How a Gold Farm Works

Mindy Basi, AKA Kwill of Kwill's Quill and a PhD from University of Illinois (see a summary of her work on race, gender, and MMORPGs in the middle of this page), emailed me about a discussion happening on the EverQuest boards. The thread, here,  is invaluable for the openness with which the writers discuss the day to day reality of running a gold farm. A behind-the-scenes look that also clarifies how RMT effects end up imposing costs on all the players. What a tremendous resource . Mindi: /thank /bow.

The tagline of the story is that professionalization and low-wage foreign competition are driving American mom-and-pop gold farmers out of business. Mom and Pop are unhappy. Should we care?

Here is a most informative post in the thread:

-----BEGIN QUOTE-----
I guess I should mention, as I failed to in my last post, that I have been in the process of dismantling my "business" since Christmas. You may wonder why I do not just fold it up completely and immediately, but that lies in needing to make sure that those I am responsible for, are taken care of. I expect to be completely done within the month.

This is going to be long, but I'd like to explain what my business essentially was, and my views on things in general and why what is currently going on is quite serious for EQ. Not just for the plat sellers like I was, or just those who rely on bazaar gears and trading to equip their character, but also those at the raiding level. While it certainly impacts raiders the least, it does eventually.

I started selling about 7 years ago. I started on my home server, amongst a few other sellers. At the time EQ was EQ, no expansions, fairly new, and you could sell 1,000 platinum for $500. I got into selling because of a GM at the time who I spoke to on occasion who was selling platinum and other items from places like mistmoore, guk, and solusek b. This was at a time a GM was an unpaid volunteer player, and the kinks hadn't been worked out as far as the EULA which forbid the buying and selling of intellectual property.

My tax return for that year which has salary from 2 months of my job which I quit to make this my full time business, showed $150,623.78 after expenses. By this time I had made another character on another server and bought myself another computer and was playing on two. I killed guards in everfrost and sold the weapons to vendors and then bought items from players, or sold the platinum. That's the entirety of what I did to make that income.

There was more and more competition coming in on a weekly basis, and I never made so much as I did the first year, even though I had to work more and more. Like any business if you are one of the only places around for that product, you'll make a killing compared to being in the face of extreme competition.

Fast forward a bit, I started to look for employees who were already selling platinum and items, who wanted a bit more security in what they did and the advantage of things like health care, a more steady paycheck, and the advantage of information exchange on where and how to make the best money in EQ.

Over the years I eventually had 16 employees on 7 servers, and the business was approaching $800,000 a year in income with hardly any costs associated with it beyond paying those 16 people, and health care.

I always operated the business in a strict manner that if I were to ever find out an individual cheated or exploited, or macroed, or duped, or scammed or acquired their coin or items in any other way than fully legitimate means within game, that they would be fired on the spot. I am happy to say that I never had to terminate anyone for this, but sad to say I did lose a husband and wife pair who quit to run the cheese tradeskill exploit as they felt they could make more doing it. It was fixed within two weeks after they quit, and had already been extensively reported.

We weathered various exploits which came and went, and prices which were steadily falling. It's what happens as more and more platinum enters the game, or more and more get into buying and selling. We always kept up, though, until some time into Gates Of Discord, at the end of 2003, when the first major major problem to hit, happened.

Back then prices on platinum had been near $200, per 100k, at the beginning of that year. Within two months, the price fell on the secondary market from $200 per 100k, to $25 per 100k. The problem? There were many guesses and many claims, but it was a combination of many issues. For one there were tradeskills which could be run under a macro for profit. There were many people doing this and using offset hacks to warp around or use combiners like the forges from somewhere outside the zone boundaries so you could not see them. Ever run up to a forge back then and find it was in use but nobody was standing there? Well, now you know what was probably going on. With a macro you could make a few hundred k a day per server per character you had doing it. 40 + servers at the time, times $100 a day per server, and you'd be fairly rich in short order at a steady diet of $120,000 a month. At these prices, at the time, there was room for about 5 times this business in the overall market, at about $500,000 per month. The income on the secondary market was a large percent of what Everquest took in in subscription fees, and this was right about the peak of EQ subscription.

Not only were there macros, but there were rumors of a "banker dupe" which were probably untrue, and there were also rumors of an offset hack to make the server think you dropped to a negative amount of money, which would put your character at a very very large positive amount of money. I believe the latter more, because the banker would require inside help, and while it's possible I don't think it's probable.

I lost 10 employees at that time. 100k platinum was a large amount back then, still, and to make that consistently on a daily basis with a couple of people was difficult. Since many of my employees were husband / wife teams of players with families to support, they could not afford to remain in a situation where their income was cut down to about $25 a day.

It was fixed, of course, but it is interesting to note that once it was fixed prices never returned to $200 per 100k, but rather went to $75 per 100k at the most. Enough platinum had entered Everquest to drop prices by more than half outside of the game. The effects were very very noticeable in game as well. While the issue was still present, ornate armors and the like which were top end droppables at the time, were reaching wild prices of 200k platinum and up, and they were selling. After it was fixed, top end items which had gone for 25k to 40k each, were now near 75k to 100k each and remained there for quite some time (before the top end item price went up again, and not down).

If you look back, this time period also marks the beginning of the decline of Everquest subscriptions. To be fair this was also in the midst of Gates Of Discord, but I can't help but believe the tidal wave that ripped through the bazaar may have contributed to that happening. It certainly would be frustrating to be saving up for some gear as a casual player, only to find the things you were saving up for nearly doubled or tripled in price within weeks, while your platinum didn't come to you any faster. Part of what my business was, was understanding what my customer's needs were. And many were just your average casual player who bought a bit of plat, 10k or 20k, here and there, to work on some tradeskills or to pick up a new hat or pair of boots in the bazaar. I dealt with a sea of emails at the time, from such customers, who were extremely frustrated at the whole mess, and many who outright quit as they were then almost forced to buy platinum to keep up their level of playing that was fun for them, and that made the game no longer a game to them.

My other customers consisted of the stereotypical plat buyer that people seem to dislike. The guy who goes out and spends $2000 on platinum (which gets you about 15 million platinum right now, or which got you 4 million platinum a couple months ago). These were the people with lots of money or who just had EQ as their main hobby (we all have one of those money sink hobbies to an extent) and had no qualms about spending such money on a videogame as it was fun for them to do so. Then there were the guilds, or guild officers and leaders who would buy platinum to pay for their guild's armor pieces, or high end players who would buy platinum for rare items like amulet of necropotence, mask of tinkering, blade of carnage, or other things their guild did not actively kill, or which were almost required for individuals to make it in a high end guild as they needed a "taunt weapon" or the like.

So anyways, after this great decline, things were very stable for the next year and a half. Prices in and out of game were stable, increasing and decreasing on the order of between 10 and 15 percent per year, which is normal. Prices on platinum dropped from $75 per 100k in late 2003 to $50 per 100k in mid 2005. I spent more time speaking with other sellers, and more time diversifying how we obtained platinum until the point where we, 8 people, were the sole supplier on 4 post merge servers, for everquest platinum to the big three sellers. There was no reason for them to lie to us about this, of course. They did have other sources of platinum at a rate of about 50k per day from people selling bits and pieces here and there, or they'd get a million from someone now and again, but they did not have the steady flow on the 4 servers from anyone else at all other than us. This was about $500 a day per server, or about $180,000 a year, divided amongst 8 people. It was barely manageable when you factor in health insurance and taxes.

In July of this year, one of the big sellers we dealt with, with a name starting with "G" (as I'd rather not mention them here lest people think I am trying to get them more business) told us and their other suppliers that they no longer had any need for platinum from us. They closed off any buys from people, and dropped their price from $50 to $40 per 100k on the market, and instead of having varying amounts for sale per server, they had millions on every server.

Being in the market as we were, it was quite an obvious move to make when a seller would get some sort of single source supplier who could meet all their needs. This is something which happens in games like World of Warcraft, where one supplier might cover all servers with 400 Chinese employees paid low wages to play the game and farm coin for hours and days at a time at a steady rate. EQ has never had that "problem" and even if so, they would be limited to making platinum in the bazaar, as EQ is not modeled as such that you can make money by farming monster kills and getting plat from NPC vendors. This was not a possibility, as a mass influx of chinese farmers would also be noticed within game, unless they were doing Dragons of Norrath crystals, in which case there is not sufficient market for crystals only, in order to supply what this seller needed.

Besides, crystals were a big part of what we sold, and nobody was selling close to as many as we did, not even 10% of as many as we did. As a matter of fact, being in this business we were required out of necessity to know the best places and items to sell for money, and not one of those areas had anyone or anything that could come close to what we were doing.

The general consensus was that this supplier got ahold of a dupe somehow, or they had a supplier who had one. When I say dupe I mean any hack, or macro or any way for someone to get money for nothing in game, and certainly something which is not "available to everyone."

We didn't fuss too much about it, though. We adjusted to the prices, kept a watchful eye out for any other issues, and kept up business as usual.

Until September / October. This is when the major problems started. Two new sellers appeared on the auction sites. These sellers were unknowns, new accounts who had millions upon millions of platinum for sale across any and all servers at crazy pricing. Their price? $25 per 100k if you haggled a bit with them, and they could give you as much as you wanted. 10 million wasn't an issue. 20 million? not a problem. In addition to these two sellers, old time sellers who had been gone since the last dupe era in 2003, and had not sold platinum since then, suddenly re-opened shop with millions per server. The amount available per server shot up from a typical million or 2 million listed at a time, to nearly 30 million platinum listed at a time. This all happened within a week. Resellers dropped their buy prices by 30%.

And it stopped again within 3 or 4 weeks. They disappeared, dried up, gone overnight. We honestly figured it had been fixed. But sure enough within the week the "G" named seller had millions per server for sale, and even more of it than they had before. They still denied all sales TO them but they had as much as you wanted to buy from them, and they had a new low price. After a couple weeks the other sellers started reappearing with similar pricing, and it has remained that way to this day. At times they get banned, then they come back. They formed a sort of conglomerate, and they keep in contact and fix prices so they are not competing too much with each other or completely killing off the market, which as they like to point out, they could if anyone wanted to mess with them, as "we can sell it for $1 per 100k and make money, just keep that in mind" which was mentioned to me when I tried to list up at a price less than theirs.

This has been going on for 3 months now, for the most part unchecked. SOE is aware of an issue, but seems unable to find out what it is and put a stop to it. They do ban the seller accounts from time to time (although it appears they have not since before Christmas) but it is really fruitless to do so as the sellers are back up again the next day with tens of millions available for sale. They can't ban an account which these guys have not yet created, and if it's some sort of hack that SOE has not yet found, all these guys have to do is fire up an account, dupe up 20 million, and they are good for a week until SOE gets back around to catching that account. At like $10? per account, plus a game card, I doubt they care other than a minor nuisance when one gets banned.

I find it absolutely amazing that SOE does not know what this is and how to stop it. I can't imagine they don't want to stop it. But I also have to wonder if they are taking it as seriously as it really is. No it's not a case of a bunch of kids running around buying up all the ornate armors and high end items with duped plat, pushing prices through the roof, but it is and will continue to speed inflation within the game, as the platinum entering the game in this fashion is not gotten by killing monsters or trading in the bazaar. The higher the amount of plat in the game is, the more they will need to design more plat sinks in the game be they tradeskills which cost huge amounts to skill up, or armor pieces which require you buy expensive components from NPC vendors.

The conglomerate of sellers, which just lowered pricing yet again, is arguing amongst themselves and and likely will drop prices again soon due to a new seller with millions per server, who obviously has access to the same exploit or something similar, who is selling for less than them that they now must compete with. $5 per 100k is a very real estimate of what this could get to. With the out of game market being roughly $600 per day per server, or about $4 million per year, if prices reach $50 per million that's looking at 4.3 billion platinum entering the game on a per server basis per year. Already at current pricing about 1.5 billion illegitimate platinum will be entering the EQ world this year. If you do not think this will have far reaching impact in game, it most certainly will.

To explain, since many do not understand the difference between someone who sells plat they make in game legitimately, and someone who sells exploited platinum, there is a very large difference on the server economies between the two. A seller who sells plat they make in game legitimately removes platinum that is already in the market, sells it for real life money, and this platinum then enters the market again. The net effect is zero, and the market is completely unaffected. A seller who sells duped plat, never removes money from the economy, he just adds money to it. So if a duper sells 1 million, there is now 1 million more platinum within the global economy.

Everquest is actually fairly well designed to ensure that money entering the game is only slightly more than money exiting the game through things like tradeskills, reagents, coffins, potions, soulstones, gems, high price armor completions, etc etc etc. With a little bit more money entering the game than exiting, you encourage mild inflation, which since EQ has no real banks or reliable investments which give a return over time, this encourages spending rather than hoarding of money. This increases trade and player interaction and is very good for the overall health of the game.

Double or tripling or more, the rate of platinum entering the economy without a matching increase in the rate it exits the economy, would and will have a huge effect on inflation within the game. For instance if we say every day that 5,000 people play EQ on a server all who make an average of 1,000 platinum, and spend an average of 750 platinum, the net result is about 1,250,000 platinum which enters the game per day per server. If on top of that a duper is injecting 5,000,000 platinum into the game, that platinum is not checked against normal costs. The 5,000,000 does not have the normal 3,750,000 drain the other players are faced with, thus instead of the normal amount of 1,250,000 platinum entering the game per day, there is 6,250,000 platinum entering the game per day. Also since this 5,000,000 platinum likely enters the bazaar immediately spread among a few people, while the 1,250,000 is spread among the 5,000 players and trickles in, the effect is multiplied to extremes. While the normal intended inflation might be 5% per 6 months, you get much much higher inflation rates. As little as 1 year ago, the "best" items cost 100k or so barring any oddities, on average. Now you find the best items are approacing 400k, to 500k. You can't take a look and say "well I can get an earring of solstice cheap now! there is no inflation!" because an earring of solstice is an old low demand item, and there are a multitude of better alternatives for that same slot. When golden tickets are running 1 million on some servers, and only because that is the most people can charge for one on a trader, there is inflation because these were 200k a year ago on the high end. When a mask of tinkering is 1 million platinum when they were 250k a year ago on the high end, there is inflation.

You can also see the effects here if you wish to read some other threads. Expect to see more and more of these types of requests for "another coin type" in the near future.

<http://eqforums.station.sony.com/eq/board/message?board.id=Veterans&message.id=160977>http://eqforums.station.sony.com/eq/...sage.id=160977

http://eqforums.station.sony.com/eq/...sage.id=160791

While many psts deal with Firiona Vie, there are listings in there of many items which are selling for 1 million plus on other normal servers as well. It is interesting to note, also, that due to the "all droppable" nature of Firiona Vie, that the out of game platinum market for that server is over 5 times what it is on a normal server, with thousands of dollars a day in activity. Also notice which server is hardest hit by inflation and which server has the most platinum flying around, with a population relative to other servers which is much smaller. If you know what you are looking at, you can see problems with exploitation, and their effects on trading, on Firiona Vie first. It's the smoking gun when it comes to these things, a virtual crystal ball that players on other servers can take a look at and see a bit of their future when it comes to the bazaar.

And this all certainly does effect every player. The time it takes to do so and the degrees to which it does, are all different. For the legitimate plat seller, it affects them the most, to be honest with you. With gradual inflation of up to 15% it does not, but with drastic inflation they can't keep up because inflation in game is a bit slower than deflation out of game. Thus while that item that sold for 100k last month might get 105k this month on average, out of game that 100k is worth 50% less. Working at McDonalds becomes more profitable, and it becomes non sensical to sell platinum.

For the casual player who does a bit of buying and selling the the bazaar, selling low end common items to save up for higher end nice items, they are impacted as the low end common items which are not high demand to begin with, sell for less and less or remain stagnant, or at very best inflate very very slowly, while the good and better items inflate at a pace which they can't keep up with unless they play more, or spend more time "farming." For some this is how they play and this is how they have fun, and such outpacing and inability to keep up can push them to quit.

For the new player, they have a few options. They do not have the pool of players to group with, and the game at their level beyond the very early stages, in the void of 15 to 60, is designed around early EQ. It's designed around an influx of coin and items which is old and pre 2003 exploit and pre today's current exploit. To a seasoned EQ player it may seem trivial to save up 1000 platinum if you work at it in an evening, but to a new guy, that figure is astronomic and daunting. Pretend you are level 25, give yourself 1000 platinum, go to the bazaar, and try to equip up to a level of gear you could solo / duo with (because it is highly unlikely to find people to group with at that level to make out a group). I doubt you will be able to do it, and where is a new level 25 guy going to get 1000 platinum anyways? If they have knowledge of the game to the extent that that is possible they are not new to EQ or have inside help anyways. This limits, more and more, the introduction of new players into the game. Of course, there's always the option for these players to go buy some platinum, but should that be almost required? Exploitation drives the new player away, and reduces the attractivness of the game to them.

For the average player in a guild, with some raid gear, and who plays a few nights a week, trades in the bazaar a bit, does a few tradeskills, has some twinks, and on and on and on, it's just standard inflation. You are the beginning of the plat drain. The coffins, the high cost tradeskill components that must be purchased from NPCs, the soulstones, the gems, the portal fragments, the gate potions, the 500 plat for ornate armor on turn in, the 10,000 plat for qvic armor on turn in. These things are here and at higher and higher costs in order to remove first and foremost, the normal player injection of platinum into the game through legitimate means, but they are also there in order to remove the platinum from past and current exploits from the game. You pay a premium on this stuff because Joe Macro over there exploited the game to make his $200 a day back in 2003, or because that duper over there exploited the game for $25,000 a week for the last 3 months and is continuing to do so.

For the raider, you pay like the average player, though you have access to the high end droppable gear in order to offset that cost. You can get stuff that is worth hundreds of thousands of platinum, and you can easily cough up the 10K for a piece of Qvic armor. It doesn't affect you as much because you buy and sell on the high end, and the high end is the most inflated and the plat sinks to counter it have not yet been introduced, and when they are they won't be too difficult to deal with for you, the top end raider. There is some effect, not monetary, from less new players sticking with EQ, and average players getting frustrated with inflation on their way up to your guild and quitting before they reach that level of play. The downsizing of eq associated with less accounts (I do not claim exploitation to be the ONLY reason for this) and it being more and more difficult to find good players to fill your ranks.

But it does affect everyone. Turning a blind eye to it does fine in the short term, but the effects do reach everyone eventually, and the longer it is left unchecked the worse that effect will be.

As I said earlier I am getting out of "the business" and won't be selling platinum and items for real life money anymore as soon as next month. I am still concerned with the state of the situation, though. It has nothing to do with my own income, as it has teetered on low profit and a waste of time for over a half a year now. I've more concern as a player. While I could write another novel about how I think in a proper system, the out of game trade of items and coin for real life money helps a game more than hurts it, it's not the issue here. As a long time player of EQ, who will remain playing for fun only and not as an income, it is in my best interest to get exploitation stopped for how it may affect me as a player and not how it may affect how I feed my family or pay my mortgage.

Happy New Year, and another update for you all.

I've obviously been keeping after this issue and I'm sad to say that it has not stopped, but gotten increasingly worse since I last posted.

A second exploit was discovered and fixed since my posting, which involved ornate rogue pants, summon poison (no drop no sale) combine with tradeskill seal, and get back a poison that sold to vendors for around 275 plat. Since this could be summoned per 15 seconds, that's 275 plat x 4 per minute, or about 1.5 million platinum per day. This is when run with a macro of course.

This required a level 46 rogue and ornate pants with poison skill. Something which could be made up in a couple of days.

Though this fix seemed to stop the problems for a few days, they resurfaced which lends credibility to the fact that there is indeed another exploit out there not yet discovered and fixed.

Price dropped again at the beginning of January, marking now the seventh price drop in 3 months. Buy prices for the main player in the market dropped down to $13 per 100k on most servers and they are the ONLY reseller who buys platinum, and sell prices have dropped an average of $5 per 100k over the past two weeks. This is a 20% drop in just two weeks. 100% drop over a 6 week timeframe.

From some of these guys you can now purchase platinum for $150 per million with a small amount of haggling. If it continues to drop at the rate it is going, $50 per million is about two months away at the worst case, four I'd guess at best. Also the amount of platinum for sale has skyrocketed, going from suppliers having totals of about 4 million, to most servers having 20 to 30 million for sale at a time just since my last posting.

It takes time for the effects of this to be felt in game, but each expansion there usually are more and more platinum drains put into the game because of activity such as this. Who pays? The players do, not the exploiters. The exploiters walk off to the bank with a $25,000 weekly check, while the players have to dig up more and more plat for their tradeskills or quest armor, or, as the exploiters would love, have to buy from the exploiters as it becomes the only reasonable source of platinum.
-----END QUOTE-----
From http://www.eqclerics.org/forums/showthread.php?t=20815

Final comment: note that Firiona Vie, the RP server to which many turned in naive hope at one time, has become the benchmark server for RMT analysts. Bitter irony.


Comments on How a Gold Farm Works:

Chip Hinshaw says:

What am I doing designing web-applications for a trading firm again???

Posted Jan 19, 2006 12:18:55 PM | link

anonymous says:

Well now, this is the sort of evidence we've been looking for. We've got a special place in mind for these criminals!

Posted Jan 19, 2006 12:24:03 PM | link

Mithra says:

Its the standard drama, reseller paranoias and supplier woes. I earned $181,000 off Ultima Online and Lineage II back in 2004 ( I sold to Julian, he may remember. and my-my? aren't all of our hands dirty... ), and I can tell you that the same dynamics work in every game. The only new component is that the Chinese are weighing in with cheap labor where American automation leaves off. Honestly I think the Chinese will win this economic contest, since it takes considerable time and resources to develop a bot or discover an exploit, whereas the Chinese need only grind per the rules of the game. In fact, the only way to compete with the sweat shops in the current market is to exploit, so for better or for worse its narrowed the field on what types of opportunities to pursue. I had over 25 PC's in my home running 76 instances of the UO client last time around, but going forward I doubt any of that hardware infrastructure will do any good, or even be necessary. Its a new business model I suppose. I think irrespective of what the companies think about bots and exploits, we have a collective responsibility to consider whether revenue from the secondary market is best sent to China, and what we intend to do about it, if anything. Suggesting that we shouldn't care whether "mom and pop" gold farmers take a beating in the global market is, in my opinion, a vengeful perspective couched in a jealous "player ethic" at the expense of a real-world macro-economics. At least the money I made was spent in Our market, a market that employs Our neighbors, Our friends. We didn't take the Chinese to raise. At least, thats a consideration for me. Most people these days have no nationalistic sensibility - we're not a country anymore, we're just a massive goddamn market, our collective national identities a fading memory, a novelty of the previous era. Today we are all merely consumers, lets close our eyes and pretend it doesn't matter where the money goes, so long as we sleepwalk comfortably to whatever end.

I will even go so far as to say, and this is an idea that probably hasn't gotten any play yet on Terra Nova, and it is that our virtual worlds, like the real world, are populated by virtual capitalists and virtual liberals. Reflect on that and see if there isn't a 1:1 relationship between what you believe is fair in-game and what you believe is fair in life, whether personal ingenuity, non-conformism and hard work entitles us to get ahead and exceed the natural parameters prescribed upon us by others, OR whether we are all in fact, relegated to economic and creative sameness irrespective of our gifts, the parameters of our participation limited and narrowly defined by elites who wish to manage a system full of happy oblivious sheep. In game, as in life, the players who succeed are the ones who are driven, and the ones who complain the loudest are the ones at disadvantage - they and their handlers.

Virtual politics aside, I just wanted to share some insight of my own, since there seems to be a great deal of debate about what kind of game players "want", whether it be supportive of RMT or fascistly restrictive.

I've come to the conclusion that players want to be able to buy the things they want for cash - but they don't want anyone else to do it. People want to cheat AND want to be the only ones cheating. Its simple, absurd jealousy. You heard it here first. Every poll and survey conducted on RMT to date was done on the assumption that players were For or Against some consistent, rational RMT policy, applicable to all players in all circumstances, but the truth is much seedier and base. Players who are against RMT are more likely than not, your virtual liberals, champions of sameness and forcible economic equity, the folks who "can't figure it out", and who must therefore leverage collective political power on the system to change it. The players who are For RMT, are your virtual conservatives and capitalists, the ones who "have figured it out", who are working, invested, and consequently being rewarded for their efforts in-game. Chew on that guys. The virtual world is rife with politics, and as in life, it all circles around conflicting definitions of fairness, and who deserves what, and why.

Posted Jan 19, 2006 1:22:11 PM | link

Mithra says:

"Well now, this is the sort of evidence we've been looking for. We've got a special place in mind for these criminals!"

Stalin would be pleased.

Posted Jan 19, 2006 1:29:45 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

Mithra> People want to cheat AND want to be the only ones cheating.

That's a beautifully expressed piece of insight.

Posted Jan 19, 2006 1:52:18 PM | link

Chip Hinshaw says:

I don't know if it's so much that people want to CHEAT as much as it is that people have some sort of hard-wired need to "win" at these games. I'm sorry for repeating myself, but it's that whole entitlement thing: I paid for the game, I'm paying the monthly fee, I should be the hero, I should be reaping the rewards of playing. It's the single-player mindset in the multi-player environment.

Mithra, thanks for bringing up some great points that I had never considered. It's interesting to get the perspective of someone who has been part of those secondary markets.

It's funny that I don't really mind the people who are making money off their in-game efforts (except perhaps for exploits), yet I am strongly opposed to people who are the consumers of that market. A bit of a paradox on my part, I suppose.

One thing I think is certain, the days of making serious bank from this sort of endeavor are limited. As the practice becomes more widely accepted or even built-in (or people become more apathetic about it), the flood of sellers will completely dilute the market and very likely make in-game economies pointless (or maybe that flood will balance things out - I don't know).

I think I see it somewhat in Second Life where there are multitudes of vendors trying to sell the same wares and thus their earnings are only worth mention in the terms of the virtual currency.

Posted Jan 19, 2006 2:19:25 PM | link

Dan S says:

Mithra,

I'm with Ted, that nails it. You only have to listen to the WoW general chat for a bit to get confirmation. Last night someone flat said he wished he had a combat cheat for PvP. What he didn't say, but what was implicit, was that he wanted an exclusive. What good is a combat cheat if your opponent has it too? Then it's no longer a "cheat," it's a standard tool.

Most of us don't want to "play," we want to win! Those few who do want to play, per se, get really annoyed at the rest who are obsessed with winning. They tend to be the shrillests anti-RMT crowd, but the "I win!" crew can be very anti-RMT (in public) too, to try to control the play field and maintain they advantages they get from secretly buying gold and twinking up.

Except... a LOT of them do it.

Have to buy gold to keep ahead of the Smiths!

Even in a "no economy" game the win impulse is still there. Games are about winning and losing. And we turn life into a game too, so making them "virtual worlds" isn't gonna accomplish anything. People will find and create their own "games" in those worlds, and the process of cheating will begin all over again.

So embrace it. Steer it. Channel it. Stop trying to prohibit something so fundamental to either human nature or our culture(s).

Design games with the assumption of original sin: players are going to try to "cheat". Expect it. Find ways to channel it.

Posted Jan 19, 2006 2:34:10 PM | link

Alan says:

Yes, most people in these games do play to be one up on the next guy. It's an easy to measure success by levels and items. Originally the only cost for being successful in the game was time. The people with the most time will always come out on top if the game was played as originally intended. These people with twelve extra hours a day to throw away are not so coincidentally rarely successful outside of game life.

Bringing real life money to trade for in game success puts these people back into competition with all of the people they couldn't compete with offline. I would guess that many of the most vocal against RL cash for game items our these people.

Personally, I think in an ideal situation (if its within the mechanics of the game, doesn't require hordes of chinese farmers, etc) that the interaction between real life currency and game currency is a great thing. It opens up the mmorpg world to a part of society who would never reasonably be able to compete or fully enjoy all aspects of the game otherwise. For a mmorpg company this could mean a larger customer base and potentially one that stays around longer as they don't get frustrated by the inequality as easily.

Of course all this is dependent on finding a way to incorporate a economic system that isn't well suited to the likes of mass farmers, bot farms, and dupes.

Posted Jan 19, 2006 2:43:12 PM | link

says:

Mithra>"Stalin would be pleased."

Mythra, Stalin is dead. Criminal Justice will be more pleased.

Posted Jan 19, 2006 3:11:53 PM | link

Lanky says:

The aspect of Everquest plat farming, as expressed by the quoted OP, which strikes me the most is the inherently unspoken moral divide between what "mom and pop" gold farmers did to make their money, and what the Chinese / "exploiters" did. There are many ways to look at the economics of this industry, but I think the OP expressed it best by explaining the results in terms of negative effects on the largest number of players. If I understand him correctly, it was not the volume of plat farmed which at any time harmed the system. Instead, once plat began to be essentially "created", duped, etc. regardless of volume that the damage began.

So does this mean that on a hypothetical EQ server in which one guild has an incredibly efficient, yet legitimate mathod of farming vast amounts of plat (and selling sai plat to pay for guild costs), that there will be no real negative effect on the playerbase at large? Since in essence they are not introducing false amounts of currency into the system...?

I mean, on paper the net amount would be zero, since all of the plat created essentially came legitimately and directly from the game's mechanics, (e.g.: Utilizing a vasterly superior and efficient strategy for downing hard but rewarding endgame content.) but in that isolated virtual reality, the guild has essentially done the same thing economically as the Chinese, albeit on what is likely a smaller scale.

So does scale of infusion matter? Or is it method( "creation" versus "farming")? Do both factors matter equally?

My only comment on those questions is that for the "farming" method, one can point the finger at the developer and say: "They designed the mob to drop this much platinum. We kill the mob faster than they thought possible, because we cooperate. We run no bots, no macros... So...too bad?"

Im interested to read what others think here.

Lanky.

Posted Jan 19, 2006 4:07:42 PM | link

Andrew Burton says:

Mithra> People want to cheat AND want to be the only ones cheating.

Edward> That's a beautifully expressed piece of insight.

I can simplify Mithra's point down to three words: people are lazy.

Posted Jan 19, 2006 4:30:47 PM | link

Johnicholas says:

I like this post, it is very informative.
To nitpick, I believe this quote is incorrect.
"A seller who sells plat they make in game legitimately removes platinum that is already in the market, sells it for real life money, and this platinum then enters the market again. The net effect is zero, and the market is completely unaffected."

'legitimate sellers' still affect the game - they increase the population playing the game, and because they are usually experts and willing to endure tedium, they move the population in aggregate towards expertise and tedium-toleration. This is exactly the RMT-causes-unfun problem that people compain of. Exploits may cause quantitatively larger unfun, but there is not a qualitative difference.

On the other hand, Stalin said "Quantity has a quality all its own."

Posted Jan 19, 2006 4:50:02 PM | link

Bart Stewart says:

I won't pretend to expert analysis, but a few things stick out even to me:

1. I got into selling ... at a time [when] the kinks hadn't been worked out as far as the EULA which forbid the buying and selling of intellectual property.

I always operated the business in a strict manner that if I were to ever find out an individual cheated or exploited, or macroed, or duped, or scammed or acquired their coin or items in any other way than fully legitimate means within game, that they would be fired on the spot.

This suggests there's a meaningful moral/ethical difference between someone who knowingly violates the TOS/EULA to sell plat obtained by grinding, and someone who knowingly violates the TOS/EULA to sell plat obtained through exploits.

Hmmm.

2. I find it absolutely amazing that SOE does not know what this is and how to stop it. I can't imagine they don't want to stop it. But I also have to wonder if they are taking it as seriously as it really is.

"Serious" is a relative term... but yes. In the context of what such widespread and high-volume currency exploits and sales do to gameplay, this is serious. If SOE took it seriously, there'd be at least some negative evidence -- buyers would report difficulty in finding plat sellers.

So SOE seems not to be taking this massive influx of exploit-generated money seriously. The OP asks a reasonable question -- why not?

3. ornate rogue pants, summon poison (no drop no sale) combine with tradeskill seal, and get back a poison

Is it just me, or is there something disturbing about the idea of extracting poison out of someone's pants?

4. Mithra: players want to be able to buy the things they want for cash - but they don't want anyone else to do it.

That's true. But it's also true that sellers want to be able to sell the things they offer at their price -- and they don't want anyone else to do that.

Thus the collusion to fix prices mentioned in the OP, and the implied threat made to the "honest" plat seller.

There's nothing new in this; the Hanseatic League wasn't the first or last group of sellers to be willing to take extreme measures to rig a market to their advantage. But even if it's not new, it's still pertinent. You can't put all the blame on the buyers.

Good solutions to economic problems find a way to address both buying and selling.

5. Mithra: Players who are against RMT are more likely than not, your virtual liberals, champions of sameness and forcible economic equity, the folks who "can't figure it out", and who must therefore leverage collective political power on the system to change it.

I may be guilty of not being able to figure it out, but I oppose RMT and I am not a liberal.

I oppose RMT because IMO it unbalances the game as the designer intended it to run. Maybe that's a flawed position, but it's neither a conservative nor a liberal position. (If anything, it's both.)

6. Dan S: Stop trying to prohibit something so fundamental to either human nature or our culture(s). Design games with the assumption of original sin: players are going to try to "cheat". Expect it. Find ways to channel it.

Why do I keep hearing Bob Marley in my head? "Legalize it...."

I'm all for design judo (use the person's momentum to direct them in the direction you want, rather than trying to block their action directly). But the idea of simply giving up on imposing reasonable minimal standards of social behavior on the theory that people are just bad and the best you can do is utilize that badness...? I'm just not ready to go there.

One alternative is stigmatization. When enough people agree that "only fools do [X]," that consensus reduces the occurrence of X because people don't want to be perceived as fools. You're not telling people not to do it, but you're not giving up and letting people walk all over each other -- you're strongly advocating a behavioral standard and then letting people decide for themselves if the likely consequences make the action worthwhile.

I'm not saying that's the only alternative, or the best. But it does seem like a reasonable alternative to either fighting human nature or giving up on social standards.

--Bart

Posted Jan 19, 2006 5:38:00 PM | link

Mithra says:

Well I don't want to get into a ad-hominem squabble with anyone here, I'm just here to muse like the rest of you.

Lanky has a point, and its the method of creation that affects the price of gold or plat. The efforts of the casual player almost never determine the market value of gold, it is always the automation, or the exploit, that sets the price. The reseller truly does not even have that much control. It all boils down to a time versus profit versus risk analysis. Is a particular bot worth running? There are lots of things to automate, not all of them make money, and not all of them are worth the risk. It gets even more complicated when you bring in people whose daily labor is valued closer to the wear-and-tear involved just keeping a PC running all day long. When you run two dozen computers night and day, even in a temperature controlled room, you end up replacing $60 this and $100 that at least once a week. Single computer owners are probably not familiar with this problem.

Anyway, what I wanted to say to Lanky is that the "damage" to all these games is a perception, not a concrete fact. In virtual worlds, unlike the real world, there is no true suffering in the sense of pain or hunger, there is only a relative sense of equity or deprival. People want their fair share, and if they don't think they're getting it, your game sucks, irrespective of whether your game is different today than it was two weeks ago. The problem exists mainly in the minds of players who look at eBay and think, man, I'm missing out, or gosh, I blew 10 hours grinding but someone else did it faster. Its all about sitting there, stewing over the fact that you know, somebody, somewhere is having fun and you're not. Does anyone of us KNOW how much plat is in everyone elses bank account, or do we merely have a perception of it? If a player is not enjoying his online experience because he carries a baseless negative perception of how he's faring in his quest to keep up with the Joneses, what can we realistically be expected to do to placate that player? Is it worth our energy to pander to this kind childish demand, or should we simply accept that inequity is an unavoidable aspect of virtual worlds?

"the days of making serious bank from this sort of endeavor are limited"

Thats very true, although I tend to measure my prospects nowadays in terms of every new game coming out and in beta. Unless you can find an exploit in beta and be ready to hand out currency on Day One of retail, you can forget about it. With Lineage II, a partner and I were able to do exactly that, but exploits aside, the Chinese bore down on that game with a fury and drove the dollar-to-adena ratio down on a pretty steep curve. We we're lucky, we had about 5 weeks of strong sales before two exploits were corrected. I stored back 110 BILLION adena, which was valued at $65 per million initially. Thats about $7.1 million dollars worth of crap ( if you ignore the price curve ). In the end, despite creative storage techniques ( everything was stored as items, not gold ) my accounts were banned and the gold deleted. They claimed they removed 3 billion adena from circulation, which was grossly inaccurate. I suspect that since L2 went off without a hitch in Korea, and one would assume their hackers are more rigorous, NCSoft Korea wasn't willing to take seriously complaints by their Austin counterparts that there was a flaw in their product, as evidenced by the activity on eBay, and consequently they were slow to roll a fix. Thats my theory anyway. We also believe IGE was buying from our resellers and turning them in ( standard practice for those guys ), then letting NCSoft link back to the source. All in all my partner and I both made $56K in over a 5 week run, which was formidable. On balance, I haven't made a single dollar since March 2005, so this industry is really feast or famine. At least in the real world, you can count on physics not to change overnight. I haven't let my skills apathy, I'm self-driven and learn every day. Fortunately I found a dupe last Friday, believe it or not, in a game which will remain unnamed, so my wife and I are quite pleased.

I guess its time to come clean on something else, I've been dying to tell the story. :)

I would have thought the days of making serious bank from Ultima Online were over as well, seven years running, but every new publish runs the risk of introducing breakage, and in the case of Publish 21, I was able to generate 17.5 billion gold pieces through a vendor exploit the week of Thanksgiving 2003. I was tinkering away at 4:00 am when I discovered a flaw in the dynamic pricing system on their test center. As it were, I was able to coerce a condition that allowed me to lock the price on a large purchase of items from the npc merchant, after which the npc would adjust its price up accordingly and I would sell the items back to the merchant at the inflated price. The math of it is fairly complicated, but suffice to say it generated 1.047 million gold every 18 minutes per character. I shared my discovery with one other ( who later claimed credit for this exploit to my great annoyance ), and all said and done, I setup 21 PC's, wrote and tested a bot and was ready to go on Day One when they sent Publish 21 to the production shards. And it went off without a hitch. Until.. we were discovered in-game by Lee Caldwell. As it turns out, we chose the most remote bank in the game to run this script, and it happened to be occupied by another exploiter running a different exploit. Lee confused me with Richard Thurman, and tried to extort the information from me; I told him I'd saw off my leg before I helped him out. You see, Lee is more like the mafia than any of us, he's as much a credit to his industry as Al Sharpton is to Democrats. Lee then went onto the Stratics forums, raising hell about how the sky was falling and the UO economy was going down the tubes. This, Dr. Castronova, is what I meant when I say people want to cheat AND they don't want anyone else to cheat. Its simple jealousy and greed that motivates the vocal masses. The ones that complain the loudest are usually the ones most vested, and they are just trying to leverage authority to create some result where they themselves have lost control. Truth be told, the fact that I had 17.5 billion gold in my bank accounts didn't affect anyone's game play enjoyment one iota. I seriously doubt anyone lost sleep at night, other than the other gold farmers who no doubt were in state of panic. Every single person that bought gold from us went away a happy guy. We aren't scammers, we delivered exactly the value we promised. Players are not paying for just gold, they are paying for a play experience, an artificial, fantastical, entertaining play experience, and if the player is happy, then we, like the game company have done a good thing.

The managed perception of equity is the key to maintaining a happy playerbase, Lee Caldwell knew this, and decided that if he couldn't do this exploit too, he'd burn the whole thing down. Well, I relocated my bots, ran a few more days, and when it became clear that the community was close to discovering the secret, I paged a GM and reported the exploit concisely myself. Within four hours, they had a fix, bounced the servers and the issue died. The advantage was clear - because I and Richard Thurman ( who made 4 billion himself ) were the only ones with gold, we were able to keep the market stable through Fall of 2004, and the collapse they all feared didn't materialize. I have some regrets that this could have been managed differently, but not many. In spring of 2005, I discovered another vendor exploit, but went a little overboard and rolled out 76 clients on 25 machines. OSI/EA apparently took note, and for the first time in history, my segregated IP addressing didn't protect me. They identified every account, fixed the exploit promptly and moved on. I was left $20K in the black, I'll take it, but not exactly something to retire on. I guess UO is doing well enough they didn't blink to cut loose $1200 a month in account fees. Its an ongoing game of "measure and counter-measure", strategy, math, economics, and play. I probably work 12 hours a day, I'm an obsessive individual, and it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to outwit my peers. The trick I think is not to get depressed when adverse events happen, learn from the experience, do not repeat past mistakes and take the extra steps necessary to protect your investment, even if it means making money slower than you could otherwise.

For your entertainment, I've included a few screenshots.
This is me flying/teleporting with a hybrid Lineage II character. I think I had the only dwarf mage in the game. ;) The trigonometry required to interpolate and teleport killed more brain cells than I'd like to repeat. This is an auction bot / teleporting resource collector that I wrote for WoW, but never used. It was a technological feat and a waste of time - I didn't make a single dollar off this game because the Chinese buried the value of gold well below what was worth automating for. If you want to stop botting, destruction of value will always do the trick. This was my latest, final and retired version of my UO bot. I think, one day I will probably write a book of some sort, but so long as I'm still making a living its not exactly prudent for me to wax technical. I hope that with persistence one day I'll hit the jackpot, maybe another dupe in a game like WoW which survives retail, who knows. Probably I should invest my time actually writing an MMOG ( I've already written a game server, payment server, login server, and automated billing infrastructure just screwing around. Writing and running a MMORPG is ultimately my dream. I suppose its life's irony that for now I make a living at the margins of everyone else's games. )

Posted Jan 19, 2006 5:52:45 PM | link

Mithra says:

Bart, the virtual liberal rhetoric was a generalization. :D Just a perjorative term I came up with, probably on the tail end of some Stratics article by a whiney player. I needed a label for the person who wants contol of everyone elses free enterprise.

Posted Jan 19, 2006 6:11:15 PM | link

Bhagpuss says:

I've been playing EQ since 1999 and in all that time I have only met one person who openly admitted to buying platinum for dollars. Of all the (many) people I have regularly played with over that time, there's not one that I have even suspected of paying real money for platinum.

It may seem odd, or old-fashioned, but virtually all the people I have played EQ with have, from choice, preferred to hunt or quest for or make their equipment. Many of them haven't even been interested in buying common items from The Bazaar (indeed quite a few of them never even went to The Bazaar in all the time I knew them).

There is nothing that I can think of that a player needs to buy from another player. I personally haven't bought or sold anything in The Bazaar for weeks. It is completely irrelevant to me whether the going price on something rises from 100pp to 1000pp overnight as generally I only buy and sell from NPCs anyway. The idea that the prices of basic reagents such as coffins from NPC vendors is going to affect my gameplay, as suggested by the OP, is fatuous. I don't suppose I buy a reagent more than once or twice a month at most.

I have played EQ throughout several inflationary bursts, where prices in The Bazaar apparently skyrocketed, and if I wasn't also a keen reader of EQ boards I would never even have known it was happening.

Still, from the figures quoted by various people in this thread, there must be a lot of people playing EQ in a very different way from the way I and all the people I have ever associated with do - what they can be getting out of the experience is utterly beyond me, though.

Posted Jan 19, 2006 7:07:55 PM | link

Hellinar says:

Farmer> Since this could be summoned per 15 seconds, that's 275 plat x 4 per minute, or about 1.5 million platinum per day.<

I am disappointed, but not surprised, to hear that EQ production servers still don’t do even the minimal sanity checking that would be needed to detect this. I’d side with the crowd that says SOE are pretty much designing their games to be farmed. It a trivial problem to fix, just softcap the rate at which loot and experience can be acquired. I’m still waiting for a MMORPG with that feature though.

Mithra> Players who are against RMT are more likely than not, your virtual liberals, champions of sameness and forcible economic equity <

In the early days of EQ, earning 1 platinum could occupy several days. Now people are pulling 1 million plat a day out of their pants. Seems to me, there is a wide stretch of ground between a dull sameness, and a million times disparity in earning power between the newbie and farmer. Its those excessive disparities that make farming tenable. I don’t think such large earning disparities do much for my overall enjoyment of a gameworld, and I would be more inclined to subscribe to one that consciously designed out such massive disparities. Which is a long way from a plea for forcible economic equity.

Posted Jan 19, 2006 7:31:44 PM | link

Mithra says:

Then you are still within the magic circle. Coming and reading here however, unfortunately, probably destroyed it for good.

I remember a time when I really enjoyed UO, something I often wax nostalgic about, but I realize now that back then I had no clue how to play. It was a new, novel experience with no stated objective. But there's no going back, every game is now, to borrow from the X-Files, something to be defined, labelled and neatly categorized. I'm so bored and disillusioned that I'm not sure any game can please me ever again. This is a problem that should be of particular interest to game developers, the evolution of the player mind. But, then again I'm a programmer, I've seen the wizard behind the curtain, I know his magic, and it bores me. If anyone doubts there is a God, its only because he's infinitely bored and doesn't want to log on. :D The target audience must necessarily be those who still hold the computer with some magical esteem, and the ideal audience would be those who have only a marginal command of business and economics. It is probably the preponderance of burned-out adult players like myself, trying to eek out one more gratifying experience, that poisons the magic circle, engenders unrest and cause so much headache for the industry.

Posted Jan 19, 2006 7:46:53 PM | link

says:

ige.com funds many of the chinese fame farmer "sweatshops".

Posted Jan 19, 2006 7:47:15 PM | link

Mithra says:

Hellinar, the fact that you even realize a disparity underscores its importance to your gameplay. A million times disparity in earning capability between you and the farmer was not even relevant until you defined it for yourself as a basis on which you would measure your own performance and enjoyment. This was certainly not the game Sony intended - it is a wealth acquisition meta-game we create ourselves and play. How incredibly curious that the farmer exerts so much control in creating the context in which we experience fun and not the company who creates the content?

Posted Jan 19, 2006 8:09:25 PM | link

Hellinar says:

Mithra. >A million times disparity in earning capability between you and the farmer was not even relevant until you defined it for yourself as a basis on which you would measure your own performance and enjoyment. <

I’m not so much wearing my game player hat here as my Systems Analyst hat. With that hat on, I judge that those massively disparities shape the world in a way that I do not enjoy. If you are sufficiently short sighted, yes you can claim those disparities don’t effect your gameplay. But they do. VW’s are complex systems, and one design decision can reverberate through the whole system.

I have an agenda here. I want go to worlds like Azeroth and Norrath for Adventure, for a journey, not a destination. I want many paths to the destinations in the game. Allowing huge disparities in the rate of loot and experience gain in the world destroys that. In a class based game for example, developer effort isn’t focussed on giving each class interesting skills and a novel path through the world. Its focussed on “balancing” the skills of each class, so played with optimum “efficiency”, they travel at roughly the same pace. Much better for me would be a simple programmed soft cap on the rate of advance. That would give designers a lot more latitude for “error” in balancing encounters and class skill sets. I would finally be able to play the rogue I want to play, a master of stealth and pickpocketing. Something I can’t do in either of the worlds mentioned above because the skills are too easy to exploit.

Posted Jan 19, 2006 9:26:04 PM | link

splok says:

Lanky> So does scale of infusion matter? Or is it method( "creation" versus "farming")? Do both factors matter equally?

As far as the ethical issue of RMT, I don’t think it matters. You either believe that RMT is against the spirit of the game or you don’t (discounting whatever is said in the EULA, since imo that is there more for the developer’s legal protection than for any real deterrent, since the actions (or inactions) of the devs make it clear that RMT is ok). As far as how damaging it is to the game though, that is very much based in scale.

Some creating essentially unlimited currency is clearly damaging to the economy since unlimited currency can only come from an unintended source (exploit, dupe, whatever). However, I don’t think that the argument that farmers are free from blame because they operate within the allowed game mechanics is very sound. In the balancing the economy of a game, you must have some idea of how much currency is entering the game. Consider the average currency per hour that a character might make over its lifetime. Now, this number might vary quite a bit from player to player, but a character that is only 24/7 and does nothing but farm will create FAR more currency than any normal player would. This extra currency is inflationary just as duped currency is inflationary. The only difference from the economy’s point of view is that the damage caused by a single account is capped at however much currency that the account can farm. You then add legions of farmers who then create however much currency is needed (not unlimited so as to drive prices down too far, but enough to meet demand at a sustainable price), and you end up with an economy that is flooded with FAR more currency than would be in it under normal conditions. The point is, any gold farmed with the intention of RMT is gold that should not be in the economy. The damage may be lessened since it’s flow is tempered by in-game mechanics, but that doesn’t negate its existence. Additionally, farmers use in-game resources that other players have to compete for, so not only are they creating currency that wouldn’t normally be in the economy, they continually consume content that would otherwise be available for real players. The fact that they pay $15 per month to do in no way justifies this.


Bart> This suggests there's a meaningful moral/ethical difference between someone who knowingly violates the TOS/EULA to sell plat obtained by grinding, and someone who knowingly violates the TOS/EULA to sell plat obtained through exploits.
Hmmm.

Well, many people support or are indifferent toward RMT. Few people support exploiting. Clearly RMT in both situations is against the EULA, but I’ll wager that few people have ever been offended at someone simply because they broke the EULA. People dislike RMT, exploiting, inappropriate behavior, etc. because they find the specific action distasteful, not simply because it is against the EULA.


Mithra> Anyway, what I wanted to say to Lanky is that the "damage" to all these games is a perception, not a concrete fact.

Oh? Doesn’t RMT cause more plat to enter the economy than would otherwise do so? Does this not devalue the currency and cause the prices of items to increase? Does increasing the price of an item not cause a player to have to spend more time farming for currency than would otherwise be required? I believe that extra time constitutes damage. Do RMT farmers not consume resources that normal players could use if there were no RMT? That added scarcity of resources also constitutes damage.

In real life, if someone breaks the law and costs you either time or money, that is considered damage. Why is it not the same in game?

Additionally, RMT makes it “HIGHLY” lucrative to find and exploit bugs that create currency. Without RMT, the bugs might still be there, but the incentive to find and abuse them isn’t nearly as high. The existence of RMT makes such exploits which have economic effects that are often irreparable far more likely.


Mithra> Unless you can find an exploit in beta and be ready to hand out currency on Day One of retail, you can forget about it.

There have been numerous currency generating exploits/dupes throughout the history of EQ, even very recently.


Mithra> Truth be told, the fact that I had 17.5 billion gold in my bank accounts didn't affect anyone's game play enjoyment one iota.

Mithra> Every single person that bought gold from us went away a happy guy.

These statements seem to be quite contradictory. It was certainly not going to affect anyone while it was sitting in your bank, but the second that it enters the economy, it has affected the economy. If this was not the case, we could all print our own money.


Mithra> A million times disparity in earning capability between you and the farmer was not even relevant until you defined it for yourself as a basis on which you would measure your own performance and enjoyment.

Or until he attempted to buy something from a player… sure, if no one ever interacts economically with one another, then the state of the economy doesn’t matter. However, people do buy and sell things to each other, so the value of currency affects practically everyone.

Posted Jan 19, 2006 11:19:16 PM | link

Jhonus says:

as an aside

"The target audience must necessarily be those who still hold the computer with some magical esteem, and the ideal audience would be those who have only a marginal command of business and economics."

Most people are able to turn off that analytical cynical side of their brain when experiencing most entertainment such as movies and games. I think. Same with fretting about unfairness, RMT and Farming. All the press doesnt help though.

Posted Jan 19, 2006 11:27:00 PM | link

randolfe_ says:

A simple fact that Mithra referred to, but seems to get overlooked consistently in this debate: there is demand for RMT-sourced currency. Those ideologically against it can wax on infinitely about RMT farmers disruption of intended gameplay experience, or in-game economies (which really aren't economic systems--despite what some econ profs studying VWs might assert--or much of this problem would solve itself), or "breaking the rules", but the simple fact is that suppliers produce their product because people are willing to pay for it. In this context, one can no more expect RMT to go away anymore than the drug trade.

In the last thread Castronova asserted that it is RMT which creates powergaming/grind culture. False. It is players who create this culture; perhaps it is inate to human behavior or a product of Anglo-American capitalism, regardless it is a truth. Even without any RMT, powergaming/grind will exist because some players will compete with one another for status and fame. Given this, a sizeable number of others will figure out how to increase their own gameplay experience, probably by buying gold from IGE.

People buy gold for the same reason that they look up quest-spoilers on websites: they want to get to the next reward and have become bored/impatient/whatever with the current challenge-gate. And if the only discriminator in their achieving this reward is time-dilligence, then they most likely don't feel unethical doing so.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 1:36:26 AM | link

splok says:

randolfe> A simple fact that Mithra referred to, but seems to get overlooked consistently in this debate: there is demand for RMT-sourced currency. Those ideologically against it can wax on infinitely about RMT farmers disruption of intended gameplay experience, or in-game economies (which really aren't economic systems--despite what some econ profs studying VWs might assert--or much of this problem would solve itself), or "breaking the rules", but the simple fact is that suppliers produce their product because people are willing to pay for it. In this context, one can no more expect RMT to go away anymore than the drug trade.

So we should just sit back accept it just because there's a demand for it? Should we just accept the drug trade too? How about violence? or kiddie pron? There's clearly a demand for those things, so that makes it ok, right?

Just because completely stopping something is very difficult or impossible doesn't mean people should be indifferent to the topic and accept its occruance as a given. As more people grow distasteful of RMT (which will happen since the market is growing, even if the anti-RMT marketshare actually declines), it will become more and more likely that developers will have offerings that properly address RMT.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 3:04:16 AM | link

Communist Carebear says:

Virtual Capitalists that aren't Virtual Liberals? o.0
I don't think that word means what I think you think it means.

Isk Farmers of the World.. Zerg!

Posted Jan 20, 2006 4:25:57 AM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

As long as the environment is persistent and open-ended, as VWs are, it will be impossible to design out the accumulation of skills, items, currency, or what have you that leads to players' perceptions not only of differences in achievement, but differences, unfair ones, even in their ability to compete in the first place. This is the difference between wealth inequality and wage inequality, as Ted discussed in his paper for the Command Lines conference last year. This leads to easily-justified (from each player's point of view) efforts to make, shall we say, other arrangements.

I don't believe that, on the whole, they want to cheat and be alone in cheating (although some players may see it that way). I think that they are aware that no game is hermetically sealed from various kinds of advantages (Look, players apply skills developed playing different games to this one, while this is my first RPG! Look at how that guild is always escorting its lowbies around! Those other players are (I'm sure) on better, faster machines than mine!). They seek out their own such advantages to "level the playing field." That's not to say that they can accurately judge when the field is level or not; the drive to compete makes them pretty poor judges of that.

The point is that in the circulation of these different kinds of advantage, it is hard to sustain the idea that which ones are allowed and which ones are not should be left to the developer, especially because only some of them can be confronted in design terms (the rest dumped into the EULA/ToS as rules). In persistent, open-ended worlds, players are presented with the porousness of that boundary all the time.

Of course, get rid of the persistence and you no longer have virtual worlds (and here I suspect I'm re-stating Richard's point above).

Posted Jan 20, 2006 4:44:59 AM | link

Hellinar says:

Randolfe> In this context, one can no more expect RMT to go away anymore than the drug trade. <

The analogy is rather inexact. VWs are designed worlds, in which the designer has far more control than the everyday world. If I could recode humans so that everyone who sniffed cocaine had an instant 100% mortality rate, I could wipe out the cocaine trade overnight. As many people have pointed out, removing RMT as a significant factor is simply a matter of the design you choose. Its what you would have to give up to do that, and whether it is worth the cost, is the debatable point.

Randolf> It is players who create this culture; perhaps it is inate to human behavior or a product of Anglo-American capitalism, regardless it is a truth.<

The designers have a lot of leeway in which particular sub-cultures they attract to their world. If you design your world to massively reward playing 200 hours a month with large amounts of goods, then some people will play 200 hours a month. And, as you say, more time starved people will try to get the same goods other ways.

If you design your world so goods can be acquired in 8 hours a week of play, and there is not much point beyond that, then a different culture will take hold. The 200 hour a month players will be those who create their own content. And it seems like a good business proposition to me, there are likely at least as many people with 8 hours a week to spend in game as those with 50 hours. I suspect the reason we have games tuned to 200 hours a month is that the game designers themselves are people who play 200 hours a month, and they are designing for their peers. I’d like to see someone take another route.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 7:09:26 AM | link

Mithra says:

Mithra> Anyway, what I wanted to say to Lanky is that the "damage" to all these games is a perception, not a concrete fact.

Splok>Oh? Doesn’t RMT cause more plat to enter the economy than would otherwise do so? Does this not devalue the currency and cause the prices of items to increase? Does increasing the price of an item not cause a player to have to spend more time farming for currency than would otherwise be required?

Yes, yes and yes. But I stand by my statement. What you construe as damage is usually transparent to the player. The odds are long, I admit, that I will win anyone over arguing one player's right to inflate an economy, hehehe, but the point I'm getting at is this : the playerbase is more akin to an unconscious collective than anything else; damage to the economy is an absolute abstraction - a mental condition / state of mind that each player in the community may come around to irrespective or whether there is tangible damage or not. NO player will have an accurate representation of how much gold everyone else has, or know how much they should have. In the real world inflation hurts people - people go without food, clothing, shelter. Inflation of real currency causes True Suffering. This however is where VW's are distinct. No one went hungry because Mithra injected 17 billion gold into the UO economy. No one playing UO this very evening is suffering in their gameplay because of some three year-old incident. Inflation, and consequently the exploiting, is only important in its perceived effects, not its real effects, and it does not possess the same moral gravity as its real life counterpart. There are parallel's in how inflation affects the real economy versus the simulation, but they are no more morally equivalent than an in-game murder is to a real one.

As far as players investing more time farming in order to afford an item that, as you suggest, is artificially inflated in value, this is true, but again, usually transparent to the player, and most importantly, uniform to the experience of all players. How does any one person KNOW how fast or slow they should be proceeding through META content? Is the damage in actually taking longer to accomplish a self-chosen goal, or is the damage just in the perception that you're taking too long? The latter is influenced by alot more things than empirical observation. A RUMOR of a dupe can create this perception, and likewise you might keep a happy state-of-mind just on virtue that the duping stayed under the radar. The greater damage to the game is in the breaking news, not some statistical representation of gold availability over time. Who the hell pulls eBay statistics to figure out if they are having fun at any given moment? This is an overlong way of saying that the bulk of the problem is all in the mind.

The crux of your complaint is that it takes longer to acquire an item by virtue of economic shortcut, in which case you trump planned content anyway! If the devs intend to micro-manage how players meta game I'm hardly sympathetic.

Mithra> Every single person that bought gold from us went away a happy guy.

Splok>These statements seem to be quite contradictory. It was certainly not going to affect anyone while it was sitting in your bank, but the second that it enters the economy, it has affected the economy. If this was not the case, we could all print our own money.

If the eBay feedback is any indicator, then yes, all of these players went away happy. You seem to imply that none of these customers purchased gold with the understanding that A) there was a jaw-dropping hoard of gold stashed on someones account somewhere, and the B) they never intended their purchase to devalue over time, despite its perpetual availability on eBay. I believe they understood clearly both points A and B, so the suggestion that we were somehow defrauding them doesn't ring true. The value they purchased was a piece of our windfall, the advantage they had was the usual advantage that money conveys, immediate economic participation. They invested themselves, created a financial stake in the game, and no doubt rolled it over immediately into some item or service they wanted, and did so at the current market price. Does the economy slowly inflate as a consequence? Sure, but not nearly fast enough to destroy the perceived value of their purchase.

One thing you may not consider is that inflation *causes* all players to work the game continually. From a subscription point of view, it may not be a terrible thing that the wealth-acquisition meta-game has constant outside impetus. In UO, case in point, there is nothing *whatsoever* that a player can buy from an in-game system for more than a million gold. Multi-million gold piece transactions exist solely within the domain of player trades. At some point, dupe or not, every individual player's wealth is probably going to exceed the number of available / desirable gold sinks in that game, and players are going to either declare themselves winner and quit, or they are going to innovate and develop a player-economy meta-game. Inflation in this sense is an agent for good, because it perpetuates a need for MORE gold beyond the original linear design, thus compelling players to continue playing at this higher, improvised tier of content, as opposed to idling or losing interest prematurely. God forbid players have nothing to do. If it wasn't for the secondary market and player driven value, I firmly believe UO would have shrivelled up long ago. Companies who combat RMT or whore virtual assets out themselves are shooting themselves in the foot. They really should be privately cultivating and protecting the phenomena, publically indifferent, while not participating in it. For what is worth, UO continues to have the most forward thinking RMT policy out of the bunch.

The economy is an abstraction and its effects are over-rated when you take consideration of the games' linear content anyway. Take UO for example, seven years running, there is a widespread perception that economy is hyper-inflated. Now if I decided to come back to UO today and *play*, the economy is not going to affect my gameplay enjoyment. I'm going to pick one of 1500 things to do, busy myself and have fun, and I'm not going to care if the Ornament of the Magician is 1 million gold or 20 - I'm just not going to buy that. But I will find some other content, and if the game is designed properly, there will be plenty of other things to do. The idea that inflation advances characters to some finite endpoint in their gameplay experience is only true if people QUIT at completion of the linear content. How many people quit WoW when they got to level 60? For that matter, how many people quit WoW the same day they bought a level 60 toon? Players don't play month after month because they value being locked into some specific part of your planned content, they play because the game experience is redeeming in other ways. They play because the game presents opportunities and a sense of the unknown, not crude busy-work. If I get burned out on UO six months from now, will it be because I created 10 different avatars instead of just 2? Will it be because I earned 10 million gold instead o just 5? None of that stuff matters. The game is as it presents itself. The only true damage inflation causes, is that it occasionally ruins the day for "players" who are specifically and significantly vested in the game for their exploitation of the secondary market. Those who play the game for "fun" are going to be having fun, despite whats happening on my bot farm. Game companies have done themselves a huge disservice by catering to the neurotic demands of individuals who demand equity of meta-game'd outcome and who insist the destination is more important than the journey.

It would be worthwhile to analyze whether in fact inflation is causal to premature disinterest in a game, or whether the economy is in fact, a chimera that players find an incredibly popular and convenient scapegoat concept - a vehicle to channel their underlying disatisfaction with the game through. In UO the only people complaining about the economy do so through UO Hall on Stratics, which is arguably, the last refuge of the bored and disillusioned player who is already on his way out. All games have a lifecycle, a curve if you will, which invariably begins and ends for every player, and does not continue indefinately.

I believe that players who are already in the dying phase of their subscribership, are the ones who will scream the most loudly about the economy, if only by virtue of not being able to articulate any other specific, postitive justification for their waning interest in the game.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 8:04:45 AM | link

Mithra says:

Mithra>"Stalin would be pleased."

Anonymous>"Mythra, Stalin is dead. Criminal Justice will be more pleased."

You're actually suggesting that I should be placed a real jail for cheating at a video game?

Let me borrow from Wikipedia...

"In ethics and law, 'Let the punishment fit the crime' is the principle that the severity of penalty for a misdeed or wrongdoing should be reasonable and proportional to the severity of the infraction. The judgment of whether a punishment is appropriately severe can be very subjective. The alternative to this principle is to make the punishment "too severe" for reasons of vengeance, retribution, deterrence, or problem elimination, or to make the punishment "too lenient" in the hopes that the wrongdoer will amend his ways or is little threat to commit an offense again."

Perhaps, since I'm counterfeiting fictitious currency, it would be most appropriate to place me in a fictitious jail. Unless of course, as I suspect, your sentiment is rooted in one of the above, bold-faced categories.

Even if EA/OSI wanted to sue me for duping, they wouldn't be able to show in court that some demonstrable damage occurred to their service, or that there was some decline in subscribership unattributable to any other cause. Significantly, the period of the dupe mapped to the only period of stability in the game since it entered decline in 2001. They would not be able to prove that the secondary market was destructive ( and for UO there is a stronger argument that it is beneficial ) or that resale of this exact quantity of gold indirectly destroyed player participation. EA would have no control data set, no untouched server, by which to compare these "ill effects". Finally, and most importantly, EA would need to instantiate their pecuniary interest in the health of an activity prohibited by their EULA. At worst, I've violated their EULA and the legal remedy they'd most likely be offered is termination of my accounts and removal from the game. Done and done. If the want to pursue an intellectual property angle, I wholesaled the gold in a private transaction outside of eBay with the implicit understanding between both parties that ownership of the IP was NOT being transferred, no harm no foul. Forcing a court opinion on the disposition of virtual property is probably not worth marching me into court for, especially if it risks weakening their EULA.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 9:17:20 AM | link

Wanderer says:

A few random points from a half-asleep Wanderer:

First, to Mithra's comment about liberals and conservatives: I find a rather interesting bit of hypocrisy where you start out with "Most people these days have no nationalistic sensibility - we're not a country anymore, we're just a massive goddamn market, our collective national identities a fading memory, a novelty of the previous era. Today we are all merely consumers, lets close our eyes and pretend it doesn't matter where the money goes..." but then follow it up by saying that conservatives, a term which you seem to use to mean "good", are those who willingly cheat, exploit, and otherwise "figure it out" in order to benefit themselves at the expense of the community they are a part of, and liberals, which you define as "bad", are the people who play by the rules, behave honorably, and try to benefit rather than destroy their community. By that definition, the people buying from the Chinese gold farmers are good conservatives: F*** the US of A, it's all about me, me, me, and my country be damned. (certain people who seem to have put the US Congress up for auction seem to bear that out, come to think of it) Things like honor, responsibility, ethics, all are novelties of a previous era -- and if any trace of them remains, it's in the people who value fair play and good sportsmanship, not the selfish, greedy ones who don't care where the money goes, or what harm is done along the way. It's not about liberals or conservatives. Mithra, who seems to consider himself a conservative, breaks his word (agreement to the EULA), cheats in the games, and wrecks game companies' businesses and players' fun for cash; I, a proud liberal, value honor above trivial things like a few trade tokens with pictures of dead presidents on them.

What this really comes down to, though, is a matter of rights. In my liberal opinion (and yes, I am a liberal, though not what certain politicians will tell you that a liberal is) a game publisher has the right to decide on the rules of their game, the same way any other company has a right to decide what sorts of products they want to sell. And a game player has the right to be able to buy that product from the company, the way the company wants to sell it. I think the big wave of anger against RMT comes from the recognition that the gold sellers are infringing on both of those parties' rights. They're preventing the game companies from selling the product they want to sell, and they're preventing the players from buying the product they want to buy, to the detriment of both.

If a company wants to sell a game where achievement is based on your RL wealth, they should be able to do so. If they want to sell one where it is based on your time to grind, they should be able to do that too. If they want to base it on your height, and send people out to your house with tape measures to check how tall you are, hell, they should be able to do that too. (though I wouldn't count on getting many players) Likewise, as a player, if I want to be able to buy a game based on my wealth or my time or my height, I should have that option, assuming the companies see enough of a demand to make it worth their while to provide that product. But the RMT companies are taking that choice away from me, and away from the game companies. They're forcing ALL games to be about your RL wealth, and only about that wealth.

If saying that two parties, a seller and a buyer, should have the right to decide what kind of product is being bought and sold makes me an evil liberal, and if the people who want to impose one and only one system on everyone, whether they want it or not, are the good conservatives, then I will wear my black hat proudly.

I should point out, in the interest of full disclosure, that I've been involved in some RMT myself. When Shadowbane launched, they neglected to include anti-RMT language in the EULA, so I farmed and ebayed a small amount of gold. (enough to buy a second-hand laptop, nothing like what Mithra and others brag about) I stopped even before they finally outlawed RMT because the duping and exploits killed the market.

And that brings me to a rarely brought up reason why RMT is a Bad Thing for MMORPGs, and quite possibly one of the reasons why SOE's Station Exchange hasn't been the smashing success SOE anticipated:

RMT killed the game for me. Okay, it's not like Shadowbane was exactly awesome to begin with, at least for the first few months when I played, given the hideous expense of maintaining a city, the ratio of farming time to PvP time mandated by repair costs, and of course the infamous "play to crash" battles. It was as stable as crystallized nitroglycerine and could have sucked a golf ball through a garden hose. I'm told it's gotten better, but I've never been back. But what fun there was in it, RMT drained out of it for me.

Why? Because it turned my pastime into a job. I should have known better, seeing as I got a job associated with a RL hobby some years ago which promptly killed my enjoyment of the hobby, and and I started a business based on another two hobbies, neither of which I have enjoyed since then. Playing a MMORPG isn't fun any more when you look at every item you pick up, every copper coin, and think "how much can I sell this for?" If I actually used an item that a mob dropped or my merchant NPC made, I felt like I was spending RL money for something minor in a game, rather than using a game item for its intended purpose. I won't say that was the reason I quit SB, but it certainly factored into the reasons. And even though I've never been involved in RMT since then, there's always that very faint voice in the back of my head ... "spending 1k gold on that item? That's like $100 IRL you know" ... which erodes a bit of the enjoyment from the game.

Another problem with RMT: Exploits, hacks, dupes, etc. I think we can pretty uniformly agree that they're bad for a game. A MMORPG is a precariosly balanced system, its economy in particular, and massive cheating throws it badly out of whack. The solutions that the devs come up with for these abuses tend to spoil that aspect of the game to some degree for everyone. Random case in point, wall-walking in WoW: Most people just liked getting to weird places, like the IF airport, the top of the Orgrimmar towers, etc., just to see the sights. A few people abused it to cheat in the Battlegrounds. So Blizzard made it impossible -- and in the process put a number of herb and mining nodes out of reach, too. Not only the non-abusive wall walkers suffered, but so did totally innocent miners and herbalists. And that's just the response to a minor annoyance; companies react even more strongly and violently to dupe exploits, etc.

How does this tie into RMT? After all, people seek out exploits and abuse bugs even when there isn't a penny of RL cash involved -- the advantages of climbing a wall in the BG were enough, for instance. Quite true, but it's a simple fact that if you offer people lots of money to do something, more of them will do it. For example, I don't have much interest in finding ways to break Civ4, which I'm kind of obsessed with playing right now. But if Sid Meier came to me and said "I'll give you $100,000 if you can find a bug in that game nobody has reported yet" I guarantee you, I'd be hammering on it 24/7 until I found one. Same thing. Cheaters will always look for exploits, but tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars (or millions, for that matter) of real-world cash are a lot stronger incentive to a lot more people than the Sword of Uberness. Allowing RMT is not just inviting but paying people to find ways to screw up your game.

If a game company wants to produce a game that allows (or, like Second Life, even centers on) RMT, that should be up to them. If game players want to play that game, more power to them. If a game company wants to produce a game that forbids RMT, and if players want to play that game, that's also their business. Nobody, not Mithra, not IGE, nobody, should have the "right" to take those choices away from both the game producers and the game consumers.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 10:59:24 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

At their hearts, games are designed by content creators -- writers, designers, GMs, programmers, artists, etc. -- for the enjoyment of players. I've been GMing roleplaying games since 1978. That the players have fun is the "sine qua non" of the experience. For companies (Sony, Blizzard) that do this as their business, my guess is that while the economics of making money enter into it, many of the central figures also have this as their underlying goal; it's gotta be fun for the players, as fun as possible for as many as possible as often as possible as much as possible. If it makes money for the company, that's a measure of success.

I didn't know too much about RMT or gold farming before I started playing WoW. I read a great article in "Wired" a few years back on what was going on in EQ, and found it to be fascinating. My feeling, at the time was, "Whatever the traffic will allow." If people want to buy and sell items offline, go for it. As long as it wasn't going to affect my level of play, who cares? Right?

So... about two weeks into WoW, I finally find and start playing with some folks I really like, doing some good grouping, etc. I begin to exchange emails with a few outside of the game in order to set up a guild, etc. And on one particularly tough quest, in the heat of the action, I accidentally click on the item that we'd spent the entire quest trying to get for one of my buddies... and it binds to me. And I can't give it to him.

I tried, and couldn't. And he had to explain to me -- a bit pissed, but not at me, because I hadn't understood how the binding system in WoW worked at that point -- that the last 2+ hours was now (mostly) in the toilet.

In email, later, he spent some time going over how the binding system had been put in place to discourage RMT. Because if you can't trade high-level items in game, you can't sell them.

"But," I remember saying to him, "that totally breaks down the 4th wall! In a real RPG" -- by which I meant pen-and-paper -- "If I wanted to hand you, my Guild-Brother, my Vorpal Sword of Ultimate Chocolately Goodness, because you needed to slay something nasty, I'd do it in a heart-beat!"

"Yeah," he replied, "But a few of these gold-farming, RMT bastards have ruined it for thousands of the rest of us who just want to play the friggin' game."

That's the essence of the argument to me. I don't give a rat's ass if it's one guy spending 80-hours-a-week in his basement farming cheese and poison from his pants on one character; a sweat-shop of 100 Chinese (or Indian or Canadian) workers mining gold, or college kids doing it a couple hours here or there. If the vast majority of players are looking to keep the 4th wall up, and a relatively few RMTers (and their customers) are causing shifts in the gameplay environment that make our experience crappier... we need to figure out ways to make it stop. My character should be able to give a hard-earned item to another character with whom he has gamed for 100+ hours. Preventing that in order to stop an out-of-game influence is irritating as hell, and one of the reasons I stopped playing WoW. Every time I saw the "If you pick this up, it will bind to you and... blah blah blah" text, it reminded me that I was playing a game where my actions were non-RP by design. Blech.

SL, by contrast, since it is explicitly linked to an outside currency, doesn't have this problem. You don't get this crap there. Because "skills" there aren't just having your avatar bang on a rock; they are real skills. And money isn't fake money, it's actually money. That's worth thinking about...

I would love to see an MMORPG where the authors/designers provide a legit way for outside/amateur content creators and fans to put time and effort into the system and get money out. All this effort and creativity going into a dark, dank hole of gold farming just seems... like a waste of time and talent.

What about add-on levels/worlds/continents? What about the creation of new items/creatures? What about NPCs "played" by outsiders, where the pay-out to the players was determined by how much revenue/time/"stickiness" they brought to the mama game/company? SL tries this a bit with "dwell," but it's limited and (I think) lame.

If an outsider built an add-on to EQ or WoW that attracted a couple thousand $15/month players to come aboard and shell for a few months, I think they'd be happy to do some kind of affiliate deal. And if it was explicitly pay-for-play, and people could dump real-world-dollars to play higher level characters, too... well, that'd be OK. Just like in pen-and-paper RPGs, it's fun to play a "supers" campaign. As long as everybody starts with a 300 point character.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 11:18:57 AM | link

Morat says:

On a tangent here -- I can't help but think of SOE's stated goal to move to a micropayment system (and, of course, their station exchange system).

Reading this, I can understand WHY SOE thinks that a micropayment would work -- obviously people are perfectly okay trading real-world cash for in-game stuff. And then noting the repetition of "Everyone wants to cheat, but wants to be the only one" I can't help but think it's going to crash and burn. (I've got a few other reasons, like the fact that most Western cultures -- especially America -- like to believe that everything should be a meritocracy, etc).

Trust SOE to notice the surface trend and then totally screw the pooch trying to exploit it, because they failed to look any deeper.

Micropayments aren't going to be workable in America -- not the way SOE has in mind. People who will cheerfully buy gold/plat/whatever on eBay are going to choke at the notion of a game where that's "official" -- mainly because they can't pretend they're the only one doing it (or look down on those who do, either way).

Posted Jan 20, 2006 11:22:09 AM | link

Lanky says:

The BOP system in WoW is not categorical. Many items are bind on equip also. Blizzard's stated reasoning was to create a higher level of item decay / moneysinkage. It worked. You cannot hand your uber axe of Big Mac-Eating to your new level 30 warrior, and have him use the same axe to grind super fast.
You have to go buy a new uber axe from him from the AH.

I am going to guess that the effect on RMT was largely a splash effect of an increased level of moneysinks in the game coding. It changed the nature of RMT in WoW, really, placing the bottleneck at the entrance of items into the system, rather than the exit, (item decay) as in previous games.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 11:26:28 AM | link

Lanky says:

Sorry for the DP, but that post was in response to Andy's, kind of to add to what he was saying, really, and perhaps explain a bit more about the system. Perahps what I am getting at mainly is that the binding system is not really aimed specifically at RMT, simply because BOE items exist, and are China farmed... and its also pretty obvious that Blizzard doesnt mind twinking.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 11:32:24 AM | link

Wanderer says:

I wrote that before Mithra's last posts, posted it after, so one quick follow-up:

Mithra claims that being able to buy and sell in-game assets keeps players in the game longer than they would stay otherwise. That has been the exact opposite of my personal experience. As I described above with Shadowbane, it turned my pastime into a job -- one which became increasinly low-paying -- and bled the fun out of SB for me, and to some extent future games as well. In WoW, I can't compete with the gold buyers for items being sold, and I can't compete for good grinding areas with the commercial gold farmers, so I lose both ways. Mithra says in effect that players will just learn to accept that there are two tiers to the game, one for the rich (and unethical) and one for the rest of us, but I don't see that happening. I see people quitting, or not getting into, MMORPGs.

Look what happened with MtG, the card game: When it was about how well you could play, it was fun; when it became about how well you could pay, the fun fled and the popularity dropped. I haven't tripped over MtG player in convention hotel hallways or seen lines outside game stores in a long time. The game didn't change; the cost of playing it did, and the emphasis on cash over skill.

It still comes down to the same thing, though: Game companies should have the right to sell the kind of games they want to make. Game players should have the right to buy those games. People like Mithra should not be able to impose one and only one game model on everyone, to their own benefit and everyone else's detriment. If a company wants to make a RMT-enabled game, that's up to them and their customers. It shouldn't be forced on them by Mithra and his ilk.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 11:35:28 AM | link

Wanderer says:

The reason why micropayments are not going to work:

Why do people buy $200 consoles and $50 games to play on them when they could get better controls, better graphics, better everything, for a quarter a game at an arcade? Why have the consoles killed the arcades?

It's partly about convenience, of course, but arcades used to be everywhere, and were not just convenient but social venues as well. I think the bigger part is in fact the micropayment system: When you drop a quarter in the slot, you're being reminded that you're paying for this fun, and that awareness stays in your mind for a bit. It's the exact opposite of the all-inclusive Club Med experience: the constant reminder that this is your hard-earned cash going into that box. When I put a game in my console, on the other hand, and kick back to play for an hour, I don't think about how that console cost me $150 and the game I just threw in it cost another $40, that pain is in the past. I just have fun playing it. At a quarter a play, I could play an arcade game 160 times for what it would cost me for my console -- enough to get thoroughly sick of most games. And if it turned out to suck, I'd only be out a buck or two. But the only thing I've played in an arcade in years has been skee-ball, and that because I don't have space for a skee-ball game here. All my video gaming is done at home ... at a higher total cost, but free of the micropayments.

Micropayments are a bad idea in games because they keep the awareness that this fun costs money constantly in the player's mind. And spending money isn't fun.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 11:51:59 AM | link

Lanky says:

Magic the gathering is a very good example actually. I still play that game too alas, and try to find ways around the hideous costs associated with it (like borrowing my friend's type 1 cards).

And Id have to say that I totally agree with how you expressed yourself on this one. Mithra's logic reads somewhat like this (Im doing a 'to the simple-absurd' exercise here, but the logic still clears, as far as I can tell):

1. Virtual economy is comprised of the perceptions of its participants / players.
:.2. Since perceptions comprise the virtual economy, players can remain happy and (overall) unaffected in any given virtual world regardless of possible economic dangers as long as they dont know about them

:.Conclusion: Any action affecting a virtual ecomony is only negative if it adversely affects the perceptions of the players / participants.

:.Example: Mithra pumping billions of UO gold into the game, selling it, but not telling anyone.
---
So, to the absurd, this reasoning reads:

1. Society is comprised of the perceptions of its participants.
2. Since perceptions comprise society, its participants can remain happy ad (overall) unaffected by negative world conditions if they dont know about them.

:. Conclusion: Any action affecting society is only negative if it adversely affects the perceptions of the participants in said society.

Absurd Example: Iran builds a large cache of dangerous nuclear weapons, enough to damage (perhaps not ruin) society. No one knows about it except a few people, and Iran. Everything is hunky dory.

Lanky

Posted Jan 20, 2006 12:00:20 PM | link

alan says:

The problem isn't with RMT, it's with the design of the games themselves. They have been created so someone can go out and grind out gold. It doesn't take skill and it doesn't take brains. It only takes time. Create a game world where there is real skill/strategy involved and you wouldn't have farmers or bots able to pour mass amounts of gold into the system.

And who likes to grind anyway? Despite what some people will say, everyone I ever played with was always looking for a faster more efficient way to level. The grind wasn't fun, the next level carrot being held in front of our mouths kept us moving on. We were eternally seeking that destination that was unattainable, because as everyone knows by now, there is never a real end. The journey in itself wasn't fun, it was the social aspect that kept people in the game. No one would do the same thing if it was a solo game.

My proposal would be to make a game where there are no NPC's. Or at least none whose actions aren't dictated by players. The only real competition in games is afterall, PvP. There is no way to farm from other players. They aren't going to respawn in the same spot or act predictably. Any RMT done would be from people who actually played the game.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 12:06:02 PM | link

randolfe_ says:

So we should just sit back accept it just because there's a demand for it? Should we just accept the drug trade too? How about violence? or kiddie pron? There's clearly a demand for those things, so that makes it ok, right?

I love the association of RMT with child pornography. Pejoratives don't really advance the debate. Are you seriously associating a severe psychological/physiological disfunction to an opportunistic, entrepreneurial phenomenon. Maybe you are onto something. Some people want VWs in which every aspect of capitalistic endeavor is vanquished. Certainly, there are those who believe, like you, that capitalism is a societal ill equivalent to pedophilia.

The problem is that VWs are thriving, dynamic societies. In such societies, an economic system is mandatory; without such it is trivial (or very small). Like I've said, the MMO designers need to place a great amount more emphasis into creating a system which creates a more functional economy in-game.

As it stands now, there is no economic system in these games. At best, the "abstracted economy" of a MMO loosely approximates a centrally planned system, with a production function that is ficticiously unconstrained and static. And, with no effective economic levers. I'm not suggesting that MMO designers aspire to be Sid Meyers and replicate an entire macroeconomic system, but something closer to such than the hackney approach today would be better.

Such an approach wouldn't eliminate RMT, nor should it. But it would marginalize the phenomenon, allowing players of a diverse demographic to create and enjoy value entirely within game. Short of exploit-sourced farming, much of the profit would be diminished for farmers.

Then again, maybe that same group that desires a VW free of naturally occurring competition and capitalism also desire a world free of economy altogether. For this contingent, I can offer no hope except but to say go play in a smaller, less diverse, less dynamic realm.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 12:28:31 PM | link

Morat says:

Just to echo the MtG comments -- same here. I still play MtG on occasion, but only with people who ALSO quit long ago. I kept all my cards, so occasionally my wife and I (or a friend or two) will throw together some decks out of what I have and just amuse ourselves.

We get the fun of deck design, strategy, and all that -- without actually having to BUY any more cards.

I've snapped up a few boxes of cards from friends who were throwing out old stuff. I should probably organize them one day.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 12:38:44 PM | link

Warren Grant says:

>Players who are against RMT are more likely than not, >your virtual liberals, champions of sameness and >forcible economic equity, the folks who "can't figure >it out", and who must therefore leverage collective >political power on the system to change it.

Or, just possibly like me, they are fully capable of cheating in a game, fully capable of exploiting if they chose to, but instead they choose to PLAY THE GAME because its a game and games are meant to be played on a fair and level field, or engaging in them is utterly pointless. Perhaps they believe in "good sportsmanship" and act accordingly.

Its a wonderful defense of one's position to tar everyone who might disagree with it with the brush of having some particular agenda, or not being able to compete, but its a cheap ad hominem attack.

I am an honest gameplayer, I just want to play a game that is free of cheats, exploits and those who would use them. I discovered an exploit early on in SWG, one that allowed me to use containers stored in the bank vault to dupe resources. I tested it and made a huge amount of a high quality resource I had on me - then I reported it to a CSR and deleted the duped resource after sending them an email detailing how it worked and after explaining it to the CSR in great detail. The exploit was fixed shortly thereafter.

>The players who are For RMT, are your virtual >conservatives and capitalists, the ones who "have >figured it out", who are working, invested, and >consequently being rewarded for their efforts >in-game. Chew on that guys. The virtual world is rife >with politics, and as in life, it all circles around >conflicting definitions of fairness, and who deserves >what, and why.

The players who are playing for RMT have no place playing the game, because they aren't players, they are virtual world pirranha making their money at the expense of my gameplay quality. I would love to see a developer who actively and religiously banned all such accounts and users - and then sued them for violating the EULA. Its time to see if those rules in the EULA are valid under the law, and quite frankly if they aren't then I am prepared to stop playing MMOs rather than see the arses who think its ok to ruin the gameplay of millions of people so they can make a quick buck continue to get away with it. I would rather see them banned for life, I would rather see the publishers exchanging account details to ensure that if one company is screwed over by these people, at least the competition gets a heads up on banning them before they get into their game. It might get expensive to have to have a new credit card for each account that gets caught. It should be trivial for game developers to track all transactions over a given amount, particularly those who receive nothing of comparable value in exchange.

I have no problem with RMT in games like SL where its an acknowledged part of the game, nor a problem with SOEs servers that are designed and advertised with that in mind, since a player visiting those servers goes there with the full knowledge that those activities are part of the system. For game servers where this activity is banned though, I would love to see a zero tolerance ruleset, because I know I will never ever engage in any activity which would get me banned :)

Posted Jan 20, 2006 1:08:54 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Warren Grant wrote:

For game servers where this activity is banned though, I would love to see a zero tolerance ruleset, because I know I will never ever engage in any activity which would get me banned :)

Problem for that is that the act of passing an item from one person to another is the same act regardless of whether the motivation is that one party has paid another person or whether the parties are out-of-game friends or anything else. You're reduced to largely guessing at motivations unless you can catch a player in the act of advertising his stuff for money or accepting money for it. That's pretty tough to do completely reliably given that it's completely outside of the control of the developer. Zero tolerance means you will ban many innocent players.

--matt

Posted Jan 20, 2006 1:22:08 PM | link

Phannjodoxis says:

Capitalitic success through exploitation is not an ideal 'entrepreneurial phenomenon' in the eyes of the masses observing from the outside; not in the real world and not in a virtual world.

Capitalistic growth and success within the confines of the rules (in the case of VW's set by game designers) is an entirely different issue. People are not clamoring to have this type of capitalism "vanquished" from VW's.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 1:27:29 PM | link

alan says:

"PLAY THE GAME because its a game and games are meant to be played on a fair and level field, or engaging in them is utterly pointless."

When I play checkers with someone, we both start at the same time with the same number of pieces, and take turns playing until the game is over. That is a game with a fair and level playing field. Mmorpgs will never have this. Players with more time have a distinct advantage. Players who started earlier have an advantage. Players who are part of a huge power guild have an advantage. There are always advantages, so if you are waiting for a fair and level playing field , you will be waiting for a long time.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 1:30:09 PM | link

Lanky says:

Moreover, the skil based alternate to RMT that we have been discussing over several threads now would also contain these inherent inequalities. Secrets and knowledge can be shared / sold as easily as money. I agree that the root cause: competition without honor, needs to be addressed.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 1:51:23 PM | link

chas says:

Mithra> People want to cheat AND want to be the only ones cheating.

Edward> That's a beautifully expressed piece of insight.

Andrew> I can simplify Mithra's point down to three words: people are lazy.

Now, I'm far from being a plat buyer, but in SWG I ran into the problem where I WASN'T interested in the rancor farming to make 1 million per hour, but I WAS interested in many of the social elements of the game that made virtually NOTHING per hour but suffered from the lion's share of the money sinks (player housing, player cities, and travel via starports).

Not only that, but common elements like player clothing increased- despite not having any game combat value- as sellers realized that the general market could bear more expensive gear.

So, as the need for money sinking ramped up, the burden placed on the social gameplay (with no money earning) grew. Meanwhile, the people causing the money "influx" can insulate themselves from the drain by traveling less, fighting more frequently, and not participating in player housing/ player cities.

Is it "laziness" to want to pay more to continue to play my social element uninterrupted?

Is it "cheating" when the RMT isn't being used competetively but used to sustain a role in game?

If my real-world lifestyle must suffer so I can experience something ingame, is that "achievement" or the sign of "addiction" and are designers who BUILD a game that require such sacrifice guilty of encouraging unhealthy lifestyles?

Posted Jan 20, 2006 2:05:51 PM | link

Mithra says:

Warren>Its time to see if those rules in the EULA are valid under the law, and quite frankly if they aren't then I am prepared to stop playing MMOs rather than see the arses who think its ok to ruin the gameplay of millions of people so they can make a quick buck continue to get away with it. I would rather see them banned for life, I would rather see the publishers exchanging account details to ensure that if one company is screwed over by these people, at least the competition gets a heads up on banning them before they get into their game. It might get expensive to have to have a new credit card for each account that gets caught. It should be trivial for game developers to track all transactions over a given amount, particularly those who receive nothing of comparable value in exchange.

Have you heard of virtual mastercards? Or a web certificate? No? Howbout gametime codes?

Many MMOG companies, I think, would simply rather cut you out I'm afraid than impose some kind of gamer biometric identity crappo. Can we seriously be talking about this? How many subscribers would a given game lose, right off the top, if they required your social security number, or threatened to put you into a Big Brother-esque database for cheaters? I wouldn't play just for privacy concerns. In fact, I never give real details to any company anywhere when I can avoid it. EA doesn't need to know who the hell I am. Why should they? So they can sell me something? Lets not frustrate industry! They are just a company. They can send me an email.

As far as violating the EULA - what remedy is the company entitled to for my breach of unsigned contract? Quite clearly, termination of my account. Settled. Oh and by the way, no one will ever play that game again once its public that they sue for breach of EULA. Who would play a game where they risked legal action on the basis of a GM report? Perhaps even on the basis of a player complaint? This is the reason I rolled out the political rhetoric earlier. Your entertainment is so important to you that you'd rather harvest my left nut than run the risk of me affecting your gameplay in some totally subjective, abstract and indefinate way? I exagerrate but you get my picture. What kind of fanatical concept of equity are we talking about here? Suing someone because you think your Godly Armor of the Whale should have been 1 plat instead of 10?

Lanky,

Yes, you pretty much understand my thought. Out of sight means out of mind. Dupe, sell gold, tell no one. What then becomes the measureable effect? I believe that the effect of the dupe, in its entirety, was limited to the emotional fallout right here on this blog, 90% of which was expressed by Warren. And thats it. Really, now IF I had said nothing, how would you had measured the damage? Or do we simply assume there was damage based on the data I volunteered? The example of Iran building nukes on the sly is similar, but not entirely appropriate. My "catastrophe" ran its course and no one noticed. Thats a bit different from a surprise nuclear attack. My misdeed did about as much damage as a voodoo charm.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 2:42:42 PM | link

Analysts says:

There is a simple solution to the RMT in all of these MMORPGs. Remove their respective currencies and make all their economies barter systems. Let's see how easy it is to make a gold farm then.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 2:46:43 PM | link

randolfe_ says:

There is a simple solution to the RMT in all of these MMORPGs. Remove their respective currencies and make all their economies barter systems. Let's see how easy it is to make a gold farm then.

This is naive. RW attempts to do just that by collectivist groups, such as SimplyLiving with their SimplyHours, didn't work for the same reason your notion is flawed. So long as there is the opportunity to create value and the opportunity to freely exchange that value, then a defacto currency will appear. In its absence, barter systems are highly fragmented, discriminatory, and accumulate power and wealth unevenly and (to most people's sensibilities) unfairly.

Regardless, you cannot remove currencies from MMOs because there are real-world currencies which serve as a carry. All your system would do is open the barn doors wide to exploitation and arbitrage. Specifically, farmers will farm items and sell those for RW hard currency.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 3:00:22 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Analysts wrote:

make all their economies barter systems. Let's see how easy it is to make a gold farm then.

Currency != gold. The players would just find something else to substitute for currency, just like they did in Habitat 20 years ago.

--matt

Posted Jan 20, 2006 3:01:33 PM | link

alan says:

Yes, just as they already do with many items in ultima online. Ingots in particular are sold to a high degree. So you would essentially have to make every item in the game only usable by the character who found it. Even then you could still sell the account.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 3:04:06 PM | link

Mithra says:

Then, Analysts, no one would play your game? The subtley you may have overlooked is that many players want RMT and they just want to do it where it is prohibited. Their motivation and their articulation are a contradiction; game admins should consider the possibility that they and their policies are being meta-game'd by a cross-section of players who are just manipulating the company for leverage against their competitors. Just about every time I was reported for macroing in UO, it was by another macroer! Of course, he represents himself to the GM as a "concerned player!"

Posted Jan 20, 2006 3:05:33 PM | link

alan says:

Let me ask this to those who are opposed to RMT. If someone pays someone else for their time to play their account in order to gain levels/items/gold is this the same as RMT to you. If so, why would you care who was playing the account?

Posted Jan 20, 2006 3:07:46 PM | link

Chip Hinshaw says:

Alan, I think buying characters is RMT just as much as gold/item farming is. And, I think people can make valid arguments as to why a bought character is a bad thing ... particularly if the person who purchased the character has no experience playing the game or playing the game at that level -- I think it can absolutely interfere with other players' enjoyment of the game.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 3:37:28 PM | link

alan says:

Keep in mind I am literally talking about buying time here, not a character. I suppose this falls under the category of a leveling service.

And what if the time isn't bought, but rather gifted. (I know of guilds who would level characters for guildmates without pay.)

Explain why this interferes with you enjoyment of the game. If it is because you may be grouped with someone who doesn't understand how to best play his character, let me further ask, do you feel the same about character who have been powerleveled?

Posted Jan 20, 2006 3:48:37 PM | link

Lanky says:

Lanky,

Yes, you pretty much understand my thought. Out of sight means out of mind. Dupe, sell gold, tell no one. What then becomes the measureable effect? I believe that the effect of the dupe, in its entirety, was limited to the emotional fallout right here on this blog, 90% of which was expressed by Warren. And thats it. Really, now IF I had said nothing, how would you had measured the damage? Or do we simply assume there was damage based on the data I volunteered? The example of Iran building nukes on the sly is similar, but not entirely appropriate. My "catastrophe" ran its course and no one noticed. Thats a bit different from a surprise nuclear attack. My misdeed did about as much damage as a voodoo charm.

Iran nukes antarctica. No one notices until the fallout winds hit south africa and South America and slowly destroy them. I think that comepletes my absurd analogy, and please make no mistake, it is totally abstracted absurd here. I was just summarizing as best I could, partially for my own benefit.

As far as measuring the damage, it would be impossible. I could never come to you, point a finger at you and say: "Ha! I have caught you now Midas! Begone!" However, I could very reasonably say that un-measurable damage was done, and the reasonable might well agree.

I really should ask now whether to you, Mithra, your activities consitute a job or a play experience. Would your views change from that later perspective? If not, why?

Also I'd like to look at "My "catastrophe" ran its course and no one noticed."

Strictly speaking by my absurd examples, your catastrophes never really occured. Your dupes had the potential to cause a huge in-game fallout, but didnt, as far as I can tell that was because you never sold enough UO gold to create an EQ style situation. Perhaps I am mistaken there.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 3:49:29 PM | link

Hellinar says:

Alan> Let me ask this to those who are opposed to RMT. If someone pays someone else for their time to play their account in order to gain levels/items/gold is this the same as RMT to you. If so, why would you care who was playing the account? <

If someone “plays” the account, that is not a problem. Its when someone “works” an account that becomes a problem. The behavior of the “worker” is sufficiently different from the “player” to be the seed of a problem. In that sense, a guild powerleveling a guildmate has similar effects.

But you are setting up a straw man argument here, Alan. The issue is not how someone plays a single account. That’s simply a matter of playstyle. Scale matters, in fact, when it comes to impact, it is almost everything. It is the hundreds of accounts worked 24/7 that are the problem. Focussing on how an individual player handles an account is sidestepping the issue.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 5:03:36 PM | link

Thabor says:

So does this mean that on a hypothetical EQ server in which one guild has an incredibly efficient, yet legitimate mathod of farming vast amounts of plat (and selling sai plat to pay for guild costs), that there will be no real negative effect on the playerbase at large?

No it doesn't mean that. The more efficient any given process for generating wealth in game is the more it will accelerate inflation. Duping is more destructive due to the fact that it is more efficient. Effective farmers, and even experienced power gamers still accelerate inflation, and potentially damage the game, particularly in the early days of Everquest when there was no instanced content, and players had to compete directly with farmers.


I had over 25 PC's in my home running 76 instances of the UO client last time around, but going forward I doubt any of that hardware infrastructure will do any good, or even be necessary. Its a new business model I suppose

There are lots of things to automate, not all of them make money, and not all of them are worth the risk. It gets even more complicated when you bring in people whose daily labor is valued closer to the wear-and-tear involved just keeping a PC running all day long. When you run two dozen computers night and day, even in a temperature controlled room, you end up replacing $60 this and $100 that at least once a week. Single computer owners are probably not familiar with this problem.

So "Chinese farmers" are connecting to games, and playing them without using any computer hardware? And I suppose we should believe that bots require paychecks to play.. Certainly there is a difference in the difficulty or training, persistance of knowledge, and turnover. Hardware outlay certainly is NOT the significant difference between running an automated farm versus a low cost labor farm.


Anyway, what I wanted to say to Lanky is that the "damage" to all these games is a perception, not a concrete fact.

Truth be told, the fact that I had 17.5 billion gold in my bank accounts didn't affect anyone's game play enjoyment one iota.

If all you did was keep that money in the virtual bank there would be not issue.

As soon as you start trading it that all changes. Ultimately there are real people at the end of all these transactions. As soon as you tied the fake currency to real money you started having a real world impact.

You affect the players, the game owner, and other farmers. They are all real people, and there are all real money consequences to what you do. How much difference do you believe there is between counterfiting a $5 bill and counterfitting $5 worth of virtual currency? Do you think there is no real impact when the fake currency evaporates after a customer has paid you?

Personally I think you get off on the fact that you DO impact other people, otherwise you wouldn't be so eager to brag about all your exploits. As far as I'm concerned RMT traders and farmers are just pests.

Any farmer should be glad that other people are honestly concerned about the quality games. And they should all be hoping that what they do never becomes widely accepted. Because as soon as it does game publishers will be able to undercut outside RMT by offering it themselves.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 5:31:08 PM | link

gazarsgo says:

After wasting a great deal of time on my 2nd post on the previous thread, the only reasonable conclusion I can derive is that the solution to the RMT 'problem' is permanent death for avatars and to flatten the power differential between player avatars.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 5:34:30 PM | link

Wanderer says:

Some people want VWs in which every aspect of capitalistic endeavor is vanquished.

No doubt, but I don't see any of them posting in this discussion. I see people who want to uphold the game company's right to decide what kind of product they want to sell, and the players' right to buy that product. I see people who want to play a game as a game, not as a second job -- or not have to get a second job to be able to afford to play. I see people who think there should be a wide variety of types of game, with a wide variety of controlling factor -- player skill, free time, whatever -- rather than just one: RL wealth. I see people nostalgic for the days when success was about how well you could play, not how much you could pay.

I'm unquestionably a capitalist. I own a business IRL. In WoW, I am fairly wealthy, and focused (some would say obsessed) on getting wealthier. As I mentiond earlier, in a game where it was not prohibited at the time, I engaged in some small-scale RMT. But I want to be able to play WoW as it was designed -- keeping the cause and effect of my capitalist nature within the game. Is it really too much to ask to be able to play a game the way it was designed, instead of having it hijacked by the likes of Mithra?

Instead of vague attacks on those who disagree with you such as implying that we all "want VWs in which every aspect of capitalistic endeavor is vanquished", why not look at the simple matter of rights and fairness: Some people want RMT-based games, some people want RMT-free games, and both should have the right to buy the game they want to play, assuming a publisher wants to sell one -- the people who are trying to dictate to all of us how we have to play are the people like Mithra.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 6:15:24 PM | link

splok says:

Mithra> What you construe as damage is usually transparent to the player. … Inflation, and consequently the exploiting, is only important in its perceived effects, not its real effects, and it does not possess the same moral gravity as its real life counterpart.

Just because the player doesn’t recognize the damage doesn’t mean it is irrelevant. If I steal money from you, but you don’t realize that it has been stolen, it is no less a crime. It is not important “only” in its perceived effects but “also” in its perceived effects. The actual damage can discourage people from continuing to play a game just as a player’s perception of damage can. And no, the moral gravity doesn’t equal its real life counterpart, but that doesn’t somehow make it irrelevant.


Mithra> Who the hell pulls eBay statistics to figure out if they are having fun at any given moment? This is an overlong way of saying that the bulk of the problem is all in the mind.

Fun isn’t always perfectly logical. Maybe it shouldn’t matter to anyone if other people are playing a game as a job or that others can buy the same gear they worked for many hours to attain, but it does matter to some people. It has a very real effect on how they feel about the environment they are playing in. You can attribute that effect to their perception if you want, but when that person cancels their account earlier than they would have otherwise, the impact is very real.


Mithra> If the eBay feedback is any indicator, then yes, all of these players went away happy

I’m sure they were happy, but that was the point. You said what you did had no affect on anyone’s enjoyment. That was probably a bit too argumentative of me, but the point was that if it can affect the buyer positively, it can also affect people who choose not to circumvent the rules of the game negatively.


Mithra> Companies who combat RMT or whore virtual assets out themselves are shooting themselves in the foot. They really should be privately cultivating and protecting the phenomena, publically indifferent, while not participating in it.

I don’t doubt that RMT extends the base subscription period of a number of players considerably, and I don’t think its horribly far fetched to assume that WoW and EQ are doing exactly this. I’m sure they have extensive research that drives their decision making in such matters, but I suspect that the number of people who have quit prematurely due to RMT (directly, or indirectly) would be incredibly hard to accurately measure, resulting in a bias in the estimated profitability of allowing RMT to go largely unhindered.


alan> Create a game world where there is real skill/strategy involved and you wouldn't have farmers or bots able to pour mass amounts of gold into the system.

What you end up with then are skilled farmers. It certainly raises the barrier to entry and probably would help to a considerable degree though. The barrier to entry for effective farming in WoW is negligible, and the result is obvious. In EQ (aside from hacks/exploits), farming coin wasn’t nearly as lucrative or efficient as item farming, so people farmed and sold items, which was significantly more difficult than farming as we see it in WoW. The farming still existed, just in a different form.


randolfe> I love the association of RMT with child pornography. Pejoratives don't really advance the debate. Are you seriously associating a severe psychological/physiological disfunction to an opportunistic, entrepreneurial phenomenon.

Actually, you are the one that compared RMT to serious RL crime:

randolfe>Those ideologically against it can wax on infinitely about RMT farmers disruption of intended gameplay experience, or in-game economies … or "breaking the rules", but the simple fact is that suppliers produce their product because people are willing to pay for it. In this context, one can no more expect RMT to go away anymore than the drug trade.

You contend that demand for something necessitates its presence and thusly imply that we should not bother speaking out against it, and you follow that by using the drug trade as supporting evidence. Does it not follow from your statement that complaining about either the drug trade or RMT would simply be “waxing on infinitely”? Does it not logically follow that other crimes would also provide evidence to support your point?


randolfe> Some people want VWs in which every aspect of capitalistic endeavor is vanquished. Certainly, there are those who believe, like you, that capitalism is a societal ill equivalent to pedophilia.

So RMT shouldn’t be equated to rl crime, but it’s ok to associate it with other rl concepts? Should I point out that rl capitalism also has rules? And that violating those rules can often be considered a crime? Requiring people to follow the rules of a game is in no way a condemnation of capitalism. Bypassing the rules of the game to engage in RMT is probably the biggest slap in the fact to in-game capitalism that I can think of.


alan> There are always advantages, so if you are waiting for a fair and level playing field , you will be waiting for a long time.

There are always advantages. If there weren’t, then the outcome of any competition would be based purely on chance. However, there are some advantages that are traditionally associated with games… things such as skill and effort. In the generally understood sense of the word game, the more skilled person should have an advantage, as should the person who has invested more effort. The fact that someone can buy an advantage is pretty distasteful to a great many people. Look at professional sports teams. Clearly there are teams in certain sports that have a dramatic advantage based on their financial position, but look to see how many rules have come into play to limit the advantage that can be gained from simply throwing money at a problem. The idea that someone can win by spending more money simply goes against the spirit of the game.

Games of all kinds have rules, and these rules very often spell out certain things that are disallowed to prevent people from gaining an advantage in this way or that. Some advantages are allowed; some are not. If the rules state that gaining an advantage in a certain way is disallowed, then doing so is cheating, pure and simple.


alan> Let me ask this to those who are opposed to RMT. If someone pays someone else for their time to play their account in order to gain levels/items/gold is this the same as RMT to you. If so, why would you care who was playing the account?.

Of course, because conceptually, it is the same. In reality it is likely far less damaging to the game however, since it would not likely occur on the same scale. If the time were gifted, then imo the correlation with RMT would be largely negated, but there is still room to disapprove of such things as pl’ing and twinking for other reasons.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 6:40:10 PM | link

Mithra says:

Thabor> How much difference do you believe there is between counterfiting a $5 bill and counterfitting $5 worth of virtual currency?

Exactly the difference between someone killing you and someone killing your avatar. *smiles* Its a problem of context. Whats really at risk here? Your entertainment? Counterfeiting and inflation causes true suffering in the real world. In the virtual world, it causes... what? Just because it looks the same does not make for moral equivalence.

Thabor>Do you think there is no real impact when the fake currency evaporates after a customer has paid you?

False dilemma. It doesn't evaporate, please read the entire thread. :) Earlier I explained that each customer received exactly the value they expected, and invested the gold no doubt in some goods or services for whatever the market value was at the time. You presume the player made a monetary investment with assumption that their purchase would envalue over time, despite the fact RMT was occurring, dupe or otherwise. That would be a naive and defective assumption on the buyers part. My customers aren't playing the stock market, they are buying entertainment.

Thabor>Personally I think you get off on the fact that you DO impact other people, otherwise you wouldn't be so eager to brag about all your exploits. As far as I'm concerned RMT traders and farmers are just pests.

Dr. Castronova initiated a thread ( this one ) featuring the rarefied perspective of an EQ plat seller. I felt that maybe my story would be appropriate to tell. I didn't wait three years to say something on TN because I wanted to 'brag'. If I wanted to incite unrest I'd have went over to UO Hall.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 6:40:20 PM | link

Mithra says:

Wanderer>the people who are trying to dictate to all of us how we have to play are the people like Mithra.

Thats a broad brush to paint me with, but if you mean RMT consumers, fair enough. Please realize that I am a symptom and a secondary effect. I don't even mess with a game unless I think there's going to be activity on eBay. The demand must exist ahead of the supply. We're not out there trying to incite a players to create a market, they do that on their own.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 6:50:15 PM | link

Thabor says:

Exactly the difference between someone killing you and someone killing your avatar. *smiles* Its a problem of context. Whats really at risk here? Your entertainment?

Regardless of if its printed on paper, present in the "real" world as a bag of chewing gum or attached to a bunch of bits in EQ, $5 dollars of real money in either case. You're rather dismissive of "my entertainment" for someone who acts as a parasite subsisting off that same entertainment.

Gold farmers are the urban blight of MMOGs.. Move and they just follow you.

False dilemma. It doesn't evaporate,

It does on occasions when systems admins remove the duped items from the game, and your buyer is left holding the bag.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 7:18:23 PM | link

Wanderer says:

We're not out there trying to incite a players to create a market, they do that on their own.

Then why is it necessary to spend money on advertising in PC Gamer or elsewhere?

It seems to me that the RMT traders are in fact doing exactly that, whether it's trying to persuade people that RMT is somehow not a bad thing, the way you are, or buying up websites that criticize them, like IGE does, or spamming up my WoW mailbox with ads for gold for sale? No, you didn't create the basic willingness of some people to cheat at games, but you (collectively) have damn well done everything in your powe to persuade honest players that it's not cheating, that everyone else is cheating so they should cheat too, and so forth, all in the interest of expanding your market.

And that, I think, is another reason why so many people are angry about RMT: In a game full of honest players, you'd go broke. Therefore, it's in your best interest to encourage people to cheat. You spread dishonesty like a disease, and then come here and arrogantly tell us that the only reason we're honest is because we're too stupid to be dishonest.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 7:20:40 PM | link

randolfe_ says:

Wanderer said

Instead of vague attacks on those who disagree with you such as implying that we all "want VWs in which every aspect of capitalistic endeavor is vanquished", why not look at the simple matter of rights and fairness: Some people want RMT-based games, some people want RMT-free games, and both should have the right to buy the game they want to play, assuming a publisher wants to sell one -- the people who are trying to dictate to all of us how we have to play are the people like Mithra.

You make good points which I do not disagree with fundamentally (which is more than I can say of Splok who simply deconstructed my post in terms of logical semantics--erroneously--while leaving out the sapient issues I raised).

My primary point is that it is not sufficient for VW designers to simply assert an intended gameplay culture. If designers desire to produce a game which is massive and complex while simultaneously marginalizing RMT, then they would put much more thought into elevating in-game economic systems from the farce of an abstraction they are today. Instead, they simply try to codify their intent into unenforceable EULAs, which is a weak attempt to guide their creations at best. And then the RMT farmers are blamed because they "break the rules". Well, just because a rule is made does not mean it is legitimate, ethical, or even wise. Even when rules are well intended, they are often not sufficient in and of themselves; neither is the deterrent of enforcement and punishment. Often, we need to look to the root incentives or lack thereof. Therein lies the failure of contemporary MMOs.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 10:41:45 PM | link

blaze says:

Make it so you can not transfer goods or money and you can change your credit card but only if it is to another one with the same name.

That simple. Never happen, though.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 10:50:10 PM | link

alan says:

"However, there are some advantages that are traditionally associated with games… things such as skill and effort. In the generally understood sense of the word game, the more skilled person should have an advantage, as should the person who has invested more effort. The fact that someone can buy an advantage is pretty distasteful to a great many people. Look at professional sports teams. Clearly there are teams in certain sports that have a dramatic advantage based on their financial position, but look to see how many rules have come into play to limit the advantage that can be gained from simply throwing money at a problem. The idea that someone can win by spending more money simply goes against the spirit of the game."

I see no relation to these virtual worlds and most games in the traditional sense. IAny attempt to compare the two is really drawing on false logic. A typical games has a beginning and an end with a clearly defined winner and loser. These aren't really games at all, maybe they should be called Massively Multiplayer Online Activities.

Skill has almost absolutely nothing to do with anything in a typical MMORPG. Level has everything to do with who is better.

If you really want to take away advantages, you would need to limit playing time as well. In fact this might be a good thing for most gamers anyway, as they typically play too much for their own good.
Even if you were to do that you still have people coming into the game at level 1 long after other players have reached level 100.

Next question... how do you make it fair for those who have only 4 to 5 hours a week to compete? These are your paying customers as well, ones who most likely have a lot more disposable income than the guys playing 12 hours a day.

I think the reason most players who are against RMT hold that position is because they are the players who have the time to play. They like their in game status and it makes them feel good. They haven't achieved much in real life but their alter ego is a demi-god. Allowing players to trade money for time takes away the one advantage that they have. It evens the playing field in the game.

Posted Jan 20, 2006 11:02:18 PM | link

splok says:

alan> I see no relation to these virtual worlds and most games in the traditional sense.

Granted, there are significant differences differences, but there are significant similarities as well. I would say that people's intentions for playing are very similar. Instead of compaing mmo's to a specific game of basketball, it would be more more appropriate I think to compare a mmo with the general sport of basketball. There are still considerable differences, but this approach addresses the problems you mention. There is no definate end and no definite winners and losers at the sport of basketball. Single games have winners and losers, but you can't "win basketball." Competition in varying levels is also there in both situations, with people being very casual and "just playing for fun" and also with people who are super competative and who invest incredible amounts of time and effort.


alan> Skill has almost absolutely nothing to do with anything in a typical MMORPG. Level has everything to do with who is better.

If you really want to take away advantages, you would need to limit playing time as well.

Clearly mmo's aren't purely skill based, but it certainly plays a factor. Level is involved insofar as being required to a certain extent, but there are certainly some people who are better at leveling than others. There's also typically a level cap, so level is only a factor for the earlier portion of the game. However, once levels are equalized, there are still differences in the success of the players. What do you attribute this to? Time is certainly a factor, but it isn't the only factor. Desire, motivation, persistence, and yes, skill, all play a factor.


alan> Next question... how do you make it fair for those who have only 4 to 5 hours a week to compete?

Fair in what way though? If someone who plays 5 hours a week can compete on even ground with someone who plays 50 hours a week, how is that fair to the guy with more playtime? People who want to be good at basketball play basketball alot. Someone who plays basketball 50 hours per week is going to be better than someone that plays 5 hours a week. Why shouldn't this be the case? Success in anything takes a great deal of work and effort. Why should that success simply be handed to people? If you could be completely successful with such a minimal time investment, how long would that game actually entertain players? Sure, you could keep the progression time the same but cap playtime to make it fair, but I bet there would be a fairly small set of players that would want that. Opening a server with a very low playtime cap would be an interesting experiment though.


alan> I think the reason most players who are against RMT hold that position is because they are the players who have the time to play. They like their in game status and it makes them feel good.

It would probably also be accurate to say that people who are for RMT are people who could benefit from it (either having excess money to spend, or selling things to those people). Sure they like their in-game status, but so does someone who wants to buy that status. Neither statement is much of an arguement as to the validity of RMT though. Personally, I've engaged in RMT on both sides, but I would certainly prefer an environment where it is absent if given a choice.

Posted Jan 21, 2006 12:41:27 AM | link

Wanderer says:

I'm noticing an interesting trend: the pro-RMT people seem to be slinging insults and ad-hominem attacks: "They haven't achieved much in real life but their alter ego is a demi-god" ... "Players who are against RMT are more likely than not, your virtual liberals, champions of sameness and forcible economic equity, the folks who 'can't figure it out'" ... "elites who wish to manage a system full of happy oblivious sheep" ... "supportive of RMT or fascistly restrictive" ... "Some people want VWs in which every aspect of capitalistic endeavor is vanquished" ... "Certainly, there are those who believe, like you, that capitalism is a societal ill equivalent to pedophilia" ... I could pull quotes like that all day.

The pro-RMT side is trying to cast the people who want to play the games as they're intended by their creators as losers, fascists, totalitarians, and bordering on insane. Not to mention un-American, of course. When someone espousing a position feels it necesssary to hurl that kind of abuse at their opponents, it starts to make me think that even they know that position is untenable, and they're hoping if they stir up enough anger, sling enough mud, people won't notice that. Pay no attention to the agenda behind the curtain.

If there really was a massive demand for a game in which accomplishment was basd on how much money you could spend, rather than on how much time you could play or how much skill you could develop, SOE's Station Exchange would be expanding to dozens of server. Second Life would have player counts outstripping WoW. Game companies would be rushing RMT-enabled games to market to cash in on the demand.

But ... that's not happening. Even with SOE.

Cheaters don't want games where cheating is allowed. They want their willingness and ability to cheat to give them an advantage over honest players. How many FPS servers have you seen advertising that all bots, hacks, etc., are allowed and encouraged? How many people do you think would play one that did? Sure, there are people, lots of them, who use aimbots, etc., in FPS games. But they all want to be the only person in the game who's cheating. That's why Station Exchange is less than a smashing success, and why these parasite choose to prey on games where they are unwanted, rather than where they are welcome.

If you think people want to play a RMT-oriented game, all of you, then why not pool your money, head over to Rent-A-Coder, and hire some people to write it for you? Since you claim that's what the players "really" want, they'll be battering down your virtual doors to wave money in your faces, won't they? Companies like IGE certainly have the resources to launch a MMORPG of their own -- plus a lock on the gold/item-selling market, since they could just create as much as they needed. They don't seem to be doing it, though, nor do you, which tells me something: it tells me that you know that most players don't really want RMT and those that do want to be the only, or one of the few, people in the game doing it.

I'm waiting to see you launch that game and prove me wrong, or even Station Exchange to become the dominant server type for EQ2. I'm not holding my breath while I wait, though.

Posted Jan 21, 2006 2:56:59 AM | link

stokage says:

Just something I got in my head and couldn't let go of while reading the comments.

Thus the collusion to fix prices mentioned in the OP, and the implied threat made to the "honest" plat seller. - Bart Stewart

Upon reading that same part of the OP that Bart's comment refers to, I began thinking along the lines of collusion as well. The validity of RMT aside, and to open another can of worms (sorry), but if one could show that a group of gold farmers were working together in a collusive structure to monopolize the system and run out any potential competition, then is it not at all possible to think that the mom & pop gold farmers could sue and/or bring it to the attention of the Federal gov’t, under anti-trust laws such as the Sherman Act. As I’m sure the vast majority of these transactions would be considered interstate commerce. Of course the gold farmers located overseas would be exempt.

Apologies for the tangent line of thought.

Posted Jan 21, 2006 4:45:35 AM | link

Mithra says:

Thabor>Gold farmers are the urban blight of MMOGs.. Move and they just follow you.

Incorrect. They follow the other 30% to 40% of MMOG consumers who create that demand and don't have a problem with RMT.


Thabor>You spread dishonesty like a disease, and then come here and arrogantly tell us that the only reason we're honest is because we're too stupid to be dishonest.

I didn't say that. I do consider MMOG's games. Whatever happens is frivolity, and has no moral gravity outside that circle. You don't consider PK's murderers... why, then, do you assume duping is equivalent to real life counterfeiting? You seem unable to separate the real world from fictitious ones. You don't seem care what kind of nasty, immoral, lewd behavior is emulated in-game through npcs and other content, why then do you single out for moral distinction RMT trading alone... unless it has everything to do with the money. That must be the case, since you haven't mentioned the evils of guild twinking. Its not the exchange of value perse, its the medium and the motivation. Your moral high-groundedness is... disingenuous.

Here's the kicker : you've already valued the virtual item in RMT terms when you implied there was no difference in counterfeiting a $5 bill and $5 in virtual currency. The root of your complaint is that I'm winning in a system you've already bought into. You're essentially envious that Coca-Cola has a popular vending machine outside the movie theatre when you should be sitting back enjoying your movie. Should anyone be concerned that you are obsessed and angry with some outside business mechanic, which many customers view as an asset?

Thabor>It does on occasions when systems admins remove the duped items from the game, and your buyer is left holding the bag.

Hypothetical. Never had it happen in practice. Not in UO or L2 either one. Game admins only deleted my stuff. Even when downtime or a server crash reversed the transaction, we re-delivered. Everyone received value. If it ever happened, then they get a refund. Problem solved. How else would I would I get 99% positive feedback? This is a false dilemma.

Wanderer>Then why is it necessary to spend money on advertising in PC Gamer or elsewhere?

Advertising is not necessary to create the market, its only necessary to redirect buyers to your store over everyone elses. If I invent a widget that no one needs or likes, no one is going to buy it irrespective of adverts. Players must first see value and realize a need. There is no brainwashing campaign going on.

Wanderer>If there really was a massive demand for a game in which accomplishment was basd on how much money you could spend, rather than on how much time you could play or how much skill you could develop, SOE's Station Exchange would be expanding to dozens of server.

Incorrect. Players don't want to play where RMT is sanctioned. They want to RMT on the sly for the added benefit of everyone thinking they earned those assets. SE servers stigmatize the players. Please re-read this thread from the top.

Wanderer>Cheaters don't want games where cheating is allowed.

Yes, true, exactly what I've been saying for the last three days. Same thing applies for RMT. The terms are even interchangeable somewhat.

Wanderer> If you think people want to play a RMT-oriented game, all of you, then why not pool your money, head over to Rent-A-Coder, and hire some people to write it for you? Since you claim that's what the players "really" want, they'll be battering down your virtual doors to wave money in your faces, won't they?

Players don't want to play where RMT is sanctioned. But many of those same players want to RMT. This is the contradiction I've been trying to get across. What is said and what is wanted aren't always 1:1.

Posted Jan 21, 2006 7:36:46 AM | link

alan says:

"Fair in what way though? If someone who plays 5 hours a week can compete on even ground with someone who plays 50 hours a week, how is that fair to the guy with more playtime? People who want to be good at basketball play basketball alot. Someone who plays basketball 50 hours per week is going to be better than someone that plays 5 hours a week. Why shouldn't this be the case? Success in anything takes a great deal of work and effort. Why should that success simply be handed to people?"

Someone who plays basketball for 4 hours a day isn't necessarily going to be better than the guy who practices for an hour a day. Either way, they both enter a competition against each other in an equal setting where a basket by one guy is worth the same as the basket by the other guy. A level 60 will out damage a level 20 every time. Even in high school and college basketball there is a limit to when organized practices can take place. Still I think its false logic to even begin to compare the two. One is an athletic contest of skill the other a repetitive activity of little skill. If you want to make a comparison, I would say compare it to harvesting oranges. I may become somewhat better at picking oranges after I have done it awhile but the upper limit of my skill will be maxed out very quickly. Time will be the deciding factor if you want to see who can pick the most oranges.

Success in mmorpgs is measured in time, really nothing more, at least until a lot of systems change. Very very little skill is ever involved. Sure we would like to think it takes more skill because it belittles our "achievement" if we think otherwise.

I am neither pro-RMT or anti-RMT because I don't see a situation that is black or white here. I think there are negative side effects of RMT on current games. But I don't necessarily think that RMT is an evil thing in itself. There are really 2 different arguements, the one against RMT because it brings farmers,bots, illegal scripts and such that taint the game and the one that is against RMT regardless of what form it is in.

I also believe that anti-RMT side has a tendency to represent their desires as pure when there is more to it. In many ways their desires are just as selfish. They claim to want a level playing field, when they actually want to maintain an advantage over the have-nots.

Posted Jan 21, 2006 8:18:07 AM | link

Mithra says:

alan>I also believe that anti-RMT side has a tendency to represent their desires as pure when there is more to it. In many ways their desires are just as selfish. They claim to want a level playing field, when they actually want to maintain an advantage over the have-nots.

Thats exactly what it is. There is a fundamental disagreement about what is by definition "fair" play, and more often than not the side you pick depends on what advantages it offers you.

Posted Jan 21, 2006 8:43:42 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Andy Havens>My character should be able to give a hard-earned item to another character with whom he has gamed for 100+ hours

You're proposing a mechanic here that I've not come across before.

Hmm, let's say that to join a guild you must have been in the same party and geographic vicinity as a guild officer for 5 hours in total. Once in a guild, you can freely give stuff to other guild members if you want, but otherwise there are limitations. Want to give 100G to a fellow guildie? Go right ahead! Want to give it to someone who has paid $30 to you in real life? OK, well game with them for 5 hours and then you can.

This wouldn't help address Barry Kearns' anti-twinking sentiments, but it could make RMT a lot less attractive for both buyers and sellers.

Richard

Posted Jan 21, 2006 8:44:01 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

The example of a guild that got really, really good at farming gold (or items or whatever), and/or helping members level up more quickly than average -- all using legitimate in-game methods -- is an excellent contrast to that of RMT or other cheats. Some of the specific ends may be the same, from the point of view of both players inside and outside the guild, but I believe that the means used to achieve those ends drastically alter both the quality of those ends themselves, and provide a different experience... both to the players engaged inside *and* outside the guild.

How so? Well, first of all... the "mechanics" end up not being "mechanics." They are role-playing, pure-and-simple. The things you've done to earn your gold, items, ranks and other hoody-doody are all "inside the magic circle" or "behind the 4th wall" (my preferred term, but I'm a theatre guy, so what the hell). When you don't break that barrier -- the sense of player immersion -- the strength of the system is immeasurably increased.

Why do we prefer games with better graphics and sound? Because they increase our sense of immersion. Why do we prefer games with better stories and narrative elements? Ditto. What do we like it (and spend hours and hours commenting, reviewing and reading editorials about it) when games take the time to have mechanics that allow for smoother gameplay, better mechanics, strategic options, less logistical stupor, etc. Things like, the "pick up all loot lying around" button make us happy, because it it is natural; in "real life" we would almost always simply do this. We don't have to, but we want to. The "auto sort my damn pack" button. Automapping. A map that rotates with the direction I'm facing. All these game functions help increase my immersion and make it more enjoyable.

I was delighted to hear when WoW came up with different types of servers, including PvP and RP versions. I never played on anything other than RP, although I found that *my* version of RP and other folks' was... er... about as different as Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Unitarianism. Oh, well. Perhaps, someday, WoW will have the Hard-Ass RP Server and I'll go back. Anyway...

My point being -- and this picks up Richard Bartle's reponse to my idea -- "rules" is a synonym (in many cases) for "game mechanics." In many cases, in a computer game, when we say, "You can't do this," it is literally true. "You can't equipt two two-handed weapons at the same time" is not a "rule" in the same way that "nobody but the goalie can touch the ball with their hands" is a "rule" in soccer. Because, of course, in RL, other players *can* touch the ball with their hands... they just *must* not... or there will be a penalty.

In many MMORPGs, what the publishers have said is, you "must not engage in RMT." Some game mechanics can make this harder or easier (my example with binding restrictions in WoW). Because, however, this is not a "game mechanic law," on par with "you can't wear a boot on your head," but a RL "law" on par with "honor thy mother and father" or "don't bear false witness" or "the speed limit is 65mph" or whatever," some players feel that it is ignorable.

Here's the thing -- in the real world, ignoring the moral, legal and ethical codes set up around a particular system that are set up by its hosts, governors and users has a whole host of terms and associations: evil, bad, wrong, sinister, self-centered, greedy, etc. If you come into my house, and I say, "I prefer that you not smoke in my house," and you light up -- even if I never know about it -- you have done wrong. Why? Because you have violated an honorable code, even if only you know about it. On the scale of jaywalking to genocide, it's a damn small violation, yes. But since we're talking about games here and not genocide or jaywalking, let's keep talking about games and stay away from loaded Iranian metaphors.

I think everyone will agree that breaking the "mechanics" of any game is, simply, cheating at its worst. If I make you look away and then move three pieces on a chess board... what's the point? I might as well not be playing.

RMT seems, to me, to be the equivalent of paying somebody else to give me hints/tips at chess while I'm playing. That, to me, violates the spirit of an MMORPG in as bad a way as a mechanical cheat. When I interact with players -- grouping with them, chatting, guilding, etc. -- what I know about them is truly the sum of their parts: how they speak, act, fight; what they wear; how they choose to behave towards others; what weapons they use; what spells; all their accoutrements. If they've used "unnatural" means to gain any of those "parts," I am not roleplaying with their character, but with their bank, or with the guy who leveled their character.

I don't want to waste my time with some 12-year-old rich kid who paid $400 to level his character and get all the good stuff. I'm 39-years-old. I only get to game about 6 hours a week. If I waste 5 minutes on the little dick-head because he *looks* like somebody serious, I've been tricked.

How would you feel, walking into the office of a bank vice-president, sitting down and starting to make your case for a loan, talking to a guy wearing a nice suit and tie... only to be told after five minutes, "dude fer shiz, no.not kewl. im so not a bankr. just wearin th soot n hangin."

I hear the argument, again and again, that the game is more fun for the people who engage in RMT. That they want to "skip the tedium" of the low-levels or blah-blah-blah. Whatever. You know what? I don't care. The "game" of real life is more fun if you get to break lots of rules, too. I like to drive 90 mph. And I'm really, really good at it. But I don't. I like to blast my stereo really loud at night. But I don't. I think political assassination is a better option than large-scale nation-to-nation war. But, well... that's a whole other blog.

Games have rules for a reason; because the intellectual challenge of applying those rules across the spectrum of the game is fun. When some of the players break those rules, they break the game.

If you want to have RMT-specific servers or games, that's super. I agree that that would be a fantastic option. Then all players would know, "Here be steroids." But for people who want to simply PLAY THE FREAKIN' GAME... there is no argument -- none -- that mitigates the fact that RMT breaks both the letter and the spirit of role-playing.

Posted Jan 21, 2006 10:29:21 AM | link

Mithra says:

Richard, I have a suggestion on how we can fix 90% of the "problem".

Take WoW for example, and lets analyze it as a system.

The developers designed the linear content of that game with some economic principles in mind. They've planned out in great detail what they feel a normal progression of player development from 1 to 60 would look like. They probably have some statistical model on how long that takes, from start to finish, how much gold characters "should" have, how difficult each quest should be, etc, at every step of the way, assuming of course that the players don't cheat or take an RMT shortcut.

Now the question becomes, is the fact that any RMT is occurring shortening the lifespan of the subscription, or is the real problem in fact, people like me, who leverage significant and undue presence in the RMT economy? Its worth examining whether the cause of distress, for players like Thabor and Wanderer, is that the money seems to be going one direction. If the game is perceived to be healthy in the absence of virtual monopolies and syndicates, we could probably accomplish much just by implementing portability caps.

For example.

Lets say Golgoth the orc shaman is a power-gamer and spends an awful amount of time harvesting mobs for their gold. In fact, Golgoth is the most significant gold earner in his guild, and probably sets the statistical curve for such things. Golgoth is level 60, knows the game inside and out, and much like the gold farmers, he's making gold using the most efficient gold-per-hour manner he knows. For the sake of argument, lets assume he's making 10 gold per hour, plays 3 hours a day, and over a one month period Golgoth has accrued a phenomenal 900 gold. Golgoth has probably exceeded by several times what is statistically probable for someone who is playing the game as-designed, and for sake of argument, lets suppose that the average player only earns 500 gold per month. All the same, lets figure that Golgoth's power-gaming is legitimate example of play.

Gold farmers, on the other hand, working in sweat-shops, playing hot-seat and using the same account in 24-hour shifts, are logging 720 hours a month per account, and pulling in 7200 gold a month. The same thing is happening in the automated bot-shops stateside.

A quick glance at IGE reveals WoW gold to be selling for 6.4 cents per gold. Golgoth's power-gaming generates $57.60 of value per month, whereas the sweat shop generates $460.80 per account for the same period. This is a huge differential in asset generation.

My suggestion is this : establish a transactional cap on currency and the number of items transferred away from a single account, that falls somewhere just above Golgoth's earning ratio. What does this accomplish? Well first of all, if set properly, it would be transparent to every player at all parts of the curve. The only person who will bump heads with the cap is the eBayer. Players can still participate in RMT... the difference is their RMT profit will be limited to $57 a month, or $42 after account fees. $42 profit per account is an untenable business model for eBay resellers, who won't be able to hold stock, and 24-7 farmers, who will now need to invest in hundreds of accounts, all probably tied to the same IP, and go through the trouble of training up level 60 characters on each of them, just in order to hot-seat 24 hours a day.

In other words, we can certainly implement a system that prevents BULK trade using a single account as a gateway, and in the process of doing so, raise both the monetary and non-monetary costs of doing business as usual. There are other costs associated with sweat-shops and bot farms aside from the usual cost of equipment, recurring account fees and wages. Those costs are measured in terms of risk, of being identified by the system, banned, and needing to repeat a cycle of account purchase and setup. Its possible that a sweat shop could activate 1000 accounts, go through the trouble of training up level 60 toons and resume farming as usual, but those accounts would create a phenomenal footprint in the login database, linked by IP address, linked by machine ID, and constitute a major hit in the pocketbook should the shop be identified and banned. $42 profit per account will not cover the $50 replacement cost of the game, and re-setup time, if the shop gets banned once a month. When they were making $460 a month per account, the shop would need to get banned once every three days before they'd be just breaking even. Most likely a business evaluation will be made and the activity ended.

The strategy of the game company must be to set a transactional cap just high enough that it doesn't inconvenience players, or even power-gamers, but low enough to shut down the high-volume RMT gateways, and force an unacceptable risk-to-profit evaluation. The recurring account fee and box cost of the game can be a powerful tool.

How to implement this? Everything depends on game design. WoW is ideal, because there are only three ways of transferring value - player to player trades, the mail system, and the auction house. Prevent any given player from spending, mailing or trading away more than 1000 gold in a single billing period. If players complain, tweak the cap upward until only eBayers are complaining. The result is that regular players will still receive value for their time, the market becomes less exclusive, and IGE goes back into the box.

Posted Jan 21, 2006 11:00:00 AM | link

Mithra says:

Andy,

To offer an explanation ( but not an excuse ) I think Ultima Online, inadvertantly, shares alot of the blame for this perceived ethical disconnect.

UO, and every game that has followed it since, represents itself to be a "role playing" game which offers the player certain opportunities to play "bad" characters. In fact we rarely consider whether it is within the realm of moral rectitude whether we should be killing virtual bunny rabbits, using our "stealing" skill to pull something out of another players backpack, or chasing down another player with our shadow knight and putting an axe in their head. Being bad in-game is OK - thats the message conveyed, thats the product being sold. In Ultima Online, from the beginning, you could kill people at will, cut their heads off and remove every limb, their liver, hearts, and other entrails. You could literally clean and remove someone's skull.

This of course, carries over.

In exploiting, same principle applies. I'm evil within the context of the game. And I can accept that because truly, my virtual persona is some sort of psychotic anarchist. To borrow from George Carlin, I wanna see people under pressure, running, screaming, dodging falling bricks with their hair on fire, and punching their own head to put it out. Its a contrast to my real self that I find incredibly satisfying to play. Everything that I suppress in real life and stuff down into my Jungian shadow archetype, I spew freely into the game world. And its all great entertainment. In real life, I would be the first one out there trying to help save lives. In game, catastrophes are fun, and I'm mature enough to make a distinction between the two.

My virtual "evilness" has no significant real-world consequences, other than it affects perhaps your enjoyment, but then again, thats not fundamentally different from you being killed and robbed through other game mechanisms. EA/OSI themselves created a VW culture that readily accepted and differentiated between evil deeds in-game and evil deeds out-of-game. I am a product of that culture, and I readily discern a difference between duping video game gold, and real world counterfeiting. We must proceed thoughtfully and with care into a world of parallel moralities lest we start punishing real people for fictitious crimes. Kicking a virtual puppy is not the same as kicking a real one. Likewise, inflating a virtual economy is not the same as inflating a real one. I hardly expect you to like what I do, but I at least expect you to understand my point of view.

Posted Jan 21, 2006 12:04:32 PM | link

Wanderer says:

Mithra actually has a good idea there. It would be hell to implement -- how do you define what an item is "worth" when, for instance, it auctions anywhere between 3g and 40g, like a recipe I just sold does (yes, I'm one of those "buy low, sell high" AH profiteers) but it's certainly the seed of an idea. Quite possibly a workable one.

However, Mithra is also misattributing my statements to other people, and then attacking those statements on the grounds of being inconsistant with what those people's positions.

I do consider MMOG's games. Whatever happens is frivolity, and has no moral gravity outside that circle. You don't consider PK's murderers... why, then, do you assume duping is equivalent to real life counterfeiting? You seem unable to separate the real world from fictitious ones.

I never equated duping with counterfeiting -- although an argument could be made for that point, since in-game currency trades at a known ratio with RL currency, and on that basis EQ is said to have a larger economy than a number of third-world countries. I was talking about dishonesty, cheating, and other things which ruin games for the people who are paying to play them.

Nobody here has any problem separating the real world from the games they play. The problem they have is with people who ruin those games for them, either directly by distorting the economy (for example, in WoW, few honest people can actually afford to buy BoE epic items; they're for cheater only now) or indirectly by forcing the game developers to implement mechanics which lower the overall fun to prevent it from being even further trashed by the RMT parasites.

You've tried everything, Mithra. You've tried the ad-hominem arguments. You've tried the misattributions. You've tried straw men. You've tried misdirection. You've tried politics. You've tried insulting people's political views. You've tried every trick in the book -- Schopenhauers book. And yet you're still being refuted on every point, still on the losing end of calm and reasoned argument. Have you, perhaps, been the one to mistake one thing for another -- in this case, mistaking Terra Nova for the VN boards, where you can goad an opponent into anger and have no need for an actual valid argument? Because, so far, that's what I've seen you trying to do here, and you have still not shown that cheating in a game is a good thing, that cheaters are people we should wish to share our entertainment with, nor that anything you and other like you have done is anything except detestable and to be prevented or punished wherever and however possible.

Its worth examining whether the cause of distress, for players like Thabor and Wanderer, is that the money seems to be going one direction.

And there is the problem: You see everything from your own point of view, without even the ghost of an ability to acknowledge, let alone understand, other people's viewpoints -- or even, I think, that they are capable of having ideas different from yours. No, the cause of my "distress" has nothing to do with the direction that money is flowing. It has everything to do with me wanting to play a game for fun, and you wanting to @#$% up that game for greed. You still don't get it.

Posted Jan 21, 2006 12:07:55 PM | link

Mithra says:

Wanderer> And yet you're still being refuted on every point, still on the losing end of calm and reasoned argument.

I think you've over attributed me in terms of hostility. I apologize if I confused you with Thabor or anyone else. I'll be more than willing to continue this discussion with anyone who hasn't called me a parasite. If anything I've written doesn't seem clear, please let me know and I'll elaborate.

Wanderer>You see everything from your own point of view, without even the ghost of an ability to acknowledge, let alone understand, other people's viewpoints

I understand your viewpoint, but my obligation is to pick one I agree with, and not arbitrarily. I trust I can continue to share in this dialogue without subjecting myself to poisonous invective?

Wanderer>It has everything to do with me wanting to play a game for fun, and you wanting to @#$% up that game for greed. You still don't get it.

That is an emotional outburst, not a position, and I'm not going to argue with it.

Back to transactional caps.

It wouldn't be difficult to implement. You don't need to worry about valuing actual items, let that go. The emergence of a player driven barter system will not occur unless you set the transactional cap so low it affects regular gameplay.

Suppose the eBayer had a mind to start selling items valued at 30 gold instead of 30 actual gold. There are limits to how many item slots each character possesses, and more importantly, where do these items come from? The auction house, other players? How would a seller get around a 1000 gold spending cap? Bulk transfer of value is constricted at every point in the collection and distribution process. Just by controlling gold alone, you can frustrate inventory management enough to dissuade the reseller. The point is again, to require such an unreasonable number of accounts that in order to make money the seller would need to establish such a phenomenal footprint that his odds of getting caught outweigh his odds of making money.

Posted Jan 21, 2006 12:58:04 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

Mithra:

Your arguments are well made and intelligent. Because of that (and I thank you for the time and effort put into such) I very much understand your point of view. Part of being a GM (I've clocked a couple thousand hours in real-life as a pen-and-paper GM) and a writer (ditto on the writing thing) involves playing Devil's Advocate for point-of-view that aren't one's own. Whether I like it or not, I certainly understand your point of view, and those of many others on the "RMT is OK" side of the fence. I will make a giant leap of hubris and put words in the mouth of that side of the argment and speculate:

* You want to drive 90mph in a 65mph zone, and you're a good driver, and drive a car that gets good mileage at that speed, and don't understand why the rules should apply to you.

* You want to make money doing something that's fun for you and that you perceive causes no harm to others.

* You enjoy creating and/or perceiving value on a "meta" level, which always feels more powerful than doing so on the straightforward or "content" level.

* Because we're dealing with games, you somehow feel that everything associated with them has less moral and/or ethical value, since "games are not real." The "viruality" of "virtual worlds" makes them an acceptable target for fraud, larceny or intellectual property theft.

I'm sure I've misrepresented how the RMT folks would spell out their feelings in this matter, but that's how I see it.

The same arguments have been made, as has been pointed out above, in other sectors. You can't say, "It's just a game," because you can make that claim for any industry/issue where physical pain or actual dollar loss isn't an issue. For example, fine art counterfeiting. Suppose I counterfeit a Picasso so well that the buyer never suspects I've done so, pays me $1 million for it and goes to his grave feelin great about the purchase? Have I "done wrong?" Of course.

Obviously, killing my character in a game or stealing from me is "evil" within the bounds of the game (magic circle, 4th wall, etc). Pardon me, but "duh." When I sign up for the game, I sign up to participate in that whole (hopefully) brilliant metaphor. It's "game as art." Same as when I watch a murder in a mystery movie, I don't immediately run out and call the police, yelling, "Officer! Officer! My god! Richard Gere just killed Jessica Tandy! You've got to send somebody to the Warner Bros. lot immediately!"

"It's a game" holds up as an argument... until you bring in something from outside the game. Like RMT. At which point, it's not a game. Evil within the game? I LOVE IT! Bring it on, playa! I've GMd year-long adventures where players have had characters with "evil" disads turn on their friends and done dirt that would curl your toes. Brilliant! Fabulous! Damn straight, it's evil! But it's mighty fine within the bounds of the game. Makes the game better. Makes it more fun.

If I'd ever found out that one of my players had *paid* another player to do something within the game that was against their character's... er... character... I'm not sure what (as a really hard-assed GM) I'd do. Probably torch the character. Maybe ban them from the game. Don't know. Kinda makes me cross-eyed to think about it, frankly.

Now, having your *character* do something (within character) to another *character* in order to influence the game... that's the whole point. That's the example of the "power guild" I gave above. Go for it. Max out all the in-game mechanical stuff you can. I'm even OK with folks that find those wee little super-specific benefits where you really torque up your character if they do XYZ with ABC armor and EFG weapons and HIJ skills. That's cool. It's getting better at the game.

But when you bring outside game influences in... wrong, bad, poorly done. Foul, I cry me, foul.

If you want to convince me otherwise, Mithra, here's your assignment: provide me with an argument on how RMT in any way *improves* the experience for me or anyone else who does not want to engage in it.

I can, and will, on the flip side, provide you with a great, long, windy, boring, rant on how my refraining from RMT will improve the experience for folks trying to learn how to be better role-players.

So... if MMORPGs and VWs are an "art" or a "business" or whatever, and my tao grows the gestalt (how's that for mixing metaphors?) and yours decreases the moxie (yikes), I put it to you that ending RMT will, in the aggregate, float more mojo (please make me stop).

Posted Jan 21, 2006 2:15:47 PM | link

Barry Kearns says:

Andy Havens wrote:

"It's a game" holds up as an argument... until you bring in something from outside the game. Like RMT. At which point, it's not a game. Evil within the game? I LOVE IT! Bring it on, playa! I've GMd year-long adventures where players have had characters with "evil" disads turn on their friends and done dirt that would curl your toes. Brilliant! Fabulous! Damn straight, it's evil! But it's mighty fine within the bounds of the game. Makes the game better. Makes it more fun.

If I'd ever found out that one of my players had *paid* another player to do something within the game that was against their character's... er... character... I'm not sure what (as a really hard-assed GM) I'd do. Probably torch the character. Maybe ban them from the game. Don't know. Kinda makes me cross-eyed to think about it, frankly.

OK, so let's try to distinguish two of the cases, to see if it's really the out-of-game aspect, or the filthy lucre aspect.

You have two identical situations. In both, character A has given a wand of wishing, an entire armory's worth of weapons and other equipment, and 1000 gold pieces to a level 2 character. You determine that doing this is grossly out of role-playing character.

In the first instance, Player A did it because in real life, he went to the same school as the popular player B and wanted to curry favor, or to repay a different obligation (loaned him his car for two weeks).

In the second instance, Player A did it because Player B paid him in cash instead.

In both instances, it's out-of-game real-life circumstances that are causing players to engage in out-of-character unrealistic (and unbalancing) gifting. In both cases, it's no longer "just a game", because outside influences are distorting the character's choices.

Do you punish one and not the other? Do you punish them equally?

Does the presence of money rather than other real-life considerations play into it?

Posted Jan 21, 2006 3:58:07 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

Barry: It's the out-of-game aspect, IMHO. Although, also IMHO, the money aspect is probably what makes it so attractive (to the RMTers), troubling (when done on a large scale), and thus needful of address by the community of gamers.

Have I ever, in an online game, given undue consideration to a "character" because, in real life, I am a friend of that "player?" Yes. I am guilty. I have chosen to party with people, to "favor" them over others, save their characters' lives, etc., when given the choice between them and a character played by somebody I don't know. Why? Because friendship is one of the reasons we game. Now... I have also had characters of mine stab friends' characters in the back, when it's "in character" for that character; all the while, in IM, having a good laugh with my buddy. Often getting a response of, "Nicely done, bro," or words to that effect.

There will always be ways in which the real world influences what happens in game. Real world skills, for example, will affect the game world, even when they shouldn't. For example, I type really fast. I've got an advantage in any VW that will be there regardless of my characters' abilities, unless I choose to play that down. I am older than the average MMORPG player, and that gives me certain advantages (and disads, frankly). I often find that I have more knowledge, but less time. More overall "world-wisdom," (cough-cough) but less specific understanding of the micro-mechanics of a particular game. This makes me good, for example, at strategy, but bad at tactics.

So, to Barry's question: is there a difference? Let me ask you -- if your friend rolls over your foot with his car on purpose, because he's pissed at you, does it hurt any less than if he does it by accident, because he didn't know you were there?

Two similar ends do not imply that the means are morally equivalent.

If you could engineer, through game mechanics, various ways in which trading and buying were only possible (as we've discussed above) through established in-game relationships, that might mitigate the volume of RMT to the point where it is not endemic or harmful to the system. That would be an overall "good," I think. It wouldn't eliminate the "I want to help my real life buddy" situation you mention, but the RMT farmers aren't wandering around the world looking to do that for a living, so I'd be glad to put up with folks who want to throw a little love at their chums, as opposed to folks who are looking to farm USD$150,000 worth of plat a year into a supposedly closed game system.

Look at it this way: I don't worry, in real life, about the murders where somebody kills his/her spouse over infidelities or gambling away the household money or crazy drama like that. Why? Because it will never effect me unless I engage in that behavior. I have control. I do worry about the murders where there are a society-wide (endemic) issues involved like education, drugs, gangs, organized crime, etc., because those can spill over into my life without me having anything to do with them. When somebody starts sticking up pedestrians or car-jacking random commuters in order to feed a drug habbit or because of rampant poverty, my stake in the game just went up. When some lady double-taps her hubby because he had his twig in the pudding... that's never going to be something I can affect.

So... in terms of VWs... we *can* affect the kind of game mechanics that might provide incentive to RMTers to engage in wide-spread, "societal" trading on a scale that effects the system as a whole. We can think of good ways to discourage the RMT both in and out of the game, encourage publishers to create games that provide "inside the magic circle" methods of nixing the trade, etc. We can continue to speak out against it and try to make players understand how much more blipping *fun* it is to simply play the game rather than *game* the game.

Some guy helping out his buddy once in awhile? If we introduce play mechanics that require characters to have played together for a certain amount of time in order to trade objects, and they've been haning in-game for awhile, and their real-life relationship "bleeds" into their characters' relationship... yeah, that's not as hard-core as I like my RP. But compared to people/bots farming a couple billion plats/golds and flooding games with objects and players that are, frankly, freakishly out-of-place... I'll take a little glad handing any day.

Posted Jan 21, 2006 6:19:09 PM | link

Mithra says:

I really enjoy this thoughtful analysis guys, thanks for keeping it civil. Let me respond to Andy's assignment the best I can.

My answer is that RMT is not going to tangibly improve anyones experience who doesn't dig it. More likely than not this type of player is going be annoyed or indifferent. The problem of course is that a significant number of others believe it does improve their play, so the playerbase is at odds, and no doubt intractibly so. I don't think we'll ever reconcile these viewpoints, we're simply going to have to choose a point of view.

Personally, I believe its entirely probable that RMT does help some games, in that the simple assignment of value creates an environment where players are at least more serious about their play. UO is a good example, and I think valuation in that game, along with the relatively supportive approach EA has taken with it, has done more to extend the games life beyond its original content than anything else. RMT gives a portion of the playerbase added incentive to get into the game and perform the economic motions, that you as a non-RMT player, also benefit from. Your concern probably focuses on the pricing of goods, inflation and the negatives of farming, spawn hogging, etc, - and those are all valid, but I think a cash motivated economy has positives as well, in that it continuously injects momentum into the meta content. If EA prohibited RMT overnight, no doubt half or better of the players in UO that hang around the bank haggling and hawking goods would go elsewhere, and that would make a trip to town several degrees more boring. In fact, prohibiting RMT would probably be a death blow to UO at this point since the game has few other competitive aspects. UO is a truly a walking corpse animated by the dark forces of eBay. I think its worth considering whether non-RMT players and the game at large benefit from just the presence of in-game activity. These RMT'ers may be mercenary actors masquerading as players, but for the most part thats transparent to everyone engaged in actual play. It only becomes a problem when you focus too hard on the wizards behind the curtain. For all its negatives, I think RMT gives the game vigor, emotion and meaning.

One other point I'd like to borrow from everyone else who has also raised it, is that RMT is not incredibly different from guild twinking in how it affects content and economy. Others here can explain that more effectively than I can, but what I wanted to mention is that by introducing RMT you actually create liquidity in the economy and grease the wheels perse, so that a larger number of players can engage in trading activities despite the fact they don't really know each other, and that can't be a bad thing. I don't see any good reason to penalize some players over others just because they make lack the social capital they need to gain twinks from guild mates.

I will concede however that RMT probably cheapens the illusion of fantasy, especially if you obsess on the monetary component.

Posted Jan 21, 2006 10:56:17 PM | link

splok says:

alan> Success in mmorpgs is measured in time, really nothing more, at least until a lot of systems change. Very very little skill is ever involved.

Have you never grouped with someone who just plain wasn't good at playing? Have you never grouped with anyone who was exceptionally good? What do you attribute this to if not skill? Why can some players level far faster than others in terms of actual play time if not for skill? Why can some groups easily survive encounters that other groups find nearly impossible, even given similar gear and levels? Why is it that some guilds can consistently beat encounters in a handful of attempts when others can fail over and over even though they are clearly investing more time in doing so? Time is a necessary factor in many cases, but it is almost never a sufficient one.

Posted Jan 22, 2006 12:26:02 AM | link

says:


Hi,

Let's see???
Who could dump millions of plats per day on to each and every servers economy?
Who has a motive to push the plat farmers out of business?
Who has the power to then instantly turn off this plat supply to the resellers once all the farmers are gone?
Who has the ability to then remove all those plats that were dumped on to the markets by uttering the words "game balance"?

For the completely clueless, here is a clue: S...O...N...?

Posted Jan 22, 2006 7:07:56 AM | link

Mithra says:

If you're implying that Station Exchange creates a conflict of interest for Sony and undermines player trust, you hit the nail on the head. :) Players have to take it on faith that Sony isn't making a little money on the side inserting plat and other items into SE, and really its a situation that the company never should have placed itself in. We also have to take it on faith that Sony hasn't skewed the difficulty of EQ2 in order to push regular players into RMT. The wolves are guarding the henhouse as it were.

Posted Jan 22, 2006 9:17:15 AM | link

alan says:

"Have you never grouped with someone who just plain wasn't good at playing?"
"Why can some players level far faster than others in terms of actual play time if not for skill?"

Yes I have grouped with bad players (By bad I assume you mean inefficient). And you know what, those bad players at level 10 are the same bad players at level 60. Skill-"Proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience. " It would seem that if it were actual skill that these players would somehow get better as they spent time in the game. Yet in my experience the good players are good from the beginning and the bad players are always bad. Actual "skill" by repetition has little influence.

It mostly amounts to intelligence rather than skill. The dynamics of the game don't require a lot of training to max out skill. The learning curve is not steep. Some players progress through the game without trying to understand the simple math that will allow them to level at quicker rates. (And of course there are always those players whose objective isn't to level as fast as possible.)

Given an equal intelligence (and an equal desire to level quickly) between two players, I would say that time will always be the deciding factor in whom is more successful (when success is defined as levels attained).

Posted Jan 22, 2006 11:27:56 AM | link

alan says:

I should note that this applies more to some games than others. PvP usually takes more skill than PvE. There is a big difference in PvE in EQ and PvP in UO.

Posted Jan 22, 2006 11:45:34 AM | link

Gus says:

A friend of mine brought to my attention that there is a much longer and more detailed post by the same author at http://www.eqdiva.com/Forums/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=83071

The post your article links to is basically just copied from that.

Posted Jan 22, 2006 1:31:14 PM | link

Paranoid says:

I think SoE ran you out. They seem to be the only ones that could flood servers with cheap plat and items unchecked and stand to gain the most from doing so. However, I am paranoid ;)

Posted Jan 22, 2006 3:41:20 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

Mithra:

My favorite college writing professor used to say, "Great writing is always about two things: what it's about, and writing." What he meant, of course, is that at the level of creation, relfection, editing, discussion or review... all art has at least two levels. The active level and the meta-level job?. If we are to explore any aspect of "gaming as art" in terms of improving the genre, we have to ask ourselves:

1. Does it do the job (active level)?
2. How does it do the job (meta level)?

These are questions that, in terms of older media and arts, have been asked, in some cases, for millenia. The ins-and-outs of literary, music and drama theory are well known in academia. Not as old, but well traveled in recent years, are film and TV criticism.

If we want to ask the question, "Is RMT *good* or *bad* for gaming?" we need to apply the same tools to the question that are used in other fields.

I've seen that kind of discussion happening quite a bit here at TN, which is great. VWs are a new medium, and one that could, I think, provide some really interesting new modes of creativity, art and communication. I believe that, as such, it deserves some serious head-pounding. You've given me a good back-board for my thoughts (which I appreciate), so here we go.

In response to your following statements:

Mithra> RMT is not incredibly different from guild twinking in how it affects content and economy.

Andy> Clearly it is. Even if the *effects* are similar, the time it takes any individual to gain those effects is substantially greater with guild twinking than by using RMT. The player will therefore become a *better* player, both of that game, and of games in general, thus improving his own future gameplay, and the overall play. To splok and Alan's comments above, I *have* seen better and worse players, at low and high levels, and I have also seen players whose *playing* abilities have improved, regardless of their characters' levels. And by "playing abilities," I mean both within the bounds of the mechanics of a system (when to fight, when to draw aggro, when to heal, when to use potions, etc.), and the ability to role-play and group. When you work with a guild to improve your character, you improve as a player. When you use RMT to level a character or his/her equipment, you improve nothing. You are still a "Level 1 player" with a higher level character.


Mithra>... by introducing RMT you actually create liquidity in the economy and grease the wheels perse, so that a larger number of players can engage in trading activities despite the fact they don't really know each other, and that can't be a bad thing.

Andy> Wrong. It is a *very* bad thing. One of the deepest differences between MMORPGs and single-player video games is the interactive aspect. If you don't want to get to "know each other," play "Dungeon Siege" offline on your PC or Diablo. The creation of value through whatever mechanism of farming/skills/trade is available in the game is yet one more way to identify your character and "communicate" your level of interest in both the game, your profession, guild, group, trade, etc. What, I fear, you mean is that people want their characters to look like big shot "Level 50" super-dudes, even though they haven't put in the time, work, grouping, guilding, in-game legitimate effort of any sort. This is, essentially, counterfeiting. Per my earlier quote from a friend, it's like trying to roleplay somebody smarter than you.

When I see a Level 60 character in WoW I have a level of respect, admiration, etc. That takes some stones; time, effort, game juice, whatever. If that has been "counterfeited" by the simple expediency of spending money on either items or a pre-leveled character... I am being deprived of an authentic experience. It is the equivalent of me being shown a book with "Written by Neal Stephenson" on the cover, only to find that it was actually written by "William Shattner."

Mithra>I don't see any good reason to penalize some players over others just because they make lack the social capital they need to gain twinks from guild mates.

Andy> Yikes! Now we've got a really interesting double-reverse moral argument. "Some people are better at legitimate means; so it would be unfair to disallow illegitimate means to allow them to compete." Do I need to pull out a zany, hyperbolic metaphor on this one? Don't make me... I don't wanna, but I will if I have to...

"Penalizing" people by making them follow the rules? Not a good argument to begin with. And I'll also argue that if you lack "social capital," a guild is a good place to go to learn how to get some. When I was a guild officer -- and in almost any RP situation I can think of -- as long as somebody had a good attitude, we were glad of their help, glad of a chance to train up a new recruit, and very eager to push the doctrines of our guild/RP mindset. Now... if you're a total ass***e, I'll agree. You won't find many guilds willing to twink you for the heck of it. But, then again, multi-player games probably aren't where you should be looking for your jollies if you're a complete social retard.

Mithra>I will concede however that RMT probably cheapens the illusion of fantasy, especially if you obsess on the monetary component.

Andy> Fantasy don't enter into it. And the monetary component isn't what I'm obsessed about. It all comes down to the definition of two words "game" and "roleplay." A game has rules. When you break those rules, you cheapen the game experience. Roleplaying involves the player putting aside his/her own person and concentrating on the character. RMT violates the basic tennets of both "gaming" and "roleplaying" by breaking the stated rules of most EULAs, and by busting open the wall between players and characters in a way that, in my opinion, is deeply troublesome to the idea of "game as art."

Is it as big a negative as the fact that all the chicks in fantasy MMORPGs seem to be huge-breasted leather goddesses (or some derrivative thereof)? Maybe not. But that's the topic-du-jour, and I'm sticking with it.

I can't think of an example of RMT related activity that doesn't, in some way, lower the overall "state" of gaming, and that couldn't be implemented, in some way, "in game," such that the player involved would come out with a better game experience.

Posted Jan 22, 2006 4:13:22 PM | link

Mithra says:

Andy, it occurred to me that its going to be difficult to establish either of our positions as authoritative for two reasons. Firstly, the effects of RMT, twinking, guild membership, use of time, etc, etc, is highly specific to each game, and secondly some of the points we are both making seem to be subjective. We're going to have a problem, I think, continuing this evaluation without a specific VW in mind. My point of reference is typically UO, which is highly open-ended - there are no levels to climb and no skills that literally can't be maxxed within a few weeks. Acquisition is the central activity and RMT the accepted norm. UO has a culture of RMT, and if you don't like its probably best to avoid UO. You're perspective however is EQ or WoW I'm guessing? I can understand completely how RMT might affect that experience. I think our dispute probably has more to do with what kind of games we individually prefer and how to effectively segregate players between games in terms of their motivations, and not really whether we can defend some universal theory on why RMT is a benefit or a curse. In some games I can say with credible evidence that RMT is a benefit, just as you can name off games that it harms.

Earlier I said "RMT probably cheapens the illusion of fantasy, especially if you obsess on the monetary component." which you contradict, but I think I can still find people who agree with my statement, and neither of us is entirely correct nor entirely wrong.

When I talk about "penalizing" players for not having social capital, you're looking at the rules, while I'm looking at the needs of a subset of players. You've made a judgement here that implies introverts, solo players, and anyone who has difficulty relating to others should be relegated to the bottom of the play experience just because the prescribed rules create that effect, and I'm not sure I agree with that. But then again, that might be the game-style that you personally champion, and I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, but maybe the question becomes how do we weed disadvantaged, RMT motivated people out of the games you prefer? This is probably the crux of the matter when it comes to games which are still in cultural combat, and it doesn't help matters that the "fun" games tend to be few and we're all drawn into the same space.

You disagree when I say "creating liquidity and greasing the wheels" is an advantage of RMT, but I stand by that insomuch that we can agree that in a particular VW, RMT is a defining aspect of its culture. RMT hurts games the least when it is either completely open and accepted by the majority, OR nearly invisible. The problems you are talking about occur, I think, when an RMT prohibited world makes a significant shift to an RMT open world, through lack of company policy and enforcement, cultures clash and a difficult realignment of the playerbase inevitably follows. I'll throw UO out as an example.. in the beginning when RMT and commodification really started to take hold, OSI thought the whole phenomena was an incredible curiousity - they sat back and watched. There were no doubt alot of people offended by the practice who in the end left that game. As UO matured, the game culture and policies, for better or worse, ended up reflecting what its playerbase wanted - the same playerbase that had remained after the cultural contest was decided, which was that was RMT was OK. Acquisition is the heart of UO, and RMT creates real valuation of that game. Am I wrong here, or are the benefits / curses of RMT really contingent upon the majority game culture in a specific VW?

Posted Jan 22, 2006 6:19:55 PM | link

Mithra says:

Is RMT destructive in a game, hypothetically speaking, if say, 95% of that games' subscribership is indifferent to the practice?

Posted Jan 22, 2006 6:26:18 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

Mithra: I'm not familiar at all with UO, so I'd have to defer to your experience/expertise on that game. If, as you say, the majority of the players (and the owners/publisher) are pro-RMT, then, of course, the issue is not an issue anymore; it has become "part of the game." If new players come into the space specifically to enjoy that aspect of the VW, then, of course, it is of benefit.

The same would hold true for games like "Project Entropia" or non-game worlds like "Second Life." I am fascinated by the business, marketing and communication opportunities of real-to-virtual world trade and economics. These discussions are, without a doubt, some of the most interesting I've read (from a business standpoint) in years. My interest began when I read the "Wired" article (11.01) on "The Unrealestate Boom" back in January of 2003: See http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.01/gaming.html. That there is huge real-world value in virtual world content is not an issue. That clever, artistic and inventive people should be making tons of money in this new and startling industry is without question.

My only beef with RMT is when it happens in a game that specifically bans it, and where (often because of that ban) the practice is inimical to the overall enjoyment of the game for the "sum" of all players.

The argument is made, again and again, that one or two people -- your example of the anti-social, introverted solo gamer -- buying a few pieces of up-scale armor isn't going to affect anybody else's gameplay experience. That may be true, although, as I've said before, any kind of "out-of-game" influence in a game ends up creating a kind of counterfeit character.

The bigger problem, though, is that the environment and mechanics that allow for that single transaction also allows for the type of no-holds-barred RMT that we've seen discussed here. Where gold/plat floods a market, where a significant number of players are leveled beyond their experience, etc. Even if players aren't aware of what's going on -- and your question about indifference doesn't make it clear if that indifference is due to "don't care" or "don't know" -- that kind of interference will affect game play.

If you want to make money off an MMORPG, here's an idea -- create a guild, and charge real-word dollars to be a member. Whatever benefits you can provide, though, must be provided within the bounds of the legitimate game mechanics. That I have no problems with.

I may get flack from the purists on this attitude, but here's my logic. If your guild sucks, nobody will pay you jack-diddly to be a member. If your guild rocks, it will rock because you're really good at doing real-game stuff. Paying real-world money to get better at the game itself is (IMHO) legit. People buy "expert" guides and maps and cheat books all the time. OK. But it only helps you do things "within" the "magic circle." I had lots of encounters with other characters who told me, "If you seek the Rune of Pancakes, you must search the Cave of Howard Johnson in the East." Did they know that from experience, or from buying the Brady guide? Don't know, don't care. They stayed in character and hit me with some good intel. Super.

Now... a purist will say, "But Andy! You've contradicted yourself! Buying into a guild is the same as buying better armor, weapons, spells, and power leveling, etc.! It provides an incentive to those who can afford it that those who can't... can't!"

Well, only for dumb guilds without a decent marketing officer. A good guild will look out for great players whose participation, regardless of payment, will improve their status. And -- like Mithra says -- if a goony young bird with no social skills can't make friends any other way, but has a few bucks to kick into the guild coffers... well, OK. We'll take him on as a low-level and give him a shot.

I'm not saying that the guild then "power levels" the kid up without his participation or gives him crap he doesn't deserve, etc. etc. That would just be using a guild as an RMT mechanism. I'm saying that, if you think that membership in a heavy guild (that roleplays well and stays within the rules) is worth something... that's cool by me, and I'd have no beef with them charging some real-world dough for the time it takes to start, grow and administer a guild. It's real work. And the folks who put in the time and effort ought to make a few bucks.

Now... I think we all know, however, that no guild leadership is ever going to score USD$150,000/year on any dues, even if they run the biggest guild ever seen. The pyramid ain't ever gonna get that big.

So... if it's really about the players, and about the fun, and about helping people out... start a for-profit guild. Or a training site that teaches guild, party, game-social and RP skills. Hell, start the virtual version of the Templars.

But in a game where RMT is specifically forbidden, and where it, essentially, provides unfair and out-of-game advantages to characters... I still say it's a violation of the whole idea of gaming at its best.

Posted Jan 22, 2006 9:10:07 PM | link

monkeysan says:

Andy: If you want to make money off an MMORPG, here's an idea -- create a guild, and charge real-word dollars to be a member. Whatever benefits you can provide, though, must be provided within the bounds of the legitimate game mechanics. That I have no problems with.

I'll tell you exactly how that would fare. As soon as ANYONE found out that was going on, EVERYONE on that server would know and that entire guild would be known as a loser's bin, save maybe a few key players. Why? Not because it's cheating--though many would consider it that--but because the notion of buying guild membership will always be seen as one of the lowest forms of pathos by any serious virtual world gaming community.

On another note, I think it's pure poppycock to assume that RMT is driven by 'cheaters' who want the ability to cheat anonymously and exclusively. The fact that people don't like to play on an RMT sanctioned server in EQ2 doesn't really say anything about RMT motivations in general. What about researchers who don't have time to get to the endgame situations they are studying? What about people who live thousands of miles away from loved ones who are already deep into the endgame. What about a mother, who doesn't want to play at all, but wants to give her daughter the one gift she'd REALLY like. What about people who have terminal illnesses or debilitating diseases and have limited play hours, but would still like to see the more exciting regions of a VW or take part in endgame instances, the sort of areas that at least take teamwork and coordination, if not skill. And like many here have said, I'm not really convinced the RMT discussion is even intelligible absent a specific VW context.

The evidence is just not there to support some of the wild hypotheses that are being taken as established truth but are just as easily nothing more than confirmation biases and wild speculation about the motivations of entire swaths of a player base that is only weakly understood.

Posted Jan 23, 2006 1:41:15 AM | link

monkeysan says:

apologies for that hideously craptastic runon paragraph. way, way, way too quick on the 'post' button here tonight =]

Posted Jan 23, 2006 1:43:28 AM | link

Wanderer says:

On another note, I think it's pure poppycock to assume that RMT is driven by 'cheaters' who want the ability to cheat anonymously and exclusively.

Why, besides because you say so?

The fact that people don't like to play on an RMT sanctioned server in EQ2 doesn't really say anything about RMT motivations in general.

It says a lot about the actual popularity of RMT in MMORPGs. EQ2 is the closest thing to a controlled experiment we've seen so far. There are two options, RMT-allowed and RMT-prohibited, which can be compared. Very few people have chosen the RMT-allowed servers. However, there is still a thriving black market for the RMT-prohibited servers. We might disagree about their reasons, but at least in EQ2, it is clear that most people who want to buy in-game content with real-life money prefer to do so where it is prohibited. Since it is riskier, in several ways, to do it on the non-RMT servers, there has to be some overriding reason for them to prefer those servers. The fact that most players on them do not engage in RMT is the primary difference between the two server types, and therefore that is what we need to look at to understand their reasons for choosing one type over the other.

Another way of looking at it: A certain percentage of people who play FPS games use cheats, such as aimbots. If there was, say, a CS server that not only permitted but encouraged such practices, do you think the people who use those cheats would prefer to play on that server? Or would they prefer to play on servers that prohibit such things, where their willingness and ability to cheat would give them an advantage?

What about researchers who don't have time to get to the endgame situations they are studying? What about people who live thousands of miles away from loved ones who are already deep into the endgame. What about a mother, who doesn't want to play at all, but wants to give her daughter the one gift she'd REALLY like. What about people who have terminal illnesses or debilitating diseases and have limited play hours...

I think the number of researchers, long-distance relationships, loving mothers, and people with terminal illnesses who are engaging in RMT are a tiny fraction of the total. Come on, how many people do you know who fit one of those categories? (not counting the TN crowd, of course) And how many do you know who didn't feel like spending the time earning their plat, so they bought some? Saying we should let the lazy cheaters and greedy parasites ruin games because 1/10 of 1% might somehow deserve our pity is ludicrous. Probably a similar percentage of people who steal from stores are are needy -- so should we no longer consider shoplifting to be a crime? Should the stores turn a blind eye to anyone who wants to walk out with stuff? Just because a tiny fraction of people might have some possible excuse for doing something wrong doesn't make it not wrong, nor does it make a good argument that everyone should be permitted to do it.

Using my FPS example again: There are people who, for physical reasons, can't play FPS games very well. Someone with very poor eyesight, for instance, would have a terrible time. Should that person be allowed to use a targeting bot? Would you be happy if they were way above you in your favorite ladder? And because some cheaters might be people like that who "need" to cheat, should we just accept and permit everyone to cheat in our favorite FPS? Should we let the cheaters, not the game designers, define the rules of the game?

Oh, and Mithra -- you said you wouldn't argue with someone who called you a parasite? Go look at some of the insults you've slung at everyone who disagrees with you, starting from your first post. There's something else I can call you besides parasite: how about hypocrite? Oh, right, I guess this is another place where the rules are for everyone else, not you?

Posted Jan 23, 2006 3:50:23 AM | link

Mithra says:

Wanderer, I re-read my first post and for the life of me all I found is a musing on "virtual liberals and virtual conservatives", which I didn't level at anyone here specifically. All the same, I'm apologizing now for anything that might seem ad-hominem, and I realize that political stereotypes can be not only offensive to those being categorized, but un-useful more often than not. I hope everyone here will accept my civil offering and we can move on. I'm human, I wanted to share a perspective, and some aspect of my articulation wasn't well thought through. That being said, I'm still not willing to get into tit-for-tat exchanges of sentiment with those who are clearly players that have made me the foci for their dark energy and everything thats wrong with VWs. :D I came to TN to have a discussion with the likes of its contributing authors; if I wanted to trade invective and incite unrest I'd have stirred up the stink on UO Hall.

Posted Jan 23, 2006 7:15:30 AM | link