And why shouldn't they? I've talked before about selling power and how its slow climb will likely not stop. Just like selling exclusive or early access, selling powerful, useful in-game items most likely makes money. Something like a Founder's Pack offers useful in-game items and exclusivity, a very tempting concoction that many find too hard to resist.
Is it fair to offer early access for such a price, and will other titles have to respond to the success of such sales by creating their own?
Next we need to break down what is included in the pack to establish whether players are getting their money's worth.
The first item in the pack is a name reservation. That means that the name the Founder picks during this special testing will be saved for him through the next wave of tests. He's not saving the character, by the way... just the name. The items that come with the Founder's Packs are transferred, however. After that, Founders will get a bundle of loyalty points, a sort of alternative item-shop monetary unit that is accessed in-game alongside the item shop. Normally, players earn the loyalty points by, well, being "loyal" to Aeria titles by defeating monsters, turning in quests, and completing achievements. A diamond founder gets 6500 points to spend on temporary cosmetic items, a handful of permanent weapons and gear, and some consumables.
Next, the Founder gets a necklace and a ring with extra stats, a costume hat, a special title, and a monthly costume membership that grants him a special piece of costume gear for the next three months. The Diamond-level Founder will also get an in-game pet, a fast and colorful wolf mount, additional character slots, a forum title, an additional limited edition pet, and even physical goodies like a plushie.
I like to point out clever marketing, but not because I always agree that it is the smartest marketing or the type that will keep players satisfied once they take the bait. Purchasable, early access like this is downright brilliant for a number of reasons. Think about the items in Aura Kingdom's Founder's Pack. I cannot put a price on them simply because they have not existed before. Sure, I can compare the items in the pack to similar items in other MMOs, but comparing separate worlds with a different playerbase would prove nothing. I'm sure that there is a formula in mind when assigning a cost to something like a digital collector's edition or early access pack, but it's also very possible that the cost assigned was plucked out of thin air.
What matters is how exclusive the item feels. I've been playing Aura Kingdom for several hours now, and although I will save my final judgment for my article, it's safe to say that I am not yet blown away by the game. It hosts a few unique systems and looks nice, but I can't quite understand why the game seems so incredibly busy and packed with players, unless I factor in the excitement and exclusivity that some players cannot resist.
But is selling access and exclusivity the same as selling powerful items anything else that many players consider unfair?
The most startling realization for me is that after years of playing games, witnessing players stay online for an entire day in order to kill a boss, and watching players grind out countless levels just to do it again on another character, the trend does not seem to want to stop. The seemingly very successful early access market only appears to be growing, offering players the chance to grind out the entire game in a matter of a week or to lay claim to a limited edition item or title. When you consider the possible cost of creating these virtual items or opening the servers earlier -- yes, there is a cost, however small -- it's easy to see that selling early access or exclusive items might result in pure profit.
However this pans out, I think we can all agree that the prices that once shocked us are becoming standard fare. Remember World of Warcraft's sparkle pony? I remember the outrage that came out of bloggers, podcasters, and guildies when it was announced, yet the items sold well and the developer continues to release more. Not quite four years later, $25.00 seems like a piddly amount, especially when we factor in the cost of paid testing access, virtual packs like Aura Kingdom's, and spaceships that can cost hundreds of dollars.
We should be asking whether it's a good or bad thing, but we should definitely also be asking who is really responsible for the success of the trend.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org!