To finish off a week of EVE-related posting, let’s talk about PLEX vs Cash Shops and how I believe they are two extremely different pieces of an MMO. As a side bonus this should also cover the e-peen pony that has been recently released.
As most readers here know, I’m not a huge fan of F2P games and the cash shops related to them. Now much of my dislike for F2P games is that many of them are low quality anime kids games not worth the download time, but even if that sub-genre was full of AAA-quality titles, I would still not be a fan.
The main issue I have is price. Simply put, the more you like a F2P game, the more you pay. That’s just how the model is designed to work. And as someone who aims to really get into whatever game I play, going from a subscription game to a F2P title means a hefty price increase for me. That in itself would be fine if the F2P game offered superior gaming, but that has never been the case. As interesting as I thought Atlantica Online was, it simply was NOT a better game than my subscription-based alternatives at the time, and for me, it can’t hold a candle to DarkFall for what I’m looking for. So it’s not that AO is a bad game, its not, but it’s not good enough to pay $50+ a month for when I have a better, cheaper alternative. And that’s what it would cost to continue playing AO beyond an introductory level for me. And before the “it’s all optional” bandwagon rolls in, it’s not. When your end-game is PvP based, and your PvE XP curve is atrocious at the higher levels, and when many of the ‘convenience’ features become required (TP license) in order to play the game ‘as intended’, you have to spend. Again, that’s the business model, and going into a F2P game thinking otherwise is a nice way to set yourself up for disappointment (unless you are someone who would rather pay instead of play, but I’m not).
On top of the higher price / lower return issue, the fundamental setup of a F2P game is not one I enjoy. You end up fearing every patch rather than looking forward to it. The next F2P patch is likely to add more items to the cash shop, ones you need to purchase to simply keep up. Or the addition is content only truly accessible with the aid of purchased items, either direct (gear) or indirect (XP tomes just to reach the entry level). And again, this is how it works. If the ‘convenience’ items are not needed and those who actively play see no reason to buy them, the company does not make money. If sales are slow, the solution is to make them more and more ‘required’ to play. It puts the devs AGAINST the players, rather than with them. At least in the sub model the dev’s goal is to keep you playing rather than paying, and they keep me playing by offering enjoyable content. A F2P game keeps me paying by continually increasing the cost of continuing to play the way I’m use to.
And it’s for those reasons that I don’t view PLEX as an issue. CCP is not designing the next patch in EVE to encourage PLEX buying, and at the higher levels of play selling PLEX for ISK is not a very efficient way to keep up. The ‘flaw’ of a new player selling PLEX and having enough ISK to buy his first few ships and skill books is a problem for the player, not the game. If you want to skip ahead, go for it, just don’t blame anyone but yourself when you end up having “nothing to do”, or you sit around waiting. Just like skipping ahead in any other game, all you do is rob yourself of content to get to some half-ass “you win” screen, with the major difference here being that there is no “you win” screen in EVE. What you can’t do with PLEX that you can often do in a cash shop is buy over-powered gear or an advantage not able to be gained in-game. PLEX is just ISK (and not even a huge amount of it once you get to a reasonable level), and it’s how you use that ISK in-game that determines its power.
As for the e-peen pony, while it would have been better for Blizzard to add actual content (a complex quest to earn the mount perhaps), the fact that thousands of people are lining up to hand Blizzard $25 to be handed a new shiny and to pretend they are a special snowflake is reason enough to not bother with the content piece. The customer dictates the direct you go in, and when you have thousands (or millions) of people screaming that they would rather pay for items than play to get them, it would be foolish to ignore them. Just like it would be foolish to assume that if a $25 pony has a waiting list, a $50 vanity sword or $100 bonus race option can’t be far behind. Or that when you step back and see what people really want, your next game charging $15 an instance and $30 a zone, with perhaps class abilities and other items also for sale, seems like a really good idea. Again, as long as people are buying, who are you to stop selling?