This week we are going to look at various cash shops around the gaming universe, and how Eternal Crusade’s Rogue Trader Store stacks up in comparison. Remember back in June, Miguel made this post, regarding potential changes to the Rogue Trader Store, but, with the busy summer schedule most game companies keep, we haven’t seen a follow up to the shop just yet. So we thought this might be a good time to look at some other successful game shops, and how they do things.
As usual, the first thing we are going to do is define our terms, so we can make accurate comparisons. While putting this together we divided the things generally sold in the cash shops into three categories: Cosmetic items, Convenience items and Advantage items.
Cosmetic items are pretty simple, they provide a different look, or sometimes sound, or emote. They carry no in-game statistical changes, they just change appearances; sometimes very simply by changing a club into a smith’s hammer, sometimes adding fantastic new effects, like changing a greatsword into a burning, flame-wreathed greatsword that drips molten lava onto the floor as the player walks. Also included in this category are the little accessories that people like to add to their Avatars to give them some character. From fishing hats to flower boutonniere, from medals to non-combat pets, or even footprints, cosmetic items are all about sizzle, but no steak.
Convenience items usually provide the purchaser with something that can be obtained for free in-game, with a varying degree of player effort. This could be mounts, currency or experience boosters, even pieces of gear; if it can be obtained via in-game means than purchasing it is a convenience, saving the player the time that would normally be spent “farming” the item in-game. Convenience items also include things like extra inventory storage, extra character slots, and name changes.
Advantage items provide the purchaser with an obvious advantage that cannot be obtained within the game itself. This advantage can be directly measurable, like a piece of gear with superior statistics compared to a piece of in-game gear, or could provide the advantage of flexibility, having similar stats to a piece of in-game gear, but arranged differently, giving the Cash Store player a wider variety of options when approaching game situations. These items are the ones that lead to games being labeled Pay to Win (P2W).
We also discovered a whole new category of things sold in shops, that I am referring to as Items of Huh? These are strange items that don’t fit the other categories, like game features (buying the ability to Sprint from the Cash Shop? Really?), hot bar slots (shouldn’t they be a part of the UI?) and everybody’s favorite: LOCKBOXES! Lockboxes are essentially the in-game lottery, except it costs you real-world cash. Since Eternal Crusade isn’t including anything like Items of Huh?, I have pretty much just ignored them for the purposes of this article.
Cosmetic items and Convenience items are almost universally accepted by players, though there is a small hard-core set of players that feel that any benefit that is purchased from a store, rather than earned in-game, is an Item of advantage. Items of advantage are the tricky spot, the place that game designers want to be (offering what they like to call “added value”) because these items often will prove to be the most attractive to players, but the P2W label is always lurking around this corner, just waiting to be attached, so it can drag the game down to the pit of failure.
We are looking at Marvel Heroes, Guild Wars 2, and Path of Exile, to see what sort of items they sell, what their price points are set at, and how well they are doing.
Marvel Heroes has made a pretty incredible turn-around from their wobbly release, by combining a development team that is very responsive to fans opinions and ideas, and an extensive cash shop, that includes new heroes, costumes, pets and boosters. The conversion rate is about 100 points for $1.00, but we will be discussing items in terms of dollars and cents, not points, for ease of comparison. New heroes range from $4.50 for less popular heroes, like Black Widow, all the way up to $13.50 for very popular heroes, like Iron Man. In addition, they sell alternate hero costumes, priced also at $4.50 for some (boring) costumes all the way to $14.50 for “enhanced” costumes that include new voice effects and even gender-swapping (both Loki and Deadpool come in female form versions). Pets in the Marvel store cost $7.00 and booster items for $1.00 each for an hour boost.
Guild Wars 2 is doing very well, and also makes extensive use of their cash shop. The conversion rate in GW2 is about 80 gems for $1.00, but, again we will deal mostly in straight dollar cost of items. Interestingly the most expensive items for sale in GW2 cost $10.00, which we think is entirely reasonable. Every armor set they have costs $10.00, and NONE of them comes with statistical bonuses, they are all straight cosmetic. Weapon skins, also strictly cosmetic, cost $7.50.Accessory items range from sunglasses ($1.50) to hats ($2.50) to masks ($5.00). Dye packs cost $2.50, and contain seven random dyes. GW2 is the first of our games that offers Finishing Moves, which cost between $6.25 to $10.00, which is nice to know, as Eternal Crusade will also be offering different finishing moves. Booster items here cost $1.88 and Toys cost from $3.13 to $10.00.
Path of Exile makes ALL of their income from their cash shop, where, once again, everything is cosmetic. No statistical bonuses here, literally just pay to look cool (where have we heard that before?). The conversion rate in PoE is 10 points for a dollar, but we will look at dollar values alone. PoE has an interesting cash store in that the costs of items and effects vary a great deal, based both on perceived coolness, and time of release, with older items dropping a good deal in cost as new items get released. Simple skin swaps cost less than $1.00, for both armor and weapons Pieces of specialty armor sell for between $7.00 for gauntlets and boots, up to $11.00 for helmets, and $21.50 for chestpieces. A full set of armor goes for between $31.00 and $40.00 and includes all four pieces. Weapon prices also vary a great deal, with simple effects selling for $7.00 and some really incredible effects going as high as $28.00. Pet prices also vary a great deal, ranging from l$1.50 for basic pets, like a scorpion all the way up to $55.00- $110.00 (!!!) for glowing/burning/sparking scorpions.
Now let's take a look at what we have in the Rogue Trader Store thus far. Not a lot, really, as we are still waiting for an RTS update, but Behaviour has spoken many times about how, once they get production into full swing, there will be monthly updates with more and more items becoming available. Eternal Crusade is currently set up to include what Behaviour likes to call “side-grades”, which are versions of in-game items with slightly rearranged statistical bonuses. For example, you might find an alternate bolt gun in the store that is slightly more accurate than the in-game standard bolt gun, but it also has a reduced rate-of-fire, making a better weapon in some situations, but a liability in others.
While the numbers may balance out, there are a fair amount of players who feel that this improved flexibility gives RTS shoppers a distinct advantage in the game, and want all such statistical variances removed, making all gear in the RTS cosmetic only. Behaviour's David Ghozland, Creative Director on Eternal Crusade, stated in this post, from May of this year “Following our philosophy of value, it is important for us to give to our founders more than just skins”. This has lead many to believe that Eternal Crusade is destined to be Pay to Win, however, in the many conversations we have had with the dev team, I can assure you, that the idea of EC being P2W is anathema to the developers. The game is still a long way off, and anything can change, including the way items in the RTS are handled, and if the play-tests reveal RTS items to be giving Founders or RTS shoppers an advantage, I am certain that changes will be made. Remember, the P2W stigma does tremendous damage to the integrity of any game, and Behaviour would only be hurting Eternal Crusade's ongoing viability if they allowed the game to be seen in that light.
As far as comparative costs go, Miguel Caron, Head of Studio Online at Behaviour has told us that the costs in the shop were determined after quite a bit of research had been done, and that further input from Founders would certainly be given fair attention. In point of fact, Behaviour has already taken some action in that direction by revisiting the cost of their Horus Heresy limited Edition items, which have drawn a good deal of criticism by Founders. These items, originally priced at $35.00 for a weapon “sidegrade”, have each had a second Limited Edition weapon added, bringing the cost down to a far more reasonable $17.50 per item.
Currently each faction has six items available to them in the shop, one melee weapon, priced at $15.00, two pieces of armor, one priced at $5.00 and one at $15.00, one vehicle “sidegrade”, a two-seater bike priced at $25.00, and two Character “sidegrades” likewise priced at $25.00 each. Compared to the items of the three other games that we have looked at here, it appears that the RTS prices range from competitive (those $5.00 armor pieces), to a bit pricey (the $15.00 pieces), to a bit expensive (the $25.00 items).
Personally (and please keep in mind that this opinion has been formed based on my own very limited experience with MMOs and cash shops in general, I am in no way an expert); I think the right move here for Behaviour would be to remove statistical bonuses from their cash shop entirely. Better to completely remove the threat of being labeled Pay to Win, and to do it sooner rather than later, so as not to risk driving potential supporters away. Also, I would look to lower the prices on the costlier items, bringing them from $25.00 down to about $15.00. I believe that Warhammer 40K fans will buy more items from the shop if they are less expensive, and they will feel that the value they derive from those purchases is greater, making them more willing to purchase customization bits from the RTS in the future. Behaviour may make less money per purchase, but I believe that the number of purchases will go up, way up, if the items are priced a bit lower.
Am I making sense here? Do you, the fans and community agree with my positions? Talk about it here in the comments section, and, if you are so moved, take your opinions over to the Eternal Crusade forums. Let Behaviour know how you feel about the Rogue Trader Store, and any other issues or questions you might have about the game. The dev team is constantly active on the forums, and they run a weekly Twitch live-stream, every Friday at 1:30 PM Eastern Time, so hit the forums, or tune-in to the live-stream (or BOTH), the odds are good that you might get some answers to your questions.