Expiring Cash Shop Items In MMO Games!

Virtual items are the mainstay of cash shops alongside extra services for how free-to-play games support themselves. Sometimes, the services offered happen to have expirations attached to them – such as you get +12 slots of inventory for a month then they go away again – but then there’s also expiring items, titles, costumes, and the like. In some ways, services that only last a certain period of time make a sort of parallel to subscription services, just parted out like the game had gone through a chop-shop and sold as part of an itemized experience; but making cash-shop items that expire feels a little bit like being forced to rent something you should get to keep.

The idea of offering items and services for a limited time in the cash shop means that those interested in those parts of the game will keep coming back for them. It’s a means to create a revenue stream similar to a subscription, but offers it at a much lower apparent price than the standard MMO subscription. One of the initial dangers of MMO cash shops has always been an issue of psychological marketing where players might not always pay attention to how much they’re paying per month. After all, usually the lowest transaction for currency in any given free-to-play MMO is often around $5 or $10.

As items and services expire, players keep buying more cash currency in order to renew them. While most games shy away from actual stat-changing equipment of any variety, sometimes cash-shop items do come with something extra – aside from their fairy’s gold characteristic of impermanence. So what you can usually expect is that the items for sale are usually about customizing the look of the character, or their house, or another thing that intersects between the idea of a service and an item for the character.

For example, many of the costumes in Fiesta Online are impermanent, as well as are the dance emotes. They only persist for a month. This is true for everything that you can buy to change your look or your house – although not furniture, but that wears down and must be repaired with another item. Due to the fact that nearly all costume items are impermanent, Fiesta Online does have some permanent ones – although Outspark is a bit capricious and random about releasing such items for purchase.

Rock Hippo’s Brawl Busters has gone a similar direction, items bought from the cash shop have durations of 3, 9, 30, and sometimes 90 days. All said items are cosmetic – and sometimes relate only to a current holiday event such as the Christmas-styled sunglasses or the lucky-green Leprechaun St. Patrick’s Day top hat. All of the costume and accessory items bought with in-game currency, earned by playing the game, are permanent.

Allods Online takes item expiration in a different direction by putting expiration only on consumable items (and not those that you’d expect to be permanent like costumes and mounts.) Essentially, consumable items like scrolls and incense go bad after a 30 days of real world time; this appears to be designed to force players to use what they’ve bought and disallows them from just hording them. Since these cash shop items can also be sold on the in-game market, it means that they have to move quickly. Use it or lose it is the name of the game. A little odd, but it feels more reasonable.

Perfect World Entertainment’s Rusty Hearts uses this only for an XP boost pack (for beginners) and a single title (the words appear above a character’s head when active) called Golden Hearts that confers an attack speed boost and a buff to MP recovery for the duration. Perhaps this will presage further special-titles in the future. All of their costumes are permanent and consumables have no time limit. This presents an extremely minimal use case.

Some games lampshade this impermanence by offering varied lengths of item permanence: a week, a month, or permanent (often at geometrically-increasing amounts of cash needed to purchase the item.)

In a way, expiration dates on items make them a lot more like consumables. Many games have cash shops that offer potions, charms, repair kits, enchantments – items that boost XP gain for a short period of time, refresh health, mana, give a stat buff, etc. Being consumable, the effect is only triggered once the item is consumed by the player thus they have a built in reason for the player to come back and buy more (of course, as above some games have expiring to-be-consumed items as well.)

There’s several ways that an MMO can approach expiring items, especially those with a time limit. They can have the item last a according to the amount of game time played or simply run out a timer and expire on a particular date. The former certainly feels a lot less exploitative than the latter; but it won’t make the MMO as much money from casual players, who might make up a great deal of their paying player base.

Currently, most of the expiring cash shop items that I’ve seen set a date and then disappear then. So, if I want as much bang for my buck as I can get, I better be playing. Of course, that also means that I’ll have reason perhaps to make a similar purchase from their shop again, because I’ll be exposed to the game and the shop more often.

Amid these services and items are the sorts of things that make the game more fun because they take away obstacles or they add customization. Like having more bag space, more bank space, the ability to move about the game world faster – and of course, on the customization side, a special title, different bits of an outfit (perhaps with a particle effect or a halo) to trigger all the effects of social status. Play a game enough and many players look forward to being the belle of the ball in their party with the interesting fashion, standing out from the crowd, and an item that only lasts a week or a month to upkeep that plays well to simple human vanity.

It feels like a thin line must be walked by MMOs to avoid exploiting their player base too heavily using impermanent items or even expiring services. By keeping to cosmetic items (outside of game enhancements, and premium services) the games that currently deploy the tactic of expiring items avoid the worst possible outlook – that renting items only serves to bleed free-to-play players of their money without offering much in return. What’s your opinion on the expiring cash shop items?

By Kyt Dotson

16 Readers Commented

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  1. byron1848 on March 24, 2012

    Interesting article. I went and had a quick look at the Vindictus Cash Shop to research : a Storage Chest Expansion costs…
    30 days 2900 (£2.32 rl)
    90 days 7900 (£6.32rl)
    Permanent 10900 (£8.72rl)
    Obviously if you are going to be playing seriously for a time (over 3 months) then the Permanent Item is much the best value, but I would guess what Nexon count on is that at the beginning most people will only make a minimal commitmen,t and secondly that the temp options may seem more attractive just because cheaper. Yes this is dumb but as I have done it myself I know it works – we don’t all think clearly about the costs all the time. Personally I think this range of options is fair enough and it is up to us to try and work out what works best in our interest.
    Vindictus must make a ton of money from their cosmetic items anyway which are very expensive but people buy them because you can make your pixels look damn good! Most of these are permanent though you can have temp options for some – again fair enough imo.

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  2. Inflictious on March 24, 2012

    I myself have bought alot of items for games that have kept me interested, But games that have nothing that i like that is permanent. Even if i loved thier game i never ever ” Rented an Item ”
    Those companys have just lost out.
    Premanents that i buy, I just love the idea that when i get bored and need a break, That when i come back to game maybe a year later, The Items i bought are still there.Silk Road 5 years , My items are still on that account.Gunz i am up to 9 permanent avatars. Even though IjjI sold to Aeria games all my costumes are being transferred ( i am happy with this)

    Item malls in my opinion should be avatar’s, pet’s, mount’s,vanity items,xp packs ( rental ) and yes Gold packs.None of these makes your game p2w.
    A company can pump out a few of these a month to keep thier fan base collecting.

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  3. mmmltmfa on March 24, 2012

    i play a lot and never buy cash itens !

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  4. cacalips on March 24, 2012

    I am sorry, but Allods is the best f2p game in the universe right now. I mean…wow…I quit after it launched, because of hte menacing shop. but the version 3.0 right now…So…friggin awesome! AndI have a max level or lvl 50 in every other mmorpg on the market…this one takes the cake.

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    • Dantiko on March 25, 2012

      Level 51 is max on Allods Online
      I am also playing it, It just feels sad it is Pay to Win too, that rune stuff is very expensive.

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  5. OP on March 24, 2012

    meanwhile pay dont affect the dammit gameplay its fine, else no one will play.

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    • Dantiko on March 25, 2012

      I hate to say but you are wrong, if a player chose whatever or not he is paying to play, it’s hit problem, but when he pays, he shouldn’t get more than awesome costumes that F2P can’t get, because anything he gets more than clothes will make the game unbalanced, on some games it is too much that if you can’t pay, you can’t play. Let’s take for example 99,999…% of shooting games, pay to fire a real gun that isn’t a damm paint gun that can’t hurt anything, I really disrespect all those games, except for some, very rare, that aren’t for PC.

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      • Gerallt on March 25, 2012

        Agreed
        i play a lot of free shooter games and yes Many of the best weapons you can only buy them with cash or take you one year to buy it with game currency

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  6. Tio Z on March 26, 2012

    I still find that inventory/storage slots in cash market is somewhat abusive. Sure, it’s their right to charge for whatever it is in their game, but considering most of the time in an MMORPG you are dealing with items it can be quite hindering to your new “future” consumer.
    Sure it is used to force you to buy it so you can carry on enjoying the game in a safe measure but still it’s the same as saying: “We ain’t really looking for free players. Either pay or suffer on your journey to enjoy our beautiful game”. Gives the whole “pay to win” feel right off the bat.

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    • Miluu on April 5, 2012

      lol I don’t know if the gameplay’s bteter or worse in the intro than the actual game graphics are great though lollol at Fat Samoa Joe Rikishi amd Vince McMahon

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  7. Axolotl on March 31, 2012

    The vast majority of f2p shooters are notorious for this crap.

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  8. Vafadar on April 5, 2012

    The people who do this are eitehr paid video game reviews or very popular free lance game reviewers.Considering you asking this i’m assuming you would need to be a free lance to get the games.You will need to draw attention to your self as a game reviewer, although this won’t be easy.I recommend posting game reviews were people will care to look or watch them.Jake.

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  9. hihihihi on May 16, 2012

    rental items are retarded
    in gunbound i got the best sets in the game when it sold perm items and i login now and my char is naked .. no items no money
    the nerve they actually took away perm items i paid full price for (over 1 mil worth which takes forever to get) and did not even re imburst me
    that company is boycott now they can kiss my behind

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  10. scott johnson on July 6, 2012

    i will generally NOT pay for cash shop items that expire after a set time. this especially applies to services like extra storage and whatnot. doubly so for cosmetic items.

    a game that i would say has done a GREAT job of offering appealing cash shop options has been champions online. prices are reasonable for functional and cosmetic items alike.

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  11. ThatDude on February 15, 2013

    I honestly think the whole cash shop idea has gotten out of hand. While I see putting a time restriction on an item makes you use the item you bought, paying to buy a coded virtual item, that can not decay or become harmed, should NOT have a time limit. If you code all your free armor, faces, bodies, effects to look like crap but offer better looking variants in your shop to fund the game.. fine. Cheap but effective. Put a time limit on those things? I think not.

    If you offer your game to be “Free to Play” but to fund it you have to use cheap tactics such as gimping the game but offering what the game was originally supposed to have implemented in your shop WITH a time limit is bogus. Offering services that allow other players to gain a clear advantage over others, whatever. Offering those services because the only way you can go from point A to B (Guy has 100 hp and you can only do 20 with best in game shit, you have 200hp but he does 150 but if you buy these premium stones you can do 100 and have 600) or to do boss runs so you can actually get some leveling gear is also bogus.

    Gimping Xp ratios, success ratios. drop rates, over pricing in game necessities, damage on guns, free packs with gimped rate vs bought packs that have a normal rarity rate bull crap needs to stop. I choose NOT to buy a product if these tactics have been implemented because I will NOT pay to play in a skinnerbox OR for a service that obviously should have been in the game to begin with. If I have to pay to have a CHANCE to get an item that has a friggin time limit and use human nature against your clients, you just labeled your company as an uncivil greedy wallet ripper. But hey, at least your making money right?

    Sorry for the rant but that is where I stand on the whole issue.

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