Allods Online, and Putting a Price on Virtual Goods

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This week sees the soft launch of Allods Online, a fantasy MMO with steampunk and space opera influences from Russian based Astrum Nival.

Although the game is free to play, they’ve been careful to emphasise the phrase subscriptionless, or no subscription required. Because of course, it’s only free up to the point where players dip into the cash shop. Which may not be absolutely required, but should certainly be stocked up with things which are nice to have.

This is not a review, as I’ve only dipped into the game briefly. It reminds me a lot of launch-era WoW, with a strong influence from older games such as DaoC in areas like class design. The UI in particular will feel very familiar. As will the inevitable paladin vs warrior forum wars when people warm to the game and realise that two classes are, again, competing to tank.

But it isn’t launch era WoW, there’s more to the game than that. The classes themselves feel lively and interesting (I’m sure PvP will soon remind everyone of why having a specialist crowd control class is a bad idea but damn if it isn’t fun), and world design is gorgeous. In short, it’s a great place to be a tourist.

Still, my brief time in game was also long enough to be utterly wowed by the Empire-side Aesthetics and equally turned off by the League-side. The Empire is the slightly more evil faction, which you can tell by the fact that it includes orcs, gorgeously designed cyber zombies, and a human race who are just a bit too fond of uniforms.

Alternatively you could go with the League and their faerie winged elves, families of fluffy gerbils, and humans who are slightly less uptight about uniforms. But if you can resist the lure of soviet-style steampunk aesthetics then you’re a stronger wo/man than I.

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Empire recruiting poster, I guess.

Pricing the Cash Shop

There is a famous (and possibly fictitious) story attributed to George Bernard Shaw, which is that he once approached a famous starlet and asked if she would sleep with him for one million dollars. She laughed and said yes. So he told her he only had $10 on him and asked if she would take that. She was outraged and asked, “What kind of woman do you take me for?” He said, “We’ve already established that, now we’re just haggling over the price.”

Now here’s the thing. If you play a F2P/ subscriptionless game as anything other than a pure tourist, there’s a level on which you accept that this game is funded via a cash shop. The only question left to answer is what would you be willing to buy, and how much would you be willing to spend.

In the western market, F2P cash shops have found most purchase by selling fripperies and items which make the game more convenient, rather than actual power ups.

Today gPotato released the first version of the Allods cash shop, which caused consternation among the player base. They are currently charging $20 for a bag upgrade which involves 6 extra bag slots.

I’m in two minds about this. On one hand, it sounds like a lot to pay for a few bag slots. On the other hand, if Blizzard sold a larger backpack for $20, players would be queuing up to pay for it. And people on Second Life regularly spend more than that on items which have far less utility. And it’s going to be very tedious if these debates break out every time some cash shop decides to charge for anything.

I think the gaming market, and F2P games in particular, are still feeling out what the market will bear in terms of cash shops. I noted in links last week that Farmville was now selling an item for $42 – it doesn’t need a lot of players to buy that to make it worthwhile for the developers. So what if players ARE willing to spend that much on a few bag slots? Is a bag slot essential to play the game? Or would they make more by lowering the price to about $5?

In any case, players are raising hell on the forums. It will be interesting to see how this all comes out in the wash.