Sunday, June 26, 2011

Great Expectations: in-game stores

People are strange. In particular, people's reactions to in-game stores are strange. In-game microtransactions seem to bring out very mixed and contradictory feelings in people, and at the same time seems to blind them to the fact they're contradicting themselves.

Some things Dave "Smokejumper" Georgeson said in one of his early interviews after joining the EQ2 team expressed a truth of in-game stores in general that I think is often overlooked.  In this interview with Zam, he said:
"I'm a big fan of microtransactions. As a player, I'm a fan of them. And the reason I'm a fan of them is if the content isn't good, then the developer doesn't make any money."
"It's just basically choosing how you spend your money, whether or not it's entertainment that's of value to you. 'Cause it's completely optional; none of this stuff is required, if you don't want to pay for it you don't have to."
Now, it's true that there are some games where the purchased items grant actual in-game power so could be considered essential, but for many games that's not the case.  For many games, including the one I work on, it's entirely possible to never buy a single item from the in-game store and be at no disadvantage whatsoever within the game. It's totally optional. And yet, here are two things I frequently see people say about these kinds of items in these kinds of games:

1. They proclaim that the existence of an in-game store is horrible and, they will never use it; and they ask, often in the same sentence, why all the items in it suck so much, saying they're so terrible, they don't want any of them, why can't the designers do better.

2. Sometimes, if a new item comes out in a game I play that I think is pretty neat, I will link it on Facebook or on twitter. And often, a bitter sounding person will reply along these lines: "well *I* sure won't be buying it, because it doesn't have (X) / isn't (Y)". 

These both confuse me.  

In #1, the person seems to be confused about what they actually want.  If they really dislike in-game stores in general and don't want them to exist, then they should be rejoicing if the items in them are completely undesirable, because then nobody will buy them and the store may be abandoned.  And if they really don't ever want to use an in-game store then it seems rather masochistic to be complaining the items aren't something they would want to buy.  It sounds as if the #1 type of person actually does want to buy things, and dislikes the store primarily because it's not selling the items that person wants to purchase.

In #2, while this might be a true statement, I'm always puzzled why someone would even bother to post it. The implication seems to be that the game designers were expecting every single person to love and buy it, that the company thinks they should want to buy it. Well no, not if you don't like it. That's like if I linked a photo of a pizza and said it is now available if anybody wants some, and someone replied that they only like hamburgers so they won't be eating my pizza, which would be much better if it were a hamburger instead and clearly the cooks must be stupid to make pizza. Well, yes, if you don't like pizza then don't eat it. This seems pretty obvious, good plan. Well done for figuring that out, but why even bother posting bitterly back about it? And why does everything have to be hamburgers, when there may well be people out there who do like pizza?

That's the beauty of completely optional and nonessential content, isn't it? If you don't like it, don't buy it.  If I walk into a clothing store I certainly don't buy every item in it; I usually don't even like most of them. That doesn't mean I'm going to run up to the sales clerk and hold up a pair of jeans, bitterly shouting that I would have bought them if they'd also had 4 additional pockets but they don't so I'm not going to.  Stores offer a wide selection of items that will appeal to a wide variety of people. Very few people will like everything, and it's probably better that way too or we'd all end up looking identical if we all had exactly the same tastes!  I think pretty much everyone understands this when they walk into a clothing store, so it remains a bit of a mystery to me why some people seem to get so bitter when not every single item in a game's in-game store appeals to them personally.

Anyway, no real deep & meaningful conclusion here or anything, just an interesting thing I've noticed when I watch people talking about in-game shops in computer games.  I am slowly developing a few theories as I watch.  Anybody else care to speculate on why folks don't have the same expectations of the in-game stores as they do of real world ones?


  1. Like a friend of mine was fond of saying, "If you don't like it, you can't have any!"

  2. I wish I could agree with this, and for many years I argued the same point in forums, even when faced with actual (if marginal) game improvements like 65% mounts.

    If cosmetic / minor game improvement items was as far as a store went, I'd still be in favor of it. I've bought storm clouds, mounts and extra character slots. I wouldn't play a game where I had to pay to progress, or where real-world currency would give me a big competitive advantage. They're out there, and they're of no interest to me.

    The game changes completely, though, when you permit microtransaction funds and items to be exchanged for real in-game items by means of currency. Now, on Unrest, and I assume other servers, it's possible to buy plat for $, as long as it's laundered through Station Cash.

    Since buying loot rights for plat has been allowed for years, that has given us an open trade in buying fabled instance and raid drops for US$. And that is the precise and sole reason both of my accounts are in cancel status and I found an alternative MMO, when my heart has been with Everquest and EQ2 since I first subscribed.

    So I guess I'm neither #1 or #2 above, but rather #3: the very existence of a store which is not prevented by TOS from becoming a barter mechanism is a game killer.

  3. I really don't understand why people react the way they do to the store. Sony's done a fine job in making it completely unnecessary to enjoy the EQ2.

    Yet there are still people who pretty much threaten to quit any time it's mentioned or stick their fingers in their ears and go "LALALALA" and disrupt the conversations around them.

    When the SC button was introduced to the mount vendor page? Oy vay. You'd think we were going through another Shattering.

    I think a lot of the complaining is just plain old envy or negativity for the sake of attention. They don't have the money to spend, so it's everyone elses' problem.

    Here's the cool thing. You can take $5 a month, a paycheque, an allowance, just $5, and buy a card. Then hang on to it. Because chances are in a couple of months, that $5 will be worth $10 when you enter the code. It's how I bought SF. How many other games give you a savings with interest?

    People need to relax.

  4. Actually, playing EQ2x, you need to buy things from the cash shop to even survive at the higher levels. Like item and spell unlockers. If you can't get the DOV gear at 90, you will probably not get very many groups, especially if you are a tank or healer.

    Although, for the most part, you can play the game up to 90 without having to buy anything from the cash shop.

    I personally like the cash shop. I buy rares all the time from there to get MC stuff made for alts or for friends. I also buy forgiveness potions which help a ton sometimes. For the EQ2x shop, I really wish they would bring in more micro transactions for silver and bronze players. Two things I would like to see in the shop would be a plat increaser and something that allows me to send mail to people. Other than that, I can play the game just fine without buying anything else (except item and spell unlockers). Oh and maybe being able to unlock my bank slots, especially the shared bank.

    If EQ2x really wants to go full micro transaction, these are the three things that are missing. And please don't tell me to just sub. I'm tired of people telling me that if I want those features, I should sub for them. I'm a college student, I have limited funds to sub for a game. I play EQ2x because it's free to play but it would make things a lot smoother if I could buy these features.

    Before everyone thinks I'm whining and I'm a gimmie gimmie, let me tell you that I really love this game. I've been an EQ addict for 4 years now. I've played 1 and I've played 2 and I really don't like playing any other game. I just wish they would bring these three features to the game so I could enjoy it even more. It really sucks not being able to buy some things, like status mounts, because I can't carry more than 18pp. The space and not being able to send mail (even though I'm a guild leader), is okay. I can work around that. But the plat issue is really hard to work around.

    Also, there's the issue that people bring up with being able to pay to advance with EQ2x. I honestly don't use a lot of services to advance my characters through the store. I buy forgiveness potions every once in a while and I buy rares more frequently than that. But I'd rather play the game than spend hours and hours harvesting for 3 rares. I'd rather be advancing my characters or guild than farming rares and there are a lot of people on my server that feel the same way. If they would improve the rare drop, maybe they wouldn't need to sell them.

    Overall, I love the cash shop, for EQ2x anyway. I just wish there were more items that would help the Bronze and Silver players and less fluff stuff like mounts and appearance armor (also a plate MC set for healers would be nice).

  5. I think you're correct - what players are saying is not what they actually want. What the majority actually want is to receive the contents of the item shop for whatever they're currently playing. (Alternately, they want what they imagine could have been implemented instead with equivalent dev time - expectations which are seldom realistic, like balancing classes or adding new raids instead of adding cosmetic cloaks.) That said, let me torture your analogy by attempting to extend it.

    Imagine that your clothing store has always charged a membership fee for the right to shop there, and has always added a new coat every other year or so that existing members who pay the existing membership fee are allowed to purchase as normal. Now imagine that it's been about the normal amount of time since the Fae, Arasai, and Sarnak coats arrived in the clothing store, and suddenly there's a new coat from the Freeblood line, but members have to pay an additional fee on top of the existing fees before they're allowed to purchase it.

    There was never an explicit guarantee that paying the membership fees (subscription and expansion boxes) would always allow members to obtain every new coat as it is added, but the perception is going to be that the regular membership is now less valuable than it was two years ago when it let you buy everything in the store. And, in fairness, that perception is somewhat accurate if it's the same guy making the new coats that are now going to the premium section instead of the regular members' area.

    You might not scream at the cashier, but you might consider canceling your membership and taking your business elsewhere. Now imagine that you can't, because that's the only store that sells they type of coat you like, and all your friends are still shopping there and you've been going to that store's Fan Festival every year. A little bitterness might be a bit more understandable - and/or all members feel they have left - under the circumstances.

  6. To help you with the confusion I wrote down why I as a player dislike item stores. Here ;).

  7. My main problem is that in the game you work on, the recent Non-store stuff all looks extremely uninspired graphics wise. You have 10s of items that are the same (and boring to begin with). Mean while, all nice looking designs go to the marketplace.

    It is almost like anything really cool looking is automatically set aside by SOE to be added to the store.

    Yes this is not always the case, but it sure seems that way when you look at armor in the game.

  8. "And yet, here are two things I frequently see people say about these kinds of items in these kinds of games"

    yet you go on to not actually quote or show anything to back up what you are saying.

    obviously because its your job to justify such things as much as you can. if you said ANYTHING negative it would relay back to sony and you would be fired.

    why even keep a blog at all? we all know none of it is your REAL feelings on subjects.

  9. I'm a fan of the microtransaction model as well, though I can see how in some cases it can be perceived as immersion-breaking; Richard Cobbett put it quite well in an post I linked the other day, "I don't like in-game purchases, because the idea of sorting out problems by effectively nipping into a parallel universe for supplies always breaks the fiction for me."

    I tend to find the odd purchase from an in-game store preferable to a monthly sub, though!

  10. I deliberately decided not to quote anybody directly. Writing a blog about "Fred said this and Fred is clearly confused" is not my intention. These are general observations, and it doesn't take much effort to find examples of this on Twitter, forums, etc for pretty much any game to which this applies (note that my post is not about any particular game either). However, it's up to anybody who chooses to read this personal blog whether or not they want to make that effort or not!

    Everything I write in my blog expressed my real feelings, whether those feelings are occasional confusion or otherwise. It is a personal blog of random thoughts.