Nowadays when I have some free time between writing up role-play posts in my guild I've taken to lurking around the main forums to observe the mayhem that has resulted from constant cash pushes, spam-like cash shop advertising, and dreaded gold generators that have been steadily damaging the Gaian economy. Aside from a joke thread poking fun at the negative impact that Flynn's Booty, Flynn's Chest, Divinity's Reach, Santa's Super Sack, and bundles thereof have had on the Gaian economy in a lighthearted manner, I really haven't submitted any serious feedback on the subject because I honestly haven't been sure how I should feel about all this. Part of me is annoyed by the constant, highly invasive advertising while another part of me wants to cringe at the negative attitude marketplace inflation has brought to the community at large. And then there's another part of me that can't help laughing at how ridiculous this whole situation has become.

So, what's the problem with constant cash pushes and spam-like advertising in my opinion?

This is something that, until now, I was having some trouble putting my finger on, but then it hit me. The emphasis on Gaia Cash and constantly advertising about what we should buy from the Cash Shop is counter-intuitive to what cash spending originally meant for the site.

Rewind back to 2005 when I first joined Gaia Online and there wasn't any Cash Shop. However, users who wanted to support the site could donate money and for each $2.50 increment donated we would receive a Sealed Envelope or a Donation Letter for the month in which we supplied the donation. The items there-in were a "Thank You" from Gaia Staff to the users who voluntarily supported the site.

When Gaia Online became a for-profit business, the Donation Letter had to be changed to the current Monthly Collectible format for legal reasons, but the overall sentiment was the same. Purchasing Monthly Collectibles was a way for users to voluntarily support the site. The Cash Shop was established as a way to further expand on the concept by providing a wider selection of items of varying costs to give paying users more choices for how they would like to be rewarded for voluntarily supporting the site.

But then, something went wrong. By raising awareness of the Cash Shop and drawing special attention to cash spenders, Gaia Online caused unintended segregation within the community. The "poor" gold spenders who want to collect all the nice items, but struggle to attain them and the "rich" cash spenders who can afford anything they want without effort. This has caused a great deal of resentment toward cash spending users who are still doing nothing more than voluntarily supporting the site. The rewards for doing so have simply diversified.

However, these feelings of resentment within the community are being fostered by Gaia Online's marketing scheme. Constant, daily cash pushes compared to a monthly Gold Shop update are viewed as a show of hostile neglect toward the gold spending members of the community. And, so long as Gaia Online fails to deliver free features that can be equally enjoyed by both gold and cash spenders, the gap in the community will only continue growing wider. Moreover, gold spenders who are unable to get full enjoyment out of the site will continue to lack any incentive to ever become cash spenders because there is no motivation for them to support the site when they lack any real affection for it.

Gaia Online's present marketing scheme is the problem. The new CEO and the new marketing team are only interested in raising profits. The problem with the constant cash pushes and spam-like advertising is that it further alienates the loyal gold spenders and acts as a potential deterrent for new users. On top of that, loyal cash spenders are actually getting tired of the constant demands for their financial support because they feel like they are no longer being sufficiently rewarded for their contributions.

Believe it or not, the so-called "premium items" that are purchased from the Cash Shop are not the be all end all of how users want to be rewarded for their generous contributions to the site. Users want regular communication about the direction the site is taking and the features that are being worked on. While advertising for the Cash Shop is front and center, direct communication with Gaia Staff has been almost entirely cutoff. For the cash spending users who desire to know how their contributions are benefiting the site, this sudden lack of communication is a red flag. There is a sense of worry for the future of the site and users are uneasy not knowing where all those financial contributions are going.

So, where are we now?

The way things are now, cash spenders are being shunned for supporting the site and are seen to be benefiting unfairly from the resulting wealth. Now, this attitude is mainly directed at purchases of gold generators, but it's hard to know the difference between someone who has benefited from purchasing a gold generator to score items off the marketplace and a user who simply buys items directly from the Cash Shop, either to keep or to pawn off on the marketplace (or the exchange forum) for some quick gold to buy items they actually want, but couldn't afford otherwise. And really, it kind of amounts to the same thing. Users who are financially supporting the site for any reason are perceived to be supporting Gaia Online's unsavory marketing practices.

If Gaia Online wants to succeed going forward, the unrest within the community needs to be addressed. It's clear that the CEO and the marketing team have no grasp of how to reach out to the community to renew the faith of the users. They need to stop hanging shiny bobbles in our faces demanding more money and actually make an effort to make users want to support Gaia Online because we want the site to succeed. Without that incentive the site might very well be doomed to failure by this marketing strategy.

So, what can be done to start heading in the right direction?

Community Announcements should be limited to Gold Shop updates, site events, and storyline updates. Announcements for the Cash Shop do not belong in the Community Announcements sub-forum. They should occupy their own sub-forum, maybe call it "Marketing Announcements" for the sake of simplicity. An option to turn off these announcements might not be practical from a marketing standpoint, but at least isolating them to their own sub-forum would be a measurable improvement over just sticking them where they don't belong. By the way, implementing a new sub-forum to contain all these marketing announcements would also make the site look more professional about it!