Massively's holiday guide to cash shop prices

December 23rd, 2010
I've been asked by readers, many times, to put together a comparison of cash-shop prices. I have always avoided the topic for one glaring reason: There is no constant. Sure, I can tell you how much you get for a dollar, but a wonderful mount in one game might not even be recognized as a mount in another! Quality is subjective, so how would I attempt to measure that? Also, if we wanted to compare the hundreds of cash-shop games out there, we would simply not have enough room. Yes, there are hundreds -- with more coming all the time.

Let's be really conservative, though. I broke it down into 10 games that Massively readers will probably recognize or care about. Not all Massively readers, granted, but many, I am sure. It would do me no good to compare some tiny, indie game to Lord of the Rings Online, simply because I would be met with the equivalent of a blank stare. Such is the unfortunate state of gaming right now.

After I marked up the list of 10, I lost two straightaway because -- while they have a cash shop in the technical sense -- those cash shops aren't something that can be put up against the others, or they have many items that just wouldn't make much sense. For example, I can tell you how much you can get for 10 dollars in Mabinogi and that you can sell some of those items to possibly purchase a house, but then we have to discuss the variable cost of the house, the upkeep -- on and on. I will definitely have to do a much larger list at some point.

Anyway, read on, and I will put notes where needed. Let this serve one main purpose: to prove that there is no constant in cash shops and no generalities -- it's all up to the individual to decide on the quality and value of the items.

First up, let me break down how many "points" or cash-shop dollars you would get for about \$1 US. That way, you can all correct me when my basic math skills crumble in front of your eyes. (Hey, I was hired to write, not to perform basic math.) Bear in mind that, in some cases, the figure was rounded off or depends on a very good deal. For example in LotRO you would need to purchase the most points possible to equal 1,000 points for \$10.00, even though technically you cannot buy just \$10.00 worth. See? It gets silly.
Housing

Alright, let's look at housing first. Remember, some games sell housing items but not the houses themselves. In LotRO, for example, you can buy your house with in-game gold but not with points. You can buy housing items for points, however. While it might seem silly to list items next to an actual house, this guide is also intended as a possible shopping helper. In other words, if you're buying a gift card for any of these games, you might want to know how many items you can get -- entire houses or not. It should be noted that, for example, Wizard101 has a larger house for more money. But the house is bundled with other items -- so I can't really tell you its value.

Inventory space

Ah, the ol' workhorse of the cash shop. Inventory space is always a big seller, and for good reason. Personally, extra bag slots are always the very last thing I would buy. It just doesn't make sense to spend money on something that you already have plenty of, even though it is in smaller doses. I have not played a game yet that has posed an inventory issue that could not be solved by simply running to town. Yes, even in Allods -- I have no inventory space issues there. Don't get me wrong -- things are tight, but I manage. It should be noted that different prices get you different slots and that in many games slots work differently.

Mounts

Mounts are a wonderful cash-shop item. In keeping with the theme of most cash shops, mounts are really just time savers. In some games, they save your sanity as well by helping you avoid walking for miles and miles. I'm all for taking my time and smelling the pixels, but once in a while you just need to hurry the heck up. Mounts are also awesome works of art -- I have rarely seen an expensive cash-shop mount that looked absolutely hideous. They're status symbols, reflections of your personality -- pretty much like an online sports car. What's wrong with that? Nothing, if you ask me.

Experience potions

In an ideal world, experience potions would not even be an item in the cash shop. I never purchase these things, simply because the last thing I want to do is grind out my time or rush through content. They are a handy tool in many cases, handy for those with limited time. Still, my rule of avoiding the purchase of such a basic item still stands. It should definitely be noted that each game's experience potions and items are different and have different effects. One might give you 100% extra experience for two hours and run you an arm and a leg, while others might give you 10% and run you next to nothing. Still, it's interesting to see how the games I picked out stack against each other in bare form.

Conclusion

To sum up, there is no constant in all cash shops. Sure, you can count on certain items' being there and certain types of services, but generally each game and shop stands on its own. Throughout my years of playing free-to-play games or games that feature a cash-shop, I have always known that cash shops were rarely the domain of only the rich. Actually, free-to-play games are now the most popular games in the world because of their flexibility and accessibility. Yes, there are the occasional truly expensive items showing up here and there, but they are rare. Most cash shops are just plain good deals, offering items that are not only desirable but optional. This is why cash-shop cards make great gifts.

 "Most cash shops are just plain good deals, offering items that are not only desirable but optional. This is why cash-shop cards make great gifts."
Ironically, the last couple of years have shown me that the North American interpretation of the "usual" cash shop and of free-to-play gaming has gone on to prove the stereotype of "cash-shop game." Where "Asian" games were once blamed for being nothing but "pay-to-win," recent games like EQ2X, LotRO and Wizard101 have shown that the most expensive games are generally coming from our shores. The classic free-to-play model of a free downloadable client with an in-game-accessible cash shop that sold convenience is possibly going to be replaced by tiered subscription models, confusing cash-shop practices (LotRO being the worst -- I cannot even see certain items unless I am of the appropriate level) and true buying "power."

Still, cash shops and free-to-play games are still the best deal around. Of these eight games I looked at, not one is a poor choice. They are all fun games that provide a lot of choices to the player. If you're wondering what to get your favorite nerd this holiday, find out what game she likes and buy her a card or two. Heck, buy as much as possible. There's nothing more fun than virtual shopping, and a little money can truly go a long way in today's offerings.
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