We are gamers. As gamers, overcoming challenges is kind of our primary thing. Any challenge, especially in the digital space, will be conquered. Speed runs through games where the developers want us to take our time? It’ll be done. Collect every single little collectible? Oh, definitely. Playing every single race/character combination? Of course. Replaying a game multiple time just to see every single possible ending? Par for the course. So if you dangle a carrot in front of us, and then tell us that, oh hey, there’s a way to acquire this carrot just by playing the game? Well bring it on.
The problem is, though, that we are in the Age of Free to Play. On one side you have the staunch Old Guard, banging on their drum of subscription, singing that one monthly fee gives them every single thing in the game and that the only advantage comes from your own drive, the challenges are badges of pride. On the other, you have the New Blood, those born into microtransactions, those that will flit from game to game wherever the crowd of public opinion takes them. “Everyone is playing this latest indie craze?! Then I have to play it, too!” To them, a subscription just doesn’t make sense. Why pay monthly for a game that they’ll be done with in a week? The market is changing to new demands, and so tries to cater to both. But both sides have heavy influence. The Old Guard brings with it disposable income. The New Blood, their ample numbers and time. Their mixture brought about Free To Play.
Though personally I will wander from game to game and I do not find value in time-based subscriptions, my playstyle is steadfast that of the Old Guard. As such, I find myself torn whenever these MMOs offer ways of attaining store items through in-game methods. Neverwinter, Guild Wars 2, and Star Trek Online, for example, have ways of exchanging in-game acquired currency for store points. Wildstar and EvE Online have methods of exchanging in-game currency for subscription time. Lord of the Rings Online gives you store currency for performing achievements, and many other examples.
If you give me a method of playing your game for free, well then buy-gum I’m going to do so, not because I’m cheap, but just because the challenge was thrown down. For example, over the past two months, Star Trek Online has given away two Tier 6 ships, the Breen Sarr Theln Carrier and the Kobali Samsar Cruiser, with just quick daily mission requirements to get each, though you could use Lobi, the consolation lockbox credit, to buy them as well. For the Carrier, it was 25 days of the winter event foot race; for the cruiser, the anniversary mission and 15 days of Omega fragment hunting. I have prevailed and have both of the ships in my inventory! Challenge completed! But man, that much logging in, for those quick little events? The fun wore off quickly. So I have the ships, still in their boxes, and no desire to open them. The events burned me out.
If not for STO’s Lifetime subscription, I honestly probably wouldn’t even be playing. I would want to get everything for free by grinding for it, exchanging dilithium for store credits, just because the option is there. But that option is such a long grind that it numbs me to the game itself. It numbs me even with my lifetime!
This is why I haven’t put that much time in Neverwinter. Get a fantastic steed by just exchanging gems for store points, and grind ages for the gems, a never ending grind. Same with Lord of the Rings Online. I found myself in the early levels waiting and fighting other players for mosquito spawns just to complete a slayer challenge for store points. It’s not fun, but give me the option and playing any other way feels like cheating, and I pride myself on not cheating.
This is where being caught in the middle of the Old Guard and New Blood really sucks. The Old Guard would just stick with one game, pay their sub and be happy. Grinds don’t bother them so much as it’s like other games don’t even exist, and their sub covers a lot of ground. The New Blood is cool with the little cheats. They get really upset at nerfs, they’re cool with the exploits that allow them to grind experience much faster than they should, the easy build guides, the experience boosters, all because they’re just moving on to another game soon anyway.
It’s a harsh realization when the games you enjoy playing have stopped catering to your specific playstyle. You feel like it’s passing you by. But then they offer another challenge, with a mighty fine carrot dangling on the end of the string again…
They know us so well.