Currency Caps And Cash Shops

Two indirectly related stories over the last week: SOE has implemented a tradeable in-game time card for Everquest 2, while Bioware is testing SWTOR's free to play model and allowing the resale of most cash shop purchases for in game credits.

Both moves seek to harness the desire of customers with out-of-game money to get a headstart on their in-game finances.  In the process, both moves potentially convert non-paying players into sources of revenue by making their in-game currency into an incentive for the moneyed crowd to pay more to the studio.  However, both are potentially hampered by strict currency caps aimed at preventing legacy subscribers from switching down to less lucrative non-subscription models. 

Both studios invested the money to re-launch existing products with presumably hundreds of thousands of subscribers in the hopes of coming out ahead financially.  Thus, both struggled with how to make an "optional" subscription less optional without alienating the new potential customers coming in under the new model.  Currency caps have stayed on the table as a subscriber-only perk because they fit both bills.  New players are unlikely to hit the restrictions until later in their careers, while existing players who bump up against the caps may already be using enough other services to make the subscription worthwhile.

Allowing players to effectively pay others to farm in-game currency for them calls more attention to players who fall in the middle ground, as this type of option will inherently be most attractive to people who are, for whatever reason, looking to limit their real-world expenditures.  Unfortunately, here is where the business models conflict - a player who can offer only a pittance - 18.4 plat in EQ2 or 350,000 credits in SWTOR - is not much of an incentive for someone else to open their wallet and pay the studio real world dollars. 

It's possible that both studios will ultimately relent on the currency restrictions.  Prior to the announcement, SOE's David Georgeson told me on twitter that they were re-evaluating the game's currency cap - in hindsight, perhaps due to this very concern.  Meanwhile, the Bioware folks are still iterating their model, though the game's senior producer stated that the current escrow functionality was intentional as of two days ago.  Perhaps this sort of continued mishap is just the price of doing business in an era of retrofitting non-subscription business models onto existing games.