This week’s Overthinking topic comes from longtime MOP reader and commenter Sally Bowls. It’s about monetization, but it’s a nuanced argument we don’t see all that many people making.
“Does ‘buyable in game’ change the monetization argument? For example, there is a $20 (sigh I’m old, make that $1000) mount in the ca$hshop. But you can also earn ‘gold’ in-game to acquire it. One one hand, $0 players can still get the mount, so their complaints are not that they can’t have it, just that they would feel better if others don’t. Which I have always thought of as shallow; drive a nice car because you like it, not because your neighbors don’t have one as nice. On the other hand, at some point, it feels like a sham – if the $20 item takes 400 hours of grinding to get or worse, each hour of grinding gives you a .25% chance of the item. I join the social media consensus: ‘also buy it with gold’ is a complete defense in games I like and an irrelevant detail in those P2W games I do not like.”
Let’s Overthink it. If something’s buyable inside an MMO with gold, does that excuse its presence in the cash shop? Are you more or less OK with a cash shop that allows this type of regular trading and buying alongside RMT? And which games provide the best example?
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): It depends on whether the item can be traded. It depends on whether the currency can be bought. Then we need to factor in whether the economy is built with item decay in mind and the decay value on said item. Also, the power of black items because those are the best looking and most sought after.
In all seriousness, I prefer MMOs to allow RMT with trading only if it’s a PvE game without a well thought out economy. That’s also not exactly an MMO that would appeal to me unless my friends were into it, but it’d probably also do better commercially. World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV feel like decent examples of this (no offense to either game).
Andy McAdams: I think this whole gets a lot easier if we stop thinking about MMOs as a competition. Then we bring in all this drama what’s fair, what’s pay-to-excel, what’s a “cash grab.” Nine times out of ten, I don’t care in the slightest about what’s in the RMT shop; 99% of what’s there I don’t want to buy anyway. So sure, kick it out there — if it’s worth the dollar amount for someone to drop on it, wonderful. I’m glad the developer and the player could reach an accord.
I appreciate when items in the RMT shop are available through regular gameplay (whether gold, achievement, grinding out boars, whatever). But I don’t think studios are under any particular obligation to provide them. If they do offer them in game, I think they need to obtainable – maybe not comfortably attainable though. Creating an environment that says, “you can put in a ton of effort here, or you can walk over there any pay for it,” isn’t a negative in my book. At the end of the day, the item that I worked my butt off grinding for will always be more valuable than the item I waltzed into the RMT store to buy.
And the pay for convenience items? I see those as largely “pay to not play the game,” which, again if that’s how you want to spend your money — more power to you. That’s just not why I play games.
Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): Some have more time then money. Some have more money than time. Making an item available via both cash and time spent grinding is a way of giving your player base the choice to pay using the currency they prefer, time or money. It’s less exclusionary, and in my eyes, a perfectly acceptable way to monetize.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): As a general rule, I’ve always felt that offering cash-shop items for sale with in-game gold, and allowing them to be traded freely within the in-game economy, takes a lot of the sting out of a cash shop, which otherwise runs the risk of putting all the “exclusives” there for obvious reasons. I think this is why Guild Wars 2 and yes even Star Wars The Old Republic currently feel less money-grubby than other titles – it’s not really about envy but about really making good on the supposition that the cash shop is merely selling convenience.
On the other hand, I’m with Sally with my big ol’ side-eye for studios that say “but you can buy it with gold!” when they know a $5 item would take a month of grinding to earn. A lie by omission is still a lie.
Is it a complete defense either way? Nah. But it’s nearly impossible to find a perfect business model anymore. If you want to play MMOs, best get used to making concessions and choosing lesser evils.
Ironically, in way too many games, my complaint isn’t about which currency buys what but that there’s too little to buy. Take my money. I want to buy some stuff. I want to support your game in a way that doesn’t support lockboxes. More outfits, please!
(I cut it from the topic, but Sally also joked about my walking around the painted floor of my throne room deciding how to deploy my newfound writing sellswords, remarking that if I had a brother, the joke would be awkward, in true Game of Thrones fashion. Ironically, Sally, I do have a brother, and he is literally a modern sellsword in real life, so there you go. However, I’m Team Tarth and Team Tyrion.)
I think its good to have it available for F2P players, but it would be unrealistic to make the grind for the item less grindy – I’d say a 10 or 15 hour grind would be fair for it. Using money will always be faster.
As for players with that attitude, they can just get on a boat and sail away somewhere. How insecure does a person have to be to gain that amount of meaning from an MMO outfit? That’s a deeper question of where a person derives happiness from. On top of that, this is a video game outfit, not an $820 Gucci fanny pack. So yeah, they can just sail away on a boat.
Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): About the only line I draw with cash shops — or at least the cash shop item that makes me roll my eyes the hardest — are the potions that let you pay to bypass or smooth the grind. Otherwise, everything else cash shop, including the stuff you can get from slowly raking in whatever funny money they have through in-game means, is just fine by me. Heck, if I like an item hard enough, I’ll happily buy it with real money over grinding my face off. Most of my favorite mounts in WildStar were cash shop mounts, and the faceplant island landing animation that plays in Dauntless is well worth the money.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I have and always will be someone who prefers to work for my things. Note, I say work for, not sell self into eternal indentured servitude for (so no, ridiculous “you can get it in game after months and months of grinding or worse, if the RNG gods finally look favorably upon you after months and months of grinding” does not cut it). I enjoy working toward and earning things, so having cash shop items that some people want to buy with cash available for in game gold is just fine and dandy with me. If that is how people want to use their money, why should I care? I care when it actually affects me: I get annoyed is when items are cash shop only or it infringes on my ability to play the game.
Conversely, this puts me in a weird predicament in that I want to support games I play but I often have few options. Because I prefer to earn things in game and not buy through cash shops (actually it is almost a hang up as I feel the need to earn things and not buy), how do you financially support a game that doesn’t have a sub at all and only the cash shop? I’d usually do this with expansions and the like, but some games give content expansions for free. So now what?
Samon Kashani (@thesamkash): I generally do not have any problems with items that are buyable inside the game with gold and available via cash shop. Time really is money, right? If you have more time than you have money to spend on a game, then by all means, go forth and grind away. If you have more money to spend on a game than time, then by all means, go forth and buy away. Just enjoy the game. It is so easy to get lost in our own heads thinking about what’s fair and what isn’t fair. We really do need to step outside of that mentality sometimes and remember that these are games. They should be fun. And if that shiny new mount will make it a bit more fun for you to play and you just don’t have the time to grind it out, then just buy it and have some fun.
Tyler Edwards: I’ve always had a high tolerance for various MMO monetization strategies, and that’s only become more true with time. The longer I’ve played these games and the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized my problems with cash shops were not based on solid or rational arguments. In practical terms, what developers choose to sell in their cash shops very rarely has any negative impact on my play. The only things that still bug me are crowdfunded games that expect people to pay hundreds for rewards that don’t even exist yet, and games where it’s impossible to keep playing without constantly paying more money — which is just sub games and the most extremely monetized free to play titles.
So offering things for in-game currency is certainly something I think is nice, but since I was already fine with the cash shops, it’s not something that’s going to change my view of a game much.
I will say I think the best way to do this is when most if not all cash shop items are tradeable in-game. This is a roundabout way to let people earn things through gameplay, a legalized form of gold-selling that doesn’t overly disrupt the in-game economy, and a way to foster player interaction all at once. Everybody wins.