Rants and Hissy Fits 21 Comments

Cash Shops Can Bite My Shiny Metal Daffodil

I am so over having cash shops embedded in my MMOs. One hundred percent, totally, totally over it.

Almost three years ago I wrote that for some, pay-for-hats is pay-to-win and while that post got a lot of pushback at the time I think we’re starting to see Cosmetic Fatigue now that a huge swath of the MMO playerbase is older and more casual. It turns out that many people currently play MMOs to make their character look good, and when your only alternative for the best / newest (or any at all in some cases) outfits or furniture or hats or mounts is dropping cash, it’s pretty demoralizing.

I spent $5 on a pair of sunglasses in Blade & Soul, took a screenshot, and promptly never logged into the game again. I wouldn’t even have remembered them if I wasn’t writing a rant on cash shop purchases. On the other hand, I spent weeks running Emerald Isle meta-events in RIFT classic for an absurd hat, and when I look back at some of my favorite moments in gaming, I think about that hat.

I earned that hat. When I think about it or see it in screenshots (or in the old days logged on and looked at it) I have good memories that make me smile. It’s not a huge deal, but that hat means something to me, something more than dropping pocket change and getting a hit of instant gratification.

I fear that in most MMOs, this is no longer an experience that people get to have.


And that’s just my own personal cosmetics hobby horse. I could talk about how the atrocious pay-to-win cash shop in ArcheAge caused massive imbalance in the North American release and chased people away from a game that was literally beloved — and with good reason — in the shop-free alpha and beta periods. I could talk about how the $30 price tag on outfits in Black Desert has killed my interest in the game completely, or how selling gear with stats is walking a pretty thin pay-to-win line.

I could talk about how the feller and I were all excited to get back into the ostensibly free-to-play SWTOR after seeing The Force Awakens, until he realized about 4 levels in that he has to pay cash to use more than one hotbar and quit rather than be nickle and dimed. Or how about that moment that we’ve all had trying out the latest cash-shop-centric game where you realize that you’ve being given woefully inadequate bag space and character slots and XP gathering rates to force you to shell out cash right now?

I have absolutely no problem paying for games, either once or as a regular subscription. But this fantastic world of cash shops that we’ve all bought into, my play experience is becoming more and more like having my own assigned panhandler who asks me for spare change every couple of hours. There are things blinking on my screen and messages in my mailbox and contextual tooltips and new NPC symbols and lockboxes in my loot drops and they all want cash, all the time.

Say what you will about WoW — and there is plenty to say — but at least as of this moment in time it doesn’t constantly badger me to spend more money.

MMO cash shops: you ruin games and you’re never going to go away. You suck.

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  • Reply
    February 22, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    Definitely agree with you about “earning the hat”. I have never spent a cent on cosmetic items in a cash shop and never intend to – I like my characters to look good, but what looks good to me is stuff that I had to pursue and work for. No cash shop hat will ever look as good as a rare drop hat that I farmed, or a holiday hat that I achieved.

    Please, stick to trying to sell me GAMES. I’m happy to buy them!

  • Reply
    February 22, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    I gave up arguing about it, but this is exactly what I have always feared. Though I have eased on the idea of F2P games, more and more, the F2P elements are redesigning these games in some pretty horrible and tacky ways. I was in a similar boat with Star Wars: The Old Republic, but having to pay to hide my helmet blew my mind. As other F2P games come out with ways to microcharge everything, then I want to play less and less.
    Murf´s last post: Why did I pick Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright again?

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      February 23, 2016 at 10:53 am

      I’ve eased up on my once-rigorous avoiding of F2P games. Partially it’s just getting older and less stringent, but also … if I don’t play F2P at this point, it limits my game options pretty severely. I write a blog that is (occasionally) about MMOs. If I skip all F2P games, I’m running out of things to talk about. :( :( :(

  • Reply
    February 22, 2016 at 4:04 pm

    I had a very similar epiphany, and wrote about it a couple years ago: Money is not Time

    However, I would like to note that for SWTOR, subscribing pretty much removes all the nickel-and-diming, giving you all the hotbars, etc. The subscription replaces the F2P system almost entirely.
    RohanV´s last post: Group Mechanics in Blade and Soul

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      February 23, 2016 at 10:47 am

      You (and Maeve below) are right: SWTOR is basically a subscription game with a limited free trial. The problem is that they refuse to bill themselves as such, I’m sure in part because of the player backlash to subscriptions. So players come along expecting a free to play experience, and instead get “insert $5 to use a second hotbar”. On the one hand it’s really not a F2P game, but on the other if they’re going to say they are then it seems fair to criticize their implementation.

  • Reply
    February 22, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    I was always against the f2p wave of games when we first started seeing them. But it seemed to be a consumer driven change. How many times I hear now “I’ll wait a few months for it to go free to play before I get it”.

    So it does leave the developers with a quandary. How are they to make a profit? After all, we can not expect a fluid, perpetual game with updates and such to be free, can we? They have to pay their staff for their work. So what things can they put in a cash shop to make money? They have to put things in there that people want. And as you say, there are plenty of people who do want that hat.

    I do not know if we will see the tide turn and move back to subscription based games. People seem so opposed and aghast when a game announces a subscription based plan. And as mentioned above, I do not mind what SWToR has done because I pay the subscription so I can reap the rewards.

  • Reply
    February 23, 2016 at 5:47 am

    When we kick against cash shops I think there’s a very significant demographic that’s not being considered: people who enjoy spending money on treats for themselves. Most of the traffic on blogs and forums comes from people who either object on principle or have practical concerns (the items are overpriced or they don’t have the disposable income to afford them). Naturally, those groups aren’t happy with either where we are now or where we seem to be going.

    On the other hand, as a player in the midst of a game with an active cash shop, GW2, I cannot but notice the very large number of other players all around me, all the time, who are wearing or using items that I know can only be bought in that cash shop. What’s more, I hear conversations in map chat regularly where players are excitedly discussing what they have just bought for themselves or are planning to buy.

    I’m not buying this stuff but I feel I’m very much in the minority. What’s more, I get the strong impression from within the game that there is very little, if any, push-back against the cash shop. If anything, the complaint is that it doesn’t sell enough stuff and puts too many restrictions on what you can buy when. I feel people want to spend more there, not less.

    In the end I guess it will always come down to whether people feel they are getting value for money. Get that right and you will have far more buyers than deniers.

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      February 23, 2016 at 10:43 am

      While I’m sure you’re right that there are people in GW2 who are terribly excited about the cash shop, amusingly enough it was what stopped me from playing the game. I was trying to map out some good long-term goals for my character, and every time I researched a wardrobe item it would come back around to the cash shop. Admittedly I didn’t look at everything, but after about 20 minutes of trying I just gave up and lost interest.

      Granted, perhaps that’s what I get for trying to impose goals on game that is all about wandering free o’er the dales, but.. yeah. Players are notoriously enthusiastic about all kinds of things that are bad for them. ;)

  • Reply
    February 23, 2016 at 6:27 am

    Interestingly, after reading this, I saw a poll in which a particular streamer was asking his viewers if they’d like to see him opening more cash shop lockboxes on stream, with an overwhelming majority voting in favor. I think for some, the cash shops are really becoming a part of the game instead of a monstrosity tacked onto it, diverting development resources away from a game’s actual content.

    My feelings would best be summed up by paraphrasing Matt Taibbi on another topic. The free-to-play model is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of the genre, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.
    Isarii´s last post: Elite: Dangerous Review

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      February 23, 2016 at 10:55 am


    • Reply
      The Claw
      February 23, 2016 at 12:15 pm

      Well, I guess most people who would never pay to open a lockbox themselves might be curious to see a bunch of them opened on a stream. That’s one form of monetization that I would really hate to encourage, in any way, though.

  • Reply
    Wilhelm Arcturus
    February 23, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Without a cash shop where will I buy my pimpmobile?

    Earned items have much more meaning to me. My rooms in EverQuest II are loaded up with quest items and such, with a few things I made, a couple things I bought on the market, and one goddam item I bought from the cash shop. I bought that chest that was the very first user made item in the store.

    I can live with the cash shop so long as the cash shop doesn’t keep waving its arms and dancing about trying to get my attention. Unfortunately, companies have felt a need to put RMT reminders in as many in-game dialogs as possible, LOTRO perhaps being the worst offender on that front with their secondary micro currency, mithril coincs. EQII is pretty big on reminding you as well, and then there is Rift where every in-game vendor IS the cash shop. I just can’t tell if this continued attempt to shove the cash shop in our collective faces means that they are a success, a failure, or that the reality of the situation is that they need people to keep buying more more more!
    Wilhelm Arcturus´s last post: Pre-Ordering WoW Legion at a Discount

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      February 23, 2016 at 11:00 am

      Yeah, I was a little hyperbolic in my post (gasp!) but it’s possible to have a cash shop implementation that is not terrible. I just think that for whatever reason they generally are awful.

      • Reply
        Wilhelm Arcturus
        February 23, 2016 at 11:26 am

        Well, yes, cash shop rage has to be a little over the top to get people to pay attention… but maybe that applies to getting people to buy stuff from the damn cash shop as well.

        Also, acknowledge my Bender vocabulary reference Chumpette!

        (“War in the H Word” is my favorite episode of Futurama.)
        Wilhelm Arcturus´s last post: BB72 Roadmaps are Best Written in Pencil

        • Reply
          Jessica Cook
          February 23, 2016 at 11:38 am

          “Oh, man, what’s the use of living if I can’t say ‘ass’?”

  • Reply
    February 23, 2016 at 11:47 am

    You know, I didn’t comment back then but I really liked that old post of yours for offering a different perspective.

    Unfortunately for you I can’t really see the genre moving away from cosmetics in the cash shop because while I agree that there’s been a little bit of push-back against them as of late, I see far more of the type of behaviour that Bhagpuss describes. I honestly often completely forget that SWTOR has a cash shop because I don’t need anything from it – yet instead of the game itself pushing me towards it, it’s mostly other players that keep going on about this new outfit or that new weapon from the store.

    I just don’t think that buying cosmetics has enough of a negative connotation. When we talk about buying things that give a competitive advantage, we think of things like bribery, doping scandals in sports, that kind of thing. When we talk about buying things that give you a “fashion advantage”, I think of fashion bloggers trying to outdo each other with expensive outfits and actually being damn proud of having bought that Chanel handbag. I know things are a bit different in gaming, but I’m fairly sure that at least some of those attitudes cross over.
    Shintar´s last post: KotFE Chapter by Chapter – Chapter 5: From the Grave

  • Reply
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  • Reply
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