So I got into a discussion with one of my favorite YouTubers, The Quartering (also check him out on Twitter!) who often calls out a lot of bullshit in video games. His tweet got me thinking about my spending habit back when I was young and naive. Of course, I know much better now.
Dear Hardcore Maplestory Players,
I have been hearing about some insane time gates around the black mage? liberating this weapon requires a MINIMUM of 7 MONTHS? Is this correct?
— TheQuartering (@TheQuartering) February 5, 2019
This conversation made me think of all of my favorite free to play MMORPGs back in the day and that they had cash shops to give players who wanted to get a tiny edge. However, in recent times I’ve noticed that they’re everywhere, even in single player titles that you had to pay full price for! That’s pretty anti-consumer! I’ve seen many players fall for this trap and we should instead use this money elsewhere. I’m also very guilty of this as well, so don’t worry and don’t feel bad. I am a firm believer of educating people so I hope you guys won’t fall into this trap like I did! 🙂
Types of Cash Shops
So there are different kinds of cash shops, they can affect your gameplay in any shape or form, but it is an additional unneeded expense. It works like this: you buy in-game currency (usually a premium kind) with real money, and then you buy virtual goods with it on a store. The difference is what these goods do.
Sometimes you can then exchange these goods for actual in-game currency that you earn while playing the game. For example, in Black Desert Online, I can buy costumes using pearls, which is the game’s premium currency. I can then sell these costumes on the auction house, which are bought using silver from other players, the game’s actual in-game currency. This can go into pay-to-win category because you can exchange these premium goods for services or goods that can help in your progression. Or another case, you can buy these goods in exchange for another player’s help for progression.
And even worse, there are bots or farming accounts made to flood a market with cheap commodities just for the purpose of selling in-game currency with real money. It is illegal in many games, and for good reason. If left rampant, this can destroy an economy of a multiplayer online game. Not only that, this is super sketchy; these third parties can steal your identity!
However, I am not here to discuss the last two paragraphs. This is all based on how a community/game masters work together to tackle the problem. At best, it is a mere annoyance, at its worst it will completely drive legitimate players away. I will be focusing on what is done in-game and officially done by the developers.
This is the easiest to find and also least damaging to the game’s community. This will stroke a player’s ego because many people love to customize their characters. It can be done in-game, or through an external store, like Square Enix has done for Final Fantasy XIV:
These are mostly harmless, it just makes your characters look cool. There are also services in there that you can buy to even change what your character looks fundamentally, like race, skin color, hair, ears, etc. Square Enix, for example, also has exclusives that you can only buy in their store only; it’s not a big deal unless you’re a huge collector of cosmetics.
The worst this can be is when they lock cosmetics away in loot boxes, which you can buy (keys, or boxes for more chances) in the store themselves. Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch are great examples of this. It is a very frustrating experience, I must note.
Paying for Convenience
In exchange for your money, you can get goodies or services that can speed up or accelerate your progress in a game. Or in some other cases, just simply get what you want in exchange right away. Like in Warframe:
Normally in Warframe, you can obtain Warframes (the playable characters you play as) just by playing the game. The game does give enough hints to help you get your desired frame. However, the game also allows you to instantly buy the Warframe using the game’s premium currency, Platinum, which otherwise can take you at least 5 days to build.
Other games, like Black Desert Online allow you to buy convenient stuff like extra additional inventory slots, and even cost-saving items for your attempts at upgrade. People like to argue that this is pay to win, because you are progressing faster money-wise than other players who don’t have the means of dumping money into the game. It really isn’t because it doesn’t affect them or the economy directly. It would be akin to buying things that would heavily influence your ranking on a chart that doesn’t feature any rewards for being in the top 20 for example.
Now be Damned – Paying to Win
This is the kicker. The big one. The one thing that a lot of gamers hate. Here, you can purchase goods that no one will ever get outside of the store and you will get a big boost to your progression. Essentially, you will directly affect other players to get goods that will push that gap between you and another player who does not buy into the system. If you go against a player who doesn’t have these exclusive items, that few stat points can be life or death for someone in a player-vs-player situation.
For example, in Elsword you can buy a costume that can give you a massive boost to stats not normally obtainable in playing.
Not only that, if it is possible to sell those costumes, like in Black Desert Online, you can potentially destroy the economy by selling the costumes for in-game currency to players that can help your progression. Do this multiple times, and you can potentially earn silver much faster than a person normally farming for silver in-game (because you have multiple players buying your costumes at x rate).
But there is a more sinister way of enticing players to get their money. First, I must present exhibits A, B and C from Elsword.
In these types of games, the game creates an artificial problem in the game. Usually this happens with abysmal upgrade success rates. Getting to a certain point is fine; it’s just becoming competitive can be a problem, which a lot of people are trying to strive for when trying to clear content. Since the game needs you to upgrade to clear content and trying to upgrade to that point, the game is developed to frustrate people with diminishing chances and punishing them for failing. To monetize, they help players provide a way to save their progress.
Here’s how Elsword creates this problem. Your first few upgrade levels are somewhat guaranteed; the chances are very high and you’re not likely to fail. Once you get into +10 though, your chances have been drastically slashed to 30%, or even lower! While this is a problem in the community where some players can exclude other players for not having the right gear level, the power spike from the last 9 levels to +10 is statistically strong. There is no way around it; you need to have +10 gear to be competitive. What makes it worse is that once you start failing, you are being punished for failing. This is a common theme in Asian MMORPGs. If you fail, at best nothing happens. Sometimes you can lose your chance to upgrade, but in some games there are extreme chances of your weapon being destroyed or lose your upgrading progress. Considering the amount of time and in-game currency it takes to get the right weapon, with the right stats, and even the materials, this can be very daunting to attempt. This creates a demand to save your progress, only for players who spend money at the cash shop.
Here, the game has these items in the cash shop to prevent progress loss and even weapon destruction. Other games also feature items that will unlock further weapon potentials! Even still, this does not guarantee your success, this only preserves your progress! Your rate of success stays the same despite buying items to conserve your progress in the shop. This is how they encourage people who want to do really well at the game to buy these items and those who don’t are forever damned not to be competitive. It’s a vicious cycle.
Many gamers do not like this kind of progression as it inflates the worth of the currency in comparison to the actual value of the product you want to buy in-game. Weird that this can be analyzed even though it is a video game.
Cash shops are just a huge drain in your wallet
Cash shops give no value to the player (unless you really just want to deck out your character in cool). It also sucks when you find that you no longer play the game you bought those items from or if the game goes under, you get nothing out of it. It’s a wasted investment.
Unless you want to genuinely support the developer for making such an awesome game, there really is no need to buy anything from cash shops. Your money is better off working for you. Invest this money, watch it grow and the sooner you’ll play video games just because you can.
What do you think about cash shops? Are you fine with just supporting your favorite developer? Respond in the comments below!