Tag Archives: Cash Shop

I Want My Fast Horse NOW!

More tales of the LOTRO Store.

While I was on with Silinus, who is level 39 and who owns a fast mount already, I started digging through the various sections of the LOTRO store to see what was available.

Naturally, I ended up in the mounts section.  There you can purchase both temporary and permanent mounts.

A permanent fast mount is 695 Turbine Points, which run a penny a piece, making it a bit cheaper than the controversial Runes of Magic $10 horse of last summer and a lot cheaper than the World of Warcraft greed steed.

Permanent Mounts

Temporary Mounts

The temporary mounts don’t look like an outstanding bargain.  But then as they stand, they are likely to get you to spend just another dollar or two to get the perm version, which is probably the plan.

As I am looking at the mounts, Potshot logs on.  He was interested in the mount question as well.

However, he logged in as Garfinkle, a level 25 minstrel.  When he goes to the LOTRO store and looks at the mounts, the store tells him that there is nothing available for his class/level.

I took a closer look at the mounts.

It says "Level 5"

Helpful friend that I am, I tell him it says level 5 minimum, all classes.

He cannot see the mounts.

I log off Silinus and come back with Roderigo, a level 24 burglar and check out the store.

With Roderigo I am also told that there are no mounts available for my level/class.

This seems a bit odd.

Again, here is a key item for the LOTRO Store, here is a character prime to purchase it (at least once they settle my missing vault slot issue), and for some reason I am being denied.

They don’t want my money.

Well, okay, I didn’t spend any money directly on those Turbine points.  But I know how accounting works.  At some point in the operation, there is somebody who is getting paid to get people to spend those points no matter what their origin.

On a whim, I decided to see if, perhaps there was still some link between mounts and the Hengstacer Farm in the Northern Bree Fields.

Sure enough, when I got there, Eogar (son of Hadogar and cousin of Teri Garr) had the big golden quest ring over his head.  And when I spoke to him, he was offering up the quest Proving Your Quality.

It had been updated.  It is now a level 20 quest.

The Horse Quest

And it also lacks the lead-in quests that used to have you riding to Bree, Michel Delving, and Othrikar.  Those were easy enough at level 35.  By that point you had probably been to all of those places and were high enough level to not have to worry about the fauna taking a bite out of you.

Now it is just a matter of racing through the gates set around the farm.

But I have to wonder what the plan is for mounts.  I only went to the Hengstacer farm because I already knew that was where you had to go for a mount.

Having already gotten my notice to visit the farm for a the old level 20 mount, I am going to guess that there is no trigger event to send me back there for another horse.  I wonder when new characters will get that note.

And I’d also like to know if you could really get a mount at level 5.  You have to finish a level 20 quest to get it.  Will it be available to you at that level?

I might have to roll up a new character to see.

Crown of Byzantus Goes Live

The free-to-play browser based game Crown of Byzantus went live today!

So perhaps my post last week about the open beta ended on a bit of a dire note.  If you missed the tiny crack in the open beta window I left open, have no fear, you can now play the game for real.

The game features NO gladiatorial combat or farming.  Seriously, their press page makes the point of saying:

Byzantus is based loosely on the late 14th century Byzantine Empire spiced up with monsters, relics and a whole lot of action. It does NOT feature farming, raising pigs or building log cabins.

So we have that out in the open.  Farming is RIGHT OUT!

So what do you get by playing the new, live version of the game.  Again, I go to the Byzantus press site for the answers:

  • Five factions instead of three!
  • More than twice the territory to explore and fight over!
  • New quests and PVP goals!
  • Not all-out hostility but  a network of faction relationships and enmities!
  • New title levels and intermediary goals!
  • Legend Point refills with Glory!
  • Fortunes of war displayed on your map!
  • Jousting – mock combat with small rewards, to test your troops and skills!
  • Pearls to give you an edge on competition!

Of course, I played so little that I couldn’t have told you any of this was missing in the first place.  Except for the pearls.  The pearls are the in-game currency you can buy through their site.

Pearls are a premium feature used to purchase various advantages such as magical potions, advisors and extra gold. Crown of Byzantus can be played all the way to the throne without premium advantages and all glory has to be earned by the sword. However, premium advantages will make travel easier, progress faster and enable different playing styles and objectives.

The minimum is 40 pearls, which will run you 5 Euros.

Anyway, if you see Wilhelm IV, knight of the Pope, that would be me.

The Convergence of WoW and WebKinz

I’ve mentioned WebKinz before.

It has been a couple of years, but it still gets some attention at our house.  In fact my daughter HAD to have a new WebKinz plush toy for Christmas this past year.

She had to have it because that is the basis of the traditional WebKinz subscription plan.  When you buy a WebKinz toy, you get a year-long subscription to their online world.  In that world, you take a virtual representation of your real life plush pal and build them a home, furnish it, and play games alone or with other people.

So it wasn’t a stretch to make a connection with WebKinz when Bilzzard announced that they would be selling plush toys that would get you an in-game pet as well.


Tangible toy with a virtual world representation:  My daughter expressed a desire right away for the plush gryphon hatchling.

The funny thing is that WebKinz is moving a bit towards WoW’s business model with Deluxe memberships.


Deluxe memberships are below the monthly Club Penguin ($6) or Toontown Online ($10) price range, running about $5 a month if purchased in the smallest increment.  That said, WebKinz is also much less of a virtual world than either of the two competitors I mentioned. (And we’ve had all three running at our house at various times.)

The one really nice thing that WebKinz has in their subscription plan matrix is a family membership.  Only available as an annual subscription, it gives you up to five accounts.  I wish Blizzard would look into some sort of family package.

And while I’m on the topic of mixing up real and virtual versions of in-game items, I thought I would mention that Figure Prints has announced the third in their series of in-game companion pet models.

Companion Pets - Series 3

Having posted about the first and second installments in the series, I would have to say that this is perhaps the best set so far, though I’m still not laying down any cash for them.  But if you have to have them, they are only available through March 31st.

People who are not fans of the cash shop trend we’re seeing in subscription MMOs will probably enjoy the irony of the Pandaren Monk pet being part of this series.  You have to buy that pet from the Blizzard Store, and then you can turn around and buy it again from Figure Prints.

Item Shop Humor

Perhaps another, very minor, potential item shop problem?

At least when it comes to a fantasy MMORPG.

I received an email from Turbine today with a series of special deals from the Dungeons & Dragons Online item shop, including one that made me chuckle:


My first thought was, “Sure, that is a fine discount, but where would I put a whole race?  I don’t even have enough space for our LEGOs.”

Yes, I know, the discount is for buying the ability to play a drow character in DDO, as the fine-ish print goes on to detail:


But I love the inherent ambiguity of the headline.  A really good ambiguous headline like that just brightens my day.

It does however point the finger at the commercialism needed to drive a quality item shop financed MMORPG like DDO.  Somebody has to pay if you want to play, so  you just have to resign yourself to adds now and then that play in your head with that “Matthews TV and Stereo” voice (“Top of the Hill Daily City!”).

There are certainly worse things in life.

And, in case you were wondering, +4 weapons and selected adventure packs are also on sale, this weekend only.

See the DDO Store for details.

Summing Up On Free-to-Play Catches and Cowboys

Last Friday when I posted about Battlefield Heroes and their cash shop controversy, I was just writing out one of those “what does it really mean?” sort of posts that has an interminable lead-in then ends (if you lasted that long) on the actual question that came to my mind.

Much to my surprise, the post had more reach than I expected, getting noted over at Massively, on Tobold’s blog, and, after a short delay, partially explained by a Packer’s loss (the same thing afflicted my brother-in-law), over at Heartless_ Gamer.  (And in a parallel effort there was an unrelated post about subscription models over at Nerfbat as well.)

Perhaps not quite a “shit storm,” but well beyond my expectations.  Of course it touched a tender subject, which is money and how much we pay to play these games.  But we all know somebody has to pay, because nobody is making all of this entertainment for free.  Even those with a passion to create have to eat and pay the rent.

My only real surprise is that for MMORPGs there seems to be two camps, the subscription model and the free-to-play item mall supported model.  Tobold proposed what he saw as a different but more fair business model, something that sounds remarkably like a post I wrote three years ago, back before F2P was en vogue, prompted by my phone plan and my general cheap skate nature.

But we all want to get the most for our money and will seek out the plan that best serves us, another Tobold point.

Probably the most interesting thing to come out of this though was from Brian “Psycochild” Green who commented with a link to a presentation from Daniel James of Three Rings Design, makers of Puzzle Pirates,  Bang! Howdy, and Whirled, that included detailed metrics based on the experiences of Three Rings in the F2P market.  A good read if you are interested in the topic.

All of which was interesting, but never really got me closer to an answer on where the line between “not enough” and “too much” might be drawn when it comes to pushing item shop purchases in a fantasy MMORPG environment.  Not that I expected an answer.

I did however end up spending some time on Sunday playing Bang! Howdy.

I have to admit, I totally did not get it.

Perhaps I should stick to fantasy MMORPGs.  Subscription based ones… for now.

The Catch in the Free-to-Play Model

Proponents of the free-to-play, cash shop, and micropayments financed philosophy of online games like to point out what they see as a key flaw with the subscription model:  Subscriptions set a cap on how much money your customers will give you.

You’re stuck.  You only asked for $15 a month, so that is all you got.

Now the conservative accounting guy in me can see the benefits of a steady revenue stream.

Subscriptions x $15 = monthly gross revenue.

That is nice and predictable.  Your business plan revolves around getting and keeping subscribers, which is at least a concept you can get most people’s heads around.

Still, I see the point of another approach.  In the free-to-play model, not everybody is going to pay but, as the joke goes, you make it up in volume.

So instead of 100,000 subscribers chipping in $15 a month for a top line of $1.5 million you just get a lot more subscribers and have some percentage of them pay $15 or more.

Of course, that is the fuzzy “step 2” in the process, the details between the idea and profit.

You have to make a game with enough free content to be viable so that you can build that subscriber base from which you will generate your revenue.  Only a certain percentage of your user base will ever give you any money however, so having free content that brings people and keeps them is a plus.

Okay, that sounds a lot like getting and keeping subscribers.  But you have the word “free” to play with, which is a big plus in the getting department.

So if you want to make that same $1.5 million a month and believe that 10% of your user base will spend, on average, $30 a month on your game, then you need a total user base of 500,000.

And I pulled those numbers straight out of my backside just to demonstrate the equation.  I am certainly no expert on the subject of what percentage of players pay how much in any given game.

On the other hand, I would be extremely skeptical of any model that assumed more than, say, 20% of customers buying in unless your game is balanced such that players are at a severe disadvantage if they do not pay.  And if you did that, you’d be killing off a chunk of the subscriber base that is there for the “free” aspect of the game.  So there is something of a tightrope to walk.

Being somebody who has moaned in the past about there being a lack of subscription options, I have been somewhat interested in free-to-play games.  Certainly I was a lot more likely to play Dungeons and Dragons Online or Runes of Magic under that model.  And the fact that neither game has really stuck with me isn’t really an indictment of those games.  I’m just having enough fun elsewhere at the moment that I don’t need a new game regardless of the subscription model.

The whole free-to-play thing came to my mind the other day when I read an article over at Ars Technica about Battlefield Heroes.

Battlefield Heroes is a free-to-play online shooter that I have been poking my nose into off and on for the last few months.  I own most of the Battlefield series of games, but I haven’t really been into shooters since I was playing Desert Combat, a Battlefield 1942 mod, some years back.

While I bought the next couple of installments in the series, I never played any of them as much as I played DC, so I lost the desire to spend any more money on their games.

So along comes Battlefield Heroes, which is free to play.  I like to play a shooter now and again and this looked good, so I signed up.  Customer acquisition win for DICE and their parent EA.

However, since I only play a couple of times a month, I have no real desire to be competitive in the game.  I play, I shoot people, I die, I have fun.  Customer retention win for DICE and EA and fun for me.

What I don’t do is spend any money.  Not so good for DICE and EA.

And according to that article at Ars Technica, I am hardly alone in not spending any money.

So DICE and EA changed up the game.

Previously, or so it was claimed, you couple be a competitive player by earning enough victory points through moderate play to buy the upgrades you needed to keep up with those laying down cash.  Never having aspired to be anything beyond a moving target most evenings, I’ll take their word for it.

Now, however, you must play a lot more to earn enough victory points to keep up with the neighbors who pay, something seen as a bit contrary to the intended spirit of the game, as illustrated by this EA trailer.

And the community is up in arms about it… or at least the part of the community that wasn’t paying any money and that gives a damn about being competitive.  And while I point out my own lack on that front, I will admit that when I move from target to constant lead receptacle I will often call it a night and do something else.

The Ars Technica article comes to a dark conclusion at the end with the line:

…this update has a very real chance of ending the game.

Maybe over statement, maybe not.  I’m not invested enough to have a good feel.  But as I said above, I think if you try to squeeze to hard, you’ll reduce the player base without necessarily increasing revenue overall.

And the fact that this is coming up makes me wonder where that line is when it comes to cash shop financed MMOs.

Sure, the player base is probably a bit different, and there are certainly some cheap shots you can take at the stereotypical FPS player, not all of which are totally inaccurate.

And the play style is different.  A shooter puts you in direct competition at all times with people who maybe be spending more money than you, while in a PvE MMO at least, direct competition is somewhat limited.  The guy with the store bought mount and sword of might can go on his merry way and not wreck your evening unless he really sets his mind to it.

So far, in the free-to-play MMOs I have visited, I have not seen a huge push to make people feel they need to buy.  Usually what I see are incentives, special deals, and other come-ons to make item shop purchases look more attractive.  But who knows how long that will be the case?  What happens when a game don’t make goals for a couple of months and the CFO is calling to tighten up the business model?

What happens when it becomes imperative for the company to make the players buy more stuff?

Can you push the cash shop free-to-play formula too far in the direction of “must pay to realistically play?”  Or does the MMO model… or at least the PvE fantasy MMORPG model… protect us from that to a certain extent as long as you have a tank, a healer, some DPS, and a monster against which to throw them?