon

Go ahead, say something about me hat!

Hats may be the only item I have eagerly spent money on in cash shops.

Who you calling, "fuzzy?"

Bunny hat I bought in EverQuest II

And there is Team Fortress 2 which apparently finances itself entirely through the sale of hats.  That seems to indicate that it isn’t just me with the whole hats thing.  Hats make the character.

Hats seem to be a thing worth monetizing.  Here is an opportunity for CCP to add something to their in-game cash shop that people might buy.

I hear somebody from the back of the hall saying, “But you can buy hats in EVE Online.  And they are bringing more in with the Hyperion expansion.”

And I would have to admit that those are true statements.  But the options currently available do not thrill me, and the options they are adding with Hyperion are even less palatable.

Hyperion Apparel Additions

Hyperion Apparel Additions

That was clearly the problem with the NEX Store, or whatever they are calling it these days; not enough color choices in the hosiery section.

Anyway, those headgear options barely qualify as hats and certainly do not represent anything I would want to display on my avatar.

What CCP needs to do here is get off the whole dark brooding dystopian future… after all, this is the future where anything should go, so if you can name yourself DoomBunny or HVAC Repairman (or even Dabigredboat) in-game and be taken seriously… and at least one of those people is… then fix things so you can find a decent hat in New Eden.  Dystopias tend to have pretty decent hat selections.  Look at Blade Runner or that snappy model Alan Arkin wore in Gattaca.  And lets not forget the Mad Max series.  Or the Soviet Union.  Police states and dictatorships practically rise and fall on their haberdashery selections.

So here is what I want.

I want to have a wide selection of hats, from subdued to zany, that I can buy from the in-game cash shop and apply directly to my in-game avatar so when anybody sees it come up in an info screen… or if they are one of those horrible people that leave icons on in chat… there is my damn hat in full view making exactly the statement I want… which is that I think hats are cool.  In a year I want Rixx Javix to look at the store in EVE Online and say something like, “I can’t keep up with that.”

But that is not all I want.

No, I want an entire hat subsystem in the game.  I want to be able to buy a hat from the store and apply it to my avatar right away, easy-peasy, no questions asked.  I want a hat inventory window where I can view and select from my ever growing collection of hats so I am always wearing the hat appropriate to my mood and the occasion.  I want the method by which I acquire in-game currency… Aurum, isn’t it?  I want that simplified.  I don’t want to have to buy a PLEX and then convert it to Aurum.  That commits me to a nearly $20 transaction.  Just sell me a stack of Aurum, small to large, starting at $5.

Which leads me to the last, and most essential bit.  Make the hats cheap.

We have a luxury item with a non-insignificant amount of overhead to create, but which has almost zero incremental cost per unit sold.  You make it once and sell it a zillion times and your costs don’t change all that much.

Because here is something that Jester got totally right on the similar topic of ship skins, which are too expensive (and too inconvenient) for most people to buy for ships they are going to lose.

Price the hats so that you will sell many.  I want them to be cheap enough that an FC can call for a specific hat style and get decent turn out on that front.  I want them to be cheap enough to feel okay calling anybody who refuses to “hat up” a cheap-ass scrub.  I want to see GSOL running around in yellow construction hats and Theta Squad in fezzes and Triumvirate in very serious fedoras and a halo for The Mittani and a selection of pirate hats and horned Viking helms for every low sec pirate corp to feel included.

What hat would you and your corp or alliance want?

I know, I know, technical details, 3D modeling, limited resources, everything is too hard.  Make the hats freakin’ stickies to apply to your avatar ala that horrible system in Google Hangouts.  You can add in fright wigs, red ball noses, and bow ties while you’re at it them.

All I know is that I want some decent, affordable hats dammit.

Which CSM member will take up this cause?  Who will lead the campaign for more hats in New Eden?

I would, but I’m trying to get this Soviet Naval officer’s cap on my avatar.  It just isn’t quite right.

Comrade Wilhelm

Comrade Wilhelm

A work in progress.

 

Insta-Levels Come to EverQuest

Paid boosts to higher levels were pretty much a given for EverQuest at some point.  The only real question I have is why it took this long.  After all, EverQuest II got its own insta-level scheme… erm, “heroic character” plan… way back in October of last year.

My guess is that they wanted to wait for the game’s 15th anniversary to roll this out.

So here we are.  The anniversary is this coming Sunday, and starting Wednesday of this week you can get a level boosted character.  Per SOE:

Players should find it much easier to begin their adventures in Norrath when they start at level 85 with a full complement of gear, Alternative Advancement Abilities, and a unique mount. Regardless if you’re a veteran player that wants to try a new class, a new player that wants to get caught up to your friends, or a player that hasn’t visited Norrath in a long time, Heroic Characters are a great way for you to get in the game!

And, from this Wednesday through to Wednesday, March 26th, the first one is free.  The second, or the first after March 26th, will run you 3,500 Station Cash, which translates into $35 if you leave aside any possible discounts or stipends.  You can apply this boost to a new or existing character.

$35 is the same price as EverQuest II charges for their version of the boost, which was somewhere near the possible price range for Lord of the Rings Online’s experiment with insta-levels (depending on how you value Turbine Points), but is considerably less than what Blizzard is planning to charge for a level 90 character in World of Warcraft.

That last bit makes you think.  After all, the prices of other services… realm transfers or race/faction/name changes… even expansions… for these games run about the same.  But a boost to a high level character? $35 vs. $60.

What ever your particular market can bear I guess.  Or maybe it depends on the target audience for the offer.

Otherwise, the deals are similar enough.  You get a boost up into what the company considers the current/best/optimum/most up to date content.  You get some good gear and whatever else goes along with the being at that level.  In the case of EQ that means Alternate Advancement points, one of those things that went from a way to keep people busy after they hit level cap to “you must have n AA points to join our very serious guild.”  And there is even a special mount for you.

Not at all awkward on that mount

Not at all awkward on that mount

I remain somewhat indifferent to insta-levels.  They are still something I would only pay money for under very specific, and pretty rare, circumstances.  But I get the appeal.  And in the case of EverQuest, the idea probably makes as much sense as it ever will.

After all, the content in EverQuest has evolved a lot in the last 15 years.  And the bits and pieces of Norrath that I think I “know” represent a tiny fraction of that content.  What I might call “my” EverQuest adds up to the original content, much of Ruins of Kunark, the areas around Crescent Reach up to about level 50, the tutorial, the Plane of Knowledge, and a few lower level locations scattered around the game.  Anything above level 60 or that was added after, say, Planes of Power, is pretty much unknown to me and likely to remain that way.  I mean, I didn’t even find a “lost” dungeon (2003 content) until about two years ago.

If I want to see anything new in Norrath, an insta-85 is probably the best way, as I have long since lost my ability to level up over time in the game, even with reductions in the level curve, mercenaries, and some attempts at directed content.  And I suspect I am not alone in that.

And then there is the cash shop in EverQuest.  SOE was extremely sensitive to what they put in the cash shop in EverQuest II.  In EverQuest though, the felt much less constrained.  Things that would make people’s collective heads explode in EQII… like actual gear or trade skill supplies… are readily available for Station Cash in EQ.

Gear packs available

Gear packs available

But in EverQuest gear acquisition, and the constant flow of gear upgrades, is not as obvious or ingrained as it is in EverQuest II, where you have to pretty much change out everything every 10 levels.

And then there is the whole “this game is 15 years old with a lot of uneven content between character creation and level 85” aspect.  It might make sense to just put people into the newer content and leave West Karana and Butcher Block to those with a yen for nostalgia.  Of course, you might ask why they chose level 85.  That puts you into the House of Thule content.  If I recall right, that is about the peak before you have to start buying expansions again, so perhaps that is the right point to put people.

So I will likely go and get my free boost to level 85 later this week, and maybe even run around to see what there is to be seen these days.  If nothing else, having a character at that level will make touring the world a little easier.

Actually, I will probably boost a level 85 on both of my accounts.  One curious little tidbit:

For accounts created before Nov 8, 2013, the free Heroic Character option is available one time per account.

For accounts created on or after Nov 8, 2013, the free Heroic Character option is available one time per household.

I seem to recall this “one time per household” thing coming up with the free boost EverQuest II.  I suspect that people were angered… SOE has a knack for angering customers that boggles the mind some days… and now they have spelled it out in a very specific way while grandfathering older accounts into past rules in order to limit the rage level.

Meanwhile, I am wondering who will offer character level boosts next?  Which games have enough content for this sort of thing to make sense.

LOTRO and the Latest Insta-Level Scheme

As level focused MMORPGs age and expand and boost the level cap again and again, the gulf between the new player starting out and the old hands clustered at the level cap begins to seem like an insurmountable barrier.  The levels problem.  Many a new player has no doubt been lost, never to be seen again, in the attempt to cross the often lonely mid-game, which can be something like levels 20 through 80 and beyond these days, in order to reach an oasis of friends.

Various methods have been tried in order to… well, not to “fix” it, because that there is something wrong with most of the game when often some of the best bits are along the way to the level cap… but to alleviate the pain of somebody trying to catch up.

Companies have eased up on the experience slope so that you level up faster.  They have tinkered with various sorts of mentoring, which generally bestows some sort of experience boost on the lower level player.  Free to play games nearly always stock their cash shop with experience accelerators of various sorts in order to let those in search of higher levels move right along.  Refer-a-friend programs can include some sort of leveling boost.  EverQuest has featured that, as has World of Warcraft.  Blizzard even added in the ability for the higher level player to “gift” levels to the person they referred… with some limitations… as part of their referral program.

And, after years of tinkering around with all that and more, several companies have finally come around and decided just to sell you a high level character.

This is, of course, controversial, and the game companies know it.

First out of the gate in the games I watch was EverQuest II, with its offer to sell you a boost to level 85.  I thought that this was the most interesting case of moving to this sort of thing because you could argue that SOE has done as much as, if not more than, any other MMORPG in trying to bridge the gap between the pool of vets and new players.  That was not enough though, and now you can buy a token in the cash shop for approximately $35… the general rate is a penny per Station Cash point, but if you bought some during one of the now departed 3x sales, your real world expenditure will be less… that will put you within 10 levels of the level 95 cap, which is close enough to group with anybody above you in level and still gain experience.

This actually sort-of works out okay with EQII.  There is still the “too many damn skills” problem with going straight to 85, which isn’t handled very well in my opinion.  And anybody who joins up and jumps to level 85 will, again in my opinion, miss a lot of the best content (biased as I am towards some of the original locations) while being dumped into one of the most awful, boring looking adventure areas in the game.  Snow zones just don’t work for me in EQII.  But overall, with mentoring and the chrono-whatcha-call-it thing that lets you play older content at level, the vast sea of content is still yours to explore if you so desire.  In the end, it gives players an option and gives SOE something new to sell in the cash shop.

Then at BlizzCon Blizzard announced that, with the purchase of the Warlords of Draenor expansion, players would be given the option to boost one character up to level 90.  Oddly, most of the enthusiasm I have heard for this has been from people who already have multiple level 90 characters.  The idea of one more level 90 alt for somebody who has run the content multiple times seems to be a winner.  And while this got a frosty response from some, it does solve a problem for Blizzard.  We are now at a point where there are certainly far more former WoW players than there are current WoW player, probably several fold more.

Those former players represent a pretty big market opportunity.  But how do you get them to come back when your lure is shiny new content that might be many levels above them?  “Come back and play the stuff that made you quit, you’ll eventually get to some new stuff!” isn’t a very good approach.  So now anybody who purchases Warlords of Draenor can play that content right away.

The solution is, as I said, not without detractors, but you can at least see the logic and how it solves a problem for Blizzard.  I am not sure how they solve the “I don’t own Mists of Pandaria or some other expansion” issue.  I suspect everybody who buys Draenor will end up getting all of that.  But it puts a mass of potential players right on the starting line for next year’s expansion. (No sign of this being an item in the new cash shop yet, but you never know.)

Finally, this week, Turbine, after kicking the idea around for months, finally bit the bullet and announced their insta-level plan for Lord of the Rings Online.  It is a limited time offer at the moment as Turbine tests the waters on this.

The Valar aren't what they used to be...

The Valar aren’t what they used to be…

And time is not the only aspect of this that is limited.  For 4,995 Turbine Points… which could be anywhere from $38 to $70 depending on how you purchased your points… gives you the following:

  • Character boosted to level 50
  • A set of level 50 gear
  • 1 Gold piece
  • An LIXP rune, worth enough XP to bring one LI to level 10
  • 4 ranks of each virtue
  • The Riding skill
  • A Dusky Nimblefoot Goat
  • A 25-stack of food that scales with your level
  • A 25-stack of Morale and Power potions that scale with your level
  • 5 +100% XP Boosts
  • A single-use map to Rivendell
  • 25 Mithril Coins

That is not an insubstantial pile of stuff.  The issue for me, when I look at this, is I am not sure what problem it solves.  Leaving aside my bias about some of the 1 to 50 content… I could (and have) run the Lone Lands and Evendim over and over again and be a happy person… the level cap with the latest expansion, Helm’s Deep, is 95.  So, basically, this level boost puts you where?

Well, right into the first expansion, Mines of Moria, which you will note is NOT part of the insta-level package.  So, aside from the troubles of figuring out how to play a character that has been boosted deep into its skill arc… now with archaic skill trees (my opinion of them anyway) to figure out as well… you have to put down more money just to continue advancing your character towards the latest content, which is still 40 levels away.

So SOE put you within reach of the latest content, Blizzard will put you on the doorstep of the latest content, and Turbine is planning to leave you adrift in the mid-game in what seems like the combination of all the complaints about level based character progression.  Players will be too far in to learn their character class skill by skill yet still many levels (and several expansions to buy) away from any friends in the latest content.

What problem does this solve?  I won’t trivialize the 1-50 game, it will take some work to get through it, but the work doesn’t stop when you pass into Moria.  And who is the target audience for this boost?  People who hate the first 300 pages of The Fellowship of the Ring?

And I realize that Turbine’s business model, which includes selling content like Mines of Moria, stands in the way here.  I am just not sure that Moria is the optimal destination.  If you were going to drop a friend into the middle of the game, is that were you would put them?

Anyway, this looks to be a test run for Turbine, with the limited duration.  And I am sure they will sell a few to people who want an alt and who have, perhaps, seen too much of the Lone Lands… as if that were possible.  Pengail escort quest forever!

Pengail Attacks!

He just HATES goblins

There have been other reactions to this around the blogesphere, none of which have been particularly positive on the plan.  Further reading if you are interested:

What do you think about Turbine’s plan, or the idea of insta-levels in general?

The Limited Time $25 EverQuest Bag

I get the whole free to play thing, because I also get that every business model is a compromise.

So, for players, we lose the monthly subscription fee.  We can now drop into the game whenever we want.

On the flip side, of course, we now have to contend with a game that feels the need to hustle something out of us every day.  They won’t be getting that $15 at the end of the month, so how about a dollar now.  And how about we pile on things that people find popular… which in SOE games seems to be hideously ugly mounts… and dangle limited time specials?

Sure, fine, go ahead.  It is all part of the deal, along with the repeated pleas for us to subscribe, which don’t seem to mind popping up during combat.

Fighting for your life? Think about going Gold!

But once in a while I see something comes up in the cash shop that makes me double take… like this bag.  This $25 bag.

32 slots, 100% weight reduction, $25

This is one of the bags being offered up for a limited time as part of the EverQuest 13 year anniversary, and it is clearly an item targeted at the “whales,” the big spenders in free to play games.

More bags, more money

And it isn’t like this gets me angry or anything, it just makes me stop and stare and think, “Twenty five bucks for a virtual bag?”

And I know, I am somebody who bought a $25 sparkle pony in World of Warcraft, an item of no actual benefit really, as you have still have to buy the in-game riding skills with in-game currency.  But I get that mount on all of my WoW characters now and forever.  And the sparkle pony isn’t competing with any in-game crafted items.

The bag, on the other hand, does have utility… oh does it ever.  Bags and bag space are always an issue for me.  It also competes with the in-game economy and shows up on only one character.  The latter wouldn’t be an issue for me if I knew who my main character was, but I have three characters I am working on in EQ, and I am not buying that bag for all of them.

Frankly, I am not buying that bag for any of them.  It is twenty five bucks!

My brain keeps saying that, only in flashing red letters.

Of course, if you have to have that bag, you can get a price break if you buy four of them.

Buy four for the price of three!

Of course, this just makes my brain scream, “seventy five dollars worth of virtual bags?”

I am not even sure what sizes I can get in-game bags… I do not recall anything beyond 8 or 10 slots.  But I will stick with those.

How about you?  Are you ready to spend twenty five dollars for a 32 slot bag?

They are only available through April 15th, 2012.

Who Drives Cash Shop Content…

I was somewhat bemused at SOE introducing wings as a flying mount in EverQuest II.

I have such a long history of bemusement with SOE on that front.  I have literally been complaining since the Desert of Flames expansion… the very first expansion… introduced lying carpets as a mount.  I have posts more than five years old on the subject at this point.

So many things wrong with this picture...

And while the flying carpets still bug me a bit, I have gotten over them for the most part.  Though the reason I have gotten over them is because much worse has come since.

The setup to a "frog in a blender" joke

And while ugly mounts pre-date the Station Cash store, the whole drive of mount mania… mounts with stats, hideously ugly mounts, hovering mounts, flying mounts, leaping mounts, gliding mounts, and now wings as mounts… seems to have been accelerating ever since the store went live.

As Raph Koster pointed out in his recent post on the free to play model, the ongoing process of buying decisions by the free to play players acts as a safety valve to keep the company from doing anything the comes across as too greedy.

The flip side though is that the cash shop, being an essential part of the revenue model, will have a sales quota to meet because people won’t buy your RMT currency if they cannot buy anything cool with it.  You need a plan for every month, every quarter, and every year that lays out your sales goals and how you plan to get there.

It is nice if you can sell consumables, things that boost experience or faction gain.  But if you’ve already drastically softened the leveling curve and handed out dozens of experience boost potions as veteran rewards in you game (I have even more unused potions sitting around now that all my characters are six year vets) that might not be enough.  I am sure SOE sells some of those potions (though they seem a bit pricey for a consumable), but I am far more likely to buy a deed accelerator in LOTRO since deed are still grind-tastic and I do not have a pile of them already.

An expansion is nice to have, though I bet the cash shop only gets partial credit on those sales.

You can always juice things up a bit by having a sale on your RMT currency.  The thought of everything in the store essentially being half off will get some people to buy, but only if there is something they want in the first place.

And on the flip side, you can always put things on the store on sale as well.  We all read that splash screen that comes up with the latest sale items in detail every time we log in, right?  Okay, maybe not.  And most people won’t buy something they didn’t already want even if it goes on deep discount.

All of which has to lead the cash shop planners to focus on what people have bought in the past.  What was a success before?  Just looking around on the Freeport server, I am going to have to say that mounts have sold well in the past.

And if mounts were a success in the past, that is a big incentive to make more.  And while there are no doubt people out there who will buy any new mount just to collect them all… and I speak as somebody whose main in WoW has 87 mounts… a lot more people will buy in if the latest mount is cooler than, or at least different from, anything that has gone before.

And so, as tough as it is for me to admit, wings on your character as a flying mount do seem cooler than just a flying mount.  I am sure that sales will be brisk, and not just with people who name their characters something like “Stabzudead.”

So that will cover some part of sales quota.  But eventually sales will slow and, to repeat that success, SOE will have to top the whole wings thing.  And so the chain of events that lead us to wings goes on, and something new and more outrageous will likely replace it.

And so it is.  Due to its success, we will likely see something in World of Tanks that will top the Type 59.  And, if they sell well, I am sure that LOTRO will offer us more gear with stats.

Raph Koster was certainly correct in the summary at the end of his post in saying, “Free to play is not evil, it’s just different.”

It is just different, and one of the differences is who and what matters when a cash shop is part of the plan.  If goofy stuff sells in your game, be prepared to see a lot more of it.

Meanwhile, I wonder what will come after those wings in the Station Cash store.