When in game stores go bad

In articles recently I’ve defended both ArenaNet and Blizzard against accusations of being money-grabbers out to squeeze you for any penny.  In summary: both companies have to make money in order to make your game. 

In the case of ArenaNet, they have kept the store controlled and they repeatedly update things like storage to give you more without cost.  Ultimately, you can play the whole game without spending a penny of real cash other than the box.  Blizzard are seeking to specifically enhance their standing in the East, while also making up for the loss of subs, the decrease in the real value of their subs due to inflation and the increased cost of an expanded development team (please note: in no way and I defending the cost of those helms).

Further to this, I argue that it is your moral duty to pay for the games you enjoy rather than scrounging off of others.  If you like Guild Wars 2 and play it a lot, you should monetise it. Now I want to talk about when cash shops go wrong.

Star Wars: The Old Republic
Alas, SWTOR.  Don’t get me wrong, when SWTOR is good, its very good, but when its bad its utterly diabolical.  The cash shop, sadly, fits into the latter category.  A list of terrible cash shop features might be:

  • Excessive reliance on random chests to obtain cool items.
  • Far too many types of random chest available at once.
  • Monetizing basic game functionality such as action bars.
  • Requiring monetization to reach the end game.
  • Excessive free to play separation from monetized players.

I could go on, and on, and on.  This is not the only game to have taken this approach to its cash shop.  In fact, I think it is largely following a model that The Lord of the Rings Online and other games have successfully used before.

Guidelines for a cash shop It seems that some limitations to cash shops are emerging out of these examples.  They might be:

  1. No pay to win.  This does not mean no pay to speed things up, but no one wants the best gear to be on a cash shop.
  2. Don’t put too much basic functionality behind a cash wall.  The initial game experience needs to be a positive, rather than frustrating, experience of you want to monetize.  Discovering you don’t have enough action bar space, can’t get a mount or don’t have enough storage too early will turn many players off instead of encouraging them to spend money.
  3. Remember that the minority of players make the majority of cash shop purchases and plan accordingly.
  4. Don’t divide players with a wall of cash.  Social connections are vital to MMOs.
  5. Lots of optional extras … but not in a myriad of chests/random packs.  If you do want a random item, keep it simple and streamlined.
  6. People like to collect stuff.
  7. People like their toons to look good.
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