A Little Here, A Little There – MMO Free-to-Play Cash Shops
There’s quite a few games I enjoy that are now Free-to-Play and have the a la carte system we commonly call a “cash shop”. On the whole, this mechanic is optional, yet most choose to throw in some cash in order to take advantage of the shiny things they like to hide behind the pay wall. Some games do it right, some games need some help.
A game that does it right is Lord of the Rings Online. Their LOTRO Store accepts Turbine Points and makes them readily available in small amounts as you normally play the game. Kill 30 goblins in the Shire, gain 5 TP. Kill another 80 wolves and gain 10 TP. Do some stuff over here that takes a bit of time and get a few more. It’s pretty nice. Since TP go to your account, you can do that same stuff over and over and over again until you have all the TP you want. Of course, it’s your time to spend.
Further, the things available in the LOTRO Store make a lot of sense: extra character slots, account bank space, removing the money cap, costume slots, extra inventory space, even the expansions and adventuring zones are available with an investment in the store. Play enough of the game (and if you’re lucky there’s a sale going on) and you can actually get entire zones of quests added to your experience. Not too shabby. Everything’s pretty reasonably priced too.
Star Trek Online is where I fear things start to get a little hokey. They converted from their Cryptic Coins to the Zen of their parent company, Perfect World Entertainment. As a result, things feel more expensive, but the conversion rate is a bit kinder to those of us who want to know what things cost at a glance. Oh, 500 Zen for that? That’s $5.00. Pretty straightforward. That said, a new ship in STO that you get through the Cryptic Store can go for 1500 Zen and ship packs of three have been known to go for 3000. It’s understandable (I guess) since these ships are the primary mechanism for playing the game. They’re your home away from home. I know that as soon as the Regent-class Assault Cruiser Refit dropped, I paid money to get it ASAP. Also, the Andorian Escort pack. Thus far though, those are the only ships I’ve really dropped money on because I was looking forward to playing with them and I feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth. It’s a mixed bag depending on what you’re looking for in the Cryptic Store.
Neverwinter’s cash shop is a different kind of beast though. There’s things in there that are really worth it like 500 Zen for two character slots (not bad at all) and you can easily drop 500 Zen on a decent mount that can be redeemed account wide for any character high enough to use it. Those are really nice. The things in the cash shop that really get my ire going are the companions. They’re single character purchases, but they’re all in the 1000-3500 Zen range. The 3500 Zen one? A Honey Badger companion. While I get that it’s probably pretty cool and all, that’s THIRTY-FIVE DOLLARS for a SINGLE companion. It doesn’t apply to your account, just ONE character. That just doesn’t feel right in any sense of the term. While I’d love to have a Galeb Dhur (spelling off the top of my head) companion, I’m not willing to drop 30 bucks on it. It’s just not worth it to me.
Further, something these games all have in common are the availability of lockboxes. Lockboxes are these loot items that drop and have random things available in them if you have a special key to open them. In STO and Neverwinter, you must purchase the key for 125 Zen (individually) or 1125 Zen (for a pack of 10… buy 9 get one free?) or buy them from other players on the in-game Auction Hall. In LOTRO? Lockboxes drop, sure, but so too do the keys. Just not as frequently as the lockboxes. I think that’s really clever. It’s like… here’s a lockbox and if you want to wait to open it, it’s going to take up valuable inventory space until you find a randomly dropping key OR you could throw a few Turbine Points at it to make it open NOW. Your choice.
STO and Neverwinter could take a page from LOTRO’s book. That random drop key is CLEVER.
As an aside, Star Wars: The Old Republic also has a cash shop, but there’s a different issue than just the price of things there. Some of the stuff they put in there is perfectly fine (thank you for the character slots!), but the problem is with the permissions that you have to pay to unlock if you’re not a subscriber. I mean, I’m a 6-month subscriber, collector’s edition pre-order player, but I think that the things my friends who are Free-to-Play can’t do without purchasing some kind of permission is pretty darn harsh. Some make sense like limiting the number of space and PvP and other special types of missions. I get that. There’s other permissions that feel like unfortunate decisions. One friend told me that she can’t open lockboxes with credits in them, even if they’re quest rewards because she doesn’t have permission. That’s just insane. You can’t apparently buy that permission a la carte either, you MUST subscribe (I think, don’t quote me on that). I’m tempted to log in, open her lockboxes for her, and then hand her all the money inside. As is, I’m going to see if I can get her some cool stuff with my Cartel Store stipend since the game is being mean.
I certainly appreciate the cash shops. It gives me something to browse through, like a SkyMall catalog for my game, and it definitely has some useful things every now and again, but it’s also full of things that make me question their usefulness. Kind of like the “slippers with headlights” of cash shops… not sure I need them, but I can envision a few times where they might be handy. I think the devs are on the right track most of the time, but sometimes they need to have a reality check.
How about a survey on the goods in your stores? I’d be more than happy to participate in a value studies survey on the contents of your cash shops. With Neverwinter it’ll be easy since they’ve got a lot less stuff in there right now compared to the more established games.
Until next time!
P.S. I might have used this one before, but it’s wildly appropriate here: “Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it.” – Publilius Syrus’ Maxim 847
P.P.S. It occurs to me that I might not be allowed to open my friends lockboxes if they’re bound. That’s… unfortunate.
P.P.P.S. Apparently she can’t receive credit lockboxes at all since they’re subscriber only. VERY unfortunate.