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The Soapbox: Bigpoint's cash-shop policies and why they are OK


Disclaimer: The Soapbox column is entirely the opinion of this week's writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Massively as a whole. If you're afraid of opinions other than your own, you might want to skip this column.

I have been tasked with explaining to Massively readers why I am OK with Bigpoint's very public policy on selling "advantages." I imagine that this will not be an easy task. After all, we gamers aren't much different than the rest of humanity in the way we tend to care about things that have little or no effect on us. We all have an opinion on "selling power," but I think it's high time that someone attempts to explain why it really isn't always power that Bigpoint is selling -- and why it would be fair even if it were.

I will attempt to stick to the specific topic of Bigpoint's policies, but much of what I say will probably apply to any game developer that sells practically anything for real world money. Yes, I am talking about those wonderful collector's editions and favorite cash-shop mounts. They all fall under the same category that Bigpoint's ships or special drones do.

Click past the cut and I'll explain why.

Battlestar Galactica Online screenshot
Bigpoint's stance on selling power

Before I begin, I think it would be wise to give a brief history of Bigpoint and its stance on selling power or time-saving advantages. First, let's establish that the company is successful and widely known. It recently sold a large chunk of the company for 350 million, announced two and then five million registrations for Battlestar Galactica Online, bought out a popular sports game development firm, and claimed it has over 700 developers. If I typed out all of the successes of the company, I would simply run out of room.

Second, Bigpoint's money-making policies have not been top-secret, but it is possible that a great number of Massively's readers conflate their ignorance of Bigpoint's existence with the company's not actually existing. I can assure everyone, however, that one particular person's ignorance of Bigpoint does not affect the very real thousands of gamers who log in every day. Of course, the realness and popularity of Bigpoint's titles do not seem to change those negative opinions, even while many of those same critics have probably never played any of the games in question.

"Bigpoint has been selling ships and items in its hit title Dark Orbit for a long, long time now. Players have known about the cash-shop items for that time and yet continue to log in and play."

Bigpoint has been selling ships and items in its hit title Dark Orbit for a long, long time now. Players have known about the cash-shop items for that time and continue to log in and play. When Bigpoint published Battlestar Galactica Online, it was almost immediately apparent that the title would follow similar paths of monetization. Strangely enough, players were OK with the cash shop and seemed to enjoy the game. During beta, cash-shop funds were handed out like candy, and I spent a great deal of them on simply leveling my character (you can buy experience in the cash-shop) and learning to pilot the best ship in the best way possible. All of this was obvious from the beginning. Bigpoint has never hidden or sneaked any of these policies in under the radar, at least from my experience in playing its games, interviewing the developers, and in reading Bigpoint news.

The recent "shocker" was that Bigpoint decided to sell a special Dark Orbit drone that could cost a thousand Euros, give or take a few. Later the company claimed it had sold around 2,000 of the drones, and non-players everywhere said that Bigpoint was doing something under-handed or bad for the industry. Bear in mind that some (or all) of that cost can be offset with funds earned in game, so players could have technically paid nothing for the drones. If anything, that's a fantastic deal. Imagine if all MMO developers allowed those special limited edition items to be purchased by funds that were earned in game as well. I would bet good money that many of the same Bigpoint critics would be just fine with the ability to buy limited edition items through in-game means.

Bigpoint numbers screenshot
It's available to everyone, not just Bob

One of the most common words used to describe Bigpoint (besides greedy) is unfair. The availability of ships, experience tokens, and expensive drones is supposed to somehow cut off players from enjoying the game. Yet once again, players continue to log in and play in massive numbers. Whatever we think of the numbers that Bigpoint puts forth does not matter. The company would simply not be able to operate in the fashion and scope that it does without some amount of profit. I think it's safe to say that the company is well past the startup phase. There are obviously plenty of players who enjoy Bigpoint's games, even with all of the cash-shop involvement.

"It would be closer to 'unfair' if Bigpoint sold the most powerful items in game only to one person. The fact is that anyone who has the money has equal chance to purchase the items that Bigpoint sells."

In the case of the special drone, the item in question was not even an all-powerful one button game-winner. It was more of a status item. Even if the drone was the most powerful item in the game, there were still 2,000 players who bought the item (at the time of the news post). That means that a community of 2,000 was still on "even" footing. If every free player had been cut out of the equation, thanks to a powerful game-winning drone, the game would still be fair for those who paid the price.

It would closer to unfair if Bigpoint sold the most powerful items in game only to one person. The fact is that anyone who has the money has equal chance to purchase the items that Bigpoint sells. There is no unfair practice. The rules of the game have already been established, the policies of Bigpoint have been long known, and it would only take one glance at any of its cash shops to see what it is selling. "Unfair" doesn't apply to people who do not have the money to pay for luxury items. If you believe that, then you also believe that any developer who sells an expansion or charges for a monthly fee is also unfair to people who have no money. You might also believe that everyone deserves a Porsche in real life, just to be fair.

Drakensang Online screenshot
Offering access only to those who can afford it

To me, the issue is so remarkably simple that I have no idea why people get upset about it. I can only imagine that the very idea of selling items in a game is somehow insulting to many players' principles or standards of value. Does it bother those same players when Star Wars: The Old Republic raises millions of dollars to build a game that is essentially the same game we have seen for years only with expensive voice-acting layered on top, then charges players 60 to 150 dollars for basic access and possibly a few goodies, then asks for 15 dollars a month on top of that?

The entire time SWTOR has existed, players have never once had a guarantee of any sort of future development or even continued existence of their favorite server or gameplay mechanic. For all of the money that SWTOR players have dished out, they have absolutely zero guarantee of anything, but the EULA guarantees BioWare can essentially do whatever it wants with the title. How is that sort of development process more fair than the upfront, obvious sale of a virtual item in a game that is absolutely free to access and has already established similar cash-shop policies? If Bigpoint's open policy of development and cash-shop funding is dishonest and unfair, then what exactly is the policy of "give us your money and we promise we'll make good on it some day"?

I can also easily say that I find tiered free-to-play programs like the ones in Lord of the Rings Online, EverQuest II, Fallen Earth and Wizard101 to be more troublesome than the sale of any virtual item, no matter how much it is sold for. (For the record, I find them hardly troublesome.)

Battlestar Galactica screenshot
Bigpoint sells virtual luxury items, and I would hope that no one person would want to take away the ability of other players to afford them. There are literally hundreds of MMOs that are currently open and playable even within just the USA. If you have an issue with the policies of one developer, there are many, many others that you can give your business to.

If not, then perhaps picketing outside of the local Corvette dealership will snag you a free ride. Until then, I would hope that we all investigate matters ahead of time before we make some sort of meme out of the issue. Every time we mention Bigpoint, it should not be followed with misinformed negative comments or snarky absolutes. Putting developers into certain categories without understanding what the developer does and does not do, especially when that developer is quite large and might very well be making the next big game, is truly bad for the industry.

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. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!

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