Are Microtransactions the MMO Item Mall Killers?
Something went horribly wrong. The Incarna updated added an item shop with items with bizarrely high price tags. On the heels of complaints spilling out into websites like Massively an internal newsletter from CCP leaked to the Internet. According to Massively,
The document outlined the introduction of microtransitions into EVE and mentioned that at some point, ships, ammunition, and so forth may be made available for purchases with real-world currency.
This news caused players to spiral into a whole new frenzy of angst, especially once they began price comparisons between vanity items and real ones.
Iron Realms is no stranger to profiting from adding new currencies or an item mall to a MMORPG. In fact, they started the practice! In 1998, it became the first company to profit from the sale of virtual goods after auctioning items to players of its MMORPG Achaea, Dreams of Divine Lands. However, other companies didn’t follow suit until the mid-2000’s. Eve Online takes this to a new level with a virtual economy based on supply and demand. The characters gather raw materials to manufacture all ships and ship accessories in the game, whether from the environment or from looting and salvaging existing ships for them. Similar to Iron Realms games, players can buy items from various NPCs and reselling them in the in-game economy.
The primary in-game currency for Eve Online is ISK, or Interstellar Kredits. The Incara launch brought a market for micro-transactions that wreaked all kinds of havoc all over the MMORPG’s currency exchange rate thanks to Aurum, a new coin bought primarily with credit card funds. Patient players can exchange 30-day gametime codes called PLEX for 3500 Aurum. Buying and selling PLEX codes with ISK is legal. Since the Incara update, the market cost of one PLEX codes now values at hundreds of millions of ISK. Developers for Eve Online hoped to create a revolving economy with the new commodity, but I’m not sure is what they had in mind.
Vanity items in the MMORPG may as well carry the logos of famous Italian designers who cater to real-life celebrities. A single shirt for an Eve Online avatar cost many times over what players would pay for a real one! A monocle cost 1.3 billion ISK, or $68. Don’t get me wrong, a Terrin’ukia’s Monocle in Achaea costs eight Mayan Crowns, a special type of currency offered with former credit purchases. At the market price of forty credits per crown, that’s still over three hundred credits -- or over $100! But at least Achaea’s monocle has a purpose other than just altering an avatar’s looks. Players wearing one can see ALL secret exits without needing to use any special ability.
When used correctly, item malls offer benefits to both developers and players. It allows the company to keep the game free for players but still make a bit of profit. High-ranking MMORPG addicts aren’t the only ones to buy items from the specialty shops or use the items. Thanks to recurring promotions that pay out in-game commodities, with patience and tenacity even my lowest level newbie could easily afford one of the less expensive items -- at no charge to me!
But when used incorrectly, item malls lend a bad reputation to the MMORPG. It could offer so many items at such a high cost, that only those who are very wealthy in real life could benefit, or people could actually become addicted to playing in hopes of obtaining more and more specialty items. Sadly, Eve Online still charges a subscription rate despite having an item mall. The 14.95 in Euros translates to more than 20 US Dollars. No thanks! For that price, I’ll happily keep my Iron Elite subscription.
Author: Mitch O'Hara