It seems the topic of microtransactions is a hot one this week, both in my blogroll and on this very site right here. I’m normally of the mind that what a person does with their own money is their own business and that’s the end of the conversation. However, a recent transaction of my own took place that made me pause and consider the matter more carefully, especially as it relates to Blade & Soul.
I suppose I can’t really get in to this whole thing without first going over my own feelings about microtransactions. Liore pretty much covered the points for me best – these things work despite the grinding of digital teeth and moaning for the olden days when sub fees kept out the assumed riff-raff. Further, my thoughts are that people are so hell-bent on validating and re-validating their gamer status or nerd status or whatever status that they stop caring about what’s fun or what they enjoy. While I’m not completely absolved of the crime of owing up to a label or a status, I also try to pick my battles. What people do or don’t buy is one of those battles I walk away from. And while I might have an opinion about what a good business or monetization practice is to me, I also try to keep it in the form of an opinion and not conflate it as an Absolute Internet Truth.
To that point, I purchased some funny money in Blade and Soul as well as a recurring membership. The NCoin I’ve bought has gone to my all-time favorite MMO pastime – dressing up my digital dolly. More specifically, Hannele up there is rocking the most ostentatious of pigtails and a stereotypical cute kunoichi outfit because I embrace Blade and Soul for the gleefully silly thing it is. Up until this week, I was pretty much done with thinking about the cash shop until it decided to add more outfits for me to consider.
Right until I started running the Darkglimpse.
Pay-to-Get On With It
So first I need to say that the Darkglimpse is probably one of the better group things I’ve run in this game to this point. It isn’t a dungeon so much as it is a point defense thing, which works well in Blade & Soul’s soft trinity group makeup. It wasn’t particularly challenging, but it seemed better suited to the way this game operates and it made running the thing frequently seem less awful. With that in mind, I tried to prepare myself since I was pretty sure I was going to be seeing this one room map repeatedly. Darkglimpse dropped a needed weapon in order to level up my dagger, so let the farming begin!
Oh boy was I not prepared for the amount of farming.
I spent probably about an hour or more running this thing, hoping against hope that the RNG Gods would bless me with the weapon type I needed to get my Breakthrough. Time and time again, I would be stonewalled at every turn. It was getting so repetitive that I was seeing recognized names from previous runs. Worse yet, some of those folks were voicing their frustration at the shared plight that we likely were all having. Farming this thing felt like a Sisyphean effort. The entire time, though, there was that one Special Key that sat in the shop and offered to make all of the annoyance go away for just a teeny tiny little fee.
Clouded by aggravation and the want to just push forward, I ceded to the purchase, unlocked the guaranteed weapon drop using the Special Key and got my Breakthrough. The RNG Gods laughed villainously and then probably beat up some baby sloths.
Does It Mean Anything?
I’m sure, given enough perseverance and a whole lot more patience I would have gotten the thing I needed to drop without spending a dime. It’s not beyond belief that it would have happened eventually or that a moment away from the game and a later return would recharge the batteries. The problem, though, is how easily the whole thing worked despite how utterly awful the purchase felt. It was like I was paying off a bookie – sure, I was free to move on, but there’s still that moment before where a thing that was fun suddenly felt more serious than it should have been.
So, what does this mean? Or what does it say about me? Am I perpetuating aggressive business practices by caving to the pressure? Should I have fought the system harder and just pushed on or even moved forward with the rest of the game in spite of this stupid Special Key? I’m not sure I could have in either case.
Consider the meta of Blade & Soul’s endgame demands that you follow the Hongmoon weapon’s continued evolutionary path. Failing to take the steps needed to progress is one of the dumbest decisions you can make, and while having a weapon that grows with you is still neat it also means you have no other options. There’s no real loot chase in this game so much as there is a hunt for Breakthrough materials.
As far as perpetuating awful monetization schemes, I can’t help but feel a mixture of guilt as well as indignation. On the one hand, it’s not a great feeling being essentially held for ransom. On the other hand, though, it’s still my money to do with it what I please. The fact that many MMO’s are still trying a variety of different ways to stay profitable leads me to think that this is still a vastly unexplored frontier. Even though I likely had not sent the right message in buying that Special Key, I still feel like there’s space for MMO’s to figure out the balance between making money and not mugging the playerbase.
I’m not exactly pleased with how this all went down, but I also am trying to move past the matter. I get that Blade & Soul needs to make money to keep cranking out content. I know I’ve bowed to the pressure perhaps a bit too easily, but I still feel like this whole thing is not a mark against my MMO Gamer Membership card or making NCSoft grow in to a force that will annihilate the genre. Without any numbers to know what monetization practices work or what’s being learned across the industry, I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to berate people over it. All one can do is take it up with the game they personally play and provide support or feedback in favor or against. The greater picture isn’t more important than enjoying myself is.
I’m hoping that next week I’ll get to write about a happier topic. In the meantime, hope to see you on the fields or soaring in the air.Related: Blade & Soul, Column, MMORPG, Store (In Game), Tower of Mushin