The cash shop... Where to start. Black Desert is, in it's Western incarnation, a buy to play game, however the cash shop still oozes the feeling that it's a free to play game. It has massive issues and creates a very conflicted feel to what the game actually tries to do. Thinking about it i realized that the only thing we got in return for the entry fee is some free customization options - Otherwise, nothing. Sure, some items aren't in our cash shop, but they are few and don't make up for the fact that a lot still remain which really shouldn't be there.
Here i'm going to list every item, per category, which i feel should be changed (price or effect) or removed from the cash shop entirely, to bring the game to a level where i feel it's supposed to be as a buy to play title. With every item i will also obviously include my reasoning.
What i hope for - desperately - from Daum/Kakao EU is their reasoning for a) including the items as they are and b) their pricing on each point. I've gotten rather dissillussioned by the lack of communication from them regarding this matter, and i've started to wonder whether they actually control the prices at all. I also hope that they realize how many people are currently turned away from the game because of the current state of the cash shop.
To the project manager: I realize, more than you know, that you are going by statistics and sales figures most of all. The game doesn't really matter to you. However, i implore you to consider the immeasurables, which so many inexperienced or inadequate managers seem to ignore. You don't get to see the number of people who don't buy the game, going on second hand information. They won't even visit blackdesertonline.com , so you can't actually measure that statistic, to name one of many. This game could be so much bigger if it found it's identity - In manager speak, brand management is incredibly important and if done well, will lead to higher revenue. Currently the brand is tarnished, and you may be underestimating the power of word of mouth advertisement.
Lastly, a bad manager will see diminishing sales before long, and instead of increasing the quality of the product (the right way) he will lower the price (the bad way), going F2P in other words, as "he heard that it increases revenue" without actually knowing anything about the product he's selling and the market he's selling it in. This sounds very bitter, but is true nonetheless.
Now, back to the main event!
A cash shop on top of a game you already have to spend money on is a risky endeavour, whether it is a subscription or buy to play title. However, it is generally accepted that in the case of the latter, some kind of revenue needs to be generated to keep ongoing maintenance and development going.
The trick is to find the right balance not just to generate the right amount of revenue, but also to get new customers to walk through the front door. Currently, Black Desert is considered to have shot it's load at release, building on hype to frontload the sales and revenue. Whether this is due to orders from the Korean office or a belief that the game will not do well after it's release is anyone's guess, though i personally believe that at the very least it's a misinformed choice. The way the game is currently going, with development (and apparently, crucially, pricing) dicated by the F2P focused Korean office, BDO will not have a long life in the limelight in the west. to be frank, this is due to some extreme shortsightedness in both the Korean and European offices. Going back to manager speak: I'm almost 100% convinced that BDO, at the moment, is a product rather than the product for the company.
This lack of empathy for the game Kakao is selling is apparent in its financial reports. Most of them focus on mobile titles and development and seem to ignore BDO as a PC only title. There is a massive push for freemium and 'PC Bang' like development, which is a depressing development, as they are quite obviously missing the growth potential of the Western market. Given that PA has already stated BDO is coming to mobile devices, i wouldn't put it past them to implement quite a lot of freemium features in the PC version as well sooner rather than later. Think of paying pearls for instant worker completion, paying pearls for guaranteed enchant success, and other such things. I swear i've seen the former in the Korean version already, though i hope to be corrected on that.
The market the EU/NA version of the game operates on works slightly differently. Korean F2P games are chewed up and spat out quite quickly. A shining example of how to do B2P right is Guild Wars 2. It steadily ranks as the second most profitable title for NCSoft, after the everlasting Lineage 1, in front of all the other F2P titles the publisher offers. I recently heard the comment for why this might be: Guild Wars 2 never necessitates a cash shop purchase. It always lets the game be the game, and offers the cash shop as a way to show support. This is a far cry from it's F2P offerings, where cash shop purchases are almost mandatory in order to progress in any sane manner, and where the sales are going down rather significantly.
It's easy to transpose this situation to BDO. The cash shop is an ever present monster, as it were, goading players into making purchases just to progress, almost bullying them into it. This is the situation which has to change, and this is the reason for my post.
As Jonathan Burkhardt from MMOGrinder puts it: A cash shop should make you want to buy things, not need to. Games which adhere to this have lasted quite long indeed, with (manager speak incoming) revenue staying at a relatively constant level over time, and still enjoying great success. I look at games like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, The Secret World and EVE Online, all having cash shops despite being subcription based or B2P and all still enjoying success to some degree, years after their release (for the record, TSW is doing fine, it's just Funcom's other projects which are crashing). Elder Scrolls Online, being a recent addition, is also enjoying a modicum of succes using this model (though its cash shop is debatable due to the mounts and designs on offer).
The big hurdle
So, where to start? First things first - The Daum cash to pearls conversion seems like a good place. And lets be honest, we all know the reasons for why it works like this. Firstly, it's a one on one copy from the Korean code, and secondly, because it makes refunds much less of a hassle for Kakao (they can refuse refunds because 'you already spend your Daum cash'). It's customer unfriendly to stay the least, not to mention an utterly illogical system. Lets go through the steps of buying anything from the cash shop:
1) Buy Daum cash via the website, out of game.
2) Refresh the cash ingame.
3) Buy pearls in the cash shop.
4) Open your inventory, open the pearl box.
5) Buy the item you want from the cash shop.
It's easy to see that this is overly complicated. Even before we get to the cash shop itself, it seems odd that when pushing people so readily to cash shop purchases, the process of making one is so convoluted. The following would make a lot more sense:
1) Buy pearls via the website, and/or ingame.
2) Buy the item in question.
The option to cut out pearls entirely and simply add real prices to the items, letting people buy them directly ingame, should not be dismissed. These would lower the barrier quite a bit, increasing revenue, as people are not forced to buy at least €10,- worth of pearls in one go. This would have my own preference, as it also informs the customer of what the items actually cost.
Either way, this -has- to be changed. As a rule of thumb, any feature which leaves your customers scratching their heads upon first viewing needs to be reviewed thoroughly.
Something which needs a mention: If any of these changes actually make their way ingame, players who bought changed or removed items need to be compensated to some degree. GM apology buffs won't be enough, obviously.
Of course, this will lead to riots, by some minorities. Personally, i'd give them the old pearl value and let them buy new stuff, where applicable. Make the change as painless as possible, and under no circumstance let this situation be a reason or deterrent against making the changes!
Now we get to a problem - How do you define what should and should not be sold in the cash shop? What exactly is a "convenience"? What is and isn't okay to sell through loyalties? All good questions.
I would set this line first: Nothing in the cash shop should give bonusses which are otherwise unobtainable through ingame methods. It's an easy rule which informs the rest of what is available, also shifting the cash shop to necessary purchase for everyone to be, at best, a way to catch up to veterans who already have the ingame items.
Otherwise, it's hard to really define in one line where the limits are. I'll go over them as i discuss every item.
Here we come to the big ones right away! Oh joy. I'm sure you want to keep this category filled out with something, but the current items are not the way to do it. Almost all of them either interfere with ingame mechanics or completely sidestep them in the name of 'convenience'. The only untouched items are character slots and name changes, both of which are justified (and actually have decent prices).
These can be classified as a convenience, however, they are currently too difficult to obtain ingame. The way the UI is structured also goads the player to buy more slots as soon as they log in. This was worse in the Korean version, where the player starts with only 16 slots, but despite upping the starter amount to 24 - It's not enough.
Before the prices can be discussed, i feel the amount of ingame obtainable slots needs to be increased to 40, rather than 31. This is for a simple reason: It gives the player the opportunity to gain inventory slots at a slightly increased pace, and also (most importantly) fills up the immediately visible UI space when maxed out (64 slots). Given the increased reliance on weight rather than slots at higher levels, more slots become a convenience item, as they should be.
The price however remains a problem, to which there are two solutions.
The first one is to make all inventory slot purchases apply to the family, not the character. This will provide the much needed value the purchase currently does not have. An added benefit is that levelling alts will be made significantly easier, as well as encouraged, since the inventory slot quests won't be as important anymore. More importantly, this can leave the prices as-is.
The second one is to simply lower the prices. As slots are currently per character, the current prices are insanely high. Slashing them by 50% would be a good first start, and lowers the barrier of purchase significantly.
Simply put: Remove these completely from the cash shop AND loyalties. As weight is so important at higher levels, especially when grinding or even gathering and trading, these cash shop items are a mandatory purchase for most players. While this sounds as music to the ears of any manager, this does not mesh with the fact that BDO is a buy to play title, at all. This is exactly the kind of mechanic which is sorta-kinda fine for an F2P title, but not a B2P one, given its importance! These kind of items also diminish the good will players have for the game, and are a good source of negative word of mouth advertisement. And no, 'any publicity is good publicity' does not fly here, as it actively chases potential customers away from the game as a whole, not just the cash shop.
In return, the weight limit gains need to be increased ingame. First, the weight limit at level 50 should go to 600. Strength levels need to give +5 per level up to 30, +3 up to 40 and +2 up to 50 (debetable, of course), for a total of +200 at level 50. Weight limit increases can also be handed out from (non-black spirit) quests, for instance, 1 quest in each region (Balenos, Serendia, Calpheon, Mediah and Valencia) which gives a +50 increase. Item weight increases (belts and crystals) can stay the same, though i would't mind seeing a slight increase in those as well.
Same here. Remove these from the game entirely, but for different reasons. While they are also conflicting with the B2P change (seriously, adding 8 slots 'as standard' is no excuse), they also make an entire game mechanic completely irrelevant. Why purchase storage with CP when you can just fork out the cash? This is another no-brainer, a 'freemiumism' which found it's way into a B2P game and needs to be deleted.
No-brainer. Remove. Destroy. Another freemium-ism which made its way into a B2P title. It's a stopgap measure against the horrible field boss implementation and removes the risks of dying almost completely, compromising the entire gameplay and risk-reward balance. Not to mention that it's sneakily priced as such that it lures the customer into a 'just one more' cycle which adds nothing to the game. Another hidden statistic for managers: Items like these prevent more customers from buying the game as a whole.
Black Spirit Essence
This item should be an ingame obtainable item, or even craftable. This should in no way be a cash shop item, yet another freemium-ism which interferes with ingame systems and the ingame economy, as crystals can be re-used.
Again! Why have this contribution points mechanic, but then allow players to completely sidestep it? Same as storage slots - Remove.
In return, however, there need to be more horse ranch houses in each city. Calpheon especially has a pitifully low amount.
Once more, a cash shop item which allows you to completely sidestep CP. Remove.
The big one for most, but after the Function items this one doesn't even come close. Still, changes need to be made.
All items need a slight price drop to begin with, for a simple reason: Outfit sets cost almost as much as the entire game does to buy. How this hasn't been addressed even before release i don't know, but it needs to be changed. To the manager: When you make costumes twice as cheap, people will buy more of them. Not only that, but you will get more customers to buy the game outright AND have them buy costumes! It's a win win. The effect of cash shop prices on potential customers is seriously underestimated, and this is the category which matters the most outwardly, especially since ingame obtainable looks for your character can be counted on a hand with no fingers.
A price drop of about 30-40% (complete costumes including weapons for 1900 pearls, underwear for 400, to name a few examples) makes them a far more enticing buy, with prices which can be much more easily justified by the average customer.
Second, all stats need to be removed from all items. All of the offer a fairly significant bonus, which does not immediately give an advantage over other players without it, but does make costumes an almost mandatory buy for grinding after level 55. Due to this 'need' to buy one, combined with the high prices, its not just potential customers which are less inclined to 'buy into it'. Lowering prices and removing stats gives costumes their actual purpose back.
This includes luck on underwear, by the way.
Same story as for outfits and costumes. The prices need to be lowered by quite a bit (50% is a good ballpark) to give them any proper value. Adding to that, all interior points on furniture need to be removed, or at least lowered to the level of the ingame obtainable furniture. Set bonusses need to be removed as well. This is because the interior points directly tie into the investment bank mechanic, which is only accessible when you have the most points in a specific house. Again, a cash shop item which directly interferes with an ingame mechanic.
Any buffs the cash shop items bring also need to be reduced or removed along the same lines. Ingame obtainable items need to be on the same functional level, or even beyond that of cash shop items.
With a 50% price drop, walls and floors can stay consumable, as they do carry a sense of permanence in a logical perspective.
As for the costumes, exactly the same goes for these as for the player costumes and outfits. There should not be any set bonusses, and any individual item bonusses should be at the same level, or below, of that of ingame obtainable items. Prices also need to go down by 30 to 40% following this.
The real offenders in this category are, once again, the freemium items: The horse skill change coupon, horse breeding resets, mount resurrection reset and horse skill training coupon. All of these are currently unobtainable otherwise via ingame means, or even the loyalty shop, but due to the extreme reliance of RNG are almost necessary to use when breeding horses.
The coupons and resets need to be removed entirely. The horse breeding activity desperately needs to be enhanced, there need to be ingame mechanics to reset breeding count (but not death count), as well as for skill training options. With horse racing on the horizon and this being a buy to play title, another option is, well, not an option. The travesty here is that the pearl purchases are displayed prominently in the stable UI - Again, giving the feeling that this is a freemium mobile title rather than a full fledged, buy to play PC MMO.
Very little complaints here. Remove the good feed. Lower the pet prices down to 750/850 pearls. However, there need to be more ingame events or methods to obtain pets - They are currently rather sparse, and despite the relatively small bonus pets give their presence is noticable either way. This changes the pets in the cash shop to convenience items, rather than mandatory purchases, for most, completely changing the way people will feel about them, especially considering the breeding mechanic.
Oh, here comes my personal pet peeve.
To lead this in: Dyes are currently twice as expensive, in real money, as they are in the F2P Korean version. Let that sink in for a bit.
The prices in the Korean version are fine, considering they are more numerous and can be traded more easily. However, they are completely and utterly unacceptable in a B2P environment. We cannot sell them (aside from VERY rare and VERY specific exceptions), as well them being one-use items when some costume pieces alone can have up to 9 slots where to put colors in.
From personal testing (yes, i have spent way, way too much money on dyes) i also found that about 50% of all dyes obtained from the unknown dye boxes are basic dyes, and about 30% from the colored dye boxes. This despite basic colors only compromising about 15% of the total palette! Given the rarity of the blacks on the marketplace (less than 100 non-basic blacks sold in total on Alustin) this is completely ridiculous.
Prices need to go down in any case. If dyes are to remain single-use, they need to go down a lot. As in, 4 pearls for a single dye and 10 for a 3-dye box, maybe even cheaper. This is even before the drop chance of different dye groups are adjusted - Basic dyes should be the most plentiful, but not to this degree! Nothing screams "never spend money on me anymore" than opening 60 dye boxes, and after combining all the dyes and opening those boxes again, only finding a single Valencian or Mediahn dye along the way, which are conveniently bright pinks and greens as well.
If dyes become permanent unlocks, prices still need to go down. 20 for a single dye and 50 for a 3-dye box, at most.
This also solves the problem of the marketplace - People will be far more willing to spend more on dyes if they actually have a decent chance of getting the one they want, which will also cause a decent supply to flow into the marketplace, lowering the prices to a sane amount without the need for external control.
As a sidenote: The coupons are fine, though i wish there was a barber ingame to at least change hairstyles without needing to go for a cash option.
Last but not least, loyalties. Deciding what to do with these is hard, as they are kind of but not really cash shop items.
What bothers me personally about the prices is that they seem to be decided on the assumption that all items can be bought after a certain amount of time. With which i mean, the prices make sense that if you can, after 50 days, buy both the character slot coupon AND 5 inventory expansions.
Still, loyalties have their place, and most items do feel like a genuine reward for playing the game, rather than a mandatory cash shop purchase.
Storage slots, weight limits
For these the same goes as what i said under the Function section. Remove, loyalties or not.
Keep the price, make it family-wide, as loyalties are anyway. Even if someone were to never spend loyalties on anything but inventory expansions, one would have to log in for 3 years and 9 months to fill up the entire 192 slots... Per character. How no one at Daum/Kakao thought this was a good idea is beyond me. Unless, of course, some manager thought it was a good idea to make money at the expense of an actual game.
These are actually decent for loyalties, though i would decrease the price to 700.
Blessing of Kamasilva
Same, decrease to 700. For loyalties these are quite good.
Unknown dye Box
See the beauty section - The price needs to go down. As they are 'free' though, 25 to 50 loyalties seems fair in this case.
Remove, loyalties or not. Moreover, by offering them for loyalties, players are inclined to deplete them and then 'have to' resort to the cash shop option. All around bad item, bad idea.
For the price, these are debatable. I would actually remove them to make sure there's no slippery slope for getting them into the cash shop, but if they stay like this, it's allright.
Horse skill deletion coupon
Lower the price to 100-200, or remove the outright and add ingame methods for obtaining them.
Thick Fishing Rod, Good Feed, High-quality Carrot,
Remove all of these, as they are obtainable ingame through not too much effort. The paste bait can stay, since the fishing tokens seem to be broken currently anyway. There is no really good reason for keeping the other 3 in loyalties, as they don't feel like a reward for playing longer, but more a punishment for forgetting them.
Well, this has been a long one. I've made a similar post back in beta, though i didn't get any feedback whatsoever on it. I really want to know Daum/Kakao's reasons for why the items are in the cash shop, and why they are priced as they are, because i can't see any reasons other than a business plan of a Korean manager, who cannot see the long game if his life depended on it. The current state of the cash shop is so bad, it physically hurts.
Not to mention that, from personal experience, it's been a major reason for friends of mine to ignore the game alltogether.
Hence, i hope this reaches at least some ears up there, because the game desperately needs to shed it's image of 'yet another Korean F2P grinder' which is preventing a lot of people from trying it out, and the cash shop is a good first stop to solving this - Mostly because, i hope, most of the proposed changes don't need approval from the main Korean office.
Daum, Kakao, Community managers, i hope someone reads this and something actually happens. Especially about the dyes...