I've stopped asking questions that pointed and started asking how this new economy makes sense. I don't think anything is more wrong with the economy now than it was before. Prices are higher, much higher, on everything. For some, that's enough of a problem, but is it a problem for the operation of RoM? In this week's Lost Pages of Taborea, follow me down the rabbit hole to see how the weird might actually be normal.
F2P MMOs have been around a long time now. The industry has embraced cash shops, and imports still flood into the States. When RoM came on the scene, it did something different that wasn't seen in most other F2P MMOs: The possibility for exchanging real currency into in-game currency was always there. I remember playing Shaiya and seeing mobs of players selling cash-shop items in the game, but Runewaker and Frogster integrated RoM's cash shop into the game in a way that made the items more than enhancements. Many cash-shop items were, and are, playable items.
You don't just buy a potion that gives you a bit more health for an hour, although this type of enhancement is in RoM's cash-shop. If you removed fusion stones from the game, RoM would be unplayable. It wouldn't be possible to modify gear at all. The purified fusion stones in the cash shop are just altered versions of this item that is an integral part of the playing experience. It might sound like what I'm saying is no different than pretending all potions were removed from the game. Health potions are undoubtedly a staple in any MMO and could be seen as game-breaking, but they'd simply make the game harder.
You could still grind on mobs safely under your level. Of course, dungeons kind of undermine my point there, but then, my point isn't to see what's game-breaking and what's not. It's to show how RoM has cash-shop items that are better versions of items that are a part of the core functions of the game. Fusion stones only work with other items. Crafting needs different components to work. Some recipes require a combination of wood, ore, herbs or other material to be gathered before you can play the game and craft a recipe. Fusion stones work in a similar manner.
Fusion stones need statistics that are found on drops in the dungeons. They ask players to pick what stats they want, to go get those stats and to combine those stats with armor or weapons in the arcane transmutor. Fusions stones and other items are woven, like a tapestry, into RoM. They enhance, feed and create gameplay.
This does concern the economy
Because of such integration between gameplay and the cash shop, Runewaker had an opportunity to throw real-money trading right into RoM's auction house. It has proved to work incredibly well. Because items in the cash shop were essentially items in the game, it was easy to establish price-points for all items, in gold and diamonds, including gold and diamonds as items themselves.
An MMO like Shaiya allows players to sell an enhancement in-game, but there are no price-points, save what the majority of players started to agree on. This results in a huge disparity between the amount of real money said enhancement costs and the amount of gold it costs non-spenders. In RoM, every weapon and piece of armor in the game uses stats that need to be applied with fusion stones. The economy winds up valuing diamonds balanced with the gold-cost of everything. All it takes is calculating the in-game value of a piece of armor based on tier, refinement level, rune slots and what and how many stats are on it. It isn't perfect, no, but the gold-price of anything has become a strict determining factor to the cost in diamonds. Players can't just collectively agree that a phirius potion is worth, say, 100 million gold. Any part of the machine, in-game and out, becomes a determining factor for any other part of the machine. What could have happened, beyond anything negative, to suddenly spike prices through the roof?
The cynical side of me says today's MMOs barely have any systems that allow for real evolution, but it still exists on the player's side and the developer's side. RoM is growing and changing. By pre-Chapter 3 standards, it's become insanely easy to level up and get elite skills now that Chapter 4 has arrived. New, harder dungeons were released when the new zones were opened to the public. With fewer roadblocks and faster leveling, the game made a significant switch to thrust players to the point that they'd want and need to modify gear to run the dungeons. The importance on other gameplay features stepped down a notch. Frogster lowered the diamond cost on many items that aided systems like planting and pets.
Other speculations could be made and any ideas you have might be right. This isn't an isolated situation. There's a stronger focus on endgame and running dungeons. There's a continued increase in the need to gear for not just the newer dungeons but also the higher-level mobs in the new zones. More straightforward enhancements have been showing up in the cash shop for a while now, and the limits on those enhancements have been raised. Higher tiers need significantly more fusion stones to make. Demand goes up. It doesn't just affect the prices of the highest-level gear because cash-shop items are integrated into the game at any level. Prices readjust across the board. Gold itself might be the biggest culprit because of the large amounts that can be accumulated.
I've seen prices like this in other F2P MMOs, and they function just fine as a business. Some players might think things are broken, that the game is going downhill or RoM will implode, but it won't. I dislike the prices as much as the next player, but it's not breaking the game. Players will always amass extremely large amounts of gold and will be just as willing to pay 70,000 gold per diamond as they were paying 10,000 gold.
I fear it will ultimately allow RoM to settle in the sands of mediocrity. The plethora of F2P MMOs that exist today are fun, creative and beautiful. I'm usually defending them, but not when I've seen what MMOs were and what RoM could be. I don't want to be satisfied with RoM as another one of the bunch, taking the safest road in the company car that well could have been mapped out through age-old analytical reports. I want the RoM that started out growing horizontally as much as it was vertically -- the MMO I loved for all the systems it created, giving players many different things to do.
Each Monday, Jeremy Stratton delivers Lost Pages of Taborea, a column filled with guides, news, and opinions for Runes of Magic. Whether it's a community roundup for new players or how to improve versatility in RoM's content, you'll find it all here. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.