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Top Ten Free-to-Play Games

Posted Mon, Nov 17, 2008 by Ralsu


For most Western gamers, the concept of the item mall in free-to-play games is scarier than images of Rosie O'Donnell in S&M gear. The foundation for the fear of item malls rests on two separate issues. The first concern is that the item mall will suck up more than the $15/month that is the current standard among MMOGs. The second cause for panic is the gnawing sense of dread that item mall purchases will be necessary in order to enjoy the game.

So that's where teh skinny Smurfs came from!

As a fan of F2P games, I'd like to tell readers that being afraid of item malls makes as much sense as the square root of negative one. Unfortunately, many F2P titles validate the fear, and instead I have to convince you why you should ignore your instincts when considering the item mall for Atlantica Online. First, let's cut into the meat of the fear like an 8th grader in science class with a frog.

The First Incision
It doesn't take Alan Greenspan to figure out why companies use an item mall. The media has documented the trend of microtransactions in MMOGs well. It is much easier to get consumers to make several small purchases than a single larger purchase. It's why every convenience store in America lines the shelves at the checkout with Twinkies and lighters.

The impulse items that line the counters in convenience stores are exactly why people who cannot manage money find themselves on game shows like Hurl to make some extra cash. When you are not keeping track of what you spend, it is easy to spend more than intended. That's why in West--particularly in America--we love the flat rates charged for subscription-based MMOGs so much. It's easy to plan for that single charge of $15 each month, but it's hard to track multiple purchases in an item mall.

The Second Cut
Even if you're Scrooge McDuck and know how to pinch pennies, you might still worry that the F2P title you love will be ruined by an item mall with a certain type of merchandise. The famous one is always the boost to XP. Many Asian games, notorious for making finer treadmills than NordicTrack, sell items that increase XP for a limited time in their item malls. Requiem: Bloodymare, a game mentioned often in this Top Ten, sells XP boosts. More often than not, XP buffs only serve to correct the problem of an unbearable leveling curve. The people who shell out the cash can level at the normal rate while those who do not are left out in the cold like the president of Columbia Sportswear.

In the case of the lemons sold in item malls, the second cut runs deeper. Players get the impression that developers care about nothing but profit because they have to pay for services and items they get as part of their subscription for other games. Who cares if it's actually cheaper to buy the components you want individually? Paying for XP boosts so that you don't stab yourself in the eye with a pencil makes you feel like you're dealing with a used car salesman.

You can't trust this guy, but NDOORS won't try to scam you.

Stitching the Wound
Back to the Atlantica Online item mall. It looks like NDOORS has decided to sell items that are mostly cosmetic and convenient, the best kind of things to sell. Sure the items can make your squad more powerful, but we're not talking Konami cheat code invincible. Let's look at some of the great items featured.

Licenses: These unlock abilities and conveniences ranging from being able to see the health of enemies for attacking them to having a permanent mercenary room to store an extra mercenary. Players can still get similar items in game, but the chances are slim or the effects are fleeting. Having a permanent mercenary room saves the need to purchase them with in-game cash. It does not break the game. My prediction for the best sellers from this group? The permanent merc room is a bargain at roughly $5. Also, the Teleportation Licenses make travel as fun and easy as travel aboard the NCC 1701-D.

Supplies: The goods here include highly desired spells and potions. Power Potions provide a temporary buff to the squad, making everyone do more damage and take less. The Secret Vial of Rebirth is a virtual sex change operation, allowing players to change the gender of their avatars. Like the licenses, supplies provide a cosmetic benefits or temporary boosts that do not disrupt game balance. Best sellers from the supplies will likely include The Secret Vial of Ambrosia, which will change your main character's class so you don't have to reroll if you decide the class you picked does not fit your lifestyle. At just under $5 per 100 uses, Ambrosia could be another hot item because it provides massive healing to the whole squad that will help even level 100 players. Of course, the players who buy the Secret Vial of Rebirth can always reenact The Crying Game for fun.

Packages: This option allows players to buy collections of the favorite licenses in a single transaction. The beginner package combines the Health Check Licenses with some Teleportation Licenses. More expensive packages include Patrol Licenses (decreased chance of enemy reinforcements joining a fight) and Auto-Search Licenses (a summoned minion loots corpses so that you don't have to waste mercenary turns to do so. Packages are the most expensive options in the item mall, but that can save money for the player who was going to buy all of the stuff anyway. The most expensive package runs about $39 for 90 days, an average of $13/month. Priceless like that make NDOORS seem a little less Hordak and a little more Kowl.

Final Cut
The Atlantica Online item mall does it right. Gamers can choose to never spend a dime and still enjoy the game to its fullest. People who have some extra money can buy some items and abilities that will enhance their enjoyment without giving them an unfair advantage. In a market full of stinkers, the revenue approach from NDOORS in Atlantica Online is like a shot of Febreze.

Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Ten Ton Hammer network or staff.

The Top Ten
Continue to page two to see Ralsu's latest Top Ten list.

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