I looked at the StationCash Marketplace last night – existing subscribers got 150 free StationBucks or whatever they’re called. I understand (and mostly agree with) the splippery slope arument against this kind of thing for anything but purely cosmetic items, and some of the stuff available are XP-buffing potion, which have more than a cosmetic effect. Still, given the range of stuff available for RM purchase right now, I see reason for concern, but no reason to start knotting the rope for the hangings just yet. It’s something that could fundamentally shift gameplay in what is, in my judgement, an undesirable direction, so it’s something to keep an eye on.
In similar news, BioWare has announced that Star Wars: The Old Republic will be free-to-play, with microtransactions. On the one hand, free-to-play is a great thing in something like the Guild Wars model, where the revenue stream is supported by a handful of buy-by-microtransaction items and regular exapnsions. On the other, I’m always leery of the microtransaction model, since it can easily degenerate into a system whereby those with more disposable cash have a palpable in-game advantage. See various Asian MMOs for examples of this.
Now, I’m comfortable with a a game that dips a toe in these waters, as EVE and now EQ/EQ2 do. But I’m extremely hesitant to play a game where I will be at a measurable disadvantage beacuse I consider that my monthly subscription fee is investment enough, or that I will be similarly disadvantaged against those who can afford to spend more. My budget for gaming is reasonable but finite, and there will always be some no-life yahoo who’s spending more than I. I will simply not play such games.
I am comfortable (if wary) in the place that SOE is right now on this issue. And I don’t think we know enough about how SW:TOR’s model will be structured to draw any conclusions about it; although I’m not terribly excited about it or interested in it, it’s certainly possible that it will also find a middle ground that I can be okay with.
Everybody regards microtransactions as an inevitability; that may or may not be prescient, but if it is, it may push many titles into territory I’m not willing to bother exploring. If not, good. If so… well, I still have tabletop games.