Mere days ago, I posted my first entry on this blog in months, more-or-less welcoming myself back to EQ2 after a hiatus. It has very much felt good to be back.
Tuesday's news about Station Cash came as a bit of a shock to the system...
You see, there was a time - back when Station Exchange started up - that I vowed to quit my beloved EQ2 cold turkey if Real-Money Trading (RMT) ever came to my server. I'm pretty sure I posted that on the official forums, but darned if I can't find it now. Oh well, I still know I said it, and I will stick to my word.
BUT, Mr. Smedley makes a good point that Station Cash isn't the same as RMT. A lot of folks are up-in-arms, cancelling accounts, etc. over Station Cash, but much like the Legends of Norrath furor, I think they're overreacting just a wee bit.
That doesn't mean I'm thrilled about Station Cash, mind you, but let's examine the goods and bads, shall we?
I read plenty of posts on the forums, looked at screenshots, and so on, but I wanted to reserve judgement on what Station Cash had to offer until I logged in and took a peek.
A peek is about all that was required. There's not much to see!!
What I did see were two appearance-only outfits, a few house pets, a couple non-house, appearance-only adventuring pets, and potions. Lots of potions.
You know, it was really more underwhelming than offensive. Still, SOE is asking for real money in exchange for specific in-game items, and that can be a cause for concern.
In RMT, the "T" is for "Trading." That's not generally an action performed between developer and player. Those are called "Fees," and RMFs are still the only kind of fees I know of that make sense in this environment. Oh, I suppose I could send Smedley a fine goat in exchange for a few months of game time, but I don't think he'd appreciate the mess in his office.
Trading is between people - RMT IS EQ2's LiveGamer Servers (nee Station Exchange), where players sell virtual items to each other for real cash.
This isn't RMT.
Smed called it "Microtransactions," and I suppose it is, in a sense, but usually when you play a game that offers microtransactions, it's doing so in lieu of a regular fee to play the core game. "You want to get the neatest stuff? NOW you pay us."
I think I'd actually play an EQ2-like game that was funded by microtransactions. I know that there'd be people who blow hundreds of dollars at a time so they can be more uber than me while I spend $10 or less a month, but that's not a whole lot different than the time investment that raiders use to be uber now. Time is money, so I've always been told.
I don't feel put-out by microtransactions enterting EQ2, but it feels somewhat useless. Since they are charging a monthly fee AND have an established path-to-uber, they would be fools to let you buy useful stuff for real money. So instead it's nothing but fluff.
Yes, I said NOTHING but fluff. Even those achievement potions. At best, I think those potions COULD be useful at level 80, when all your adventure exp turns into small amounts of achievement. Prior to that, completing quests or finding exploration points are too long of a process to make it worth spending up to $10 for a temporary boost. It isn't that an extra achievement point or two isn't useful, it's just uneccesary and not worth the cost.
I have no doubt that SOE plans to vastly increase the selection of fluff over time, but for now it's just an unimpressive effort. You don't want a product launch that starts with a whimper, folks!
If there was something REALLLLLY cool (not the current armor sets), I would consider coughing up a little cash for it. I love my beer-mug helm from a previous live event, for instance, but I'd pay money for an appearance-helmet that looks like a red baseball cap with a Pizza Hut logo on it!
(well, I might be bothered by the anachronism of that, but a cloak with a picture of Lucan holding a pepperoni pizza on it? I'm SO THERE)
I did notice that there were 150 Station Credits stored in my wallet upon first login. I hope that's not just a launch gimmick. Since we ARE paying that monthly subscription fee, I think Station Cash could be a bigger success if we got about that many credits a month just for being an active subscriber, and then could spend real cash for more credits if we wanted to get our goodies faster.
I'd also recommend that, instead of straining the depths of creativity for so many MORE toys, SOE should consider taking a robust selection from the Legends of Norrath loot cards and making them available through this alternative means.
About the TIMING of Station Cash: It seems to have leapt out of nowhere at the player base. What in the world was that about??
It is possible that certain focus-groups of players knew about Station Cash in advance. We have no idea what sort of feedback they gave, but frankly, they shouldn't have had to say, "We don't think it's a good idea to spring this on the playerbase so suddenly!" SOE should have known better.
Honestly, whether its the itchiness of people who love EQ2 but hate SOE for various reasons (some childish, some not, though if your reasons are sound you shouldn't be supporting their product), the tendency of gamers to be skittish about change, or the simple fact the internet has the power to turn molehills into Mount Dooms, SOE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER.
Ease us into the idea, devs. Tell us what you're planning, get feedback on the notion of fluff for cash, find out what people think of putting exp potions into the mix, etc. etc. You don't even have to phrase it at a question, "What do you think of us adding in microtransactions?" Just tell us, "We're working on a project to add a small number of non-game-changing microtransactions to EQ and EQ2," and watch the feedback. Did I mention you should have known better?
Also, tell us what the plans are for the future of such a project. How often to you hope to add new fluff? Will you ever consider going free-to-play with some non-fluff? Are non-fluff items on the table at ALL?
Don't tell us that now, after that launch, because now everyone feels stunned and won't believe you. Tell us this BEFORE the launch.
Y'all really biffed the communcation on this one.
But Station Cash, at least in its current form, is not a threat to the integrity of the game. I, for one, don't feel the need to break up my happy little home and quit the game forever to make a moral stand.
I'll be watching closely. Smed, Froech, please don't disappoint me.