Lost in the noise of the holidays was news that Mechwarriors now sells solid gold mechs – for $500 bucks.  Despite the fact that these appear to be mostly cosmetic only (one coworker said “you’re paying $500 bucks to paint a bullseye on you on the battlefield”), the community was, predictably, completely up in arms about this.  It was, predictably, very similar to the Eve Monocle situation.

Only worse.  People right now are still used to the idea of buying a game fully for $60 bucks.  Whether its right or wrong, the mental math a gamer does when he looks at the Mechwarrior page is that, to buy everything in the game, you would need to spend $4000 bucks at least – to get these eight mechs.

Will people spend that much to play a game?  Certainly.  People have paid $10000 or more for items in video games going back, at least, to Gemstone 3 and Dragonrealms.  In Warhammer, a $400 army is a good start.  Buying all of the cards a la carte to build a competitive standard Magic the Gathering deck is $400 bucks as well – and well more if you get into legacy formats.  Devoted fans of a game will spend on that game if they love it – just as fans of any hobby is want to do.  If you’re a high spender in a video game (a ‘whale’), you don’t mind the spend – and hey, maybe even appreciate it (the ‘I have a porsche’ effect).

The question is all about perception.  I saw a talk given by someone who worked at Eve once, and he said that the Monocle was actually a strong financial success.  Tons of people bought them.  But was it worth the beating they took from their fans?

It really is about that sticker shock.  Magic packs sell for $3-4 bucks, and you can easily get into cheaper formats, such as draft, and avoid the high price tag – at least until you’re sure you like the game enough to invest.  Lucky players can get the cards they need for Standard by opening random packs.  Savvy players can trade for them.  A casual magic player is not going to have a huge price tag slapped in their face – a careful like that Wizards walks, particularly given at the top end, it very much is a ‘pay to win’ game design.

One of the most important things to having a successful F2P business is having a good, healthy relationship with your fans, when it comes to the store.  Those who spend money should feel good about doing so, and those who don’t shouldn’t resent those who do.  This is an incredibly tricky line to walk, but vital, given how important long-term relationships with your players are good not only for your bottom line, but also the communities within your games.  Given the outcry over the $500 mechs, that game’s developers may have crossed that line.