WoW has always shied away from offering any “direct” character bonuses for real money. But you only have to look as far as server transfers and faction changes — convenience RMTs. They save you the time of levelling and progressing a new character in order to play with people on a different server or faction.
I hesitate to actually total how many of these transactions I’ve used over the six-plus years I’ve been playing WoW, but for an example my very first WoW toon Coreus has in that time been realm transferred seven times and faction changed four times; playing at various times on Tanaris, Aman’thul, Feathermoon, Barthilas and Nagrand realms, and varying between Human, Forsaken and Goblin. [His Goblin name was Rixwhimps, which I was a bit sad to leg go of at the time. Goblin names are such fun.] Each of these transfers was used to play with people I otherwise would have needed to make other sacrifices; ie time, choice of playstyle; to play with.
Race changes and character customisation are ostensibly cosmetic RMTs, until you consider the massive number of hardcore players who race change just to get whatever 1% racial bonus is most competitive this tier/season.
Recruit-a friend is a big one, giving players who are willing and able to multibox [and pay for the extra accounts] triple experience. I used this to level my Warrior in late Wrath, which soon after became my favourite class in the game, and has been my main toon for over three years now.
Pets have never been compelling purchases to me, but now that they BATTLE I can see them being a lot more attractive in that you’re actually purchasing a new gameplay style– most of the purchased pets have unique movesets.
When the Sparkle Pony was on special for $10 I bought it because it was account-wide [before this was true of all mounts] and I had several alts who only had the default mount and it would be a nice visual upgrade for then. These days, account-wide mounts [especially for someone who spent a year or two collecting rare ones] removes a major reason to purchase one for real money.
I think the more rational people start spending money in RMT games, on things which are actually worth paying for, the more developers will start creating things that are worth paying for, and we might eventually get to what I see as the holy grail of “free” games; a game which allows people to pay what the game is worth to them, and feel like they are getting good value for their money whatever the actual amount is.
If we let the whales* dictate what is worth developing then we’re only going to see more and more useless crap sold for ridiculous amounts. That shit needs to stop.
It occurs to me that most of my views on RMTs and “Free to play” games, as well as my generally optimistic view of them was actually mostly gleaned from this blog post that Raph Koster posted about a year ago [I had to google it]. It’s a fantastic post and well worth reading, if you’re interested.
*whales is the term used for the really big spenders in RMT games; the ones that often just buy everything.