Allods Online is a fantastic game in a lot of ways. Despite what many Massively readers might have read about the game or about the cash-shop issues that seemed to plague it since almost the beginning, the main issues were never really addressed. To me, the most shocking thing about the game's reception was the lack of concern over the grind. For the record, it has always been a game that presented a challenge for even the most patient individuals, even before the cash shop was introduced -- an issue that was always obscured by players who are fine with grinding for hours and hours and hours but not fine with being asked to pay for their time.
See, I don't care whether the game calls itself free-to-play or freemium or pay-as-you-go or even whether it is "selling power." Since the beginning, it has been a very beautiful game with some fantastic settings and character design, but it's one that presents a challenge. So forget the cash shop -- let's talk about the grind. That grind is the one thing that bothers me about the game. I love it otherwise, but as soon as I get into the game and have to fight my way through hordes of beasts, I log out.
So why don't they just sell the items I want for cash? Give me my Astral ship. Click past the cut and let's discuss.
I know that at this point some of my readers are saying to themselves, "Why doesn't he just play the game like the rest of us?" Well, I do play the game and enjoy it to a point. The problem is that we are talking about a game that asks its players to grind to gain almost anything. The grind is one of those design elements that no one seems to really admit to participating in, unless she is done with the game. If a player is currently grinding out levels or reputation, she will simply say, "I'm playing the game." She might even admit to grinding a bit and that she does not enjoy it so much (sort of like filing reports at work) -- but that it has to be done.
If she is finished with the game, though, and has burned out so hard that she quit her guild, uninstalled the game from her machine, and joined a Gamers Anonymous group, then she will see the grind for what it was: intensely tiring.
Again, I want to clarify that I see nothing wrong with enjoying a major grind, although I prefer what I call a "soft grind," one that is measured in minutes or groups of five mobs, not days and groups of 45 mobs. I ask for more experience and fewer kills, but balance it. Do not make it as easy or rushed as RIFT or you wind up with a max-level (and prematurely bored) group of players. Others wear the grind as a badge of honor, bragging about how long it took them to grind out enough faction for a piece of armor or for a special drop from a monster. I can't stand it myself. I will not do it. I don't care if you offer me the Sword of a Million Tickles. I will not grind it out.
So why not let me skip directly to what I want? Why not give me the object I seek, but let me skip the grind? Just sell it to me -- heck, you could probably make a lot of money from me that way. Allods has those wickedly awesome Astral ships. And I want one. Now. Do I want to grind my way to a higher level and then work my butt off to get one? No. I don't have that sort of time, but I want one. Now.
I know the issues that would come up if the game started to sell the very best things in the game to lazy players like yours truly. I have been playing MMOs for almost 12 years now, so I have heard the arguments in some form or another almost a dozen times a year. If I am able to buy my way into power, then what does that mean for those players who did not? What does that do to the value of their accomplishments? Does it devalue them? Does it make all of their work worth nothing?
Well, yes and no. It all depends on the player. Obviously, I am the type of player who would not care where or how you got your Astral ship. I can assure you that I am not alone in this. But who is the more important player? Who matters more to the developers? They have to make money, of course, so many would say that the player who pays the most matters the most. Let's not be stupid, though -- players who pay and leave are not valuable to a developer. They need players who pay some, play some, and grind a lot. They need players in their game, forming social bonds, cajoling others to come play with them... this is what developers need.
So in my opinion, selling the best items in the game is not the best idea, most of the time. Of course, we are talking about Allods here, an amazing game that just happens to be driven by a grind. We all know it, and many of us accept it. Why then should we have any issue with selling something like a high-level character or an Astral ship to a guy similar to me? Allods is PvP-heavy, though, so many players would claim it is "unfair" that a player with money can have the same thing as a player with time. I agree, somewhat, just not with the terminology. It might seem "fair" to the guy with the money. In a blind "taste test" between a grinder and someone who bought his item, how would the grinder know the difference? The truth is that he would probably beat the snot out of the inexperienced player who bought his way into power.
Fairness is not about preferring one side; fairness is about treating everyone the same. Every player has equal opportunity to buy the items. Or is it better to say that every player has equal opportunity to take the time to earn it?
Only the developer can say. For all we know, devs might think that people with money are treated unfairly by society. For all we know, they might think that a player who has the ability to grind out level after level, thanks in part to his status as a rent-free human, has the advantage and consequently that the balance needs to be restored. Selling the best items restores this balance. For all we know, this is how they feel.
"They could sell something like an Astral ship and design it to be a non-combat vessel. They could send those lazy cash-shoppers only on scientific missions that result in appearance gear or more ship customizations rather than levels."
To be more practical, I think they could sell something like an Astral ship and design it to be a non-combat vessel. They could send those lazy cash-shoppers only on scientific missions that result in appearance gear or more ship customizations rather than levels. Of course, then the grinders would want an equal chance to get those items. It would be unfair, they might say, and so the developers would struggle to maintain fairness again.
I have seen the games that truly "sell power." They do exist, and I never deny that they do. Any subscription game that sells content (expansions, dungeon packs) sells power just like any cash shop that sells a gun or Astral ship. It's all the same. Seeing how the audiences in different games react, I think it is safe to say that balance is achieved. Those who truly hate the thought of "selling power" leave the game, and those who enjoy or have no issue with it stay. Many titles do this and are far from dead.
In the end, it is up to the developer. I do not envy the task of adding such items for sale, and I would not want to be the man or woman who has to deliver the message that something powerful might be available for sale in the cash shop. Still, I have seen the results: things settle down, players leave, new players come in... the world goes on. But I do have to wonder whether selling items of power is worth making a good section of your playerbase feel devalued, cast aside, or otherwise worthless. A developer would have to weigh these decisions carefully, and I am betting that's exactly what all developers do. I have met and chatted with some developers who are in the business of selling power or items, and they do not take it lightly.
Now, exactly how much do I have to pay for an Astral ship?
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!