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MMO Money Magazine

Writings on the business of fun: Virtual Worlds and Real Money Makes Online Gaming a Big Business. My economic view on the world of online games - without the hype.

Author: Inktomi

The Cash Shop Survival Guide.

Posted by Inktomi Thursday July 16 2009 at 9:44PM
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   In light of recent announcements, posts, blogs and epic threads on the internet about gamer attitude towards RMT (real money transactions), I feel that something was missing.

Between all the attitudes and opinions, justifications and economics 101 lessons (I’m guilty there!), I feel that no one has stepped up and really tried to “show you the ropes” so to speak. Let’s bring in a hypothetical situation; a loved one has been playing this cutesy free to play game for some time and wants you to get involved. Knowing that you have experience in your current subscription based game you say yes, begrudgingly because you and your regular crew have a policy on F2P games: “They suck.”

So you download the software, it’s free, that’s a change. You install and quickly head over to the website where you are inundated with ads to “buy this” and a link to charge your amount of in game currency: we will call these “The Dudley’s”

“Aye, yo.” you ask your smiling significant other, “Thought this was free?” She quickly responds that it is free “to play” and install, but there is a lot of items in the cash shop that you can use in game using Dudley’s or the abbrev. “Dud’s”. You decide to yourself that you spend enough on your game, you get the world for only 15 smacks and you are not spending a dime here. ‘Nuff said.

The first thing I do is look at the currency; they have a lot of different names according to the game company you use. There are the diamonds, NCcoin, Gpotatoe’s and even the new “cryptic buck” that is going to be used in the soon to be released Champions Online. They are usually sold in online packages that you can buy as bundles or pre-paid cards that come in $10 - $20 increments and up.  These can be redeemed online and used in the cash shop; some are even sold in convenience stores. For that late night gamer in all of us!

“Yo, I know this!”

I know, but here’s the catch: for $10.00 usd I can buy 500 Dud’s. Now treat your girlfriend to 500 duds, ya big cheapo!

Do the math: Like any Foriegn RL currency there is a transfer rate from that currency to ours.

500 ÷ 10 = 50

So for every $1.00 I get 50 duds, doesn’t seem so bad now does it?

10 ÷ 500 = .02

This tells you that every Dudley is worth .02 cents!

Hey, that really seems simple, now go put in your “two coppers worth.”

You can plug and play the numbers as you wish, there is also a virtual currency chart I use; I don’t know accurate it is from game to game but it’s a help. This is good to know when you look to your cash shop, when using certain services and most importantly working out a budget. There are many games that also give you the option of earning currency in game to use in the shop, usually it’s not easy to do so but it’s nice to have. If you pulled the trigger on your girls 500 Duds, grats to you on 1,000 BF points, you can use those on your own.>;)

“How do I buy Dudley’s?” Most games do take PayPal, most credit cards or offer prepaid cards as I said earlier. If you don’t feel comfy with using your ID online and can’t find prepaid, what I do is go to my local mall and get a gift certificate that comes in the form of a VISA card. Make sure it says VISA or MasterCard on it, if not then there are other alternatives, usually they will have that stuff listed on the site. The prepaid and GC’s are a great way to keep your ID safe and keep yourself on a budget. I know that I would be dangerous with a major CC tied to a F2P MMORPG, lol.

There is so much stuff! There is usually a lot going on in the shops and it can get confusing, I will try my best to categorize and prioritize it for you.

Storage: most F2P MT (micro-trans) games have an element built in that limits your storage capacity and sells you the slots (bank, bag, character, content or otherwise) for a time at a fee. I know that many games will put quest items in your physical inventory, along with other stuff you collect along the way. This can quickly become cumbersome, especially for crafters, collectors, explorers and general packrats like me. It is worth it if you know you are going to be playing the game for awhile, so drop some Dud’s and open some bags.

Travel Arrangements: This consists of anything that get’s you from point A to point B. Mounts that fly or not, horses, teleporters, markers, portals etc. This division can get pricey and has items that fall under 2 categories, Travel and Vanity Items. Many times companies will offer you some startup travel arrangements ingame, and also offer sales. But be careful, I know someone who went nuts over a $10 horse, and that seems like a lot. But if this is going to be a permanent fixture for you and plan on spending the money, make sure that it is going to be a one shot deal. If you don’t want an ordinary mount, then walk it and wait for something that you really want or take a temporary in the meantime.

Vanity Items: Ahh, everyones favorite. Anything that changes the appearance of your character, mount, pet or otherwise and doesn’t change any stats is simply vanity. Just for looks. Even that pet is vanity, that flying mount is as well as I mentioned before. Since it’s all for looks, this is where you ask yourself: “How important is this to me?” Most Vanity is really cheap, but some isn’t. Changing facial or racial aspects can cost you some money; just keep asking yourself if it’s worth it to you to do it. Armor and weapons are sometimes offered in shops, this is where it gets tricky; if they do actually carry improved stats and are not available anywhere in game it falls under MLH’s, if not then they are strictly vanity items as well.

MLH’s or “Mommies Little Helpers”™: This is the category that has the MMO Society in an uproar and sometimes causes people to take stances and choose sides. This consists of anything that increases the game experience and how it affects your character. Most of this consists of potions for increased experience gain or increased loot drops, also any armor, weapons or pets that provide a boost in stats. Very often, companies provide “packages” of these types of items or a subscription style access to the game (The DDO VIPs as an example).

I also feel that certain types of upgrades to items at MLH’s and come in the form of enchantments or effect equipment in some beneficial way. Some feel that this might provide an imbalance in the game between characters that do and the ones that don’t.  This is a vast topic that is up for discussion about certain items or affects, I am not going to get into semantics here about it. I am just going to provide a loose and open category, if you want to get into particulars, which is your call. That is just my outlook on that, and that is all I have to say on the topic. TYVM

Most MLH’s usually will give you more exp bonus and less death penalty but that varies between games. For some, this can be a very way to really ramp up the meaningfulness in the time you play, or can be abused by some to get a “leg up” on other players. This all differs from player to player, if you feel that this is not your route, don’t do it. If you feel that it streamlines the way you play, and then put it in your budget. I for one, always patronize a good game with at least 1 month of a package type deal, I feel its good karma, good business and gives back to the community. A lot of times though, I do ask myself “is this worth the money?”

Content: This I feel is the meat and potatoes of a cash shop. This constitutes any playable content such as quests or areas, minigames, characters/races or even slots for characters or content. City of Heroes recently started offering players extra slots for created content using the architect to store new story arcs. Another example are the racecar and driver job of Free Realms, these have an effect on “what you play” and your meaningful experience within the game. If I was going to spend any money on a game, it would be here mostly, because I want to get the most out of this game and what it offers. Again, watch your budget and most importantly enjoy yourself; you and your honey should be having fun right about now.

Specialty Items:  These are most items that are only offered for a limited time or tied into an event. One example is the new Thunderbird mount offered in Mabinogi, only offered between July 16 to July 23rd. This is an attractive flying mount that does carry abilities and stats, also boosts your stats as well. This can be classed as MLH, vanity and specialty, if your girlfriend has got you playing Mabonogi you might want to consider this. Again, specialty items can vary from game to game and class to class.

So there you have it in a nutshell, this is a loose outline of what you’ll face in many F2P RMT games. Just make sure that you do your calculations on your currency and watch your bottom line. You will see that more often than not you are spending exactly what you would be on a subscription basis. Plus it does give you certain freedoms, if you decide to wander off to another game; you’re not wasting the time on your subscription. I will say again, this will vary from player to player on how you view, use and definitely benefit from a cash shop. The most important point is that you are having a good time while you do it.

If you have been playing Mabonogi with your girlfriend and buy her the Thunderbird mount, you just got 100,000 BF points. Do yourself a favor, shut off the game and cash those in. Thank me later.

Play safe,