The Do’s and Don’ts of Cash Shops
By. M. Hauschel
If you’re playing a F2P game, more chances than not, there is some version of a cash shop in that game. To be fair to developers, they need to make money somewhere and cash shops provide that income. While cash shops are not inherently bad, some developers make terrible decisions when implementing the system. (Yes, I’m looking at you EA.)
Whether you call them cash shops, premium stores, microtransactionators of doom, etc., the ability for developers to create more content, manage and run the game relies on some sort of an income. Cash shops provide this income, especially for games that are F2P, through the route of microtransactions. Providing players options of customizable appearances like skins, amour, outfits, accessories, boosts, abilities, etc., through a cash shop players are given the freedom to create a character of their own by way of paying for such options. So, what’s the downside of such a system?
The first red flag of a cash shop gone wrong is when the cash shop provides options that can drastically affect game play. If game play heavily relies on combat, a cash shop providing a purchasable item that improves combat or allows a player to purchase a hero that has overpowered abilities compared to the free characters, that cash shop is destroying the playability of said game. A glaring recent example of this is BioWare Mythic’s Warhammer: Wrath of Heroes. The hero, Glowgob, can give a team huge advantages compared to a team without such a hero. He can heal himself and his team at a pace that is nearly unstoppable, because he doesn’t use mana. I’m sure the studio would argue that if you play enough you can save up enough in-game currency to purchase Glowgob for yourself for free, but that’s a serious understatement of such a task.
First off, the premise of WOH is that this game is for casual gamer, that’s why the RPG aspect of the game was not incorporated and why matches are 15 minutes long. Each day you can spin to win gold, which on average is about 500 gold. Sure, you can play for months and save up to buy Glowgob (Which, by the way, costs 60,000 gold) or you can pay $15 to have him, right now. The paying players and non-paying players become overwhelmingly imbalanced when in-game currency is essentially worthless. When cash shops function as they do in WOH it creates a game that is “Pay 2 Win”. Playing for free is severely outweighed by the reality of time needed invested in collecting enough in-game cash for the player base to be evenly matched. This has been one of the biggest criticisms of F2P games, and unsurprisingly became EA’s business model for their F2P games.
The focus of cash shops can’t be on vastly improving your abilities in game. More so, it should focus on aspects less intrusive on game play. League of Legends has done an excellent job in having a cash shop, but not having it hinder game play for non-paying players. Instead, the cash shop features cosmetic purchases, boosts, etc. A player can choose a specific style skin for a hero of their choice, and in no way does this change the aspect of game play. Instead it gives people the option to stand out from the crowd and express themselves. Much like TF2’s shop that allows players to buy hats. These are options that players can buy, that have little effect on game play. Spending $20 on a hat may sound ridiculous to an outsider, but for someone who spends a lot time in game, it’s a small investment to look silly and to create an experience that’s more enjoyable.
Stop Telling Me To Shop!
A cash shop is not inherently annoying, but it has the potential to make you want to throw your monitor at a wall. By far the most annoying quality a cash shop can have, is how often said cash shop presents itself to a player. When a cash shop is subtle and presents itself at appropriate moments, a player can appreciate the sentiment and decide whether or not purchase a product. But when a cash shop intrudes during game play, constantly reminding a player that their experience can be improved by dropping dough on different aspects, it can easily turn off a player from a game.
There’s a fine line between informing players and pestering them. If the virtual goods are an integral part necessary in order to enjoy the game, there might be something wrong with the game. When a game relies too heavily on the cash shop, developers need to reevaluate the product they created. While a cash shop provides services to players and can improve your playing experience, there are plenty of ways a cash shop can turn a game sour. In the surge of F2P games hitting the market, and with F2P expanding to consoles, cash shops will become more prevalent, which means there are plenty of potential games that can be ruined (or improved) by cash shops systems.