In terms of combat, this was the most fun I’ve ever had in an MMO. And it’s really pretty. And the loot system is kinda interesting. And I like the Black Spirit character, his stilted translated dialog notwithstanding. And yet the developer drove me away from the game. So what did they do wrong?
The Business Model is Awful
I got this game back in 2016 during the North America launch, and I paid $60 for it. That’s a lot to ask for in this world where MMOs are all offering you free access, but I had a good time with Guild Wars 2 and that game ran on a pay-up-front model, so I was willing to give Black Desert the same chance.
The problem is that once you pay your $60The game is down to $10 on Steam these days. Still too much, since it should probably be free on account of all the microtransaction crap. you’ll find it operates more or less like a free-to-play game. The game throws annoyances at you and then asks you for money to make them go away. Or the game tantalizes you with customization options that must be paid for.
In the old days, you paid $60 up front and $15 a month. I liked that model since it kept my costs fixed and I didn’t have to make real-world economic decisions while I was immersed in my videogame. But fine. I guess it’s all microtransactions now. If I had known up front how hard the game was going to push microtransactions then I wouldn’t have spent $60 on it. I don’t like constantly running into hurdles asking me to pay for this or that, but in theory I’d be okay with it if it was possible to just play the game normally for $15 a month.
The problem is that…
The Cash Shop Prices Are Appalling
I see all the default clothes are bland and I need to pay real money for a cool outfit. Aesthetics are important to me. (Which is why I spend so much time on sculpting my character.) So I really don’t want to spend the rest of my time looking at these blando outfits. Sigh. Fine. What’s a pretend suit of armor cost these days? Three bucks? Five bucks?
FORTY SIX AMERICAN DOLLARS? ARE YOU TRYING TO START A FIGHT?
That’s more than the cost of three entire months in an old-school MMO model. In fact, for the price of Black Desert’s ridiculous doll clothes, you could buy the award-winning Witcher 3 and still have enough left over to buy ten outfits for a real Barbie doll.
And that just gets you ONE outfit.
For ONE character!
The cheap outfits can be had for $22. They also offer ladies underwear sets for just $7, if you want to run around in your underpants. (I don’t, thanks.)
(They also offer similar options for male characters. I was tempted to get the outfit that would let my kung-fu guy go shirtless, because he’s a kung-fu dude. But all of the choices looked like modern-day boxers. You can’t just wear baggy pants with no shirt.)
Would you like to dye that super-expensive outfit you just bought? Or any other outfit? That will set you back another $10. And that’s somehow a rental. Your ten bucks gets you a month of being allowed to have dyed clothes. After the month is up, your clothes revert to their original colors and you gotta fork over another $10.
Do you want to wear armor set A for the stat bonuses but you prefer the looks of armor set B? Well, in LOTRO you could just do that for free at any time with any clothing. You could have one set of clothing for visuals, and another for stats. But here in Black Desert that will set you back $15. Per item of clothing.
Do you enjoy wheeling and dealing at the auction house in other games, but the egregious 35% tax on all your sales is making it impossible for you to have fun or turn a profit? Pay fifteen real-world dollars and the tax will go down to the normal 5%. (For one month.)
Everything is exorbitantly priced like this. It’s so outrageously expensive that I get immediately pissed off. It’s not even about the money, it’s about the sheer audacity of the seller to ask this muchOr anything at all, in some cases. for what should be trivial virtual goods. Even if you’re a millionaire, you’re still likely to get offended if someone tries to sell you a stick of ordinary gum for five bucks. Even if you don’t want the chewing gum. Sure, the cost is nothing to you, but it’s the principle of the thing. You know full well how much gum should cost and you can tell this person is trying to take advantage of you. Or they think you’re an idiot. Either way, it doesn’t feel good.
But Shamus, it’s a free-to-play game! This is how they make their money. This is a totally normal business practice and you’re being unreasonable to think that everything should be free.
First off, it’s not free-to-play, because it has an up-front cost. More importantly, I’m not against the idea of there being premium armor sets that can only be obtained for money. The first problem is that the prices are outrageous and the second problem is…
There’s Nothing to Strive For
Sure, offer a premium set of armor for $LOL dollars. Go nuts. But you should still offer moderately cool / rare armor that can be acquired through normal gameplay. Black Desert Online doesn’t do this. The armor sets available to you at level 50 use the same basic designs as the armor sets you find at level 1.
This really does lower the quality of the game in tangible ways. I remember playing World of Warcraft and seeing high-level characters marching around the major cities in their glorious high-level armor and riding around on their exotic mounts. I could look at those guys and say, “Someday, I’m going to have cool stuff like that.”
And then I did! I leveled up and earned it! But you can’t do that in Black Desert. No matter how high you level or how much you make, your clothes won’t change much. I have literally hundreds of millions of silver in the bank account, and there’s absolutely nothing for me to buy. I’m overleveled so I don’t need better gear, and you can’t buy cosmetic stuff for in-game money. There’s nothing to strive for and no prize to earn, because you have to buy it. But if I buy all the things I want then the game is effectively over so what’s the point?
This is the same way that the Real Money Auction House harmed Diablo 3. The point of the game is to find loot. Or to earn loot. If you just buy it outright, then there’s no longer any reason to play the game.
Diablo III was better off because it was at least possible to work for things in Diablo III. Here in BDO, you don’t have that option. You can pay for it or you can go without, but you can’t make something a long-term goal and work towards it. I’m not upset I can’t have all the goodies for free, but I am upset at the lack of of in-game progression.
Imposition Disguised as Simulation
The game is ruthlessly simulationist when it comes to putting burdens on the player. Like, you don’t have a single universal vault that gives you access to your cash in every major city. Instead, each city has its own vault and if you want to make a purchase in A while your money is in B, then you need to physically travel to B, have your money converted into gold barsIf it’s a small amount of money you can just carry it yourself, but money in this game has weight and so you can’t hope to carry more than a million or so in cash. and pay the exchange rate and shipping fee, then ship the bars to city A, then wait an hour or so of real-world time for it to arrive, then convert the gold back into coins so you can spend it.
That’s an obnoxious burden to be sure, but I could respect it if this was some kind of ambitious simulation along the lines of EVE Online. And I’m sure if you asked why everything needs to be such a pain in the ass, the devs would probably mumble something about “authenticity”, “simulation” or “immersion”.
Except, they’re more than happy to throw the rules out the window if you pay them money.
Are you at the level cap but you want more skill points so you can overpower people in PvP? We’ll rent you skill points for a month. Are you tired of the long ride back to town to sell off stuff because your pockets are always full? We’ll rent you the ability to magically summon a hot girl in a maid costume who will appear in this dungeon with you and put all your goods on the auction house. Would you like to be able to magically summon your mount (like all other MMOs let you do for free) in the field? Give us seven bucks and you can do it with one character for one month. Sure, this world looks like your basic medieval fantasy setting, but give us money and we’ll let you run around dressed like Lady GaGa, art style be damned.
The “simulation” angle just is a fig-leaf justification for hassling you. This game isn’t really interested in simulating anything.
The entire game is an endless chain of carefully-engineered hassles, delays, inconveniences, and interruptions, and the only way to make it stop is to pay money. If I wanted to play Black Desert Online with access to all the features I took for granted in Lord of the Rings Online, it would probably cost me in the neighborhood of $40 a month.
This stuff is flat-out too expensive, and not by a little. The game gave me a 10% off costume coupon, and it actually pissed me off. 10% off? Your prices are about 5X what they should be, and you think this piddly discount will motivate me?
But wait! There’s more!
The Cash Shop is an Obtuse Bureaucratic Hassle
The punchline to all of this is just how painful it is to use their damn cash shop. I couldn’t bring myself to pay FORTY-SIX AMERICAN DOLLARS for VIRTUAL DOLL CLOTHES, but I did purchase an extra character slot. The entire transaction was a chore. BDO uses two layers of meta-currency. You have to use your real-world cash to buy Kakao Cash at the website, then use the Kakao Cash to buy a box of pearls in-game. Then use the box of pearls to buy the goods you want. And then you realize you’ve still got pearls left over because of course they do the thing where the currency bundles and the item prices are relative primes. (The game is obnoxious about this. I’ve got 400 pearls ($4) left in my account, and everything worth having starts at 500 pearls. And they’re only sold in $10 lots. Assholes.)
And I’d be fine with all of that if I could just pay $15 a month and play the non-annoying, non-hassle version of this game. In fact, that’s exactly what I want to do. But to really get rid of the headaches it’s going to cost you a lot more than that. And some problems – like the warped economy and the lack of long-term prizes to strive for – are an emergent result of all the high-pressure pushing of the cash shop. I’d be willing to pay $15 a month to play a properly-balanced version of Black Desert Online, but they don’t want my $15 a month because they’ve twisted the entire design to squeeze $200 out of some poor whale, and then they made their shop interface a chore for no reason.
But as bad as all of this is, I was still gritting my teeth and playing the game. I was frustrated that I couldn’t really customize my character by earning better outfits and the faux-simulationist hassles were really an unwelcome drain on my time, but I was still having a good time with the combat so I was doing my best to ignore that stuff.
Or I was, until I reached level 50.
We’ll put the final nail in this coffin next week.
 The game is down to $10 on Steam these days. Still too much, since it should probably be free on account of all the microtransaction crap.
 Or anything at all, in some cases.
 If it’s a small amount of money you can just carry it yourself, but money in this game has weight and so you can’t hope to carry more than a million or so in cash.
Deus Ex and The Treachery of Labels
Deus Ex Mankind Divided was a clumsy, tone-deaf allegory that thought it was clever, and it managed to annoy people of all political stripes.
Lost Laughs in Leisure Suit Larry
Why was this classic adventure game so funny in the 80's, and why did it stop being funny?
Are Lootboxes Gambling?
Obviously they are. Right? Actually, is this another one of those sneaky hard-to-define things?
Do you like electronic music? Do you like free stuff? Are you okay with amateur music from someone who's learning? Yes? Because that's what this is.
WAY back in 2005, I wrote about a D&D campaign I was running. The campaign is still there, in the bottom-most strata of the archives.