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Paying To Play: Spending Too Much On iOS MMORPGs?

It came as some surprise to me last week to find out that Order and Chaos Online has a spending limit on rune stones.

Rune stones (or simply “runes”) are the IAP currency of OnC. While purchasing runes is not neccessary to play the game, they do a lot to speed up the aquisition of 133t gear and items and play a big part in a successful endgame. Most every hardcore player in OnC keeps some runes on them at all times.

Runes, not surprisingly, are not cheap. Buying a pack can range anywhere from $2 for 10 runes to $100 for 950 runes. In-game costs for items can range anywhere from 10 to 30 runes or higher, and it’s easy to see how that 950 runes purchase could be desirable. But until last week, I didn’t realize how desirable.

Buying runes in Gameloft's Order and Chaos Online.

The rune sale cap in OnC is apparently based on purchaing the most expensive (and consequentially, the cheapest per rune) offer. You can only purchase that 950 rune pack once. Then, you need to buy the cheaper, but more expensive per rune, 400 rune pack once. Assuming the purchaser is buying for best value, that’s about $150 worth of runes per month, before players are forced into buying the smaller, more expensive per-rune packs.

I have two reactions to this. The first is: wow, no surprise that Gameloft is limiting the number of times players can take advantage of the best deals. No reason to keep things reasonably priced. </sarcasm>

The second reaction is: Wow. There are poeple spending more than $150 a month on this game?! I knew that there were competetive players out there, people who would play a lot and take every advantage they could to be the best. But I’d never really been able to put hard numbers on it before.

A while back I wrote a column on the Freemium model and how it might be affecting the way MMORPGs develop on iOS. And here is a great example of it. The cap in OnC restricts the ability to purchase multiple $100 rune packs. This is known because people have hit that cap … which means that they were trying to spend even more than that on playing OnC.


Ubiquitous Nick, rune pimp.

This is one of those momemnts where my nature as a more casual player of MMORPGs comes out. I cannot even fathom investing that much money per month in an online virtual game. I know it happens — the news was lousy with reports a year or two back about the ridiclulos amounts of money some people were spending on Farmville, and who could forget the infamous incident where some kid spent $800 on Smurfberries for Smurf Village? — but I have a hard time wrapping my mind around it.

The most I ever spent on runes in one month was $50. And I only made that purchase because I won a $50 iTunes card in an OnC fan-fic contest, and because Gameloft was having a half-price runes sale that weekend. So, yes, I bought 950 runes that weekend in November. And, honest truth: I still have 300 of those runestones sitting on my account. I’ve used them to gear up my mage, Alimac, and have made a few small purchaces for a second, levelling character. But that’s it.

I’m probably not in a minority of OnC players overall, but I’m beginning to suspect that, in the endgame, I’m not representative of the average player. For me, investing money in digital currency for digital benefits in a non-tangible game is just off-putting. I’d much rather invest time to earn digital currency to spend on digital items, without ever involving real, tangible funds.

OnC's newest rune sink, the lottery

For others, though, runes and other IAPs grease the wheels of success. And understanding that helps to bring into focus the push for Freemium model games. Set purchase prices and monthly subscription fees are chump change; the real money to be had it to chase the hardcore players, to name your price and see who will pay it. And that says a lot about what we’ll see in the App Store in the future.

What’s the most you have ever spent in a month on an MMORPG? Let us know in the comments below or over at the Massively Portable Facebook page.

For more on pocket-sized MMORPGs, check out the Massively Portable podcast.


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