“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: 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: 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: A mullet and a pile of knives
Pros: Be ready for ANYTHING.
Cons: No matter what you do, it won’t bring Patrick Swayze back.
MapleStory: A 450-day carrot rental
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: American-flag underwear, blond hair dye, and a makeover
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: 1.4 intricate fetish costumes
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: A shark launcher and a panda mask
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: 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: 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: BMW M3 GTR E46
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: 8 permanent bloody facial scars
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: Some tanks
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 Online: 40 percent of an orphan bikini cowgirl
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.