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Lost Pages of Taborea: What's $15 worth?


Hello everyone! This week, Jeremy Stratton (your usual Lost Pages of Taborea host) and I are swapping columns for variety -- so thanks to Jeremy for allowing me, Beau Hindman, to take over his column for the day! I have to admit that I am relatively new to the game, never having really given my character time to grow into a proper hero. Fortunately, the game's free-to-play status allows for this type of reckless avatar growth. But how free is it? Runes of Magic is not a "freemium" game, one that literally asks for payment at some point in order to level higher or to explore new content. It's my favorite type of free-to-play: the kind that gives you the client, gives you a free house, and even loans you a mount to make early level travel much easier.

Critics of free-to-play will say that most free-to-play games trick, convince, or even force players to spend large amounts of money in the cash shop in order to "succeed," often without defining what "success" means. While I admit that I play at the speed of molasses, I do maintain a few titles in which I slowly, but surely, obtain higher levels. Runes of Magic isn't one of them, yet, so I want to take a look at how much I will get for a typical subscription amount: 15 US dollars. So, how much does it buy me?

My gut is telling me that the very first thing any fledgling adventurer will need in such a large world is a mount. I'll admit that running around on foot isn't nearly as glamorous, or even normal, as galloping around on a mighty steed. Even though I knew that the speed increase would not be too significant (around 60 percent) and that the purchase would quickly wipe out at least a third of my budget, I still took a long time to examine my options. I thought of "renting" a mount, but decided against it once I realized that I might have to step away from the game for days at a time. The rental mount would make a fantastic gift for a new player -- something that Runes of Magic's cash shop allows for. In the end, the rental was a no-go.

While I did not have enough to afford the coolest-looking or fastest mounts, the cheapest were still only five percent behind the fastest. I liked the white horse, but didn't buy quite yet.

"On the contrary: The game gives you not only 60 slots to start out with, but also a bank and a free house with storage inside. Inventory management should not be an issue, so I will skip buying bag slots."

My wife advised me that the very next essential to look at would be more bag space. Extra inventory slots are a staple of many free-to-play cash-shops. Critics accuse developers of using these much-needed items to force the hand, and pocketbook, of players. Despite that opinion, I have paid for extra inventory space only in Mabinogi, and only then because it was necessary for opening an optional private shop. Extra space is not only unnecessary, but the simplest "issue" to overcome. I knew I would find myself in towns filled with NPCs willing to buy my space-hogging junk. Allods infamously features only a few inventory slots, but again I had no issues. Granted, I did not reach the level cap, but even if I had to buy an extension once I reached higher levels, does that discount all of the fun I had before I hit my zenith?

In fact, it is my argument that most mounts or extra backpacks are simply time-savers, whether in a subscription game like World of Warcraft or in Runes of Magic. I understand that time away from battle or exploring seems to be a near insult to some players, but in the end we have to ask: "How can developers encourage you to take your time?" We all know about those players who rush to the end levels, only to moan about lack of content -- how does a developer fight the battle of boredom? He finds ways to slow you down. Also, it's not as though Runes of Magic asks you to wander around in the wilderness with nothing but a shoebox to hold your goods in. On the contrary: The game gives you not only 60 slots to start out with, but also a bank and a free house with storage inside. Inventory management should not be an issue, so I will skip buying bag slots.

What does excite me are the housing items. EverQuest II features a similar cash-shop option for furniture, and decorating a house is probably one of the most fun things to do in a game. Pricing was really good; some accessories cost as little as 15 diamonds -- cheap enough that I became really excited about spending the money on decorating. In fact, house decoration was going to take my diamond stash. I decided to buy a larger house and extra space for furniture. Here's a picture of my house before:

And after:

As you can see, I was able to decorate a house how I wanted and had enough "energy" for a total of 20 furniture slots for 66 days. Not only that, but my rubies (extra cash shop funds that you receive as a bonus) paid for an extra inventory slot for 30 days!

Ironically, housing seems to be the tricky money-trap, rather than mounts or backpack space. Many of you might not see those items as anything but absolutely paramount, but I beg to differ. The great thing about a well-designed cash shop like Runes of Magic's is that it allows you to customize your fun and tailor how and when you want to pay. Despite the fact that many claim that selling virtual items at all is some sort of "scam," I can only tell those players that there is nothing so sneaky being done here. This is simply a case of featuring choices in a game.

I would hope that any of us would see choice as a good thing.

Thanks again to Jeremy for allowing me, Beau Hindman, to take over his column for a day! Next week, we'll return to our regularly scheduled writers. Stay tuned Wednesday when Jeremy takes over my Free For All column!

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