Blizzard Goes to War

It's not going to be news to anyone who follows this page, but World of Warcraft has of course already spawned an active external market. What's different is that Blizzard, the developer, has announced [text below] that it will attempt to shut the thing down. To my knowledge, no major developer has really tried before, but Blizzard has a strong track record in terms of using whatever means necessary to protect its products against the perceived abuses of rogue players. Perhaps they will succeed. I certainly hope so.

If they do, we might have to start thinking of World of Warcraft as the first of a new generation of virtual worlds. It may not seem all that different in terms of some design aspects, but if its war against eBayers succeeds, it will end up being very different in terms of atmosphere.

Since the link to the call to arms announcement is on a changing news page, I'll just paste the text here:

"Selling World of Warcraft In-Game Content for Real Money - Block on 12/10/04

It has come to our attention that certain individuals are selling Blizzard's in-game property for cash on auction sites such as eBay and on personal websites. The World of Warcraft Terms of Use clearly state that all of the content in World of Warcraft is the property of Blizzard, and Blizzard does not allow "in game" items to be sold for real money. Accordingly, Blizzard Entertainment will take any and all actions necessary to stop this behavior. Not only do we believe that it is illegal, but it also has the potential to damage the game economy and overall experience for the many thousands of others who play World of Warcraft for fun. In order to promote a fun and fair environment for all our customers, we are actively investigating those individuals who engage in this inappropriate activity and reserve the right to take legal action against these individuals to protect World of Warcraft for all those who "play by the rules." If you are found to be selling in-game property (such as coins, items, or characters), for real money, you will lose your characters and accounts, and Blizzard Entertainment reserves its right to pursue legal action against you as well.

We also want to remind potential buyers in the game to please refrain from buying in-game property with real money. We understand the temptation to purchase better items, but Blizzard, and not the seller, does own all in-game property. In addition, we feel that characters can find ample equipment and money within the game through their own adventuring and questing. Please understand that if you do purchase in-game property from sellers on eBay and personal sites, we may temporarily suspend your account, and at the very least, delete the offending items.

Thank you for understanding our position. Blizzard Entertainment is committed to maintaining the atmosphere of fair play and fun in World of Warcraft."

There have been a number of angry posts on the forums about eBaying, the presence of bots, and reports that the dreaded Chinese Adena Farmers have descended on the game. Experienced players have been pointing out that these practices have a bad effect on the gameworld, citing evidence from Lineage II, FFXI, and others. There are still some rather clueless "who cares" posters, and the predictable free-marketeers, but on the whole, most people seem to realize that there's a communal interest at stake. It will be interesting to see what a community does when the development team comes out strongly against eBaying, since we;ve never really seen this before.


Comments on Blizzard Goes to War:

Brian Whitener says:

And it will be enforced how? It is hard to fight a war if you don't know the difference between friend and foe.

Posted Dec 12, 2004 1:53:12 AM | link

Andres Ferraro says:

If at first you don't succeed... Get a bigger hammer?

Posted Dec 12, 2004 2:17:43 AM | link

Brian Whitener says:

Speaking of FFXI....

http://www.playonline.com/ff11us/polnews/news3374.shtml

From:PlayOnline
Dec. 8, 2004 10:05 [PST]

Regarding Real Money Trade (Dec. 8)

With respect to game titles operated by the PlayOnline service, including FINAL FANTASY XI, it is specifically prohibited to sell game currency, characters, or any other in-game items for real money or any other consideration for value (known as Real Money Trade "RMT"). This prohibition is expressly referred to in the following two clauses, which are part of the respective agreements which all registered users of the FINAL FANTASY XI and/or PlayOnline services have agreed to abide by:

*PlayOnline Member Agreement: Article 4.4
*FINAL FANTASY XI User Agreement: Article 3.1

This prohibition is due to the possibility of fraud during transaction in the real world which may lead to legal sanctions, including possible criminal sanctions, being imposed on those involved in such trade. In addition, Real Money Trade was not initially a part of the design for any of our game titles.

We are already investigating this issue and putting into effect appropriate measures for such actions within the game environment, and we will continue to do so in the future. Players found to be participating in Real Money Trade will be deemed to be in breach of the clauses set out above and will be subject to any appropriate legal sanction. We expressly reserve our rights in the event of such a breach, including the right to cancel the PlayOnline account of any user in breach of the clauses above, without any prior notice to such user.

Many of you have recently made GM calls or contacted the Information Center to report such Real Money Trades taking place at various online auction sites. Please note, however, that our ability to take appropriate action in such cases is very often dependent on the cooperation of the respective websites, which is not within our control. While we are grateful for your help, please note that it is not necessary to make a GM call or to contact the Information Center to report such issues.

While it is not possible to change our policy regarding Real Money Trades for any current online Square Enix title, it is possible that our policy might change for future titles, although no decision in that respect has yet been made.

Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

Posted Dec 12, 2004 2:20:28 AM | link

John Arras says:

And it will be enforced how? It is hard to fight a war if you don't know the difference between friend and foe.

Here's how I would do it: Blizzard finds an Ebay seller and has their employees buy the item from the seller. They then flag that character and anything using its account, credit card, or IP address gets flagged and the item and gold xfers for those characters are logged. If they log all item/gold xfers, then every character in the path back from the time the item was found gets flagged, as well. They do this for many items, to get a feeling for who's doing the selling and backtrack the items through the characters that have possessed the item. Then, people who trade frequently with these characters, especially those that give good items along the forward network flow of the goods transfer are marked as being part of the selling chain, and their xfers also become logged. Since they should be able to track items being xferred no matter how many intermediate characters there are, I think they will be able to get a feeling for who's doing what and shut things down once they've identified the main players involved in one of these things. It will be difficult to go after occasional "amateur" sellers, but I can't believe it would be too hard to take down the big sellers if they choose to and they're willing to wait a bit to find all of them.

Also, I believe there will be vastly different play styles between regular characters and farmers and such, and I think if they can find the proper things to try to separate over, classification algorithms are very good at separating data even when there's a lot of overlap.

Posted Dec 12, 2004 2:22:28 AM | link

Marshall Astor says:

Blizzard seems to be very aggressive about exploits, cheating, hacks and outside sales, right out of the gate. There is no end of notices on their site about banned players, and they seem wiling to make tough decisions(turning off high level fishing) very quickly, nipping things in the bud, before the economy suffers imbalance.

They appear to have a good set of internal tools for both monitoring and controlling their game, which not all of the large MMO's seem to have(see proliferation of Ebay Jedi in SWG). I am not sure yet, if they are well equipped and prepared to deal with these issues, internally, or if they are just putting forward a strong position, to frighten off those who seek to violate the TOU.

Posted Dec 12, 2004 3:00:43 AM | link

magicback says:

Bizzard's experience with Bnet gives them a big heads start in understanding addressing the exploit issues.

I think they are fighting a war they can win.


Posted Dec 12, 2004 7:28:53 AM | link

Brask Mumei says:

FFXI Quote> "In addition, Real Money Trade was not initially a part of the design for any of our game titles."

And what excuse do they have for that?

Since Ultima Online / Everquest, Real Money Trade have to be part of the design for any game title. I do not mean this in the sense of "happily incopreate real money trade". I mean it in the sense of "be aware that humans will engage in Real Money Trade so build a system which is robust despite that"

If we allow unlimitted PvP, I don't think we can get away with: "We though players would police themselves..." anymore. Why can we get away with: "We thought players wouldn't engage in Real Money Trade..."?

In many ways, I hope Blizzard does manage to prevent EBaying. Perhaps then people will realize that EBay is more a symptom of problems than a cause.

- Brask Mumei

Posted Dec 12, 2004 8:17:17 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

How do you transfer ownership of your account in WoW? If you can't transfer your account, and you can't transfer characters between accounts, that's a huge dent in eBaying right from the start.

As for buying and selling objects, I believe this can be prevented. However, the "we own the objects" line isn't a good one to take: people will simply switch from selling the sword to selling the service of transferring the sword from the inventory of my character to the inventory of your character. It still spoils the game, but you need a different silver bullet to stop it.

Richard

Posted Dec 12, 2004 8:17:38 AM | link

Detritus says:

I agree with Magicback. If anyone can do it, Blizzard is a good candidate to lead the way. While I have zero interest in WoW; this is definetly a story I shall want to follow.

Many contributers and posters here on TN have always been strong supporters of commodification, a few even when it is prohibited by the VW. The main under-lying reason, if not the vocalized reason, is that it grants the player greater control of his time investment. (i.e. spending time in the VW has tangible rewards in the RW) But I sincerely believe that it is in the interests of VWs to limit external influences, and wish Blizzard the best. If they succeed it shall be a great victory for the entire industry.

I want to see VWs (and their signifigance) evolve and grow as much as anyone here(and will acknowledge the benifits of commodification), but I think "fair play" is a corner-stone we should always err on the side of.

Posted Dec 12, 2004 9:35:10 AM | link

Jeremy Neal Kelly says:

Edward Castronova wrote:

> Experienced players have been pointing out that these practices have a bad effect on the gameworld,
> citing evidence from Lineage II, FFXI, and others. There are still some rather clueless "who cares"
> posters, and the predictable free-marketeers, but on the whole, most people seem to realize that there's a
> communal interest at stake.

If eBaying were uncontroversial, this type of rhetoric would be irrelevant, but we all know there are two sides to the issue. I assume no one wants this thread to devolve into another flame war about the merits or demerits of eBaying. Therefore, why not show some objectivity? Is it necessary to repeat your opinions in order to describe what Blizzard is doing?

Posted Dec 12, 2004 10:31:21 AM | link

Brian Whitener says:

To get around credit card bannings sellers only need to use gamecards (which they should be doing already).

I know that in IGE's Terms and Conditions it states:

"No Sony employees are permitted to purchase from this website or from us by any method. Buyer wholly assumes all risks and agrees to defend, hold harmless, and indemnify the Company for any claims made by SOE and others in relation to this transaction and the use of SOE intellectual property. The Company is not associated with SOE in any way, and the Company cautions buyer to avoid violating or infringing upon the intellectual property rights of SOE. At the conclusion of the transaction, buyer assumes the Company's station merely as a licensee of SOE to use its intellectual property and grants the Company indemnity from the entire transaction. Sony in no way endorses or is affiliated with this service or site."

Would Blizzard still send employees to buy from IGE if IGE added Blizzard employees to that list? All this may do is raise the price of gold. If enough players are banned it could lower the demand (as players are afraid of being caught). If the demand is still there however, I am sure it will still be met. Similar to the failed U.S Prohibition.

Posted Dec 12, 2004 2:12:55 PM | link

Mark Asher says:

Blizzard may not be able to stop it completely, but there's no reason not to try to discourage it.

They can pose as buyers and ban the accounts of sellers. That's a worthless $50 game for IGE every time they ban an IGE seller.

I don't think any MMO company has vigorously attempted to identify and ban individual sellers before.

Posted Dec 12, 2004 2:26:09 PM | link

claydog says:

I play Lineage 2, and the game is full of adena farmers. You cant report them and they grief the normal players. NC soft does not care and have clearly stated they dont. I'm quitting at end of month and going to WoW. Im glad they are atleast trying to stop them.

Posted Dec 12, 2004 2:49:47 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

Jeremy Neal Kelly> Is it necessary to repeat your opinions in order to describe what Blizzard is doing?

No. Not necessary at all.

Posted Dec 12, 2004 3:25:03 PM | link

Will Leverett says:

As someone who deals with these very people on a daily basis, I will say a prayer tonight for my Blizzard counterpart. I'm afraid that when money is not just an issue, it is THE issue, secondary markets are a whole other beast.

The perception is that there have been no attempts to actively deal with these issues. Contrary to what's been said, NCsoft dedicates more resources to the Lineage 2 service dealing with secondary market activity than to any other issue. This includes dealing with adena farmers, bot users, sellers, buyers, eBayers, account traders, and flat-out exploiters.

Unfortunately the problem is so widespread, so rampant, our efforts are often unnoticeable. As with other games, these people literally have been able to waltz into a product, exploit it to their own end, and are not accountable in the least.

Julian D. showed us all that a single person can make a buck or two from secondary markets. We are now seeing what happens when someone makes an international business plan with hundreds of people now working the system. And there isn't a lot of law that covers this area.

Sadly, secondary markets are no longer the innocent, little hobbies that they may have been with UO. We close up to 5,000 eBay auctions per week. Approximately half of the calls that come in every day for Lineage 2 regard farming and farmers. The number of people who engage in bot use is striking... the number of closed accounts for adena farming is, well, distressing.

I would daresay that the design and mechanics of FFXI and Lineage 2 lend themselves to breeding a secondary market far more than World of Warcraft, but WoW's numbers may make up for that. I will certainly be interested in seeing what they do to combat what they also feel is activity harmful to their product.

I'm just afraid that unless it is not profitable when "farmers" have their accounts closed, buy a new box, work the account up, and do it all over again, the cycle will continue.

Posted Dec 12, 2004 4:43:39 PM | link

Bob says:

Here's another interesting "legal" query for all of you. A lot of these secondary market sellers don't even own a game account for the game in question. That is, they buy currency on a consignment basis from the botters/suppliers and have them deliver it directly to the customer as ordered. The mechanics of FFXI, WoW, and SWG lend themselves to this set-up - since you can deliver items to other players via a tip system (even if that player is not in game at the time). What this means is that the secondary market sellers have never agreed to any TOS because they have never logged into the game. In fact, many of them have never even played or even own a copy of the game. They are merely acting as a conduit to link up buyers and sellers without actually logging in to the game itself. How exactly would Blizzard "sue" these people? The TOS intellectual property argument, itself, is tenuous at best - but in cases such as I have described it is even shakier. Just curious what the "experts" think?

Posted Dec 12, 2004 5:00:47 PM | link

claydog says:

Will, if i heard "Theres a new MMORPG out with no farmers in it, and its better than Lineage 2 out.." I'd go buy it and im sure alot of other people would. If people start telling people how great WoW is and how theres no farmers or bots, don't you think they will say "Screw lineage 2 where bots and farmers run freely, I'm going to WoW." I know I said that. People in L2 talk about how great WoW is all the time.
My point is, a game with no farmers or bot can attract new gamers. So i doubt WoW will lose money on this one.

Posted Dec 12, 2004 5:36:18 PM | link

Will Leverett says:

Bob >> They are merely acting as a conduit to link up buyers and sellers without actually logging in to the game itself. How exactly would Blizzard "sue" these people?

We frequently observe the third parties in the game, and despite their claims, I have yet to see any company work purely as an intermediary. Perhaps others can speak differently for their game, but for L2, they log into the game to make the actual transaction.

Whether they can realistically be sued for that is up in the air. It's expensive, on unknown legal ground, and could have significant and undesirable repurcussions.

Claydog >> My point is, a game with no farmers or bot can attract new gamers. So i doubt WoW will lose money on this one.

Absolutely. I applaud Blizzard for making the attempt to curb activity they deem harmful to World of Warcraft, and I hope they are successful in their efforts. I fully believe that the decision of whether or not to allow secondary market activity in the game should be made by the operator of each game.

But saying farming and bots are illegal is not the same as actually making them go away. This impacts a multimillion field ($800 million in virtual trades last year across all games was what was reported at SOP2). These companies' very existence relies on the ability to exploit another company's product using an unregulated medium. They won't go quietly into that good night, or, more importantly, when it's profitable, won't go away at all.

IGE, for example, feels that they are running a legitimate operation, with a legitimate business plan, and have hired one of the premiere law firms specializing in international IP issues in the country. They aren't particularly interested in what Blizzard (or NCsoft, EA or Sony or whoever) has to say on the matter, and are ready with deep pockets to fight for what they believe are their rights.

Posted Dec 12, 2004 8:37:47 PM | link

Bob says:

I tend to agree that IGE and the other secondary sellers have rights - but that of course is a point that can be argued ad infinitum. I don't believe any MMORPG company will ever take legal action against one of these sellers because if they lose - and most agree there is at least an average chance they will - then the floodgates are open. Everyone and their brother will partake in this now "legally" legitimate endeavor – and the MMORPG companies will no longer have the ability to even ban game accounts for selling. Back to the initial point, I can say with 100% certainty - there are secondary market companies that do not own any accounts in the games they sell - it is all done by consignment. I have a pretty good feeling that IGE does this with a few of their games as well - but I am 100% certain that at least one other semi-major player is 100% consignment on most games. Just an interesting side note to the discussion - since the TOS acceptance at log-in is not an issue for at least this one company. I am in the camp that if you eliminate the botting/exploiting - you take care of most of the problem. Buggy games make it much easier (and cheaper) for IGE and others to stock the product they sell. Eliminate the bugs, and you will eliminate the vast majority of the secondary market. The bugs are something that the MMORPG companies DO have definite control over, while it seems control over this secondary market is far from definite.

Posted Dec 12, 2004 11:25:47 PM | link

Brask Mumei says:

I would take Bob's point farther.

I believe MMORPGs should have a powerful built-in macro system. Not because I support people macroing. But, because then the designers will plan content around the existence of powerful macro systems. One key question on any feature should be: "What if someone set up a bot to do this 24/7?" The answer can't be: "We'll just ban bots!"

I believe, likewise, MMORPGs should not plan on stopping secondary markets through brute force (banning, etc). This is because it is the duty of the designers to make a game that is fun to play despite the possible existence of Ebayers. When looking at the game, a question should be: "What if people were farming gold for money, so had an unending thirst for gold?" The answer can't be "We just ban ebayers!".

Ultima Online, we could claim, was blindsided by macroing. Why would WoW be designed in a fashion that macroing could harm it? Everquest, we could claim, was blindsided by EBaying. Why would WoW be designed in a fashion that Ebay could harm it?

Posted Dec 13, 2004 1:28:02 AM | link

Tobold says:

I am always surprised how this eternal discussion is always centered on the sellers and intermediaries. Stopping sales of virtual goods is very easy: Just make a game in which it is more fun at acquire virtual goods by yourself than buying them on EBay. No buyers, no market.

I am pretty certain that the sales volume *per player* is a lot higher in Lineage 2 than in World of Warcraft. Because in L2 farming is a regular player activity. The buyer of adena just decided that he would prefer somebody else to do the boring farming for him. The total WoW market might be big, because WoW is so successful. But the large majority of players will never even think of buying WoW virtual goods on EBay, because it is easy enough, and fun enough, to get these goods by playing.

Posted Dec 13, 2004 2:48:21 AM | link

Raph says:

Tobold, I think it's naive to say that players will choose the fun way to get stuff over the fast way. That's just not human nature.

I think WoW is great and I think Blizzard is a remarkably capable company. But this thread strikes me as a bit, uh... I don't know, I can't think of a way to say it politely.

I'll be blunter than Will was: To say that no company has taken eBaying seriously until now is just plain false. To say that no serious efforts have been made is also false. "I don't think any MMO company has vigorously attempted to identify and ban individual sellers before." Mark, you're joking, right? Are memories so short that no one recalls the HUNDREDS of banned individuals? On the flip side of the coin, it wasn't that long ago that Battle.net's reputation for handling cheats, hacks, and similar issues was not all that good and similar problems occurring was the primary fear regarding WoW in advance of launch.

I just pulled up a search for WoW on eBay. The first page alone has listings for macro bot guides for $25, and MANY offers of gold on any server I would want. There's multiple listings for gold dupes. Gold is being delivered via the in-game facilities for same. One some servers you can buy it in lots of 50 for $200. Over a thousand listings come back for "world of warcraft gold."

We shouldn't forget that games HAVE successfully chased this off of eBay in the past, and it merely migrated to places that were harder to track down. "How do you transfer an account in WoW"? I'd presume you do it the same way you it in any other game--hand over the account name and password, and update the billing address.

I wish the folks at Blizzard all the best of luck. They have a tough road ahead of them--their very success is going to breed plenty of this sort of thing for them to handle--particularly given their likely success in Asia, where virtual item sales are commonplace and readily accepted. Once they get to markets where game cards and other anonymous forms of billing are the most common means of payment, then it'll really get sticky.

I'm hoping they succeed at fighting the war too, but I am not holding my breath...!

Posted Dec 13, 2004 3:11:07 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Raph>Gold is being delivered via the in-game facilities for same.

I suspect that this is where Blizzard will be getting most of their information as to who is running bots or duping. Once they get a feel for what the average player sells to other players in-game, they can cap the amount of gold transferred out of an account each month to screw over the top 5% of traders (ie. the ones most likely to be farming).

>"How do you transfer an account in WoW"? I'd presume you do it the same way you it in any other game--hand over the account name and password, and update the billing address.

If only one of the account name, number or address changes, this is fair enough. Even if two of them change, OK, that can happen. If all three change together, though, there's a very high chance that it's someone selling an account to someone else. I don't see that it's difficult to stop people from buying and selling accounts (and therefore characters). You'd have to pay someone to play your characters if you wanted them magically to rise levels with no effort on your part, which is far more inconvenient than buying a character off the shelf.

The buying and selling of virtual goods is much harder to police, of course.

Richard

Posted Dec 13, 2004 8:14:49 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Richard Bartle> If only one of the account name, number or address changes, this is fair enough. Even if two of them change, OK, that can happen. If all three change together, though, there's a very high chance that it's someone selling an account to someone else.

Well, I agree, but you need to cover:
1. Student pays with parent's credit card.
2. Student get's his own credit card.

Posted Dec 13, 2004 8:35:50 AM | link

Fred says:

licence giving the right to install a once o software and proscribing the right to resale.Am I the only one troubled by this...
But then you also have "music downloaded" that you can not resale.
isn't there any low oposing thoses forms of Hijacking?

Posted Dec 13, 2004 9:45:32 AM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

My 2 cents as a long-term L2 player (read: masochist) and now WoW player: I think that even while we know that the problem will never go away, both Raph and Tobold can be right. Sure the cat and mouse game will go on, but it'll be smaller per player. Why? The game mechanics of WoW are set up such that fewer goods are transferrable and gold doesn't play as large a role. Problem not solved, but greatly reduced.

In L2, a player grinds for 10 hours, gets the adena to but the Breastplate of Holy Underoos and goes back out to farm some more. In WoW, the player finds the thing on a mob after one hour and so never needs to buy it. And to boot, he/she can't give it to another player because it "binds" to them. When I saw that word, I thought "anti-eBay." Moreover, gold is still used for minor items and supplies, but plays a substantially smaller role in the game. The good equipment comes from quests and mobs, never vendors.

Lastly, they've built in tighter level restictions on equipment than L2 has, so a new player can have 50 gold, but it won't do them a lot of good. L2 has these 10-level ranges for item use, which are the equivalent of 200 hours of grinding time, while WoW's steps are shorter and more restrictive; within them, you get what you need and can't use the higher-level stuff anyway.

So I think that WoW has said what it has to say about eBay-ing (Hey, we're the RIAA, we know we're spitting in the wind, but we'll sue your ass off anyway), but what they've actually done is to limit the *demand* for cheating by virtue of a better-thought-out mechanic. And as this thread has rightly pointed our, going after supply is a fruitless task.

Posted Dec 13, 2004 11:32:35 AM | link

Raph says:

I wouldn't be surprised to hear them say that the binding and level restrictions are intended in part as anti-eBay mechanics, but they're actually basic predicates of a level-based system, and you just about always see them in level-based games.

I'd personally resist the term "better-thought-out mechanic" though because to me level limits and no-trade and similar flags are hacky workarounds. :) I've disliked them ever since I first saw them in muds, and I still do...

Posted Dec 13, 2004 2:55:32 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

Raph> I'll be blunter than Will was: To say that no company has taken eBaying seriously until now is just plain false.

I guess my impression of inactivity is based on the fact that the efforts of companies to ban accounts are never really public. I'm sure there's much going on behind the scenes. But since I began playing waaaay, waaaay back in April 2001 - I know, not long - I don't recall seeing a public posting by a company like the on Blizzard just made. I recall reading January 2001 articles about EQ shutting down eBay's trade. But by the time I read them, PlayerAuctions was alive and well. And whatever Sony was doing to stop it was just not apparent to the public. And still isn't so, I plead ignorance more than anything.

I think a publicized anti-eBaying campaign has some meat to it. Stigma might work. There's plenty of inherent anti-marketing sentiment that can be leveraged.

Posted Dec 13, 2004 3:58:14 PM | link

Timothy Burke says:

Raph, I think this is the issue that hits you in your blindside--I'm reading Theory of Fun now, enjoying it, but I may eventually tie it together in an essay comparing WoW and SWG. Because I think Tobold has a point. Yes, there will be people who choose the fast way rather than the fun way, but your instant skepticism about whether most people would choose the fun way if there was one is why I think you've settled in the past for the overuse of time and drudgery barriers as a way to define gameplay challenge.

So far I'm really struck at the extent to which the desire to find an end run in WoW is minimized by the right balance between time investment and navigation of content, not just for me but I think for most of the players I talk to. When you take away two of the major things that feed the secondary markets, a punitively defined grind and a sense that being unable to compete with people who have more time leads to progressively accumulating disenfranchisement from experience of content and a power-law distribution of in-game wealth and influence, you kick the secondary markets where they live. What's left is the hardcore powergamers.

There's a lot of clever touches within WoW's economy beyond the relative lack of a punitive treadmill that should discourage secondary markets. One of them is the use of the "soulbound" mechanic: you can twink someone, but only once--once *any* item is used, it has no further exchange value, as it cannot be used by anyone else.

About the only thing that seems to me is experienced as scarcity is gold, and it's the only thing I could see real incentive to pharm. Unsurprisingly it's the one major thing that's been pharmed so far as a result. Blizzard might want to tweak the money economy slightly as a result--perhaps reduced training fees, or something of that kind.

Posted Dec 13, 2004 4:42:06 PM | link

Timothy Burke says:

A coda to my post, in further reply to Raph:

How many other games, level-based or not, have used a mechanic functionally identical to "binding" as its been implemented in WoW--e.g., where an item's use is restricted to a single character? No-drop mechanics are common, but this kind of no-drop (exchangeable between characters until used, then no-drop) doesn't seem common to me. Hand-me-down trading seems to me more the norm in level-based games, where you can pass on an item after it's no longer of use to you.

Posted Dec 13, 2004 4:48:03 PM | link

Byron Ellacott says:

Dmitri> In L2, a player grinds for 10 hours, gets the adena to but the Breastplate of Holy Underoos and goes back out to farm some more. In WoW, the player finds the thing on a mob after one hour and so never needs to buy it. And to boot, he/she can't give it to another player because it "binds" to them. When I saw that word, I thought "anti-eBay." Moreover, gold is still used for minor items and supplies, but plays a substantially smaller role in the game. The good equipment comes from quests and mobs, never vendors.

Dmitri, I'd have to disagree. If thottbot.com is at all accurate, good items typically have a less than 1% drop rate, and the better items for a given player's level will drop from mobs around five levels above the player; often those mobs will also be elites. On the other hand, a lot of it is Bind on Equip, so higher level players can kill the now-easy mobs quickly, get the items, and sell them, either via the in-game Auction House or via out of game channels. Via the in-game AH, the higher level players will be demanding more money than lower levels can easily get, since both income and costs rise quite sharply with levels.

So, to get the best items for my level, I either need to group with higher level friends and be taken along for the ride, or group with highly skilled players of an equal level and spend a lot of time at great risk to get them, or go to eBay for the items or the gold to buy them.

Posted Dec 13, 2004 5:53:56 PM | link

Andres Ferraro says:

UO: 200k+ subscribers. Running 7+ years. Open market policy.
WOW: Just launched. Closed market policy.

What are the differences between UO mechanics and WOW that makes UO able to cope with allowing external markets, and WOW enforce a policy on the grounds that the game would buckle?

What could WOW learn from UO and vice-versa?

Posted Dec 13, 2004 6:14:45 PM | link

Petrus says:

Hi...my own 2c. (Well, maybe 10c ;-))

MMORPG live teams can't stop trading/brokering for the same reason the RIAA can't stop P2P, namely that the moment a company or group tries to step on it in one place, it will spring up in 10 different others. Blizzard might be able to intimidate/ally itself with Ebay so that *they* as one site/network don't allow WOW trading, but how many other trade oriented sites are there? You're also forgetting private transactions which can happen very easily. If the particulars are worked out on ICQ, Paypal doesn't even need to be told what the transaction is for...the people doing the deal could very well list it simply as a gift or donation.

Trading *is* one of the primary things that IMHO is killing (or has at least mortally wounded) Ultima Online. Of course with UO there are a lot of other factors involved...but I definitely believe trading is one of them. It kills any challenge whatsoever in the game if you can use a credit card to get 10 million gp, not to mention what it does to the game's economy.

So to a degree I agree with what Blizzard are doing. What might work better for them though is if they did something like setting up a single server which was designated as allowing trades...then they could even offer brokering themselves if they have the manpower. The thing is though, if they did that, and provided some concrete incentives for those people who *wanted* to trade to only play on that server, it would score them some public relations capital which would then help them enforce a no trading rule on their other servers. The main reason why they would need the co-operation of the player community for that is because they have no hope of being able to do it otherwise. They don't want to make themselves sound like authoritarians who are telling people, "This is how it WILL be, or else," because if they do that, they will fail.

Despite all of Blizzard's attempts with Diablo 1 and 2, the last time I played both of those anyway there were still tons of hacked items available for them. Griefers exist. So do adolescent Neo wannabes who spend all of their time looking for ways to beat a given system. These people aren't going to go away...and the trick is, to rather than making a futile effort to make them go away, give them what they want to a limited degree. That way they don't end up thinking you're a fascist and getting angry with you...which is something you really don't want.

Hell, (in terms of hacking) if I was going to put together an MMORPG myself, (as part of a group, natch) I'd actually intentionally build some "easter egg" type hacks into the system, while making sure that they were a) reasonably obscure, and b) not genuinely upsetting to game balance. What you could then do is offer some kind of item possibly...say a rare of some kind...as a reward for finding them. The benefit of this would be that the kiddies would be kept so busy looking for your legit easter eggs, they wouldn't have as much time to go after genuinely harmful/disruptive bugs in the system.

Fascism can't win. But creativity can.

Posted Dec 13, 2004 7:55:45 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

This perennial argument seems to come down to three primary factors. The first isn't actually related to the other two, but is often conflated with them.

1. people are duping gold/items and selling them. Okay, this is pretty non-controversial; duping items is the in-game equivalent of forgery or fraud, and should be rooted out. It's a social issue enabled by a technical one, so hopefully working on the latter can help with the former.

I wanted to get this part out of the way as it can obscure the other two.

2. The "time vs. money" argument: many current MMOG players are in the set of people having more time than money. This has historically been the MMOG demographic and current MMOG designs cater almost exclusively to this crowd. In-game status is conferred through game-knowledge, game-experience, and/or the collections of items and powers that signify these. Thus, those who have put in their time feel a sense of status over "noobs" who haven't done so (note too that semi-disparaging names for those who haven't 'put in their time' have more currency than do ones like "grognards" for those who have been around a long time).

And this, I believe, is what is at the core of the arguments against external selling and even farming of items: it replaces an investment of time with one of money. Those with more time than money say that it allows people to "buy their way to the top" which is offensive to those who "worked" their way up. And there are often dark intimations of how the game will become unplayable if anyone with more money can buy items this way.

This argument is specious on a couple of grounds. First, in current MMOGs someone still has to find/farm the item being sold. Yes, there are industrial-sized farms of people playing accounts to gather such items. This may be personally offensive, but from the game POV, I'm not sure what the problem is: does it really make a difference to the game balance if someone gaining an item is a 19yo kid up until 2am in his bedroom in Peoria, or someone in a game room in Asia?

Second, even if it were the case that in a MMOG you could just buy -- rather than having to grind -- an item for dollars, this wouldn't kill the game. There exist games today (notably Achaea in the US, and many in Asia) that use this model just fine. And there was a game that had this same charge leveled at it over a decade ago, but it seems to have done pretty well. You might remember it, it was called "Magic: The Gathering." Wonderfully successful for years with core and casual gamers alike, despite lingering but ultimately irrelevant charges that people would be able to simply buy their way to the top.

Which brings me to my third point:

3. The MMOG market is finally changing. The 'core' of people who play 20+ hours per week is being supplanted by those who have an interest in the game, but only if they can play on their own terms and not the terms set by geeks-without-lives (from their POV). This may seem unreasonable to some die-hard MMOG players, but you know, this is what happens when you start running a commercial service -- people want it to conform to their lives rather the vice versa.

For this group -- non-core and former-core players (now often with jobs, mortgages, and kids) -- the idea of replacing time spent in game with money spent on the game is attractive: all the fun, a fraction of the time. No, many core players won't like this, and they will complain loudly. But I'm inclined to say, so what (which I guess puts me in Edward's "clueless" category).

If MMOGs can't handle this, it's a combination of lack of design and business imagination. MMOGs need not be about grinding. I'm familiar with the arguments that "this is what people want" but that's a bit like arguing that moldy bread crusts are what starving people want. Sure they'll eat it voraciously -- but only until something more satisfying comes along. Grinding presupposes that the currency of gameplay is time spent in-game. That's a very narrow view, IMO.

Similarly, businesses in the US need to step out of the 1980s and consider that if there is rampant selling on EBay, maybe it's because there's a market there. Rather than trying to crush it, adopt it. Do it better. Games have a captive audience for these items, but they squander this advantage -- and drain away their customer goodwill -- instead of seizing it for their own. There's nothing remotely immoral or unethical about wanting to buy rather than grind for in-game items, vague arguments a bout "community interest" notwithstanding. Nor is there anything here that throws off the in-game economy: outside of (patently unsupportable) item-duping there's no creation or unplanned-for distribution of items. If an item is tradeable, it's tradeable. In fact, there's a good argument to be made that such external trading of in-game items helps the in-game economy, since it reduces hoarding of rare, high-level items by uber-characters, instead putting them out into circulation.

Ultimately, I think this argument about item-selling is a variant of arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic: the closed-world, uber-geek world of MMOGs is going down. A more open world, open to different types of players who have different preferences and needs than are conceived in our current typologies, is coming -- whether we like it or not.

Posted Dec 13, 2004 8:33:04 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

Petrus> What might work better for them though is if they did something like setting up a single server which was designated as allowing trades...then they could even offer brokering themselves if they have the manpower.

I would love to see this: open worlds contrasted to closed worlds, within one gaming system.

Posted Dec 13, 2004 9:24:11 PM | link

Bob says:

Mike - well written with great points

Petrus - Ultima Online is dying?? You might want to tell that to the 200k+ people who are still playing after 7 YEARS!!! 7 years down the road let's open up another discussion about WoW and see if it matches UO's success - somehow I doubt it.

Posted Dec 13, 2004 10:08:53 PM | link

BillS says:

HURRAY SOMEONE STOP THE SCUMMACHINE known as IGE?

Blizard should hit the auctions playerauctions.com

Posted Dec 13, 2004 10:24:22 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Mike Sellers wrote:
Ultimately, I think this argument about item-selling is a variant of arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic: the closed-world, uber-geek world of MMOGs is going down. A more open world, open to different types of players who have different preferences and needs than are conceived in our current typologies, is coming -- whether we like it or not.

A more open world is definitely coming, but that doesn't mean that the hardcore worlds are going down. Co-existence will mean more people's desires are fulfilled via targetting niches. Many products will aim at the more casual player, but I think many will continue to aim at the more hardcore players as well.

--matt

Posted Dec 13, 2004 11:18:01 PM | link

Bruce Baugh says:

I'm something of an outsider in terms of Terra Nova audience, I expect, in that World of Warcraft is my first MMORPG. I make my living writing and developing tabletop paper-and-pencil RPGs, and while I've been interested in the computer side for a while, WoW is the first such game I both wanted to play and could run on my existing computer.

I'm a really happy camper.

It's not perfect, but it does so much so well - I'm reminded of the classic Sid Meier addictive thing of "just one bit more...", and I'm having fun with it. Possibly I am among the last of this dying breed to be swept away by the superior tide of open worlds...or perhaps I'm someone who likes sometimes to pay others to do a sufficiently cool job in world design and all for me, so that I can kick back and play.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 12:01:26 AM | link

Mike Rozak says:

Is there anyplace that lists various techniques for reducing E-baying? For example:

- Items attach themselves to specific characters, as mentioned above.

- Items are more specific to a character; Example: Helmets only fit characters with a specific head size.

- The more shards, the more difficult it is to sell equipment since moving equipment between shards can be policed by the admins.

- If money had weight, characters would be forced to carry gems and other precious items rather than 10 million GP. If these items had fluctuating values, would they make money (or equivalents) more difficult to e-bay?

- Are skill-based characters more difficult to trade than level-based characters? A 10th level fighter is a 10th level fighter, but a character with with 15 different skills is very different from any other character, and harder to put a price on.

- Would E-bay sales of characters be impeded if players were never shown their characters' levels or XP?

- If the names of objects were never given, would object sales diminish? For example: Label all swords, "sword"... let the player determine through experimentation if they sword is magical, non-magical, or cursed. They could pay a NPC a lot of money to identify the sword, but a) the NPC could be wrong, and b) the seller has no proof that money was ever paid to the NPC nor what the NPC said.

Etc.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 12:46:09 AM | link

will dieterich says:

"- Items attach themselves to specific characters, as mentioned above."

About the only thing that works. Does have the bad effect of killing off the in game player ecomony depending on how done. EQ2 and WoW are some of the better ones with allowing you to carry around the item and trade it until you actually bind it in order to first use it.

"- Items are more specific to a character; Example: Helmets only fit characters with a specific head size."

Just increases the rarity of the time, which drives up the cost. If there is a this great helm and 10 head sizes then my chance of getting it in game just decreased.


"- The more shards, the more difficult it is to sell equipment since moving equipment between shards can be policed by the admins."

If the worlds are not populated with players what is the value of the MMORPG? If they are populated then this is worthless.

"- If money had weight, characters would be forced to carry gems and other precious items rather than 10 million GP. If these items had fluctuating values, would they make money (or equivalents) more difficult to e-bay?"

What happens is that the gems,precious items become the form of currency. So instead of gold being auctioned you see theses items. Asheron's Call has this where trade notes can be purchased in order because money had weight(this was changed) people just switched to selling trade notes.

The problem with flucating values is what do you base it one? It is just a random roll of the day, or is it based on the amount of items already in the world.
You do it based on the number of items in the world and you kill the game for newbies; while an established player would not have problems paying 100gold for some thing that when the game first stated cost only 1 gold, any new player is dead in the water.
Most MMORPG already have a form of fluctuating prices in that as new content is added to the game older items become less value.

"- Are skill-based characters more difficult to trade than level-based characters? A 10th level fighter is a 10th level fighter, but a character with with 15 different skills is very different from any other character, and harder to put a price on."

Everything can have a value placed on it. People will list the skills and a knowledgeable buyer will be looking for certain skills. Look at UO or AC as example.

"- Would E-bay sales of characters be impeded if players were never shown their characters' levels or XP?"

This has been an idea that has been tossed around by a fair amount of people. However the average player base is not interested in this. They are interested in seeing how thier character has progressed.

"- If the names of objects were never given, would object sales diminish? For example: Label all swords, "sword"... let the player determine through experimentation if they sword is magical, non-magical, or cursed. They could pay a NPC a lot of money to identify the sword, but a) the NPC could be wrong, and b) the seller has no proof that money was ever paid to the NPC nor what the NPC said."

except that I as a player now have to carry around a a bunch of paper outside of the game in order to write down the stats. In addition everytime I get a new item I have to go kill a bunch of low level mobs so that I can determine if the item is better then my current item. Some games have attempted to do something like this where they gave a text indication of the general condition of the item, however they have latter gone to removing this and showing the raw numbers.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 2:53:57 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Ola Fosheim Grøstad>but you need to cover:
1. Student pays with parent's credit card.
2. Student get's his own credit card.

The student's address would probably be the same in both cases. Even if it's not, the surname would be the same. If there's still no match, the student can call customer support and explain. "Well you see, I didn't like my Chinese name because I don't speak Chinese, so when I decided to become a student here at the prestigious college at Lake of the Woods, naturally I changed it. Uh, maybe my gender too.".

Richard

Posted Dec 14, 2004 5:49:47 AM | link

Edward Castronova says:

Will> Is there anyplace that lists various techniques for reducing E-baying? For example:

See Randy Farmer's elegant anti-eBay trading system:
http://www.fudco.com/habitat/archives/000023.html

The idea is all trades are anon.

I like the idea of banning material gifts. It implies that, for every item, the devs set a minimum price. it's not quite price fixing, but close. prevents people from just giving a million gold in return for nothing. and it doesn't have to be a hard ban. what if there was a gift tax? if your business model is to deliver millions of gold and there's a huge tax on doing that, well, so much for that business model. same thing for storage fees: yeah, you can keep 100 gold in your bank vault, and you can put it in here and take it out thre, for free. when it's 10m gold and your shipping flow is 10s of millions a day, guess what? the town council of Darnassus assigns a fee for guard duty. and it is really big.

just think about the eBaying enterprise, its cost and revenue structure, and raise costs on big operations. that's what i would try.

the only way to ban account trades is to have higher security on account identities. retina scans will do the trick someday. when reputations begin to port across virtual worlds, all good players will have an incentive to put up with high security.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 8:33:50 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Matt, I didn't mean to imply that core-gamer worlds are going to vanish; far from it. But if you look at the majority of responses in this discussion (and others like it) they're predicated on the continuance of the hard-core world ("closed" in that social sense; gamers are a highly insular society) as the primary, perhaps only MMOG audience worth considering. IMO that's a false premise that looks backward, not forward.

It is only to the hard-core, more-time-than-money crowd that this issue is so important. For the rest of the market -- the much larger segment of the potential gaming market -- who tend to have more money than time, this isn't a problem, it's an opportunity.


Edward, any technological or internal-economic solution to what is ultimately a social and external-economic issue is doomed to failure. This has been shown over and over again in MMOGs. In this case of something like what you describe, it would, I suspect, set up a ladder of arbitrage-like sales: I can "buy" a small amount of in-game gold for no tax or a low tax (there will either be this limit or you'll necessarily create an under-class of highly discontented in-game poor players). I can then turn this around into the ability to buy another higher-priced item on which I pay the in-game "tax." Sure it drives up the cost of the item, but this just flows downward in the value chain. Essentially, this turns ten out-of-game transactions into ten (or however many are needed to work up the "tax ladder" the game has created). In doing so, more players, not fewer, would be exposed to the decision of whether to violate an unenforceable EULA (that is, one that attempts to control behavior that takes place out of the game), and more goodwill will be lost.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 9:16:46 AM | link

Edward Castronova says:

Mike> Edward, any technological or internal-economic solution to what is ultimately a social and external-economic issue is doomed to failure.

But we have effective controls on social and external-economic issues. We have them in small open economies, too, which is what a MMORPG is.

I'm suspicious of formulations that say "any [.] will always [.]."

Not sure I understand your substantive point. So, I buy 10g for 5 cents on eBay, 10g being small enough to avoid the tax. Now I have 10g. By design, 10g is way more than enough for a mid-level player to buy mid-level items; it's about twice what a casual player has accumulated by mid-level.

You could just do this over and over. So, buy another 10g for 5 cents; now I have 20g and I am closer to being rich. But if you were forced to buy yachts in $10 increments, with a small fee attached to each transaction (eBay/wage costs), that would hurt the yacht market, I think.

But your argument is that I can "turn my 10g around into the ability to buy another higher-priced item on which I pay the in-game 'tax'." I don't understand this. Maybe you mean, I can use the 10g to reduce the in-game tax some eBayed item: I buy it for $40, get it in transfer for 10g, and pay a slightly lower tax. OK. You'd have to chain together a hell of a lot of 10g purchases to get to the $40 worth of gold you'd need to avoid the tax completely.

That's the point, though. You can make it a hassle to operate with large quantities.

So many of business-rlated things are in the game for player convenience: free shipping, free storage, free first month, and so on. Keep all of it - but not for accounts that handle big numbers.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 9:49:07 AM | link

Edward Castronova says:

Mike> and more goodwill will be lost.

This presumes that a majority of players think eBaying is a positive aspect of their gaming experience. I really doubt that. Read the WoW boards.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 9:51:57 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

I think one ought to discuss if not e-baying is good for the MMO market. I.e. even if it is seen as a local evil, maybe it provide advantages at the global level.

Causality:

1. Jaded not-rich players sell their uber-accounts and use the surplus to taste new MMOs. (After all, ebay'ed accounts are "free money" which you can spend with good conscience.)

2. Casual rich players remain in their favourite MMO and most likely keep their first account too?

Posted Dec 14, 2004 9:53:23 AM | link

Jeremy Neal Kelly says:

Edward Castronova wrote:

> I like the idea of banning material gifts.
> ...prevents people from just giving a million gold
> in return for nothing. and it doesn't have to be a
> hard ban. what if there was a gift tax?

How would players pay for services? These don't seem to be a big part of game economies today, but I should think designers would want to encourage their spread, not discourage or ban them.

> if your business model is to deliver millions of
> gold and there's a huge tax on doing that, well, so
> much for that business model. same thing for storage
> fees: yeah, you can keep 100 gold in your bank
> vault, and you can put it in here and take it out
> thre, for free.

Is it that easy to quantitatively distinguish between eBayers and ordinary players? If so, why haven't bans been more effective?

> all good players will have an incentive to put up
> with high security.

The last time I heard this argument, John Ashcroft was telling me only terrorists need fear the Patriot Act. Maybe it's true in games, but I'm still skeptical. Anyway, I think this is the real test: can eBaying be curbed without harming play? Failing that, would such harm be less than that caused farming, et cetera?

Mike Sellers wrote:

> Edward, any technological or internal-economic
> solution to what is ultimately a social and
> external-economic issue is doomed to failure. This
> has been shown over and over again in MMOGs. In this
> case of something like what you describe, it would,
> I suspect, set up a ladder of arbitrage-like
> sales...

Well said. This is a very important idea, one that is often forgotten. For instance, I've gotten the impression that IGE has grown largely *because* of eBay bans (I mean, specifically, the EQ and DAoC-requested bans enforced by and within eBay). Is this incorrect?

Posted Dec 14, 2004 9:59:53 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Edward said, "This presumes that a majority of players think eBaying is a positive aspect of their gaming experience. I really doubt that. Read the WoW boards."

You don't really see what happens on the boards as representative of the majority of players' views? Those who post on the boards tend to be a small, hyper-vocal, hard-core subset of the player base.

Do players like being able to buy in-game items rather than grind for them? Well, some don't and some do. Those with more time than money don't, and those with more money that time probably do.

Each game operator has to decide which sector of that market is significant to them. Blizzard has signalled that it values the hard-core over the more casual, time-limited players. Once someone figures out how to create a game that satisfies both crowds sufficiently, they will eclipse the current hard-core-only games.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 10:21:53 AM | link

CherryBomb says:

Petrus>
What might work better for them though is if they did something like setting up a single server which was designated as allowing trades...then they could even offer brokering themselves if they have the manpower.

This would be a complete failure. Traders would ignore this server and concentrate on ways to get around the rules on the other servers. Cheating is only fun if most people don't cheat. People don't buy that fancy armor for cash because it is intrinsically more fun to play with than the cheap stuff. They buy it so that other people will think they went through the drudgery of earning it, and admire them for that.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 10:54:53 AM | link

magicback says:

In this back and forth discussion, perhaps thinking in terms of the real economy could be useful. Era of Prohibition, fixed exchange rates, trade sactions, asset seizures and account freeze, supply-side economics and demand-side economics, etc.

Given the history of Blizzard with Bnet, the strategy is probably based on the 20:80 rule. They only need to screen out the 20% that cause 80% of the "negative" effect.

As for design ideas, Mike Rozak have listed some design ideas and Edward have given some economic designs.

I imagine Bizzard's view is why would anyone want to pay more money (in addition to what they are already paying) to enjoy the content? If they want to get to the level of their friends, fine. If they are going to expliot the game, then maybe not.

As for design idea: I have a design based on D&D's manual of the planes where on a particular plane items drops frequently, but also decay very fast (like 1-day). It'll be fun to discover what items you'll be picking up today.

This design of course caters to the casual players and is not attractive to other types of entrepreneurs and players.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 11:28:00 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Cherrybomb said, "Cheating is only fun if most people don't cheat."

On what basis is selling items on EBay synonymous with cheating? Similarly, magicback referred to the practice of buying items as "exploting the game." I've not seen any support for either of these contentions -- but they get made over and over again (with the silent premise that items must be earned with time rather than bought with money) allowing us to convince ourselves they must be true.

"People [buy] fancy armor for cash ... so that other people will think they went through the drudgery of earning it, and admire them for that."

A decidedly hard-core view. Many might buy it because of what it allows them to do in the game -- allowing them to get out of the newbie areas without having to spend endless hours of their busy lives grinding away.

I agree with your other point though, that a single "trade here" server would be a failure -- it wouldn't do anything to feed the appetite for items on other servers that obviously exists.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 12:10:18 PM | link

Hellinar says:

What I would like to see is a MMOG company take on the perceived "right to level as fast as humanly possible". I believe simply placing a cap on max daily experience earned, and max gold farmed, would kill much of the incentive for botting and farming. If you can't level up an account in a couple of days, then farm efficiently 24/7, adena farming would be much less effective. And from an immersion point of view, it makes sense that your character would get tired and stop learning stuff if they are overworked.

The current alternative, of laboriously closing every loophole is quite ineffective in my opinion. The new code just presents a new challenge to the driven, meanwhile lowering the play experience of the vast majority of the rest of the players. A current example would be the closure of high level fishing in WoW. A simple universal loot cap would have killed the fishing bot problem before it got started. Once the bot neared its cap, it's "Luck" would run out, and the fish would stop biting.

I don’t think you will stop all external trading, but personal level trades aren’t much of a problem. It’s the large scale farming and botting that I see is lowering my play experience. I’d agree with Tobold that Blizzard have produced a game where you can currently get a great play experience from the goods you can acquire in normal play. But how long will that last if far better goods are available in volume from the farmers? As with EQ, Blizzard will have to rebalance encounters on the assumption that all players are twinked. Then a new player will have to buy from the farmers to keep up. Its that viscous cycle that level/loot caps would break.


Posted Dec 14, 2004 12:20:18 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

magickback> Era of Prohibition, fixed exchange rates, trade sactions, asset seizures and account freeze, supply-side economics and demand-side economics, etc.

Mike> Edward, any technological or internal-economic solution to what is ultimately a social and external-economic issue is doomed to failure.

The argument that markets cannot be influenced is not persuasive to me. If you want to claim that government policy cannot / does not affect the bottom line of business, go ahead. But then stop asking for tax breaks and relief of regulations.

Look, policy has effects. Most policies have good and bad effects, and often policymakers are too ignorant of the full effects. But there are effects.

And doing policy is exactly what is called for when there is a conflict of interest between the individual and the community, as there is in this case. Every individual would like to eBay at times, true. Every individual would like to pollute, too, and pay no taxes, and let his dog run free in the children's playground. But the community is worse off if everyone's dog runs free, if nobody pays taxes, if everyone pollutes. The gaming community is worse off when everyone can eBay at will. Why? Because not everybody that plays these games likes an eBayed system. Yet under the current state of affairs, every game has eBaying. And the evidence suggests that increasing professionalism and business sense of the marketers is making cash-purchase advancement a more prominent aspect of gameplay, across the board.

The right solution here is for a demarked space, where some worlds have eBaying, for those who like it, and where some worlds do not, for those who do not like it. Today, there are no worlds for people who do not like eBay. I would like it best if, say, WoW could offer eBay servers and no eBay servers. And on the eBay servers, WoW should sell stuff directly, cutting out the middleman.

But offering a no-eBay server involves some kind of design involving policy. Individual choices have to be constrained in the interests of the community. I know that that violates a number of religiously-held norms, but in fact, it is a human universal. Acceptance of the concept of communal interest is a sign of maturity and wisdom, in my view. Rather than foolishly denying all policies their effectiveness, we should get on to the much harder work of deciding what policies are best in our attempt to shape a society where living is not always nasty, brutish, short.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 12:24:25 PM | link

Jeremy Neal Kelly says:

Edward Castronova wrote:

> Rather than foolishly denying all policies their
> effectiveness...

I don't think anyone has denied the possibility of effective policy. After all, many of us are designers or programmers; the balance of costs and benefits is a daily exercise for us. Rather, people are saying that the anti-eBaying proposals you and others put forth sound ineffective, and possibly injurious to play. Everyone understands that you dislike eBaying. I suspect we'll agree with you only when you present a workable alternative.

> ...we should get on to the much harder work of
> deciding what policies are best...

That's a good idea. I look forward to seeing your work on this.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 1:12:31 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

I said, "any technological or internal-economic solution to what is ultimately a social and external-economic issue is doomed to failure."

And Edward replied with, "The argument that markets cannot be influenced is not persuasive to me."

Okay, but that's not what I said. What I referred to was that since Habitat at least, attempts to solve social issues in MMOGs via technical means have universally failed.

I believe MMOG operators can and should influence the economies within their games (and I think we currently do a lousy job of it as shown by continual and rampant hyper-inflation in MMOGs, but that's a different conversation). I doubt seriously whether it's possible for MMOG operators to shut off market-driven economies outside their games. These economies spring up because of a widespread desire in the player base. Punitive in-game actions taken by technological means are not going to remove this desire or kill off the market -- or if they do, it will be at the pyrrhic cost of reducing the game's commercial viability severely.

Edward also said, "doing policy is exactly what is called for when there is a conflict of interest between the individual and the community, as there is in this case."

This has been asserted multiple times but without any support. What exactly is the conflict between the individual and the community here? Is there more here than the perceived conflict of time vs. money as I outlined earlier?

Along similar lines, Hellinar said, "It’s the large scale farming and botting that I see is lowering my play experience."

In what ways, specifically, is your play experience lowered because someone else buys an item from another person? Again, this seems to just be a form of sour grapes, since the buyer didn't have to go through the hours of drudgery to get their cool item that you did. But if you see someone else with a particular item, how do you know (even if they tell you!) whether they really went through the grind for it, or just bought it on EBay? And either way, how does that possibly adversely affect your play experience?

As I've said, there are a lot of assertions being thrown around here without any actual support. This still seems to come down to complaints by the "more time than money" crowd against the rising "more money than time" crowd. The latter doesn't play like the former, so the current uber-players want to call this cheating, a community issue, etc. Saying that -- and repeating it often -- doesn't make it so.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 1:16:43 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

If people selling in-game items to strangers for real money is bad, why is it not also bad when guild members give each other equipment for free?

In game, it looks exactly the same. Whether I find an item that would have been really awesome 10 levels ago but is now no good for me, and ask in my Guild channel if anyone wants it, then send it for free to that person; or I find an item that would have been really awesome 10 levels ago but don't have anyone to give it to, so I take it to EBay and find a buyer there, then send the item to them for no in-game money, it makes no difference. You cannot argue that people buying and selling items for real money out of game is detrimental to the in-game economy if you allow people to just give items away for free, because it has the same effect on the game: an item being traded for no in-game cash.

So therefore, the problem is not and cannot be that people are buying and selling items for real money. The real problem is how people get the items that they sell in the first place. Farming and bots are the problems here, not people trading items for no in-game money. Blizzard has already cracked down on bot use, though I would think farming would be harder to stop. How do you tell the difference between someone who is legitimately playing their own account for large hours of time, including 24+ hour play sessions on the weekends; and an account that is being played only to be farmed?

Some people have suggested putting a cap on how much someone can do in a day, or how long someone can be in the game in a day. I think this is an artificial and unfair solution. Is it really the players' fault that they want to play for long hours? It was the developers who set up a system in which the more time you spend in game, the greater your rewards, so why punish the player for the developers bad decisions?

I think the root of this problem is having a system that rewards players for spending time in-game. If you design your game around the idea of the player doing a specific action over and over (and over and over) a certain number of times, then reward them, can we really blame them for wanting to be in the game as much as possible, and wanting to get to the rewards as quickly as possible? Those with the time to devote to "powerleveling" feel as though they earned the right to the weapon they found, whereas those without the time but with money to spend feel as though they shouldn't have to spend 8 hours in the game to find a good weapon.

If we remove time from the equation -- if we take the timer off the treadmill -- what do we get? Are we smart enough to design a system that can be equally enjoyed by those who want to spend 16 hours in-game on a Saturday and by those who can only devote 2 hours a week total? If the rewards you get are not a function of how much time you spend in game, does it really matter to you how the person next to you got their weapon?

Posted Dec 14, 2004 1:50:27 PM | link

Jeremy Neal Kelly says:

Hellinar wrote:

> What I would like to see is a MMOG company take on the
> perceived "right to level as fast as humanly
> possible". I believe simply placing a cap on max daily
> experience earned, and max gold farmed, would kill
> much of the incentive for botting and farming.

This sounds something like UO's 'power hour', which I've heard was both popular and effective at reducing play time.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 2:25:10 PM | link

Raph says:

Raph, I think this is the issue that hits you in your blindside--I'm reading Theory of Fun now, enjoying it, but I may eventually tie it together in an essay comparing WoW and SWG. Because I think Tobold has a point. Yes, there will be people who choose the fast way rather than the fun way, but your instant skepticism about whether most people would choose the fun way if there was one is why I think you've settled in the past for the overuse of time and drudgery barriers as a way to define gameplay challenge.

You're alleging that I intentionally make things slow to provide challenge (most likely inferring that I do it to stretch out subscriber life), and that I intentionally have people do repetitive tasks to provide slowness. You're also saying that I do both because I believe that people will choose to go through those unfun things because they are optimal advancement. Do you realize how insulting a statement that is? The caveat that this is a blind spot does not particularly soften it.

It's difficult for me to even respond because any examples I use can easily be construed as unprofessional comments on a competitor or colleagues both past and present. I’ll reiterate once again that WoW is a fantastic piece of work, just in case anyone thinks I feel otherwise.

As regards Tobold’s statement, it was “Stopping sales of virtual goods is very easy: Just make a game in which it is more fun at acquire virtual goods by yourself than buying them on EBay.” It is already this way in ALL the games. As much as we like to dis pretty much every game out there for not being fun enough, they are all more entertaining than clicking on the “buy it now” button. The motivation for purchasing goods on eBay is to skip ahead to perceived fun. It’s exactly like buying a big new TV because you expect it will be a better TV experience than what you have with your old small TV. It isn’t that your current TV won’t give you entertainment—it’s that you have visions of sugarplums regarding what the big screen will give you.

I have made the flat assertion that given a goal, most people will seek out the fastest path to the goal, rather than stop and smell the roses along the way. This does NOT mean that I therefore support the idea of making the path to the goal longer or more repetitive. If you actually look at my work, you’ll find that my general approach has been to have more goals and therefore lots of paths to follow. The reasonable critique is that by adding more verbs to the system, having more systems, having more goals, I’ve failed to have enough content for each, which then results in the game being repetitive. I’d refer you to

http://psychochild.org/blog/index.php?p=18
http://mythical.blogspot.com/2004/12/breadth-vs-depth.html
http://booboo.phpwebhosting.com/~ubiq/index.php?p=158
http://psychochild.org/blog/index.php?p=19

So far I'm really struck at the extent to which the desire to find an end run in WoW is minimized by the right balance between time investment and navigation of content, not just for me but I think for most of the players I talk to.

I’d suggest to you that WoW simply offers a very tightly defined pathway to the goal. They bind you to the grind very effectively, but it is still undeniably the repeated performance of a very small set of actions, artificially stretched out via the addition of content. They have paced the rewards very effectively so that you don’t tend to look at the lengthy set of repetitive actions you have to perform in order to reach the goal, because you are always moving towards a shorter term goal instead. This is very good design, but it says nothing whatsoever about a reluctance to use time or repeated activities as an artificial barrier. Based on the resulting experience, I’d argue that Blizzard probably paid a LOT of attention to time, measuring exactly how long they wanted you to go between getting offered quests or loot or a new zone to explore—and that they then filled out the game with enough content to hit a target median player lifespan.

The above is a compliment, for those keeping track. But it is also a very intentional use of a “time and drudgery” barrier. The issue here is the negative freighting carried by the word “drudgery.”

When you take away two of the major things that feed the secondary markets, a punitively defined grind and a sense that being unable to compete with people who have more time leads to progressively accumulating disenfranchisement from experience of content and a power-law distribution of in-game wealth and influence, you kick the secondary markets where they live. What's left is the hardcore powergamers.

I do not see that WoW has at all addressed the latter; it’s implicit in level-based systems, and it’s implicit in spades in level-based systems with PvP. It’s also not something you would see in the first week.

On the former, the problem is that you have not stated what a “punitively defined grind” IS. Presumably, it’s one where you realize you are grinding, as opposed to one where you are not.

There's a lot of clever touches within WoW's economy beyond the relative lack of a punitive treadmill that should discourage secondary markets. One of them is the use of the "soulbound" mechanic: you can twink someone, but only once--once *any* item is used, it has no further exchange value, as it cannot be used by anyone else.

Yes, it’s an interesting variant on the more traditional forms of item flagging. I would be very surprised if it was not in use in text muds already (I’ve seen it used many times in terms of flags providing special abilities—seeing it attached to items is somewhat more unusual to me).

However, it is also an example of how linear the progression is intended to be. This mechanic effectively says “you have to go through this step.” In other words, it’s designed to push people through a particular experience in a particular order. For those who regard that particular experience as an arbitrary obstacle, it’s a pro-grind measure, not anti-grind. It’s basically a control mechanism to push the play closer to a more controlled single-player experience. It prevents people from pooling efforts to find an alternate solution to the problem. The moment when it will become grindy is when multiple members of a spread-out guild all want the item, and the higher level guys end up having to help them through the process over and over and over. We’ve seen similar things happen many times.

In other words, this mechanic forces treadmill in exchange for preventing secondary markets.

About the only thing that seems to me is experienced as scarcity is gold, and it's the only thing I could see real incentive to pharm. Unsurprisingly it's the one major thing that's been pharmed so far as a result. Blizzard might want to tweak the money economy slightly as a result--perhaps reduced training fees, or something of that kind.

It is flat out impossible to assess the health of the currency yet. Given that WoW seems to use the same faucet-drain model as everyone else, I would expect to see mudflation occur over time just as with any other game.

How many other games, level-based or not, have used a mechanic functionally identical to "binding" as its been implemented in WoW--e.g., where an item's use is restricted to a single character? No-drop mechanics are common, but this kind of no-drop (exchangeable between characters until used, then no-drop) doesn't seem common to me. Hand-me-down trading seems to me more the norm in level-based games, where you can pass on an item after it's no longer of use to you.

Well, from a mechanical point of view, it means the item is like a potion with an undefined term limit. You get an item. You use it. You get a perk. The perk expires either on a term limit or when you choose to end the effect. In WoW, you end the effect when you upgrade to a nicer item. I didn’t mean to imply that it wasn’t novel as applied in WoW. Blizzard has done a lot of little things like this, and it’s all good stuff.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 2:29:22 PM | link

Raph says:

If people selling in-game items to strangers for real money is bad, why is it not also bad when guild members give each other equipment for free?

Excellent summation. The reason I dislike no-drop and similar flags is exactly this. They are tools to force single-player play within an MMO setting, and work contrary to what is IMHO the POINT of MMO play.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 2:31:44 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

Hellinar wrote:
What I would like to see is a MMOG company take on the perceived "right to level as fast as humanly possible". I believe simply placing a cap on max daily experience earned, and max gold farmed, would kill much of the incentive for botting and farming.

Jeremy Neal Kelly wrote:
This sounds something like UO's 'power hour', which I've heard was both popular and effective at reducing play time.

Actually, Powerhour was removed from UO a few years ago, because it made people feel like they should only play during that certain hour. Also, because people felt they couldn't stop playing during that time, it caused bladder infections. ;) Powerhour was replaced by a system that, in theory, gives you a gain in skill if you've been trying for awhile but haven't gained just by chance. Its called the Guarenteed Gains System, and when it is working, seems to be much more popular with UO players.

The only way to reduce play time, to reduce the "perceived right to level as fast as humanly possible," in my opinion, is to take the time element out of the game completely. When designing a system or a quest, do not figure out how long it should take the player to complete the quest/level up in the system. When designing a virtual world as opposed to a single player RPG, your goal is not to provide a certain number of hours of play for your customer, so that they will feel like their $50 was well spent (a 20 hour single player console RPG feels like a much better investment of money than a 10 hour one does, all else being equal). Your goal, as an MMO designer, should be to convince the customer to live in your world for the next several years. Providing any sort of timed/scheduled/metered level grind with the carrot of being "finished" with their character, of having a fully developed character, means that players will rush through the leveling to get to the carrot faster. It also means that someday, they will be finished with your game.

If instead there was a system in which players could get a sense of achievement for their actions, without that achievement being based on time spent in the game -- measured as either number of hours per week, or number of months/years total -- I think we would see the long play sessions and farming drop off.


Timothy Burke wrote:
About the only thing that seems to me is experienced as scarcity is gold, and it's the only thing I could see real incentive to pharm. Unsurprisingly it's the one major thing that's been pharmed so far as a result. Blizzard might want to tweak the money economy slightly as a result--perhaps reduced training fees, or something of that kind.

Raph wrote:
It is flat out impossible to assess the health of the currency yet. Given that WoW seems to use the same faucet-drain model as everyone else, I would expect to see mudflation occur over time just as with any other game.

I've been playing WoW since closed beta, and I think the gold is very well balanced, at least for the first 30 levels or so. If you train all of your Class skills when they become available, take on two crafting professions and all three secondary professions, sell everything you find and can't use, and use mostly equipment you find or can make yourself, you'll end up with just a little money left over. My first purchase on a new character is usually a new weapon at about level 4 or so, but other than that, I try to make do with what I kind find or what is given to me until higher levels. I usually don't look at buying anything from other players until level 20 at least, because by that time, I'll have worked up to 2 or 3 gold pieces, and can afford to drop 70 silver on shoulder pads.

Anyway, I think if you do all the quests, sell all the unusable loot you find, and train everything you are expected to train, you'll be left with just a little spending money. In beta, I didn't have to farm for money until I was level 39, and that was only because you need 100 gold to buy a mount, which you can get at level 40. I've actually been very impressed with Blizzard's balance of money distribution at early levels. (Though I do agree that its impossible to tell yet how WoW's economy will do in the long term -- just like its still impossible to tell how their subscriber numbers will do in the long term.)

Posted Dec 14, 2004 4:02:28 PM | link

Andres Ferraro says:

"This sounds something like UO's 'power hour', which I've heard was both popular and effective at reducing play time."

UO's Powerhour:
1 to 5 minutes after logging in a bell would ring and an aura appear briefly around your character, indicating that that character's "powerhour" has started. During normal play (not powerhour) you had a roll of the digital dice to gain in the skill you were performing *only* if the outcome of the skill check was successful (You managed to hit the Orc, or you managed to craft the potion).
During "powerhour" all the skill checks -whether successul or not- rolled the "skill gain" dice, hence you could gain experience in a skill even if your attempt was a failure (you missed the orc, or the potion blew up in your face).
Powerhour 'concentrated' the value of training a character into the first hour of play, in some ways discouraging you from even trying outside PowerHour since the advantage of training during PowerHour was enormous. It should be noted that, as implemented, it was detrimental to social interaction: Players logging in to briefly chat with pals would wind up in their powerhour and feel 'compelled' to work at it since the timer did not halt if the player logged off (phrases such as "gotta go, I'm in my powerhour" would be common). I believe the system's original goal was to prevent characters from becoming "stuck" at different skill levels. The current system that replaced PowerHour is called "Guaranteed Gain System" and it basically gives you a small nudge towards your skill goals if enough time has passed without you gaining in the skill naturally (it gives you a little increase every X amount of time, X being a factor of many things, and X varying from minutes to days).

"Some people have suggested putting a cap on how much someone can do in a day, or how long someone can be in the game in a day. I think this is an artificial and unfair solution. Is it really the players' fault that they want to play for long hours? It was the developers who set up a system in which the more time you spend in game, the greater your rewards, so why punish the player for the developers bad decisions?"

Perhaps a system of diminishing returns, with a horizon of a month or two would work best to keep all players happy while curbing bot/macro/etc insanity.

Another system that is a departure from the norm is EVE Online's skill training system, where once you 'buy' the skill out of hundreds it actually takes days for your character to fully absorb it - and only one can be absorbed at a time.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 4:59:01 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Samantha LeCraft wrote:
Your goal, as an MMO designer, should be to convince the customer to live in your world for the next several years.

Assuming you're working on a commercial MMO, your goal is much more likely to be "Create a product that generates an acceptable return on investment." This doesn't require that you cater to the very small niche that's actually willing to 'live' in your virtual world for a number of years.

--matt

Posted Dec 14, 2004 5:31:30 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

Matt Mihaly wrote:
Assuming you're working on a commercial MMO, your goal is much more likely to be "Create a product that generates an acceptable return on investment." This doesn't require that you cater to the very small niche that's actually willing to 'live' in your virtual world for a number of years.

I disagree. If you want to generate an acceptable return on investment, you are not going to do that through box sales alone. That's just not how MMOs work. Given that, what you want is for people to continue to pay a monthly subscription fee for your game for as long as possible. If you design a system in which players "finish" a character by reaching the top level in everything and having the best equipment in the game, they will eventually be "finished" with your game, stop paying you monthly, and go off to a new game.

And saying that they can just start a new character and have a whole new experience of play is like saying that you can get 20 hours out of a 10 hour single player game, because there are two settings, Easy and Difficult. Yes, you can keep restarting any game until they shut down your electricity, but that doesn't mean that there isn't an end state in which you have accomplished as much as you possibly can accomplish with that character.

So if you want to continue to generate profit even years after the game was released, a system in which a player can eventually have done everything, seen everything, and maxed out all his skills is, IMO, a bad idea. I didn't mean "live in your world" in the sense usually used when talking about niche virtual worlds. I meant that you have to give the player enough game that he will never feel "finished", and I don't think that can ever be accomplished in an MMO that revolves around leveling.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 5:55:43 PM | link

oulous says:

Raph,

I could be reading more into this than you are saying:

"Tobold, I think it's naive to say that players will choose the fun way to get stuff over the fast way. That's just not human nature."

I feel like you are telling me that the tortured design of EQ I and EQ II is exactly as intended. A way to split people into two classes. The masochists and those who pay the masochists to be masochistic for them.

EQ II has been designed with the same nasty treadmill as EQ I. By default this makes it a game intended to interact with the real world economy.

Who would have thought buying and selling would influence game design but I feel it has with EQ II. There was a chance to create "fun" in EQ II but instead what we have is the tired hollywood formula of the classic sequel.

SOE knows that the buyers and sellers are important paying customers and did not implement any designs to curb their obsessive habits.

If game designers would just focus on deep content and not corporate modeling of treadmills I promise you would have happy casual and hard core players co-existing. Think of the MMO as a well developed sit-com drama. People watch TV to see characters develop, the same way they play games to develop characters. Would people watch TV if they were tortured with the smallest amount of development every week. Hell no. But you cant pay a TV exec to develop a character for you like you can pay the fry cook at burger king to level your character.

Your job as a game exec should be focused on providing the drama and sit-com content not to retard the threshold for character development. If you do this right all real players will have actual "fun" and play without pay to third parties. I am not saying the desire to make money will evaporate but it might become more habitual than necessary. In a consumer based society it is natural for people to try and make money at everything and anything but this should never be a lame duck excuse for poor treadmill style game design. I feel as if ebay has become a boogeyman excuse for games that are not fun by design.

WoW is the first fun success story. I chose fun. That is why I cancelled my EQ II account and I am keeping my WoW account.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 5:57:06 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Oulous: I feel as if ebay has become a boogeyman excuse for games that are not fun by design.

Very well said. It may be that the player psychology goes something like, "well this sucks. I'm still killing sheepspiders and will be for a long time. Or I can just go on EBay and buy the Helm of Gloriosity and skip all this crap. The game has to be fun if I can just get into some of the more difficult areas."

Of course given classic treadmill design the game isn't any more fun even when you've obtained (by grinding or Ebay) all kinds of kool lewt, but the bar-pressing nature of our mammalian brain and the magic of random interval reward schedules compel us to try just one... more... time.

And thus the cycle -- in-game and on EBay -- continues.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 6:07:07 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Raph> The reason I dislike no-drop and similar flags is exactly this. They are tools to force single-player play within an MMO setting

No, it really isn't. If you put them on single-user quests, yes. If you put them as team-loot, no. It strengthens social game-play.

And even when you make some as single-user random loot you get the very funny and exciting game on guild-chat: "Anyone need an UBERSOMETHING, I am holding a chest open! Please run to so-and-so-place and HURRY!". This type of design is good, it makes the item a guild-gift and breaks some of the static gift structures in a guild. (meaning, the more peripheral guildies get some)

Posted Dec 14, 2004 6:14:41 PM | link

Raph says:

I could be reading more into this than you are saying:

"Tobold, I think it's naive to say that players will choose the fun way to get stuff over the fast way. That's just not human nature."

I feel like you are telling me that the tortured design of EQ I and EQ II is exactly as intended. A way to split people into two classes. The masochists and those who pay the masochists to be masochistic for them.

Yeah, you ARE reading stuff into it beyond what I am saying. I am not advocating a style of design with that statement. It is not prescriptive. It is observation. An observation about how people tend to take the systems we create and interact with them.

Fact is, WoW has almost exactly the SAME design you bemoan here, on almost every level. You have a set of levels, you have to repeatedly kill things to advance through them, people who spend more time do so faster overall than people who don't... If we were measuring genetics, they'd be 99.5% identical. The distribution of high-level catasses has manifested in WoW just as much as in EQ2, cf www.wowcensus.com. I am not willing to call something a paradigm shift without the paradigm actually having shifted.

When someone here uses the word "treadmill," it seems not to have a firm definition, which is why I am trying to stay away from using it and similarly loaded words.

Your job as a game exec should be focused on providing the drama and sit-com content not to retard the threshold for character development.

I don't know of anyone who sits around intentionally retarding the threshold of character development.

If you do this right all real players will have actual "fun" and play without pay to third parties.

And this is the part where I disagree. I think you can take ANY fun activity, and some people will try to circumvent the fun in order to gain advantage. I think it is simply human nature.

I feel as if ebay has become a boogeyman excuse for games that are not fun by design.

I cannot recall any designer of any game offering up anything of the sort as an excuse. Can you?

Posted Dec 14, 2004 6:45:10 PM | link

Raph says:

Raph> The reason I dislike no-drop and similar flags is exactly this. They are tools to force single-player play within an MMO setting

No, it really isn't. If you put them on single-user quests, yes. If you put them as team-loot, no. It strengthens social game-play.

1) They exist in order to push you through a narrative structure, which is what I was referring to;

2) even in the event of group loot, it's still something that only drives strong ties, not weak ties, and therefore is not helpful to large groupings such as guilds. Ask any guild whether they would rather have the ability to hand items to guildies or to have to carry their guildmate through a quest, and I can guarantee that they will answer that trading would be preferable.

And even when you make some as single-user random loot you get the very funny and exciting game on guild-chat: "Anyone need an UBERSOMETHING, I am holding a chest open! Please run to so-and-so-place and HURRY!". This type of design is good, it makes the item a guild-gift and breaks some of the static gift structures in a guild. (meaning, the more peripheral guildies get some)

I haven't seen this happen, since I am not in a guild, but based on your description, the only difference between that and what you get in games where you can hand over the item is that the person doesn't need to be online at the time, and doesn't need to rush across the map to get it. What other functional difference is there?

Posted Dec 14, 2004 6:50:56 PM | link

Hellinar says:


Mike Sellers> In what ways, specifically, is your play experience lowered because someone else buys an item from another person? Again, this seems to just be a form of sour grapes, since the buyer didn't have to go through the hours of drudgery to get their cool item that you did.<

It seems to me you have replaced the real issue with a straw man. ONE person buying ONE item from ONE person ONE day is not the issue for me. The issue I am talking about is a large item faucet being opened in the world by exterior money. This, in my experience wildly changes the world. As I see it, a VW is a complex system. Complex in the sense that many things are interconnected. Making a variety of powerful items that were intended to be rare commonplace does change the world, and my experience of it. I don’t understand how you could argue otherwise?

I don’t consider that I play VWs for drudgery or cool items. I prefer to repurpose mundane items in cool ways. And I put a big value on VWs as social spaces. A world in which most every low level character has the max gear for their level operates differently from one in which most characters are just getting by. That seems obvious to me, or does it require more explanation? That difference then changes my experience of the VW as a social world.

Samantha>If people selling in-game items to strangers for real money is bad, why is it not also bad when guild members give each other equipment for free?<

In item acquisition terms, there isn’t a discernable difference. But in social terms, to me there is a massive difference in my social relationship with a Player who gives me a free gift, and a Player who sells me something because it is their RL occupation. And it is that change in the network of social relations that makes a totally eBayed world quite different from a gift driven one.


Posted Dec 14, 2004 7:00:22 PM | link

Carnildo Greenacre says:

Mike Rozak> Is there anyplace that lists various techniques for reducing E-baying?

There's the technique that Runescape stumbled upon: equipment is cheap, easy to get, and doesn't come in much variety. If an hour's play is all it takes to get the gold to purchase a piece of top-level armor, there's not much incentive to eBay.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 7:07:37 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Raph> 1) They exist in order to push you through a narrative structure, which is what I was referring to;

Ok, if you limit it to that, then sure. But then you are arguing not against the mechanism, but the narrative structure... Which is fine by me! :D

Raph> 2) even in the event of group loot, it's still something that only drives strong ties, not weak ties, and therefore is not helpful to large groupings such as guilds.

I disagree. You are putting too much emphasis on "quest".

Raph> to carry their guildmate through a quest, and I can guarantee that they will answer that trading would be preferable.

Yes, but trading often then goes to non-guildies. Because they want that uberitem. Besides plain transfers are less social. Sacrificing time together is more social.

Raph> the only difference between that and what you get in games where you can hand over the item is that the person doesn't need to be online at the time, and doesn't need to rush across the map to get it. What other functional difference is there?

What other? Isn't that enough? You find a kewl item with a pick-up timer on it, dump it to guildchat. The online incrowd already have the item, but the newbies/casual players don't and get the exciting opportunity of making a run for it. It is social and brings outsiders in because it is a make-it-a-gift-or-destroy-it-now item.

It doesn't happen often as designers don't provide this by intent... :P

Posted Dec 14, 2004 7:20:15 PM | link

oulous says:

Raph:

"An observation about how people tend to take the systems we create and interact with them."

Exactly my point the designed systems are the flaw. Look people hunger for this experience that takes them beyond interacting with machine intelligence alone. We want to seek others out to play with and achieve. Thats why these arguments spawn so much passion. We like to have fun but the systems available are pip squeaking fun instead of gushing it. For now a pip squeak has been enough but I think WoW and to some extent CoH has started an era of gushing fun.

Raph:

"Fact is, WoW has almost exactly the SAME design you bemoan here, on almost every level."

No not even close. There is a fabric to the design in WoW that has not been achieved in any of the SOE games I have played. I am putting time in to the game but I am getting something back from the game. WoW has more than linear progression. I feel as if their is a choice beyond repetitive killing to achieve high level raid status which is the staple of the EQ series.

I understand where your perception comes from as I do not think WoW is earth shattering but it has achieved something I have not felt since the first 10 levels a of EQ 1 when everything was new. I am enjoying gaming again.

I understand what you are saying about treadmill being almost meaningless it has devolved into a curse word at this point.

Raph:

"I don't know of anyone who sits around intentionally retarding the threshold of character development."

Are you telling me that SOE doesnt design games around the power user concept with the idea that players will take a very long time to max their advancement, thus being long term monthly subscribers? You mean there is no one on the corporate side of SOE who has modeled this for the revenue stream?

Oulous:

"I feel as if ebay has become a boogeyman excuse for games that are not fun by design."

Raph:

"I cannot recall any designer of any game offering up anything of the sort as an excuse. Can you?"

You are probably right but I have never talked to any of the designers at state of play 1+2. They tend to sit alone at one table looking fearful at times as if Lee Harvey Oswald is hiding behind the DDR Max machine. What I hear is a lot of players debating ebay as the destroyer of game worlds. I can go on here but this is a topic that has been discussed to death. Simply put the game is flawed not ebay.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 8:06:01 PM | link

Raph says:

Ola:

Raph> 1) They exist in order to push you through a narrative structure, which is what I was referring to;

Ok, if you limit it to that, then sure. But then you are arguing not against the mechanism, but the narrative structure... Which is fine by me! :D

That's what I meant by saying they push towards a single-player experience (which tends to be narrative).

Raph> 2) even in the event of group loot, it's still something that only drives strong ties, not weak ties, and therefore is not helpful to large groupings such as guilds.

I disagree. You are putting too much emphasis on "quest".

Overall across all these games, fairly few groups tend to be weakly tied. Players tend to group with their friends, with pre-existing strong ties. So when you say "group loot," my response is "that's almost certainly strong ties in the first place, guildmates in the first place."

Raph> to carry their guildmate through a quest, and I can guarantee that they will answer that trading would be preferable.

Yes, but trading often then goes to non-guildies. Because they want that uberitem.

Hmm, most guilds maintain item vaults of one form or another, and guildmates get first choice on items.

Besides plain transfers are less social. Sacrificing time together is more social.

I agree that sacrificing time together is more social, but a lot of this is how you spend the time and who you are doing it with. In the example below of "run across the map to get the uberitem from the guy who found it," most of the time spent is not spent socializing with the guy who finds the item.

Raph> the only difference between that and what you get in games where you can hand over the item is that the person doesn't need to be online at the time, and doesn't need to rush across the map to get it. What other functional difference is there?

What other? Isn't that enough? You find a kewl item with a pick-up timer on it, dump it to guildchat. The online incrowd already have the item, but the newbies/casual players don't and get the exciting opportunity of making a run for it. It is social and brings outsiders in because it is a make-it-a-gift-or-destroy-it-now item.

That entire scenario happens in exactly the same way in games without the flag, all the time. I've seen it literally hundreds of times. The added convenience of being able to pick up the item and bring it to a trading place actually saves players time in this scenario...?

Oulous:
Exactly my point the designed systems are the flaw. Look people hunger for this experience that takes them beyond interacting with machine intelligence alone. We want to seek others out to play with and achieve. Thats why these arguments spawn so much passion. We like to have fun but the systems available are pip squeaking fun instead of gushing it. For now a pip squeak has been enough but I think WoW and to some extent CoH has started an era of gushing fun.

I'm not quarreling with any of that.

Perhaps the thing to do is to turn it around and say to you, "what is it about WoW that is so fun?" It's not going to be the flagging on items that does it, though it may contribute in a minor way. It's going to be the pace of rewards, the design of the quests, and the interactivity of the combat.

Raph:

"Fact is, WoW has almost exactly the SAME design you bemoan here, on almost every level."

No not even close. There is a fabric to the design in WoW that has not been achieved in any of the SOE games I have played. I am putting time in to the game but I am getting something back from the game. WoW has more than linear progression. I feel as if their is a choice beyond repetitive killing to achieve high level raid status which is the staple of the EQ series.

Name a major structural difference.

Again, I am not here to get into a debate about relative quality of execution. If you like, you can frame my argument as "WoW proves that treadmills can be fun!" because it boils down to the same thing I am saying.

WoW demonstrably does not have anything other than a pretty linear progression, btw (just about no games do, though many have multiple parallel linear progressions). What you really mean is that you get distracted from the linear progression because you are too busy paying attention to the next quest.

I understand where your perception comes from as I do not think WoW is earth shattering but it has achieved something I have not felt since the first 10 levels a of EQ 1 when everything was new. I am enjoying gaming again.

My perception comes from being rather jaded on all these sorts of games. The point people like you are at with "sick of the treadmill" is a place I was at in 1994. I do not begrudge you the fact that you have found renewed enjoyment, not at all. When I log into WoW what I see is nicely done quests comparable to mud quests c 1992, nicely done graphics, great reward schedule, a PvP model almost exactly like Mortal Conquest (c. 1996), harvesting extremely similar to UO... you get the idea. :)

The same happens to me logging into an SOE game--I decompose it into constituent parts almost immediately. "Capturing the magic" is gonna take a lot more for me. That doesn't mean I cannot appreciate the great work they did. It also means that when people say "it's all different!" I feel compelled to point out that no, it's not. Maybe I should just wait a few months until the bloom is off the rose. ;)

Are you telling me that SOE doesnt design games around the power user concept with the idea that players will take a very long time to max their advancement, thus being long term monthly subscribers? You mean there is no one on the corporate side of SOE who has modeled this for the revenue stream?

That's not how it works here, no. We do plan and model based on people lasting for a certain period of time, anyone who is making an MMO has to go through that exercise. But then we try to have enough content so that people have enough to play for that amount of time, given what feels like a fun reward schedule.

Screwing up the reward schedule by stretching it out is not going to result in keeping subscribers, it'll just piss them off. It's bad business.

In the very last days of the SWG beta, we noticed that people were advancing faster than we had thought. The ship date was locked. We tried a slower advancement pace, and people said it wasn't fun. The faster advancement pace went back in the NEXT DAY. The issue was lack of content, not rate of advancement.

Oulous:

"I feel as if ebay has become a boogeyman excuse for games that are not fun by design."

Raph:

"I cannot recall any designer of any game offering up anything of the sort as an excuse. Can you?"

You are probably right but I have never talked to any of the designers at state of play 1+2.

That's not where it would get offered up anyway, I suspect. :) It'd be more likely to come up on a game forum.

They tend to sit alone at one table looking fearful at times as if Lee Harvey Oswald is hiding behind the DDR Max machine.

That would be hiding from players expressing opinions like, "You intentionally make the game suck in order to get more money!" ;)

What I hear is a lot of players debating ebay as the destroyer of game worlds. I can go on here but this is a topic that has been discussed to death. Simply put the game is flawed not ebay.

Sadly (and I DO mean sadly) there seem to be about as many players who use eBay and similar markets as players who don't (in Asia, it's rampant).

But I think that saying the game is flawed is also reductionist. We don't say golf is flawed because there are expensive golf clubs out in the world or expensive golf pro trainers. There's a more complex relationship between secondary markets and games, and to reduce it all to "the game is flawed" feels like a gross oversimplification to me.

Once current WoW players are levelling up their fifth Horde character, we'll see whether or not they feel that there's a treadmill or not, and whether there's no scope for a secondary market. I'd suggest to you that the only way to have no secondary market (and no desire for one) is to have nothing be tradeable, including accounts. At which point, I'd suggest that something critical in online worlds has been lost.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 8:46:23 PM | link

Raph says:

PS, I am going to shut up now, I feel like I am the bitter old man on the porch telling all you young whippersnappers that it's gonna rain at some point. Enjoy the sunshine while it lasts. :)

Posted Dec 14, 2004 8:47:41 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

A guy who's made lengthy, well-reasoned arguments on the WoW forums in favor of eBaying, decided to set up a poll for his (multi-game, presumably elite) clan. He pointed to the poll here.

You'd have to be a registered member of his clan to vote. The">http://www.team-nin.com/wowbranch/forum_viewtopic.php?3.42.">The results:

Should Blizzard allow the selling of in-game items and/or services?

24% Yes, allow eBaying everywhere
10% Yes, but only on Blizzard-sanctioned sites
53% No, nowhere
14% I don't care, it doesn't affect me

Posted Dec 14, 2004 9:10:52 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

N = 237 by the way.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 9:11:51 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Raph wrote:
My perception comes from being rather jaded on all these sorts of games. The point people like you are at with "sick of the treadmill" is a place I was at in 1994. I do not begrudge you the fact that you have found renewed enjoyment, not at all. When I log into WoW what I see is nicely done quests comparable to mud quests c 1992, nicely done graphics, great reward schedule, a PvP model almost exactly like Mortal Conquest (c. 1996), harvesting extremely similar to UO... you get the idea. :)

Spot on. WoW is more of the same. It's just more of the same done with some nice polish, which appears to be enough for a LOT of people to find it enjoyable.

--matt

Posted Dec 14, 2004 9:43:22 PM | link

Andres Ferraro says:

"If an hour's play is all it takes to get the gold to purchase a piece of top-level armor, there's not much incentive to eBay."

Theoretically this yields cookie-cutter characters all over. There are auctions for Runescape gold/accounts/stuff on eBay, albeit not nearly as many for other games with similar sizes; perhaps the 'freebie' model (and the game itself, lets not forget its a java-based low-spec game) is anathema to "power-buying".

N = 237 by the way.

Dread the polls. Even if a game asks upon sign-up for this info from every customer, unless there is perfect enforcement for those who select "No trading anywhere", I feel the results will be somewhat skewed. The whole subject of offline trades is taboo in many online guilds. You know it happens, you know who bought what, but saying you slew the green dragon is the only acceptable explanation for a seemingly endless supply of things - saying "I just worked an extra shift" seems a major social no-no. The question of who actually walks the talk remains.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 9:47:54 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Samantha LeCraft wrote:
I disagree. If you want to generate an acceptable return on investment, you are not going to do that through box sales alone. That's just not how MMOs work. Given that, what you want is for people to continue to pay a monthly subscription fee for your game for as long as possible. If you design a system in which players "finish" a character by reaching the top level in everything and having the best equipment in the game, they will eventually be "finished" with your game, stop paying you monthly, and go off to a new game.

First, you make the assumption that monthly subscription fees are the only viable economic models. They're not. In at least one business model, the majority of user revenue is gained in the first 3 months of playing time.

Second, yeah I noticed how badly Everquest or Lineage have done with the model you disparage Clearly, the evidence is on your side. ;)

I think what you miss is that it's not necessary to keep players around forever. It's only necessary to keep them around long enough to generate an acceptable return for you. How long that is will vary enormously from game to game. Certainly, I know of absolutely no MMOGs that require players to stay around for years in order to make them profitable players. Do you? Examples?


So if you want to continue to generate profit even years after the game was released, a system in which a player can eventually have done everything, seen everything, and maxed out all his skills is, IMO, a bad idea.

Yeah...clearly UO, Everquest, and Lineage were miserable failures and are not continuing to generate big fat profits. I'm not sure where you're drawing your examples from, but it doesn't seem to be any MMO market I'm familiar with.

I think you also miss the fact that you don't need to retain individual players forever. Players come, players go. You need to maintain a -playerbase-, but like a river, that individual water molecules/players that make up any point in that river will change over time.
--matt

Posted Dec 14, 2004 9:54:12 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Andres Ferraro wrote:
Theoretically this yields cookie-cutter characters all over.

Assuming that you define a character only by what skills or equipment it possesses. That may be the case in many games, but while they're a miniscule minority (in graphical MMOGs at least), roleplayers would have something nasty to say about that assumption. ;)
--matt

Posted Dec 14, 2004 9:56:56 PM | link

Mike Rozak says:

Raph wrote - When I log into WoW what I see is nicely done quests comparable to mud quests c 1992, nicely done graphics, great reward schedule, a PvP model almost exactly like Mortal Conquest (c. 1996), harvesting extremely similar to UO... you get the idea. :)

Does that mean that MUD quests have evolved in the last 12 years to a point where they're better than WoW? Same question for PvP? Or are MUD quests in 2004 pretty much the same as those in 1992? If they're the same then where can MMORPGs go except more flashy graphics?

PS, I am going to shut up now, I feel like I am the bitter old man on the porch telling all you young whippersnappers that it's gonna rain at some point. Enjoy the sunshine while it lasts. :)

What will the rain bring?

Posted Dec 14, 2004 10:25:53 PM | link

Raph Koster says:

Does that mean that MUD quests have evolved in the last 12 years to a point where they're better than WoW? Same question for PvP? Or are MUD quests in 2004 pretty much the same as those in 1992? If they're the same then where can MMORPGs go except more flashy graphics?

OK, so I don't shut up when asked a direct question.

There were, and still are, FAR more complex and sophisticated quests in muds than there are in WoW (or EQ2). Granted, I have not seen all of WoW, but the stuff I cut my teeth on in '92-3 (on the mud run by Damion Schubert, among others) was more complex than anything I have seen described for WoW. Heck, the quests on LegendMUD, which I worked on, are significantly more complex than that.

So yes, the state of the art in quests has definitely moved well past what we see in commercial MMOGs today. There's room to grow, and I think there's a lot more room to grow.

As far as PvP, on the PvP servers, WoW is using the same two-pole territory based model as Mortal Conquest and MUME did in the early 90s. On the PvE servers they are (gasp!) using flagging systems rather similar to UO in a lot of ways. PvP has not evolved significantly in muds, other than in terms of refining combat itself, far as I know, but I have to admit I have not kept current. If I were listing off significant innovations in PvP, it'd be free-for-all, switch, flagging, temp flagging, factions, two-pole territory, realms a la DAoC (actually from Darkness Falls, I believe)... not too many major innovations in a while...

What will the rain bring?

The usual.

Mudflation, when the small excess currency begins to pile up on the maxed out characters who keep earning it and don't have anything to spend it on.

Player optimization of strategies, as they discover new ways to consume content more rapidly.

Griefing via various means in the PvP system.

Players running out of content and complaining loudly.

The deconstruction of the immersion into spreadsheets and min-maxing.

The complaints of a grind as people go through the content multiple times.

Unless someone can tell me something truly new that's being done, I don't see why any of these wouldn't happen. I've already seen a lot of them cited on the WoW forums and elsewhere.

NONE of this means that it isn't a great game. It just means that it hasn't solved all the industry's problems in one fell swoop.

Posted Dec 14, 2004 10:43:07 PM | link

oulous says:

Raph you wound me. I would never tell anyone to their face that anything they make sucks. Critical on safe cowardly text based message boards is as cuel as I can get.

As far as WoW just being a repackaged treadmill thats fine. I can not disagree that achievment needs to be measured with effort. The difference is I do not feel the repetitive nature of my tasks as I did on about the 5th level in EQ 2.

As I said I feel like there is a fabric woven in the over all design of WoW, several threads crossing over one another and I can walk different paths of enjoyment, north south east and west.

OT randomness:

I had an interesting discussion on the shout channel in EQ2. People were talking about EQ and WoW and I interjected that I wish SOE would make a server in which characters could level at a faster pace so those that want the slow pace could have their own cake.

Several people responded that this would suck because then everyone would want to be on the fast leveling server.

These are your consituents, you are doomed. I dont see how any game executive can have anything but a love hate relationship with the player... I know I do.

Posted Dec 15, 2004 12:58:08 AM | link

Mike Rozak says:

Sorry, I'm going off topic a bit more...

Raph wrote - There were, and still are, FAR more complex and sophisticated quests in muds than there are in WoW (or EQ2). Granted, I have not seen all of WoW, but the stuff I cut my teeth on in '92-3 (on the mud run by Damion Schubert, among others) was more complex than anything I have seen described for WoW. Heck, the quests on LegendMUD, which I worked on, are significantly more complex than that.

Why is it that WoW's quests (as well as quests in any other MMORPG) are not as sophisticated? The WoW team (as well as other MMORPG developers) is obviously intelligent. What do you think are the reasons why their quests are 12 years behind the times? Is it because they forgot what the wheel looks like and they are reinventing it? Or is there something fundamental to a MMORPG that limits/impedes the sophistication of quests?

The same could be asked about PvP, although I suspect that a "better" PvP system would involve more ways than combat for players to compete, such as business monopolies, controlling trade routes, sea lanes, etc. These improvements would require more sub-games (like sailing simulators) to be part of the MMORPG, which would be a lot more work than adding a sub-game in a text world.


Oulous wrote - As far as WoW just being a repackaged treadmill thats fine. I can not disagree that achievment needs to be measured with effort. The difference is I do not feel the repetitive nature of my tasks as I did on about the 5th level in EQ 2.

What I find interesting about your observation is this: The EQ2 team could turn a knob and speed up advancement, as you posted. They could also redesign their quests to mimic those in WoW, and other than the DVD-installed voice-overs files, provide you with a WoW-experience using the EQII engine. If you like PvP, I suspect that the EQII team even has a switch for that which they haven't turned on yet.

It wouldn't look like WoW though. That's the one thing they can't change. EQII cannot look like WoW, and WoW cannot look like EQII without lots of artwork redesign.

The question that I ask is: If WoW ends up being more popular than EQII, will the EQII team make their world more like WoW? Or, if EQII beats WoW, will the reverse happen? Or, is EQII going after different players than WoW?

Posted Dec 15, 2004 1:47:39 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Mike Sellers>I doubt seriously whether it's possible for MMOG operators to shut off market-driven economies outside their games.

Yet it happens in other walks of life. A large percentage of the people who bet on horse races would bribe jockeys to hold back if they thought they could get away with it (especially using a Betfair system, where punters set the odds as well as making the bets). On the whole, though, horse racing is still regarded as fairly "clean"; indeed, if it weren't felt to be so then there'd be no point in trying to subvert it by bribing jockeys.

Richard

Posted Dec 15, 2004 3:00:36 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Mike Rozak wrote:

Why is it that WoW's quests (as well as quests in any other MMORPG) are not as sophisticated? The WoW team (as well as other MMORPG developers) is obviously intelligent. What do you think are the reasons why their quests are 12 years behind the times? Is it because they forgot what the wheel looks like and they are reinventing it? Or is there something fundamental to a MMORPG that limits/impedes the sophistication of quests?

They probably rightfully view it as a waste of time. Look, people who are playing WoW aren't there for great story. They're not there for great quests. They're there for the level grind, whether they admit it to themselves or not, as that's pretty much all it offers. Please not that I don't mean any of this pejoratively. If that's what people want, good for Blizzard for doing a kick-ass job of providing it to them.

--matt

Posted Dec 15, 2004 4:51:13 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Raph> Overall across all these games, fairly few groups tend to be weakly tied. Players tend to group with their friends, with pre-existing strong ties. So when you say "group loot," my response is "that's almost certainly strong ties in the first place, guildmates in the first place."

The strong/weak-ties thing is just a hypothesis, but I get your point. I also sense that you assume a particular design. No-drop is great in dungeons and spawn-spots with multiple unique items for instance, how much weaker ties can you get than complete strangers? Besides, guilds and alliances of guilds are full of weak ties...

If done right no-drop is a great asset for the designer and can encourage socialization that otherwise wouldn't occur.

Posted Dec 15, 2004 5:43:10 AM | link

Jeremy Neal Kelly says:

Richard Bartle wrote:

> Yet it happens in other walks of life. A large
> percentage of the people who bet on horse races would
> bribe jockeys to hold back if they thought they could
> get away with it (especially using a Betfair system,
> where punters set the odds as well as making the
> bets). On the whole, though, horse racing is still
> regarded as fairly "clean"...

Is this really comparable to eBaying? I should think that the relatively small number of jockeys makes them easier to monitor. Moreover, one can't bribe a jockey to win -- they are presumably trying that already. One can only ask them to lose, which obviously conflicts with their professional interests.

I suspect tax evasion is a better analogue, and I get the impression that it's fairly widespread as well.

Posted Dec 15, 2004 10:28:09 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Hellinar said, regarding item farming/selling: ONE person buying ONE item from ONE person ONE day is not the issue for me. The issue I am talking about is a large item faucet being opened in the world by exterior money.

Not really, but this is a common misconception. No additional faucet has been opened in the world; those obtaining these items are doing so just as any other player would. The items don't occur with any greater frequency than already allowed by the game design, so these items are no less rare than ever intended. Nor are they going to those who couldn't otherwise (by their level, etc.) have them. It's just that the people buying those items haven't themselves spent the time to get them.

So the whole economic/game-balance complaint is really a straw man. There's no economic damage, no additional faucet. And no way for you or anyone else to tell whether "ONE person" or a thousand have bought items rather than going through the grind for them themselves. Thus, we're back to the "time vs. money" issue from the hard-core gamer POV.

Which is fine, except that the existence of out-of-game-sales is an early indicator that hard-core gamers are no longer the only ones playing these games. The market is broadening to include those who want the game experience but aren't willing to spend 20+ hours per week to get it. Fighting these OOG sales through punitive measures is just trying to hold back the tide and deny the way the market is changing.


Edward, re: that poll. Surely you see the self-selecting nature of the population. N=237, but that's 237 registered guild-members and thus almost certain to be heavily weighted toward the hard-core gamer gameplay patter and POV. So 53% of elite clan/guild members don't like out-of-game sales? I'm surprised it's that low a percentage. With the population selection and the passion exhibited here against such sales, I'd expect this to be above 80%.


Richard, your horse racing analogy doesn't work. To be parallel, you'd have to posit some kind of situation where by tradition only jockeys who spent a year or two raising a horse from a foal could race it, but that new jockeys were buying their way onto fast horses. The old-style jockeys might not like it, but it's a far cry from cheating (or tax evasion).

There is no case for calling the buying and selling items or in-game money via out of game sales cheating, a community issue, wrecking the economy, unbalancing the game, etc. This sort of charge has been repeated over and over in this discussion alone -- and yet without any substantive support.

IMO this still comes down to, "we don't like people who come in with more money than time, and who get in ten minutes and for $20 what I spent fifty hours clicking my mouse button for." This is a social issue, not a technological one. It's an issue of an expanding market, not immoral or unethical action. But for those who are primed to see this through the lens of the traditional ways MMOGs have been played by their traditional player base, things like buying and selling items out-of-game may seem like inexplicable heresy.

I agree with Raph in that I feel like an old guy telling everyone the rain is coming. But in my case, what I mean is not the same-old, same-old of mudflation, griefing, minmaxing, and grinding -- we've seen those for ten years at least and I take them as a given under the current school of design and presumed play patterns. What I mean is that the market itself is changing. The demographics and psychographics of players three years from now will be far different from three years ago. Trying to stop this -- or to make new player conform to old play styles -- is both futile and not a great way to maintain and build a business.

Posted Dec 15, 2004 1:47:21 PM | link

Hellinar says:

Mike Sellers>Not really, but this is a common misconception. No additional faucet has been opened in the world; those obtaining these items are doing so just as any other player would.<

So every player is hiring five people in China to play their character 24/7? Every player is farming in one optimum spot for all of their playtime? I don’t think so. If my character kills the Blue Dragon once in six months of play he adds one Blue Dragon Breastplate to the world. Farmer X, killing the same dragon twenty times a day for six months adds 3600 Blue Dragon Breastplates to the world. That looks like an item faucet to me.

Posted Dec 15, 2004 3:14:39 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Hellinar, adjusting the economy by a constant factor will always be insufficient to prevent inflation in a fun game. The reseason is that you always need to let the casual player earn what he needs. The hardcore will then always earn more than they need... You can introduce new more powerful and expensive items, but that is the same as a devaluation and can make the game rather newbie unfriendly.

To curb inflation you either need to either:

1. prevent arbitrary transactions (nodrop)

2. prevent hoarding (rotting, put a time-limit on resources)

3. take from the rich (progressive taxation)

Posted Dec 15, 2004 3:32:04 PM | link

Hellinar says:

Raph>Perhaps the thing to do is to turn it around and say to you, "what is it about WoW that is so fun?"

I’d say what is making it fun for me is the polish. Driving a well-engineered car is fun, driving a badly engineered one isn’t. Playing a quest based game in which all the quests work reliably is fun, playing one in which they only work occasionally isn’t.

Raph> Once current WoW players are levelling up their fifth Horde character, we'll see whether or not they feel that there's a treadmill or not, and whether there's no scope for a secondary market.

This is the crux of the treadmill problem I think. Journeying from the Shire to Mordor once is an Adventure. The tenth time is a chore. I can’t see a way past this as long as the journey is handcrafted content at $10m a throw. I am enjoying my journey through Azeroth, but I don’t expect it to last for years, even at my casual play rate.

Matt>Look, people who are playing WoW aren't there for great story. They're not there for great quests. They're there for the level grind, whether they admit it to themselves or not, as that's pretty much all it offers.<

My experience at the low levels is that the quest stories while not great are sometimes quite engaging. And there are enough Easter Eggs in the nooks and crannies of the world to make exploration worthwhile. Its obvious that leveling rather than Journeying is Blizzards focus though. You can’t even turn off the Experience Bar in the Options panel. To my mind, an Experience Bar is like a nagging child constantly saying “Are we there yet?”. Not what you want if you are focussed on the journey and not the destination. Fortunately, for those with some coding skills, you can turn it off in the XML files.


Posted Dec 15, 2004 3:41:46 PM | link

Jessica Mulligan says:

Mike Sellers said: "Along similar lines, Hellinar said, "It’s the large scale farming and botting that I see is lowering my play experience."

In what ways, specifically, is your play experience lowered because someone else buys an item from another person?"

It isn't the act by itself, Mike. It is commercial farmers that run bots that monopolize areas of the game. That detracts from the experience for my players, at least; in some cases, it makes it impossible to play certain areas of the game. It certainly eats my customer service resources tracking them down and eliminating them. That's my only real concern. Hell, I could care less if Player A wants to sell his +5 Bellybutton Lint-Picker of Death to Player B. I *DO* care if scum like IGE tries to take over parts of the game with their bots and Asian low-cost workers simply to keep other players out while they farm, build characters, whatever, simply to feed their (offshore) money machine.

At about this point, I'm sure someone will chime in with "You just need to design your content better!" To which I reply: You can only do so much through design. At some level, any game mechanic, feature or system can and will be exploited.

I'll also go so far to venture that trying to eBay-proof an MMOG would result in an un-fun piece of crap. So you aim for the best you can and kill offending accounts when you need to.

Posted Dec 15, 2004 3:47:05 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

Hellinar said:
So every player is hiring five people in China to play their character 24/7? Every player is farming in one optimum spot for all of their playtime? I don’t think so. If my character kills the Blue Dragon once in six months of play he adds one Blue Dragon Breastplate to the world. Farmer X, killing the same dragon twenty times a day for six months adds 3600 Blue Dragon Breastplates to the world. That looks like an item faucet to me.

Hellinar, what you are talking about is FARMING. It has only a vague association with EBaying, and is not the topic of conversation here.

Blizzard has not recently cracked down on accounts being played 24/7. They have cracked down on EBay sales of WoW items. Check out their news post from the 10th of this month, posted both at the top of this page and at WorldofWarcraft.com. Nowhere has anyone from Blizzard mentioned that WoW accounts should not or cannot be played 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (They have cracked down on bots, but that's a whole different topic, which should also not be confused with the topic of EBaying.)

I realize that the more people who farm items, the more items there are for sale on EBay. However, Blizzard could eliminate 100% of out of game sales for real money, and people would still farm for gold or items in game. Similarly, Blizzard could completely allow out of game sales for real money, but crack down 100% on farming, and people would still sell WoW items on EBay. The two issues are related, but neither causes the other, and they are far from being the same thing.

Items cannot enter a world faster than the developers of the game want them to. Even if everyone was farming Blue Dragons, Blizzard could decide that Blue Dragons only spawn once per day, or that an account can't receive more than one Blue Dragon Breastplate per month. Blizzard has all the power in this situation, and can turn off the faucet whenever they want, if farming was what they were worried about.

Posted Dec 15, 2004 3:50:42 PM | link

Hellinar says:

Ola> To curb inflation you either need to either:

1. prevent arbitrary transactions (nodrop)

2. prevent hoarding (rotting, put a time-limit on resources)

3. take from the rich (progressive taxation) <

Seems to me you are confusing the VW world economy with the familiar world economy. In a game world, most wealth acquisition is by luck (drops). And luck in a VW, unlike in the familiar world, is controlled by the Server. So this opens options 4,

4. give less to the rich (progressive reduction in luck).

Which was what I was advocating earlier, in terms of a soft loot cap.

Posted Dec 15, 2004 3:55:39 PM | link

Raph says:

Of course, reducing the rate of spawns and drops is exactly what creates a greater feeling of treadmill. :) Likewise, drops in instances also multiplies the possible faucet size.

Many of the things we do in the name of fun or increased convenience exacerbate the problem, rather than reduce it.

On a separate note, my wife dug up for me some old samples of LegendMUD quest walkthroughs. If there's interest, I can post what a largish quest from there looks like.

Posted Dec 15, 2004 4:03:53 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Jessica said, It isn't the act by itself, Mike. It is commercial farmers that run bots that monopolize areas of the game. That detracts from the experience for my players, at least; in some cases, it makes it impossible to play certain areas of the game.

How is this different from people taking over various areas in EQ, or taking over cities on AC's PvP servers? Both of those conditions seem to have been pretty well tolerated.

I could care less if Player A wants to sell his +5 Bellybutton Lint-Picker of Death to Player B. I *DO* care if scum like IGE tries to take over parts of the game with their bots and Asian low-cost workers simply to keep other players out while they farm, build characters, whatever, simply to feed their (offshore) money machine.

Wow. So is it people (I assume not just Asians) being employed to play your game that you're against, or that they manage to monopolize areas of your game, or the fact that an external company has found a niche market using your service?

It might be the first or the last, I guess, but this again just seems like a kind of sour grapes. What do you care if others are employed to play your game? Do MMOG operators care more about that than the divorces their games have caused or the people who have crashed out of college for playing them too much? This moral outrage seems just a bit thin and self-serving.

As to the monopolization issue, that's a larger issue of content management. Solutions like diverse spawn-points, instancing, and others can all combat this. To say nothing of moving away from the kill-monster-get-gold gameplay upon which virtually all MMOGs have come to depend.

Posted Dec 15, 2004 4:07:54 PM | link

Hellinar says:


Samantha>Hellinar, what you are talking about is FARMING. It has only a vague association with EBaying, and is not the topic of conversation here.

What I am focussed on is this quote in the Blizzard announcement:

Blizzard> Not only do we believe that it is illegal, but it also has the potential to damage the game economy and overall experience for the many thousands of others who play World of Warcraft for fun.

I read that as meaning they are concerned about sales on a scale that impact the economy and others gameplay, by people who regard there WoW account as an income source rather than an entertainment source. And to me, that implies farming. I’m assuming the blanket “sales are forbidden” is for legal and practical reasons. Not because they are concerned about a once in a blue moon sale at the end of a characters life.

Posted Dec 15, 2004 4:12:18 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Hellinar> 4. give less to the rich (progressive reduction in luck).

It might have some effect, but it can be circumevented by character-character transfer...

Posted Dec 15, 2004 4:16:32 PM | link