Tom Mason blogs at the Nosy Gamer and is intrigued by CCP's ongoing efforts to combat botting and 3rd party RMT. It does seem strange, given CCP's libertarian philosophy, they they would actively resist trade in these limited cases.
Years ago I wrote a model that treated botting and farming as a pollution effect. Using hypothetical numbers, I showed that these things can be very costly to ordinary gamers; their fun is degraded. Tom asked me to reconsider and possibly update the analysis. His questions and my responses are below the fold.
The numbers in that article were hypothetical, but there's a mechanical property in the model, as in any model of externalities: No matter how big or small the market may be, if there are externalities, their costs will exceed whatever benefits they may provide. If the external effect remains the same percentage of the quantity in the market, then increasing the market size can only increase the size of the external costs. In the case of RMT, as these economies have grown, the scale and professionalism of farming, botting, and power-leveling operations have grown too. What was once a nuisance for developers is now a core concern early in their development process. Devs understand that the intrusion of 3rd parties is a given. It has to be anticipated and taken care of in some way, whether by designging around it or setting up active counter-measures. Another response is to "join the enemy" so to speak, to become the 3rd-party RMTer and botter, and capture those revenues. Thus you see games designed so that users can always pay to advance and get better gear. These may be wonderful games, but they are simply different games than what MMORPG devs always wanted to make, namely, games where the monies of the real world did not count. If that is indeed the objective (and in many games it still is), then the presence of 3rd party RMT and the like is still a pollutant on the desire core game experience. It is therefore costly, like any external effect.
TLDR: No, nothing's changed on that.
Do you think the whole move to the free-to-play model as well as cash shops in the West have diminished the negative effects of 3rd party RMT? I'm thinking more about the baseline response than anything. Are today's players more tolerant of 3rd party RMT and should the baseline be adjusted (perhaps to .02) or is the baseline response used in the paper (.05) still relevant and those turned off by the virtual currency sellers just went on to play other genres of games like single-player RPGs?
The norms on RMT have not changed, I think. But something has changed: The user base. People who are hard-core RPGers and roleplayers are still mighty concerned about preserving fantasy and immersion in their games. Plenty of people still think a game is not fair if the dentist's 12-year-old can whip out Daddy's credit card and buy the best ship in the galaxy on Day 1. Plenty of people find the presence of gold traders and botters irksome and annoying. That's why companies like CCP still face huge customer service costs from this activity; if players didn't care that they got ripped off (to the tune of $2) by an ISK farmer, CCP would not care either.
However, we have learned that there are lots of other people who don't care about this at all. Casual gamers playing casual games certainly don't care. People who dip into a hardcore game for its free-to-play content and then move on, they don't care. But they also don't contribute much to company revenues. It's the people who care about the game who keep the game alive through their contributions. Even though they are a tiny minority of the people playing, they are the ones who matter in this calculus. The number of virtual world players has not fallen, rather, there has been a massive influx of more casual players. Many of them convert into paying customers. That's why F2P works for products like SWTOR.
So, what do the paying customers think? Note that all of the F2P systems work hard to mesh the system into the game in a seamless way. You don't see a sign that says "Pay $5 to kill this dragon!" But this is exactly the sort of thing that gold farmers do. They do everything they can to get the players' attention, and if that means spamming chat, so be it. The way F2P is handled is actually the best evidence that the people who pay for these games do not want the payment system to pollute their game experience. They want payments and gameplay separate. And the appearance of glaring, obnoxious gold-spam in game must bug them now just as much as it did several years ago. The demand and revenue implications are the same.
TLDR: No, the advent of F2P doesn't change this.