Now I can understand ponying-up for a character name-change since the user is asking for a smidgen of change in code. Changing gender -- sure, why not? Server transfers definitely involve a bit of work, so making this a paid service also makes sense. Cosmetic surgery, however, is harder for me to accept since I have played a game that offered it in-game as a service performed by a specific class. But what about all of the extra items? The little perks, the fluff, and limited-time deals?
Grab your wallet and join me past the break for a discussion on fleecing customers (I mean offering deals, really) and to see some items that I personally would like to implement.
In all honesty, Aion's own little corner of the cash-shop business doesn't offer anything really game-breaking -- most items are cosmetic or fluff. Special weapon skins, pets, and social clothing items don't affect gameplay in any way and cater basically just to the vanity of players. Initially, players could only get signal pets (which alert the presence of nearby enemies) from the shop, but now there are many options, including vet rewards and in-game events, which give everyone an equal chance to own one without using cash.
Some items do have consequences in-game, however -- an interesting side-effect to offering the weapon skins is a change in the actual in-game economy. Those who had real-world money to throw away could buy the item, skin it onto something in-game, then sell it for kinah. NCsoft responded by making some promotional items reskinnable only once, and even then the skinned item will be bound to you. So much for that style of RMT.
The idea of cash shops just comes across as a way for companies to milk everything they can from their customer base. Nothing demonstrates this as well as the limited-time offers and special promotions that crop up around holidays and events. Hurry, buy this fast... don't take time to think about tossing all your hard-earned cash out the window, because if you delay, you will miss out! And by the way, you have to buy a separate one for each character! *insert evil laugh with hand-wringing in anticipation here* Some examples: Shakespearean-themed outfits for Valentine's Day, red dye, hot pink dye, a dress with angel wings, and a halo. I concede that some players must resort to purchasing a halo as there is no way they will earn one on their own (I have seen the blood-lust out there in the field!).
How else can we siphon more cash from the players? I know... storage! Yes, yes -- as much as I dislike cash shops, tell me how can a queen pack-rat pass up extra storage in a little pet? It was difficult, let me tell you! Then, the heavens smiled upon me and I received one as a gift, saving me from breaking down and actually purchasing one myself. Offering 18 extra slots of storage in the Shugo Lad pet for cold, hard cash was pure genius!
You can also now buy all the pets that were initially "exclusive" when you bought the Assault on Balaurea retail box (or digital download from NCsoft). So for all of you who desperately wanted a certain "exclusive" pet and forked over the cash for a whole new game, you could have waited patiently for a few months and saved yourself enough moolah to buy three more of the pets! Speaking of, I gotta resist getting that Grassy Drakie...
Another bit of salt is being rubbed into the wounds of the rare item collectors: The value of the rare armor acquired by Daevas who were first to capture Divine Fortress in the Dash of the Daevas event after server merges will plummet significantly. As of today, anyone willing to shell out some greenbacks can own the skin.
MJ's specialty items
OK, apparently the shop is here to stay; it even seems like more and more games are adopting some form of it. So instead of growling and grousing, I am going to get in on the action. After all, if the idea is just to make a much money as possible, I have some ideas that will certainly rake in the dough. And if NCsoft wants to send royalties my way for these brilliant ideas, I suppose I won't complain. Hehe.
When it comes to making money, the broader your sucker... er, customer base, the more profit you'll receive. So why is it only one branch of franchised geekdom is exploited? Why alienate an entire population? Along side the glowy lightsabers, let's add in some phaser skins! Perfect for the mages out there with Trekkie hearts.
Asmo for a day!
Seriously, who hasn't prayed to the Seraphim Lords for someone to come along and kill a very annoying bot or smart-mouthed member of your own faction? Why not charge your players for that special opportunity to live as a member of the opposing faction for a short time? You could become a spy for one hour, eight hours, or even 12 hours! Pay enough and you can even mingle with the enemy for an entire day! Better yet, charge by the minute like those saucy 1-900 calls to add just a bit more thrill into your gaming! Cha-ching.
I know some people are screaming OMG! right now and having a coronary. Think of the exploiting! The AP farming. Turning the tide of a siege. Didn't I say that I didn't want cash shop items to be game-changing? Never fear -- I have a plan. To prevent siege mayhem, a transformed character could be locked out of the Abyss. Also, names must remain the same, making it obvious who is doing what (want a reputation as a turncoat? Go ahead -- everyone will know!). Also, to avoid AP farming, simply lock the players' AP so they can't earn any or give any to others.
OK, so maybe that one is a bit of a fanciful thought, but this next suggestion is serious! If it's outfits you want, it's outfits we will give! Let's start with an official Wings Over Atreia flight attendant uniform (TM)! That's right, folks -- for a small fee, you can fly the (sometimes) friendly skies in this snazzy new outfit, complete with security clearance badge! There are multiple styles to choose from, each for a separate fee, of course!
The ultimate offer
If you really wanted to make money, then the best thing you could offer is a class respec. How many people have wished they ascended on a different path? Again, breathe deep and let me explain. This would not be a free for all (we don't want to see a server full of Rangers after all); you could only respec within your archetype. In other words, those who made Clerics to help their legion and leveled them up to maximum level only to find that now the legion desperately needs Chanters can forsake their OP ways and take that staff firmly in hand.
Now, this new class wouldn't be handed over lock, stock, and barrel -- characters would change class and retain their level, but all skills would be wiped. Players would have to buy and learn all the new skills within the game as well as acquire all necessary stigmas. If you want to make the choice, then put some kinah on the line as well. Look, Ma, a money sink! For the skill books that are obtained by quest only (such as the level 40 one), make that skill purchasable as well. There you go -- two new transactions right there! Of course, if someone didn't want to maintain the change, he could then pay to switch back. I can see some groups using this feature multiple times: "Hey Ninjaarrow, we need a Chanter on the 15th and 24th, but a Cleric on the 17th and 30th. Can ya cover us?"
Think about it: For the most part, you would be able to retain your armor and weapons (with the exception of class-specific sets such as Jotun armor or Beshmundir armor); you can explore a new part of the game; and you avoid the tedium of leveling yet another alt! All these keep you engaged and paying your sub. Where's the downside?
Soaring through the Aionosphere, MJ Guthrie touches down weekly to bring you Wings Over Atreia. Featuring tips, guides, and general snippets of life in Aion, the column is better than Tutty-on-a-stick, ackackackackackack! Have a suggestion to share? No need to bribe a Shugo -- just send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.