Are Microtransactions the MMO Item Mall Killers?

The words Incarna expansion first reached players of the long-running sci-fi sandbox Eve Online in 2006. Five years later, in the summer of 2011, developers released the first stage of the expansion. It promised the ability for allow pilots to leave their pods and explore space stations. It also featured things like shops offering everything from plastic surgery to vanity fashion items, corporate offices and meeting areas, and player scripted NPCs to offer helpful information to the other avatars. Sounds great, right? That’s what Eve Online players thought, too!


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

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If the competition between those who spend no money versus those who buy tons of arties or virtual equipment is such that it is so one sided then it would probably make the population stagnant. But at least in IRE just because you have a ton of artefacts doesn't mean you will win all the time, it will just make things much more convenient/easier. 


I don't see myself spending real money on IRE if someone is comfortable spending on so much on something they enjoy why not? And it isn't that different from subscription based games >.> they just have a chance to splurge in one day.

proof: Penwize. 


if you have a ton of artefacts and know how to fight, you will win all the time

You have no artifacts, know how to fight, and you still win all the time! ... well most of the time!

I have a bunch of artifacts and I r suck

But we're priests, we just stay alive and hope people die out of boredom *hides*

you have a lot of artefacts!


I don't think arties are a game ender you still have to know the basics of combat to be good at it.

Madelyne has some nice artefacts, and is super omni-trans. However, it doesn't matter in combat because she has no idea how to use any of it. And I'm not really willing to learn it.

I agree.

the issue is really that you get a large mechanical advantage


I will never beat someone of equal skill level who has a lot of artefacts. At some point you reach a plateau, and only artefacts get you past it.

I can agree with this but it is mostly class based. The thing is for some people they really just focus so much on combat. I would rather split my time among all of the fund things and bridge that gap through artefacts (even if I say I just get them to support the games! mwhwauahaha)

Agreed. Artefacts can help to get that extra edge, and make more strategies easier / feasible, et cetera.

This seems a reasonable stance.

Artifacts just require you to know how to fight "less" to keep the same skill level.

Artifacts have no guarntee of absolutely winning. Combat really boils down to tactics, you may have advantages over an opponent with artifacts, but it is very possible that they know how to overcome adventurers with a large number of artifacts

Not all games go nuts with item malls like this, though. I played an MMO a while ago (I don't even remember the name) that had an item mall with items that were much more reasonably priced than that.

Maybe they brainwashed you and that's why you can't remember the name?

Many items in the IRE games really are expensive but then you can also work towards them in game without spending a single cent. Just time if you are patient.

Not all items though - some are limited edition auction items and sometimes take a few years to reach the public market. By then you may have 'retired' already.

I spend some money on credits, but I will save up in-game money for arties













Nice article, Yes with Time and patients youcan purchase anything you want without having to spend a single real lift penny. There are people who drop massive amounts of cash into the game to get ahead but in the end that does not mean they are any better a roleplayer or not. IRE games comes down to the role play and that is where the true enjoyment should lay in the game.

I wish more people agreed with that... but seems the new trend in the last 3 years or more is people like to play these games like they are playing Xbod or some thing.. at least in Aetolia... well I guess coding isn't like xbox.... but still... I just mean all they do is PK with no RP, Bash, and do all the quests and events like bots, with ruthless efficiency. Hell some people even kill their own city mates with little to no RP any more. I hardly see any of the 'power' or high level players RP whatsoever... and then all the peolpe who RP well and a lot get left behind and are nobodies because they 'aren't cool' because they don't have a system or like... they aren't in what I like to call the 'inner-circle jerk' of the 'cool kids'. It's so lame to have a high school mentality and cliques, when I am willing to bet the ages of all the players is in the 20's to 40's... but elitist favoritism runs rampant. Oh well... I feel better now that I ranted lol

I think your on somewhat equal ground even if you never use real word money to buy things. You can get all the things it'd gain you in someway with ig methods sure it just takes longer.

The biggest problem I have with being able to do things IG is the demands of the real world.  In game you can get where you want to go totally in game. That doesn't mean you shouldn't pay real money to get things if you want to. And IRE definitely should be supported financially too.  It looks like a good balance that has been set up for all.

I am glad we have a credit market to buy credits.

If Achaea took that stand the game would be dead

Free credit.

I like free credits.

Opportunities for free credits are always nice.



I found that with moderate amount of bashing/questing I make enough for 2 or 3 credits a day.



so the equivalent of like $1 a day


That's a whole nother article.

Yes, credits are accessible if you play.

nice read, enjoyed it

Imagine if they didn't exist!

Something is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for it.

Seriously, an IRE game is trying to call someone out on their business model? Because EVE offered a vanity-online item mall, as opposed to IRE's "Buy skill now!" approach? Waste of internet space. Get this out of my tubes.

is that they are still using the micro and pay to play model, topped with the rediculous cost of said micro items as well. vs Iron realms way of doing things.

I have tried both: Getting Credits in game and buying them with money.  It is completely viable to buy anything you want in game, the only draw back is you probably dont make enough to warrant bashing for hours on end.  Bashing for an hour can net me about 5 credits, but if I were working for those credits in a regular I could get about double that but miss out on being here more often.  If you play an IRE game you either enjoy it enough to spend money on it, or you enjoy it enough to numb your mind bashing, either way works. 

Unless you are also looking to gain loads of xp. My gripe...(always is)...I want IRE to tailor buying credits for third world countries...

"It allows the company to keep the game free for players but still make a bit of profit." This rings hollow. They do it because they view a pay-for-perks setup as either most profitable, or most likely to succeed financially - not "for players" because they're such nice guys. A business is run to make money. That's how capitalism works. And that's fine. As long as the game is good.

F2P/P4P means Achaea has lots of players populating the world, for those who do pay to kill and rob and protect and be better than. A game with ~150 players online average is more appealing than one with ~5, if I'm thinking about dropping $300 on a +10 mace. It also lowers the barrier of entry (no initial cost, no subscription fee) in a time when they're competing with tens of thousands of other, increasingly more shiny and sophisticated F2P graphical games and MMOs.

More cynically on this subject, something Notch of Minecraft recently posted: "The reason anyone switches to “free to play” is to make more money. You get your players hooked on your game, and then you try to monetize them. The idea is to find a model where there basically is no cap on how much the player can spend, then try to encourage players to spend more and more money."

The first dose is always free. It is a very old trick, and a most profitable one. 

Spiral Knights is another good example of this.

I just had to laugh at this



This has to be one of the best ways to run the game, because it allows for people with limited access to money to play aswell as those who want to get a bit of an advantage over the competition.



Some of us work hard for what we get in these games... if I could afford them arties and stuff I woulda  definitely had craploads, but I had to trans 4 of my skills the long and hard way... With the exception of like two credit purchases... but yeah if you really have the patience over time you can build yourself up quite effectively without having to spend any real money... Deepsea fishing and knowing who to buy bait from as well as questing can make a huge difference and I don't quite believe in spending lots of real money on a game... you play the game and once you spend cash on it the game plays you in my humble opinion.

I have done both, buying credits and saving up in game. Mind you if you have the spare cash it's MUCH easier, but now a days it doesn't seem to terrible to get them through in game if you really want it.

I totally agree!

I'd be happy enough with subscription or item mall, but both just seems like greed. I prefer item mall though - I like not having the obligation to pay.

good how it is

IRE is designed around it, it's messy when it's put into a game that isn't.

With me

I don't mind spending some RL money on credits, or a pretty pet in WoW or etc. I view it as "I could spend an hour grinding for this, or I could use an hour from my paycheck and get it." This means I have more time to spend on stuff I enjoy when I game.

A lot of comments I've seen on various articles here comment about transing skills taking ages... I remember feeling that way back on Aet, even for just my guild skills... but with the promotions available, big events (with tiered groupings to spread prizes across the level gaps for the bigger ones), etc. it's a *lot* easier to work your way up on main skills. I didn't spend a penny on MKO until *after* I was well past trans on both guild skills, had the skills I *needed* from others, and riding was released. With riding, I picked up a lesson package because it was fairly cheap to do so and would save me a lot of time and energy in the long run. Since then, the bulk of my trade skills have been bought by Iron Elite credits and lessons, and even my sole artifact (bought about half on elite credits as well) is the epitome of me being lazy. The rest involved a fair bit of bashing (though I've only ever reached 82), a lottery, and a great hunt or three. Nothing I've used real money on... have I actually 'needed' by any measure of the word.

Well I am not a huge fan of item malls but they are here to stay as they are quite a profitable business model.

I hate the pay for advantages system of IRE games, but it keeps them running at least.

Credits cost too damn much!


I've transed 10 skills in Lusternia, bought a couple of artifacts, and all that without having to buy credits. I'm of the opinion that credits are there just to 'speed up' what you can do in-game.

If you can't spend several hours a day questing/bashing, you definitely need that 'speed up'.

I like micro-transactions, even though I never buy anything. As long as what players can buy are mostly vanity only. I think though, the types of things offered through micro-transactions would depend on just how much money the company needs to run their game.





If people really looked closely at the costs of credits and items and compare those to RL money... I'm not sure IRE should focus on the subject by bringing us these articles, some might indeed be shocked.

Wish they can give very low prices

The amount of time you spend bashing up a hundred credits is pretty tiring and time consuming than if you had, maybe, an IRL job and just bought them OOC. You could have twice that, yeah. Hrm, now that I wrote that down, I think I should just buy OOC credits and stop bash-influencing, hrm...

Bashing enough to get a noticable amount of credits takes forever, selling refills is where the gold is at.

Not any more, perhaps.



It is ok to spend a little money for the Elite memerbship. It also help keeping IRE running. This is the way I see it. I try to play as much as I can, but it is not enought to succeed. Spending big money to get artifacts simply spoils the game, on the other hand.

Bash, bash, bash, need more gold for credits.

I'm happy with item malls if the games are free to play and the items aren't essential to success. The mixed-subscription model depresses me more.

I think it's worth it, but purely asthetic items should be cheap as hell.


Make the good stuff expensive, and by all means, DO SOMETHING if too many people get it.

agreed, for the most part

but i think the RMAH for Diablo 3 will be very sucessful.

helping fuel the credit economy

Credit economy?



Why so many item mall articles?!


Didn't you know?  The next thing IRE are going to sell is the Item Mall itself, out source the operation to the developing world.

oo - good plan

...was actually mentioned in an earlier article if I remember correctly.  In order to make the system work, the for-money secondary currency has to be available to for-free players at a rate that makes it worth buying.  That means that if the secondary currency is too expensive (and hundreds of millions sounds like it is), the developers have to create a new outlet for the primary currency in order to bring things to a balance where the transactions will actually happen.  Achaea does this relatively well (credit prices have gone up over time, but relatively slowly, and sometimes go down as well), while I've never heard of a non-IRE game that manages it at all.

The best example I've seen of it is EVE. Even if you poured thousands into it, there's only so much you can do alone. In IRE, if you invested that much in artifacts it (generally speaking) makes you a juggernaut of dh00m. Not that anyone has ever bought veil, gem, defensive artis, and a twist ring to make themselves near untouchable


that never happened!

the IRE games are facing a similar problem with their dual economy, honestly. Gold cost for credits will continue to spiral out of control until the developers realize that gold needs a unique niche that makes it as desirable as credits.

I wonder what is the November promo

A good locking strategy can defeat artefacts a majority of the time, unless you have low health and they have huge damage potential. Then its just ow.


It's true, my character would be far more powerful if I dropped a couple thousand dollars on the game, and I theorize there aboslutely MUST be some people who have done just that.  But in reality, being the strongest combatatant in a role-playing based game only gets you so far.  There's so many facets to this kind of game, that it's really difficult to "buy" you way to victory.

I just don't feel comfortable pumping real life money into a free game, not sure why!

People who rage about spending money on a 'free game' are the same people who irritate me for buying skins on LoL.

You can also try the fun calculation of what your bashing time is worth, given the credit market price and convert that into RL dollars.  It (almost) makes you want to go get a minimum wage job and use that money to pay for credits, because your time would be worth so much more.

I've calculated that I need at least 30000 credits to get the artifacts/lessons I want (I have no estate and such). I will never be able to get that amount of credits in game ! (I wonder if I would have a discount if I asked to buy that amount of credits with RL money :D)

I've been playing Achaea for seven years and have never purhased credits with RL money, but I don't see the harm in paying cash for items in a game that you really enjoy. It's no worse than paying extra for xbox game add ons, and it not only gives you something to enjoy, but helps support the company that gave you the incredible game in the first place. I'll probably end up with the elite membership sometime this year, just cause it sounds awesome and would definitely help my better enjoy the free time I do have to spend in game.

There needs to be some way for a game to make profit. In the case of MUDs, I think microtransactions are perfect: it is free and possible to play, but once you have a good grasp and a feel for the game, then you might consider spending money for in game benefit. It also gives the developers incentive to make sure that the game is alluring for entry level players, because these are the ones that will (possibly) eventually buy things like credits.


am commenting


As an EVE player, I've had first-hand experience with this. My oppinion in a nutshell is that many cheaper items > few elite items.

credit no comment comment


+1 credit


I love ir's mix of ingame and out of game ways to gain credits and other formes of promotions.  this way everyne benifits I think. 


I am here to make money.... not spend it

I like that you can earn things in IRE games usually by grinding for gold enough. That said, large-pricetag artefacts should not give too much of an edge in combat, so that an unskilled person can win. Then again, I don't think they do.


I love that ir allows an in game credit market it might be slower tahn ooc website credit perchuses but, atleast you can obtain credits and the promotions ran monthly sometiems offer credits.  another ay besides website perchuses.  go IR!

I think that overall the developers need to be careful to preserve their reputation


I wouldn't edorse such an idea myself..

the return on time spent is way worse than working minimum wage and paying for credits though.  Then again, you are spending your time playing a game!


I could see paying money for Achaean arties, even though I don't actually do it. I can't see paying $68 for something just for -looks-.

as opposed to a lot of other item mall based games, IRE gives you plenty of opportunities to earn credits that don't rely on paying money or even necessarily for scrounging the in game currency for months on end. They really have kind of set it up so that you earn credits for supporting IRE in many different ways that can just take a few moments of your time rather than your money

I think ir credit markets are balanced for the most part though there are those crazy people that price credits at 50000 or higher and that's crazy.   no one buys them and I've still not seen why they are priced like that.

.. typos and then forgetting about them, is the most likely explanation. Not sure if CFS stay there when you go dormant?

Interesting, never knew that IRE was the first company to profit from the sale of virtual goods.

Good read!

Granted I've not had to do much for the artifact Nars has, if you are patient and impatient you'll eventually come up with the means to get them. Or get lucky and have really nice friends =^+^=

What good does a sword do you if you don't know how to swing it?

I don't have a lot of artifacts, but I play the most expensive class in my game and never had to spend a penny. I did buy credits before once upon a time, but it wasn't a large sum and I certainly didn't need it. It takes me months to save credits but there's no rush really. I already have everything I really need.

Credit comment.