This article is not a broad criticism of the f2p model as a whole or even item shops in general. It is about applying logic to one small part of the so called f2p revolution: buying and selling buffs and potions in item shops. Hopefully I'll be able to illustrate just how sleazy the practice is and help some of you buyers out there, even occasional buyers, snap out of it.
So, you're a freshly minted alt - you've just saved the town for the third time and you can almost feel the crackle of lightning coursing through your new staff and pulsing through the inscribed runes. There's a cloud in the sky though, your spirits are dampened a bit by the foreknowledge that just over that little stone bridge there's a pissed off farmer who'll need 15 wolves killed.
You do it because you know he gives you the 5 AC Robe of Wonder and maybe zapping them with lightning is new enough to take some of the tedium out of finding and killing those 15 while avoiding the white ones until you meet the farmer's friend down the road.
You blaze through some greys but die once because you got too close to a white. He seemed to come from a long way to get you though and took you down in two bites, but maybe he was returning from a chase and you were still wearing that Ragged Robe after all.
Back off into the woods you go blasting greys. It's fun but holy hanna do mages go through mana. They did say mages were advanced to solo with, but that heal costs about a third of your mana a cast. Luckily, you had the 4 small mana vials the townsfolk gave you in appreciation and you didn't use them all. The farmer was going to give another 2 along with the robe so you'd be back to 4 and should be able to easily get through the white wolves for his friend.
You get to his friends house and of course he asks you for 15 white wolves. They're a little way off, but you get there, find the first one and then mana mana mana, die die die. You get sick of running back and forth and though you're looking forward to that castle in the valley, you begin to get kind of bored of the grind.
This could be any MMO, subscription or item shop based. The difference is how devs and producers will handle the situation.
For a sub based game the dev's motivation is to keep you interested so you stay subscribed. The way to do that is to make adjustments so the grind isn't so boring. Boring is bad.
For an item shop game the motivation of the devs is to increase the grind so you go through your mana quicker. The more you burn through, the more they sell. If they don't sell mana in the store the situation is much more dire. They're selling XP and health buffs. In that situation they try to walk a fine line between you being bored enough to buy ways to accelerate through the content, but not bored enough to quit.
See, the tables of capitalism have turned. In a sub game, you're a customer who is there to be entertained. They have to keep you from getting bored by adding content and keeping things balanced. In an item shop game the devs control both the sale of and the need for buffs.
We're not dealing with "The Mom and Pop Dev Shop" here either. The games are sold to us by massive corporations that see only numbers at the decision making level. You can bet your life they are not only adjusting content so you're either bored out of your mind or die enough to get frusterated, but also researching the f2p model into a precise money extracting machine. It's a real goldmine for them - they're selling replicable 150k icons for $3 a piece and controlling the need for them.
In the real world you'd be fined or sued for for creating a need for which you're the sole provider of the solution. At the very least it's the sleaziest of businesses that use that model. Camel Joe and the Marlboro man are guilty of it - nicotine is addictive, all they have to do is get you in the door and let's face it - Camel Joe was targeted at kids. Crack dealers use the f2p model as does big Phama. Restless leg disorder, give me a f'ing break, but you can get a free sample - just ask your doctor and here's a pamphlet outlining your symptoms. Cure cancer not boners you f'ers. But I digress, back to bilking people by selling icons.
I don't think people who think differently than me on this subject are morons, but I do think the companies using this model are sleazy. After considering how many times a buff icon is replicated, it costs a fraction of a penny in development costs. It's pretty much nothing if we're talking potions -they're a 2d 150k .png already on our drives along with a function, [x = x + 50] and [y=20;y=y-1], or some shit. Selling a 20-pack for $9.99 while fine-tuning the difficulty of the content is disgusting.
It's literally like beating a kid up, taking his candy, selling it back to him, then beating him up and taking it again. With a game and an item shop there's no real violence but the financial transactions are, pardon the pun, virtually the same.
Additionally, I personally believe the journalists encouraging this f2p revolution are behaving irresponsibly by not thinking this thing through. You're telling a lot of kids to spend $10 on a 2d 150k .png already on their drives along with the equation [x = x + 50] and [y=20;y=y-1] from a company that adjusts difficulty levels to lower even the virtual value of that purchase as low as they can possibly get away with. Kids listen to you guys, ya know.
Frankly, this type of rip-off can't happen in a purely subscription based game. It makes no financial sense for a company running a pure sub game to do anything but raise the perceived value of fun and accomplishment in their game. Items, either purchased via in game currency or given outright, are rewards not expenses. A crappy player doesn't pay more to play the game and you can't get swatted by some noob who XP potted his way through the levels.
A sub game is a game with rules - you buy the game and you play the game. Everyone plays under the same conditions no matter what their financial situation.
Most importantly, the devs don't have financial incentive to make your valuable playtime frusterating or boring, their only financial incentive is to develop more content to keep you paying that sub.