One thing that is starting to annoy me in the free MMORPG industry is the shift in the type of items sold in cash shops. For those that aren’t familiar with the term ‘Cash shop’ it is the place where players can exchange real life money for in game goodies. Back when I first started playing free MMORPGs, cash shops almost always had strictly aesthetic items like clothes and accessories for sale that had no impact on the game. Back then it was considered taboo for an MMORPG publisher to sell items that would give an unfair advantage to those that paid over those that didn’t. As a player that rarely bought cash shop items, I felt that this was fair, as it rewarded those that paid by making their avatars look really awesome, but it didn’t imbalance the game. Maplestory for example, for a very long time operated in this fashion. Back then It didn’t sell any items that imbalanced the game, but today sells 2x experience scrolls and powerful equipment. GunZ: The Duel at one time also had a cash shop that strictly sold items that had no impact on the balance of the game, but today it sells a lot of over powered equipment that can quickly imbalance a game.
So what happened? Why did free MMOs and MMORPGs suddenly start selling such powerful items in the cash shop? Money of course. Publishers like Nexon and IJJI can generate a lot more revenue if they offer better and more powerful items in their stores, as more players are likely to buy 2x experience scrolls than a shiny robe that only serves one purpose; making your character look cooler. I really don’t mind that much when publishers sell experience scrolls and equipment in their cash shops, as it’s their game, but I do get a bit upset when some publishers overdo it. Every one of IGG’s games, Tales of Pirates, Voyage Century, Godswar and Galaxy Online, for example, have such powerful cash shop items that their games just aren’t worth playing without a cash commitment. Those that purchase cash shop items in IGG’s games have such a huge advantage over those that don’t, which is a huge turn off for players that want to play for free.
I’d personally like to see publishers sell only aesthetic items in their cash shops, but with the current trend it doesn’t look like this is going to happen anytime soon. It’s not that I don’t want to see publishers profit, I do, but I hate seeing non paying players quit a game over imbalanced cash shop items because it destroys the community. Publishers need to find a way to earn a profit without scaring away non paying players. One game that I think did this perfectly is Gunbound, as the game has powerful cash shop items, but has channels in the game that disable the effectiveness of all items, which evens the playing field. This gives the player a choice; he can play on the channel which allows cash shop items or the one that doesn’t. I’m curious to see which direction MMORPG and MMO cash shops will take, but only time will tell.