“Then I saw in a dream that when they were got out of the wilderness they presently saw a town before them…and at the town there is a fair kept called Vanity-Fair…because all that is there sold, or cometh thither, is Vanity.”
~ Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress
I had a rather profound gaming question rear its ugly head last night, just as my mouse hovered over the confirm button for a purchase. It was a gaming question that transcends any particular MMO, or perhaps more accurately, infests all of them.
And that question is this. Though there is usually, in any game, a general concensus over what particular items are most valuable to what particular character, there are items that we covet that may not be the most valuable, or even particularly useful, but that we want anyway. At what point can I indulge in those purchases that make my gaming experience more enjoyable, without jeopardizing my effectiveness.
Of course, the answer to that question changes from game to game. In Shadowbane, I was publically chastized in front of my guild for using skill points to be able to wield a particular weapon I wanted. I had ventured off template, and was ordered to change it back. Otherwise my character would be “gimp.” In WoW, I had to sacrifice stats on my paladin to wear a complete Jouster’s Set at 40 – an all blue plate armor that I just had to have, that buffed…Agility.
Most MMO’s are more reasonable though. As the use of the “appearence tab” has become more common (EQ2, LotRO, and now apparently Vanguard), desires may only take the form of time spent camping a known drop point, or cash spent for a particular item or look. LotRO does this best I think, offering a wide variety of appearence gear from NPC Outfitters throughout the game, all for a price that anyone, even fairly new (say, level 10+) can afford without too much sacrifice. But props much be given also to EQ2, who so far as I know, is the only game that would allow you, with some grinding, to put gear looking like plate armor on a wizard (faction merchents in the capitals).
The trend then is that games with an active PvP element are more likely to frown on such novelty purchases, though even those put great stock in certain items, that, while greatly effective, one must be pretty vane to spend the long hours raiding, dueling, or camping to be able to acquire.
And then of course, there is the RMT phenomenon, which allows you to spend real money rather than your virtual wealth or game time to acquire. In games like Free Realms and Wizards 101, these things are usually a combo deal though: they look sweet, and they kick butt.
And of course, the greedy demon underlying all of this is the game mechanic known fondly as the Money Sink. The truth is, the better the game is at getting you to spend your virtual wealth, the more smoothly the economy flows, and the less inflation there is. I tend to look on the Sink as a sort of Necessary Evil. A toll that one must pay on the MMO journey. A fare to pay to ride the trains of success in the land of make-believe.
So what do you spend your money on? Where do you draw the line? What is it that you currently desire that really isn’t going to improve your game all that much? What signature vanity do you have that makes your guildies and corpmates grown and beg you to get rid of? What have you spent way too many hours grinding to get when you should have been leveling your main?
And perhaps most importantly, who can help me decide what I should do about the question that started this whole existential ramble: should I spend 3 of my 9 million ISK on a T1 cruiser that I can’t fly yet, is not any better than my existing ship, and will probably get me laughed at if I show up in at the next fleet op.