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Digging Into the Item Shop

By Beau Turkey on June 03, 2009 | General Articles | Comments

Digging Into the Item Shop
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In the cash shop world, it is accepted that many players spend money on virtual items. It is discussed here and there, and in some games is talked about as though the items might be "unfair," but overall the attitude is "anyone can do it, so be it..."

Mabinogi is no different. I spend a great deal of time in the game, and players rarely even discuss the cash shop... at least in the populated towns and in discussions with me. Granted, they could be staging protests that I am not invited to, but I doubt it. Most players are simply playing the game.

Why is it that most players (in cash shop games) don't worry so much about those players that spend real life money on items, while players in non-cash shop games seem to speak of the cash shop as though it is the end of the world?

Well, several reasons.

They are worried about their accomplishments being de-valued

This is the purest argument, and the simplest. Players (that do not use cash shops/RMT) feel as though their "hard work" will no longer have any merit if another player can simply log in and buy his way into the glory that the non-cash shop player worked for. While I have met mostly people that don't care in the least about what other players do with their time and money, there is a good section of players that would allow the presence of a cash shop to destroy their feeling of value as a player who "works" for their status. This argument, while I find it to be the easiest to solve, does have a very strong basis in reality. Developers need to be aware that while a cash-shop can make you money, some players will simply leave your game when they see someone playing differently than them. No players means no game.

They are worried about the in-game economy being destroyed/rattled/changed for the worse

Not a bad argument, depending on the game. EVE is a good example of a game that (according to those defenders of RMT in EVE) literally allows you to buy your way into the best items/pilots/ships in the game while maintaining a still healthy economy. Some say that EVE is different in its approach to an in-game economy, but it isn't. Pages of numbers and spread sheets does not mean the game is more complicated than any other. More volume? Yes.. Harder to understand? No. In a game like Mabinogi in which the initial set-up included a cash-shop, the economy already took cash-shops into mind.. In a game like Vanguard which had its RMT (buying characters, items and gold) added to the game long after release, the economy might be affected. I am in the camp that says that the economy doesn't matter much, anyway. The game almost always provides enough high-end and sought-after items to make cash-shops just an option, nothing more. Hardly any game exists in which high-end players get the best items/gear from a cash shop...they simply go after those items in-game.

They are worried about a cash-shop adding gold farmers to the game

The least powerful of all of the arguments. Nearly every MMO, from WoW to Mabinogi, has issues with gold farming. It has nothing to do with selling characters, items or gold in a legal way. If anything, a cash shop should take away the seedy element of gold farming because it is legal, and not the reverse. We all know that making something illegal (gold farming) does no good towards curbing the behavior.

I wanted to show how far 15 dollars will go in a cash shop type game" Mabinogi's cash shop is wonderful, filled with items that DO give you an advantage (we will discuss over who the advantage is in a moment) and some that are just plain fun.

So, I added 15 dollars from my Pay-Pal account and started shopping. Here are some examples of basics that any player might want:

A mount. Mounts are mostly a fast-travel device. They save you time. They can also fight with you, be played by you, and carry your items. They can heal you and perform other magic. Some can carry two players at a time (a wonderful way to meet people!) Most mounts are around 10 dollars or under. I think a mount is a must, not only because of the speed increase, but because they are beautiful and can be helpful in so many ways.

A pet, different than your mount. Pets are fantastic, and do increase your combat capability. Some of them can be "harvested" for milk or poison, and all of them can hold some items and help you in combat. Many of them can pick up dropped items and can heal you. I would say at least one pet is a must, especially if you are soloing. This will cost you between three and eight dollars.

Character services. These are great, and really let you customize your play. One of the best items is the "Fantasy Life Club" (what is with these names?) that allows you several items from extra inventory space to resurrection services in case of knock-out. You can buy all of the services included in the Fantasy Life Club separately, but if you buy them all together, you save a lot of money. The Club is roughly 15 dollars, so choose this only if you already have the other items mentioned.

Character Cards: In order to make a character (besides the initial free one), you must buy a character card. Being that the skill system in Mabinogi allows you to have every "job" within one character, I see no point in having multiple characters. You can also use a character card to do a "rebirth", which is basically a reset of your character's age and level. Why would you want to reset your level/age? Well, at earlier levels, you can not only gain the next level more easily. but the amount of AP points you get is more than at later levels. The more AP points, the quicker you can gain higher level skills.

Let me give you an example:

Say my level 17, age 17 character wants to keep raising his "smash" skill, but it's getting harder to level and even his birthday AP gifts (meaning that once a week on his birthday he gets AP points, but less of them as he gets older) are less than before, so he re-births and gets back to those lower levels that are easier to gain and that give you more AP points.

The bonus? His skills stay at the same level, so he just keeps building on those.

A rebirth card will cost you around 8-10 dollars, but the only reason to get a more expensive one is to get more customization features with your avatar. Other than that, the basic rebirth cards are now even free when you hit age 20. In other words, play for 20 weeks, rebirth, play for 20 weeks, rebirth. Or, if you get impatient, buy a rebirth once a week.

All of these examples rarely affect players other than yourself. The only real advantage you might gain is the advantage over yourself (if you hadn't used the items.) Most of these items are simply time-savers, and nothing more. Even in the very specific argument of PvP, there are too many variables to say that someone with a small amount of extra health (due to a potion bought in the cash shop) has a distinct advantage over someone that might have spent more time in game, honing his skills.

That's the problem with the "cash shop = unfair advantage" argument. There are very, very few examples of games in which players have the ability to take from the other player in combat, or in which players are literally competing for an item that is unobtainable by others.

In other words, there is no perma-death and every item in every MMO (with a few small examples like titles or special awards) is endless. That rare loot from a Vanguard dungeon can be obtained by everyone, with equal chances. That special sword that was bought within a cash-shop has an equivalent in the "real world." And none of these MMOs have a steadfast rule set that tells every player what the goal is. Every MMO allows players to make up their own goals, and to achieve them however they want. Just because something like rare loot is a common goal for players does not mean it is an official goal for all players.

So how much advantage does 15 dollars buy you in a game like Mabinogi? Plenty of it, if you are competing against yourself.

Beau Turkey / I write for Massively.com, and you can find all of my columns at http://www.massively.com/bloggers/beau-hindman