I love money. Most of you will say you love money, but what you really mean is you are a slave to it. Money ranks high in causing violent emotions responsible for most of our crime. Money has been called the root of all evil. Many of you won't admit you are actually afraid of money.
Virtual economies are the most misunderstood beast in gaming. Just like we do in real life, we treat our games as a place to buy and sell things. We want to be the best, have the best, be a hero. Similar to real life crime, ingame money issues have created an entire industry hellbent on making real life money on ingame crime. I am still mad hackers stole the shoes off my feet in Everquest 2. I mean, come on? My shoes?
Our jaded connection to money drove the changes to online gaming we are trying to survive. The entire landscape has changed. I can't think of a AAA game that doesn't have an ingame store? It's too much of a cash cow. People will spend real life money on ingame items. Gamers buy whole characters with epic raid gear on Ebay. They buy ingame currency with real life money from gold farmers. Oh look, another opportunity to share one of my favorite videos of all time. 8 years, and I still giggle.
My mind has been percolating for the last few months trying to figure out what it is gaming needs. We've seen a huge change in the business. Free to Play, or Play to Win depending on your take, made major houses fall to their knees and weep under the whip of gamers who refuse to pay a subscription. I am not sure a game could launch without a Free to Play option and survive.
Free to Play hasn't created any great gaming innovations. If anything, I have watched good games dumb themselves down to the lowest common denominator. Wildstar launched promising players hard instances reminiscent of WoW's good ole days. What players got was a toxic environment where even the best players would rage quit an instance when a lesser player made a mistake the group couldn't recover from. Less than a year after launch, the game looked like a dusty ghost town. People don't want to pay to feel inadequate. Dollars talk, and the slew of subscription cancellations shouted pretty damn loud. The game relaunched as a Free to Play game a month ago, and was said to have re-balanced dungeon's and raids. Read "made easier."
What are we willing to pay for? Looking at what is offered in many ingame stores, I see the same "type" of items over and over again. I figure they are there for a reason. People pay for them. Game houses are going to put development dollars to work where they will get more bang for their buck.
Skill accelerators, mounts, pets, housing items, penalty removers, seasonal/holiday items, bank/bag/storage items. There are other things in games depending on their genre, but that list covers most of the good stuff. This is what we will pay for. Some of the items are there because we want to skip the gates. I don't want to get a bazillion favor with XXX in order to have more slots in my bank. I'll just buy them and get it over with.
The bank example points out one of the most important parts of Free to Play. Long term players are not where the money is made. The most bang for the buck happens when a new player hits the server and wants to play with the big boys. They spend the most money in a short burst because they are in a hurry to experience the best part of any game. The end game. Touted as where all the fun happens. Most guild's have a heavy concentration on end game, and new players are in a hurry to get there and be included.
This Pandora's box of bad seeds has been a self perpetuated prophecy. Gaming developers did this to themselves. Most games get through launch and concentrate almost exclusively on end game. They want to keep the players they already have spending money on their game, so they cater the content to them. New gamers want to get to the good stuff as fast as possible. Rinse. Repeat.
Some games have even taken this too far. Star War's Online recently launched their new expansion Knights of the Fallen Empire. They are offering a new character to players who is automatically level 60. I cancelled my Swtor subscription. I worked quite hard to get my character to the max level. Handing them out to newbies who don't even have the game mechanics figured out yet was too much for me to take. Does it make sense in a way? It could. Having a character who can automatically join higher level groups helps immerse a player in the game and keep coming back. Helps them spend money on items you want them to buy. I just don't think it's going to make for better players. One step too far in the Pay to Win column for my liking.
Free to Play hasn't solved the gold farmer issue. They are still there. I see bots ingame from time to time. They wouldn't be working if no one was buying.
Two factor authentication hasn't solved the hacking issue. If anything it's made my life miserable every time I get a new phone and forget to switch accounts. Being locked out of a game when it's your fault is a little humiliating. I am taking so many precautions I've locked myself out of my own stuff. I don't think the hackers are having this issue.
Money might be the root of all evil. Even in our virtual lives we've managed to screw up. We've made our avatars about stuff. We need more stuff in order to be better players. Attaining stuff is why we run around killing squirrels and collecting herbs. We can't seem to think past consumerism even when we go into a made up world.
So where do we go from here?