Category Archives: FTP/RMT

Free-to-Play vs. Gambling

The Kleps kicked the never quite dead F2p-debate back to life this last Monday, and another interesting series of posts (Rohan, Tobold, Rowan, Telwyn) emerged as a result. With Rift now also F2P and upcoming titles like Wildstar or TESO having not yet disclosed payment options, many gamers are wondering who will ever be bold enough again to dare the subscription. Personally, I seem to care more for debating principles than the answers to these questions. If Zenimax Online want me to pay a sub for TESO, I will. If not – well, either way I’ll raid the shop.

ccp

Blogging buddy Liore and I go way back when it comes to discussing F2P back and forth on our blogs, so it was only a matter of time until we’d put on our boxing gloves and get into the ring together. No really, it was my great pleasure to finally have a personal chat this past week as guest on the delightful Cat Context Podcast (our exchange starting around 31 mins), with both Liore and co-host Ellyndrial speaking for the F2P skeptics. We tackled many of the core issues and realized that we disagree mostly on details rather than what matters most to us in MMOs. No surprises there.

That’s not where the discussion ended though – no, this is a persistent one. Belghast went forth and shared this interesting follow-up on his F2P “conversion”, sharing his past experiences with EQ2 going free to play (which then also spawned another reply from Liore here). I am always looking for personal recaps like this; what’s changing for you when an MMO switches to F2P? What tangible consequences does it have that possibly impact on you negatively?

Random drops vs. gambling

In an exchange with Ellyndrial on the podcast, I mentioned that I do not believe random lockboxes (for which keys can be bought via ingame shops like in GW2) or lottery tickets can be compared to real world gambling, the way it happens in casinos for example. The basic assumption being that cash shops may cause players to lose control of their spending, getting addicted to a luck-based system looking to relieve them of their money. To be clear, I absolutely feel casino gambling needs to be regulated – I do however not believe that lockboxes dropping in MMOs follow the same psychological pattern or harbor the same potential for addiction. Not claiming professional expertise on the subject (and those who do may come forth please), I see some distinct differences between the two activities.

Interestingly enough I happened to watch a documentary recently on David Choe, graffiti artist and facebook millionaire, also pathological gambler, which added to my inner monologue. Choe made his first million gambling in Las Vegas before turning 30 years old. That first milestone was preceded by years of a vagabond lifestyle, being notoriously broke and loosing vast amounts of money at the gambling table. Self-proclaimed gambling addict, Choe had this to say about his “fever” (paraphrased): I always felt I was winning, even when I lost everything. I won most of my games, only to go and lose everything on the last one.

There’s a devious quality to gambling in the sense that it continuously conveys feelings of both success and control to its victims. Gambling is a game of many stages, there is a progression to the gambler’s journey in which he feels that he is learning, improving and even winning. Winning is a big part in that quest for more, raising the stakes and then “gambling it all away” in one fatal loss (endorphins and adrenaline = powerful drugs). All of these elements are essential to developing addiction (biological dispositions aside) – the sense of control/strategizing (poker pros will tell you that the game is 90% nerves), reassuring mini-successes, progression of risk and potential winnings.

Virtual lockboxes do not share any of these psychological hooks. They’re completely random, there is usually no influencing outcome, improving one’s own performance or “getting closer” involved. It is therefore not nearly as motivating to spend endless cash on keys because there is no “game” aspect. Which doesn’t mean somebody might not spend ludicrous amounts of cash on the off chance of epic pixel – but to speak of addiction or danger to a wider audience feels off in this scenario. That person is likely after a very specific drop and generally there’s nothing wrong with spending money (or time) on something luck-based in games. We do this all the time?

There’s more to this though, even if we assumed a way simpler analogy such as a slot machine with very random outcome (I do not know how many people get ruined by this rather than card games). A big difference between gambling and pixel-hunting is that gambler’s play for money. The Faculty of Economics at the University of Zurich, Switzerland (ya, I live here so that’s my resource), recently revealed intriguing study results on the development of “altruism” in children. Test results were based on children’s social sharing behavior between ages 3-6. The perplexing part: while children, especially older ones and therefore already more socialized, were happy to share candy equally with peers, results changed dramatically once money was substituted. Children would either change the ratio in which money was shared or share none of it. This lead the leading researcher to assume that children learn the social and economical significance of money early on. He then elaborated on why humans react differently to money than to any other type of resource: money is a tricky currency because money is abstract. Money isn’t so much goods as it is potential; to give money away is to give away opportunities and power that we cannot control or estimate. We can imagine few things anyone could do with candy – but money, money holds as many plans as there are people.

Gamblers gamble for money and when they gamble for money, they gamble for plans and dreams. For one person it might just be a dream of winning or wealth, for another the resolution to very imminent and dire life circumstances. Not only that – gamblers gamble with money for money. When I spend coin on the slot machine, there’s a very clear, calculated ratio/equation between input and output. I’ll make a mental note à la “if I put in 10$ and win 100$, that is ten times more” or “if I lose, that’s still only 10% of my potential winnings”. That makes it seem alright and in some cases probably adds fuel to a perilous journey.

gw2shop

Again, lock boxes / lottery tickets hold neither abstract appeal nor absolute value in MMOs. Usually players hope to get a very specific drop, most likely an epic item or rare pet or similar. How much that reward is truly “worth” is impossible to measure (unless sellable – but this is not the chosen avenue of gold farmers) and therefore also cannot be equated to how much money was spent in order to get it. Sparkle ponies may be worth 10 keys to one player and 50 to another. Add to this considerations of “what other mounts are there in the game I could go for instead?” and meta-currency systems that also allow ingame currency to be converted in some cases, and you’ll see how much that differs from casino gambling or even real life lottery.

Wrapping up

To return to the topic of F2P, I believe it is very important to continuously question and observe the practices developers and publishers engage in to make systems more profitable. I’m very critical of pay-to-win in MMOs and shy away from games mentioning their cash shop at every occasion. I also agree with Liore that F2P only works because of micro-transactions and therefore needs to try draw players in. To me, that is a legitimate cause – without anyone spending money in a F2P game, there is no game. I have faith in players managing their own money and knowing what they want though. What matters to me is how cash shops are implemented, what kind of wares they offer and how their presence impacts on gameplay and overall immersion. We’ve recently experienced just how much of a difference the audience can make in this business and it remains our job to keep both an open mind but also open eyes to changes in this industry and how they may affect us.

At the present stage where F2P is still being adopted and shaped into a better model for western MMOs, I’m personally not seeing signs of a pay-to-win culture developing the way we know it from East-Asia (Gamasutra has an interesting clarification on this, check it out!), nor do I find items for sale that would significantly impact on player economy or endgame (just to name two examples of what’s popularly deemed unacceptable) in the F2Ps I am personally playing. Cash shop items remain optional and practices transparent – if not without inherent advantages, triggers and temptation, especially where cosmetics are concerned. If that’s where we’ll stay with upcoming MMO titles, hopefully offering more hybrid models à la LOTRO, I am completely okay with F2P.

Happy weekend everybody, with or without virtual shinies.

Off the Chest: E3 console wars, more GW2 events and Rift going F2P

otc

Summer has finally found its way to my place which is why this week was generally dedicated to sudden-heat-lethargy and watching E3 streams until late, late into the night. Morning really. And how much fun that was when my entire twitterverse was watching the big Sony reveal this last Tuesday “together” – booing (who cares about the PS Vita?), cheering and mostly snickering for good reason.

E3: Revival of the Console Wars

It wasn’t hard to leverage on Microsoft’s recent lapses in regard to their Xbox ONE policies and general marketing angle, but Sony literally crushed their direct competitor at this year’s E3 in the notable absence of a Nintendo conference, leaving out nothing and taking shameless stabs at what the vocal public conceived as MS’ greatest transgressions. Sharing and always-online DRM issues aside, MS seemed to try appeal to a surprisingly limited demography and didn’t blow anyone away hoping for at least some diversity in terms of game leads in upcoming launch titles – an oversight that led Spinks to coin the term “XBrone”. E3 female protagonist spotlights: MS: zero / Sony: two.

transistor

Transistor, feat. Squalla Leonheart

Sony started their two-hour press conference stating how their target audience were video gamers first and foremost. From there, everything was a well-orchestrated and calculated effort of showing why the PS4 was the more appealing (and affordable) product for a wider gaming audience – men, women, casuals, hardcores, offliners, onliners, indie game lovers. And that last point makes a lot of sense; who in their right mind would leave the rising indie game market to platforms like Steam without a fight?

Sony delivered a political masterpiece at this E3, quick and not so subtle. Yet, as pointed out in this interesting article on buzzfeed, some of the fanboyism stirred by the console staredown feels gravely out of proportion. It bears reading the fine-print in Sony’s press conference. The PS4 isn’t marketed the way it is because they’re trying to win the BFF contest. In the end, we’re dealing with companies looking to maximize profits or as the article states “Sony versus Microsoft is not good versus evil. It’s money versus money”. To believe the XBox ONE is “done” at this point would be naive as we’re only standing at the beginning of a years-to-come battle for market shares. All the while, Nintendo is smiling because they’re likely going to “win” again anyway.

All that said, if I was to buy a next-generation console, it would most definitely be the PS4. As a commenter at buzzfeed observed, the PS4 is positioning itself as a diverse platform with a spirit for art and smaller projects (need I say Journey?) while being more inclusive to mature titles. Also: Square-Enix and Last Guardian hoping!

GW2 goes Dragon Bash

ArenaNet continue their ludicrous speed of releasing new mini-content and sadly also their penchant for inconsistent quality. Between wacky Halloween and a rather sobering Lost Shores event, the great Living Story and back-to-more-Karkas Darksun Cove update, I find myself presented with a lot more of the same at Dragon Bash and horribly mislead by what sounded like such an exciting new addition to the game. More mighty dragons to shoot down from the sky  – more massive outdoor content? YES please! No?

This leads me to formulate the following GW2 events formula: a ton of achievements which can be finished in one or two days, more slightly frustrating arena-based minigames, random drops of something in a box, oh and back items and weapon skins! I can barely restrain myself. Also, dragon piñatas – now where have I heard that before?

dragonbash

Yeah, maybe not!

Rift entering the F2P scene

Trion have officially given their free-to-play debut this June 12th and much will yet be discussed about how well they’ve made the switch, implemented ingame shops and most importantly, just how much (or how) that changes the general direction of the game – because that was going so well before. Positive as I remain on this matter, I’d like to think that not all that much will change for Telara as we’ve also seen with other MMOs going F2P half-way through in the past (as opposed to MMOs actually designed around the concept).

Belghast is one of the first to comment on his “new” Rift experiences and a rather enthusiastic early adopter by the looks. No doubt there are right and wrong ways to realize F2P in MMOs and as someone who wants to see games like Rift survive rather than disappear from the face of the market, I hope more people will follow in his general footsteps.

…But F2P creates Subscribers too?

With the recent hubbub around Microsoft’s inane approach to copyright / sharing games on the XBOX One, a title that fills the greatest fanboys with dismay, there’s also been another revival of the “how free-to-play MMOs destroyeth the genre”-discussion in the blogosphere, thanks to Trion’s recent announcement. That one seems to return on a regular basis, like “casual vs. hardcore” or gamification.

And I just realized how these two topics share a connection, or rather a blind spot among their most fervent critics. When it comes to the big copyright debate for digital media in this age of global sharing, the market has been divided for a while now between those who realize that piracy isn’t actually this “big deal” and that free distribution or “pay-what-you-like” models can be used to your advantage – and those who wax hysterical about hypothetically lost revenue. Usually they do so with little proof, a bit like the guys still claiming that sex sells in video games and we totally can’t have interesting female leads in games (also, female gamers are still in the stark minority!….).

So, it takes the voices of smart and insightful non-sales people with some first-hand experience, people like international best-selling author Neil Gaiman, to state the obvious: that copying and sharing does not happen at any conceivable loss to the artist / production company. And that on the contrary, it seems to drive sales up rather than down. I’ve been sharing his video for a while now as it never seems to lose significance and I heartily recommend watching it –

Gaiman’s description applies 100% to my personal experiences. An early napsterer myself (when it was still a shiny beacon of an incoming new age), all this access to free media did for me is let me discover a ton of new artists that I then went to research and order music from. For a while, it was heaven unleashed. Of course I did also download some titles that I never bought later – and never would’ve known about or bought anyway. There was never a minus, only a potential for plus – as in money going into the creative or entertainment industry. I don’t download free stuff with the intention to “steal”, although anyone is free to call it that; what I like is getting sneak peeks, demos and first impressions. Want to make me a fan that buys all your stuff? Give some of it away. I can’t help that I live in an age where I am bombarded with so many offers and choices that I don’t open my wallet right away any longer. It’s the smart companies who react to changing times.

I keep reading about how F2P games are somehow a seal for lesser quality or an admission of failure whenever MMOs go F2P or decide to be from the get-go. Yet, not once have I actually read a conclusive,objective article on why that should be. Why does Rift go from awesome game to disappointment just because it changed payment model? Will its community struggle because of the introduction of F2P – or did it not much rather struggle already and hence the new direction? What does it say about us as players if we make payment models the deciding factor?

Which inevitably brings me to GW2’s continued growth and another article I read on MMORPG.com about becoming an involuntary “F2P-convert”. Chris makes the important distinction between F2P and B2P MMOs and points out rightfully that for games like LOTRO or SWTOR, which were not designed to be free, reverting to F2P was/is a life saver. And hence also and especially for their faithful communities. I think this cannot be stressed enough, along with the fact that there are cash shops and cash shops. There are in fact very few popular MMOs out there offering anything close to a pay-to-win experience. I don’t know what games people are talking about in context with “just buy all your raid gear in the store”? I’ve yet to play such a game (and see how much it truly affects me…). In GW2 the gemstore is such a laughable matter, it might as well not exist.

What the article fails to cover in my opinion is that F2P, much like free sharing does in the piracy debate, creates easier access and therefore more opportunities for games like SWTOR or LOTRO (and certainly also new titles) to sell more subscriptions. That was the original argument pro F2P models: see what you get before you pay for it. Was that really such a bad idea? To me it seems many MMOs simply fail to implement hybrid models where both a limited F2P experience and the usual premium or sub-experience is worthwhile.

I find LOTRO a prime example of this business model. Chris mentions LOTRO in context of F2Ps forcing you to buy individual content; that’s not how I see it. What I see is a rather successful approach to compromising, establishing different ways of playing while strongly suggesting free players may subscribe sometime. That’s what happened to me exactly: I have just renewed my LOTRO sub once more. I would never have considered playing it, had it not been F2P however. Turbine has won me over by letting me play their game and then convincing me that it’s worth paying for. Just as if I had napstered LOTRO, I went to buy it later. Yeah, that surprised me too.

I really wish this aspect was highlighted more in the F2P context, that it’s not a zero-sum game. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find data on account split for active LOTRO accounts, or more importantly on how many players have been shifting between payment models. I’m however convinced that there are many players like myself who only started to pay for (another) sub because they were able to access the MMO for free. And that to me seems wasted potential (of plus when there’s no financial minus involved) for those titles stubbornly clinging to subs only, unless they’re called World of Warcraft and can afford not to care. While I still watch Wildstar from a distance, it makes me hopeful hearing about the hybrid payment model they’re aiming for, although details remain to be seen. And why not, after all? It may convince me to subscribe to their game more than anything else would.

That one month into GW2 "Sub Question"

While many bloggers are posting their one-month reviews and conclusions on GW2, there’s one particularly hot question being asked all over various forums, news and community websites: “If you bought GW2, would you have still done it if there had been a subscription?”

In the light of GW2’s successful start and over 2mio copies sold already, there is no bigger elephant in the room – of course everyone is wondering how well ANet would’ve done this exact moment in time, had GW2 come with a subscription! It’s an intriguing topic (at a first glance, anyway) and no doubt this MMO’s launch date was smartly set sometime ahead of its other, direct competitors expansions. Unlike with sub games many players will surrender to curiosity and consider “just a box price” tolerable while maybe waiting on other titles (or already paying subs for them).

So, how are GW2 players and visitors feeling about the sub question, one month into launch? I asked the same thing last night on twitter, on a very spontaneous note. Here’s the range of reactions I got:

    • “Maybe” (Rowan)
    • “Yup. I bought two sets of gems already.” (Pitrelli)
    • “Only while it held my interest” (MantleCraft)
    • “Yes. I enjoy the game. I have passed on other games that have a sub because I didn’t enjoy them enough to justify the cost.” (Jazz)
    • “I would have, though i would prob cancel my other subs to justify” (Psynster)
    • “Definitely. The game has been fun enough that I would pay a subscription to it without thinking twice.” (Rakuno)
    • “Yes, I would have bought the game & then paid a sub based on how much I like it” (Heather)
    • “No. I would not.” (Eivind Johansen)

Now, I don’t know how representative the quantitative outcome of the answers I received really is, as it’s mostly familiar bloggers who sent me a reply (I did ask in general GW2 channels though). Retrospective inquiries like that are also generally difficult to interpret because once you are enjoying the game a lot, hypothetical choice may be affected by your current, positive experiences. The same bias exists for negative experiences though – and to draw conclusions on success and potential sub failure, it’s the nay-sayers one must focus on. Of course, I followed up that “No. I would not” -reply with a second question: “Are you currently paying for any sub MMO?” The answer was “nope”.

Well, shoot. I did hope for a different answer, maybe related to how bad this person’s gameplay experiences were with GW2, potentially compared to other MMOs! While you could probably argue that GW2 didn’t fully convince this customer to pay a hypothetical sub, there are players who will simply never pay subs and only ever try B2P/F2P games. That’s that and convincing them otherwise isn’t a realistic undertaking.

Still, it’s the “noes” that make this question interesting. The above example shows how difficult or virtually impossible interpreting negative reactions to any MMO truly are without much further investigation. In fact, a person leaving a negative reply may represent any of the following rough, five groups:

    1. The Economist: currently paying for another MMO and never intending to pay for two. Will consider playing both though.
    2. The Bored & Curious: waiting on MoP / anything else, only bought GW2 because it was B2P and launched earlier. Will drop GW2 until the favored MMO becomes boring.
    3. The Penny-Pincher: never pays subs period, or doesn’t play often enough to justify them for himself.
    4. The Lucky: didn’t actually pay for GW2 but got it as a gift.
    5. The Disappointed: genuinely disappointed/frustrated by GW2 due to “insert reasons here”.

    Of all these potential nay-sayers, the only one that comes with genuine motivation and therefore also a more meaningful reaction and potentially productive feedback, is the last category. Somebody who was open to pay anything at the beginning but got utterly turned off by some aspect of the game while playing. All the other groups would distort any kind of simple poll ran on the sub question. The outcome would be hard to read for anyone looking for more concrete criticism and potential game improvements. Which must not mean that useful criticism is absent in the other groups – but if you’re presented with an audience that never meant to pay a sub in the first place, you might wanna prioritize feedback of those that would have done so readily.

    Once you get feedback from the disappointed players, things naturally don’t get easier. As a developer you can now try and sort all various issues into those you can change, those you cannot reasonably change and those you do not want to change. What all of this tells me is that dealing with customer feedback is an enormous challenge and that the big “GW2 sub question” really is senseless and dissatisfactory in the light of our vastly different contexts and backgrounds. ANet have launched GW2 in 2012 and must therefore deal with an MMO audience of 2012, including all baggage this brings. Right now all things considered, they’re dealing rather (!) successfully.

    My answer is YES – but not without concerns

    There is no question I would pay for a GW2 sub. This I base on my personal positive experiences with the game, the individual and subjective fun and enjoyment I’m finding in this fresh MMO – just like everybody else does. I’m generally not focused on payment models; whether I pay a sub or not is irrelevant when an MMO manages to inspire me. So, when I refer to “getting my money’s worth” there is a more figurative meaning for me than may be for players that truly (have to) look at costs and put a value on every feature on their pros&cons list. I would certainly question paying for two subs at the same time though, for time management reasons.

    I would pay a GW2 sub too because there’s long-term appeal in Tyria. Having only just hit level 60 with my Elementalist, there is so much more content ahead I haven’t even touched yet and more world and story depth surfacing by the day, as I am progressing through higher levels. All MMO worlds take their time in introducing you to aspects like lore; to me GW2 has only started to bloom in this regard. When I fought in the Battle of Claw Island today, I felt real excitement and sadness over the course of the story. I don’t remember the last time an MMO questchain has inspired that reaction in me, actually I only recall Skyrim more recently.

    That said, my one-month GW2 recap comes not without concerns. While ANet did deliver on my biggest selling points, there are several more pressing and serious concerns I’m sharing with other GW2 players out there:

    • Bad/random dungeon/chest loot and the token grind; there is a particularly scary calculation on exotic sets currently found over at Hunter’s Insight. If ANet don’t look into this matter fairly soon, they can certainly never again claim that GW2 presents no grind of any sort!
    • Izari from Talk Tyria is majorly disappointed by ANet’s shift of stance concerning endgame gear and prestige armor, away from GW’s old philosophy that gear differences should be cosmetic rather than in stats. I was saddened to read this as I’ve greatly looked forward to GW2 taking some of the stats obsession away that I’ve come to loathe in WoW, due to all its technical and social backlash.
    • Now that I’m playing in more high-level zones, I detect a slight two-fold change about leveling up and questing: there are a lot more bugged events – and – as the Brave Elementalist points out leveling speed in low pop areas decreases significantly. That isn’t necessarily a horrible thing given the overall fast leveling experience in GW2, but bugged events need fixing and some of the less well-paced areas need looking into, especially in regard to heart quests (in absence of people to do events with).
    • Like so many others, I agree the WvW queues need fixing a.s.a.p. on individual and group level. While I fondly think back to a time where Alterac Valley queues took half a day, it should come as no surprise to ANet that this prized feature is a big focus, with many players queuing up already at lower levels. While I’m personally not affected too much by the queues yet, this should be one of their top priorities.

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed that all of these graver issues will be reviewed and addressed swiftly – for everyone out there currently waiting on WvW and also on behalf of GW2’s dungeon appeal and the very significant long-term motivator that is gear/collection in MMOs!

    P.S. I’d still like FP view and market place preview!

    [Allods] Would you like to….divorce me?

    So I picked Allods Online up again the other night because that’s what we do, me and Allods have this steamy on-and-off latenight relationship. The game has changed much since last I played it – there’s been the Game of Gods expansion this February 2012 and the look of the game has improved in every aspect. Allods has always had great characters and customization, but now there are more choices and oh my god the bard class! That’s right, you can now play a BARD in Allods! I haven’t had much time to level one yet but apparently the class mechanics are somewhat similar to the bard class in Rift.

    Personally, it makes me happy to see that Allods is still alive and kicking and that Astrum Nival were able to launch a full expansion stuffed with shiny new content. The game has always been described as shameless WoW clone, mostly due to its similar cartoony graphics, and no matter for how long dedicated Allods players and fans have been working on dispelling that notion, the comparison stuck to this much younger Russian MMO like duct tape from hell.

    Let’s look at this just briefly. Yes, Allods looks like WoW at first glance. Yes, it also pretty much adopted the questing system and the talent tree isn’t all that different. The zones are a little empty here and there despite looking nice. Combat works different from WoW in certain aspects, for example there are pre-charged attacks and no auto-attack. Experience gain used to be fairly slow but over the years the developers improved the system several times to make both combat and progression feel smoother. Also, Allods is a free-to-play which means RMT is part of the deal and a very stylish item shop is an integrated part of the game – which doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy this game without spending money. I do.

    Other than that? Allods is awesome. The overall graphics are much sparklier than WoW’s. The polish, music and performance have always been top notch, especially for an FTP. Races like the Arisen or Gibberlings are legendary. There is quirkiness, humor and atmosphere in the world. There’s also the rather refreshing Russian flair which shows in some of the NPCs or cities. In short: Allods doesn’t feel one bit like WoW and from what I know about endgame, it is a different game entirely (there be lots of war ship PvP up in astral spheres!). If you’ve got any spare time to dabble at some free games, don’t skip Allods.

    Amazing armor! …Wait what, divorce papers?

    One thing I’ve not mentioned yet is Allods’ armor and how that too has taken a massive step up since I played it last. Now, if you’ve got any love for the eye candy, customization and gear in MMOs, you will love this game. If anyone’s going to emulate WoW’s graphics, they should at least do better than WoW in the armor department – and Astrum Nival have. You want wicked armor? Allods has it! I browsed tons of high-level gear and tier sets and was dazzled by a flamboyant carnival of colors, fabrics and quite possibly the greatest cloaks ever! If you’re going to pose in your shiny epics, it better look like this:

    Too sexy for my shirt!

    Like to see more? Fear not, I finally added an Allods gallery. I need to highlight my favorite piece here though because….whoa – this gotta be like the greatest, badass look ever:

    He’s got a raven!

    I named this guy the Scarecrow and if you’re still wondering what he’s got on his back, that’s a wooden box (I bet full of torture tools). And there’s a black raven perching on his shoulder! Amagad! *worship*

    …….

    Thus hunting down irritated high-level players for screenshots, I came across a chapel the other night and found this:

    I’ve certainly heard about MMO marriage before, wedding bands and ceremonies and whatnot, but divorce papers? Now that’s new. I started digging a bit and it turns out Allods Online has possibly the most intricate and complex marriage and divorce system of them all. And unlike so many other games where the union of two players is merely symbolic, marrying in Allods comes with a list of special, spouse-related spells and abilities to give the relationship more meaning. Getting married isn’t quick and neither is getting rid of a spouse – so hedge therefore, who join forever!

    For those of you who prefer a TL;DR version of the above link, I’m going to highlight the few most remarkable points about Allods’ marriage system:

    • You are eligible to marry a person of the same faction, minimum level 15. There is no restriction for enlisting same-sex relationships.
    • Every faction has dedicated wedding manager NPCs who will offer a quest to the person properly equipped with a wedding ring. Both players will have to take vows and actively consent to the union….and pay a tax.
    • Once legally declared married, you will receive special wedding gifts along with several “spousal spells”. These are unlocked for both characters and draw on a resource called heart affection.
    • The spousal abilities can be leveled while both players draw on the same pool of heart affection. Just to give one example of such an ability: “Enheartening: Your spouse’s health is increased by a certain percentage if you are within 50 yards from each other.” (aww)
    • In case of a divorce, players lose access to their spousal abilities. Both partners will have to be present for a particularly sad quest and have one minute each to consent to the divorce prompt.
    • Astrum Nival have announced an upcoming shop item, a bottle of champagne, that will be required in special cases of a forced divorce where one spouse has been offline for a very long time.

    One must wonder what exactly that champagne bottle is for! I think we can agree they do take their weddings seriously in Allods (is there any MMO that comes close?). And a system that comes with bonuses like this may well appeal to a wider audience than just a roleplay corner. To me personally it’s a fascinating approach and illustrates the many depths of MMO dynamics that still haven’t been explored fully, by a wider range of titles.

    GW2 shop: Panic much?

    So there’s been information or rather a few sneak-peeks of GW2 in-game shop items swarming the internet lately and not surprisingly this has stirred some controversy on webforums and blogs antsy for the game. Which is interesting to remark at this point: just how fast players sometimes go from oh yay to oh nay! Considering the fifty or so features that excite me about this MMO, it would hardly be good perspective (or proportion) to get all doomsday about the cash shop revelations. GW2 is free-to-play and everyone knew there was going to be RMT of some sort. Turns out ArenaNet are actually trying to put their own twist on this, too.

    But first things first. Which items can we actually see on those screenshots? How do they potentially affect gameplay?

    I) Cosmetic items:
    To no surprise you’ll be able to purchase special outfits, hats, dyes and more in the shop.
    So far, so good. 

    II) Convenience / commodity items:
    Things like instant repair tools, portals, resurrection stones, bigger bags or EXP boosts.
    They exist in pretty much every FTP MMO I have ever played, from Allods to Age of Conan. I’ve tried very hard to find indication of any seriously significant and game-changing items here and failed.

    Convenience items are usually that: convenience items, not exclusive items. You can usually get the same deal by grinding or professions. Or then, if you are actually a very good or frequent player, you won’t need them. Look at experience or reputation boosts for example, these are hardly news in any MMO – when I re-subbed to Rift I got my fair share and so do WoW players these days. Blizzard does almost everything to make leveling up faster (or instant…ahem). Also: how significant are experience boosts in an MMO that features side-kicking, anyway?

    So if anything, all these items offer choice: to level the usual way or a tad faster, to visit an NPC or not, to travel or take a short-cut (which are there in abundance, anyway). They cater to different play-styles. They are nowhere near pay-to-win.

    III) Lottery items
    Loot bags and special keys to chests that can be dropped by mobs or found elsewhere on the world.

    The first is the type of random chance “carneval ticket” that only a group of players usually fall for. It’s a way to burn real coin for sure, but the randomness of it guarantees that you’ll likely end up with many duplicates or silly, trade items (in my case with nothing). We don’t know that anything of significance can drop here (I find it unlikely) or if the items will be soul-bound. I could imagine it to be similar to archeology rewards in WoW maybe.

    The keys might present a bigger attraction, depending again on how rare the boxes are and what they potentially contain (anything exclusive?). There’s again the randomness factor. It reminds me of lockboxes in WoW that only the rogues could open; to tell you the truth, I vendored mine most of the time without even checking. I put them up on the AH a few times for little gold, but nobody wanted them. Whether the mystic boxes in GW2 will be the same type of gimmick or more serious business is complete speculation at this point. However, the mark of all lottery systems is actually that REALLY good and useful items are also REALLY rare! A lottery doesn’t look for winners.

    “Bad and good items”; The cooperative lookout

    A while ago I wrote a lengthy article on why I don’t consider RMT systems in FTP MMOs any more or less fair than traditional subscriptions and I hold to that opinion. As long as in-game shops deal in items of no greater consequence, I do not consider them a deal-breaker.

    A “bad” cash-shop item needs to severely impact on the balance of gameplay; it needs to affect the outcome or success of end-game, be it in PVE or PvP, in a way that makes purchase an almost mandatory feature in order for groups and players to stay competitive. Items are however not bad just because they prevent l33t players from feeling special, as is often an underlying issue in such debates (not all, but often enough). Besides, I imagine a “true dungeon drop” would still be told apart from a cash-shop item and offer a degree of satisfaction or “fame” to a player who might desire it.

    So yes, just to pursue hypothetical thought, I wouldn’t even mind if the GW2 cash-shop offered equal (not better) or almost equal weapons / gear to a dungeon drop! Too extreme for you? As GW veterans know and are happy to point out, gear progression is not the same deal in Guild Wars as it is in WoW for example. Once you’ve obtained your dungeon tier items, there won’t be an endless curve of upgrades but only similar gear with different stat weighting. In PvP, gear even gets leveled to focus on performance and not gear differences between teams.

    I love this focus on performance and how the overall theme of GW2 seems to be cooperation, rather than segments and segments of “players with better stats” at endgame. There are numerous ways in which ArenaNet push player cooperation rather than disparity or “distance” –

    • The side-kicking feature and dynamic leveling / quests, events
    • The missing role restrictions / enforced holy trinity
    • The connected home cities / starting areas

    If a player bought his gear with real money for whatever reason, time or other, how would it harm cooperation or competitive outcome in GW2? I can’t think of any good reason to be worried. Even less so for stuff like convenience items or lottery boxes – and these are what we’re talking about for the moment! Not only are they not mandatory, but they really do not affect me as someone uninterested in most. Besides, items are not accomplishments in themselves, even if they usually go with reward (but they’re not in fact what makes a reward).

    Seems to me the entire concept behind GW2 makes pay-to-win a very unlikely scenario. As long as there is no more and different information on the RMT items, it’s a little early to tell the color of the cash-shop’s underpants.

    F2Ps are more social?

    Related topics: Tesh, Nils, Tobold, Syp.

    Many of the current free-to-play arguments are based on assumptions; on certain player mindsets, on certain items up for sale that then can, will, could, should,might affect somebody somehow sometime. Or not. I’ve a bit of a problem with that in general because I believe MMO players are grown-ups and if they are not, they shouldn’t be handling credit cards. Either way, it’s not for me to tell somebody how to live his life, real or virtual or how to spend his own money, in “right” or “wrong” ways. Down that road there are only double standards wherever you turn.

    That aside, common misconceptions about the F2P payment model are “players will buy items because they have to” or “if a player buys nothing, it’s clearly because he couldn’t afford it”. My favorite is the classist fallacy where really poor players are apparently excluded from F2P, but not from sub-games. I hope you perceive just how many hypothetical assumptions are needed for this to be true.

    Instead, let me elaborate on why I actually believe that F2Ps might be the more “social” games like that, social in the sense of caring for more people than yourself. For argument’s sake, let’s assume too that there is such a thing as a poor MMO player in desperate, existential need to optimize his money, rather than players who are simply unwilling to shift around priorities (for whatever reason):

    1) F2Ps are open to everybody. Unlike a sub-based game that already pre-selects the player base from the beginning and excludes players who might not be able to afford subs, F2Ps actually let everybody partake. In some MMOs this means almost a full access, few extras excluded (such as endgame relevant boosts) that a more casual player might not even care for. In other MMOs, the item shop matters more but either way everyone gets to play the game first and a casual player can still hang out with his more dedicated friends. No money doesn’t mean not your party!

    2) In F2Ps, some players pay for others. Realistically the percentage of players spending any or much money is (currently still) low, compared to the mass of “freeloaders”. Since the game can be played for free by definition, some players will finance a system others benefit from without same contribution. Now that might vex you, if you belong to the big spenders. OR you could look at it this way: Those who have more and/or want to spend more, fund those who will not and/or cannot afford the same. This would be called the principle of solidarity in a social state. You can’t afford to play an MMO? Well, I can and I’m happy to take you along! (This is very European!)

    3) By offering you to buy that backpack rather than to grind for it, F2Ps make it easier to include players with less time. Time is a currency; in fact it is the currency in MMOs; if you have more time to play, you have more time to progress and more time/opportunity to make money – potentially. The player who works a lot more or simply has more on his plate of real-life “duties”, is at a disadvantage. The item shop allows him (if he so chooses) to turn some of his real money into a time gain, by buying a useful item straight away, avoiding a grind someone else might enjoy. While I’m no fan of short-cuts in MMOs, there are “grinds and grinds” and there are good and bad types of short-cuts. Here, it’s an added choice that caters to different players and makes for happier co-existence.

    Still think sub-games are fairer in handling players, when our circumstances are not equal by nature and never can be?

    Three popular counter arguments

    A) One popular counter-argument in this context is the question of meritocracy; players should earn their achievements without any “assistance from real money” in the game.
    This type of reasoning is based on the assumption that MMO players aren’t already affected by real money or time to begin with. I’m not sure how I “earned” that access to the sub-based game other than with real money. I’d also argue that purchased items like backpacks or cosmetics don’t equal a heroic reward or actual ingame accomplishment. Items are not the same as achievements, although that is a common mistake as they usually correlate in MMOs (certainly do in WoW). You can rest assured nobody will confuse them so easily in a game where everyone knows which items are shop exclusive (if this exists) and which are raid epics for example. Anyway, meritocracy is no social concept to begin with.

    B) There is a particularly cynical argument, that goes something like “an item shop is disingenuous to the players who can’t afford it”. – So much more generous to exclude the person right away, assuming subscriptions are the alternative? If we assume a “poor player” like that, we should assume he can either afford a sub OR some ingame items. There’s no reason to suggest an F2P is forcing players to spend any or more money than that, in fact I wonder if you’d even get up to those 140 Euros / year which are roughly what you would pay for 12 months of WoW subs plus half an expansion. If you do, it’s likely that you were “tempted” by extra shinies in which case you don’t qualify as a poor player. Case dismissed.

    C)F2P will disadvantage the less liquid player at later stages / endgame”. Still assuming this was a pro-subscription argument: if an F2P is designed to require (and that in itself remains questionable) micro-transactions in order to be competitive in endgame, we might as well assume the same player would never get to see end-game in a sub-based MMO to begin with. We established that he was already turned down at the door. If however we agree this awfully poor player doesn’t exist, B) applies once more: the player would only be excluded at endgame if the item costs greatly surpass what he’d otherwise pay for subscriptions. For such an F2P we could actually say a player gets everything for free but endgame, whereas in WoW he gets everything for free, full stop. Only that in WoW’s case there is no choice to skip paying for an endgame he might not care for.

    Now, Nils would tell me how this last line is faulty; while you might pay for everything by default in WoW, it actually means you get everything. I’ll explain:

    The F2P player might choose what he wants to pay for more consciously – but that also means he has to pay for it. If you skip endgame, you will spend that money elsewhere because the game offers the best RP items in the shop too, or the best PvP items. The WoW player on the other hand can play just as selectively, but he never gets asked to pay more or less anywhere. If he wants to have it all, it costs the same as if he only chose to RP. From this point of view, paying a sub wins IF

    • the player gravitates towards many play styles and has generally lots of time for the game
    • the player plays in that same way consistently
    • the total costs of required or interesting items for his purposes are higher than the subs

    In this case, a subscription is the best deal for you. If you’re however part of a wider player base who has restricted time, exclusive interests, changing schedules, then F2P might suit you better. Not surprisingly, this gets more popular with an aging audience. It can create choices where a subscription cannot. Which is why both models have their up and downside, or rather their target audience.

    Oh noes, I used the item shop!

    In my last post I mentioned that I have picked up Age of Conan again to test the new PVP server – there’s not an awful lot to play for me at the moment, and I must admit that Hyboria’s setting holds a special place in my heart. Already, the horribly flawed UI, quest or AH functionality frustrate me again (how hard is it to fix these?), but the world in general has that feeling of “home” that I’d otherwise only get in Azeroth.

    PVP starts early on and I’m having a great laugh with it; I soloed quests in the starter dungeons and got my ass kicked around every corner until I finally learned how to make proper use of my hiding skill, questing in sneaky mode, what a thrill! Once you’ve lost enough items to some rogue lurking in the shadows (I promptly lost my first blue item that way too), you begin to play a lot differently, making use of walls and corners, always minding the nearest exit. The look of the outside towns and quest hubs is hilarious too: entirely deserted, not a soul around. You think! In fact, they’re all around you, as you realize when a player suddenly drops out of stealth next to you or two start dueling in the middle of town, with more and more players popping out of nowhere and joining the battle. I love it!

    That’s not the only novelty in AoC for me though – there is now the item store and yes, the vanity window. Sigh. A fatal combination for somebody such as myself! I had to do it of course, I had to browse what social armor is up for sale. To my defense, the standard armor in the game is very lackluster and looks hardly ever change until you reach max level and go for instances. Who wants to wear an orange plate mail and cow-hide skirt forever?? Just give me one nice set that I can keep wearing the next weeks and months, mkay.

    Now, the item shop is pretty sneaky and I blame Funcom for everything that happened from there. I meant to buy ONE set with real money and maybe a bag for more item storage. But of course, the armor is displayed so badly in the shop (and there’s no wardrobe feature) that you basically need to buy in order to check what it really looks like. I didn’t do that of course, I was smart (muaha!) and browsed the net for previews. After 10 minutes I had still found zero screenshots and that was when I really lost my temper. “10 Euros, who cares?? Let’s do it!”

    So, I did it. And again, and again. The first set was shockingly bad and then I bought a wrong one by mistake (it was called Transcendence, what can I say). So I bought one more that I finally liked. And since I have 2 characters I play on different servers, I bought another for my high-level priest, too. This is my story on how I spent 40 Euros on virtual wardrobe until I was out of cash to even buy that bag. Had I not read Syncaine’s story on his micro-transactions bill for League of Legends just this morning, I would still feel a little guilty…..but, I don’t! Not really. Lalalala…!

    Real-money transfer is coming, friends. Like to learning how to manage an allowance, it takes some self-discipline at first, yet I’m really starting to endorse all the pros of this business model. The times of paying for a pig in a poke are over; here’s your chance to play MMOs first before agreeing on just how much you actually intend to spend on them long-term.

    …if you can handle it, that is. Honestly though, can you really blame me?

    How I spent 40 Euros in Age of Conan

    A good weekend to all of you, the well-dressed and those still running around in cow-hide!

    Six games to keep you busy ’til Guild Wars 2 (for free)

    After the information flood from this year’s Gamescom in Cologne, I was planning on posting a “little” write-up on the status-quo of Guild Wars 2, maybe highlighting all the good reasons why we can all look forward to this upcoming MMO. The new information out there is numerous and scattered, a little over-whelming and off-putting to a skeptical mind.

    A little write-up….yeah, HA-HA! How naive can you be?

    That was before I chanced upon this erm “little summary” here which the folks at GW2 Guru put together since the convention. And we have yet to hear what else ArenaNet will reveal at this week’s PAX East. Exciting times.

    This convinced me that I should not waste my time with an incomplete list of bullets and rather advise you to go and have a look for yourself. If you require any more reading after that (which I find somehow hard to believe but anyway), Kill Ten Rats have a few more links to interesting reads up. Now, I might revisit my original intention of breaking things down in a short, comprehensive summary, but for the moment timing is not on my side.

    That’s not to say of course that I will not write about Guild Wars 2 anyway, because I am really excited (you may have noticed) and after the most recent clips and interviews I’ve watched, I am longing to finally get an ETA. It’s been mentioned that the game is apparently around 65% finished – whatever that means – and I guess even with the most optimistic mind we cannot expect GW2 to be released before coming spring 2012. However, there are reasons which speak against this too, making Q2 or Q3 the more plausible time frame for potential release.

    OH NOES! What am I gonna do until then? How will I make it through the dark, cold nights of winter?? I’m fine with not playing anything much during summer time, but after September latest I usually like to know what game I will be playing in the upcoming months. After all, there are preparations to make: reading up and deciding on what to play and which server to roll on. Friends to poke and bombard with links and information, until they finally surrender and get a copy themselves (works every time!). Relatives to contact about that extended journey to Alaska you’ll be taking, where there’s unfortunately no phone line and internet in case they try reaching you during the next few months.

    I’ve no idea how to entertain myself game-wise until 2012. Yeah, there’s that list of more oldschool adventures I intend to play through – but online games are where it’s at! And before you mention SWTOR; does not appeal. Not in the slightest. So, what can we do here? I’m sure I’m not the only one currently un-subscribed to WoW or Rift and somewhat hopeless over the lack of prospects. Which is where I like to turn around and ask: what’s worth re-visiting in the world of MMOs, if not paying for straight away? Well, I might just have a few suggestions!

    Six games to keep you busy ’til Guild Wars 2 (for free)

    • Sign up for Age of Conan Unchained; with AoC entering the FTP market, this is a great opportunity to have a look at one of the most accomplished MMOs currently out there, besides WoW and Rift. While AoC is by no means a perfect game and dated in many ways, there is a lot to be said for the maps and feel of Hyboria, the solo destiny quest chain, the combat system and refreshing approach to both melee and healing classes. If you know what you are dealing with and can overlook clunky UI functionality, you should find enough to entertain you for a while and maybe even justify a temporary subscription which will allow you to unlock more race-class combinations and more. For the PvPers among you, Funcom recently released their Blood&Glory servers where almost everything goes.
    • Give Allods a chance; yeah, I know Allods’ graphics look a lot like WoW while the game gets grindy fast. Yet, this recommendation is for the shiny-lovers among you: those who love creating characters and race combos at the character screen, test out different starting areas, dig shiny armor and walking around, exploring the world. Allods is free to play and offers eye candy in areas that WoW cannot compete because it’s simply older. And I still hold to the Arisen being the most badass race ever to appear in an MMO. There’s nothing to lose by giving this game a try!
      • Have a first or second look at Final Fantasy 14;  FF14 has been off to a very rocky start, to say the least and has since suffered the full impact of screwing up many things so early into release. You can consider SE’s mistakes unforgivable, or have another look at their popular franchise which has by now undergone a lot of patching for the better, on top of becoming free to play. The game has been streamlined in many aspects of gameplay, from combat to questing and crafting, and supposedly plays a lot smoother and easier overall. No doubt, FF14 is not everyone’s cookie – but it’s still your best shot if you enjoy polished asian/anime-flair MMOs or love Mogs and Chocobos. 

      …Moving on to even more FTPs, they are everywhere now, aren’t they? Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons&Dragons Online have been entertaining their own, enthusiastic audience for a while now:

      • I was very skeptical about LotRO from the beginning (hairy feet!), until I read about Weatherstock and other community events that define this MMO which claims to call the most agreeable crowd of gamers its own. If you’re one for community, lore and traveling the world, LotRO sounds like a fair deal to pass some time in Middle Earth. 
      • DDO is probably one of those MMOs you either love or hate for their oldschool flair. If you can deal with outdated graphics and overall not-so-polished gameplay though, Turbine are ever so busy to release new content for their players to explore. I have a feeling this MMO is very much an acquired taste, but comes with its very own atmosphere and charm.
        • Last but not least: Sign up for Blizzard’s WoW starter edition. Miss Azeroth or Alterac Valley & Co. but don’t care to pay the sub? The new, limitless trial offer let’s you return to the lowbie levels of the game without your account expiring. Up to Draenei and Bloodelves are available for re-discovering WoW’s early content and many of the revamped starting areas and quests. Or you might just want to kill some horde. There are still some heavy restrictions involved, but for some casual free play on the side this might be what you’re looking for.

        Makes you wonder how long it will take for WoW to completely switch over to FTP too? At the rate that things are going, with more and more content being about fast rewards and solo- or pickup-mode, this seems like an inevitable step. Subscriptions revolve around the idea of long-term time investment and heavy cooperation.

        My PVP priest in AoC

        Anyway, these are my personal recommendations for the currently MMO-less among you, in hierarchical order. Obviously, there are many other FTP options out there, but I’m not sure I want to try any of them unless someone convinces me otherwise (consider yourself invited to). Even for more casual testing, quality is a concern (and there are limits!). I have recently resubbed to Age of Conan after a look at the new PvP server – this is the good thing about free to play: play first, make your choice later.

        There’s absolutely no reason not to give older MMOs a go. You know what you are getting here: these games might not be polished diamonds, but they have character; they’ve had a chance to mature, gather a community and offer plenty of gameplay options. At best, you’ll upgrade your account and even use the item store. At worst, you’ve gained some insights on contemporary MMOs – consider it “educational”!

        I know about the anticipated titles for early 2012 and frankly, I am not sure I will subscribe to Diablo III. The Secret World does not look like it’s going to happen for me, either (who wants to do google research quests?). As for Teraboobs, yeah right! It’s going to be a long wait for Guild Wars 2 folks…and winter is coming!

        Whereby I reconcile myself with micro-transactions

        EVE Online is dead. It died on June 2011 when CCP introduced their virtual store with the patch for Incarna. Or so some say. RMT for virtual goods of purely cosmetic value. The player base has been ablaze, some proclaiming the end of EVE Online as we know it. Others not so much, as long as the items bought by real money aren’t game-changing, who cares? Well, plenty of people did judging from the controversy this stirred while oddly enough, the new items were not strictly speaking a first in terms of turning real money into potential ingame profits (hello Plex system). But then, EVE is srs bsns, not like the rest of them lowly MMOs out there, EVE players have standards!

        I’ve never been a fan of RMT MMOs. I think one big reason for this is that the stereotype there is an FTP game with cheap graphics, horrible controls and dead servers. There are not exactly a lot of positive examples for RMT-based MMOs out there and even less of them manage to include the system in a way that won’t boil down to a divided society of those that choose to buy frequently and those that will not. Many of us feel that they make the better bargain paying subscriptions which ensure complete access to a game. Never mind that over the years we probably payed just as much in terms of fees, collector’s editions, server transfers, mini-pets et cetera. The psychological factor is huge. Also, ingame shops take self-control and we’re already spending enough money on Amazon.

        One prime reason why players strongly dislike RMT though is when “game-altering” items come into play: re-sellables that might impact on the server economy, special guild features, raid power-ups or epic gear. We feel this messes up server “harmony”; we want a level ground between players and so do competitive guilds. Not that such harmony were existant in the first place in any MMO; we do never have an equal situation between individual players nor raid guilds, RMT or not. Or would you ever have called a game as merciless and elitist as EVE Online harmonic?

        The classist fallacy

        I’ve actually heard micro-transactions being called classist, as if virtual goods were somehow representative for the social rifts and injustices on this planet. As if there were truly poor MMO players, as if we were not all of us already among the most privileged, sitting in front of our PCs at night in comfy chairs, with our high-speed internet connections, our active subs and second accounts, enjoying free time in the safety of a warm home. There’s not one single WoW player out there right now who could not just as well afford to play an RMT-based MMO if he so chose. The classist argument is dramatic humbug and frankly offensive to those who are truly socially disadvantaged in this world. If you believe the lack of a shiny pixel horse makes you inferior to other players, you don’t have issues worth mentioning. Let’s forget too, that players who don’t buy pets don’t buy pets because they don’t want to buy pets. Duhh.

        MMO “communities” have always been classist, always will be – but RMT has very little to do with it. Top guilds with high reqs are classist; hardmodes are classist; any sort of rare title/gear/achievement is classist. And a great deal of people think they are classist when they’re really just jerks with inferiority issues. As one commenter on an EO board added:

        I’m sick of being beaten by people with more time than I have, more people skills than I have, having simply typed “spaced based mmo” into google before I did, or just plain old better game skill than I have.
        Let me use my financial superiority to crush some of them into the ground. [*]

        And while I don’t exactly agree with him because time spent should still have its place for me in an MMO, I fully understand his perspective. He is being out-classed and there’s little he can do subjectively. So, would the introduction of an item-shop in EVE, even a game-altering one, unhinge social justice? No, it wouldn’t. Would there suddenly be traumatic, social rifts because some can and some cannot afford a 10 dollar rucksack? Hardly. People will pay for these things if they want to.

        Let’s be honest, if we don’t spend that money ingame, it means we’re spending it somewhere else like we do every single day. Maybe we’d buy an album less on iTunes in order to get that special armor, maybe we’d skip a cinema visit or buying that 5th pair of shoes. Outrageous? Maybe we’d even cut down to smoking half a pack per day instead of a whole one – you could do worse than that, I think. It’s a matter of perspective, more than competitiveness. You don’t “have to” buy tons and tons of items in an RMT-based game either, just like you don’t “have to” collect 400k gold in WoW in order to partake and compete. Developers want you to play their games long-term, they will always aim at a tolerable balance.

        What the current, obvious trend of selling virtual goods in the MMO industry really is doing, is challenging players to deal with a new reality. Not a classist concept, certainly not in the sense of a more or less capitalist one – but a huge shift in paradigm. We used to pay for playtime, or so we thought. The new generation of games makes us pay for goods instead (or additionally), more explicitly than before. The acceptance of this indirect change is difficult to stomach. Really now, how’s 10 dollars spent on a mini-pet you enjoy for months “worse” than spending them on a movie ticket? Have we not continuously fought for the acceptance of our online worlds, adventures and friendships, pointing out how they are just as real as real life experiences because of the way they make us feel? Why wouldn’t / shouldn’t we pay for this more explicitly, when we’re already paying for it indirectly? And why can my co-worker spend a few hundred bucks each month for her horse-riding without wasting similar thoughts?

        These are questions I have to face and frankly I’m running out of arguments. Am I a fan of micro-transactions all of a sudden? Hell no, my old-school heart is having troubles adjusting. Do I think that money could be spent much worse than on virtual goods? Absolutely.

        Why the narrator in me keeps hyping Guild Wars 2

        Blizzard recently dropped their bomb about introducing a real-money AH in Diablo III which, while “optional”, will impact on things like player progress in the game. My initial reaction was negative – that was before I actually pondered all the points listed in the above paragraph. It’s certainly not surprising in terms of where Blizzard has been going for years now and it’s a small step away from their Blizzstore and the virtual goods that already exist for WoW. Even if developers like to point out how items are purely for “vanity”, you could argue that things like a special mount are in fact game-altering. They undermine the achievement that used to be acquiring expensive, fast or rare mounts in the game, y’know back in a time when that was true. Mounts are loot and loot is social prestige. Now that prestige can be achieved by real currency as much as virtual, our two worlds collide.

        Sucker for narrative and setting that I am for my MMOs, I actually still have a problem here: real money presents players with short-cuts. I’m not fond of that in the slightest. I would argue though that there’s a big difference between a sub-based MMO that introduces more and more RMT late into the game in order to make extra profits and one that is fundamentally created around that system. The fact that Blizzard promotes the feature as a purely optional yet powerful alternative, makes things worse in my eyes. Either we have an MMO where players are all meant to buy certain goods and that therefore balances content focus around it, or we don’t. To add the feature into a game as loot-/item-centric as WoW is worlds more problematic than for an MMO where the main focus lies on things like cooperative play or narrative for example. If epics are what your world revolves around, you don’t want a shop to sell more and more purples.

        This is where my enthusiasm for Guild Wars 2 kicks in again. Already, GW2 has the complete looks, style and package to become the next AAA+ MMORPG and it comes free of subscription. Players will pay for modules/expansions and there will be micro-transactions. From everything I have seen, read and heard so far, NC Soft has every intention to heavily re-focus the game from the current classic MMO course out there. What added fuel to my excitement was a video I recently watched on youtube, summarizing pretty much every single reason why I personally look forward to GW2. I couldn’t agree more with all 10 points presented there, but see for yourself! I am a little weary of just how appealing the game is to me at this stage, I haven’t been excited like that ever since World of Warcraft. Beautiful art and music, dynamic content, no holy trinity, cooperative focus, a vast world with no flying mounts – music to my ears!

        And yes, Guild Wars 2 will feature virtual goods. If the final game is nearly as good as it’s promising, I couldn’t care less.