Atlantica Online: The Mall of Atlantica Online
MMORPG.com Atlantica Online Correspondent Matt Plourde writes this overview of the mall system in NDoors' Atlantica Online
Nothing's ever free - right? Maybe the internet is changing the availability on some stuff nowadays (Wikipedia killed the encyclopedia business), but there's nothing inexpensive about developing an MMORPG in today's market. So, "Free to Play" (F2P) MMORPGs are never totally free. You may have to look at a banner (Pirates of the Caribbean Online, Dungeon Runners), or parts of the game may be inaccessible (see previous), and/or the game may have a cash item shop (Flyff, Maple Story, Perfect World). Each method has its drawbacks and advantages, but I know I am thankful for these mostly free games!
Atlantica Online uses a cash shop, where you can purchase game items with real-world cash. In most cash shop games, these items are far and away better than anything attainable in the game. Want a mighty godly sword of murder-death-kill? Lay down $4.99 in the cash shop and it's yours! Savvy MMOG developers also populate these shops with exquisite dress-ups for your avatars - heck, who doesn't want fairy wings that glow, obscure the sun, and cook waffles on the tips? Offering these kinds of items has worked well for current F2P MMORPGs. However, Atlantica went in a different direction - most of the items in Atlantica's Item Mall can be attained through normal gameplay. Further, these items serve to make the player's experience more convenient, rather than putting an artifact of tremendous power in your hands.
How does it work?
You can access the Item Mall from the Atlantica homepage or from the menu in the game. You purchase "GCoins" with a credit card, game card, paypal, or a few other methods. Then, you use those GCoins to purchase items from the mall. The items are immediately transferred into a storage area accessible by all your characters from an in-game menu. You "retrieve" the item just like an item attached to an in-game mail and you're cookin' with ambrosia!
All-in-all, the transactions are quite painless - especially since you are spending 599 GCoins and not $5.99... right? NDoors must have visited a few casinos in their time.
What can you buy?
At the moment, scrolls and licenses dominate the Item Mall. Scrolls have many uses, but are particularly great for winning boss fights. Licenses cover (usually) a time-limited ability such as teleporting to and from towns and dungeons. The Health Check license allows you to see the health bars of your enemies, and is considered a "must have" by many players. Instead of purchasing individual licenses, you may buy them in bundled packages for a little bit of savings. The Mercenary Room and Extra Inventory licenses are permanent licenses (the others expire after a period of time), so those are a great value if you're in for the long haul.
Rounding out the available items are a permanent mount, power-up potions which make you stronger for a period of time, super-food, limited respec books, stat growth vials, an appearance changing potion, and a class-changing potion.
Time will tell if the items available through the mall will remain "convenience" items only. The Korean release of the game is ahead of the U.S. in terms of age and content. Their mall features some beachware clothing, mercenary upgrade jewels, and enchant stones (to name a few things unavailable in the U.S.). Everything except the beachware is available in the game, so it seems NDoors is sticking to their business plan for the time being.
Can it work?
Every person on the internet with a blog and an opinion can debate until the otters come home one way or the other - subscription is better than microtransactions... and vice-versa. I think a more neutral view is closer to reality. Of course, microtransaction games can succeed, and I believe Atlantica has built some momentum with only offering certain items in the mall.
My optimism is tempered, though. When Atlantica launched, they promoted bonus GCoins when you made a purchase. Who doesn't like free stuff, right? Well, those "bonus" GCoins expire after a month! To add salt to the wound, those coins are also the last ones spent. Now, I'll never complain about something for free, but this type of tactic reeks of cutthroat marketing - where only the consumer loses. In my opinion, this is not a good way to build longterm customer trust.
The Bottom Line…
As a free to download & play game, 100% of Atlantica's content is available to players without ever stepping foot in the Item Mall. With no "I Win" buttons available (yet) in the mall, players can expect a level playing field as well. I hate to sound all starry-eyed, but NDoors may have hit the mark with their financial strategy... hopefully they make enough money to keep the servers going!