Allods Online, and Putting a Price on Virtual Goods

allods1

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.

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14 thoughts on “Allods Online, and Putting a Price on Virtual Goods

  1. The makers of Allods probably consider extra bag space to be a luxury item.

    In my brief stint into Allods I did not run out of bag space, but regardless of the number of bag slots and game, regular players apparently always run low on storage.

    I wonder if this debate is not the perfect decoy to prevent a debate about the price of items that influence gameplay much more, like the power potions or the death penalty perfumes.

    People should be aware that no game company runs a charity, so every game using this model will try to give their customers incentives to spend money. If they don’t get enough money, they might give players even more incentives to buy this or that or change prices.

    The thing is to find a point where the price of a virtual item apparently is acceptable for a majority of the players. They don’t want to scare them away.

    People are more open to F2P games nowadays than years before. “Those damn asian F2P itemshop games lol” were the antichrist of the western gamer for ages. They still are, IMO. There are still many players who totally oppose the model – while buying CE’s with special items and stuff for subscription games.

    Interestingly, while I am in general not a fan of F2P models, I think STO would be much more successful with this model than with the current standard subscription scheme of Cryptic.

  2. I have to agree, my brief experience in Allods made me think that the Empire definitely won the style contest of the game (though when it came to well designed starter zones… that’s different).

    That said, I think I prefer the subscription model for an MMO – you know what you’re getting up front. The problem with the cash shop will always be (particularly in any game that has a PvP element) that you never know when the publisher is going to ask you to pay for some element of core functionality. That the temptation will always be there for a corporation to screw me will always be a downside to the model.

  3. It’s worth noting that the price on items currently is ten times greater than they were listed as in the beta. Brannagar over at Corpse Run is keeping tabs on it.

    I tend to think this particular bit of pricing is a mistake, though it could also be a particularly brazen game of “chicken” like Cryptic played with their “you will pay for the expansion, *players fuss*, …never mind” game.

    • To be honest, I never thought it was a bug. I really do think they’re testing the market here.

      And I think that cash shops are going to keep stirring up the player base for awhile yet (this would have been true even if the prices here had been more modest), and if you think it’s bad now, wait till they start putting on Steam-like item sales and special offers and people are clamouring for refunds for the item they bought 2 months ago that is now cheaper.

  4. the poster says:

    “Forward! To new successes in work and study. ” :P

    I’m absolutely loving the soviet feel of the game, having been born in USSR and all :P Haven’t tried League yet, because I wanted to play an orc more then I wanted to play gibberlings and in general have been playing sporadically.

    20 dollars for 6 bag slots? so I take it, you don’t get to buy extra bags from vendors or craft them in Allods? :(

  5. leah, I’ve read that you can run a quest for a bigger bag, but I’ve not run into it m’self. The default bag has 18 slots for stuff and 18 more for reagents (herbs or whatever your gathering profession produces). I’ve not had trouble with it, but then, it would be nice to have more space for those occasions when I’ve had to trash some vendor trash… and I suspect a raider would want more space for potions and alternate gear and such, not to mention drops.

  6. Pingback: First Steps In Allods Online

  7. I don’t get outraged over these things in a F2P game the way I do when Cryptic pulls the same stunt on a game that launched with a full priced box and full priced subscription. On the other hand, hearing the bag price made me laugh and move Allods from my “maybe try when I find the time” list to my “give it a year or three” list. Just because they CAN charge whatever does not mean that they SHOULD.

  8. I think Allods will find that enough people pay the super-inflated prices to make it worth continuing.

    Which will then mean us old school MMO $15/month types are no longer the target audience.

    Which will then mean the money games move off and we get stuck with the experimental small company niche game makers.

    Which will be kinda cool.

  9. You can solve this puzzle for yourself by changing the question from “putting a price on a virtual good” to “putting a price to time”.

    Or in other words, would you be willing to pay 20 € for 1 Copper?

    We all agree, that work needs to be compensated.
    Therefore we understand that a free to play game, needs some sort of compensation as well.

    Now my question from the beginning becomes understandable: Would you be willing to donate 20 € in the cash shop?

    Most people probably not.

    But they would be willing to pay 20€ for the game, if the receive some minor upgrade in exchange.

    This upgrade is a bag.

    The latent in-game demand or probably urge for a certain Item is nothing else, than the collecting box reminding you to compensate the developers work, without breaking the “flow” (I could not deny myself on that one).

    But how do we bring the requested amount in harmony with your bag? – The answer is: time.

    Let’s assume: a game of that quality would have a subscription fee of 10€ per month.
    So a bag would equal two month subscription.

    Will that game be interesting enough for you for two month? If your answer is yes, the price should be fine for you, if your answer is no, not.

    When buying a horse, just make up the same calculation. Do you need a horse right from the start? In the starter area probably not – in the later game: obviously. In case you bought a bag and a horse right at the start for a total of 60€, that would be 6 Month subscription.
    Now what if it takes a year for you, to go through that game, you would have paid 60€ instead of 120€? Right?

    Supposing, you are sort of an addicted player, that makes it through the game in 2 Weeks. In that case you would have paid 60€ instead of 10.

    One of the blogers, that currently harasses over the free to play concept, claims that he values his time over his money, and would rather pay more money for a good game.

    In that case, everything should be fine, because you just divide the payable amount through the time, you had fun with it.

    Free to play games, are fine for people with limited time, or those who like to play many games at a time, without being charged 4 subscription fees every month.

    They allow you to test the game, without a limited time frame, but at the end, every work needs to be compensated.

    By the way, we watched “Wolfmen” in the cinema on Saturday evening: 20€ just for the tickets. That would have been 1 Month subscription for the both of us.

  10. Pingback: Dungeons & Microtransactions « Bio Break

  11. The biggest beef is over Perfume, a potion that gets rid of a stacking rez-sickness debuff that lasts for 2 hours. The Russian patch notes show that the rez sickness will occur even if you’re rezzed by a player. Someone figured out that to raid in Allods would cost about $50/month this way.

  12. hey i been playing allods for like 2 days now and i can tell you the bag is ridiculously small. i dont understand the ppl saying *i didnt run out of bag space… obviously you must not have played very much

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