These days we don't blink too much at this sort of thing. Pretty much every game in the world has a cash shop now, and the rare exceptions are games that try to pretend it's something else. But there are still a lot of people who object to the idea, who would much rather have a subscription or nothing or see everything from the cash shop free to subscribers.
I am not one of those people. In fact, I'm happy when a game goes into the free model or just opens up a cash shop of any stripe. The way I see it, there are some definite upsides to having a cash shop.
All money to appearances, stat!
Anyone who has known me for a while knows that I positively love anything allowing me to customize my character's appearance. For some players it might be something barely worth worrying about, but for me it's half of the reason I play. Appearance matters a lot.
Somewhere along the line it became accepted reasoning that most of what a cash shop sells should be appearance items. This really makes perfect sense, since selling a whole lot of stat boosts is a bad idea for a lot of reasons. So appearance-based stuff shows up in droves once a game adds in a cash shop.
The usual complaint about it is that previously, you would get appearance stuff for free with patches, but now that there's a cash shop, the developers want you to pay for everything! That's close to being true, but in large part it's more that before, there would likely be no motivation for the developers to put in appearance items at all because those items are unlikely to change someone's mind about the game as a whole. They're nice but not terribly functional.
Meanwhile, if there's a possibility of selling cosmetic items in the cash shop, companies are on that like white on rice, which is good for those of us that like to look very, very pretty. Like yours truly.
It boosts profit (and you should care about that)
For some reason, gamers as a whole seem to have never quite grown out of the college student mentality. It's been several years since I've been to college, but I remember vividly the sense that since I wasn't making any money, anyone whose goal was making money was somehow inherently evil. I frequently had handy flow charts showing off certain companies motivated solely by profit and why those companies would not be spared when the revolution came.
Saying that it's something to grow out of is a bit unfair. I still like to think that there are better motivating factors than money, and sometimes it's worth it to make less money in the name of other pursuits. That having been said, money is still important, due in no small part to the fact that a lack of money results in a lot of other problems. You know, the sort of problems that you encounter as a college student making absolutely no money.
You want the company making your favorite game to make money. Not a little money, either -- you want that company to be positively swimming in cash, making hats out of it, building a huge Scrooge McDuck building filled with coins in a ridiculous display of excess.
Why? Because that money leads to more features you want for the game, more development opportunities, more of everything. Despite the fact that the value of money has changed immensely in the past several years, MMO subscriptions have remained pretty static at $15 a month. Prices have gone up and the income hasn't.
So, yes, they're asking you to help them make a little more money. That's not so unfair when you get right down to it. It's money going to a company that's making a game you enjoy playing.
Five bucks where I want
As I mentioned above, I am no longer a poor college student. I have not been a poor college student for some time. This means that I am no longer stymied by a lack of cash as a rule, but that also does not mean that I don't have week when money is tight and my free cash works out to about five bucks.
I've long argued that MMOs are a great value for your money if you're not in a great financial situation, and I stand by that. But one of the advantages to a cash shop is that on those weeks when you're short of funding -- either because you've had an expensive week or because you're really always short of funding -- you can still pick yourself up a little treat in your game of choice rather than have to pick up a whole new game.
I already accept that I'm going to spend a certain amount of money on games on a regular basis. That's fine. But there are many weeks when I'd rather pay more money on a game I already like instead of buying something new that I might wind up disliking. Call me old and afraid of new experiences if you'd like.
There's a lot of room for innovation
EVE Online's PLEX leading to TERA's Chronoscrolls and EverQuest II's Krono. Guild Wars 2 and the in-game exchange for game currency and microtransaction currency. DC Universe Online's use of the DLC concept as applied to the game as a whole. Even elements you might not like, such as EVE Online's expensive monocle or Lord of the Rings Online's hobbyhorse, are still an experiment in what players want and what players will purchase under the circumstances.
Sometimes that appearance stuff leads to the game's finding a whole new way to structure character appearance. Sometimes having the influx of new money gives the team room to offer up new character concepts (such as the new character powers in the sorely missed City of Heroes). Whatever the case, having a cash shop gives the development team both a reason to try creative new ventures and an outlet for it.
Some of them won't work, naturally. Some are bad ideas from the start. But it's a place to experiment with new things, and it's one with immediate financial feedback. All things being equal, I'd just as soon see a cash shop in my games. I might dislike some of the items in that shop, but I'll be happy that it's there just the same.
Even if there are lockboxes.
Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews and not necessarily shared by Massively as a whole. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!