Bigpoint claims that more than 2000 DarkOrbit players have purchased the game’s highest-level combat drone in just four days – at a cost of more than $1300 each.

Ever wonder why so-called “free-to-play” games have suddenly become so popular with publishers? Chew on this insight, courtesy of DarkOrbit, a space-based F2P MMO operated by Bigpoint. It’s one of Bigpoint’s biggest games, even though an estimated 97 percent of players don’t pay on a month-by-month basis, because those who like it, like it a lot.

How much is a lot? Combat drones, ranked in ten levels, can be acquired by players to support their ship in battle; the most powerful drone, the Zeus, is very rare, requiring all nine other drones as well as the discovery of special blueprints. But over four days this month, Bigpoint made the Zeus available for straight-up purchase at the ridiculous price of €1000 – that’s $1335 – and contrary to all reason, it was a huge hit. More than 2000 Zeus drones were sold, adding up to nearly $2.7 million in revenue off a single item. In four days.

It’s a little hard to swallow, isn’t it? Gamesbrief thought so too, so it went back to Bigpoint just to be sure. “Originally, CEO Heiko Hubertz told me that the company had sold 1,000 10th drones. He then introduced me to the producer of the game, Simon Davis, to explain how DarkOrbit worked,” the author wrote. “Simon told me that he had been authorized to say that the company has now sold 2,000, as at 16th November 2011. “

And that, kids, is how [and why] it’s done.

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