It's no secret that free-to-play MMOs have gained a permanent foothold in the MMO landscape. With some titles garnering millions of players and others reporting record profits, it's clear that this business model is here to stay. Like most free-to-play games, Runes of Magic is supported by a micro-transaction system. Players spend cash on "diamonds", which can be used to dye equipment, unlock extra backpack space or buy items in the cash shop. Available items for purchase include tools for upgrading equipment, skill reset stones, XP gain potions, cosmetic pets and costumes.
In addition to the usual conveniences and cosmetic options, the Runes of Magic cash shop contains some items that could be considered essential. Yet of the few free-to-play titles I've tried that are supported by a cash shop, I find it the most supportive to players who don't want to spend any money. The method Frogster uses to keep Runes of Magic open to free players is highly effective. While cash can be used as a short-cut or convenience, free players are still able to acquire essential items and make full use of the game. In fact, there's very little a cash-wielding player can do that a free player can't.
In this article, I look at how Runes of Magic can be played without spending any cash.
How free is free?
While the cash shop contains costumes and other items that don't impact gameplay, it also contains certain essential items that would be considered a requirement for play. "Marking ink" bought from the cash shop is used to note locations in your travel book, allowing you to teleport back to that spot any time you like. Each teleport uses up a "transport rune", an item which is also sold in the cash shop. A wide range of mounts are also up for sale in the diamond shop, in 7-day, 30-day and permanent varieties. These are just a few of the cash shop items that every player should really have access to. They're practically a requirement to play the game and if you had to pay for them, the game could never be truly considered free.
Runes of Magic gets around these issues by making sure those essential items can be acquired through alternate routes that don't involve spending cash. While permanent mounts are only available in the diamond shop, you can rent temporary versions for gold from a local stable. A fifteen minute plain horse costs a tiny 300 gold and makes a good choice if you just want to shave a few minutes off a journey to another zone. A two hour rent costs only 3000 gold and I've found it handy to buy one to help with travel during an entire play session. For those who want something a little longer-term, horse rental tickets can be won in mini-games like Matalina's Course of Terror or purchased from the auction house for a few thousand gold. These will randomly give you a 15-minute, 2-hour or 7-day horse.
When you start the game, you're given a package containing some free potions and other useful items. Upon opening the bag, you're also given another package that you can't open until level two. Throughout each level from 1 to 20, you open your gift bag to find a package of items along with the next level's bag. After level 20, new bags open at 5-level intervals but the items get considerably better. These packages are used to give all players some items from the cash shop for free. You'll get essentials like repair hammers, transport stones, marking ink and temporary mounts. You'll even get the occasional skill reset stones, some arcane transmuter charges and in higher level bags a purified fusion stone. If you're not thrifty with your free items, you'll eventually run out of them and want to resupply. Thankfully, you don't even need to spend cash to get your hands on them.
Essential items like those described above can all be bought from the Phirius Token Shop. This is an innovative alternative to the cash shop that uses tokens acquired in-game. Instead of paying 19 diamonds for a set of ten arcane transmuter charges, for example, you could get them for 300 phirius tokens. You can even save them up for something a little more expensive like the 30 day horse mount at 1,650 tokens. The main way you'll get phirius tokens is completing the daily quests posted to bulletin boards in every town. You can complete ten of these per day and each gives you ten phirius tokens, for a total of 100 tokens each day. Tokens can also be won in mini-games like the Windrunner horse race or Matalina's Survival Game, though these games also cost some tokens to enter.
To grind or not to grind
Until recently, it was possible to buy diamonds from other players for gold using the auction house. This functionality was recently removed as gold farmers were buying up diamonds to purchase megaphones, with which they could spam the world chat channel and reach every player on the server. Before that change, the fact that it was possible to acquire diamonds with gold meant that nothing was off-limits to a player that didn't want to spend cash. Players could choose to either grind for gold and buy the diamonds they need from other players or just buy diamonds with cash as a short-cut. If you were good at making gold, you could buy all the items you wanted from the diamond shop without ever spending a penny.
This is similar to how CCP handles the PLEX trade in EVE Online. In EVE, players can buy game-time codes for cash and then convert them into 30-day pilot's licenses for sale in-game. This undercuts the RMT business by providing a legitimate way to buy in-game currency that will never result in a ban or keylogger. The diamond trade in Runes of Magic had a similar effect, undercutting the gold farmers and giving players that didn't want to spend money on the game access to the same items as everyone else. Although Frogster has now removed the ability for players to trade gold for diamonds, we can only hope that it makes a comeback at some point.
Runes of Magic is one of many free-to-play titles on the market currently but not all of them are as kind to free players. Though items that are almost essential to gameplay are sold in the item shop, players are never forced to part with cash to acquire them. With free cash shop items available in gift bags and from holiday events, players can get a healthy dose of cash shop items without spending a penny. As the essentials are also sold in the Phirius Token Shop, Runes of Magic truly can be played absolutely free!