"…these guys are still leaving plenty of money on the table still. If players will pay $25 for just a mount, can you imagine what they’ll pay for the next expansion pack? Wheeee. Come on SOE, make the next expansion pack worth $150. Come onnnnn. Doooo eeeet!! I’m just waiting to see how crazy they go with this."- Darren, the Common Sense Gamer
"But the main thing to take away from the article is thus -- if you don't like the practice, don't buy into it. Don't angrily bitch to developers, don't slit their throats on the forums, and don't make a scene. You can let them know exactly how you feel by simply telling them that you don't want this in your game, and then by following through and not buying the item (or items) in question. If it doesn't sell, you can be sure that it won't be coming back.- Serafina Brennan @ Massively
There's been a fair amount of blog fodder already on SOE's decision to release an item store mount for $25 - identical to what Blizzard decided to charge a month earlier. These two quotes from opposite sides of the issue - Darren thinks that the market is stupid for accepting this price point, while Seraphina admits to being tempted now that the $25 mount is something she actually wants - do a good job of highlighting what I believe to be the central issue in this story: the "optional" price increase.
The option and the vote
Darren's idea won't work for the simple reason that expansion packs are mandatory purchases. I like EQ2 reasonably well, but I would not pay $150 for a future EQ2 expansion. Without the current expansion, continuing to play the game would not really be an option either. As a result, increasing the price on this mandatory item would actually cost SOE revenue that they otherwise would have received - a $40 expansion box fee plus a $15 monthly subscription. Perhaps they're leaving money on the table from people who would pay $150, but the alternative apparently leaves even more money on the table from people who will NOT pay the higher price.
By the same token, the fact that this additional purchase is optional renders Serafina's point moot. The two options in this rigged election are to support El Presidente or stay home and watch other people vote yes. Not giving SOE and Blizzard additional money that you were not giving them to begin with doesn't register as a vote for the opposition unless you're willing to cancel your subscription outright. If people were doing that in any significant numbers, we wouldn't be seeing a proliferation of $25 mounts.
The problem, then, is where the impact on the actual game lies. On this point, the Cash Cat is far worse than WoW's Sparkle Pony.
What exactly are you buying?
WoW's vanity mount is pure vanity - it moves only as fast as the fastest mount the player already owns, complete with all of the level, cash, and achievement requirements thereof. On the other hand, the EQ2 cash mounts come with 65% mount speed and some increased combat stats, and are usable at level 1. If you want to ride that fast, you'll have to level to 80 and grind out some faction or run some raids - none of the character on my account currently have access to anything faster than the low 50's.
Back in the old days, where most leveling was done in grinding groups, mounts were more of a luxury item. By contrast, the modern questing model is literally built around the frequent use of travel time to break up the grind. I'd guesstimate that my EQ2 characters spend somewhere between a third and half of their time traveling places. Suddenly, a 65% boost to travel speeds is a pretty big deal - not only does it reduce travel times, but it increases the proportion of your gaming session that you can spend doing things that directly earn you experience (killing mobs, looting items, etc).
The good news is that the heirloom mount is actually a bargain compared to the other, more temporary forms of experience boost available in EQ2's cash store, as the mount is permanent and can be shuffled to your alts through the shared bank. The bad news is that this move illustrates a continuing trend to make the game's best incentives into optional cash store purchases.
This type of model has become increasingly popular because - for the moment - it appears to be free money. As I said, very few players will cancel a game on principle because of this type of transaction, and many more would consider canceling a subscription in the face of a price increase.
In the long term, though, I'm concerned that this type of trend diminishes the value of player accomplishments. The content difficulty treadmill ensures that you don't actually get more powerful relative to your latest challenge. In many ways, the cosmetic rewards - outfits, furniture, mounts, pets, etc - are the most durable incentive rewards in the game. In EQ2, all of these are now available as additional purchases, and the custom station cash versions are often more impressive and unique than their in-game counterparts.
The danger for the game is that seeing a price tag placed on these items will encourage players to consider their worth more closely. This could create a perception that choosing to do without is the thrifty thing to do. Sure, it might be worth $25 not to have to grind out that pesky faction, but, if I can somehow squeak by without a mount at all - perhaps by rolling up a class that has inherent runspeed perks and does not need mounts - I get to keep both my time AND my money.
In a genre that is so heavily based on incentivizing players to reuse content, encouraging them to put more thought into how much exactly they value those rewards may not be the smartest long term move.