If you haven’t yet, perhaps go read my rant from a few weeks ago about cash shops in MMOs. This post is sort of Part Two.
One common response to my rant was a rueful reminder that MMOs need cash shops to survive. MMOs are expensive to maintain and grow, and subscriptions for anything short of WoW-style population numbers don’t generate enough money for that kind of infrastructure. Buy-to-play is in the same boat: nice for making some money upfront, but then there’s no cash for on-going content after the initial rush.
I don’t know how much money it takes to create and run an active MMO. I have worked in tech my whole life, though, so I know that often the answer is “a lot more than you’d think”. Beyond developers and designers and servers, there’s QA and Customer Service and HR and even sometimes *cough* marketing writers. That being said, I’m just not convinced that our choice is really only between the current predatory cash shop model or the end of MMOs as we know it.
Businesses by their nature have a hard time identifying between survival and competition. This is certainly not limited to gaming companies, and kind of a high-level issue that’s more to do with capitalism in general, but often when a business talks in terms of survival what they really mean is growth and competition. Like, it’s not good enough to pay everyone, make a good product, and have some left over — businesses have to constantly be hitting new profit levels and increasing their stock value.
Long story short, capitalism dictates that we can’t trust a business to make a nice bit of money and then stop. They, as a concept, are constantly looking for more efficient ways to get more money out of us, and we as consumers should treat them accordingly as not an enemy exactly but certainly not our gaming buddy who has our best interests at heart.
So what does a non-predatory MMO cash shop model look like? Here’s my definition:
1) Items are account-bound, not character-bound. Unless your game is Final Fantasy 14 where I can do everything on a single character, character-bound items are for jerk stores.
2) Prices are not ridiculous. Yes, Black Desert Online, I am looking at your $30 costumes when I say this.
3) Your game is designed to make me want to buy things because it’s fun, not because I’m frustrated. When you design a game around limited bag space, for example, and then create systems that will give me a great deal of crap to carry around (hello Guild Wars 2), you’re hoping that I give you money out of frustration. If nothing else this just makes me mad about buying something off the store, and I don’t get anything fun out of the deal.
4) There are ways to get things outside of the store. Yes, sell hats, but don’t sell ALL of your hats. Give me ways to grind/quest/loot hats inside of the game.
5) Lockboxes and randomized cash store items can GET IN THE SEA.
Basically, dear game producers, if I like your game and it makes me happy, I will want to give you $5 every now and then. If your game is holding my funtime hostage with design decisions that make my life more miserable to force me to buy things, or prices that are far beyond the norm, or RNG bullshit, then you suck.
Unfortunately, it seems that very few MMOs are okay with actually relying on fun and good gameplay to encourage sales. Perhaps that says something about the quality of these games.
I love MMOs, but if my genre of choice really can’t survive without predatory cash shop practices then… maybe it’s time we seriously rethink their future.