Herding Cats has an interesting post up about how we, the gaming community, may have shot ourselves in the foot by telling MMO developers to limit cash shop purchases to cosmetic items so that the game won’t turn pay-to-win. But she argues that when you play an MMO only for cosmetic items, a cosmetic cash shop is pay-to-win.
I’m one of those people who unofficially agreed that cosmetic items are fine in cash shops, because I personally don’t care that much about cosmetic items. I mean, if I run across a neat-looking item, I’ll be all like, "Yay, that looks cool, I’m glad I found it!" But I don’t often set out on any adventures with an objective of getting a cosmetic item. I just pick them up if I "happen" to come across them in the normal course of playing.
I think the indignation over pay-to-win might be a symptom of a different problem. If a game loses its appeal when you find out you can just buy what you want in the cash shop, it could be a sign that you’re just plain burned out. It could mean that the only reason you’re playing is to reach some reward, with the hope that getting it will bring back the fun. In other words, playing the game isn’t fun anymore. In that case you should probably just put the game away for a while and play something else.
I say that from the perspective of someone who likes leveling characters, and doesn’t just want to skip right to the end to get a world first raid completion or whatever.
I recall way back in Vanilla WoW when I was struggling to buy my first mount. Back in those days you had to be level 40, and it cost a lot of money that was not easy to get soloing. I spent quite a while saving up for it, and right after I got my night saber, I almost immediately stopped playing. I thought having the cat would make the game enjoyable again, that I would finally be able to zoom around and skip past all the boring bits and get right to the fun bits, but nothing like that happened. The cat wasn’t all that much faster, and it didn’t change much of anything about the gameplay. It was just the carrot that kept me playing long past when I should have stopped. If I had been able to pay $5 and get that cat earlier, I probably would have stopped playing earlier, too.
I suppose someone might alternatively be indignant about pay-to-win simply because someone else can get an item quickly when it took you months to farm for it. I have very little sympathy for that kind of MMO player, though.