My first foray into the world of MMORPGs was with the free-to-play variety. I was weened on them for almost an entire year before ever touching my first subscription based games. Maybe it's caused a sort of child-like naivety, but there are many aspects I both like and dislike about F2P MMOs -- most of which have nothing to do with payment options. I came to lump many previous MMOs' cash shops into one big melting pot with no real point of comparison. I may not have been into the F2P scene as long as Free For All expert Beau, but they all seemed to offer the same things in the same way. Then RoM came along with what I've come to think of as one of the most well-balanced online stores to date.
I've only given Dungeons and Dragons Online a cursory try and can't really compare cash shops between it and RoM. From what I have seen and read, DDO has perhaps the best formula, but it also has a decidedly different type of instanced gameplay. Still, for what DDO has I think Turbine hit the nail on the head with their online store. RoM has more of what I think of as a traditional cash shop, but a step or two better than the rest of its kind. The items are essentially the same but they are weaved into the game giving you more play-time and less instant win-time.
I can buy the standard experience potions that allow me to level faster, or death penalty removers, but there's also a slew of runes and stones that aid in upgrading equipment. Instead of just handing me a time-stamped attribute-boosting potion, these runes and stones act as tools that I'll need to combine using the standard in-game way. What's really nice is that buying a Purified Fusion Stone, rune, or Sun Jewel doesn't give me that instant plug and play. I'll still need to go through the same motions as any non-paying player to upgrade equipment, I'll just be doing it all faster. It would be like buying some imaginary special resource for armorcrafting. I'd still need to do all the work to refine and craft an item, but thanks to the special resource I will come out with tougher armor a lot faster than just using in-game resources. Of course, there really are no special resources that you can buy. My point is that many of the items don't just hand you a way to skip entire parts of gameplay.
It also really helps that everything is obtainable going a completely free route. Frogster has stuck by this awesome balance since RoM's release and recently added even more options for non-payers to see and do everything. Since the release of Chapter 3, it's now possible to get the completely clean Purified Fusion Stones without paying. With everything attainable in-game coupled with the ability to trade gold with diamonds -- which is currently disabled -- Frogster has made an MMORPG that is very congenial with a cash shop. The only old-school traits I see selling more of an instant character boost is in the occasional high tier rune sales. Apart from that, there is a ton of cheap and not-so-cheap stuff to spend your hard-earned or not-so-hard earned money on.
My favorite items to buy are primarily for changing my character's appearance, decorating my houses and aiding my craft professions, and that's enough to suck up every spare dime I have. I've spent so much time on my houses that I think if I added it all up, I'd have spent more time on that than progressing my character. There are so many wonderful pieces of furniture, mounts, pets and planting items that it seems the game was designed solely around PvE. Then there's the gear upgrading items and suddenly PvPers have a place to spend too.
The most expensive items are the package deals which go up to near insane amounts. Individually, the mounts stand at $10 and $20 bucks a pop followed by slightly cheaper storage chests and after that pretty much any other item is purchased in smaller transactions. As much as I love RoM, I start cringing when I think about the more expensive mounts and how many different kinds there are. I love mounts, but am so much more inclined to spend large sums of money through smaller transactions spread out over a longer period of time -- thank you diamond trading. That's what I like about equipment upgrading. You may eventually need a lot of Arcane Transmuter Charges, jewels and Purified Fusion Stones but you can upgrade at your own pace.
PvP is usually where players get anxious because the temptation to spend correlates with the desire to keep up with the Joneses. Optimistically, I'd say it doesn't matter because everyone starts the game at different times, spends different amounts of time in-game and there's always an influx of new players. Regardless of how fast or slow you want to get to endgame, there is always going to be people to PK and be PK'd by. On the other hand, it seems like it's always a core group of stronger players that are most visible, taunting others to match their rate of progression. Keeping up can become a non-stop spending spree with no dollar limit in sight. I generally view this as a poor way to make gaming goals as it goes against good spending habits.
There are many great ways to spend your money in RoM, but nothing is perfect. If you have a beef with the shop prices, what it sells, any questions, or just want to go on and on about how rockin'-cool it is -- comment away. I can also always be reached at jeremy [AT] massively [dot] com.