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Free for All: How much for a ten-spot?


In this week's Free for All, I decided to check out some cash-shop games to see what I might get for 10 U.S. dollars. For the record, some games can be subscription-based and still have cash shops, and some games can have cash shops that have been redesigned and tweaked so that they do not fit into the same old "cash-shop" model. For clarity, I stuck to cash shops that normally pop up while you're in-game -- usually inside their own window. Sometimes, though, the cash shops might be accessed or found on the games' main websites, as well.

It was hard to choose, being that I generally don't buy from cash shops any more. It takes a very special product (like Wurm Online's currency) to get me to pay, namely because I do not spend as much time in a single game as I used to. Actually, let me rephrase that before someone starts to write a comment based on that statement: I still spend a lot of time in certain games, like anyone else, but my pace has slowed. Most of the cash-shop items out there are convenience items -- simply time-travel devices that allow the player to speed up his experience. Since I have all the time in the world because of the free nature of these games, speeding up is not something I am interested in.

So, let's look at a few cash shops to see what piqued my interest!

Allods Online

Ten U.S. dollars nabs you 1,000 "gPotatoes." Not hard to understand, unlike some cash shops that ask for coin exchanges or swaps. I poked around for a while before I decided that the Dragon Hide Backpack was the best deal, right at 10 dollars. The amazing-looking appearance items rock my socks, but the old trick of setting the price to right over 10 dollars (meaning that you must purchase at least 10 more, the next available amount) turned me off. Developers: Set the prices in your shop to even amounts -- I think a profit could still be made. I decided against any of the "controversial" items, namely because they can be bought in-game through in-game means and with in-game coinage, defeating any immediate need. I have a few high-level friends who tell me that the price is easy enough to pay if you need to, and someone is always selling. Also, this is from the official forums:

"However, we want to assure you that the game has not become Pay-to-Play or Pay-to-Win. At the core of Allods you can still enjoy the game without ever having to worry about spending money. Yes, Holy Charms, Incense, and Scrolls of Purification are only offered through the Item Shop, but they can be purchased from other players and the auction house. It's important to reiterate the fact that in order to play Allods, no game purchase is required and we do not ask for credit card information in order for you to play. We assure you that the majority of active Allods players do not pay a dime and are still able to experience everything the game has to offer."

The last part in bold is something I hear from the industry all the time, enough that I am convinced. One visit to the forums will show many sides of the discussion, as well. Generally, though, if so many players can play without paying anything -- or with paying very little -- then I feel fine. I still believe that most of the complaining over Allods is coming from players who wanted to hit max level as fast as possible or wanted to continue that pace throughout all of their experiences. It's no small coincidence that many of those same players also claim to know that the population has "tanked." So, it looks like I'll be going with the backpack, something I will actually need and use -- something that will last.

Wizard 101

Wizard 101 is a freemium game, meaning that it features an extended trial followed by subscription-based areas and content. Still, in an interview with Tipa from West Karana, Fred Howard -- Kingsisle's VP of marketing -- said this: "Wizard101 is free for what a lot of people do," said Mr. Howard. "The pet games, the dueling, the minigames which are as good or better than those on other sites, are all free." He went on to note that there were a ton of people who never paid a dime to KingsIsle yet happily spent lots of time playing with the pets and the minigames." For me, this helps to show that there is always more than one way to play and enjoy any game, regardless of payment model.

Still, I already have a lifetime subscription to the game, so I looked at something that I haven't obtained yet: a mount. Ten dollars equals 5,000 "crowns" that are used for cash-shop purchases. And lookie there -- a perfect brown pony mount just for me, priced at exactly how much I wanted to spend. It should be noted that the cash shop also features weapons, potions, clothing and housing items. I love the fact that players have whatever amount of access they choose to afford -- that's freedom of choice at work. The items seem to balance well with in-game offerings.

EverQuest II

EverQuest II has always surprised me with the variety of items in its cash shop. The shop is nothing new, though; it's existed for quite a while. But it is unique, and not just because of its existence in a (until recently) subscription-based game -- it also seems to have loyalty to the "no pay-to-win" rule. In fact, more cash shops are now selling items like weapons and armor with real stats that actually change something about the base character, so I thought that surely SOE would follow along those lines. I think it's the ferocity of EQII's audience, however, that discourages the placement of said items. Give it time, though, and I believe that SOE will be able to slip in whatever type of item you can dream up. This is great news for the game, being that the choices the cash shop would provide could bring in more players. And if the community's track record with cash shops is any indication (players were initially huffy about the original one, as well), then we could expect all sorts of goodies to show up soon enough. At least, I hope so.

Once again, though, there is not much I need in the cash shop, but plenty I want. I decided that for my 1,000 SC I would buy a set of appearance armor. Not only are most of the choices absolutely gorgeous, but they look powerful, too. Appearance armor also does away with any worry of matching or looking good, something that will bother me to no end.

Initially, I set out to post about several games to show exactly what I could get for the set amount. But as I looked through my dozen or so favorites, I found that I don't spend money like I used to. Perhaps my impulse is tempered by seeing similar items in scores and scores of games -- something that I'm grateful for. In fact, I think that the recent surge in virtual item purchases stems from the newness of it all to gamers who have not yet experienced it. Normally, there would be no option to buy a mount, unless you spent hours and hours grinding out faction and coin. Suddenly, there is a similar (or better) mount that is available at the push of a button!

In other words, subscription-only players are becoming used to the sight of cash shops. Even the words cash shop or free-to-play are no longer some sort of evidence of low-quality, throwaway games. Shops are everywhere and are spreading fast. I only hope that they continue to expand and to improvise new items and services to sell. It's exciting to witness such changes sweeping over a genre of entertainment that, in my opinion, was doomed to repeat itself over and over for many more years to come.

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!

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