IGE Speaks

Steve Salyer, IGE's CEO, takes some tough questions about the secondary market from okratas.


Comments on IGE Speaks:

Greg Boyd says:

I have found myself thinking lately how the Marvel v. NCSoft case might affect the way people/courts think about the legal status of virtual goods.

Consider the following - NCSoft wins by making several legal arguments that stress the following:

1. The players are responsible for infringement -not us

2. The players are creative people and they control what they are making - not us

3. Look how much flexibility is allowed in our system. Our game is just like crayons or paint brushes.

As we have read in the filings, NCSoft is making these types of arguments in the case already.

This type of language gets into the briefs and is then copied into the opinion. THEN a virtual goods case finally makes it into court. Someone pulls language out of the NCSoft win to justify "player ownership" in creative work of virtual goods. In short, game developers win one battle here only to set up the legal dicta to lose a larger battle down the road.

It is a little contorted, but I have seen worse in cases and I am going to bet that either way NCSoft v. Marvel comes out (if it goes through to opinion) people will be using findings in that case for the upcoming virtual goods case. (and we all know it is coming, it is just a matter of when and who is the plaintiff)

Greg

Posted Feb 14, 2005 11:23:37 AM | link

Garthilk says:

I always try to follow up referrers back to their point of origin and thank them. This is is quite an honor, thanks for the link Terranova!

Posted Feb 14, 2005 11:50:42 AM | link

Edward Castronova says:

Tough questions >> all.

Actually the intermediary deserves credit, mmorpgdot.com.

Posted Feb 14, 2005 11:54:43 AM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

I like that Monopoly analogy. Seemed like a "gotcha" to me.

Posted Feb 14, 2005 12:04:46 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

This Terranova entry is mis-titled. Steve didn't take any tough questions. He refused to take them, because answering the tough questions would require him to admit that he's running an online pawn shop specifically designed to assist people who are breaking their contracts with the publisher or developer.

Best line of the interview: "We are very committed to helping expand the market through.... ethical and professional business practices."

--matt

Posted Feb 14, 2005 2:53:22 PM | link

Lee Delarm says:

It seemed like many of the comments and attitudes from the interviewers were pretty one sided. I'm not specifically defending IGE, but it's quite obvious you compare Monopoly to MOG secondary markets just like you can't compare robbing a bank akin to IGE secondary markets, because if you could, this wouldn't even be an issue, it would've been settled years ago.

The reason it IS an issue, is because you CANT'T comapre it to anything else. There is nothing else out there that physically exists that you can do a comparison with, because everything is TIME BASED. It's ALL time. There's not even a CD being traded in most cases, it's numbers and information which are gathered based on time.

I also thought TNs would be more receptive to other people's ethics instead of jumping up and down on the beliefs of others as to the legality and business practices of the secondary market. I could've swore that not everyone believed in one set of rules for these things...maybe I missed that meeting.

Posted Feb 14, 2005 3:26:15 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

You're right Lee, it is time-based. All the arguments around how horrible the secondary market are reduce to "I spent a hundred hours getting this Foozle, you should have to too." It's a core-gamer argument, but the market is no longer exclusively made up of high-time, low-money core gamers.

$880M in 2004 secondary market sales? That's real revenue, and a real sign of change in the market.

Posted Feb 14, 2005 3:30:19 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Lee wrote:

It seemed like many of the comments and attitudes from the interviewers were pretty one sided. I'm not specifically defending IGE, but it's quite obvious you compare Monopoly to MOG secondary markets just like you can't compare robbing a bank akin to IGE secondary markets, because if you could, this wouldn't even be an issue, it would've been settled years ago.

The reason it IS an issue, is because you CANT'T comapre it to anything else. There is nothing else out there that physically exists that you can do a comparison with, because everything is TIME BASED. It's ALL time. There's not even a CD being traded in most cases, it's numbers and information which are gathered based on time.

I agree with all of this.

However, whether out-of-game item sales harm a game or not is irrelevant to me. The game isn't an entity that has rights. And keep in mind that my company was one of the pioneers of the in-game item sales business model, back in 1997. I obviously have no inherent problem with people being able to buy things they want in-game.

The fact is, IGE IS running a business predicated on assisting people in breaking their contracts with developers and publishers. You can put your own spin on that, but that's what they're doing.

--matt

Posted Feb 14, 2005 3:45:14 PM | link

Detritus says:

I think this was the best question/dodge.

Let us take for example you invite your friend and myself to your house to play Monopoly . I land on park place and buy it. Your friend then lands on Boardwalk. I offer your friend 5 real life dollars to sell Boardwalk to me, and he does. I now have an in game advantage. Does this behavior undermine the spirit of the game?

PR MOUTHPIECE: I THINK YOU’RE REACHING A BIT WITH THIS ANALOGY. THE SECONDARY MARKET FOR MOG IS A YOUNG PHENOMENON AND ALWAYS EVOLVING, WHICH LEAVES IT OPEN TO A LOT OF DEBATE AND DISCUSSION. HOWEVER, YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT BLATANT CHEATING, WHICH IS NOT WHAT THE SECONDARY MARKET IS ABOUT, IN A GAME THAT IN NO WAY MIRRORS AN MOG. WE COULD GO ROUND AND ROUND ON THIS BUT I THINK STEVE HAS STATED HIS THOUGHTS PRETTY CLEARLY.

----

They know it's cheating, and say so themselves. I think this is the most damning thing I've ever seen a PR company say.

This is for the MOG community what the Gannon drama is for the political community. Excellent work Garthilk.

Posted Feb 14, 2005 4:14:23 PM | link

Brandon says:

To say that Monopoly analogy is "reaching a bit" is an understatement. Monopoly has virtually nothing in common with MOG's except for being called a game.

- The monopoly world is NOT persistent
- The assets earned in MOG's are typically not exclusive to one person. This is different than Monopoly where Bordwalk can only be held by a single person
- MOG's have hundreds or thousands of times more players than Monopoly
- Time spent (About 3 hours for Monopoly versus hundreds of hours for MOG's)
- The end goal of Monopoly is to win the game, but in MOG's there is never and end, or winner.

The analogy seems to have been crafted to give an initial "wow" reaction that we are seeing in some of these early responses, but the comparison really shouldn't carry any weight.


Posted Feb 14, 2005 4:50:17 PM | link

William Huber says:

Someone on Slashdot pointed this out:it is actually within the rules of Monopoly to have any kind of agreement between players. From the rules of the Monopoly:
Unimproved properties, railroads and utilities (but not buildings) may be sold to any player as a private transaction for any amount that the owner can get.

Perhaps the gotcha actually backfires.

Besides, we know that MMO's are not quite like bounded, well-defined boardgames.

I'm becoming more inclined to think that the issue isn't cheating per se, but a threat to the idea of the game-as-leisure, and the cognitive dissonance created one one person's play is apparently the same as another person's work.

Posted Feb 14, 2005 5:12:07 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

William Huber wrote:

Besides, we know that MMO's are not quite like bounded, well-defined boardgames.

You're right. In Monopoly, your agreement to the rules is only implied. In MMOs, you've explicitly agreed to a certain set of rules.

--matt

Posted Feb 14, 2005 5:25:51 PM | link

Cory Ondrejka says:

Dmitri> I like that Monopoly analogy. Seemed like a "gotcha" to me.

Beyond the comments since your post, I think that the Monopoly analogy is actually pretty flawed. See http://www.themis-group.com/uploads/Changing%20Realities.pdf.

Posted Feb 14, 2005 5:40:33 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

It's not so much that IGE is doing something illegal or immoral to me as that they are enabling a violation of the spirit of the game. This is totally subjective and is based on my own opinion of what games ought to be--fair. Others would have other ideals.

On the gotcha line and flexible rules that William Huber notes above: in this case what makes it different than the Monopoly rules and their flexibility is that not everyone was in on the discussion about changing them.

Some don't like the Monopoly example. I think it's anything with competition. Two players play tennis/golf/NASCAR and, despite equal talent and effort, one has better equipment. No one is "wrong" but it's not fair play anymore. I realize this is Polyanna speech, but I like fair play as a guiding principle. IGE breaks that principle as its necessary cost of doing business.

Posted Feb 14, 2005 6:25:33 PM | link

Greg Boyd says:

Thought experiment for Cory et al.

The new game is now called MMOnopoly. These are some characteristics.

It is persistent.
Assets are not exclusive to one person.
Thousands can play simultaneously.
Having assets helps players.
It takes hundreds to thousands of hours to play.
No one "wins", but there is a measure of power roughly correlated to assets.

The game owner says explicitly "no real money in the game, only MMOnopoly money is allowed. We think using real money to get ahead is cheating."

Furthermore, most players in the game rely solely on MMOnopoly money because they follow the rules set out by the owner of the game.

THEN some players go ahead and use real money anyway to circumvent the difficulty of the game by purchasing an advantage over other players.

This still smells like cheating even if I change the parameters.

I would even go so far as to say that the anonymity these worlds afford is one of the only reasons these markets exist.

Specifically, if someone that purchased a third party character/items/gold had a big red flag on their character that said "cheater" then I think most people would play by the rules. As it is now, you can't tell the difference.

Posted Feb 14, 2005 6:26:33 PM | link

Jeremy Neal Kelly says:

Dmitri Williams wrote:

> Two players play tennis/golf/NASCAR and, despite equal talent and
> effort, one has better equipment. No one is "wrong" but it's not
> fair play anymore.

Is that all MMORPG play is -- a competition? I realize that is part of the game for some of the players, but isn't there a lot more to it?

Posted Feb 14, 2005 6:45:12 PM | link

Garthilk says:

IGE Owns Ogaming, Thottbot & More..

http://www.okratas.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=58

Posted Feb 14, 2005 6:48:28 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

For an explanation of why this seems to be true:

http://wow.allakhazam.com/forum.html?forum=21&mid=1107932104887749460&num=8

--matt

Posted Feb 14, 2005 7:03:22 PM | link

Hellinar says:

William Huber >I'm becoming more inclined to think that the issue isn't cheating per se, but a threat to the idea of the game-as-leisure, and the cognitive dissonance created one one person's play is apparently the same as another person's work.<

I rate as an even bigger threat, the specter it raises that a persons “Work”, which is ever so “Important”, is not much different from playing in a MMOG. I think there is a case to be made that much of the modern economy is devoted to gameplay. A status/acquisition game not unlike EQ but with less clearly programmed rules. Which leads to the rather ironic sight of a parent who is spending 60 hours a week grinding at the office to get a shinier SUV complaining about their offspring grinding 40 hours a week in EQ to get a shinier breastplate. Both items start as digital objects on a computer. One is rendered in metal and plastic, the other in light. But I’m not sure I see any deep reasons to prefer one over the other to grind for.

In that light, the “grind” in MMOGs is simply a transference of gamers expectations of a status/acquisition game from the familiar world to the VW. We expect to “work” for our stuff in the familiar world, so we demand it in our VW. IGE lets people transfer the results of grind in one world to circumvent grind in the other. In both directions. But if the grinds are interchangeable, maybe the games are too? What privileges the status items in this world over the status items in EQ, apart from physicality?

Eric Hayot points out in the article mentioned above that MMOG games take the daily status/acquisition game and in many ways one ups it. Clearer rules, fairer starting conditions, easier community. Institutions like IGE blurring the boundaries between the two games is just a likely to point out the “gameness” of the everyday world, as it is to point out the “workness” of a MMOG. Which is likely to disturb some people. When they have just paid $1 million for their new home, they don’t want to hear “Hey, well done. But don’t forget, its only a game”.

Posted Feb 14, 2005 10:41:14 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

Jeremy Neal Kelly wrote:
Is that all MMORPG play is -- a competition? I realize that is part of the game for some of the players, but isn't there a lot more to it?

Fair point, so maybe competition isn't what I was trying to get at. Let me try this from another angle. Huizenga wrote a long time ago that sports appeal because there is a clear boundary between them and "real life"--and that within that boundary it doesn't matter if you are rich, poor, black or white, etc. Within those boundaries, all that matters are skill and effort. That's the appeal of sport--it tells people who live in an unfair world that there is a place where their status is irrelevant. And when you take that away or tamper with it, people get deeply bothered. It's why I am digusted with the Yankee's payroll, with school funding tied to property taxes, and a host of systematic inequalities that pervade modern life. All are violations of this spirit of fair play, and when you get down to it, of basic meritocracy. This is my problem with IGE--not legal or moral.

But my sensibilities aside, there's something non-Polyannaish to consider: In games, if not in real life, when you mess with fair play enough, the game stinks and people leave.

Posted Feb 14, 2005 11:25:25 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Dmitri Williams wrote:

Within those boundaries, all that matters are skill and effort. That's the appeal of sport--it tells people who live in an unfair world that there is a place where their status is irrelevant.

This might apply to Quake. It doesn't apply to the big MMOGs, where it's mainly about how much free time you can afford to spend. That's little different from how much money you can afford to spend.

--matt

Posted Feb 15, 2005 12:56:36 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Mike Sellers>All the arguments around how horrible the secondary market are reduce to "I spent a hundred hours getting this Foozle, you should have to too." It's a core-gamer argument, but the market is no longer exclusively made up of high-time, low-money core gamers.

OK, so if it's not the case that people should have to spend a hundred hours getting a Foozle, why should they have to spend ANY TIME AT ALL getting it? And if they don't have to spend any time at all getting it, why should they spend any MONEY at all getting it?

Some gamers have lots of time and some have lots of money. Some have little of either. Why should they suffer? Why can't they just go to their in-game replicator, press the button marked FOOZLE, and get a Foozle for free? Why can't they get any object they want whenever they want it? And what effect would it have on gameplay if they could get whatever they want whenever they wanted it?

Richard

Posted Feb 15, 2005 3:03:31 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Cory Ondrejka>I think that the Monopoly analogy is actually pretty flawed.

The Monopoly example has two aspects to it: ownership and magic circle. In your Themis paper, you mainly discuss the one about ownership while talking about magic circles.

Ownership: if I buy a property in Monopoly with real-world money, I don't real-world own it because it wasn't the seller's to real-world sell. What I'm actually buying is a service: the game-world owner will game-world sell it to me for real-world money. This is what you call "scoped" ownership, and I think we're in agreement that it's not the same as actual real-world ownership. The difference is that I believe this is an argument that says players can't real-world own game-world objects (unless they bought them from the real-world owner) and you don't.

Magic circle: on this subject, you say "If the rules specifically prohibited that action, the other players would have to decide whether or not to follow them and whether or not to keep playing with the parties who used real money for the purchase". This is almost correct: there are additional "unwritten rules" that every game has that aren't written down, yet which are implicit to them. The rules don't say I can't blackmail you into selling me a property, or if they did then they wouldn't say I couldn't pay you by releasing you from a favour you owed me, or of they did then they wouldn't say I couldn't do it in the hope that you'd reciprocate next game we played, or if they did then ... ad infinitum.

A magic circle is the state that pertains when all the players are playing by all the rules, implicit and explicit. You only mentioned the explicit ones. However, with this caveat, yoru statement is correct: if some players do something that breaks what the other players perceive to be the rules of the game, then those other players have to decide whether to accept it or not. If they don't accept it, they have to decide whether or not to keep playing.

This is what Garthilk was getting at in their question to IGE. They weren't talking about "ownership", they were talking about the "spirit of the game". Now you're right to say that Monopoly and virtual worlds are different, but there are saliant similarities and this is one of them. You can play against the spirit of Monopoly and against the spirit of a virtual world. The difference is that in Monopoly you can decide not to play with the commodifiers ever again, but in a virtual world you can't. For virtual worlds, either you embrace commodification (as with SL) or you try and stomp on it because it stops your game being a game.

Richard

Posted Feb 15, 2005 3:40:34 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Brandon>Monopoly has virtually nothing in common with MOG's except for being called a game.

That's all it needs to have in common with it.

If you want a different example, consider "Dungeons & Dragons". If you buy a D&D character on eBay (and people have auctioned their characters this way) then the only way it's going to get into a game is if the DM and the other players agree. Mostly, they're not going to agree because it spoils the game. Yet for D&D the game world is persistent from session to session. The assets earned in it are typically not exclusive to one person. Time spent can be hundreds of hours. There is never and end or winner. The only difference you mention that it doesn't have is the "number of players", and even that is challenged by some RPGs (early "Empire of the Petal Throne" campaigns were interlinked between GMs, so all EOTP games were in the same, shared universe). Besides, what has size got to do with it anyway? There are two Gemstone IV accounts for sale on eBay right now with reserve prices of $1,500 - and Gemstone IV is a text game. How many players do you need for it to be significant?

Look, games have rules. If you break the rules, you can expect to be chucked out of the game. Break the wrong ones particularly spectacularly and you could be arrested. Mewling about how imperfect the analogy is in irrelevant places doesn't get round the fact that in the critical place - the fact that it's a game the analogy holds. What's more, it holds to the extent that it really is the "gotcha" that Dmitri Williams says it is.

There are only two cases where it's legitimate to shrug and say "so what?" about this. Firstly, if your virtual world has no game element to it (as is the case with SL) then there's no magic circle to break. Secondly, if your virtual world incorporates real-world money as part of the rules (as is the case with Achaea) then the use of real-world money is within the magic circle. In all other cases, it breaks the magic circle: the people who aren't buying and selling virtual property (or are doing so under protest) have every right to want to stop playing with those who are. Because of the nature of virtual worlds, they can't go to some other "untainted" game because the commodifiers will follow them. The only solution short of stopping playing at all is to eject the rule-breakers when their rule-breaking is exposed.

Richard

Posted Feb 15, 2005 4:10:39 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

MMOs are closer to downhill skiing than Monopoly. Does it bother you that other people can afford better equipment or that other people have more time to aquire skills?

Posted Feb 15, 2005 5:47:51 AM | link

Tom Hudson says:

Richard says "Look, games have rules."

He seems to be referring to the rules written by the developers. But, at least in my family, there's more often than not house rules. I've also seen house rules in every board gaming or wargaming group I've played with. The developers' idea of the game is always flawed.

In MMOs, I suspect that the 'house rules' most players are playing by aren't those that the developers wrote. There seem to be lots of people who don't think RL-buyers of content are violating the *rules of the game*, whether or not they're violating the *rules the developers wrote*.

Posted Feb 15, 2005 6:10:54 AM | link

Brask Mumei says:

I think the Monopoly analogies miss the question of scale.

The magic circle ceases to hold meaning when one talks of 100,000s of people. At least in the case of MMORPGs, they are not playing the same game. They are not in the same magic circle. Some take offense at one mentioning the Superbowl. Others take offense at in-game trades being performed for out-of-game money. Each player has their own version of what the right way to play the game is. Usually, they group in communities of like-minded players, and whine about other groups that play the game "wrong".

The developer part of me wants to say that the Developer should have the right to declare what the Right way to play the game is. Thus, if they say that trading for cash breaks the spirit, players should not do such. However, the player part of me says that if the developer wants a certain play style, they should create an environment conducive to it.

MMORPGs are not commodified by ebay. They come pre-commodified. What is gold in Warcraft but a commodity? Gold in Warcraft is not given real world value by ebay. It is given real world value by Blizzard maintaining an artificial scarcity through limitting its production.

"I want an in-game economy where the in-game currency is valuable to the players" is a recipe for an in-game economy which will be linked with the out-of-game economy. It's like how "I want unlimitted pvp" is linked to widespread noob killing. With small groups, or with a dedicated enough focus, one can overcome this. One can have unlimitted PvP with the players respecting one another. One can have in-game economies that don't tie with real-world economies (Monopoly is just such an example). I am not at all convinced you can, however, scale this to 100,000 players. You certainly can't with the level of CSR support that MMORPGs employ.

I think Mike Sellers has it right: this is a cultural clash between the core-gamers and the time-poor, money-rich, casual players. The reason why we don't see much of the $880 million spending crowd is likely because forums about games tends to attract the core-gamers.

- Brask Mumei

Posted Feb 15, 2005 6:37:07 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Ola Fosheim Grøstad>MMOs are closer to downhill skiing than Monopoly.

In what way?

>Does it bother you that other people can afford better equipment or that other people have more time to aquire skills?

If I were entering a skiing competition, yes, it would bother me. If they went on about how much better they were at skiing than I was, it would also bother me. It would especially bother me if, having just failed to qualify for the Olympics, someone else who didn't even enter were to buy the place of someone who did qualify ("because I have a regular job and I can't afford the time it takes to practice").

Richard

Posted Feb 15, 2005 6:38:32 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Tom Hudson>there's more often than not house rules. I've also seen house rules in every board gaming or wargaming group I've played with. The developers' idea of the game is always flawed.

OK, so if you were playing a game and someone broke your house rules, then what? You've told them that you can't supplement Monopoly money bids with real money, but they do it anyway. When you complain, they say that all games have house rules and they're playing by this one that says they can use real money to bribe players in Monopoly.

You're just pushed the problem one level back. At some stage, someone is going to do something that even you regard as spoiling the game. You then have the choice of leaving, staying but losing out on fun, or lobbying to get the people who are spoiling it for you thrown out. What are you going to do?

Richard

Posted Feb 15, 2005 6:44:03 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Richard Bartle> In what way?

People show off their equpipment (avatars/characters), but are usually not getting in each other way and usually they don't compete directly, except when they are standing in line to wait for the lift (if it doesn't have the right capacity). You don't know most of the other players. Some people are annoying, but then you and your friends pick a different slope. Some people are admired because they know how to do split-jumps. However, most casual people play because of what they can experience in the moment. Bascially a MMO.

Richard Bartle> If I were entering a skiing competition, yes, it would bother me.

There is very little one-dimensional competition in MMOs. It's more like the big bullys get to dominate the most challenging slopes. Even when you count in PvP designs. You don't have a single meaningful score table. Levelbased designs could be compared to slope curves. I find the easier slopes more fun as you can get more control and are less bound by min-maxing. Others prefer the steeper slopes where you need to optimize.

Richard Bartle> If they went on about how much better they were at skiing than I was, it would also bother me.

Yes, but then you get to pick a different slope... :-)

Richard Bartle> It would especially bother me if, having just failed to qualify for the Olympics

Well, if the MMO has something similar to the Olympics, sure.

Posted Feb 15, 2005 7:06:31 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Brask Mumei>I think the Monopoly analogies miss the question of scale.

But they precisely capture the feeling of majority of players.

>The magic circle ceases to hold meaning when one talks of 100,000s of people.

I don't think it ceases to hold meaning, but I do agree that there are multiple interpretations of what the boundaries of the circle are, some of which are held quite genuinely. For example, you don't have to be a griefer to exhibit grief play, you just have to believe that grief play is "what the game is about".

>MMORPGs are not commodified by ebay. They come pre-commodified. What is gold in Warcraft but a commodity?

It's a commodity in the game; that doesn't make it a commodity in real life. Beasides, even if it did, you could use the same argument for many other things that you don't want commodifying. What is a PhD but a commodity?

>Gold in Warcraft is not given real world value by ebay. It is given real world value by Blizzard maintaining an artificial scarcity through limitting its production.

PhDs are given real world value by universities maintaining an artificial scarcity through limiting production. Why shouldn't I be able to go to someone with a biology PhD and buy it off them if they don't want it?

>I think Mike Sellers has it right: this is a cultural clash between the core-gamers and the time-poor, money-rich, casual players.

Money is just a symptom in that case. Time-poor, money-poor people would buy stuff too if they could. That being the case, why would a virtual world that wanted to attract players not give everyone everything they wanted for free? They don't make any money from item sales themselves, so if this casual market is so big and so popular, why not make it even more big and more popular by giving away whatever it is that players are so keen to have they'll break a contract to pay to own? If the magic circle is meaningless, why would this have any effect at all? Yet if a virtual world did do this it would lose all its achievers: it would have no game to it at all.

Richard

Posted Feb 15, 2005 8:38:19 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Ola Fosheim Grøstad>People show off their equpipment (avatars/characters)

For different reasons. In skiing, they're trying to show how wealthy they are or how committed to skiing they are. In virtual worlds, they're trying to show how good a player they are.

If you don't believe me, consider what would happen to account sales in virtual worlds if every time there was a transfer of ownership a character was given a different colour or font to their name. You'd then be able to tell whether someone was there on merit or on false pretences. It wouldn't affect the "I just wanted to play with my high-level friends" people or the "My group needed a mage so I traded in my cleric for one" people, but it would affect the "I'm L50 and you're not yah boo sucks" people because they'd be exposed as frauds. My guess is that if such a change were made, the number of people buying characters would plummet.

>Some people are annoying, but then you and your friends pick a different slope.

How do you do that in a virtual world? It's like they're setting off the avalanche alarm - it affects you wherever you go, whatever slope. It's only if you go to a different valley (ie. different virtual world) that you'll be free of them.

>However, most casual people play because of what they can experience in the moment.

In that case, why waste money on expensive equipment? Using your analogy, only the hard core would want to do this.

Richard

Posted Feb 15, 2005 8:48:19 AM | link

Brask Mumei says:

Richard Bartle> But they precisely capture the feeling of majority of players.

Isn't this the $880 million dollar question?

Richard Bartle> Why shouldn't I be able to go to someone with a biology PhD and buy it off them if they don't want it?

Because PhDs are non-transferable within the game. As has been pointed out, if gold were non-transferable within the game, an ebay market for gold would not exist. If we could freely transfer PhDs to other people, there would be a PhD for Cash economy before you could blink.

Judging from my e-mail box, there may be already one, thanks to various disreputable universities...

The "Why not give everything away for free?" is an interesting point. You *could* give everything away for free. That would certainly scuttle the ebay market. As you note, it would have costly consequences. I think, however, that that is my point? The cost of stamping out the secondary market exceeds the cost of the secondary market itself. One is thus best off mitigating the cost of the secondary market by ensuring actions like farming doesn't ruin the game for others, and that players can have a good time without having to go to the secondary market for goods.

It would be nice if we could just pretend the secondary market didn't exist. We could have the rare and valuable goods in game yet not have them worth USD. But, it would also be nice if we could have free for all PvP, but have people not abuse the privelage.

I think I was wrong to say that the magic circle was meaningless. I meant that the idea of there being *one* magic circle is meaningless. There are many, as many as there are communities. Each group of players establishes their own norms of conduct. How can a developer control these?

1) Code
The most straight forward. If the world prohibits it, it can't occur. Of course, this tends to be a hamfisted solution as most interesting issues are complicated.

2) Marketting
Setting the proper expectations is essential. If people go in thinking: "It is only game", they may be more likely to say: "Anything the game allows is cool". Once the world starts, however, it will follow its own course, reinforcing the whatever behaviour becomes customary.

3) Customer Service
This is the ongoing correction of the user base. Humans react to their surroundings. If everyone swears repeatedly, they will start swearing more. If everyone rips off the noobs, they will rip off the noobs. By monitoring and properly rewarding and punishing the player base, one could hopefully keep the "culture" on track. (This is primarily how table top D&D works)

The problem, of course, occurs when you have 100,000 players and don't wish to have 1,000 GMs. (Even if you have 1,000 GMs: How do you get their culture on track?)

I'm sure you know all this. I think where we disagree is on the practicality of creating a no-ebay culture. Where I see it as impossible given the constraints of an MMORPG, thus recommend one take ebay as a given, you believe it to be possible through some combination of #1 - #3, and other things I have not thought of.

I've been proven wrong about human nature in the past, so I hope you will have the chance to prove me wrong about this some day.

- Brask Mumei

Posted Feb 15, 2005 9:14:30 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

In response to my statement that these arguments reduce to high-time, low-money core-gamer complaints, Richard asked "so if it's not the case that people should have to spend a hundred hours getting a Foozle, why should they have to spend ANY TIME AT ALL getting it? And if they don't have to spend any time at all getting it, why should they spend any MONEY at all getting it?

Some gamers have lots of time and some have lots of money. Some have little of either. Why should they suffer?"

The basic answer is of course, there's no reason why low-time, low-money people should "suffer" so. Except that commercial games are, well, commercial. They're capitalist in nature, so they put both affordances and barriers in place in such a way to keep people playing and paying. A non-commercial, non-capitalist game could certainly do otherwise.

I suspect what you're driving at here is that the time-based nature of play -- that it takes time spent in-game to build up rewards -- is the singular gameplay aspect that keeps people playing (and paying). Again, this is narrow, core-gamer perspective. Equating time spent in a game with rewards gained is one successful niche -- but it's a niche we've dug so deep that it's gone past being a rut to being a crevasse out of which we can no longer see. The evidence for this is in the (largely ignored or derided) nearly one billion dollars people spent last year to gain access to gameplay they simply didn't have time to get to "the old fashioned way."

Doing this may violate what core-gamers consider to be part of the social contract of a MMOG, but then (outside of EULAs that no one reads anyway) these new customers weren't part of the evolution of this contract: they likely didn't play in high school D&D games, text MUDs, or other MMOGS -- ever. This is what we get when the market broadens: new people with equally valid perspectives and credit cards come to the game with new expectations and new takes on the social contract. We can stamp our feet and say it isn't fair, but they'll just shrug and say, in effect, they're playing a different game. IMO, complaining about that is akin to complaining about the incoming tide.

Posted Feb 15, 2005 9:16:56 AM | link

Lee Delarm says:

As shown by the $880 million dollar economy there's clearly a substantial amount of people who don't believe in the developers right to set ALL the rules in the game. These people (mostly) also understand that some rules must be kept, sometimes through in game coded mechanics (you can't hack the game). I believe they follow what was referred to as "house rules".

These house rules, for them, make the game more fun, more enjoyable and it's how they LIKE to play the game. Others may not like to play with their house rules and might be hardcore sticklers to the original rules (I know a few Magic card players who are like this). Others like to create entirely new sets of rules, which I believe is where the "Roleplay servers" fit in, they demand to be immersed in their own fantasy environment.

Unfortunately, the house rules of some people (selling in game items is ok) seems to clash rather violently with the hardcore sticklers to the game. In this case, they cannot just up and start their own game, or move to a new server (most of the time). They are forced to play together and neither will budge because each believes the other is wrong simply for believing what the other thinks is the "right" rules. At this point, the arguement usually goes to something like how the developer has legal rights over the game and the other side says no legal basis has been set and they're both partially right.

Will there ever be an end? Is there no way at all to solve this arguement? I personally don't think VW sales will end even with a court case "resolving" the issue. It seems like this is almost like religion, where many people cannot even fathom what the other side is thinking nor understand their reasoning behind it because they are so set in their beliefs that there could not possibly be another way. Is there really anywhere else these arguements can go besides around in a circle till the end of time?

Posted Feb 15, 2005 9:22:52 AM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

There are always solutions, and Brask took a good swipe at categorizing them. But let's keep that social contract stuff in there, too. Long-term, the things that usually work in real life involve social contracts, interdependence and reciprocity rather than penalties and enforcement. I wonder if tax returns aren't an analogy: people cheat and are rarely caught, but not everyone. Those who see the social contract involved cheat the least--it'd be screwing their neighbors. So of course when people don't feel like part of a community, they are more inclined to break that contract. I wonder how rare or common those feelings are in MMOs. I would bet that the best ones are the ones with the strongest sense of community and "ownership" of the game.

Hypothesis: Those would be the places where cheating would be least likely. Games that have fewer interdependent mechanisms (and crummy customer service) would have more.

That said, there are always scoflaws, so I think that a code-based mechanism like the halo surrounding a cheater would be great (if possible). Frankly, I'd like to see people who cheat on their taxes walk down the street with a dark purple halo. Who would walk around with a tag that says "I refused to pay my share for our local schools and police force"?

Posted Feb 15, 2005 9:49:40 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Brask Mumei>if gold were non-transferable within the game, an ebay market for gold would not exist.

Characters are not transferable within the game, but an eBay market for characters exists. If character transfer were impossible, some players would buy and sell accounts. If that were impossible, players would pay other people to play their characters up to a higher level. Everything would be non-transferrable, yet people would still be trading in it (albeit a service - like paying someone to write a thesis).

>You *could* give everything away for free. That would certainly scuttle the ebay market. As you note, it would have costly consequences.

Costly in terms of gameplay, yes, but if the gameplay is being spoiled anyway?

>The cost of stamping out the secondary market exceeds the cost of the secondary market itself.

So you're basically saying that we can't stop it so we should give up?

>One is thus best off mitigating the cost of the secondary market by ensuring actions like farming doesn't ruin the game for others, and that players can have a good time without having to go to the secondary market for goods.

I agree that these are good bullets to use against the secondary market, but nevertheless it should still be OK for developers to use non-game methods to deal with non-game activity. If I find someone who is spoiling my game for other players, why shouldn't I be able to eject them? I'm not asking whether it's wise or not, or whether the numbers are on their side or not; I just want to know I can do it. If I can't do it, then ultimately virtual worlds are doomed.

>I meant that the idea of there being *one* magic circle is meaningless.

OK, I'll go along with that.

>1) Code
>The most straight forward. If the world prohibits it, it can't occur.

If people are buying and selling goods, then there is the flip side to this: if the virtual world allows it, it can occur. If I buy an object in the real world and it falls apart, I can ask for my money back; if I buy an object in a virtual world using real money and it's nerfed, can I ask for my money back? Under consumer laws, why couldn't I? And if I can't ask for my money back, by can't the virtual world developers intentionally target my purchase for any reason whatsoever?

>2) Marketting
>Setting the proper expectations is essential. If people go in thinking: "It is only game", they may be more likely to say: "Anything the game allows is cool".

They used to do this with text MUDs. The response was "good, well the game lets me cast Finger of Death at your character, so maybe you ought to rethink your actions bearing that in mind".

3>By monitoring and properly rewarding and punishing the player base, one could hopefully keep the "culture" on track.

Only if the culture has teeth. A guy in Hong Kong who doesn't speak English won't care about the culture if he can play for 8 hours and make more money than he could from working 8 hours. The person who buys his adena or whatever might hope to get an edge or be really annoyed that this is the only way to get the stuff because of all the bots and farmers, but are they going to be affected by culture? How are their friends going to know where they got it?

>I think where we disagree is on the practicality of creating a no-ebay culture.

It's as impractical to create a no-eBay culture as it is to create an eBay culture where nobody gets ripped off. However, it's practical to clamp down on eBaying to the extent that it does minimal damage. Otherwise, we're in the same situation as people in the real world saying that it's impossible to stop people from breaking into houses and stealing stuff so we shouldn't try to stop it. Of course we should try! Likewise, if a developer of a virtual world doesn't want commodification then they should be allowed to stop it without either compromising their design or risking lawsuits.

>I've been proven wrong about human nature in the past, so I hope you will have the chance to prove me wrong about this some day.

I don't think we disagree about human nature. We may disagree over the extent to which virtual worlds are worth protecting as the only places where you can get a particular kind of fun.

Richard

Posted Feb 15, 2005 11:05:24 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Richard Bartle> consider what would happen to account sales in virtual worlds if every time there was a transfer of ownership a character was given a different colour or font to their name.

Well, that could make transfers part of the institution/norm, if it is as common as they say it is.

Richard Bartle> it would affect the "I'm L50 and you're not yah boo sucks" people because they'd be exposed as frauds. My guess is that if such a change were made, the number of people buying characters would plummet.

So your hypothesis is that most people who buy do it to show off rather than for the utility. I am not really sure how common character trading with strangers is compared to playing up your own, but I would guess that it is more common in games where the median level of active players are approaching the end-game. I don't see how one can blame players for not wanting to play solo the first 40 levels and then spend 6 months trying to collect enough game-cash to purchase "standard" equipment.

Richard Bartle> How do you do that in a virtual world? It's like they're setting off the avalanche alarm - it affects you wherever you go, whatever slope.

Why does it? MMOs are big enough. What matters is your friends and guildies. That the other people are "stupid" doesn't really matter all that much if you don't have to deal with them?

Richard Bartle> In that case, why waste money on expensive equipment? Using your analogy, only the hard core would want to do this.

Because of the perceived freedom? Because of the way worlds are designed, creating this illusion that the game begins at the high-end. (the no-reset strategy is part of it).

Posted Feb 15, 2005 11:25:44 AM | link

Mark Asher says:

When Blizzard implements the battlegrounds, I don't want to fight against players that have purchased items or gold through IGE. What am I supposed to do to keep up? Resort to using real cash to buy items too?

I can see the argument for selling items and game money in a non-competitive MMO. I don't see any valid argument for doing so in a competitive MMO. Is there one?

Posted Feb 15, 2005 11:26:43 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Mark, if a PvP design is based on consumable or uber-rare items then it is doomed to fail in the fun-department anyway. It's like begging for bands of coordinated gankers to ruin the game. You would then also need to factor in players who can "afford" to be co-located on a LAN with a fast connection. That's unfair too, isn't it?

Posted Feb 15, 2005 11:59:19 AM | link

Damion Schubert says:

When Blizzard implements the battlegrounds, I don't want to fight against players that have purchased items or gold through IGE. What am I supposed to do to keep up? Resort to using real cash to buy items too?

How will you know? What's the difference between fighting a guy who got a blue item 'naturally' by farming the leet spawn himself for 3 days, and one who bought said blue item for real-life cash?

Posted Feb 15, 2005 12:15:24 PM | link

Lee Delarm says:

If you fight against someone (in WoW battlegrounds) that bought all their items on eBay but still put in the time to get their character to 60 I'd bet it would be EXACTLY THE SAME as fighting someone who got them all by themselves.

If you fought someone who got to level 60 through artificial means (power leveling or eBay) and then earned all their items I bet you'd slaughter them unless they somehow (magically) already had all the prerequisite knowledge to play the class.

Another question:

Why should I be stopped from buying a level 200 character when I've put in more hours in 5 different characters than the level 200 person with one character has? I do this already, I put in MANY hours in seperate characters, or perhaps just don't level as fast and my time in game exceeds that of some of the level 200 "veterans". In fact my game knowledge FAR exceeds that of some vets, just because I know how many classes play instead of just watching them play. Should I NOT be allowed to purchase a character? What's to say I haven't already alotted the amount of time to be proficient at said game? What do the naysayers of eBaying say about this practice?

(btw this is real example of Anarchy Online, of which I have never leveled myself over 120, but have bought multiple level 200 characters)

Posted Feb 15, 2005 12:57:43 PM | link

CherryBomb says:

Lots of people have picked up on the Monopoly analogy, but as far as I can tell, nobody has mentioned that people *don't* buy properties for RL cash in that game. It's not even against the rules of the game (I checked), but if I bought your title deed to Boardwalk for $5US, the other players would probably look at both of us like we were lunatics. Everybody playing would know that I bought it for cash, and it would lose all of its value as an acclomplishment. The same thing would happen in MMOGs if everybody knew who bought what.

Posted Feb 15, 2005 1:04:51 PM | link

Hellinar says:

Matt> This might apply to Quake. It doesn't apply to the big MMOGs, where it's mainly about how much free time you can afford to spend. That's little different from how much money you can afford to spend. <

But that is a design decision you can easily change. Its trivial to code so a character gets “tired” when they do too much adventuring, or gets less “lucky” with loot if they are too greedy. Current MMOGs are like roads without speed limits. A few people racing to the destination as fast as possible make the journey for the rest of the travelers less comfortable and enjoyable. I think it would be a good business decision to build a MMOG with speed limits. I suspect for every player who stays because they can level 24/7, there are three that leave because of the excessive time commitment. Such a rule needs to set right up front though, so the players who hate speed limits don’t apply. As Blizzard demonstrated, introducing such a system in the middle of beta, when “high speed” players are already invested in the game, is a bad idea.

The problem is, the MMOGs are in the hands of the car enthusiasts, who love the challenge of getting to the destination as fast as possible. For mass market motoring, you need speed limits on the roads. I’d agree with Mike Sellers that making unlimited time the requisite for success in a MMOG really limits the mass market appeal of MMOGs. Where we would part company is on the solution. I would level the playing field by introducing speed limits on the journey. Mike’s solution is more like selling a plane ticket to those who can afford it. Fine for those who value the arriving at the destination more than the journey. But what about those of us who value the journey over the destination? For me, the Journey is the hallmark of an Adventure. And once the VW is tuned to getting to the destination as fast as possible, the Adventure goes out the window.

Posted Feb 15, 2005 1:17:09 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Mike Sellers wrote:

The evidence for this is in the (largely ignored or derided) nearly one billion dollars people spent last year to gain access to gameplay they simply didn't have time to get to "the old fashioned way."

I have to question this $880 million number. What actual evidence do we have that $880 million traded hands in the secondary market last year? Am I missing a paper or study somewhere?

--matt

Posted Feb 15, 2005 1:18:16 PM | link

William Huber says:

Cherry, I have played games of Settlers of Catan in which "real world" elements directly affect in-game events, and I could see it happening in Monopoly. "If you make that move, honey, you're sleeping on the couch." "I've trade 2 wood for a sheep, and I'll do the dishes tomorrow."

In fact, I'd say the magic circle is seldom airtight unless, ironically, play is being professionalized. That sort of "cheating" or out-of-game referencing is tolerated in Settlers of Catan, but not in a for-money game of poker.

Friendships have been made and broken over games of Diplomacy. No one beats their boss in golf.

Posted Feb 15, 2005 1:23:39 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

William Huber wrote:

In fact, I'd say the magic circle is seldom airtight unless, ironically, play is being professionalized. That sort of "cheating" or out-of-game referencing is tolerated in Settlers of Catan, but not in a for-money game of poker.

I'll go you one step further and say that it's impossible to make the magic circle air-tight in any sort of game. There is only one air-tight magic circle and it's the sum of existence/reality.

--matt

Posted Feb 15, 2005 1:28:26 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Matt, that $880M figure is quoted from the IGE interview linked at the top of this item. I can't fully corroborate it, but it sounds about right from what I've seen.


In similar news, it should be no surprise that the crew at Three Rings, makers of Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates officially gets the new market reality, as shown on their new Doubloons FAQ. A few quotes from their page:

Why are you implementing Doubloons?
Doubloons are an experiment with a different business model to flat-rate subscriptions. Our hope with Doubloons is to accomplish the following;

To be able to offer a free play of the basic Puzzle Pirates game.
To allow mates to pay incrementally for the parts of the game that they use.
To allow mates to easily gift other pirates.
To facilitate exchange between mates who have the time to play a lot, and those who lack time but have financial resources. [emphasis added]
For the Doubloon Oceans to generate enough revenue such that Three Rings can operate said servers and stay in business.
To preserve and foster our existing Subscription business.

There's more good stuff on the YPP page. Worth looking at and considering. Trust Daniel and his crew to be at the forefront of this sort of thinking.

Posted Feb 15, 2005 1:32:18 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Ola Fosheim Grøstad>So your hypothesis is that most people who buy do it to show off rather than for the utility.

My hypothesis is that giving people the impression that they're a higher level than they "really are" is a major contributory factor, yes.

Actually, I think that if there were some easily-identifiable "commodification" badge on characters, that would make many of the anti-commodification players less hostile. What they object to is other people undermining their sense of achievement; this does not happen when people have badges on them saying they bought their character it's as if they've opted out of the race.

>I don't see how one can blame players for not wanting to play solo the first 40 levels and then spend 6 months trying to collect enough game-cash to purchase "standard" equipment.

In that case, developers would satisfy player needs simply by giving them any character they wanted at any level at character-creation time. You want a L40 character with a bunch of kit? Sure, here, have it, enjoy! You want a L90 character with every piece of top of the range equipment? Here, have one!

The thing is, although you can't blame players for wanting this, you can't blame other players for not wanting them to have it.

>Why does it? MMOs are big enough.

No they're not. On eBay right now there are 12 SW:G Jedi characters for sale at $500 or more. Today is not an unusual day. Tell me where I can go in SW:G as a Jedi and not have people think I bought my character?

>What matters is your friends and guildies.

They matter, but they're not all that matter. It also matters that what you're doing isn't a complete waste of time. If friends and guildies were all that mattered, why have different levels of character at all? Why not make everyone a Jedi or whatever from the start?

Richard

Posted Feb 15, 2005 1:43:23 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Mike Sellers wrote:

Matt, that $880M figure is quoted from the IGE interview linked at the top of this item. I can't fully corroborate it, but it sounds about right from what I've seen.

Hmm, right. It's in IGE's corporate interest to inflate the size of the market, inflating their own importance as well. I can't say I trust a word these guys say.

--matt

Posted Feb 15, 2005 1:49:44 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Mike Sellers>We can stamp our feet and say it isn't fair, but they'll just shrug and say, in effect, they're playing a different game.

I don't mind if they go and PLAY a different game - someone else's. It's when they misplay a game so that it's spoiled for other people that I care.

>IMO, complaining about that is akin to complaining about the incoming tide.

Yes, well we don't all have this defeatist attitude. This is like saying that everyone drives faster than the speed limit so we just ought to throw away the speed limit and let people drive however fast they want to.

I'm quite happy for people to develop games that embrace commodification if that's what they want to do, but I don't see why everyone else should have to follow suit. To me, it's not akin to complaining about the incoming tide; rather, it's akin to complaining about coastal erosion. You can either throw up your hands in despair as you watch your property disappear into the waves, or you can build a few groynes beforehand and do something about it.

Richard

Posted Feb 15, 2005 2:08:40 PM | link

Mark Asher says:

<1>Lots of people have picked up on the Monopoly analogy, but as far as I can tell, nobody has mentioned that people *don't* buy properties for RL cash in that game. It's not even against the rules of the game (I checked), but if I bought your title deed to Boardwalk for $5US, the other players would probably look at both of us like we were lunatics. Everybody playing would know that I bought it for cash, and it would lose all of its value as an acclomplishment. The same thing would happen in MMOGs if everybody knew who bought what.

Not only that, but the other players would probably get up and walk away because they wouldn't want to play against someone buy property with real money.

To answer another question, how would I know if an enemy player had bought items or found them, my answer is it doesn't matter. I want a level playing field, which means players should abide by the rules of the game. I don't want to play against players who use RL money to improve their characters. It's against Blizzard's policy as well. I fail to see any valid argument as to why rule-breaking should be allowed. That some players want to isn't much of an argument.

Posted Feb 15, 2005 2:11:49 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Richard Bartle>The thing is, although you can't blame players for wanting this, you can't blame other players for not wanting them to have it.

OH, I don't blame player for not wanting them to have it. I just don't think it ruins these large-scale games.

Richard Bartle> No they're not. On eBay right now there are 12 SW:G Jedi characters for sale at $500 or more.

Why care that much about about a tiny minority? 12 characters for a game with hundreds of thousands of characters is like a drop in the ocean. Btw, shouldn't you also include changes to gameplay which makes it easier to become Jedi?

Jedi-uberness-designs have worse problems than e-baying... but that's another issue.

Richard Bartle> If friends and guildies were all that mattered, why have different levels of character at all?

Because it is good business, gives players a sense of personal progress, and basically prevent players from consuming the content too fast.

If levels were all that mattered then there would be no point in playing a game that is more than 3 months old.

Posted Feb 15, 2005 2:13:25 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Richard wrote:

I don't mind if they go and PLAY a different game - someone else's. It's when they misplay a game so that it's spoiled for other people that I care.

Roleplayers could say the same thing though about any game advertised as an MMORPG. They could make the claim that everyone who isn't roleplaying 100% of the time is misplaying the game. Would they be right? From their point of view, no doubt. Other people's lack of roleplaying is spoiling the game for them.

Now granted, the difference is that nobody entered into a contract to roleplay whereas every player of, say, WoW entered into a contract not to Ebay. But then the only difference that I see between roleplayers and non-Ebayers complaining is a contractual one, and that's not the stance you seem to be taking.

--matt

Posted Feb 15, 2005 2:23:27 PM | link

bruce boston says:

I couldn't help but chime in here.

As far as analogies go, I think an appropriate one would be Disneyland. While it could be easily done, I'm not sure what our response or Disney corporate’s response would be to a company that decided to pharm and re-sell places in line. I think it would be pretty easy to do. Have an employee get in-line at high traffic rides every 10 mins. Then allow people to cut in front of you (a fairly well accepted practice in that world) for US$1. You only need about 7 customers an hour before you can pay someone minimum wage to stand in line. I'm sure, with the right marketing, an aggressive service company could find a few people in Disneyland that would pay $1 to cut the wait of a ride from 1 hour to ten minutes. (and yes, I know about Disney's fastpass program but it has restrictions).

At minimum I think I would be inclined to say that Disney has the right to control their space in a way that they feel is appropriate. If Disney has the right to control the physical space being regularly occupied by real life human beings, then I have to think that game developers have at least that much legal latitude in the end-game.

On the flip side though, whenever I read about IGE I can't help but think to myself, 'yup, black markets exist in virtual worlds for the same reason that they do in the real world'. There is a human demand for something that the primary market isn't providing. And listen, we are not talking about selling brain-altering narcotics to elementary kids here. We are most likely talking about college educated adults in their late 20s to early 40s that would like to play an abridged version of some of the more popular games in the market today.

The suggestions I would give are pretty simple. Markets like choice. If we find that 15-20% of players like to role-play and the rest are messing that experience up by being there, there’s an easy suggestion: split the servers up so that 15-20% are RP servers and the rest are not. If you find that 60-75% of players don’t like PvP, and PvP players are messing up their experience by being there, there’s an easy suggestion: split the servers up so that 60-75% of the servers are not PvP servers and the rest are. Yes, I know this doesn’t *solve* the issue for the perfectionist in the group. “But, but, but…. you still have problems … but, but, but.” From what I have seen, this simple strategy has been highly effective.

Now, the $880 Million question: if you find out that 80-90% of the players don’t like to use eBay and the rest are messing up their experience by being there, what should we do??? Are there no simple suggestions???

Again, I think it’s pretty easy to bring this into the story. Developer sells rubies (doubloons) for US$1 each. Rubies can be traded in-game on ruby servers. Rubies can then be used outside the game: 15 rubies pays for a month of service, 50 rubies buy you an extra account key, 20 rubies buys you a limited edition t-shirt, etc.

Yes, i understand that there is an additional development investment here, but I think it would be prudent to at least compare that cost to the cost (and effectiveness) of a legal team going after the black marketers of the industry. Add to this the fact that the legal strong-arm approach leaves out all the players that actually like to ebay.

Yes, I also understand that 80-90% of everyone may not enjoy ebaying, but I think the point is that the 10-20% that does enjoy this, would enjoy it so much that that they would leave the other 80% of the servers to the non-eBayers to play monopoly by house-rules.

Tying this back to the Disney analogy, I'm not sure how many families with kids under 5 would enjoy Grad Night at Disneyland, but Disney has figured out the solution to that question as well.

-bruce

Posted Feb 15, 2005 3:23:18 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

bruce boston> Yes, I also understand that 80-90% of everyone may not enjoy ebaying, but I think the point is that the 10-20% that does enjoy this, would enjoy it so much that that they would leave the other 80% of the servers to the non-eBayers to play monopoly by house-rules.

That works for those who want to be at lvl 60 and to enjoy that content regardless of cost. That's some good economic thinking (and a reason for premium services like EQ Legends, right?). Create a separate Disneyland with higher costs and so shorter lines. Cool. No one gets hurt.

But what about the players who derive pleasure precisely from their advantage over non-ebaying players? You can't cheat without non-cheaters. Those folks need the disadvantaged, so they wouldn't want to leave.

Group A shows a design problem that can be fixed. Group B shows a social problem that is much tougher (it's the tragedy of the commons issue).

What % of the ebayers fall into each group?

Posted Feb 15, 2005 4:08:55 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Hellinar wrote:

But that is a design decision you can easily change. Its trivial to code so a character gets “tired” when they do too much adventuring, or gets less “lucky” with loot if they are too greedy.

So then you're just lowering the price in free time. I don't think the objection that people have to Ebaying revolves around price, but that it costs money.

--matt

Posted Feb 15, 2005 4:32:51 PM | link

Anonymous says:

$880 Million seems pretty high to me.

First off, I apoligize for the anonymity and unspecific data, but I don't know that it's appropriate to post detailed data here.

I've done a little bit of math based on data provided by IGE's affiliate program. I run a website that uses IGE affiliate information, so I'm able to obatain a report that tell me the date, invoice number, and sale amount for each sale that my site generated.

In January, 2005, IGE's invoice numbers started at around 1,100,000 and ended at around 1,163,000, thats about 63,000 invoices numbers that they went through. Not each invoice number results in an actual sale. The invoice number seems to be generated by their site on the page before the customer is sent to paypal. So if a customer gets to paypal and decides not to pay, the invoice number is used, but doesn't result in an actual sale.

Based on my data, the average sale was about $90.00. This seems to be reasonable based on their prices, which start at around $25.00 and go up to around $400.00

So, lets be generous and assume that every invoice that was created resulted in a sale averaged at $90.00. For January 2005, that means IGE had about $5.7 million dollars in sales. Multiply by 12 to get an annual sales of $68 million. Pretty significant, but not quite what I would expect for the leader in a $880 million dollar industry.

Of course, there is plenty that I'm missing. I'm sure that eBay is a significant contributer, as well as other sites. Do these numbers validate or invalidate the $880 Million figure for anyone

Posted Feb 15, 2005 6:09:05 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Interesting, anonymous. Do you have any guess as to why kinds of gross margins they run at?

--matt

Posted Feb 15, 2005 7:21:18 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Is it reasonable to expect that IGE has more than 10-20% of the global secondary sales market? Seems unlikely. If they have 10% of the world market, it's easy to get into the range of 800M+ for annual revenues given rough calculations like the ones above. If they have a lock on 30% of the world market, that's still in the neighborhood of $226M -- last year.

And even if the rough calculations above represented the entire global market, that would still be roughly equal to the annual income of a MMOG with 435,000+ players paying $13/month for a year. In other words, a bona fide market that isn't going away.

Posted Feb 15, 2005 7:32:33 PM | link

Brask Mumei says:

Richard> Likewise, if a developer of a virtual world doesn't want commodification then they should be allowed to stop it without either compromising their design or risking lawsuits.

First: I'm all for the developers right to turf people at their whim. Existence of secondary markets doesn't risk this. When you purchase a sword from a fellow player, I would not think the game company would be at risk under consumer protection laws. The game company didn't sell the sword - the player did. As such, a simple: "We reserve the right to delete anything & nerf anything at our whim" is all that is needed.

Second: I disagree on the "compromising design" half. A developer must compromise their design! Why don't we allow unrestricted uploading of new textures? Because we know that unless we engage in some expensive policing action, it would be used to upload porn and copyrighted material. This is a compromise anyone must make who wants user generated uploads. If one wants free PvP, one must make similar compromises to deal with certain destructive playstyles. You can either invest heavily on enforcement (Culture with Teeth), which is costly in terms of manpower, or compromise your game mechanics to avoid particularly griefy behaviour.

Your house break-in analogy is a good one. We deal with this in the real world through the use of a police force, a judicial system, and an educational system. This isn't a cheap! MMORPGs seem to want to have the same level of social contract without paying for the CSR requirements needed.

So yes, if we don't want to pay for police, judges, education, etc, then we shouldn't be surprised if in large cities there is wide spread house robberies.

Richard Bartle> I don't think we disagree about human nature. We may disagree over the extent to which virtual worlds are worth protecting as the only places where you can get a particular kind of fun.

Hmm... Good point. After all, I'm still rather mystified at the whole idea that there is any fun lost by the secondary market. Thus, I usually categorize any lost-fun as poor game design. Farming crowding legitimate players out of content is a poor game design. One should have either designed the game so such farming doesn't cause problems (which, IMHO, is the cheap and easier solution) or spend large amounts of money to build the appropriate social contract with your players that leaves farming as a non-option. Putting stuff in your EULA doesn't make a social contract, any more than writing a law stops house break ins. It is the enforcement & education of the law that will stop house break ins. And, ideally, it is that education side of things - where people naturally respect others property, not because they'll be caught, but because they think it is the "right thing". A large number of MMORPG players assume their normal morality can be thrown out in game, as it is "Just a Game". You have a lot of training to do to convince them that those pixels on the screen are fellow humans deserving respect.

Of course, there is always the possibility that the community will reject all attempts at social engineering. The RIAA is working hard to try and train people that mp3 sharing is wrong. I'm not too sure what their long term success would be, and if it would not be better for them to adapt to the new social norm than try to fight it.

- Brask Mumei

Posted Feb 15, 2005 8:23:24 PM | link

Jeremy Neal Kelly says:

These discussions almost invariably focus on the negative aspects of eBaying: the costs it is said to incur, the contracts (explicit or implied) it is said to violate. Just for the record, I'd like to make note of its benefits:

1. It allows certain players to enjoy parts of the game they would not otherwise have time for.

2. It offers other players a financial reward that complements the enjoyment they receive from play.

The great magnitude of these benefits is demonstrated by the large volume of trade (whatever amount that may be). While the practice does raise some challenging moral issues, it should be remembered that it helps many players as well.

Posted Feb 15, 2005 8:30:25 PM | link

Greg Boyd says:

Legal Cost - Some Thoughts (maybe not as expensive as some folks think)

I read above with Bruce and others weighing in on the cost of legal action.

Consider the following - A big trademark/copyright case might cost $400K. Most of them come in under $200K. That is chump change to Blizzard and its peers.

Even a patent suit (which does not apply here) may cost $4 million. Still, we are at less than 10% of the development budget of the game and less than WoW grossed in its first day of sales. I'm only listing this number for comparative purposes in IP litigation.

The legal litigious options are not that expensive in the scheme of things.

Greg

Posted Feb 15, 2005 8:43:30 PM | link

Bruce Woodcock says:

To me, buying in-game items with money is an equalizer, not an imbalancer. Why should it matter if I spend 12 hours playing the game to get a special item, or if I instead spend 12 hours worth of my hourly working wages to get the same item? Purchasing items doesn't create a tyrrany of the rich; it ends the tyrrany of those who are either so poor or so rich that they don't have to work as much and thus have more time to play MMOGs. :)

But Richard hits on the key point, which is basically one of perception: no matter the logic, it matters whether or not the majority of players *perceive* this as unfair.

Bruce

Posted Feb 15, 2005 8:48:08 PM | link

Greyhawk says:

What on earth gives players with access to real-world cash the right to redefine the rules of any game they play according to their own petty wants?

What we are really talking about here is respecting the rights and privileges of your fellow players, and this is why the Monopoly analogy is perfect! If you swap Monopoly streets for real world cash you have shown that you have no respect and consideration for your fellow players. If you swap ingame items for real world cash you have again shown you have no respect and consideration for your fellow players.

Having access to money does NOT make you morally superior to someone with more time, it only makes you richer. Likewise it should not give you the automatic ability to damage the ingame experience of your fellow players by changing the rules of the game to suit your own pettiness. You cannot buy Monopoly properties with outside cash, and you should not be allowed to buy ingame properties with outside cash. In both cases your action dehumanizes your fellow players and reduces them to mere background props to your own ego-gratification.

Second Life is NOT the same as a MMORPG! The rules are completely different, the virtual environment is completely different, the assumptions of the designers are completely different. Second Life cannot be compared to Monopoly because Second Life is NOT a game. Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, Lineage II, World of Warcraft, etc., are all games! They, like Monopoly, create a virtual environment where players take on a pre-defined role and interact with a pre-defined ruleset as they make their way through that virtual environment. Second Life provides an empty virtual environment with no predefined ruleset, no predefined roles, and no gameplay at all. Instead, it encourages users to create their own virtual environment.

Second Life is not a MMORPG. If you want to buy and sell items in a virtual world, then please, go join Second Life and have at it. Second Life is the place where the IGE proponents can and should create their own rules and let their real world money determine their position in the virtual one.

MMORPGs are games. Second Life is a simulation. They are not the same.

Posted Feb 15, 2005 9:42:41 PM | link

Barry Kearns says:

Brask Mumei> MMORPGs are not commodified by ebay. They come pre-commodified. What is gold in Warcraft but a commodity? Gold in Warcraft is not given real world value by ebay. It is given real world value by Blizzard maintaining an artificial scarcity through limitting its production.

Even more relevant is the fact that gold is commodified precisely because it represents transferrable power unearned by the character.

In short, it's a twinking tool. The developers made it a powerful tool for twinking, and so a not-insubstantial fraction of the gaming population chooses to twink.

Commodification arises as a natural consequence of a heavily twink-laden game being both popular and interesting. Commodifiers are simply twinking with RL currency as the exchanged value.

As far as I'm concerned, the "correct" response is to adjust the game to take away the benefits of twinking. Do so, and I contend that you'll see the item/currency commodification grind to a halt, and a huge number of players rejoicing because accomplishment means something in the game again.

It wasn't commodification that wrecked these games, IMO. It was twinking. Twinking utterly shatters the magic circle of accomplishment, and wrecks the competitive landscape.

Item/currency commodification is just market-efficient twinking.

Greg Boyd re "MMOnopoly"> The game owner says explicitly "no real money in the game, only MMOnopoly money is allowed. We think using real money to get ahead is cheating."

Furthermore, most players in the game rely solely on MMOnopoly money because they follow the rules set out by the owner of the game.

THEN some players go ahead and use real money anyway to circumvent the difficulty of the game by purchasing an advantage over other players.

This still smells like cheating even if I change the parameters.

Ah, but doesn't it also "smell like cheating" when a pack of teenagers get together and pool massive amounts of MMOnopoly money and give it away to their buddies who are just starting the game? When players who are now earning 10000x the starting rates of cash distribute large chunks of that to new players who are their "buds", allowing them to zoom ahead of those who are playing the game "straight up"?

What if the developers have simply misidentified the root "cheating" aspect, and they are allowing some people to cheat their way SUBSTANTIALLY ahead of the legitimate and "fair" players because they are socially well-connected?

In those circumstances, I see no problem whatsoever with trying to even the scales back out through commodification. TwinkBoyTeen didn't earn any of that power... he got it all given to him.

It's not the money that's the cheating aspect, it's the transfer of unearned power.

To bring the Monopoly analogy from earlier closer to today's MMO reality, we'd have to assume that before the cash offer was tendered, a wife in that exact game had already told her husband that he'd be sleeping on the couch if he didn't trade her Pennsylvania Avenue for free, and there were no "rule" objections... and a boss had already offered a subordinate a better performance review in exchange for Ventnor Ave, and someone else gave Water Works to the hottie on your left, because, after all... she's HOT!

The magic circle in that particular game of Monopoly has been thoroughly trashed already. I hardly think offering cash for a property is significantly different. Any "house rule" that allowed all of the above behavior as somehow legitimate but explicitly PROHIBITED cash trades would be essentially unfair as far as I'm concerned.

If people are wrecking the competitive landscape and sense of accomplishment in the game already using their particular out-of-game assets, I certainly don't feel bad about balancing things out by using the assets I have.

I fail to see the "moral high ground" of a no-cash rule under such circumstances.

The place to stop that sort of thing is not at the "cash" line... it's at the "any game-exterior influence" line.

Developers have the power to do that via game mechanics. When they fail to do so (by permitting rampant twinking), it's little wonder that some folks are going to promptly ignore the (essentially unfair) no-cash rule and even things out a bit.

Character transfers are an entirely different ball of wax. I think there are good reasons to eliminate UNIDENTIFIED character transfers, as some of the papers referenced here note.

I'd imagine that the ability to transfer a character between accounts for a (very) small fee, along with a clear identifier in the character description that this is NOT the original owner (perhaps a date/level stamp too), would be a big hit.

I think it would help satisfy some of the anti-commodifiers (since "counterfeit" accomplishment is identified and thereby deflated), while allowing those who just want to "catch up" in level to their friends to do so easily. This would also ameliorate company concerns about tracking the identity of who actually sits at the controls of (and is legally responsible for the actions of) a given character.

I'd predict that you'd see a lot of them taking place, too. Price it affordably, and there's very little excuse not to use the service. I'd think it would become a shibboleth of all "legit" eBay character sales.

People who want to eBay their characters can do so, the company preserves their accountability, and people who care about the "fake" aspect can see the character transfer flag and dismiss any unearned braggadocio.

With that in place, drop a piano on any remaining folks who circumvent the identified character transfer process... I can't think of anything other than "false advertising" as a legitimate purpose for evading the process then.

In that case, though, we've properly identified what it is that's being punished... it's not character commodification per se, it's false accomplishment being represented as true accomplishment.

It should be punished equally for those giving accounts away, as for those who sell them. If not both, then neither.

Likewise with cash/items. If you're going to permit people to give them away (and the unearned power that goes with them), then I don't think punishing people for selling them is right either.

bruce boston>Again, I think it’s pretty easy to bring this into the story. Developer sells rubies (doubloons) for US$1 each. Rubies can be traded in-game on ruby servers. Rubies can then be used outside the game: 15 rubies pays for a month of service, 50 rubies buy you an extra account key, 20 rubies buys you a limited edition t-shirt, etc.

Excellent. Let them trade in a ruby for in-game gold, too. Add a character description field that shows how many rubies they've bought, and you may punch a massive hole in IGE while insulating against the "false accomplishment" fears of other players.

You'd need to make gold non-transferrable then, or otherwise temper the non-sanctioned methods of power transfer, but that's just game mechanics at that point. Might be easy enough to make ruby-like items (emeralds?) buyable for in-game gold, and when traded to players it updates a similar character descriptor field.

People can then eBay their emeralds, players can easily identify the degree of transferred power used by opponents... heck, you could even rake off a fraction of the market as a revenue stream by charging micro-payments in real-life cash for each emerald created in the game.

Combine that with good limits on transferrable power that is not tracked, and we may have an all-around solution as far as I see.

Posted Feb 15, 2005 10:02:13 PM | link

Barry Kearns says:

Oooo! Just thought of a way to potentially make the "real-life payment" aspect of this clean and easy from an accounting perspective.

Instead of selling rubies outright, allow players to convert days in their subscription directly to rubies. Each ruby purchased subtracts one day from the current subscription. Your subscription renewal (and/or game time card process) then handles all of the billing and the associated revenue stream automatically.

Likewise, players wanting to create emeralds can burn a day off of their subscription in order to allow them to create up to a certain number of emeralds. Once they hit the limit, they'll need to burn another day to create more.

Players often commodify because they want to "fast forward" through certain parts of the game. Developers, by allowing players to directly convert subscription time to the benefits they would have gotten through commodification, you're capturing the revenue stream from these players as if they had played the game at regular speed... so when they fast-forward, so does your revenue stream!

Players, you say you don't have the time to spend on a boring grind? Instead of spending your PERSONAL time, spend your SUBSCRIPTION time instead, and fast forward to get to the "good parts" that you wanted to see!

Posted Feb 15, 2005 10:26:43 PM | link

Barry Kearns says:

OK, last one for a while, I promise! (My head is starting to spin... =P )

Looking for a good high-end money sink in your game as well? Auction off additional account days for in-game gold! Since you control how many days are offered at auction, and can track the total money supply, you can tailor the effect on your game.

You can also impose whatever arbitrary limits you like (no more than X days winnable per month, etc) on any given player accounts.

Just set the beginning bid higher than the payout you'd give for converting a ruby to in-game gold, and you'll always net out to the positive.

Posted Feb 15, 2005 10:37:06 PM | link

maga says:

i love this site keep offfffffffffffff

Posted Feb 16, 2005 6:33:05 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Matt Mihaly>Roleplayers could say the same thing though about any game advertised as an MMORPG. They could make the claim that everyone who isn't roleplaying 100% of the time is misplaying the game.

If a virtual world was advertised as being a role-playing game and attracted players on that basis then yes, I don't see why the developers wouldn't be within their rights to eject people who didn't role-play. It might not make great business sense right now, but that's not the point. If you pay money to play a role-playing game where every action must be IC, then you should expect that acting OC would lead to sanctions.

Richard

Posted Feb 16, 2005 7:04:30 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Bruce Boston>The suggestions I would give are pretty simple. Markets like choice. If we find that 15-20% of players like to role-play and the rest are messing that experience up by being there, there’s an easy suggestion: split the servers up so that 15-20% are RP servers and the rest are not.

And you'll stop people from playing in a non-RP fashion on the RP servers how, exactly? And vice versa?

We already have a split, only it's by world rather than by codebase. If you want to play in an uncommodified world, go to WoW; if you want to play in a commodified world, go to There. If WoW were to introduce servers were it was OK to buy and sell virtual goods, would that stop people from trying to buy and sell things on the other servers where it wasn't OK? No, of course it wouldn't! It just means that they have less of a moral justification for doing it.

Richard

Posted Feb 16, 2005 7:12:02 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Brask Mumei>I'm still rather mystified at the whole idea that there is any fun lost by the secondary market.

Why is there any fun gained by it? There's your answer.

>Thus, I usually categorize any lost-fun as poor game design.

It's not, though. Is it the poor game design of soccer that means players are shot dead for scoring an own goal? No, it's people acting outside the rules. Even if it were poor game design, so what? People don't have to play games with poor design any more than they have to watch plays with poor scripts. Why should poor game design mean that players are free to do whatever they like when poor scripts don't mean theatregoers can storm the stage and act out the play differently themselves?

>Farming crowding legitimate players out of content is a poor game design.

Not necessarily. The game mechanic that the farmers are exploiting could be absolutely essential for some other part of the game that everyone thinks is wonderful. If the behaviour is prohibited by other rules (not necessarily written in code, but nevertheless present) then that should be enough. Soccer has rules against "ungentlemanly behaviour", and a virtual world could have similar rules if it wanted. Just because these aren't coded in, that doesn't make them any less rules.

>One should have either designed the game so such farming doesn't cause problems (which, IMHO, is the cheap and easier solution)

It is, yes, but that doesn't mean that people should be obliged to do it.

>ideally, it is that education side of things - where people naturally respect others property, not because they'll be caught, but because they think it is the "right thing".

I agree that this is important, which is one reason why I'm concerned that people are throwing their arms up in despair and saying that we can't stop behaviour so we should permit it. If a generation of players grows up thinking that it's legitimate to buy virtual objects against the wishes of their owners, how are we going to "educate" them that it's not?

Richard

Posted Feb 16, 2005 7:27:31 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Jeremy Neal Kelly>These discussions almost invariably focus on the negative aspects of eBaying

Well yes; if there were no negative aspects, why would we need to discuss it at all? I agree that there are benefits to the individuals involved in the buying and selling of virtual goods, otherwise they wouldn't do it. If developers want to allow this to happen, that's absolutely fine, I've no problem with it at all. It's when the developers don't want it to happen that I have reservations.

>The great magnitude of these benefits is demonstrated by the large volume of trade (whatever amount that may be). While the practice does raise some challenging moral issues, it should be remembered that it helps many players as well.

You could use the same argument to justify the legalisation of narcotics, of the trade in stolen goods, of the sale of internal organs... Just because two people benefit from a transaction, that doesn't mean that everyone else will benefit from it.

Richard

Posted Feb 16, 2005 7:56:45 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Bruce Boston>The suggestions I would give are pretty simple. Markets like choice. If we find that 15-20% of players like to role-play and the rest are messing that experience up by being there, there’s an easy suggestion: split the servers up so that 15-20% are RP servers and the rest are not.

Richard Bartle>And you'll stop people from playing in a non-RP fashion on the RP servers how, exactly? And vice versa?

You can't stop it, but you can make it less attractive by charging more for playing on the RP servers.

This is comparable to providing commodified servers.

1. The developer can offer "gold" for prices that are low enough to make farming for re-sale on e-bay less attractive.
2. The developer can offer secure and convinient transactions with builtin-ebay.

Whether the game-design can survive that is another issue.

Posted Feb 16, 2005 8:04:19 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Bruce Woodcock>To me, buying in-game items with money is an equalizer, not an imbalancer.

But players want the imbalance. They want to be better than other players, to be better than they were 2 months ago, and to be better 2 months from now than they were before. That's the nature of achievement: improvement and excelling.

>Why should it matter if I spend 12 hours playing the game to get a special item, or if I instead spend 12 hours worth of my hourly working wages to get the same item?

Why should it matter that you do either? Why can't you just have the item for free if it means that much to you? Or, if you have practical/business reasons why a developer might not want this to be the case, why not let you have the object for some reasonable fee but flag it with a few pixels of the "this was bought not won" colour?

>Purchasing items doesn't create a tyrrany of the rich; it ends the tyrrany of those who are either so poor or so rich that they don't have to work as much and thus have more time to play MMOGs. :)

It's still no fun for people who are both poor in money and in time. Why not end their oppression by simply giving away whatever objects they want so they can experience whatever content they want?

Richard

Posted Feb 16, 2005 8:04:40 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Barry Kearns>I'd imagine that the ability to transfer a character between accounts for a (very) small fee, along with a clear identifier in the character description that this is NOT the original owner (perhaps a date/level stamp too), would be a big hit.

Why stop at character transfer? Why not simply allow players to buy a character at whatever level they want? It wouldn't be all that difficult to modify the character creation screen so that if you wanted a L50 Battlemage then you could have one - it'd just cost you roughly how much you'd have paid in subscriptions to get one anyway. Then character transfers could be prohibited by the developer, which would kill the eBay market in characters dead while also providing a legitimate means for people who want a high-level character to get one.

The key point is, as you say, flagging those characters that have been bought (and, by extension, flagging anything they touch as also being "tainted", otherwise your twinking scenario just gets worse). This would enable players who wanted to play in "iron man" mode to do so. Those who aren't so serious about it can all happily sit around at L70 competing for the same limited amount of content and wondering why the hell they're not down there at L40 having more content available to them than than they can shake a stick at.

Richard

Posted Feb 16, 2005 8:16:47 AM | link

Lee Delarm says:

RichardIt's still no fun for people who are both poor in money and in time. Why not end their oppression by simply giving away whatever objects they want so they can experience whatever content they want?

Help! Help! I'm being oppressed!

I'm sorry, I just couldn't resist ;) Anyhow, what about the morality of my last post? Just search for delarm or Anarchy Online, it's up in the jumble somewhere :)

Posted Feb 16, 2005 8:19:29 AM | link

magicback says:

Don't understand all the fuss.

Why have items, levels, or any sign of accumulation? Why create all this friction?

Go hardcore, magic-circle enforcing, super uber virtual world, no messing with the world as designer-god created.... or go duper-cheat-code, god-mode for everyone.

Why go the middle route and get involve in all of this crap?

I am guessing people like the middle ground, else life/game would be boring. Thus, I think Magic: the Gathering (both the card and online version) is the best model for commercial and game success.

Go with that... the spawned secondary market actually expand the sales and reach of the game property. We should study that model and see how to adapt that to the MMO space.

Posted Feb 16, 2005 9:37:35 AM | link

Scott says:

It has been.

Posted Feb 16, 2005 10:14:25 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

magicback>Why have items, levels, or any sign of accumulation?

It's part of the game. It's what allows a hero's journey.

>Go hardcore, magic-circle enforcing, super uber virtual world, no messing with the world as designer-god created.... or go duper-cheat-code, god-mode for everyone.

The problem is that there are duper-cheat-code people who want to play in hardcode, magic-circle enforcing worlds.

>Why go the middle route and get involve in all of this crap?

People don't deliberately take the middle way, it just works out that way.

>I am guessing people like the middle ground, else life/game would be boring.

Life often is boring - that's why people play games!

>Thus, I think Magic: the Gathering (both the card and online version) is the best model for commercial and game success.

As an aside, they changed the model for M:TG in response to player pressure, too. Originally, each player had to put up a randomly-selected card as an ante, and if they lost the game then they lost the card. So many people complained that they could lose their precious and valuable Black Lotus that way that the rules were changed. The fact that they could perhaps have won a Black Lotus that way didn't seem to come into it.

Richard

Posted Feb 16, 2005 10:35:16 AM | link

Jeremy Neal Kelly says:

Richard Bartle wrote:

> You could use the same argument to justify the legalisation of
> narcotics, of the trade in stolen goods, of the sale of internal
> organs...

This idea should be and in fact frequently is used to assess such practices. And it’s quite easy to demonstrate that burglary creates a net loss for society. (For what it’s worth, I favor the other two.) However, moral or contractual issues aside, I have yet to be convinced that the costs of eBaying outweigh its benefits.

Brask Mumei wrote:

>> I'm still rather mystified at the whole idea that there is any
>> fun lost by the secondary market.

Richard Bartle wrote:

>Why is there any fun gained by it? There's your answer.

You seem to assume that the enjoyment of MMORPG play is a zero-sum game. Where relative power over other players is concerned, I agree. However, certain other forms of enjoyment are clearly positive sum. MMORPG generate play experiences and game goods. If some player prefers the experience, and another the goods, then both can gain by trading.

Like I said, I agree that eBaying presents a significant moral dilemma. However, I think its benefits should be considered as well.

Posted Feb 16, 2005 11:09:34 AM | link

magicback says:

Richard> As an aside, they changed the model for M:TG in response to player pressure, too. Originally, each player had to put up a randomly-selected card as an ante, and if they lost the game then they lost the card. So many people complained that they could lose their precious and valuable Black Lotus that way that the rules were changed. The fact that they could perhaps have won a Black Lotus that way didn't seem to come into it.

Actually, the change was more like setting up a different rule base... they keep a long errata of rule changes. My friends and I keep playing with the ante rules :)

I think they change the rules as to not appear as "gambling" given that the game was reaching beyond the core gamers and hitting the mainstream younger players.

Posted Feb 16, 2005 11:19:02 AM | link

magicback says:

or we can all play the Kingdom of Loathing:

http://www3.kingdomofloathing.com/login.php

Posted Feb 16, 2005 11:23:13 AM | link

Barry Kearns says:

Richard Bartle>Why stop at character transfer? Why not simply allow players to buy a character at whatever level they want? It wouldn't be all that difficult to modify the character creation screen so that if you wanted a L50 Battlemage then you could have one - it'd just cost you roughly how much you'd have paid in subscriptions to get one anyway. Then character transfers could be prohibited by the developer, which would kill the eBay market in characters dead while also providing a legitimate means for people who want a high-level character to get one.

I would continue to allow character transfers in order to accommodate multiple different uses beyond just "having a high-level character"... guild role preservation, etc. I'd also like to accommodate those who would like to recoup some of their "investment" and realize value when they are departing a game. My feeling is that by accommodating this need in a legitimate way it might reduce the gray-market demand, and allow me to realize a fraction of the revenue stream as well.

That being said, I'm now sketching out a more comprehensive and flexible system for the MMO I'm writing, to deal with much of the commodification desire I've seen.

I'm envisioning a fast-forward system incorporating the ruby/emerald ideas noted above, with a few modifications. I've already structured the crafting and trade systems to make
unearned power transfers of little benefit. For fast-forward servers, I can add in the ruby/emerald system and allow unearned transfers of power, but all of them will be tracked and noted in the character sheet.

For maximum flexibility in player use, I'm envisioning allowing players to participate in reverse auctions for fast-forward time. Multiple players interesting in fast-forwarding can each burn a day of subscription time for a ruby, and then use the reverse auction function to convert the ruby into a pool of fast-forward time.

Each player specifies the minimum amount of time (in minutes) for which they would be willing to trade their ruby. The system starts at an arbitrary value (8-10 hours, let's say), and uses proxy bidding from each player to determine who wants the time the most, reducing the time offered along the way. The lowest bidder receives the time at the value of the second-lowest bidder's entry, minus one minute. Multiple cycles of this execute over small time periods.

Players who win the reverse auction lose their ruby, and can spend from their own pool of fast-forward time whenever they deem it convenient, and in only the amounts they desire.

Fast-forward time is spent by players by stepping into fast-forward circles (distributed around the game world in various places) and choosing to activate the feature. When activated, the player receives XP at a rate roughly equivalent to what they would garner from battling local mobs, but it happens much more quickly than actual battle.

Loot is buffered into a special holding area for later review and disposition by the player (either accepting it into inventory, or taking the vendor-sold equivalent in gold). While the player holds down the fast-forward button, XP and loot come rolling in while their fast-foward time balance simultaneously runs down. When they run the balance down to zero, they'll have to reverse-auction another ruby if they want to fast-forward any further.

In a sense, it's like a rapid version of Progress Quest, but utilizing the real loot tables and XP values, and the benefits accruing directly to the player character.

Each minute of spent fast-forward time is noted on the player's character sheet, so the hardcore players can see who invested the wall-time, and who skipped forward.

Players who don't want to grind out the rest of level 19 can fast-forward long enough to hit level 20, and then go about playing as normal.

Since each player is different, and different players will find different aspects of the game to be either boring or interesting, this allows the player the discretion of what parts to play through, and what parts to "skip over" the aspects they personally consider tedious.

A player could conceivably fast-forward their way to a significantly high-level character in relatively short wall-time, if they were interested in working up to a level 40 character to play with their friends, but didn't want to buy one on eBay.

Likewise, someone who was on vacation for a few weeks could fast-forward until they were "caught up" with their group of friends, without losing out on loot that they might have found along the way... despite the fact that they didn't have the wall-time to invest in catching up.

To the earlier question of "why not just give anyone everything for free"... I'm building a commercial enterprise. Giving everything away for free jeopardizes my revenue stream.

For a no-subscription game, I'd think that a fast-forward feature as noted above for "free" and unlimited use would be appropriate and popular, so long as the character sheet noted the extent to which the player took advantage of it.

For purists, of course, I'd suggest offering servers that don't include the fast-forward feature.

Posted Feb 16, 2005 1:03:53 PM | link

Hellinar says:


Richard> And you'll stop people from playing in a non-RP fashion on the RP servers how, exactly? And vice versa? <

A pretty straightforward way of encouraging RP, at least of the kind of I enjoy, is to limit leveling speed on the server. In my RP style, the point is to follow the needs of the character, not maxing the treadmill rate. This RP style inevitably leads to lower leveling rates. Intelligent min/maxers know this and flock in droves to RP servers. Limiting level rates would lead to “efficient” treadmillers having to hang about, and they would leave. I’d recognize that my approach to RP is pretty “hardcore” though. So I would only see a few servers implementing that rule.

Linking back to the topic, my point is that rules that are not embedded in the design or code are expensive to enforce. If the code doesn’t enforce them, its left to the CSR, which is more expensive, and after that legal sanctions, which are very expensive. IGE relies on the ability to farm, and that is easily removed by limiting the rate of item acquisition on any account. But that does shift the balance in the game between the Adventurer and the Merchant. It seems to me in a VW entirely devoted to the Hero’s Journey, not much beyond supplies and vanity clothing would be tradable. Such a VW would not be a fertile ground for IGE. The open question is if an Adventure only VW would develop a strong community.

Sounds like an interesting option to me, but a lot would depend on the execution of the concept. With so many new VWs hitting the market, it would be nice to see more variety. Perhaps the success of WoW will close the door on “yet another EQ clone” and we will see some experimentation.


Posted Feb 16, 2005 1:12:04 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Richard wrote:

If a virtual world was advertised as being a role-playing game and attracted players on that basis then yes, I don't see why the developers wouldn't be within their rights to eject people who didn't role-play.

Which MMOs that you know of are advertised specifically as "Ebay-less games" and attract players on that basis? I don't know of any. I do know that most MMOs frequently call themselves MMORPGs, which is certainly advertising that they're roleplaying games, despite the fact that the amount of roleplaying that takes place in the big ones is relatively negligible compared to the amount of general activity going on.

--matt

Posted Feb 16, 2005 2:13:22 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

High time Penny Arcade weighed in on this.

Posted Feb 16, 2005 2:18:47 PM | link

Jeremy Neal Kelly says:

And who could forget this classic?

Posted Feb 16, 2005 4:05:25 PM | link

Hellinar says:

Barry>I'd also like to accommodate those who would like to recoup some of their "investment" and realize value when they are departing a game. <

It seems to me that in framing your time as an “investment” you are redefining your play as work. As I see it, I’ve paid Blizzard $15 a month to entertain me, and they have fulfilled that contract. I don’t see that spending time being entertained by their world then gives me the right to resell a record of that experience. (Which is what my character and her items could be viewed as.) Would you argue that the three hours you “invested” in watching Lord of The Rings gives you the right to copy and distribute the movie? Or soap opera fans have to right to distribute copies of the series because of the time they have “invested” in watching it?

It seems to me to have an “investment” to recoup, you have to view yourself as “working” to obtain that sword or level. Which is fine, but I don’t think the two approaches mix that well on the same server. And as many devs have noted, it carries a potential legal peril. As soon as you redefine your VW as a “workplace”, all sorts of legislation kicks in, and that varies a lot by country. There are good business reasons for keeping the “magic circle” intact.

I must say I like the fast-forward concept though. Its kind of like the “offline” time in ATITD on steroids. Or like buying the Coles Notes to get the experience of reading the book, without investing all the hours to actually read it.

Posted Feb 16, 2005 5:05:44 PM | link

Barry Kearns says:

Hellinar>It seems to me that in framing your time as an “investment” you are redefining your play as work. As I see it, I’ve paid Blizzard $15 a month to entertain me, and they have fulfilled that contract. I don’t see that spending time being entertained by their world then gives me the right to resell a record of that experience. (Which is what my character and her items could be viewed as.) Would you argue that the three hours you “invested” in watching Lord of The Rings gives you the right to copy and distribute the movie? Or soap opera fans have to right to distribute copies of the series because of the time they have “invested” in watching it?

Perhaps investment isn't the precise word that I'm looking for... I'm trying to convey the sense of utility that comes from possession and control of the character. Many see that as valuable precisely *because* it has utility, and I tend to agree with them.

The effort that I (as a player) put forth was what brought that instance of utility into being. Since it was enjoyable along the way, I don't consider it to be "work" per se. But it is clearly possible that while playing, I might create something of utility, that someone else would find useful if I transferred it to them.

I don't see this as a player reselling a record of their experience... it's not the record that's useful. The original player still has all of the memories and experience of the original journey.

What's left over is the utility of what remains: the character and associated chattels, and the utility that they could provide in the next hour of play by someone using them.

If the account were simply cancelled (or worse yet, the character simply erased), that seems somehow tragic to me. To me, letting the mothballed character rot or erasing it is something like throwing away (otherwise perfectly good) food or medicine that you bought because you're done with it, when it could provide benefit to someone else.

It's clearly not like reselling a copy of LotR or a soap opera, because none of the memories go along with it. Instead, it's much more like reselling your originally purchased DVD, because you've grown tired of watching it. You are reselling the instance you originally paid for, and by doing so you no longer have it. No new copies are brought into existence. It's not a copy, it's a transfer of possession.

Now, such after-market resales of previously watched DVDs might erode the sales market of new copies of that particular DVD... but that's the First Sale Doctrine in a nutshell. The DVD manufacturer might not like it, but their interests are not the only ones involved in this picture. As a manufacturer, you get to sell each individual copy one time, and then people are generally free afterwards to dispose of it as they see fit.... including selling it.

There's something of a creative flavor to the compilation known as a character, at least to me. Instead of being like a reselling of a recording of your experiences, to me it is more like building something out of those big foam rubber construction sets (Tinker Toys(tm) ?).

I might have found a really neat and fun configuration of those, that the kids really enjoy playing with. After my children tire of it, I might want to sell the original configuration that I created... lock, stock and barrel to my neighbors for their kids to use.

There's more involved with that particular creation than just the individual components in the construction kit... the way they are assembled or even decorated adds some value, too. Knowing that this particular configuration brings some extra joy to kids adds value not in the financial "investment" sense, but instead in the congitive sense of "this is useful for bringing happiness".

Now, my neighbors don't get a copy of the joy experienced by my kids, but they do get utility for their kids, and the knowledge that this configuration works well, and may even be "broken in" in a useful way to make it work better than trying to replicate it from scratch with a new construction set.

For a transferred character in my MMO, you'd see the same dichotomy when comparing the transferred character to an "equivalent" choice of just having someone fast-forward their way to an equivalent character level and class combo.

The transferred character has been "broken in" and tuned along the way, to come up with an ensemble that might behave quite a bit better than a slapdash collection of loot and skill point allocations made by someone not as familiar with the game.

The tuning, tweaking, equipment choices and character bonuses achieved through various quests add up to a kind of "value add" put in by the original player.

Now, if I were interested in nothing but maximizing the bottom line, I might make all characters non-transferrable and erase all old characters upon account expiration for good measure. If you want a higher-level character sooner, you have to fast-forward one or grind it the hard way.

But that seems essentially wasteful and callous to me. I *like* the concept of the First Sale Doctrine, and I don't mind applying it to myself as a manufacturer. Yes, it might cost me a bit of revenue, but acknowledging the player's contribution towards that ensemble might *also* bring in additional players who appreciate it that I recognize their contribution of "value" in what they've created... and other players might stick around longer knowing that their effort doesn't have to be relegated to the Bit Bucket In The Sky when they are finally done with the game.

The player typically didn't "work" when tuning their character.. it's often a labor of love. It's play, not work.

But play can also sometimes produce things of value to others who play in the same fashion, and I'm hoping that players will recognize and appreciate (and pay for) a game that allows them to pass that value on to others, for whatever consideration they see as appropriate.

Heaven knows I've run across too many games that are interesting and allow me to create ensembles of value and utility in an MMO environment, but the developers often adamantly refuse to allow me to transfer that value.

Maybe the only way to persuade them to loosen up is to demonstrate the popularity of the idea by stealing their player base from them. =P

Posted Feb 16, 2005 6:03:59 PM | link

bruce boston says:

me>The suggestions I would give are pretty simple. Markets like choice. If we find that 15-20% of players like to role-play and the rest are messing that experience up by being there, there’s an easy suggestion: split the servers up so that 15-20% are RP servers and the rest are not.

Richard Bartle>And you'll stop people from playing in a non-RP fashion on the RP servers how, exactly? And vice versa?

Yes, yes, I know. How in the world is Star Trek the MMO going to get people to RP Klingons without administrating a language proficiency test before players start their characters.

Again, going back to the Disneyland analogy, my experience has been that you can't keep College Grads from attending the day session, but you can certainly have different standards for grad students attending the two.

I also think we shouldn't leave out the players here either. Its been my experience that by lvl 45- 50 (in WoW) you know the other players in the upper ranks on your server. On RP servers, good RPers get invited to better guilds, more groups, have more connections, get better prices, etc, etc.

At the end of the day, I still see this as a customer satisfaction issue. If you can effectively increase customer satisfaction by setting up Ruby Servers, then I would be slow to dismiss the value of the idea. If as a developer you don't care about increasing the customer satisfaction of the fringe 10-15% , then you may be quicker to dismiss this.

As an economy designer that plays many of these games, I have very little reservation in recommending possible solutions that might increase the fun players are getting out of our industry. And at an estimated $880M secondary market, there is a fair amount of data here that there is a demand beyond what is currently being provided by the primary market.

-bruce

Posted Feb 16, 2005 9:56:01 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Jeremy Neal Kelly>Like I said, I agree that eBaying presents a significant moral dilemma. However, I think its benefits should be considered as well.

They should be, yes, and indeed the people at SL and There have decided that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. This is fine. They've done the considering, and come to a conclusion. Other people have also done the considering and come to a different conclusion. Both parties should be allowed to continue as they see fit.

What particularly gets me annoyed with all this talk about commodification is that there's a prevailing attitude among some people that it should be allowed whether the developers want it or not. No, it shouldn't. Ultimately, virtual world design is an art, and people should be allowed to create such art whether it's bad business or not.

You know when you sign up to a virtual world what its policy is on virtual object trades. It's not like they spring it on you after 6 months. If you don't like it, you simply shouldn't play. If you play anyway, you shouldn't be able to call in the law when you break the rules.

Note that I would defend equally vigorously the right of SL and There to allow free RL trade in their virtual objects if there were a movement to prevent it.

Richard

Posted Feb 17, 2005 3:17:12 AM | link

Peder Holdgaard Pedersen says:

I share Richard's annoyance at the notion that secondary markets should be tolerated/encouraged no matter how the game operator/designer feels about it.

I think two issues are being mixed up:

a) Is commodification/the secondary market a good thing?

b) Should the developer/owner be allowed to decide whether secondary markets are ok or not.

If the conclusion to b) is that no, this is not within the developer's power to decide, this has quite serious consequences. Where does the developer's control of the game end? Is the only allowable enforcing of design principles through code? This is nonsense, IMHO. No one thinks that banning players for offensive language or harrasment is a problem. Almost everyone agrees that banning players who violate a no-bot policy is a problem. Where does a ban on sales of in-game resources differ?

Posted Feb 17, 2005 3:43:56 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Barry Kearns>I'd also like to accommodate those who would like to recoup some of their "investment" and realize value when they are departing a game.

If you were being really hard-nosed about the commerciality of your venture, wouldn't you prefer that they didn't do this? After all, if someone thinks they can sell their character then this may encourage them to do so, whereas if they think they can't sell their character they may be reluctant to quit because then it will gone forever. People who pay you a monthly subscription without actually ever playing are ideal customers!

I see how you might want to make money by by creaming off some of the dollars involved in character transference, but if character transference were not supported then the players would have to use your ruby mechanism to get the high-level characters they want. There may be fewer who do this than who buy "used" characters, but you get all the money instead of some "administration fee".

Richard

Posted Feb 17, 2005 5:28:54 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Uhh, hit return too soon...

(Continuing talking about Barry's ideas).

There are arguments, both economic and moral, for having a secondary market. People may be more likely to enter the primary market if they think they can dispose of their goods through the secondary market. You seem to have a combination of both here, which is fair enough, but it's weakened by the fact that although there's a secondary market there are a few secondary marketplaces (eBay, IGE, ItemBay, ..?).

Why, therefore, don't you allow a fast-reverse function, too? If someone reaches level 20 and had so much fun at levels 15-20 that they want to do it all over again, why not let them extend their subscription by a week in exchange for dropping them 5 levels? They wouldn't even have to be flagged as "cheating commodifying bastard scum" if they did so, because they're doing nothing to undermine the achievement hierarchy. All they're doing is trading in something it took them 2 weeks to get for 1 week's extra play.

>Maybe the only way to persuade them to loosen up is to demonstrate the popularity of the idea by stealing their player base from them

And then 10 years later, people will be wondering what all the fuss with virtual worlds was ever about, because they're no different from ordinary computer games are they? Something will have been lost, but the players of the day won't even know it was something they ever had.

Richard

Posted Feb 17, 2005 5:46:17 AM | link

Brask Mumei says:

I believe developers should be allowed to decide whether to have secondary markets. However, I believe if developers don't want such a market, they should:

1) Design the game so the players won't want such a market.
2) Manage their player base so they won't want such a market.

If they do neither of these things and whine about how IGE is ruining their game, I'm going to be unsympathetic.

Richard Bartle> Soccer has rules against "ungentlemanly behaviour", and a virtual world could have similar rules if it wanted.

Yes. Now, when virtual worlds have a similar referee to player ratio as soccer does, they may be able to have successfully have such rules. I'd be quite happy to play such a game. I doubt I could afford its monthly fee, though.

Richard Bartle> And then 10 years later, people will be wondering what all the fuss with virtual worlds was ever about, because they're no different from ordinary computer games are they?

How ironic! From my standpoint, the attempt to wipe out ebay is an attempt to turn them into ordinary computer games! Virtual *worlds*, as opposed to *games*, must support a secondary market to really be called a *world* in my books.

- Brask Mumei

Posted Feb 17, 2005 6:31:29 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Matt Mihaly>Which MMOs that you know of are advertised specifically as "Ebay-less games" and attract players on that basis?

Well, WoW comes fairly close.

Anyway, it doesn't matter whether or not there are any virtual worlds like that, it was a counterfactual. Given that what in the past was assumed ("you can't sell your in-game stuff because although your character owns it that doesn't mean you do") is becoming increasingly under pressure, a virtual world developer may feel the need to state explicitly that they prohibit out-of-game sales of their goods, and they'll stomp on anyone they find engaged in that activity. This being the case, I don't feel that they should be disallowed from doing that.

>I do know that most MMOs frequently call themselves MMORPGs, which is certainly advertising that they're roleplaying games, despite the fact that the amount of roleplaying that takes place in the big ones is relatively negligible compared to the amount of general activity going on

A virtual world only needs to have character classes for it to qualify as "role-playing". You're not a ranger in real life, your character is in the game, therefore you must be role-playing.

I agree, though, that if a developer wanted a virtual world with the kind of strict role-playing prevalent in so many MUSHes, they could legitimately feel a little aggrieved that the RPG acronym had already been taken by a less formal (put nevertheless still role-playing) class of virtual worlds.

Richard

Posted Feb 17, 2005 7:33:29 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Brask Mumei>I believe if developers don't want such a market, they should:
>1) Design the game so the players won't want such a market.

What do you mean by "should"? Do you mean "they'd make it a lot easier for themselves if they did this" or do you mean "this ought to be a legal requirement for them to gain the right to dismiss commodifiers"? Or something in between?

>2) Manage their player base so they won't want such a market.

So throwing out those players who do want it (to the extent that the indulge in it) would be a valid solution?

>If they do neither of these things and whine about how IGE is ruining their game, I'm going to be unsympathetic.

OK, well that's fine. What I don't want is for your lack of sympathy with a developer for putting principle before profit to lead to laws which deny the developer the right to put principle before profit if they want to.

>when virtual worlds have a similar referee to player ratio as soccer does, they may be able to have successfully have such rules.

It's the ratio of referees to offenders that matters, not the ratio of referees to players.

>How ironic! From my standpoint, the attempt to wipe out ebay is an attempt to turn them into ordinary computer games!

It's not that anyone is trying to wipe out eBay. If the developers don't mind players' trading stuff on eBay, that's fine. It's only when the developers don't want stuff traded that it becomes an issue. Please don't think I'm against eBaying in principle; I'm only against it wen it occurs in games for which the developers (not the players, the developers) don't want it.

>Virtual *worlds*, as opposed to *games*, must support a secondary market to really be called a *world* in my books.

So the real world isn't a world because there's no "even more real" world within which a secondary market exists?

Secondary markets within VWs using VW currency for VW goods are not a problem. Secondary markets in the RW using RW currency for VW goods can be a problem.

Virtual worlds are both worlds and virtual. If you put RW currency in them, that stops them from being virtual; they become too integrated into the RW.

Developers who don't want a RW secondary market in their VW goods have many reasons for objecting, but one of the main ones is that such sales spoil the game. Many of their players feel the same way. Now either these players and developers are mistaken, or after 10 years or more of commodification the games will indeed be spoiled. They won't be what they were, they'll be different. Now you may argue that they could be different in a better way, and you might indeed be right, but at the moment that's pure speculation. I'm arguing that one of the key features that makes virtual worlds different from any other form of entertainment - the ability to undertake your own, personal hero's journey - would be lost with this amount of RW intrusion. Whatever we have 10 years down the all-out commodification line, it'll be lacking in this key point. If it's fun, it'll be a different kind of fun. We'll have lost something important. That's why I'm ranting about this so much.

Richard

Posted Feb 17, 2005 7:56:14 AM | link

Barry Kearns says:

Richard Bartle> If you were being really hard-nosed about the commerciality of your venture, wouldn't you prefer that they didn't do this? After all, if someone thinks they can sell their character then this may encourage them to do so, whereas if they think they can't sell their character they may be reluctant to quit because then it will gone forever. People who pay you a monthly subscription without actually ever playing are ideal customers!

I see how you might want to make money by by creaming off some of the dollars involved in character transference, but if character transference were not supported then the players would have to use your ruby mechanism to get the high-level characters they want. There may be fewer who do this than who buy "used" characters, but you get all the money instead of some "administration fee".

I could have sworn that I spent about five paragraphs or so in my previous message explaining why I'm not that "hard-nosed"... (scrolls back)... yup, I did.

I don't think being able to transfer the character encourages players to do so earlier than they would have abandoned the game already. In other words, I don't think the presence of a transfer option (in which they realize some compensation) will cause people to stop playing a game they enjoy.

When a player in my game is no longer enjoying the game, I'd prefer that they move along to something that they *DO* enjoy. I'm not so cynical that I want to keep taking money from people when they aren't receiving value from the transaction. That's bad long-term business, IMO.

My "perfect player" is definitely *NOT* the one who pays but never plays... if anything, I think that being "chained to a game for fear of losing my character" builds up resentment from the player towards the developer.

I'm thinking beyond just this individual game subscription... I'm wanting to build a customer base that wants to play the game I produce after this one, and the one after that. I'm trying to build a structure that encourages BRAND loyalty rather than trying to chain a customer to the current game and suck them dry.

I recognize that the vast majority of players will grow tired of a play-for-play game after a while, and will want to "move on". My ideal customer is one who stays a while, spends money along the way, but most importantly leaves feeling fantastic about the entertainment value and experience that they received... and is eager to sign up for the next venture that I produce down the line. They'll tell their friends.

I don't want reluctant, resentful players. Word-of-mouth advertising via customer testimonials to their friends is an incredibly powerful marketing force... and I've heard it said that a passionate negative testimonial carries five to ten times the weight of a passionate positive one in influencing the decisions of others.

I can get much of the revenue / server load benefits of "players who pay without actually playing" from the fast-forward feature... and instead of unhappy players, I'll have happy ones.

Posted Feb 17, 2005 11:44:16 AM | link

Barry Kearns says:

Richard Bartle> You seem to have a combination of both here, which is fair enough, but it's weakened by the fact that although there's a secondary market there are a few secondary marketplaces (eBay, IGE, ItemBay, ..?).

I'm confident that the marketplace(s) will expand to meet whatever capacity is present. I wouldn't be opposed to working in a partnered fashion with someone along the lines of the relationship between Gaming Open Market and Second Life.


Why, therefore, don't you allow a fast-reverse function, too? If someone reaches level 20 and had so much fun at levels 15-20 that they want to do it all over again, why not let them extend their subscription by a week in exchange for dropping them 5 levels?

I think the current structure that I'm talking about supports analogues of that concept already.

Alternate characters are highly popular in many MMOs that support them. It's ironic that you mention playing up to level 20 multiple times... I currently have five different characters built in World of Warcraft, and I haven't played any of them over level 24. I keep going back and playing additional alts up to level 20. =)

I could see people accomplishing the same goals (more play time without more cash cost) by either transferring a character and using the net proceeds to pay for more subscription time, or even easier, from selling off in-game chattels for in-game currency and buying extra days from auction...

I can also see a complete nightmare from trying to track enough data to effectively "unwind" a character to a previous point without possibly doing wonky things regarding the existence of chattels along the way.

I'd think most people would simply play alts, and set the previous character attempts aside. If they found the 15-20 voyage especially compelling, but not the 1-15 voyage, I'd suspect that some of them would even fast-forward their alts to 15, to concentrate on the most enjoyable aspects.

Allowing character transfers is (at least partially) a way for me to acknowledge the social benefits of transferring utility to others, rather than destroying it.

Trashing a individual character's progress in exchange for free time strikes me as similar to companies who announce a new "environmentally-friendly" policy of buying coffee mugs for all of their employees... and then immediately throwing tens of thousands of disposable foam cups in the trash. The waste and destruction completely misses the point.

I'll think about it a bit more, but I don't see both sides of the value proposition right now.

And then 10 years later, people will be wondering what all the fuss with virtual worlds was ever about, because they're no different from ordinary computer games are they? Something will have been lost, but the players of the day won't even know it was something they ever had.

Not trying to be offensive, but... I've heard this Cassandra impersonation before, and I find it no more credible this time than the last.

I don't see much in the way of "ordinary computer games" today that capture and encourage the transfer of game-play utility between players in a massively multi-player environment, and allow people to realize real-world value in the process. How then does the creation of such a system make MMOs into "ordinary" computer games? Seems to be decidedly out of the ordinary to me...

Posted Feb 17, 2005 12:40:22 PM | link