Listening to the latest MMOvoices podcast and their discussion of EverQuest Extended (and its horrible implementation of the ‘free2play’ model) reminded me that EverQuest 2 already has a cash-shop within the regular, $15/month subscription, retail boxed-product. This made me think of Cryptic, who I consider to be the most dirty and unapologetic violators of this heinous act. You could go out on a limb and even say Blizzard does this as well, with their $10 vanity pets, $25 mounts, and handful of account services – but none of that is accessible in-game and most importantly none of that is intrusive and blatantly being commercialized to you while in game. When I think “cash-shop” in an MMO, I think of a big button on the in-game UI that is begging you to click it (read: EQ2 and Cryptic’s games).
I could probably name-drop a few more “subscription & cash-shop” games, but let’s stick to EQ2 and Champions Online (and breifly Star Trek Online). These are the ones that I have personally experienced and felt that the cash-shop was an impediment in my enjoyment of the game and left a very bad taste in my mouth.
Lets’ start with EQ2. I never even thought twice about the cash-shop in EQ2 until they announced and rolled out the EQ2X campaign and payment models. Let’s stop and take a look at how most successful “free2play” MMOs work. It is the game account and client that is free and you buy bits and pieces of content that suit your needs, as well as fluff and vanity items, in the in-game cash-shop. The cash-shop purchases, from the crowd that makes the purchases, is usually what covers the lack of a subscription fee and makes up for (or surpasses in a lot of cases) the loss of the monthly subscription fee or lack of cash-shop sales from the other players. The ones that actively and continually buy things in the cash-shop, essentially pay for the bums and WoW-tourists that just want to play for free. This is a concrete model and it works for the best of them. Even games like League of Legends have shown great success in North America and Europe following this model, perhaps with the most elegantly handled execution of a cash-shop I’ve seen in any free2play. I’ve easily spent upwards of $50 in League of Legends. That alone covers a “retail box” purchase, and I’m sure I’ll spend more as more champions are rolled out each month.
EQ2 already had the groundwork to make it a purely free2play, cash-shop driven game if it wanted to. All it had to do was tinker with what they were selling in the “Station Store” and lock away some content into the store for those who were not monthly subscribers. Instead they went out of their way to make a convoluted tiered subscription system entirely separate from the normal subscription and give the free2play players nothing more than a handicapped, slice-of-content, demo.
On to Cryptic. Oh, Cryptic. Let me start by getting this out there – I’m not a fan of anything Cryptic has done post-City of Heroes and I think their game-engine is the biggest clunker, mess of a game engine, to ever plague an MMO. Just keep this in mind.
Cryptic followed in EQ2’s footstep by focusing largely, from the very beginning, on planning content to be sold in their Cryptic Store. We’re talking vanity pets and things as nickle’n’dime as costume pieces. I’m pretty sure, eight years later, City of Heroes/Villains is still adding costume pieces for free!
I can’t really comment on Star Trek Online as I was not to be fooled out of $50 twice by them, but I do know they have a cash-shop for STO as well. “Live long and prosp..er..spend money in our cash shop on top of your $15 subscription!”
I need to stop before I start getting too cynical and snarky. This just hits a nerve in me, I guess. It’s along the lines of how Activision decided to start charging $60 for PC games with Modern Warfare 2 and how Ubisoft followed their lead without missing a beat. It’s like no one even cared enough to question why this is flying. We all just keep buying their games and we’ll just let them get away with it and let them make it a new standard? No thank you. I’ll take my free2play MMORPGs (that I thoroughly enjoy, mind you!) and I’ll take my standard $50 retail, $15/month MMORPGs as well – just keep them separate please!