Welcome to the another meeting at The Crossroads, where both Ercles and Wulfy jointly attempt to answer a topic of the day. Each contribution is written separately with no conferring, so we have no idea if our viewpoints are going toalign or clash horribly! This week we tackle the issue of buying in-game benefits for real life currency. Is it ever acceptable to part with real money for a benefit within the game? Where do you draw the line between gaining rewards from effort and bonuses for cash? Read on to discover our opinions!
I’ve seen this heated discussion several times, especially in MMOs with a monthly subscription. The most recent time was when Blizzard introduced their pet store. As expected there were outbursts of “Blizzard only wants your money” and “Omgz Blizzard will be selling gold soon!” and so on. I never really saw the issue with the pet store. Vanity pets have been available for some extra cash ever since the first collectors edition and later through rare cards in the collectable card game. Since people obviously were willing to pay for in-game vanity pets Blizzard just decided to cut out the middle man. As long as the items you can purchase for real currency does not affect game play in any way I really don’t see the problem.
Warhammer Online took it a step further with their collector’s edition. These are the in-game benefits you got from purchasing the collectors edition:
The Librams of Insight – XP gain modifier, 60 minute duration, 3 uses
Player character heads – 12 unique, male and female
Quest rewards and titles – 12 bonus quests, 12 item rewards and 12 player titles
In my opinion this is taking things a bit too far. They are not huge benefits, but still a bit too much for my liking. The XP gain (which I’m told was 10%) for 60 minutes is minor when you take how long it takes to reach end level into consideration, but it still crosses that line of gaining benefits that affect gameplay. Next is unique character heads. Although technically not affecting gameplay, I think it would bother me slightly if I knew someone had more character customization options than me. Afterall MMOs are a lot about feeling unique, or trying to make your character stand out. While a vanity pet is only cosmetic as well, my character is more important to me (and I imagine to most people) than pets, tabards and other non-stat gear.
I can’t really comment on the last bit about quest rewards and titles. It really depends on what they are. My first impression of exclusive quests is that it only allows a certain group of people who are willing to dish out some extra cash to see content, but that’s really not that far from expansions apart from the fact that expansions are not limited (and collector’s editions don’t really seem to be that rare either). Titles are fairly cosmetic as well, but again it affects your characters identity more than a pet or shirt does. What worries me the most is the part about “12 item rewards”. I have no idea what these rewards are, but if they are items that makes you get an advantage over other players game play wise it seems like a really poor decision.
While the worst case scenario examples above about Warhammer Online is not something that would make me quit a game, it would have me me worrying about the slippery slope the game might potentially be heading down. Anything that gives those who are willing to pay extra an advantage over those who aren’t is crossing the line for me. And if any game, yes even WoW, takes this too far I would most likely start to look for a different game to play.
I have to confess something that is not entirely adult or manly. Despite not having a kid or any strange urge to collect soft fluffy toys, when I saw that Blizzard are releasing new plushy gryphons and wyverns, I have to admit I was tempted. Is that a sign that I’ve gone too far in my addiction to this game and its cute widdly vanity pets? Perhaps. What is certain is that Blizzard broke into new territory recently when they opened up their pet store, selling exclusive in-game vanity pets for a price. Admittedly half the price of the pets goes to charity which eases the criticism, but the same cannot be said for the new plushie items. Blizz have also used the very cute core hound pup as an incentive for using an authenticator (which pleased me no end since I already owned one!).
Ultimately I feel all this is perfectly acceptable. Vanity pets are just that, a vain luxury. They’re cute and they’re fun, but they remain a frivolity that people can decide on their own whether they wish to purchase. However I strongly feel that whilst this is where Blizzard have started moving into the world of micro-transactions, this is also where it should end. It is absolutely fine by me if people want to spend their money buying in-game items that are purely cosmetic and have no effect on gameplay; what is extremely uncool however is when items purchasable with real money translates into a tangible benefit in a person’s gameplay.
For an example of where things can go too far, lets look at a game that is based purely upon micro-transactions: Battlefield Heroes. For those that don’t know BF Heroes is a great little shooting game which is absolutely free to play, but offers various in-game items for real-world costs. 90% of players don’t pay anything and just fight in a generic dull uniform and use basic weapons. The remaining minority however, including myself, shell out real money for cool outfits to wear in-game. I always felt this was not a problem, as the outfits are just for show, just like a WoW vanity pet. However recently the BF Heroes model has been showing cracks in its commitment to balancing micro-transaction profit with fair play. Recently a number of advanced guns with extra bonuses have been creeping in to the game, of course you can only get them for a price. I tried them myself and whilst they’re not game breaking, i did notice a distinct advantage. Another feature I didn’t try was for more cash you can buy a massive xp bonus which will let you level up faster. I decided to just slog through on the cheap, but I do often find myself fighting guys who have poor skills but benefit from a boatload of special abilities they got by paying to get to max level. Such guys are annoying cos they’re hard to beat even if they just stand there and take a pounding from you. They effectively have an I-WIN button and they didn’t even earn it, they bought it.
I would hate it if Blizzard were to go down such a route. After all, isn’t this why gold-selling is so frowned upon? Yes, it disrupts the auction house market, but it also gives rewards to people who haven’t earned them in the way most of us have. When I see a guy wearing a great set of gear and a rare mount, I want it to be because that guy is a great gamer, a guy who has put in the hours and has talent. I don’t want him to be some schmuck who got a gold seller to do it for him. As for the paid levelling bonus we see in BF Heroes, that’s just out of the question for me. This game is all about levelling through content and advancing up the ranks. If someone else could do that faster and better than me because they happen to be well-off in real life, thats just insulting to the rest of us players who actually, y’know, play the game.
Bottom line: buying game bonuses is great as long as it doesn’t actually give a boost to your gameplay. For me that is where the line lies, this far, no further.