[Thought of the Day] The own goal of cash shops, in bullet points

  • So: bizarro news story on the F2P cash shop front this week was LOTRO trialling a $50 Hobby Horse on the test server. I know, right? What’s the point in putting a price tag on something that no one would want? Unsurprisingly the feedback was negative and it went away again.
  • There’s some magical thinking with cash shop games that goes along the lines of “Mysterious ‘whale’ spenders will throw money ay anything!  Put anything in the shop with a big pricetag and someone, somewhere is bound to buy it.” It’s not clear if there’s any actual demand from players for a rideable Hobby Horse (maybe there is!), or whether someone thought ‘meh, someone will buy it.’
  • This isn’t about jealousy of people who are willing to spend more money on their favourite F2P game. It’s about wondering what happened to the laws of supply and demand. Do F2P devs measure demand?
  • Kids games are especially susceptible to the ‘put up bizarro crap for ludicrous prices’ because they know their players don’t know the value of stuff. Thank goodness for bronies (ie. adult gamers who do understand value)  intervening for players of My Little Pony.
  • There is another side to this. When I play a game, I am using a service. When I am presented with a shop, I go into Super Saiyan Shopping Mode! I want good bargains! I want value for money! If I buy luxury goods, I still want value for money (like: it has to be cool, trendy, make me feel great, well made, anything else you might want from a luxury good).
  • So if a F2P game wants to make money from me via a cash shop then the shop needs to be stocked with shoppers in mind, not gamers. Regular sales work well for this.
  • But the thing I actually value from my game is playing the game.
  • Michael Pachter comments that CoD is a failure for not pushing subscriptions for the multiplayer game. (Like, you pay for your game and then get 12 months of multiplayer gaming thrown in at the moment, he thinks they could charge more for that.)
  • He’s wrong, obviously the game isn’t a failure in any sense at all.
  • But maybe some of the F2P games are failures for not asking players to pay the price of a single player game for their annual gaming. A cheap annual sub would open up players who simply cannot justify to themselves paying for overpriced virtual tat which they don’t want, but would still happily contribute to the game.
  • Actually Arb and I did check out the LOTRO cash shop last time we played, just to see if they had anything else weird. We both bought mounts for our characters that had been reduced in the sale (and both thought they were decent value). So maybe, just maybe, the community has been trolled in a rather successful PR stunt. Food for thought.

8 thoughts on “[Thought of the Day] The own goal of cash shops, in bullet points

  1. I saw some players saying they would have liked a permanent hobby horse, because there is a temporary one in a quest somewhere in the new expansion. The weirdest item in the Lotro store that you may have missed is the item that lets dwarves go bare-chested, cheap at only 995 TP.

    I agree with a more sustainable model than ‘whaling’, of which I going to remain skeptical. It doesn’t need to be a subscription, it can just be an expansion every year like Lotro or GW2. I’d go as far to say that expansions are very important to the fortunes of Lotro as much if not more than the amount they get from subs. On the other hand you have AoC, which disappoints me for many reasons, one is that it pointless to buy their one and only expansion unless you are going to sub, they changed tack slightly with a mid-level adventure pack and another one upcoming, but the expansion contains a lot of the endgame content and systems i.e. features to keep people playing and interested. With the rise of F2P, I’d say you’d get many more people to pay for an expansion than a sub.

    • LOTRO I think has an issue with lifetime subs and their monthly point allotment. So, me for example. I always get their expansions free because I just don’t spend many points in the cash shop, I play it very casually and sometimes go months without logging in.

      But I’m not actually averse to buying expansions that I’m going to use. I just don’t see the point when I can buy them with points instead. So I guess for people like me, they need to find ways to use up my points — it’s not really got a monetary equivalent because I bought that sub years ago and haven’t paid since — and that’s part of the reason they have this points inflation thing going on. You can see it with SOE also, where they announced that some things (like expansions or subscriptions) can only be bought with cash and not with shop points.

  2. Michael Pachter is best described thusly:

    Michael Pachter really, really, wants people to pay attention to him because Michael Pachter is really, really dependent on getting his name in the paper as the gaming analyst guy.

  3. There’s some magical thinking with cash shop games that goes along the lines of “Mysterious ‘whale’ spenders will throw money ay anything! Put anything in the shop with a big pricetag and someone, somewhere is bound to buy it.”

    Given the way things sell in the WoW cash shop, I’d say there’s more credence to this idea than you think, Spinks.

    • Of course someone will buy it, there are always some damn fools who will buy anything. The question is whether or not the cash the developer makes from such an item outweighs the enormous amount of ill will such frivolous gouging generates in the community. See the EVE monocle debacle for an example where it did not.

  4. Cash shops ought to also consider the effect of anchor pricing. A hobby horse at $50 makes a mount at $15(?) look cheaper than it would if the mount were among the most expensive items on offer. Expensive items may appeal to some whales but they also shape expectations for the rest of us. Advertising sale pricing has a similar effect.

  5. Well, as people have pointed out there’s the issue of anchoring. A $50 item makes the $15 mount look cheaper, as Tonk says. There’s also the possibility they wanted to charge more for this item, so they put it at $50 then “listen to feedback” and drop the price to, say, $30.

    The other thing is that this does make sense: some people want a unique item and will pay a lot for it. I remember some people lamenting about how the WoW sparkle pony was so common after a while, so it lost a bit of its luster. (Others saw “free flying mount for all my characters, bonus!” and thought the price was a bargain.) A super-high price point makes this rarer.

    I think the biggest problem, as I’ve said before, is that some people play LotRO for the immersion. Seeing someone tearing up the countryside on a hobbyhorse feels wrong in Middle Earth, whereas in another game people would just roll their eyes, grumble a bit, and move on.

    • The anchoring pricing is a valid argument, but ultimately if some of the prices are just screwy then I think customers loose faith in the game/shop being a fair consumer environment. Frex, if a shop I like starts putting silly prices on some random goods, I may or may not still shop there but I’m going to start thinking the management are a bit nuts.

      What I can’t get my head around is NOT being asked to pay for the one thing I actually value (ie. access to the game) but being pressured to buy tat I don’t want ‘if I want to support the game.’ I think there’s a difference between gamer mindset and canny shopper mindset and I wonder if there’s an own goal in switching people between them. Obv its not the canny shoppers they want to draw in, but the impulse buyers, but still leaves the question — should I feel guilty if a game I like closes because I didn’t want to buy the stuff in their shop? And the corrollory which is that maybe I don’t want a game I like to be so dependent on the whim of whales.

      With WoW, I have confidence in their business model because it depends on players like me. I’m a bit over playing cool games where the devs couldn’t make their business model work. If I am going to commit to an MMO, I’d like a working business model please.

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