For the most part, players relate the top MMOs to being those that use the subscription-based model. Part of this is because itâ€™s seen as weeding out trouble makers, and another is that you already know how much the game is going to cost each month. In the past, these â€œpremiumâ€ MMORPGs used the subscription method to help keep from needing to charge for other things. Essentially everything was available through in-game means, and there were no ways to bypass that using cash. As time has gone on, however, these things have changed and now a lot of games are using a hybrid model. But do these cash shops have their place?
Separating Aesthetic Additions From Functional Ones
The first thing you need to do is understand that there is a huge difference between items that are aesthetic and functional, when it comes to their impact on games. Items that donâ€™t give any true benefit, other than things like looks, are only a status symbol. They will in no way affect anyoneâ€™s ability to play and enjoy the game, nor accomplish everything it has to offer.
Functional items are where things start to change. And often times, players will look at this as just being things like weapons and armor, where it should really include anything that gives someone benefits. Things like being able to purchase potions, dungeon reset scrolls, easier teleporting, etc. are not things that will keep someone from being able to get to end-game or enjoy their time, but it does give an advantage in that they may be able to do it faster or easier. In these cases, we still look at these as being â€œfunctionalâ€ additions.
As for things that would be purely aesthetic, that would be weapon and armor skins, new mounts that have the same benefits and speed as free mounts, etc. Pretty much anything that doesnâ€™t make the game easier, and instead just gives a visual change.
Moving to Hybrid Games
A lot of games have been going hybrid as of late, and some have gone free to play soon after. This lets the game company gain income from game sales, subscription fees and cash shop sales. For a large part of the community, this is a big problem. We often view the system as being that if you are already paying for the game each month, there should be no other costs. When a game is free to play, having a cash shop makes sense: they have to get income from somewhere. And while functional items are the ones that actually affect the game, many have been upset about purely visual additions or things that arenâ€™t as impactful (as a great example of this, Square Enix has been hit hard by the community for selling upgrades to their in-game marriage packages).
What Makes Sense to Sell?
While the community, as a large part, is against the selling of items (impactful or not), there is one area where the cost makes sense: name changes and server changes. Both of these can have severe impacts on the game and quality of life of other players. When Guild Wars 2 was launched, for example, free server (world) transfers were available. Due to the World vs. World system and wanting top rankings, it caused many guilds to server skip each week to ensure they were always residing on the top world. There was no repercussion for doing this, and it degraded the World vs. World experience because of the constant population fluctuations. And in some cases, it left worlds with almost no population for taking part, other than small groups here and there. Once ArenaNet added costs for doing these transfers, it set things back on track, to where players can be loyal to where they are, and not keep an eye out for the next best thing for the next week.
While not impactful in the same way, most games that offer free server transfers deal with problems. And name changes are often in the same boat, though for a different reason. Players like to scam or otherwise get a bad reputation for themselves, then change their name and start anew (or transfer to another server to do it). Some will work towards building up their reputation again, only to keep repeating the cycle. And with free transfers, there are no punishments for doing so. The number of people willing to go through this when thereâ€™s a cost associated is cut down significantly, which also works to help strengthen each serverâ€™s community. A huge part of being part of a MMORPG server is being immersed into the community. Being able to skip around freely removes that benefit.
Cash shops are an inevitable part of MMORPGs today, as they have shown game companies that they can gain value outside of just collecting subscription fees. For things that donâ€™t impact the game, there shouldnâ€™t be too much of an issue with this. When it comes to selling game-changing items, though, it can seriously degrade the experience of gamers. Cash shops, when used in subscription-based games, should be based around only providing things that donâ€™t cause a negative impact to other gamers that donâ€™t take place in the cash shop. Services like server transfers and name changes, however, are the opposite, in that having them locked down helps keep abuse down.