A Brief History of Station Cash Complete with Tirade

(Warning: Tirade contains less than 20% new content)

Whenever the topic of currency for “microtransactions” comes up, I think back to the origins of the term, more than 20 years past at this point.  The idea, back in the day, was to let people use their credit card to buy another currency so that they could make purchases that were smaller than would be practical for a credit card transaction.

Basically, at about the $5.00 mark, it stops making sense to take credit cards due to transaction fees, and these currencies were supposed to let people make payments down below a dollar if they wanted.  That was the goal.  It never really panned out despite some serious attempts over the years.

The idea was picked up in other places though.  Almost eight years ago SOE grabbed the idea and stumbled off with it, introducing Station Cash and a lackluster store with a meager list of depressingly priced items for sale.  Even four years after it launched, I couldn’t find anything worthwhile in the Station Cash store.

The pricing there, and in other in-game cash shops since, strongly indicate that the transaction cost had ceased to be the prime motivator.  In fact, the tragicomic tale of SOE and their virtual currency points straight to what companies want.  They want to separate their customers from some cash up front and worry about the cash shop later.  SOE went so far trying to boost their bottom line with Station Cash sales that they devalued the currency like a Latin American dictator.

TripleSC01

Stock up now? Don’t mind if I do!

For a stretch they had to stop letting players pay for their subscription or buy expansions with Station Cash because, if you worked things just right, you could have ended up paying as little as $1.25 a month for your Gold Access subscription.

Where were those people who love to study virtual economies when this was happening?

Anyway, SOE had to have a Station Cash austerity program (did the Virtual World Bank step in?) for a while, going so far as to suggest they might stop giving out the monthly 500SC stipend for subscribers at one point, as they worked out how to get people to spend their giant piles of cheap Station Cash.  I think they actually got a few useful items in the various stores after that, plus some mounts in EverQuest II that were not hideously ugly.

Still, SOE carried on.  They were committed to Free to Play.  The term was part of their marketing slogan for a while.

My way includes constant pop-ups asking me to subscribe...

My way includes constant pop-ups asking me to subscribe…

They were invested in the cash shop and getting people into their game for free, so that they might become paying customers later. (Via an unsubtle combination of inconveniences and incentives, but that is another tale.)  They were at least trying to be a stand-up player in the market. (For all its mistakes and missteps, SOE always tried to do the right thing in the end.)   Station Cash was pegged to the real world at a penny a point (except when on sale of course) so players could figure out how much something really cost without getting out a calculator.

Failure to do this is generally a bad sign.  Customers do not like it.  Microsoft fiddled with that in the XBox store for a while before going to a penny a point.  Nintendo dumped points altogether, assigning straight up dollar values in their shop.

I think companies suffer in the long term by trying to obscure the value of their in-game currency… which leads me to Turbine and Lord of the Rings Online, which has one of the more arcane RMT currency systems around.  Turbine Points can have a wide range of values depending on how you purchase them, and once in the game Turbine has added in subsidiary currencies, like Mithril Coins, that you have to buy with the main currency, in order to purchase certain unlocks.  Trying to fool the customer is only ever a short term strategy and I am sure LOTRO has suffered over the years for going all in on that.

Anyway, at least SOE didn’t go down that path.

And SOE stuck to having a single currency wallet across all of their games. (Well, on the PC at least.  There were complications in the land of PlayStation.)  If you played EverQuest II and wanted to move over to PlanetSide 2, your station cash went with you. (Again, looking at you Turbine, and how Turbine Points in LOTRO and Turbine Points in DDO are two separate and distinct things.)

Then came bad times at Sony and SOE was sold off to the investment bankers at Columbus Nova Prime, a group with a reputation for milking their acquisitions.  SOE became Daybreak, Station Cash became Daybreak Cash, and so on down the branding line.  No longer covered by Sony’s checkbook, reality set in quickly with layoffs and changes to the business model.

EverQuest and EverQuest II, perennial foundations of the company, managed to get back on their old track of an expansion a year after dabbling with the idea of more frequent, but less fulsome DLC.  I think the fact that loyal followers of the game have a habit of buying collector’s editions probably helped there.  How much DLC do you have to ship to equal on CE?

The Broken Mirror? Try the broken gaming budget!

$140 offsets a lot of DLC

Also, the expansion thing keeps the player base from getting totally fragmented and unable to play together because somebody doesn’t have the right DLC for the night’s content.  Add in some special servers for subscribers only and the classic Norrath part of the company seems secure for the moment.  They did have to kill off PvP for the most part, but that is what happens when you have to focus on your core.

Over in another part of the company, quiet yet solid DC Universe Online got ported over to the XBox One.  Not bad for a five year old title.  But then, access to XBox and other platforms was supposed to be one of the big upsides of the acquisition.

Other titles were less secure.  Somebody found where Smed hid the last PlanetSide server and turned it off finally.  Dragon’s Prophet was sent packingPlanetSide 2 was having problemsEverQuest Next became EverQuest Never, heralding the end of the classic mainstream fantasy MMORPG. That is a niche genre now, but it probably always anyway.  Legends of Norrath was finally taken off life support, then its loot card organs were harvested for the cash shop.  And my question about how Daybreak would get off the sweet, sweet Early Access money drug was answered when they ditched free to play for Landmark and H1Z1, charging $20 a pop to get into either.

Ars Technica Reports...

Still have to replace that founder’s pack revenue stream though…

Well, $40 a pop for all of H1Z1 unless you already had a copy, since they split that into two games, each with its own $20 price tag. There is now H1Z1: King of the Kill, the money making one that turned out to be mildly popular on Twitch, and H1Z1: Just Survive, the mostly neglected worldly survival game for oddball old school MMO players.  King of the Kill got a “Summer 2016” ship date, which it has since pushed off (though there was already a press release saying it had launched quite a while back), while Just Survive seems to be living up to its name.

All of which brings us up to yesterdays fun new announcement that King of the Kill will not be using Daybreak Cash, ditching that for its own currency.  From the King of the Kill site:

INTRODUCING: CROWNS

Daybreak Cash will no longer be used in H1Z1: King of the Kill after the game update on September 20. Instead, the new currency will be called Crowns. Crowns are a unique currency, available and usable only in H1Z1: King of the Kill. With Crowns, you will be able to purchase crates and bundles as you did previously with Daybreak Cash

Beginning on September 20, you will have the option to convert all or some of your existing Daybreak Cash into Crowns. This is a one-to-one conversion: 1 Daybreak Cash = 1 Crown. This conversion is only one way; once you convert your DBC into Crowns, you cannot convert Crowns back to DBC. This conversion opportunity will only be available for a limited time. You will be able to convert your Daybreak Cash into Crowns from September 20 through December 31, 2016.

Daybreak Cash is still usable in other Daybreak games, including H1Z1: Just Survive. Crowns can only be used in H1Z1: King of the Kill.

So there it is, another turn in the long tale of Station Cash/Daybreak Cash.  You can, until the end of the year, change your Daybreak Cash into the new currency, Crowns.  But from then on Crowns are Crowns and Cash is Cash, and never the twain shall meet.

The question is, what does it mean?  Why separate the one game from the rest of the of the Daybreak family in this way? (On the PC at least, consoles are a different story.)

One of these things is not like the others... also, why a pig?

One of these things is not like the others… also, why a pig?

Does this mean that there are special plans for King of the Kill?  Does Daybreak see the game as especially promising when compared to the rest of its stable?  Is this a one-time event in special circumstances or a chilling portrait of things to come where Daybreak Cash gets stranded on specific games?

Not much of a tirade in there, unless you read it aloud in the right tone of voice ( I recommend whiny/sarcastic for the best effect) or you’re somebody who conflates criticism with hate.  I’m often critical of the games I play, but the ones I hate get no mention at all.  When it comes to H1Z1, at least in the King of the Kill flavor, I am largely indifferent, except where it intersects with Norrath.  This is really just another marker on the long journey of the company that made EverQuest back in the day.

Though when I go back to EverQuest II now and again, I still can’t find anything worthwhile in the cash shop.

Related topic: SOE and its MMORPGs, a post from a while back.

2 thoughts on “A Brief History of Station Cash Complete with Tirade

  1. SynCaine

    Not sure where I saw it, but the Crowns thing is a good indicator that the game is going to be sold to someone who cares, which is just another step in the eventual demise of all things SOE as they were.

    I do wonder, if EQ goes up for sale, how much its worth. The IP isn’t what it once was, but even today if someone had a ‘real vision’ for an EQ3, I think it would draw a lot of attention.

    Like

  2. bhagpuss

    I’ve always thought the SC Store was one of the better ones. I can generally find quite a bit there to spend play money on if I’m in the mood. There are some very nice Prestige houses for a start. Also I’d strongly recommend getting some Tracking thingies if you’re playing characters that don’t get tracking – I use those all the time and they’re dirt cheap.

    I think SynCaine might be on to something there. Surely no-one believes Columbus Nova bought DBG just to run a stable of aging MMOs indefinitely. There has to be some kind of re-selling plan in there somewhere. The end-game, when it comes, could be devastating or liberating for Norrath, depending on who ponies up the cash. It’ll be interesting either way, that’s for sure.

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