The Daily Grind: How would you run an ethical MMO cash shop?

    
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Today’s Daily Grind topic comes to us in a roundabout way from Kickstarter donor Le Entrepreneur, who asks,

Why do MMOs use cash shops they know hurt players?

There’s an easy answer to this — because money — but it’s worth exploring in more detail, I think. Cash shops in general, after all, don’t hurt players, but cash shops that exploit players’ desire to win or that tinker with lockboxes are deliberately preying on games’ weakest customers. On the one hand, it’s just business, but on the other, it makes me uncomfortable that whales — some of whom are just terrible with money, not actually wealthy — are subsidizing many of the MMOs we play.

Exploitative cash shops hurt all players in the long-run, though; sooner or later, players catch on and stop spending, and the game crumbles anyway.

Is there a way to run an ethical MMO cash shop that doesn’t feel gross to the players or the developers? How would you do it, and who does it the best?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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Morreion
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Morreion

Sort of reminds me of the ‘friendly crack dealer’ Will Ferrell-

excaliburlost
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excaliburlost

Its hard for me to think of a cash shop that works because most that I can think of work perfectly except for one or two very glaring flaws. Apart from the blatant lockbox scam that is the Black Lion chest, Guild Wars 2 runs a pretty good one, with an emphasis on convenience and vanity items. The Secret World also did quite well at this (until they got in on lockbox crap as well), but they charged for new content in it…even to premium subscribers.

Honestly as much as people complain about LotRO’s cash shop pricing, I think it’s probably one of the most honestly run ones I can think of.

fangGWJ
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fangGWJ

Another thing that may be interesting is a hybrid system.  I think Warhammer Online had something like this where they were implementing the new classes and ran events and daily quests to unlock the classes like 3 days early.  Or there was a sort of points system where you would unlock tiered rewards, the last being the new class.
So what I’d propose is this, that you can buy the item with in game gold or via cash shop but you can do things like events and dailes that could, unlock the item sooner or at a reduced cost.  The reduced cost is key because it lessens the cheapening of the items by whales because there is incentive to play to earn rather than just one click buy.  Plus it also values the accomplishments of the ones who want to pay with in game gold and lets those players determine what is the real monetary and time value of the item.
There are players who wouldn’t buy a custom mount for 25$ but would spend 15 hours in game to get it at 15$ or 20 hours to get it for 7.99$ or 35 hours to get it for a dollar.  
Likewise there are whales who would wait 2 days for a one click purchase of that mount, ones who would spend 5 hours and a couple of quests to unlock it half a day sooner and ones who would buy the mega pack and do all the dailies to have it day one on all their characters.

CensoredOtaku
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CensoredOtaku

I would take everything that Star Wars the Old Republic is doing and do the exact opposite.

CensoredOtaku
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CensoredOtaku

Tithian  Path of Exile is my ideal cash shop.  Declare all content free forever and just charge for cosmetics, slots, and tabs.  Rift had it right when they launched F2P but have gone more Archeage recently and have a big lockbox scam going.

Le Entrepreneur
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Le Entrepreneur

Serrenity The argument you posed is a classic ethical dilemma. Everyone has to make their own chose when they come to one of these situations but if you used your solution in my business I would let you go. You put you emotions ahead of the best interest for the customer and the long term health of the company and used an ethically compromised solution. Then used the rational argument to tell yourself , and everyone else, that it wasn’t unethical because your saved jobs.

Now I am not picking on you I see many make the same choice and I have also seen where that road ends.

wild_abyss
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wild_abyss

ComradeStanimir …eh. I have to disagree there. I love the outfit designer. Love it. I spent way too much time hunting down transmogs in WoW and now I get to do it in Star Wars! Sounds great! Except now I feel the urge to buy some store cosmetics which is still fine. I have coins, they have pixels, let’s trade. But, oh wait, most of the cosmetics are in random gamble boxes and you can’t add it to your collection unless you have ALL the pieces of a set meaning you drop more real world cash for insanely expensive hypercrates or grind out credits to buy it off someone else. As a credit-poor player, this just means I don’t get any cool armour weapons I can’t find out in the world. And forget about dyes.

Basically: I just wish SWTOR would put more content in the store instead of in a stupid box. I would gladly give them my money in return for an item I want. I will not for a chance at an item I want and a bunch of crap no one will even buy on the GTN.

Veldan
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Veldan

Carthoris I think I understand what you mean, but it only applies to cash shops where you can buy power. RIFT’s shop is a good example, since it sells power in various forms. If people could see that you only have your tier 1 raid set because you spent money, they will likely not accept you in their guild for tier 2 raiding. In that sense it can indeed have negative consequence if others can see how much you spent. But I think this is a flawed way of seeing things, for two reasons. 
First, usually the shop buyers are quickly identified. To use RIFT as an example, any decent guild would require you to link achievements for the previous raid tier as proof that you actually ran it and not just bought the gear from the shop. On top of that, if you perform bad, they will quickly spot it in your DPS / HPS or amount of deaths. I’ve seen this first hand. I once had a guy with great gear join a raiding guild that I was in. But on the very first raid, it turned out that even with all his shiny gear, his DPS was only half of what people were doing with gear that barely met the raid’s requirements. What I’m trying to say is, nobody will judge you on your gear directly. The real checks that people use to decide if they want you in their group, are based on your performance. The shiny geared guy that joined my guild was declared an obvious store buyer and kicked from the guild after that first raid.

And second, in a game where power is not found in the cash shop, and cosmetics are sold instead, I have never spotted any negative opinion regarding “wallet warriors”. From what I’ve seen, people are actually happy that you chose to support the game. An example is GW1. Or Path of Exile, where people proudly wear titles on the forum that show they’ve purchased a supporter pack. They are actually respected for that, if anything.

Veldan
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Veldan

Le Entrepreneur Yeah… I just looked at the time and realized that I must have spent hours in the comment section already o.o

Veldan
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Veldan

nullunit I agree. What you wrote is in my opinion the saddest consequence of cash shops invading MMOs: the economies were wrecked. Cash shops selling armor that makes crafting less relevant is one reason. Another is that they legalized RMT, it is possible in nearly every MMO right now to convert real money to in-game currency. This is either by means of a premium currency conversion, such as in GW2, or by some tradeable token that can be purchased with real money and converted to premium currency, such as REX or APEX. I think this actually might have had the biggest impact on MMO economies. 

I do not necessarily agree with buying accelerating advancement though. First of all, there are always people who have an enormous amount of time and can still afford to spend above average. Letting those people buy accelerated advancement will put them so far ahead of others that as a net result, the system could actually increase the differences between players rather than equalize them. But the main reason is that I think game design is flawed if there is a need to “catch up”. MMOs can in fact be designed so that it’s perfectly possible to have fun and experience all the content without having the most time-costly gear. 
Also, I think that in gearing up, it’s the journey that matters, not the end result. It can in fact be very boring to be at the “end”, to have the best gear. I’ve had this a few times in MMOs, and I always quit as a result of it. Buying accelerated advancement will, in the end, only put you in this position faster, which is not something you should want. But I understand that is something people will have to learn by experience, a cash shop can’t make them understand this.