Sparklepony: Architect of our Cash Shop Fate
Cash shops. Every game’s got one now, particularly MMOs. It doesn’t even matter if the game is free-to-play or subscription — cash shops may have once merely been part of a payment model, but now they’ve broken out into being a feature.
I’ve gone into my dislike of cash shops in general before. I think they can be done well, but rarely actually are. Too often a game is hobbled for non-shop players with extraordinary XP grinds or tiny inventory slots, or relies on some of the more skeevy psychological elements to lead people into buying. (Here is a hint: if we all mocked Zynga for it two years ago, don’t do it now.)
Ellyndrial was ranting in IRC last week about cash shops, as he’s wont to do, and it made me wonder how they ended up being so ubiquitous. Why did everyone suddenly decide that games need cash shops and players will love them? Was there some kind of referendum I missed?
After a little reflection I realized that there was a referendum, and I voted in favor.
This is the sparklepony, known formally as the Celestial Steed. It was released in April, 2010 by Blizzard for World of Warcraft. It was one of the first account-wide mounts in the game (if not the first?). The Steed matched your fastest riding speed, and it sparkled. It was sold for a mere $25 on the Blizzard Store.
The pony made $4 million dollars in the first week. That’s over 140,000 purchases. As I recall at the time, most players mocked themselves for buying it — $25 was more than a month of subscription, after all — but we bought one nonetheless. When I logged on after work the day it was announced, Dalaran was a sea of shiny ponies.
In retrospect, I don’t think I would have bought the Celestial Steed if I had known how much it would galvanize the industry to each create cash shops of their own. We thought we were buying a slightly overpriced horse, but instead we were buying an entirely new payment method.
I don’t much have a point, except it’s funny how little purchasing decisions can become huge industry or genre game-changers.