Cash Shop AND Subscription?

While writing my review of Champions Online levels 1-5 I started thinking about the idea of subscription games that have a cash shop. Most of us don’t like the idea of a cash shop, but that comes down to two things. The first is that we aren’t used to it and that makes it bad. The second is that we have been burned in the past. Almost every cash shop until recently has helped to destroy games.

I think it’s something we could get used to, having a cash shop that we dump $15 a month into instead of paying a subscription, though I would argue that most of us would rather just pay the subscription, especially if it is a quality game. That right there is another problem when it comes to convincing players a cash shop is ok. Most games with a cash shop were terrible, second rate things that players too broke to pay a subscription fee were stuck with.

That all changed with games like Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited (admittedly a subscription game when it launched), Allods Online (Cash Shop mushroom stamped it’s players), and…well that’s it as far as I can recall. So am I OK with DDO and Allods Online? Absolutely, now that Allods has dropped the prices on some of their store items. If I get a game for free, I realize that the developer needs to make money, or they are going to go out of business. With that in mind I have no problem with them having a cash shop, though I would always rather have a subscription only game. If Allods was subscription it would be much more popular in the U.S. I believe.

What really has me wondering about all this is a small game that you may have heard of. It sold a couple of copies and people seem to think it’s ok. The game I am thinking of is called Guild Wars, a free to play MMO of a unique kind. You pay for the game and expansion packs, but you never pay a cent otherwise. You don’t pay a subscription, and they don’t have a cash shop. If Guild Wars can sustain itself on box sales only, like every other video game since the dawn of time, what makes MMO’s require a subscription at all?

But then that isn’t completely fair. MMO’s are constantly updating and there is free content being added all the time. That takes time, effort and work. Who am I to begrudge a company to charge a subscription fee, or a cash shop, to help pay for some of those costs. But what about when they try BOTH?

Both of Cryptic’s recent games, Champions Online and Star Trek Online, use the subscription model AND contain a Cash Shop. The cash shop doesn’t contain any game changing items and it more for looks. Like Everquest II’s mini-expansions these stores may also contain quest lines/new areas I would imagine. It’s arguable that you don’t need ANY of the items in the cash shop and so, if you don’t like it, you aren’t being affected at all.

The problem with that assumption is that work has gone into these things, whether it is a new island with quests or a new non-combat pet. That is work that probably would have been done anyway, and it would have been added as a patch to the subscription game, like most games do. When you add a cash shop on top of that you are in effect stealing that content, content that should have been added with a subscription, and forcing the player to pay twice for it.

Is this just massive greed? Do games really cost so much that we NEED to have both for the game to continue operating? I find that difficult to swallow with Guild Wars chugging along just fine. If you are in the industry and you know how this works let me know, because I’m interested to find out if it really is just greed, or if it is poor planning and budgeting on the part of the developers.

I’ll leave you with a though. World of Warcraft has at least 2 million U.S. players. At 14.95 a month that is over 29 million dollars every month JUST from U.S. customers. If Activision (not Blizzard, this all started with crazy ass Activision) can’t keep WoW afloat with 29 million dollars a month coming in, to the point where they feel the need to sell stuff to their players in a cash shop, then someone needs to shut down that entire operation for gross misconduct and apparent burning of money.