Feature

Free-To-Play On $20 A Day

Free-To-Play On $20 A Day

A shopper’s guide to the diverse worlds of “freemium” games.

By Joe Keiser and Keith Vincent • May 30, 2012

“Free to play” games seem like lovely bits of charity. Downloadable for the low, low price of nothing, they promise expansive worlds, varied play, and a community of like-minded individuals just dying to hang out with you. It’s not until you stumble into one that you realize they’re actually candy-colored commerce engines. Powered by humanity’s collective desire for frilly 3D underpants and virtual dolphin friends, these games wait for peer pressure to sink in. They question your uniqueness—if you don’t buy a special this-week-only hairstyle for your avatar, how exactly do you plan to express your individuality? And then they ask for your credit card number. Before you know it, you become the proud owner of a flying space hippo, emblazoned with “Gotta Be Me!” along the side. Your shame hippo is pretend, but the money you spent on it is all too real.

Anywhere else, $20 will get you a day or two of food, or a cheap video game, for that matter—one that doesn’t ever ask if you have PayPal. Here’s what $20 will get you in the world of free-to-play.

Note: Due to obfuscation and fluctuation, all fake-currency-to-real-money exchange rates are estimated.

Free Realms
Free Realms: A rocket ship and three monkeys
$20.50 ($10 for the rocket and $3.50 per monkey)

Pros: Easy access to an unlimited supply of low-cost monkeys means you can finally afford those dastardly space-based experiments you’ve always been planning.

Cons: Horrifying monkey tests are against the Free Realms Terms of Service.

Second Life
Second Life: 180 pairs of vinyl pants
5,000 Linden Dollars

Pros: No need to worry about wearing the same pair of vinyl pants again for the next six months.

Cons: You’ll be the only one wearing pants at the next 180 Second Life parties.

Team Fortress 2
Team Fortress 2: A mullet and a pile of knives
$19.93

Pros: Be ready for ANYTHING.

Cons: No matter what you do, it won’t bring Patrick Swayze back.

MapleStory
MapleStory: A 450-day carrot rental
19,000 NX

Pros: You get to try the carrot before you buy it.

Cons: Oh, did you think could buy the carrot? You can’t. Everything in MapleStory’s cash shop is a rental, except for the random sales where things are actually for sale. And you already missed the carrot sale.

Vindictus
Vindictus: American-flag underwear, blond hair dye, and a makeover
18,500 NX

Pros: The stars-and-stripes bra straps and panties peek out from under armor, reminding everyone in this medieval world that These Colors Don’t Run.

Cons: Sure, you could woo the hideous Gnoll King with store-bought sex. But wouldn’t you rather have him like you for who you are? He’ll probably try to kill you regardless, but this isn’t about him. It’s about you.

Forsaken World
Forsaken World: 1.4 intricate fetish costumes
800 Leaves

Pros: The populace will tremble before your vampire catgirl maid. And you’ll still have money left over for pasties and leggings.

Cons: Real-world relationships may suffer. Excuses like “I’m researching the pasties” only make it worse.

Gunz
Gunz: A shark launcher and a panda mask
200 G-Coins

Pros: When you shoot someone with a shark, they will think the panda did it.

Cons: $20 will only get you a few months of shark launcher rental. Because let’s face it: You don’t deserve to own a shark launcher.

Star Trek Online
Star Trek Online: Six Tribble of Borg
1,440 Cryptic Points

Pros: These are like colorful dust bunnies that have been assimilated into the robotic hive mind of the Borg. Ha, that’s so stup—wait, that’s actually the awesomest thing Star Trek has done in years.

Cons: It sounds like a 56k modem. Come to think of it, that’s awesome, too.

Kingdom Heroes
Kingdom Heroes: 10 chances to win a donkey
1,990 Aeria Points

Pros: Owning a donkey seems pretty sweet, and 10 chances to own one is more chances than you’ve ever had before in your life. Failure to win still nets a consolation prize like “Miracle Urgency Pills” (although if you need those, you should probably just buy them directly).

Cons: Aeria recently shut down Kingdom Heroes, and with it your dreams of virtual jackass ownership. So you’ll have to find another free-to-play game that lets you purchase farm animals, if such a thing even exists.

Need For Speed World
Need For Speed World: BMW M3 GTR E46
4,500 Boost

Pros: It’s the only BMW you can afford.

Cons: Decisions like “I’m going to buy the Need For Speed World BMW” are the reason it’s the only BMW you can afford.

Battlefield Heroes
Battlefield Heroes: 8 permanent bloody facial scars
3,040 Battlefunds

Pros: Hideous visage portends grim death for the enemy. The mystery of your violent past will delight drunks and/or “chicks,” who allegedly “dig” hideous visages.

Cons: “I bought it in an online store” is a terrible scar story.

World Of Tanks
World Of Tanks: Some tanks
4,000 Gold

Pros: Good tank value. You will have some tanks, which really helps you fit in to World Of Tanks.

Cons: Everyone else already has some tanks. You also have some tanks already. There’s nothing to have in World Of Tanks but some tanks.

Atlantica
Atlantica Online: 40 percent of an orphan bikini cowgirl
20000 NX

Pros: Christine The Sheriff’s parents were killed in the Detroit Massacre (which sounds even worse than a normal massacre), but her abandonment-related self-esteem issues translate into HUGE SAVINGS!

Cons: The bottom hasn’t fallen out of the bikini cowgirl market yet, so you still can’t afford her.

Words by Joe Keiser. Illustrations by Keith Vincent.

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  • Aaron Riccio

    Joe, your copy for Need For Speed, Battlefield Heroes, and World of Tanks was absolutely killing me. Is the twist now that this was only the free-to-play version of your writing, and that if we want to get more, we have to pay $20? And if so, what exactly will *that* get us?

    • The_Misanthrope

       No, no, no, that’ll be 7,500 Gameons.  Oh, you can only find cards with increments of 16,000 Gameons at the store?  Well, then you’ll just have an extra balance.  Perhaps we could interest you in a pet for your avatar?

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        You can even train your pets to fight other players’ pets. Unleash your Pokachu on your friend’s Squartle. Crush your enemy’s Batterfee with the power of Charmonger. Become a pet master!

        (The Gameological Pet Battle System has a monthly membership fee of 9,000 Gameons. This fee is non-refundable and will automatically be deducted from your Gameological account on the first of each month. Cancellation of membership requires at least 30 days advance notice.)

        • caspiancomic

           I know that’s an extended Pokemon riff but when I read that comment my brain assumes it must be weird sex stuff.

        • Destroy Him My Robots

          Mike R used Metacritic!

          It’s not very effective…

      • Raging Bear

        No pets! Save your Gameons for likes! There’s a special 1000ǥ = 2 likes double bonus weekend package deal coming up!

  • kateburning

    Fantastic illustrations. 

  • Meekrat

    I’ve played a few of these games (TF2, Star Trek Online, Second Life) but are the rest any good?

    • HobbesMkii

      I like World of Tanks, although it is a lot better with a premium account or tank than it is totally free. Battlefield Heroes had a certain amount of charm. It is made by DICE.

    • Mookalakai

       I thought Vindictus was actually quite good, if you can get past all the weird furry shit. If it wasn’t an MMO, I probably would have stuck with it, the combat is quite good.

      • http://gameological.com/author/joekeiser/ Joe Keiser

        I was pretty surprised by the quality of Vindictus when I did my research play of it. I would say if you wanted to try one of the stranger games on this list, this would be the one.

    • Monkeylint

      They ruined TF2. It was a incredibly well made, funny class-based FPS. Brilliant. Wide variety of maps and match types plus custom ones. No gear gap like PvP in an MMO.

      Then they started making achievement-unlocked special weapon for some classes. Which wasn’t too bad since they all gave up something, in exchange for an enhancement, like the chaingun that slowed people when you were hitting them but did 25% less damage. Except that of course people hacked it buy making custom maps where you could get the achievements and unlocks.

      Then the real money store opened, and there was crafting, and unbalanced weapons and basically, it became impossible to play without paying for gear. It used to be one of my very favorite games and the greedy fuckers murdered it.

      • ImANarc

        It’s not impossible to play without paying for items.  Only a few weapons are unbalanced (I’m thinking of the Tomislav but the Heavy has all sorts of problems) and most aren’t as good as the default ones.  Granted, the unlockable melee weapons are generally better but it’s melee so who gives a crap.

        It’s still a great game and you don’t need to drop a cent into the store in order to play well, you just need practice.

        • xuul

          Tomislav was overpowered but it got nerfed pretty soon after release. It was pretty awesome for a while there, but now the regular Minigun is better probably 95% of the time.

      • xuul

        Um, what? Pretty much everything you’re saying is wrong; TF2 does not have a “gear gap”.

        It’s incredibly easy to obtain weapons. They “drop” randomly and it’s trivial to trade weapons you have no interest in using for ones you do.

        “unbalanced weapons” are not really a problem, unless you mean that the VAST majority of newly-released items are underpowered when compared to their stock counterparts.

        Occasionally weapon(s) will enable new styles of play (eg “Demoknight”), but in no way are any of those “more” powerful than their traditional couterparts.

        As for them being “greedy fuckers”, most new in-game content is contributed by users, who then get 50% of the proceeds when it’s sold in the in-game store. Which, again, you don’t need to do because you can get it through random drops or trades anyway.

        • Monkeylint

          I like the original game.

          Get of my fucking lawn.

        • AHyperkineticLagomorph

           I agree with pretty much anything here. As someone who has played since launch (and still plays surprisingly frequently) I can say in 90% of all cases that the stock, normal weapons are just as good, and usually better, than any unlockable.

          There are exceptions, of course. Why you’d ever use the default shovel over the equalizer, I don’t know. Same for the normal bonesaw instead of the ubersaw.

          Every weapon can shine if used in the right situation. A tomislav heavy can ambush and kill classes pretty damn quick but is far less useful against other heavies or sentries.

          The point is that I’m a Valve fanboy and take insults against the game as insult against myself and I defend their games with equal fervor as I would a personal insult.

  • Drew Toal

    Swayze ain’t coming back. 50 year storm.

  • ImANarc

    I’ve spent a shameful amount in the Team Fortress 2 store.  I think I finally came to my senses around the Uber Update when the pack for all the items was, like, $100 or something.  That being said, I still buy name-tags every so often because, I swear to God, naming my rocket launcher “Rockette Morton” is fucking hilarious.

    • xuul

      I’ve got a few Name/Description tags to trade, if you’re interested:
      http://steamcommunity.com/id/mrxuul/ 

      • ImANarc

        A…Are…are you hitting on me?

        • xuul

          If there are sweet TF2 items to be had, then… yes? Or possibly no?

          Basically I’m saying that I’m willing to debase myself in exchange for getting closer to obtaining a make-believe towel.

  • caspiancomic

    Extra Credits did something about microtransactions a while ago, I can’t remember if it was a full episode or just a little aside, but they brought up a pretty good point: the hardest dollar to spend in any one of these stores is the first. Once you’ve convinced yourself to spend any money at all, spending it again after that is much easier. On the one hand, this can be good: after taking the plunge and buying my first album on iTunes instead of at Best Buy, I was basically sold on online purchasing. And if not for finally committing to trying out this whole PSN thing, I would never have played Journey, Mega Man 9, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, etc.

    But that said, this shit is exactly the reason I never pay anything for like, an avatar or theme or anything like that. I know if I drop fifty cents for a Servbot avatar I’m going to totally desensitize myself to it and spend myself out of house of home buying up Silent Hill themed PSN desktops. It’s also why I stopped playing Maple Story. My little guy looked hella boring next to all these doods with rainbow mohawks and glow in the dark socks and whatever, but I knew the only way to not look like a level 6 chump was to shell out a few bucks. And if I ever spent ten dollars buying new sneakers for my imaginary friend my parents would quite rightly have disowned me.

    • Raging Bear

      I came this close to buying Flower avatars this weekend, because they were $0.79, and I’d like to support thatgamecompany. But I ultimately figured that, given that the avatars were really just flowers, I’d probably never use them, and since the deal would probably only net thatgamecompany about half the price of a coke, they could probably soldier on even without that particular windfall.

    • Fixda Fernback

      See, it’s for exactly this reason that I purchase MS Point cards for buying stuff on Xbox Live, rather than putting my credit card on there. That way, once the points are spent, it’s much easier to not worry about putting more on. Generally, I have a little point balance left over and will spend that on any theme/avatar, if I even want one (I’ve only bought like one avatar pack–South Park, so I could get Randy Marsh haha– and one theme, ever, though), or more usually, a new pinball table on Pinball FX 2 or something. And even still, I find it much easier now to want to go get another card and buy some new Xbox Live Arcade or Indie games or something.

      • TaumpyTearrs

        Same here with PSN cards. And it meant i didn’t have to worry about my credit information getting stolen during the PSN scare.

        It also limits my roommate and I when purchasing TV shows, we have to decide to cough up $20 if we really want something. Which means most stuff waits for DVD or Netflix (we did have to buy the last 5 Justified episodes after our cable got cut off).

  • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp David Dalrymple

    Even disc-based games are getting in on this racket. I spent real money on a 20-pack of Mog skins for Final Fantasy XIII-2. Pirate Mog! Kitty Mog! I hate myself!

    • TaumpyTearrs

      If i wan’t completely broke i know i would be coughing up money for Saints Row 3′s extra outfits. I need more slutty clothes for my lady, plus ninja and samurai outfits!

  • http://twitter.com/GasparLewis Gaspar Lewis

    Puzzle Pirates
    A merchant galleon and a vase of yarrow flowers
    64 doubloons & 72,025 pieces of eight
    Pro: The galleon comes pre-furnished with tables to place the vase on.
    Con: You cannot afford permission to sail your ship.

    Super Monday Night Combat
    RPG-wielding succubus roller derby girl
    $4.49 + $14.99
    Pro: Being hellspawn is an optional skin for your clone fighter.
    Con: That skin was three-fourths of the price, so leave it on.

  • Effigy_Power

    Uch, I remember falling into these games right after my 2-year long sting with some of the bigger MMOs… First WoW, then LOTRO, then WAR… tried a bit of Guild Wars, didn’t care for it. The last one I played was AION, which is like saying that you quit smoking right after having a big cow-poo cigar. It’s disgusting, but it helps with the quitting.
    So I wanted to see what else was out there and that’s when I really came into contact with micro-transaction stuff. The issue I had right away is that they try to lure you in with the promise that paying will only “augment” your gaming experience, not make it any easier. That point is driven home a lot right at the start. And then, real quick, perhaps about 3 hours in, it becomes very clear that the game is going to be a pain without paying for stuff… especially when money buys you storage.
    World of Tanks, which I played for a short while before accepting Steam into my gaming-existence, seemed as though here that mantra was true. At first. But when you get torn to shreds all the time by people using better ammunition bought with cash, while your own just plinks off their $$$-tanks, then it gets really old really fast.
    I rather save my $20 for some really great DLC or a discounted game. I just bought Anno 2070 and all its DLCs for not that much more, so that seems like a better value than renting a carrot.

    Nice art, btw… the orphan bikini cowgirl is hot/half-hot.

    PS: If it didn’t demand so much time, I’d spend $/month to play EVE, but I just can’t be bothered.

    • Monkeylint

      I’d love to get back to EVE at some point, but I already have a job.

      I was really into it at one point. I should have had a bumpersticker that said “My Other Car Is A Caldari Navy Raven”.

      • Effigy_Power

         It’s unbelievably gorgeous, but what you say underlines what the game’s problem seems to be. It needs a lot of commitment, and I can’t give that right now.

  • flowsthead

    “Anywhere else, $20 will get you a day or two of food”

    Two days of food on 20 dollars? What are we talking about food here, canned stuff from a grocery store or ramen noodles? A big mac or whopper is somewhere around 6 or 7 dollars if you include fries and a drink, so you could really buy only 2 or 3 of those – lunch, dinner, lunch and no breakfasts.

    $20 dollars is not a lot to get food.

    • Xtracurlyfries

      Box of cereal = $3
      Milk = $2
      Loaf of Bread = $2
      Stuff to put in sandwich = $5
      Two microwave meals = $8

      Easy. And that’s without eating any junk food and you’d probably have cereal left over.

      • Effigy_Power

        With a breadmaker you can save even more.
        Same if you buy a roast for the slowcooker and use that as sandwich meat.
        When I was living as a student, I probably lived on less than $10 of food a day. Boy, can you stretch it if you have to.

        PS: Also, three meals a day is not for everyone. I usually only ate something before noon and something in the late afternoon, saves even more. (Not saying it’s great, but just to make a point, you can do it.)

      • flowsthead

        I wasn’t saying it wasn’t possible, but it’s not particularly healthy. I don’t really count microwavable meals as healthy, and your “stuff to put in a sandwich” is low, depending on the sandwich. Meat and cheese especially are surprisingly expensive, and fresh produce like cucumbers and tomatoes go bad quickly so you can’t buy them in bulk.

        Plus, you can’t eat cereal and sandwiches every day. Well you can, but I would get bored. I remember eating ramen noodles to saves money during college and after a week or two of just ramen I was pretty ready to never eat ramen every again.

        • DrKumAndGo

          I’m a little freaked out that you can’t think of anything to eat besides big macs, whoppers, cereal and sandwiches. Here are some things that are very easy to make and very cheap:
          baked potatoes
          stir-fries
          pasta with homemade or jar sauce
          eggs with stuff in them
          a burrito with beans and vegetables
          salad with various stuff, e.g. rotisserie chicken or canned salmon and/or feta

          If you have a rice cooker or slow cooker, most of these things take less than 15 minutes of actual work to prepare, and often work out to less than $1 per serving (more if you include meat):
          fried rice
          pilafs
          risottos
          polenta
          soup based on a rotisserie chicken carcass
          lentil or split-pea soup
          salads based on grains (rice, bulgur, quinoa) or lentils
          baked or drunken beans

          A good cookbook will pay for itself many times over – I highly recommend anything by mark bittman.

        • flowsthead

          @DrKumAndGo:disqus 
          I’m a little freaked out that you are making assumptions about the kinds of things I eat.

          I regularly made this bean and meat dish my mom made, pasta, as well as a simple chicken and rice dish. I made some more complicated things occasionally as well, like stuffed peppers or shepherd’s pie.

          Again, I’m not sure where you shop but meat is not inexpensive. 1/4 to 1/2 lb of ground pork, which I used for the majority of my meat meals when chicken wasn’t called for, can go anywhere from 5 to 10 dollars depending on the day, and that makes about two to three meals. That is just the meat. There is also cheese and sauce if pasta is called for, the beans or pasta for whatever meal it is, and possibly rice as well. 5 dollars per meal is possible, but it’s pushing it, and prices for things like meat are not particularly stable.

        • http://sarapen.ca/ Sarapen

          Good god, ground pork is like $0.99/lb if I shop at the right supermarket here. When I lived alone I spent ~$20-30/week on food and I wasn’t starving, I might even treat myself to something nice. $20 could easily have been my groceries for one week.

        • flowsthead

          @sarapen:disqus 
          A dollar a pound?!?! No way! My prices are from Montreal and Boston and its suburbs. I’ve never seen pork at a dollar a pound. That’s insane! Where do you live so I can move there?

        • HobbesMkii

           Even if you could get meat for $1.00 a pound outside of McDonald’s, would really you want to? I feel like any meat that comes that cheap probably has some serious flaws. The cows are probably doped with so much crap that they fight their way into the slaughterhouse to be put out of their misery.

          On a side note, I love how a throwaway line has led to the community attempting to write flowsthead’s next grocery list.

        • http://sarapen.ca/ Sarapen

          Toronto. To be fair it’s like $1.10 now but I’m pretty sure the 0.99 price can still be had in Chinatown.

        • Effigy_Power

           Ah, so it’s actually ground “pork” then?
          (No, not because of Chinatown, but because of the price.)
          I’d rather cut meat out 5 days a week and have some good stuff every now and then.
          PS: Polenta. It’s not that tasty, but it’s filling and can be fairly healthy and versatile.

        • http://sarapen.ca/ Sarapen

          Yes, exactly, I care nothing for quality or taste and make it a point to buy the worst quality meat to be absolutely certain I shorten my lifespan as much as possible.

      • http://twitter.com/djbeema Reuben

        That is a disturbingly accurate description of what I eat every day now that I’m single :-(

        Well, at least I know I’m saving money, I guess

    • Thisisjosh

       It’s not a lot to get food, but my fiance and I spend about… 100 or so on a week’s worth of food, so if you’re just dividing your food budget by the number of days it’ll last you, $20 sounds not wholly unreasonable.

      • flowsthead

        You guys are pretty thrifty. I respect that, but I was probably spending 100 dollars on just myself in college, and I never ate breakfast and only sometimes ate lunch or dinner. I was going one meal a day for maybe 3 or 4 days a week.

        I’m more impressed than anything that you spend 100 dollars for two people. Do you live in the city? That seems a little low for the city.

        • Thisisjosh

           Yeah, We live in a city.  We don’t tend to eat meat at home a whole lot.  I mean, our grocery bill works out to over 100, but by my calculations, removing the non edibles puts as at around a 100.
          last time we were out of a major city, we were at like 80 bucks for all our groceries, including none foodstuffs.

    • DrKumAndGo

      EDIT: posted in the wrong place

    • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

      If you eat out and eat nicely, that’s true.  But, I’ve done the math.

      My breakfast sandwich each day costs between 1.00-1.25, depending on what kind of bread and meat I use.

      My lunch is generally 5-7$, 10$ if I eat out at a sit-down place, which is pretty rare.

      My dinner is varies more, but I can make a pretty satisfying meal for 3$ worth of beef, 2$ worth of veggies, and 1$ worth of pasta, rice or bread. 

      All told, that’s about 14$ a day for food, after taxes, in the middle of a pretty big city.  And I could probably knock it down to 10$ a day if I either made my own food or ate at McDonald’s more often (my McD’s meal of choice is a double hamburger, a McChicken with no mayo, and medium fries, and it’s about 3.50$). What’s more, I’ve gotten by on 4-6$ a day before in the past, particularly in grad school.

      Eating cheap is easy… if you plan ahead for it.

    • caspiancomic

       Clearly somebody has never subsisted entirely on food truck offerings for days or weeks at a time.

      Hmm… you know… sometimes I wonder why it is I’m so sick all the time… and sometimes, it makes sense…

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        I bought a torta from a food cart today. I’m currently feeling kind of queasy.

  • Eco1970

    Where do we go to suggest games for gameological to look at?

  • stakkalee

    These “freemium” games have always bugged me – it just seems like their business model relies heavily on exploiting the easily addicted.  Couple that with the fact that the ‘dragon’ you’re chasing isn’t even as tangible as the high you get from drugs and it just strikes me as very, very cynical.

    I AM fascinated by the overlap between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ currency – I’m just blown away that people can make a living essentailly speculating in World of Warcraft gold.  I love that there’s an honest-to-god exchange rate, with market fluctuations and everything.  It’s taking currency a step further even than Bitcoins – and now with those credit cards that give you in-game bonuses for using the card?  Will we one day be at a point where you can choose to have your employer pay you in WoW gold?

    • The Guilty Party

      Well, there’s obviously bad ways to implement a free-to-play game. I particularly dislike the gambling-style purchases where you’re buying a lottery ticket to get the item you want.

      But there’s also good things about it. Companies are rewarded/punished monetarily for good/bad decisions, which is the only reward/punishment that companies understand. Your $15/month is a general ‘I approve’ stamp, but with an item store you can specifically approve of things you like.

      I’ve always thought D&D Online has a good model: you get a number of quests (instanced dungeons, which is what the entire game is made of) for free, and then you can buy more. Poorly reviewed quests sell worse, quests that people like and rave about to their friends sell better. End result: people get quests they like.

      • stakkalee

        I can see how a system like that could have benefits, but it seems like the D&D system is allowing you to buy extra content, and is allowing users to rate that content.  I have no problem (well, only a minor problem) with paying for a new DLC, but most of this list seems to be items that don’t really add anything to the game other than allowing you to Keep Up with the Joneses; digital bling, if you will.

    • HobbesMkii

      World of Tanks has a pretty good model, even though its up there. In exchange for your money, you get no advantage in any match. None whatsoever. You can buy a “premium” tank, but the only thing to recommend it is that it costs (in-game currency, which you get every battle) almost nothing to repair. A skilled free player can easily take you apart as a premium player.

    • Aaron Riccio

      This was perhaps what disappointed me most about Neal Stephenson’s “Reamde.” He was on pace to discuss and analyze the uses (and exploits) of a shadow economy crafted around the BitCoin-like currency of his WoW-like game, but instead, settled for a Tom Clancy-ish thriller involving real-world terrorists.

      • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

        And the parts about the game were SO MUCH MORE INTERESTING.  I think I just skimmed the last, uh, 300 pages.

      • http://www.facebook.com/aeisenstein Andrew Eisenstein

        Seriously. That book sucked.

    • http://twitter.com/satellitehigh Satyllyte Hygh

      I spent a few months working for an social gaming company whose executives proudly announced, on my first day orientation, that they operated on the “drug dealer business model”. The party line was something like “95% of our profits come from 5% of our users” and everyone acted like that wasn’t creepy at all. I hate that industry. A lot.

  • http://profiles.google.com/cappadocius Ian Cunningham

    Nothing has ever made me want to play Free Realms until this article has made me aware of the possibility of sending virtual monkeys into virtual space in a virtual rocket. I might skip the rocket entirely, and just buy six monkeys.

  • ShrikeTheAvatar

    Sigh.  I always feel like such a fanboy when I do this…

    No mention of League of Legends?  It’s arguably the most successful free-to-play game out there right now.  And it largely avoids the tricks and traps that most f2p games use.

    Of course, it’s hopelessly addicting, but it’s very possible to play and never spend a dime.  ’Runes’ are available to improve your stats in-game, but they aren’t purchasable using ‘Riot Points’ (which are the points you get from spending real money) – only ‘Influence Points,’ which you get simply from playing the game.

    This does away with the problem of someone spending money and simply getting better at the game.  

    I’d rather not contemplate how many hours I’ve put into the game, but I’ve played for well over a year and I’ve only spent about $60, which is an investment I’m more than comfortable with.  

    • http://gameological.com/author/joekeiser/ Joe Keiser

      I did look at LoL when I wrote this, but I think you kind of answered your own question? I was looking more for crazy ways to initiate instant buyer’s remorse, not a perfectly reasonable store where everything seems valuable and isn’t trying to trick or goad me in any way.

      • ShrikeTheAvatar

        Well, I just wanted validation.  So.  Thanks.

        I’ll just go over here now.

        • HobbesMkii

           What? This is outrageous. You’re not supposed to get validated. Whenever I complain, Teti just links me to the FAQ.

      • http://www.stevemz.com/ Steve Mieczkowski

        As a red, this comment makes me very happy :)

    • Aaron Riccio

      Shit. Shit, shit, shit. I’m going to end up playing this now. My problem with the DotA like games that I’ve played so far, thankfully, has been that in order to *really* get sucked in, you need to have two-to-four friends (3v3 or 5v5) who are equally obsessed, because without real teamwork, you’re just going to constantly lose.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mjbrady Matthew J. Brady

      I play Glitch (www.glitch.com), which is perhaps the “freest” free-to-play game out there. Paying for a subscription gives you a number of credits (and unlocks some subscriber-only options), but those can only be used for outfits and decorations, nothing that actually affects gameplay. Although that depends on how you define “gameplay”, since you could conceivably just decorate your house and socialize if you wanted to. But if you want to finish quests, level up, complete achievements, etc., the credits don’t do a damn thing. 

      There’s not really any way to convert real-world currency into Glitch currency either (and it’s forbidden by the Terms of Service, which is true for most all these games, I expect), although the recently-added ability to sell furniture that has been upgraded with credits does seem to at least crack the door open in that direction. I’m curious to see if anything happens on that front.

      Anyway, the game is currently in beta (it launched last fall, then “unlaunched” a couple months later when the decided to rethink some of the fundamental aspects of the game). I think it’s supposed to launch again soon, so I recommend checking it out; it’s fun.

  • Keith Pizzi

    How do you guys cover Free Realms and Maplestory and not RuneScape?

  • William Miller

    If you buy multiple monkeys in Free Realms, can they breed? If they can breed, do you get to pick sexes or do you have to just go by probability? It’s time someone set up their own monkey farm and brought some competition to the market.

    • Aaron Riccio

      Are you attempting to . . . monkey farm? How will you handle the fecal overflow?

      • William Miller

         I’ll sell as much as possible for fertilizer and combustible fuel. If I still have more feces than I can reasonably store, it might be fun to put a bunch of it in a monkey piloted rocket and shoot it off in a random direction.

    • http://www.facebook.com/NikaHarper Nika Harper

      Aaaand here’s where my knowledge of Free Realms gets awkward….
      They act as vanity pets, so you can only have one active and following you at a time. However, if you get a HOUSE, all your pets are running around like the dickens, so you have a small horde of monkeys flippin’ out. They don’t interact with one another and they don’t breed, however. But… monkey farming is somewhat possible?
      You can even buy the “Lonely Island” lot, a pirate ship, and make your own Monkey Island. How meta.

  • Crimboween

    No mention of ‘Kingdom of Loathing’? A true, absolute free-to-play-game, with the truly voluntary option of making donations: each $10 donation will net you a gift ‘Mr. Accessory’ to spend on some premium (and limited) items.
    However, although these premium items are good/great, especially for newer players, the game is so deep that experienced players can find/earn much better items in-game without paying a dollar. Moreover, the game’s internal currency system, ‘meat’, allows you to buy Mr. Accessories from other players on the game’s market, also allowing you access to the premium items without ever needing to make a donation.

    • Charlie Roselius

      KoL, that brings back excellent memories. An Adventurer is You!

    • http://twitter.com/fightergod fightergod

      Don’t forget that some of them, like the absinthe fairy and the dune wormling, give you access to entirely new areas and multiple quests. God, I love that game.

  • Limeade Youth

    @HobbesMkii:disqus brings up a good point about spending on these freemium games over on today’s sawbuck gamer: some of these outfits have “special offers” of buying third party services in exchange for in-game benefits that turn out to be scams or at least misrepresented.  While this article was more lighthearted, this is a portion of casual gaming that really needs to be discussed.

    • Lord Autumn-Bottom

      That is interesting — the scamming possibility hadn’t really occurred to me.  I have done a few of those “special offers” as well, filling things out and such, but I guess I’ve been either lucky or smart enough to not get scammed.  I think the only one involving any CC#-type information I did was a Netflix trial.

      One would expect — at least, I would — that publisher would make sure all special offers were legitimate before presenting them to players; but if that’s not the case, then yeah, that’s something that needs to be common knowledge.

  • Lord Autumn-Bottom

    That was some hilarious shit.  Borg tribbles?  Sign me up!  Actually nah, don’t sign me up; I’ll just look for them on YouTube.  Still, well done!

  • AHyperkineticLagomorph

    I think those knives in the TF2 image need to be submitted to Valve. They’re groan-worthy enough to actually be made.

  • http://twitter.com/fightergod fightergod

    Echo Bazaar: multiple self-contained storylines, the ability to fundamentally alter your path in the game, or the ability to cosmetically alter your avatar (which is a silhouette). One of these things is not like the other.