In recent months, I’ve been a nomad, bouncing from game-to-game, seemingly at a whim. A mere mention of enjoyment by a respected peer, friend or guildie has caused me to experiment in all sorts of digital frontiers, of which the free-to-play market has a vast offering. The fledgling sub-genre covers every MMOG niche, from sandbox games (Minecraft, for the moment, at least) to themepark rides (Forsaken World) to the oft-canceled or -shelved sci-fi projects (Earthrise). Most of these titles are supported by an item shop (a.k.a. item mall or, for the Jack Donaghys out there, “microtransactions”), which often fall in to one of these categories.
Before heading to the list, allow me to point out that few games offer only items from one category. That being said, it’s often instantly clear what a developer’s intention is after a quick glance at the available goods.
Purchase the Power – This is still the stereotype when people think about item shops, but it’s incorrect (except in the East). The predominant items in shops of this ilk increase a character’s power directly. This can be by purchasing better gear, upgraded skills or even entire levels. Nearly all Western games, whether developed here or tailored to the audience, stay away from turning dollars into virtual power.
Time-saving Trinkets – The MMOGs that focus on leveling up to reach an endgame are often supported by purchase-able buffs. Not insta-gib-the-next-player perks, but double XP, double in-game currency, better loot drops, personal stat buffs (that generally don’t apply in PvP settings) or resetting daily quest timers. The design of the game is to get the player to want to level as fast as possible. Or maybe that’s just human nature. Either way, the shops will cure what ails ya.
Frivolous Figments – Games that don’t fit the common MMOG mold often have shops full of superfluous items that don’t impact, well, anything, except maybe one’s vanity. Costumes pieces or new skins, extra character slots, rentable bag or bank space. None of it is absolutely necessary, but gamers of one type or another desire it.
Content Collections – Developing expansions is a necessity for subscription games. It refreshes interest in the title and gives players new challenges. In recent years, selling content, usually party-based or raiding dungeons, has become the big selling point for Western F2P game shops. Content comes fast and furious.
Personally, my ideal shop skews towards the Content Collections label. I’m more of a themepark-minded gamer that enjoys his stories and a dev’s expert crafting of encounters. I’ll consume the occasional time-saving item when I expect a bit of binge gaming, but rarely indulge in frivolous fair.
Each player has their own appetites, expectations and justifications for dolling out hard-earned cash. That is, outside the universal constant of wanting at a reasonable price. What’s your ideal shop?