A couple of weeks ago DH asked me how free to play games were making their cash and I honestly didn’t know the answer beyond the obvious “Cash Shop”. Turns out the answer really is that simple, the cash shop makes those free to play titles a fortune. When you nickel and dime the game so that you either stop and think before you do something which costs real world money or you just invest real world cash upfront and forget about until resources in game run dry, there is a price tag on almost every action you take in game.
I don’t mind the cash shop concept so long as two conditions are met: there are no game changers and there is a subscription model for the game. I understand that not everyone can shell out the $15 a month (on average) that most MMO’s charge but I bet if they kept track of their purchases for the “free to play” MMO flavor of the month, on average, those expenses would exceed that of the subscription game.
Runes is actually a pretty brilliantly done game once you accept that it, at first glance, is a WOW clone. However, there is no subscription choice for Runes which means that customers must spend real world money to do things like fast travel between zones, purchase a permanent or semi-permanent mount, and upgrade equipment. You also must spend real world money to upgrade backpack and bank storage space. Admittedly it is possible to purchase real world currency in game for gold but you must have amassed millions in gold to make this a viable alternative and thus this alternative is unavailable to new players. Had Runes has a subscription option which would have given me upgraded backpack and storage, mounts, etc. without spending additional real world money I would have signed up in a heartbeat.
Everquest II has a free to play and subscription version, the two gaming communities are separate however. I re-upped my EQII subscription yesterday and it was like rediscovering an old friend. Yes, Sony Online (SOE) has had several major public problems in the last 45 days but the game and gameplay is more than strong enough to bring players back. There is a cash shop for both EQII communities, however there are no end game changers in the cash shop. You can’t spend $25 bucks and buy the “sword of awesomeness” and skip over raid content. SOE’s cash shop, from my experience, is mostly cosmetic items and mounts that you can’t buy in game. I am thrilled to be back as an EQII subscriber and will spend the next several days figuring out where my characters are and what I need to do with the next. It is a journey I love and a game that never runs out of quests for me to complete!