I have a friend who is in the 1%. No, not the Occupy nonsense, but the 1% of F2P players that spend a silly amount of money in the cash shop. He is the guy who buys up every DLC regardless of what it is. He is the one who buys fluff just to own it. And he is the guy who runs XP pots/boosters/whatever because ‘he can’, even if they don’t make the game actually more fun to play. If it’s in the shop odds are high he has it. Cost is not a factor either, so whether a pony costs $5 or $50 is irrelevant to him.
And he is notorious for playing a game for a month or two and getting bored. He is also fairly anti-social, preferring to solo whenever remotely possible, and is someone who often gets excluded anyway thanks to his attitude. To put it bluntly, he is not someone I’d want in my MMO from an in-game activity/actions standpoint.
Yet in that month or so of playing something like LotRO, he was the ideal customer for Turbine. He certainly ‘counted’ a whole hell of a lot more than anyone not spending, or spending little, in terms of influencing what Turbine should work on next. His voice (wallet) was far more important.
Which brings me to my point: considering the above, is it at all surprising that F2P MMOs do what they do, and suck as much as they suck for people who like the sub model? Turbine selling you The One Ring next month is not done with consideration for the 99% that don’t pay and want the game to remain ‘fair’. It’s not done with consideration for how the average player will feel, or how the game will play once you buy the ability to turn god-mode on. The 99% don’t count. Game balance does not count.
What counts is my buddy putting down $100 for The One Ring, putting it on, one-shotting Frodo, and moving on from the game (because it’s too easy…). You can make a forum post about it, get 1000 ‘likes’ for it, and Turbine will feed you BS about “we never said we won’t sell The One Ring, we said we won’t sell direct passage to the Game-Over screen. God-mode is more of a convenience for our players”.
Now whether this practice is sustainable or not is another issue. We have all seen how ‘amazing’ the F2P conversion is the day after it happens. Announcements/tweets/forums posts all proclaiming activity is up 10,000% (from zero), that everyone loves the new ‘options’ in the shop, and that the game has been giving a new life blablabla PR speak. It’s odd that those same sources fail to continue telling us how awesome F2P continues to be a year after, but I’m sure that’s just a technical issue and not the reality of everyone checking things out the first day, seeing the same game they left (but now with pay-walls), and leaving after maybe buying a cute dress. Naw.
What’s even more disturbing is that the only way to keep a F2P MMO flying high is not by introducing great new content, or providing a long-term plan, but by ‘encouraging’ the 1% to keep spending. And the only real way that is going to happen is if the shop continues to get re-stocked with bigger and greater things. If The One Ring one-shots Frodo, then next month The Two Ring does it twice as fast and with fireworks after to announce your victory. And looks, its only $125! Soon as Two Ring sales slow, you better believe the devs have The Three Ring ready to go, along with super-Frodo, who is way too ‘epic’ to be taken down by unworthy adventurers and their outdated Two Rings.
And if you think the above is me being over-the-top to make a point, go check out the cash shop in Atlantica Online. Or just check back on this post in a year from now, after the latest LotRO update.
The whole model is also predatory. It targets those too weak/dumb to know better. Because let’s be honest, buying god-mode is not going to keep you playing anything long-term. Buying a pony that now gives you 20% more HP instead of 15% does not make a game more fun. A game does not get better or have more content when every month a new ‘convenience’ item that is more or less required is added. Solving the problem of low-level gear being ‘hard to get’ by selling it is not a smart long-term solution (it makes the cause worse, actually). SOE recently said that 25% of all their sales are ponies. Outside of pony addicts, what real benefit do EQ2 players get from more devs being focused on producing more ‘must have’ ponies? Because make no mistake about it, SOE is most certainly re-allocating more resources to ponies.
You can’t stop stupid. There will be thousands of Diablo 3 players who ruin the game for themselves by sending a silly amount of money to buy gear, just like there are currently pony addictions in EQ2 influencing SOE and One Ring buyers influencing Turbine.
And the worst part if it all is that while the stupid might be a niche, a tiny fraction of the overall playerbase, they are all that matter in the F2P model.