You may not have heard of Vanity Items yet; I certainly wouldn’t have if it weren’t for our forums, as Jagex seem to have been less-than-keen to go all out advertising this little tidbit of information to us. Vanity Items are items in-game which are only available through real world promotions. The one they’re starting off with is an Ornate Katana, which you can only get by redeeming a RuneScape game card for membership.
I don’t have a problem with member’s only items - you’re paying for them and current free players could get them at any time in the future. I don’t have a problem with holiday items - they’re purely cosmetic items with no in-game benefits. I do have a huge problem with Vanity items since, according to the Knowledge Base (which is admittedly one of the least reliable sources for RuneScape information), these items aren’t just cosmetic – they have stats. Not amazing stats, mind you, just overpowered stats for a free item, only bested by talisman staves, that can be wielded by those with just 1 Attack & Strength.
I suppose my biggest gripe with Vanity Items is the way in which they’re obtainable. They’re not even ‘Members’ items since not all members can get them! The Ornate Katana is ONLY available to those who redeem a 90 Day RuneScape game card from GameStop which, by the way, costs a lot more than paying through a credit/debit card, the most popular and simple method of payment. Not only is it that only game cards are eligible, it’s game cards from GameStop – [GameStop does this often with the pre-orders of console games, such as with Halo Reach, where if you ordered it, you could enter a code for an exclusive new helmet. It doesn't surprise me that this involves GameStop, because they're the Wal-Mart of video game vendors] a shop that you’ll not find everywhere, and even if you do, it's only GameStops in the United States. GameStop doesn’t even exist in England!
In the FAQ released with this, it says that in the future other payment methods would be considered and that they’re, ‘working hard to ensure that promotions are available in all countries that sell RuneScape Game Cards,’ but I’d honestly like to know how it’s easier to sort out a promotion with an American company than it is to sort it out with an English one – you know, that country Jagex actually works in?
If the controversy over the Membership Loyalty Rewards, which are due this month, weren’t enough to spark the debate over micro-transactions, this is certainly fanning the flames. Jagex say they won’t consider micro-transactions and Mod Nexus denied that this was a step towards that – ‘You are paying for membership and a whole host of other benefits.’ So why don’t I get the same ‘host of benefits’ when I buy membership with my credit card? I can accept that paying by game card has to be more expensive since there’s the actual creation and transport of the cards to be done, but the extra cost in the shops is paying for that – not for ‘a whole host of other benefits.’
It is possible, though, that the creation of these Vanity Items wasn’t entirely Jagex’s own doing. It’s true that in the game’s industry, brick-and-mortar retailers push for online distributors to either raise prices in line with the shops or to provide an incentive to buy the physical copy as opposed to a download (in this case, a physical card as opposed to just the virtual membership). It’s possible that GameStop pushed Jagex into creating these and it would explain why only their store is eligible for the items so far, but even if this is the case it’s left me disappointed in Jagex.
All that aside, I suppose we should wonder what exactly the Ornate Katana is alluding to. It’s been described as a promotional item and, since there’s nothing very oriental in RuneScape at this time, we have to wonder ‘promoting what?’ I hope that the Ornate Katana is a precursor to the long-awaited Eastern Lands. If it is, I hope that I’ll be able to forgive them for this mess and get stuck in to some nice content. After all, isn’t that what most of us want from our subscriptions? A good quality game, not some promotional drivel like this.