Tag Archives: Microtransactions

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.

EVE Introduces a New Currency – Aurum

I wondered why the clothing selections seemed so sparse when I was creating my avatar with the new EVE Online character creator.

There will soon be a lot more clothing choices, and they will be for sale.

CCP will be introducing a new currency into the game, Aurum, which will be used to buy things from a new in-game store.

The current plan is for this store to sell vanity items only.  From the dev blog post:

There will be a store, and it will have all kinds of stuff for sale: clothes and accessories for your character, custom paint jobs or logo placement on your ships or a fishtank/stripper pole for your Captain’s Quarters. You’ll browse through the list of items available and, when you’re ready to make a purchase, you’ll use a new currency called Aurum (AUR).

You will use PLEX to buy this new currency.

But in the grand EVE tradition, anything purchased from the new store can be re-sold again on the open market for ISK, so you may be able to get your customizations that way, if you want them.  Or you can just buy PLEX on the market.  Either way, if you have the ISK, you won’t need to spend extra cash on this sort of thing.

But somebody will.  Somebody has to buy the PLEX first, though judging from the supply on the market last I checked, there seems to be ample volunteers.

The store will be showing up in a few months, and CCP promises to move slowly on adding items to judge what the impact on the economy will be.

What would you like to see in the EVE Online vanity store?

August in Review

The Site

This month saw another big spike in traffic due to something pretty much unrelated to the site.

Cracked.com linked to a rant I wrote quite a while back about the mis-use of the term “microtransactions.”  They did a humor piece about FarmVille, and somehow my post seemed relevant.

Obligatory Traffic Graph

Also driving traffic this month were the search terms “Blood Elf Porn,” “Elf Porn,” and “Ancient Porn.”  All this for a post titled Fighting Blood Elf Porn.  Do you suppose it was nerd rage that brought them here?

Along with the big PLEX loss story, those were the big three traffic driving posts of the month.

Aside from that, I took yet another baby step into the 21st century.  I now have a Twitter account.  All it does is tweet when I put up a post… WordPress.com does that for me automatically… and it works most of the time.  It will list posts for both this site and EVE Online Pictures, my other site.

Otherwise, I have little to say in SMS sized bits.

So far I have two followers.  You know who you are.

One Year Ago

The Matrix Online (MxO for those in the know) was shut down by SOE last August.  Planetside is still around though!  For now.

Bruce Everiss was getting sued for libel by the makers of Envoy.  That was eventually worked though this past March.  Enovy, LLC dropped their suit, but not before causing Mr. Everiss much pain and hamstringing his desire to be as forthright in the future.

Somebody was granted a patent for something that sounded a lot like podcasting.  How did that ever turn out?

That Wii Bowling Ball made another appearance.  Still no know deaths attributed to it.

I was wondering what genre our post apocalyptic future really was.  People assume it is Science Fiction.  Is it?

On the Blizzard front, we learned that we were not going to get StarCraft II for Christmas.  I still don’t own a copy yet.

There was a lot of speculation before BlizzCon about the next WoW expansion.  I tried to draw parallels between 2004 and 2009.

I subscribed to the BlizzCon Pay-per-view event via DirecTV.  That was a lot of gaming coverage to watch.

Meanwhile in the instance group, we were finally almost all level 80.  It was time to screw around in some old raid instances.

I actually posted the results of that cheating poll I had set up.  I generally mean to post the results of these sorts of things, but somehow I usually don’t get around to it.

And, finally, I was on a re-reading binge last August while making Code Red floats.

New Linking Sites

I would like to thank the following site for linking here.

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Most Viewed Posts in August

  1. RMT and Microtransactions Rant
  2. Fighting Blood Elf Porn
  3. The PLEX Story We’ve All Been Waiting For
  4. Pokemon Enigma Stone Download Event
  5. How To Find An Agent in EVE Online
  6. WoW Account Hacked… Officially No Longer News
  7. Play On: Guild Name Generator
  8. WoW Account Hacked – This Just Keeps Happening
  9. EverQuest Next and Lessons Learned
  10. The Factions of WoW Account Hacking
  11. Torchlight II – Look Out Diablo III
  12. EQII Extended – The Trial of Inconvenience
  13. I Do Not Like Raspberries

Search Terms of the Month

blood elf porn, elf porn, ancient porn
[These seem to spike late on Friday night.]

bloggoleechification
[Thanks Tobold]

blizzard account hacked and i dont play
[I have no account, and I must be hacked]

hack beter wow very good
[Very good indeed]

Spam Comments of the Month

Now let’s create, continuous innovation with Fashion game network:
[Because that is the innovation that will revive the economy!]

May i sex dating with you?
[Me sex date you long time]

EVE Online

I am in total slumber mode in EVE Online.  I have converted some of my ISK into PLEX and am just sitting in the station training long skills.  Still, I will have over 60 million skill points soon.

EverQuest II Extended

I said I was going to play this when it launched, but I forgot that in the post-Google world, the word “Beta” means you’ve shipped.  So I was waiting for it to go live, but SOE has been letting all and sundry in to play.  I hear the load on the Freeport server is pretty heavy, apparently with EQ2 vets.

Lord of the Rings Online

Turbine is a company that knows what Beta means.

The instance group… well, four of the group… have been seen regularly in Middle-earth.  The game has become my only MMO for the moment.  While the instance group is in the 20s, I have been pressing on ahead in hopes of catching a glimpse of Moria.

World of Warcraft

My daughter is in the Cataclysm beta and has been taking screen shots now and again… when I ask repeatedly.  My own WoW account… lapsed.  While I may leave it like that until Cataclysm ships, that will mean missing out on the last bottle, and the achievement, for Brew of the Month club.  Decisions, decisions.

Coming Up

LOTRO will be going Free to Play soon, and no doubt that will change the feel of the game some.  We’ll see if it is for the better or not.

Aside from LOTRO, I expect this coming month to be pretty light when it comes to posts.  Summer is over.  My daughter went back to school last week and, this week, I went back to work.  My wife now has the house to herself again during the day, much to her relief.

RMT and Microtransactions Rant

In which I opine about the positioning of the deckchairs on the Titanic.

First off, what Blizzard is selling us with character customization is not a microtransaction, nor is it RMT, at least not by any definition I can find.

Yet I have seen it called both.  Stop it.

You can say it is stupid.  You can say it is not enough.  I might not agree, but I cannot fault you for having an  opinion.  But stop trying to shove the square peg of character services into the round hole of RMT.  It hurts, and frankly it doesn’t swing that way.

It is not RMT any more than any other character service offered by an MMO company is RMT, such as paid server transfers.  It even has a 30 day lock out like paid server transfers.  There is plenty of precedent for such services. EVE Online will sell you an avatar swap, EverQuest will sell you a name change, and nobody has considered either RMT.  So unless you want to broaden the definition of RMT far enough that your monthly subscription fee counts as RMT, it just doesn’t fit the mold.

Then there is microtransactions.

Microtransactions, or micropayments, are transactions where a company sells something to a customer for less than is financially viable to run a credit card transaction.  This is clearly not the case with character customization.  Blizzard’s subscription model proves that charging people $15 is a perfectly viable price point for a credit card transaction.  Not a microtransaction.

But when companies do try to sell something below that threshold, it is usually accomplished by having the customer buy a chunk of a restricted currency, like SOE’s Station Cash or Nexon‘s Nexon Cash, in increments that are financially viable for a credit card transaction.  For SOE, the minimum you can buy is $5.00 here in the US, so you can guess what the economically viable threshold is in the eyes of SOE.

And speaking of SOE, the problem with what they are doing is that they are selling stuff for way too much money.  When almost half (7 out of 16 in EQ2) of the items you are selling are at or above that financially viable threshold, you are (in my opinion) doing it wrong.  You have priced things to a point where people will now think twice before they buy.

Furthermore, SOE made the same mistake here they have made with experience potions in the past in that they last too long.

Too long?

Okay, maybe it is just me, but I almost never use my potions because they last for an hour and it is not often that I will be actually killing things (or crafting) for an hour straight.  And the potions they are selling last for 2-4 hours.  And they don’t persist through death.  No Sale!

If I were SOE, I would make the potions last for 30 minutes tops and charge no more than 25 units of Station Cash for them.  You want to make this sort of thing a no-brainer to consume, not have your customer have to debate on both purchase and usage.

And I don’t even want to get started on the armor sets.  66% of the monthly fee so you can dress like a NPC?

As it stands, I’m not buying any of it.