6 Most Outrageous Cash Grabs
by Tyler Edwards, January 30, 2013
Nothing in life is truly free. For the most part, MMO players accept this. We recognize that developers are businesses and that we're going to have to pay to keep playing our games, even so called "free to play" titles. We might grumble about the cost, but we'll accept it. Most of the time. Sometimes, a developer's greed overwhelms common sense to the point where no one would fork over the cash for their outrageous moneymaking schemes. These absurd cash grabs insult our intelligence, and can ruin the reputations of games, or even entire genres.
Despite the rise of free to play and buy to play games, there are many vocal MMO fans who still condemn any game that eschews the traditional subscription. There are certain cries that always come up in their criticisms. "Pay to win" is one. "Lockboxes" is another.
Different games have different ways of doing lockboxes, but the general idea remains the same. Lockboxes are treasure chests with a random assortment of items - usually at least some of which are not available any other way - that require real money to acquire or to open them.
In other words, they're gambling; and in gambling, the house always wins. Hint: players aren't the house.
Not all lockboxes are created equal. Some are more onerous than others, and it all depends on how the developer designs the system. If the items in lockboxes are largely cosmetic or minor convenience boosts, they're not so big a deal, though they can still be an annoying roundabout advertisement for the cash shop as unopened boxes continually clutter your bank.
Lockboxes are one of those strange things that nearly everyone seems to hate but which remain extremely successful. There's a reason that developers just keep adding them. Somewhere out there are people willing to spend large amounts of money on lockboxes. The sad truth is we're likely stuck with lockboxes for the foreseeable future.
By now, most of us are comfortable with micro transactions, at least for cosmetic or convenience items. A one-time fee to permanently improve the life of your character doesn't seem terribly unreasonable when you get right down to it.
But what if it's not a one-time fee? What if your virtual goods were merely rented for a few days?
That sounds like madness, but unfortunately, it's all too true. Some game developers actually do expect players to fork over real world cash for items that aren't even permanent. That fancy mount you bought will be gone after as little as week. And yes, the clock does generally continue to count down while you're offline.
There's nothing inherently wrong with trying to make money off of players. Game companies are businesses, and they have a responsibility to turn a profit. But making people pay for virtual goods that aren't even permanent just seems unabashedly greedy.
Runes of Magic is one of the best examples of this practice, but upcoming martial arts sandbox Age of Wushu has also drawn fire for offering things such as outfits on a merely rental basis.
4: The $50 hobby horse:
Lord of the Rings Online's free to play business model doesn't have the best reputation. It's not the worst offender around, but Turbine definitely isn't shy about pushing you towards their cash shop. The phrase "pay to win" has come up a few times.
But Turbine pushed players' patience past its breaking point when they introduced a plan to sell a "hobby horse" mount for a massive sum of cash shop currency that equates to roughly $50 in real world cash.
Now let's be clear here: this mount was a hobby horse. A stick with a felt horse head attached to it. And it would allow you to travel at high speeds like any other mount. This is a mount so ridiculous even World of Warcraft's infamous sparkle pony is snickering in disdain.
Not surprisingly, the idea that players would be expected to pay a whopping $50 for this most absurd of mounts was met with anger and disbelief from... pretty much everyone. For the record, $50 makes it much more expensive than a real hobby horse.
Also not surprising was the fact that Turbine eventually backed down from the price. The hobby horse's release has been delayed due to graphical bugs, but when it does make it live, it's currently reported to be priced at around $12.
3: Paying for action bars:
For a long time, Allods Online was the poster child for bad free to play business models, but Star Wars: The Old Republic may have just toppled it from its throne - if only because it's fresher in the minds of the MMO world.
In taking their game free to play, Bioware has done everything humanly possible to goad free players into paying for a subscription. You would be hard pressed to find any aspect of the game that isn't hobbled with restrictions for free players that can only be called draconian. The list is endless: from the semi-reasonable, like limited character slots, to the flatly ridiculous, such as preventing free players from hiding head slot items.
But perhaps the most egregious limitation is that on action bars. Free players are limited to only two. Even more ridiculous, subscribers from before the business model change who chose to go the free route would lose access to their current bars, though this restriction has been relaxed somewhat since the initial changeover.
That the price to unlock more bars is extremely cheap does not change the fact that Bioware actually expects people to pay for action bars.
The phrase "game breaking" is often used to describe major blunders by developers, but rarely do these actually break the game. But charging for action bars is robbing players of a fundamental aspect of gameplay. It's making the game not work as intended unless they pay extra fees.
2: Paying to respawn:
But this article is about cash grabs, so that's what we'll focus on.
When The War Z first released on Steam, it experienced an unexpected surge of sales. The game seemed to be something of a hit. In what is almost certainly not a coincidence, developer Hammerpoint introduced a new patch around the same time that changed the game's respawn system.
Previously, a dead player would have to wait an hour to spawn again. The update bumped that time up to a whopping four hours, but introduced the option to respawn instantly - if you coughed up some of an in game currency bought with real world money.
You heard that right: people had to pay to respawn.
Now, said currency can be acquired for free in game, but at a fairly low rate, and considering this is a game that - by all reports - mostly consists of new players being ganked by those with better gear, the costs could add up rather quickly.
To be fair to Hammerpoint, they did remove this "feature" after much public outcry, but it's hard to trust a company after such a blatant attempt to drain cash from players.
1: Allods Online:
When people criticize free to play games, there's one name that always seems to crop up, whispered in dark corners with venom and anger. That name is Allods Online. Part of this is because Allods was one of the first big name F2P games in the West, and people just weren't used to the idea of cash shops. Partly, it's because things were just that bad.
In short, Allods Online did everything wrong. Its cash shop offered blatant pay to win items. It brutally penalized players with a punitive death mechanic that required real world cash to combat. You had to pay for pretty much everything.
Even worse than that, the prices were absurdly high. A mere backpack could set you back $20. One kind of high-end rune cost $7000.
Seven thousand. With three zeros.
This was a game that claimed to be free but would, in fact, cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars to actually play. Much of the animosity towards free to play business models and cash shops can likely be traced directly to the sheer insanity of Allods Online's early cash grabs.
Naturally, the hate leveled toward this game was massive, and the developers backed off from their more extreme practices. Allods is now largely reasonable in its micro transactions, and many will tell you that it's one of the better free to play titles out there.
Unfortunately, Allods Online still has a terrible reputation, and many players still utter its name as if it were the most vile of curses.