Core Corner: Do core cash-shops go against core standards?

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Monetization in social gaming is somewhat different than you would find in other genres. Social games are accused of selling "power" or making it easy on gamers by selling immediate access to content that would normally take days or weeks to get to. There are plenty of examples of games that do allow for these types of sales, games that allow players to buy almost literally anything in the game. But, it can be argued that the purpose of social and casual gaming is to be casual, so selling shortcuts is acceptable.

What about core games, then? Do core games hold themselves to a higher standard when it comes to selling powerful items or items that speed up play? Many core games are much more than single-player events. In fact, their existence on Facebook almost guarantees some sort of interaction with other players, a lot of the time in the form of player-versus-player combat. So, is it "fair" that these games sell these items for real-life cash? I decided to look at some of the titles I have covered before to see what they sell and how it might impact gameplay. There are several items in Dungeon Overlord's cache of digital goodies that make for a game that can easily be described as "selling power." In a strategy game that requires a pretty strict time commitment, time is power. On top of time-savers the cash-shop actually sells additional worker goblins, additional tiles and other goods that would normally take a while to obtain through normal play. Because players can attack each other and take over other dungeons as player would do in a standard multiplayer RTS, does this mean that a player with money can easily get a leg up on the other players around who spend nothing? Armies of Magic is a neat mix of RTS, tower defense and casual to core gameplay, a formula that I have enjoyed immensely. A player can spend time outfitting his or her city with different buildings, but these buildings are key to how successful the player is in combat. Later on, a player will grow an army and send it against friends or NPC armies, and having access to the proper buildings or troops can be the difference between winning a battle and losing miserably. Armies of Magic directly sells powerful items like troops or buildings, items that would take some time to gather. This formula is standard for many of the core social games I play, and the fans do not seem to mind the ability to power to the top. Dungeon Blitz is an interesting title, mainly because it is an action-based MMO, something of a rarity on Facebook. Many players from MMO communities often go by different, unspoken rules about buying power and have harsh words for companies that sell access to powerful items that might give an advantage in PvP. While Dungeon Blitz's potentially younger community might not have the same issues with buying power as, say, a 38-year-old core player, it's interesting to note that Dungeon Blitz's cash-shop still mainly sells convenience items and personal benefits. Does the MMO rule against buying true power rule on even to Facebook? Marvel's turn-based hit Avenger's Alliance can be easy some of the time and very hard a lot of the time. Selling items in this game that give an advantage over another player during PvP combat would be met with protests... at least you might think so. Instead we see a cash-shop that is absolutely filled with gear, characters and almost everything one would need to power his small army of superheroes to the top of his friends list.

What I'm seeing as I dive deeper into the world of core Facebook games is that players must not have much of an issue with buying goods and services that go far and above conveniences. In fact, I have not found but a handful of Facebook titles that do not sell items that, only a few years ago, would be "earned" through a player's hard work in game. Whether work has anything to do with gaming or turning gaming into work is a good thing can be argued elsewhere, but Facebook and social gaming's success surely has much to do with the fact that players can see a cool item, want it, and spend real money to get it. This impulse factor accounts for more purchases that we all care to admit to, but it's obvious in Facebook's success.

What do you think of cash shops in core social games? Are they fair or give unfair advantage to paying players? Sound off in the comments. Add comment
Beau covers MMORPGs for Massively, enjoys blogging on his personal site and loves social and casual gaming. He has been exploring games since '99 and has no plans to stop. For News, he explores the world of hardcore Facebook and social games. You can join him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.
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