Monday 22 February 2010

Free is the magic number

There’s been Alliddle bit of a fuss over the cash shop in Allods, and mbp has a series of posts covering the initial furore and developing some interesting thoughts on the whole financial approach of the Free to Play model (which really needs a better name, like Pay Different Amounts Possibly Including Nothing to Play Various Aspects, but PDAPINTPVA isn’t really as catchy as F2P).

I’ve long held that MMOGs could do with pricing plans in addition to flat rate subscriptions; £10/month is great for one game you’re really dedicated to, not so good if you want to dip in and out of games here and there. I’ve lost count of the number of blog reports from open betas of MMOGs saying “it’s not bad, I had fun, but… I wouldn’t pay £10/month for it”. A more direct relationship between cost and time is an option, but possibly starts having a psychological effect on players; someone going AFK or otherwise slowing down your dungeon group isn’t just costing you time, but also money, and there’s the prospect of being taken to the small claims court because you stood in the fire, wiped a raid and cost your guild £42.50. It used to be a standard model though ($6/hour plus the phone call for Neverwinter Nights), it’d be interesting to see if it did still work.

Rather than taking the old “time is money” adage literally most Free to Play games have an item shop, making their money by selling in-game bits n’ pieces. There are any number of options here; potions or items to make your character more powerful temporarily or permanently, cosmetic fluff, access to certain in-game areas, additional races and classes, XP boosting items to speed your progress, etc etc. The structure of the game can dictate how essential or merely desirable these items are; a purchasable mount might be a nice-to-have in a game with a fairly small world, or all but mandatory if most quests involve around travelling a vast continent that would take hours on foot. I’m not familiar enough with Allods to get a handle on exactly what’s being charged for and how necessary any of it is (though I might grab it just out of curiosity; no publicity is bad publicity and all that), but some people are using it as a stick to beat all item shops. That’s daft, though, item shops aren’t bad per se, *bad* item shops are bad (Captain Tautology saves the day!) In the five months or so since Dungeons and Dragons Online went Unlimited I’ve dipped in and out, averaging about one night a week, mostly with Van Hemlock & similarly Irredeemable Waifs. I’ve spent something like £20 in that time on a few different things; unlocking the Drow race (entirely optional, but necessary for my totally unique character concept of a Drow who’s actually quite nice and wields two scimitars), several adventure packs and a couple of container items (most fundamentally the collectables bag to stop my main backpack overflowing with moss, documents, glittering dust, idols, primitive tools, cheese, sandwiches, socks, geese and tangled slinkies). I couldn’t really justify a £10/month subscription, but with sensibly priced items Turbine get a bit of cash and everyone’s happy.

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