Free for All: Five popular cash-shop item types

Over the next few weeks, I would like to take a look at cash shops. Despite many good experiences I have had with them, even my referring to a cash shop can conjure up not-so-happy images for many players. For myself, a cash shop gives me a sense similar to a visit to a toy store -- a toy store where everything is dirt cheap. Good cash shops can not only make you want to spend money, but give you an item or experience that was well worth your cash.

Before getting into the heavy-lifting topics, I will go over five of my favorite cash-shop item "types." Bear in mind that there is always some game that features some variant of each of these types. Also remember that there are always more categories, but that these represent what I think are the most popular and make the most money. Feel free to suggest any categories that you think do something similar, or correct me where you think I'm wrong.

Items with real power

This is probably the most controversial of all the item types. This category includes weapons that you cannot get in-game and items that are as powerful as any in-game item. I love this category, although I rarely spend money on it -- primarily because looking good is more important to me than stats or power. The gun pictured above, for example, is from Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online. She's a real beauty and packs real power. Despite what many gamers might say, and regardless of this category's growing popularity, items like this are still not as common as most.

One-time-use items

This is a very broad category, to say the least. Essentially, I am talking about potions, scrolls, or abilities that do something cool for the player -- but only once. Healing potions fit here, as well as stat buffs. I decided to show a stack of Lord of the Rings Online's dye, simply because I want it so badly. Many of these items can be acquired in-game, but some might only be available through some bonus service or special offer. This is probably the second-highest-grossing category, in my opinion.

Minions/combat pets

I have spent more money in this category than in any other. Some of the items to find here include Mabinogi's amazing pets -- minions that can heal you, act as mounts, or can even be played by the player. This also includes minions from DDO, although Turbine sort of blurs the lines between pets and one-time use items. To qualify for this category, though, the pet or minion must be able to do something on top of the player's own abilities. Which brings me to my next category...

Fluff items

This is, in my opinion, the prime source of cash for many free-to-play games. Find me a game with a cash shop and you'll more than likely find a game with dresses, cute pets, and aura effects somewhere in there. In many of the most popular free-to-play games that I have played, fashion is king. Do players value power? Oh yes -- but they also want to look cool while wielding such power. I decided to show off a fluff pet from Alganon, one of the most underrated free-to-play games in the market right now. The baby deer pet is absolutely beautiful, in both texture and animation. Could you imagine a warrior-type, covered in blood and bear skin, parading around with a tiny deer at her side? It would be art, if you ask me.

Housing items

This category is pretty self-explanatory and is very, very popular. I absolutely love Runes of Magic's furniture, and I even enjoy watching subscription-based games like EverQuest II flaunt beautiful dark wood collector's pieces in its cash shop. I decided to show off an odd new item in this category: Free Realms' housing plot. Essentially, it acts as a giant, empty area for players to lay out race tracks, bounce-houses, or whatever they see fit. Once you see the size of the plot, you can see how Free Realms might be making a very large of profit.

So, there are the five top (in my opinion) item categories in cash shops today. There are many items that don't fit into any category, and many items that are not items at all, but rather are services.

Next week I am going to use a set amount of cash -- say, 10 dollars -- to compare what you can get for that amount in different games. Remember, though, that the experience can still vary depending on who is using the item and what she thinks is important in her experience. There are no rules here, and that's what I find exciting about it. Cash shops are not going away, and to me they represent the iTunes-ification of digital content: a choose-your-own-adventure of online shopping. Shops also open up more customization for players, for their experience and their characters, and they represent more innovation in the market. Regardless of what people think about a cash shop, no one can deny their popularity and ability to make money. Something about the experience feels just fine to many, many people -- perhaps it's the result of the internet and popular digital purchases hitting the decade mark?

Cash shops also represent an ability to show developers, in a direct way, what we want in our games. A developer would know immediately the effects of an over-priced item and could adjust accordingly. Let's say you're the type of player who doesn't want to support a cash shop -- so don't. If you've seen developers express concern for underused zones or areas in their game, then you witnessed how players can send strong messages while still playing the game. Either way, I welcome the new additions to the world of tiny purchases: LotRO, DDO, EQII, and many other games that once hosted a playerbase that would normally shudder at the thought of a cash shop existing in its games.

If you have some unusual or interesting items you would like to point out, please do so in the comments!

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to beau@massively.com!

This article was originally published on Massively.