This is an ongoing series of articles about what I like to see in the MMOs. I use examples from the MMOs I cover, comparing and contrasting specific aspects of the games. Last week I covered equipment. This week it’s cash shops and auction houses.
Table of Contents
Microtransactions are a necessary evil for MMOs. Most games can’t make it on the subscription model alone and have to introduce free-to-play (F2P). Microtransactions help to offset loss of subscription revenue and combat rising development costs. While it may feel like the game companies are bleeding us dry, for the most part it’s not actually necessary to buy anything in a cash shop.
Cash Shop Currencies
To make a purchase in a game shop, you first need to buy cash shop currency from the game company with real world money. This currency is specific to the cash shop. In most cases, you can’t buy it with the main in-game currency used throughout the world. You normally purchase cash shop currency in specific amounts with varying exchange rates based on how much you buy at one time.
Pay-to-win (P2W) is one of the most overused criticisms of MMOs. People throw it around whenever they see something they don’t agree with. It’s a term that is very hard to define because it means something different to just about everyone. I saw a definition on Urban Dictionary that pretty much covered what I think of when it comes to P2W. Paraphrasing it: P2W is when you can buy better gear or craft top-level items at a faster rate, unbalancing the game. Because I don’t have a lot of time to spend on leveling characters, I am happy to pay a bit of money to speed things up a bit, i.e. pay-for-convenience (P4C). For instance, many games have experience boosters like Star Wars: The Old Republic‘s (SWTOR) Superior Command Boost and Black Desert Online‘s (BDO) pet talents and furniture bonuses. And Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) has introduced Crown Research Scrolls that speed up all of your crafting research.
What I don’t like to see is when games force you to spend real world money on cash shop items to remain competitive at end game. SWTOR is kind of iffy on this because they force F2Pers to purchase unlocks for purple-level gear authorizations and to do operations (raids) and warzones, but it is possible to buy those authorizations from other players through the Galactic Trade Network (GTN) aka auction house with in-game currency. After weeks of work on building a site for Revelation Online, we gave up on it because the P2W was so bad. They have weekly caps on currency to upgrade your gear, but you can circumvent this by purchasing it directly with no limits in the cash shop. This allows people who are willing to pay significant amounts of money to dominate in the weekly territory wars / castle sieges with no way for players that aren’t willing or can’t afford to pay to upgrade their gear a way to compete.
Direct Purchase vs Bundles vs RNG Packs
There are generally three ways to purchase items through a cash shop: direct purchase, bundles, and packs.
- Direct purchase: One known item for a specific price
- Bundles: Multiple known items for a specific price, generally lower than buying each item individually
- RNG (random number generator) packs: Gamble to receive a limited number of items from a list of available ones
I despise RNG packs. I mean really despise those packs. Unfortunately, that’s where game companies make most of their money from cash shop purchases.
ESO held out for a very long time with only direct purchase and bundled items, but they eventually cracked and introduced Crown Crates last year. One thing I do like about those Crates is that every time you receive a non-consumable item that you already have, it automatically turns that item into Crown Gems. You can also transform any item you receive into Crown Gems. You can then use these Crown Gems to purchase items found in the Crown Crates. These crates have items that are specific to the Crown Crates and items that were direct purchase, but are no longer available from the store. While I wasn’t happy when they introduced the crates, I have to say they’ve done a good job with them. I’m just not willing to spend any money on them since I already spend too much on direct purchase items.
SWTOR has had RNG packs since they launched the Cartel Market, but they are constantly refining what you get in the packs. Currently, you get a mix of consumables, new items, and older pack items. Since I have been collecting every item as it comes out, getting older pack items is very tiresome for me. I have to take the time to try to sell them on the GTN, which is much more difficult than selling new items since not as many people are looking for the older stuff. I know there are people who love to play the auction house, but I’m not one of them.
While I don’t have exact numbers on how much it generally costs to get a specific item from an RNG pack, it seems like ArcheAge takes a lot more money than usual. One of the reasons Dulfy gave up on the game was how much it was costing her every time a new pack came out to get the special costume or mount. $100+ was just too expensive to get one item from each crate they brought out.
Generally, a cash shop item binds to your character in one of two ways: bind to account and bind on equip. Guild Wars 2 (GW2) and ESO are examples where items are account bound upon purchase. This prevents you from selling items you purchase in the cash shop to another player, though in GW2 you can sell minis and dyes after opening the packs. SWTOR and BDO use the bind on equip method allowing you to sell those items to other players. This allows you to sell items you don’t need / want or allows a player with more money than time (whale) to trade those items to players who have more time than money. Many people accuse games that use the bind on equip method of being P2W, but I don’t see a problem with this at all. It evens up the playing field for those of us that don’t have as much time and would prefer to spend the time we do have more productively.
GW2, Blade and Soul (BnS), and WildStar have currency exchanges. Within GW2’s Black Lion Trading Company, you can trade gems (cash shop currency) for gold (in-game currency) and vice versa at fluctuating rates determined by player supply and demand. Not only does this benefit whales, but also allows players who can’t afford to purchase gems the ability to buy items in the Gem Store. I find this to be an ingenious system that I wish more games would implement.
WildStar has the C.R.E.D.D. Market where players can exchange C.R.E.D.D. for in-game currency. You can purchase C.R.E.D.D. from other players in the Commodities Exchange aka auction house or on the official WildStar website.
Here is a price comparison for items in some of the games at the best exchange rate for real world to cash shop currency. This is just a mid-level example. Item prices vary considerably, especially since many games do put items on sale or offer special items for significantly more money.
(2600 Cartel Coins)
(2200 Cartel Coins)
(280 Cartel Coins)
(300 Cartel Coins)
+ - RNG Pet Pack
Auction Houses vs Guild Trader
Most MMOs have a public auction house where players can trade items with other players without having to deal with each other directly. This makes it much easier to match buyers and sellers than using a chat trade channel. SWTOR had a system at launch where there were three separate GTNs, one for each faction and a neutral one. Fortunately, they combined all into one.
Instead of an auction house, ESO has implemented Guild Stores and Traders. Guilds of 50+ people get a Guild Store where they can sell their items to other guild members. They can also hire a merchant from The Gold Coast Trading Company in locations throughout the world and then participate in a blind bid to win that trader’s services for one week or hire that trader for a flat fee, allowing them to sell items to anyone on that server. This forces people into larger guilds if they want to be able to sell items through a store and then they are subject to each individual guild’s rules. Buyers may have to roam around the world visiting multiple shops to find what they need.
MMO Wish List
My perfect MMO would:
- Be P4C without delving into P2W, including no stats on cosmetic items
- Have only direct purchase and bundled items with no RNG packs
- Bind cash shop items to account (provided there is a currency exchange)
- Have a two-way currency exchange
- Keep prices reasonable at around $3-$10 for direct purchase items
- Have a public auction house
Let me know in the comments what you like and dislike about cash shops.
Next week: Vanity items