EQ2's Associate Producer, Emily "Domino" Taylor, is puzzled by player reaction to item shops - why, she asks, are players simultaneously angry that the shop exists and dismissive of its offerings? The answer, I would suggest, can be found in her own long-running "what do players want?" series; players occasionally ask for things that may be both nonsensical and not what they actually wanted. The complaints about prices of cosmetic items are more of a pre-emptive sour grapes defense against an indirect price hike that the players are not willing to pay.
The 68-dollar gorilla in the room this week has been Eve's new cosmetic monocle, which consumes items worth several months' worth of game time in exchange for a cosmetic item for one character. The clever thing about this approach is that the price was never designed to target the player who actually opens up their wallet and pulls out $68 because they want a monocle. Rather, the intent appears to be to encourage players with more in-game ISK currency than they know what to do with to destroy in-game-timecards, rather than allow them to get cheap enough on the in-game market that the average player can avoid paying the monthly subscription.
Fair but unbalanced?
The in-game cash shop draws the level of bitterness that Domino and others observe because it is simultaneously egalitarian and undemocratic. Until CCP sticks even more 0's onto that price tag, the cash store approach means that anyone who wants to pay can, and, at least in principle, can mean that those who are unwilling or unable can still play the base game for the old price. In principle, the extra revenue could be the difference between survival or closing for your game of choice, which would seem to be a good deal for everyone.
At the same time, the process is inherently undemocratic in that there is no real way for those who are opposed to "vote against" the cash shop. Unless you are willing to cancel your subscription altogether, your vote is +/- zero, and the guy who is willing to pay for the monocle's vote is +68, and the short term net total appears to be positive. Meanwhile, the financial incentives will almost certainly drive future development in the way that the guy with the monocle wants.
In the long term, I think it is possible for cash store creep to do long-term harm to a game's reputation; for example, I think the uproar over EQ2's new class was rooted in SOE's decision in December to add the game's first new race in three years to the game's cash store, rather than including it in the $40 expansion box. Unfortunately, this impact is not going to be apparent immediately in the short run, and the result runs the risk of destroying the village not to save it, but as an example to other village owners.
Companies want to appear responsive to customer feedback, which is why protests sometimes work as Spinks notes (with the caveat that a PR event does not equal changing the policy), but there's very little even the large majority of customers can do if the company's minds are made up. In this case, ineffectual cash store bitterness sometimes feels like all unhappy customers have left.