« Shake my Hand? | Main | [July 18th, 2005] Daily top 30 Online games in Korean PC-bang »

Jul 19, 2005

Comments

1.

oh yeah - terrific comment and hopefully the start of an enlightening conversation.

I wonder though if there isn't a clash of ideals endemic to MMOG virtual worlds. These kinds of games with their endless array of definable and achievable goals are a dreamworld for the instrumental rationality at the heart of modern capitalism. A good reason perhaps why we are seeing the osmotic pressure of real world economics run rampant through our VW experiments.

For me its about more than extracting profit from everything its about the kind of VWs that it makes sense to profit from.

What about removing some of that highly valued instrumental freedom and introducing a little medieval destiny or fate... a VW is which the sky is not the limit and not everyone can be a god.

Arguably "the grind" of the mid-game in MMOGs is just such a gutter that may players never transcend but with a little medieval romance they might learnt to accept their fate and enjoy the game.

hmm... not sure if this is the direction you wanted to go.

cheers,
Bart

2.

I don't think it's neccessarily endemic to VWs, but rather it is a natural consequence of VWs produced by capitalist societies. I would imagine a North Korean, Chinese, Cuban, or to be a little anachronistic, Ba'athist or Soviet VW, might have a vastly different economic system in-game, perhaps one that might preclude RMT based systems (though outside of an MMO gestapo, I'm not sure how you'd prevent that.)

Ultimately though, I think any VW which rewards timesinking more than player skill is going to fall prey to this sooner rather than later. When there's a shortcut to success (especially one that bypasses the tedium of grinding), there will be players that take advantage of it.

3.

In game trade is only one of many forms RMT takes place, we see it in characters, accounts, money for services, powerleveling, etc.

Tributing money to another for an item of trade, a horse for example is not the only form of trade that took place. Many times one would be a guide for another, or perhaps show them good hunting grounds, forge them a weapon after given materials, extract a gem from a rock, smelt ore for them, fight for them (mercenaries were reasonably common), scout, etc. (the list goes on and on).

Removing gifting hinders this, but even if removed, will not stop RMT, it will simply change what the most common form of RMT is for that game. Let's say DAOC changed to a non-gift market and nobody abused it or it was impossible to abuse in any form. Powerleveling services and character sales would skyrocket, as the players who normally just buy money would now see getting a character with all these items already equipped or in the bank as a way to get these items. You would also see an increase in powerleveling sales as another way the players see as an "easy" opportunity to score the items they desire.

I wouldn't say I'm against such a method, but it's pointless to only have it in a game to stop RMT. If it's incorporated to be part of the economic balance of the whole system, that might be an interesting route to follow, but then again, you've got the "services" example listed above that are intangible even in game terms and most likely will never be able to be individually tracked. There's just too many types of things players may consider a pay worthy service.

What might be another interesting idea is if you take an idea like DAOC and change it to an even more warlike tempo, where everything within each realm was valueless and the only way to gain or use money was on NPC merchants (sell and buy) or the enemy kingdoms. In this fashion it would incorporate a very real sense of comoradry between members of each kingdom, much like a very large guild might work.

4.

Unggi, you have answered your question by indicting freedom of contract/trade as the primary cause and by your title. But this may be your aim :)

So, let me answer your question by posing another perspective rather than directly addressing the freedom of contract/trade issue.

We can rehabilitate by maintaining higher fidelity to the selected medieval milieu while keeping the fun elements. With higher fidelity, the virtual world becomes more distinct and separated from the real world, more unique, engrossing and immersive. The by-product of the design perspective and self-selecting clientele is a community based on fidelity to the vision for the virtual world is built.

If the vision is to replicate Tolkien’s Middle Earth, then higher fidelity would mean that Wizard will not be a player class and when your character die you start a new character (wooo, permadeath again!). The world is designed to a virtual Middle Earth rather than a game based and set in the world of Middle Earth.

However, maintaining fidelity should not, and does not need to, come at the cost of Fun. Crafting and trading may be a feature, but the commercialism of current milieu should not. Adventuring and questing may be a feature, but kill looting of static spawns and associated grind should not.

By structuring the design of the world to maintain this level of fidelity, the result may be that this will only attract a certain type of players, which as a group is a small relative to all online gamers. But, if the aim is to “"set free the players who were stressed enough in current capitalism” then a high fidelity world may facilitate immersion and escape from the daily grind.

Harry Potter books made false the conventional wisdom about what type of novels kids and adults like to read. An high fidelity and immersive virtual world may do the same. I hope :)

Frank

5.

I like Franks idea even if it may be overly magic circlish - but the more players can feel like there is a disjunction between their RL and the game the less likely there will be RMT pressure. This is a fair hypothesis worth testing.

On another front -- can the problem ultimately be reduced to the following features of games

1. division of labour (class differentiation)
2. instrumental rationality (means/ends action)
3. individualism (sense of self and agency - freedom)

In the sociological tradition these are all features of proto-capitalist societies. How about a VW which does away with/modifies one or all three of these features. Useful sources here might be theology and aesethics - gotta go back to those pre-enlightenment philosophers.

-Bart

6.

Unggi Yoon > I recall the dialogue I had with a Lineage developer in Seoul, in 1999. He said to me the philosophy of designing Lineage was to "set free the players who were stressed enough in current capitalism." His ideal is impaired, of course, by freedom to trade/gift everything in game, which has lead to a kind of hypercapitalism within MMORPGs, and then engulfed real money.<

How about replacing the “freedom to trade” with the “freedom to gift”? I would like to see a VW with a “reputation based economy”. That is, players give away their stuff to enhance their reputation, not accumulate stuff to enhance their reputation. VWs seem very well suited to this kind of economy, as in its “natural” state, giving stuff away is very easy. Only through difficult and complex code do we prevent it, and even then some “duping” scandals still occur. It would be easy enough to make duping the prime production function in a world. Explain it by “magic” or “Nanotechnology”. Or in a plant based world, you have a ready made gift object in the form of seeds. The capitalist market economy requires scarcity, and scarcity is very much an artificial construct in a VW. Get rid of it, and I think you would see a MMOG with some quite different and interesting stresses.

7.

>In the Middle Ages, it is hard to imagine that
>one could sell or otherwise transfer one’s
>fiefdom(eg castle)/ one's peerage to someone
>with no blood relation. Feudal property law
>simply forbade this type of activity.

Stuff like that happened all the time...

Chateau d'Usse
Goodrich Castle
Ranton Castle
Stokesay Castle
Fyvie Castle

...list goes on.

History is littered with people selling estates, castles, properties, etc to raise an army or get out of debt.

As far as the stuff that's actually bought and sold on ebay and such; well, that's mostly combat items...which were, you guessed it, bought and sold regularly in the Middle Ages. What, you think people weren't allowed to sell especially fine swords or armor? Huh?

8.

The "economic game" is a powerful attractor for MMOs. Leaving aside RMT for the moment, removing the freedom to trade (or gift) removes the possibility of building a business. Accumulation and administration are motivators as powerful as adventure for some players in "worldish" MMOGs. When the economy's in balance and the game systems are intact, you have a game where the M.U.L.E., SimCity, and Baldur's Gate players are interdependent. At the height of my interest in SWG, knowing my guildmates were thriving as weaponsmiths and architects actually made me enjoy my straightforward combat playstyle more. Particularly when I was hunting to provide raw materials for our guild doctor -- contributing to our guild's "economic game" gave my playtime meaning which a frozen-in-amber environment and storyline couldn't.

Even for those players whose idea of a good time does not involve spreadsheets(*), capitalist players bring with them some expectations of what they ought to be able to do with their characters' property. Again leaving RMT out of this, you have even in the simplified environment of City of Heroes a certain amount of economic activity. Taxibot services. Buying, selling and trading of Enhancements and Inspirations. Players will take the full freedom to share or accumulate that they are given, and they will push the envelope.

CoH's gameplay does not foster an expectation that players can build business empires or become RMT tycoons, but natural human behavior -- from modern players, who tend not to be role-players -- brings an inevitable element of capitalism. Other games that wish to minimize the effects of buying, selling and trading will have to present a compelling alternative to distract players from instituting that game.

(*) A friend once described the tabletop game CAR WARS by Steve Jackson as the game that introduced him to double-entry accounting, just to properly spec out a battlewagon....

9.

Oh come on. This is just a completely nonsensical discussion.


In the Middle Ages, it is hard to imagine that one could sell or otherwise transfer one’s fiefdom(eg castle)/ one's peerage to someone with no blood relation. Feudal property law simply forbade this type of activity.

In the Middle Ages, it's also freaking hard to imagine that people could just disappear when they type "quit" or that there were dragons running around or that people came back to life after they died or that people could travel across a continent in a few minutes or that people never had to defecate or urinate, or that there was any sentient race besides human or that etc etc etc.


My question then is how we might rehabilitate his ideal? Do we seek to introduce to the theories of P. J. Proudhon, K. Marx, or William Morris, G. D. H. Cole? Or do we accept that his ideal was flawed from the beginning?

You have got to be kidding me.

--matt

10.

I would imagine a North Korean, Chinese, Cuban, or to be a little anachronistic, Ba'athist or Soviet VW, might have a vastly different economic system in-game...

A Marxist/Leninist MMG (call it SovQuest) would have 3 zones.

All 3 zones in SovQuest would consist of grey buildings. You don't want to get too close to the buildings, because occasionally you'll get clipping errors and have to log out to reset your client. They were built fairly quickly.

SovQuest would be designed so that you would farm small inanimate creatures. No loot would drop from those creatures; instead the government would gift you with a stipend of gold depending on your use to the game.

Eventually there would develop a black market in SovQuest (possibly in monster corpses to pile near the clippy buildings so that you could move around them safely) and persons would pay you gold to bring them corpses. The developers of SovQuest, unamused at the player economy developing, threaten often to ban the monster-haulers, but most of them are in on the racket.

Many customers would go play another MMG (America Online is popular for some reason), but the developers of SovQuest made their customers sign a EULA which forbade them from ever installing another MMG. (Some do anyway.) The developers of SovQuest often threaten to bring down competing MMGs, sometimes through threats of legal force, sometimes from ocvert sponsoring of dupe bugs. In return AOL hosts forums for SovQuest, where disaffected customers complain about how unbalanced dialectic materialism really is.

SovQuest will, of course, exist forever. Oh, wait, it just closed. Some of the ex-developers are trying to restart it, but it just isn't the same, really.

11.

I think the irony of the virtual world as an escape from modernity (including capitalism, alienation of labor, rationalization of all human activity, reduction to economism, and the domination of productivist temporality) is that all those things return to the game whether the developers want them there or not.

The MMORPG I am playing the most is an example of the dominance of calculative thinking at its utmost. If you look at the proliferating player strategies online, the tone of conversations in the forums, you'll see that the acquisition of goods is the driving factor for play for many of them. Nominally, they acquire weapons, armor, magical goods etc. to improve their performance, but, particularly towards "end-game", they improve their performance to enhance their ability to acquire goods. The developers create scenarios where they can battle gods, save nations, etc. But all those missions and quests are reduced in practice to ways to extract wealth.

Likewise, despite the medievalist settings, in fact virtually nothing of the actual game has anything to do with the medieval. The game models a late-capitalist career: players are in an intense meritocracy; there is no real class structure (except for job classes) outside of levels and the like. There's an egalitarian ethic that has nothing to do with the pre-modern. And there is none of the relationship with land and agriculture that is the basis of real feudalism. The escapist element is superficial: in fact, what people want is a simulacra of what success would mean to them in the real world, albeit in fantasy drag.

12.




Scott Jennings wrote:

SovQuest would be designed so that you would farm small inanimate creatures. No loot would drop from those creatures; instead the government would gift you with a stipend of gold depending on your use to the game.

Heh heh. That was a funny post, Scott. I think that in SovQuest you'd spend a LOT of time queuing up to bash the popular dungeons, even though all they'd really have would be a couple of scraggly-looking goblins and once a month, an ogre, if you're lucky. All those fancy dragons and lichlords and such are for decadent Westerners.

--matt

13.

How many mainstream MMOGs business models are "not-for-profit"? Is any MMOG Free? Is the attempt at providing an MMOG to gain some type of monetary profit? Who is the champion of the break-even model? Beuler?

So, I find it ironic that there is so much discussion and worry over RMT, especially from developers. It is human nature to get ahead, what ever "ahead" means. If a person has excess moeny in hand and feels they are not "ahead," they will naturally part with their money for the opportunity to be "ahead,” Provided, of course that they value being "ahead" more than their money at the time of RMT.

So, in essence, developers are doing RMT of their time and effort for a profit, I find it laughable that they should ponder ways to stop the same behavior in their games. These are games btw. Games for which people RMT-ing to play, $15 a month anyone?

14.

What I take away from this post is simply the irony of using a virtual world to escape the rat race, only to find that the virtual world is yet another rat race. Yoon, though, blames the rat race on capitalism, and cites potential counter-capitalist models. Is capitalism really the culprit or is it a means towards an attempt to avoid the rat race, that, incidentally, makes it even more of a rat race?

15.

In Soviet Russia, MMO plays YOU!

Maybe the discussion over RMT is misguided - rather than looking at RMTs as a problem in and of themselves, it would be better to address them rather as symptoms of faulty game design. RMTs are used to circumvent and bypass parts of the game experience, so the problem is not so much in the RMT as it is in the boring portions of the game the RMT is meant to skip (though in most MMOs, unfortunately, that entails most any part of the game.) As long as treadmilling and grinding are industry wide MMO paradigms, there will always be people who will pay to escape the drudgery.

16.

James: Remember Rich Thurman's point. The impulse for RMT will be strong even if treadmilling and grinding are eliminated. Players want to advance their characters for its own sake, and RMT will always be an attractive, easy option -- even if it's just to get a new electronic shiny bauble. However, improved MMO design could minimize the negative effects of RMT by providing more experiences that are tangential to "things that can be aquired." Role-playing opportunities. Combat that depends on player skill instead of dice rolls. Player impact on "the world." Events with consequences. Do that, and RMT fades in importance (but never goes away).

17.

what a strange twist in the conversation off the original comment. Do all virtual worlds necessarily imply RMT just because they are for profit? And really would non-profit worlds be any different?

Novels and films construct kinds of virtual worlds in which all sorts of interesting relationships may be imagined and arguably MMOGs provide an opportunity to enact those worlds.

The bottom line of what most of you are saying is something akin to a human nature argument... that any interaction between human beings is ultimately reducible to an exchange relation in which everyone wants to get theirs. Saints preserve us - Hobbes was right... again.

Methinks the weight of this discussion betrays a failure of nerve (or possibily imagination). Of course I could be wrong.

-Bart

18.

Rich Thurman < It is human nature to get ahead, what ever "ahead" means. If a person has excess moeny in hand and feels they are not "ahead," they will naturally part with their money for the opportunity to be "ahead,” Provided, of course that they value being "ahead" more than their money at the time of RMT. >

Its true there is a strong aspect in human nature to “get ahead”. But altruism is also a strong aspect of human nature. Most people get some happiness from getting ahead. But most people also get some happiness from giving gifts, or doing people favors. We have tons of MMORPGs that fixate on the getting ahead, not many that emphasize the joy of giving.

Even in the combat “rat race” MMORPGs, there is a fair amount of giving goes on. Some people love to play classes that can give free buffs to random strangers for example. In A Tale in the Desert, I played a trader in last telling, and much enjoyed that. But it was very clear that a good chunk of the population just enjoyed giving stuff away, and didn’t take much part in trading. If MMORPGs want to broaden their appeal, focussing too narrowly on the “get ahead” motivation could be an obstacle not an advantage. And measuring success in accumulation, of either levels or loot, makes RMT almost inevitable. As many people have pointed out. More complex measures of success would be harder to trade.

19.

At the risk of bringing the abstract down to the personal, I feel that I have learned a huge amount about general economics by playing MMOs.

I think that games based around the capitalist system work very well, with one reservation - there is no overarching legal system to prevent "counterfeiters" (farmers/dupers) from debasing the currency beyond all reason. Attempts to do so have thus far been unsuccessful, since there are no real-world consequences and thus no accountability, for players' actions. If an account-holder is caught farming/duping/whatevering, the account is deleted... causing the player the mild inconvenience of having to pay another ~$40. The chances of getting caught are negligible, and development teams historically care very little about such matters until, like Lineage II, it's far too late. Since every farmer in the world has multiple accounts, this represents a negligible loss of revenue, equivalent to standard overhead charges.

What is the answer? I certainly don't know. IPs are easy to proxy; the manpower needed to track transactions through double-blind accounts in gameworlds would break the budgets of most gaming houses. Heck, we have to make the developers care passionately about this issue before ANY action can be taken. Until this is resolved, though, any debate about "economy" in virtual worlds is going to be subject to the caveat that it doesn't mirror the real world.

20.

Matt,

I must disagree about this converstation being useless, partly because I got a laugh out of SOVQUEST and a laugh is always useful, and because though I think a return to primitive communism is a bad idea, examining motivation and game economy can be a good idea.

Personally I see no romance in "Primitive Communism" if there was anything good about it people would move to North Korea.

But the Middle Ages in Europe did not have either primitive communism or market capitalism as their economic system. Did they have anything that would be fun to game?

I am short on time, but will come back to this later.

Tom

21.

Tom, FYI: primitive communism refers to the sort of communal possession of goods in pre-agrarian hunter-gatherer societies, not to the notion that North Korea can't keep its power grid online.

22.

Eric Random> What I take away from this post is simply the irony of using a virtual world to escape the rat race, only to find that the virtual world is yet another rat race.

It's a different rat race. Or can be. I join in the spirit of Yoon's post: Of course business-as-usual penetrates these environments. That's the normal, default case for human affairs. No news there. The *possible* news is that business-as-usualy might not always penetrate. The interesting question is whether there's anything in the technology that allows the usual economic development not to happen. For example: is it possible here to have an economy that is truly a level playing field with respect to certain endowments, such as family wealth? Maybe. And even such a small thing could mean a dramatic change in the way humans operate. Don't underestimate the power of what we're talking about here. This could be a very big thing indeed.

Sure, if nothing in the avatar-mediated society and economy will be different than the plasma-mediated society and economy, then I agree that there's nothing to discuss. But I am not yet convinced that everything must be business as usual.

Historical example: It's 1820. "Well, this steam engine will just do what the cotton gin did...shift some employment around. That's it."

Hasn't anyone else played Civilization? Or actually, the problem with Civ is that it's too historical. You know that steam leads to trains leads to cars leads to planes. Well, we don't know where avatars lead. And I'm not yet going to assume that Yoon's point is moot.

23.

So in a hunter gatherer society Kim Jong Il the most powerful man in the group decides who gets what.

And in North Korea, Kim Jong Il the most powerful man in the group decides who gets what.

I'm glad that the difference is so clear.

Now that I have finished bashing communism, back to my question. In the middle ages in Europe people did a fair amount of trading for financial gain, but they also made war for it, married for it and gave gifts for it. Give an impressive gift to the king and he might give you a patronage job. Make war and you might achive social promotion, or you might just get a chance to steal a really nice feather bed.

The Habsburgs built a whole empire by marrying the right people.

In a modern game what alternatives do we have to working (killing mobs) and trading? Even DAOC does not pay you for winning wars, or at least it did not when I last played.

24.

Tom said: In a modern game what alternatives do we have to working (killing mobs) and trading?

1. Building (as in ATITD or SL)
2. Exploration (rewarding scouts and cartographers for updating dynamic maps)
3. Research (beyond mere crafting, but unlocking new spells, items, etc. instead of adding to the loot table)

I think there are lot more options than what we have so far in current MMORPGs. All of these element may end up as assets in the capitalistic RMT trade, but they provide additional avenues of gameplay.

Again, I reiterate my suggestion for higher fidelity (not full fidelity) to the world setting. The objective is to play in THAT world, even it is SovQuest, and not get a RL-SovQuest hybrid. It’s nothing to do with Magic Circle, it’s about fidelity.

Frank

25.

If the game represents the world, with its given material properties, then economic systems will be demonstrated by the player organizations -- clans, societies -- within the game. Economic systems attempt to optimize conditions within a social organization. No game will duplicate human society with its demands for survival and prosperity, culture and civilization, progress and continuity -- gameplayers simply don't have the commitment to their world that is imposed on human beings from birth.
Mike

26.

Rich Thurman>So, in essence, developers are doing RMT of their time and effort for a profit, I find it laughable that they should ponder ways to stop the same behavior in their games.

This is like saying that because the police patrol areas at night checking the security of buildings they should ponder ways to stop the same behaviour from criminals.

Many people who play virtual worlds DON'T want RMT, and would gladly pay more to the developers if they could keep the practice out.

If you go to Disneyland, you pay a fee to enter then all the rides are free. If you stand in a line and then try to sell your position in line to someone else, you'll get stomped on by high-on-pixie-dust security officers. Yes, a few people will succeed in such transfers, but on the whole the vast majority of visitors to theme parks are pleased that this kind of touting is not permitted.

There is nothing contradictory in paying people money to spend time in a world where not having to spend money is part of the experience.

Richard

PS: Yes, I know you have to pay for food and souvenirs, but they're not gameplay-related...

27.

Richard wrote:

If you go to Disneyland, you pay a fee to enter then all the rides are free. If you stand in a line and then try to sell your position in line to someone else, you'll get stomped on by high-on-pixie-dust security officers.

If you go to Disneyland, if you kill -anything- larger than a fly you will likely be arrested and certainly kicked out. Does this mean MMOGs should take the same tact? If not, why even bring up how Disneyland handles their line policies? They have equal relevance to MMOGs (which is to say, virtually none).


There is nothing contradictory in paying people money to spend time in a world where not having to spend money is part of the experience.

In every single world that I've seen a complaint about regarding RMT, people are -required- to spend money to participated in the experience at all. If you don't have money to pay them, every month, they don't even let you in.

--matt

28.

Tom Hunter wrote:

I must disagree about this converstation being useless, partly because I got a laugh out of SOVQUEST and a laugh is always useful, and because though I think a return to primitive communism is a bad idea, examining motivation and game economy can be a good idea.

Well, I think I posted that before the SovQuest example, but does anyone sentient need to be told that primitive communism is a bad idea anymore? And what is this all about? "My question then is how we might rehabilitate his ideal? Do we seek to introduce to the theories of P. J. Proudhon, K. Marx, or William Morris, G. D. H. Cole? Or do we accept that his ideal was flawed from the beginning?
Who is this "we" here? I'm a developer, and I'm not even remotely concerned with whether we should introduce Proudhon's socialist anarchism into our games. Maybe I need to expand my circle of developer acquantinces, but I don't know any other serious developers that actually sit around pondering whether to try to design their games around socialist anarchism. So who is this "we" that has a decision to make?

I'm super-glad to have Mr. Yoon writing for Terranova, but with all due respect, this whole topic is a bunch of useless academic mental masturbation, from the first paragraph (mentioning that free trade wasn't prevalant in the Middle Ages, while ignoring that dragons weren't either) to the last paragraph, which I quoted above.

I'm sure some developers will claim they have sat around wondering whether to orient their design philosophy around Proudhon's writings, but they're full of it, sorry, and if more than 1 or 2 of them have ever released a successful virtual world, I'll eat my copy of "Qu'est-ce que la Propriété?"

--matt


29.

Eric>Is capitalism really the culprit or is it a means towards an attempt to avoid the rat race, that, incidentally, makes it even more of a rat race?

Edward>It's a different rat race. Or can be.
Edward>The interesting question is whether there's anything in the technology that allows the usual economic development not to happen.

I would agree with that. The question I was posing, in a way, was to illustrate the direction of the osmotic pressure Yoon is discussing. This sets the case to determine whether the ideal Yoon discusses can be rehabilitated. Is our economic bias pushing into the virtual world or is the virtual world pulling it in? If it is pushing into the virtual world, then, perhaps, there is no hope, but if the virtual world is pulling it in, then, perhaps changes to the virtual world can change the osmotic pressure. I personally believe it is the latter.

An interesting point which can tangle this whole discussion is the degree to which economics and social orders are interdependent. Economics is the expression of society in its environment and economics, in turn, affects society and the environment. Thusly, anything that affects society or environment, affects economics. The three are difficult to separate.

Incidently, this conversation is quite parallel to a much older conversation about managing external motives to maintain fictional integrity. That is, external motivations can disintegrate the fictional integrity of the virtual world. One can apply this to RMT issues, but before the days of RMT, for example, in a fictional world where dark elves hate light elves, what in-game rules can work against external motivations that cause players as dark elves and players as light elves to befriend each other. The answer comes in rules which govern the costs, benefits, and capabilities of competition, collaboration, and compulsion. That is, what rules can generate the tactics that order players in a manner that is compatible with the fictional integrity intended by its designer?

Even though I have drawn a link between in-game rules and external motivations, does this mean that, perhaps, a further link can be drawn between the homogeneity of external and virtual economies? That because the virtual world has a capitalist economy, that the external capitalist economy will be drawn into it, or vice versa simply due to a homogenous relation? That is, can one continue to have a capitalist economy in the virtual world while managing external motivations in a way which reduces RMT? I believe one can.

That is not to say one cannot find such solutions in, say, Proudhon, with his de facto forms of collaboration. One need not incorporate the entirety of such ideals to generate desirable effects. Virtual worlds, though, make the perfect academic forums to attempt such social alternatives.

30.

I am thankful for all your careful comments.

What I want to tell was not complaining that medieval setting VWs do not mimic perfectly what the medieval environment was, and also not arguing that VWs should be made exactly into such a world that the anarchist, communist, or socialist had dreamed of.

The figures in my last paragraph could be replaced for american figures as "J. Rawls or T. Jefferson". 'Cause the ideal sought for is a free & autonomous societas waving its full fledge that still in RW and even in VW come short of.

31.

Wow talk about over thinking things. Any game where there is a need there will be someone willing to fulfill that need for money. It's just simple capitolism. If you really wanted to build a game from the ground up to avoid selling of in-game items for real world money just make items easily attainable and almost as easily lost (items break, or you can get disarmed, etc.) that way nobody wants to buy something that they can get themselves or spend money on something they couldn't get if it's possible they'll lose it a day later and have to go buy another.

I always go back to my first example of a "perfect game" which was a game that cost $3/hr. to play and therefore had very few players. It was a small community so everyone knew everyone, almost like a small town. If you did something wrong, you earned a bad reputation. Players strove to earn a good reputation because if you died in this game and nobody cared to come help you you could lose all of your items. What's this got to do with the discussion? Everything. It's the players who decide how the game is going to be no matter what the Dev's do. If there's a way around something, a way to bypass work, people will find it and use it. People a) want shiney and power, and b) want it now with a minimal effort. If there is a sense of community, people have a reputation to think about and therefore have to try to seem to have integrity and respect for the place they are inhabiting. Otherwise they'll do whatever and who cares as long as they can't catch me. I've seen a game system work, it takes a community, a sense of being connected to that community in some way, and incentive for players to build upon what's already in the game rather than expecting the game to provide everything. Games are limited (AI, scripts, static events), people are not limited.

Most games these days prefer to steer people away from any social interaction, making each individual independant and they try to stuff as many people as possible into the same servers. No sense of community, no social interaction, tons of people with no accountability and hell, why not cheat! Who cares! It's like a single player game with a lot of single players running around attached by a chat room. I've given up on all the new MMO's and gone back to the game I played years ago. A lot has changed and it's not quite the place it once was (My Avalon I guess :p) but it's still a good social game that's small enough to make it possible for GMs to hold dynamic events (note, can't write spoilers for player/GM run events) that are actually exciting and fun. The same-ol' same-ol' of the "EverQuest clone of the week" has finally gone from something I once enjoyed to "blah, who cares, not even fun anymore".

Have fun in the shiney, I'm going back to the mud.

32.

For me the glass is only half full.

Echoing Edward's comment in my own way is that history is yet to be made. Advancement may or may not follow the development of MUDs. Development in Russia may or may foloow the development in the US.

Primitive communism may be perceived as useless in RL, but may or may not find some kind of an equilibrium existence in virtual worlds (and not necessary commercial ones).

What’s interesting about researching and analyzing Asian designs is that both the designers and financiers from that region started with a relatively clean slate, not sticking with what was previously successful, but creating what they hope to be successful. With the table being largely empty of older designs, they can put on the table something different. While this is less so now with the new generation of designs, but it’s still interesting to compare and contrast. Moreover, looking a the top games in Asia, there is clearly a healthy diversity of gameplay and business models.

So, sure I agree with Matt that attempting to delve into metaphilosophical concepts for MMO society may be waste of commercial resources, but someday there will be more grants to explore these issues.

If I recall correctly there was a recent call for proposal by some group related to PBS on online game spaces that addresses current social issues.

I want to see more of that going around.

Frank

33.

Frank, you said: What’s interesting about researching and analyzing Asian designs is that both the designers and financiers from that region started with a relatively clean slate, not sticking with what was previously successful, but creating what they hope to be successful. With the table being largely empty of older designs, they can put on the table something different. While this is less so now with the new generation of designs, but it’s still interesting to compare and contrast.

This may be more of a design-y discussion, but I'm interested in what you see as the majory 'clean-slate' differences between Western and Asian MMOG gameplay. I think there are some interesting (and often perplexing from one side or the other) social differences, especially relating to individualism and other Hofstede-like cultural measures, but I'm curious how you see the gameplay as significantly different.

Tying this to the overall discussion here, I'd recommend Nisbett, Hofstede, or some of the work in 'generative social science' such as the seminal Sugarscape work done by Epstein and Axtell over those of 19th and 20th century political philosophers. Some of the early artificial societies work by Epstein and Axtell, for example, demonstrated (rather than positing) that a capitalist economic environment creates a "rich get richer" Pareto curve, but significantly and counter-intuitively also raises the entire carrying capacity of the economy: under trade-inhibited regimes everyone is more economically equal, butthe median is lower and fewer people can live on the same resources.

34.

The original post sparked 2 different directions for me.

First on RMT and economies. I am yet to be convinced that it is somwhow poor design if RMT exists in a MMOG economy. To be honest, I think the best MMOG economies are those that thrive on player based trading in game despite RMT trading in currency out of game.

Second, when I think of the quote from the NCSOFT developer, you have to realize a bit more about his perspective based on the game he designed. The common assumption is that somehow in every MMOG that every player is equal, lord and lady per se. But it isn't that way at all in Lineage2.

In many ways, NCSoft truly bucked this traditional thought with Lineage 2, because the game is designed so that some players will always have more than others. In some ways, this was done in SWG too originally with Jedi, but not as effectively in my opinion.

There are special privliages reserved for Castle Lords, but to understand the impact you have to truly understand what a Castle Lord is. On my server Sieghardt in Lineage 2, I am the castle lord of Innadril castle, one of 6 possible and 5 currently owned castles on our server. In order to be the castle lord, first I had to help lead and create one of the most powerful clans on the server, then unite enough other powerful clans on the server to support our action of taking the castle. There is very little in MMOG that can reach the level of politics to tame the egos of the most advanced PvP gamers in a strictly PvP game.

Once you take the castle though, then you reap the rewards. For one, that allows me to be one of only 5 players on the entire server (6 possible remember) who can fly dragon, and when I say fly, it really is the most amazing pet style experience in any MMOG thanks to the amazing graphics of the game, and the capability, allowing me to sore to unbelievable heights vertically and travel over almost any land barriar in the game that resticts every other player. I won't even begin to discuss the tactical advantages this gives in almost all areas within a PvP game, but there are tons.

But beyond castles, you also control one of the most powerful economic systems in the games, allowing you to basically manipulate market prices for a wide variety of basic economic materials required by every other player on the server.

Both of those are enormous privliages that are extreamly powerful in terms of gameplay.

The lineage developer helped create that type of MMOG mechanic, so his comments are very interesting to me. In future chronicles for Lineage 2, they are already discussing hero systems avilable to players who achieve enormous accomplishments in game, accomplishments that will no doubt require tons of players to help one individual achieve the status of "hero" thus making that person more powerful than everyone else.

So in effect, there is no equality among gamers, all players are not equal intentionally, and to go further Lineage2 is designed so that the average joe must help make someone else mr. badass. Think about it, basically that would mean in a terra nova VW we would all work hard, pay money, and make possible so that Richard could be dictator of terra nova, assuming he is savy enough to enlist our support.

Anyway, good thread.

35.

>>If you go to Disneyland, you pay a fee to enter then all the rides are free. If you stand in a line and then try to sell your position in line to someone else, you'll get stomped on by high-on-pixie-dust security officers. Yes, a few people will succeed in such transfers, but on the whole the vast majority of visitors to theme parks are pleased that this kind of touting is not permitted.

It's not permitted if YOU do it. But if the parks does it..

Slightly off topic, but Richard, did you know many amusement parks, including Disney, have a method where you can jump the queue? Basically, if you have bought a certain kind of park pass (i.e. paid a little more than the average joe), you can basically get a line reservation time for any given ride, then simply come back at your time and jump the queue of all the people who waited.

Exchanging disposable money for time strikes again!

Xilren

36.

Xilren said, Richard, did you know many amusement parks, including Disney, have a method where you can jump the queue? Basically, if you have bought a certain kind of park pass (i.e. paid a little more than the average joe)...

I don't know about other parks, but at Disney, you don't have to pay extra for this. Any ticket that will get you in the front gate will get you what's called a "FastPass". FastPasses give you an hour window to return during, and when you do you get to jump right to the front of the line, almost always less than a five minute wait, even at the busiest times and for the most popular rides. It doesn't cost anything extra, and the only limitation is that you can only have one FastPass at a time (and the system is linked to your park ticket, so it knows if you've gotten one recently).

In addition, there is nothing to prevent you from giving away your FastPass. I've been on both the giving and the receiving end of a transaction like this, and it tends to make the receiver's day. I've never heard of anyone trying to sell their FastPass, but I would imagine if you were doing so loudly Disney Security would ask you to stop. I hardly think you'd "get stomped on by high-on-pixie-dust security officers" though.

-Samantha, who loves living exactly 14 miles from Disneyland.

37.

Matt Mihaly>I'm super-glad to have Mr. Yoon writing for Terranova, but with all due respect, this whole topic is a bunch of useless academic mental masturbation

Useless except that he's a judge, and has to make decisions in court deroved from such academic mental self-abuse.

Richard

38.

Regarding "academic mental masturbation":

In the area of law, society, humanities and such ideas start off this way and then gets applied. Theoretical discussions on IP laws, virtual rights, RMT, etc are all healthy, and more so on Terra Nova.

Regarding Disney's FastPass:
Don't know the system in details, but doesn't it look like a method of time-division access similar to TDMA mobile phone technology? In application to online games, it's like making an appointment to go on a quest. The alternative is code-division (CDMA) which is similar to instances.

Regarding the implied contract of playing online games:
Certain games are designed and marketed with RMT components and I think not may people have complained about this. The complaints arise when RMT "disrupts" the implied contract/conventions of the game. RMT, while not expicitly adopted, is starting to be implied in the accepted conventions of online gameplay, but this still does not address the relatively risk-free production model of pharming loot for real dollar that give rise to large-scale low-cost producers and distributors.

Regarding Galrahn's view of Lineage 2 and NCSOFT:
The social structure implied/supported in games like Lineage is IMO based on romantic/folklore view of the brotherhood/sisterhood (traditional gender separation) or fellowship (non-gender separated). In ancient North Asian myths and folklores there are lots of stories about how a brotherhood help one of the members to become the warlord, also about how warlords became despotic and authoritarian, and how some of these dynamics play out. And these North Asian dynamics are still playing out now in world politics.

Example: North Korea is an Authoritarian state. The head of the state does not have the power to hold the grip on society by himself, but requires a “brotherhood” of supporters. Ah, guild politics….

Example: China attempted to be a communistic state, but over the last few decades as transformed the political structure to, dare I say, an aristocratic structure and an ideology that it is ok for some to “get rich” first and then putting out policies inviting the merchant class to join the nobility. Something similar occurred with Japan when in the 1800s international trade disrupted the very rigid Shogunate social structure. I can see parallels with the disruption of RMT. Creative Distruction?

To Mike Sellers:
When I state "clean slate", I'm mostly implicating DIKU-copycats in western MMORPG designs :)

Another clean-slate difference is that there are fewer identified popular game states/designs in the genre to build upon and thus the adaptation of locally popular games styles/designs

For example: imagine implementing the design concept and gameplay of GO for a MMORPG like DAOC. What would be the implied strategy and implication of commanding the keeps?

Another example: Shadowbase was one of the earlier western games to secure a license in Asia. In hindsight, I believe that the region liked the design element and could have done well if other elements were as polished and well-executed as WoW.

As for economics, my gut agrees that capitalistic economic environment creates a "rich get richer" Pareto curve as I believe that the capitalistic system makes the best allocation of resources.

However, I also believe that people emotionally prefer equilibrum (even if it is worst or inefficient) to chaotic disruptions.

It's like "either give a full RMT game or a full non-RMT game! Don't give me a bastard! And don't give me a wolf-in-sheep-skin."

Well, that's enough time spent. Can I pay someone to post for me :) Any TerraNovian selling stock answers. A Chinese Menu please.

39.

Uh, apologies for not send it through a spell/grammar checker and editing.

Frank

40.

Everyone seems to overlook an obvious solution : restrict the portability of currency and items in-game to levels impracticable by power-house merchants like IGE, but transparent to the average player (or power gamer even).

Here's an example that could be implemented in WoW:

1. Limit the amount of gold transferrable between accounts, both given and received, to some ceiling amount slightly above what, on average, players exchange per month. Lets say for now, 400 gold.

2. Make a good faith attempt to quantify the currency value of items and subject them to the same restriction ( this might require some occassional manual tweaking. )

3. Subject auctioneering and the mail system to the restriction.

4. Disallow transfers of items through non-trackable means ( passing them across the ground, passing them through an npc vendor).

5. Reset each accounts transactional points every time it's billed.

6. Dynamically adjust the transactional cap amount over time ( 400 gold in this example ) with consideration of the cost of an account fee, to some level which would yield a negligible monetary gain in the secondary market, or even a loss. * This is the critical piece. *

Result :

1. Players who play the game as designed may continue to play and engage in commerce in-game as always - and even sell on the secondary market.

2. However merchants like IGE who wish to engage in bulk transactions and farming activities will find themselves reduced to the level of economic participation as every other player, as their costs for maintaining an active account factor heavily against the potential profits produced by each account.

Conclusion: This will not destroy the secondary market, which is perhaps undesirable anyway, but instead will give the average player greater economic influence versus the power sellers.

If for example, by virtue of my own virtual industriousness, I am able to farm up 500 gold a month, whereas a sweat shop worker farms up 10,800 gold a month - the portability of that wealth for both players is levelized to 400 gold in exchange, per month. Activating additional accounts will only bring incremental advantages to the sweat shop. If the cost of an account fee versus the max cash value of its portable allowance are adjusted finely so that in practice there is little or zero net gain, the industry of the sweat shop is effectively killed.

I can testify that this will work, as it is the primary determinant of whether I personally run any particular macro in a game. Does a particular macro - or manual activity - justify itself when account fees are factored up? I am in this industry myself (I earned $181,000 in 2004 from UO and Lineage II). There are plenty of things I can farm in UO that won't make enough gold to cover the cost of an account, or risk an accounts replacement. If the above system is used, not only would it kill the profitability of sweat shops, it would exponentially increased the ability of the company to track the activity of shops that persist (more accounts required mean greater IP linkage, etc.)

My Motivation : I believe that asian slave wages have nullified any future that automation may have given the tech-saavy entrepreneurs on this side of the pond, so I don't minding sharing my thoughts on this. Its just about time for me to start doing something else. Mass devaluation of game goods from day One as a result of cheap asian labor is now the rule of thumb. Not to mention how the game suffers. If you want to prevent the rise of groups like IGE who aspire to become virtual Wal-Mart's, well here ya go.

The solution is not, in my opinion, alternative economic systems designed to kill or devalue the secondary market, but instead to bring levelized participation in the market through the introduction of technologically enforceable restrictions on the portability of wealth. I don't think your players would mind the secondary market if it had an aspect of fairness about it.

Suppose Blizzard implemented this system overnight. Here's the math :

If you can only earn, suppose maybe $40 a month per account maximum because you have a 400 gold transactional limit , irrespective of how well or how long you work the game - then how many accounts will a sweat shop need just to keep one WoW workstation busy all month? If they can farm 15 gold per hour as they claim, they'll need TWENTY-SEVEN accounts in order to transfer away to buyers the 10,800 gold they'd earn working hot-seat over the course of a month. 27 accounts will cost them $405 a month in fees. The workers are currently getting 56 cents per hour, which total $403 a month for 24 hour a day shiftwork. 10,800 gold will sell for $972 at current prices, maybe $875 after eBay and PayPal fees. $875 minus the $808 for labor and account fees means one worker yields $67 a month profit. Not worth doing!

So what happens? The cash value of gold increases in response to the restrictions, but is mitigated by the fact that players can continue to earn gold themselves and exchange it within reasonable levels. Gold value approaches the price of an average players difficulty in creating it in the american market. :)

Thoughts anyone?

41.

The original contention seems to be that capitalist economies are imposed unrealistically on seemingly medieval communities. Rather more interesting to me is what about medieval communities is realistically imposed.

As some have said here, the list of parallels between online worlds and the medieval communities they represent might be short. However, I am coming to believe that one of the most telling components of mmorpgs -- social relationships -- are indeed quite medieval in form, particularly at the highest levels of play.

Some parallels: Mmmorpg social realtionships are male-dominated and male-determined. These relationships are determined more often by might than by right. And these social relationships are very much determined by the guild. (The Pargman/Eriksson paper, presented at Digra 2005, had an interesting spin on this.)

And all this in spite of, it seems, the widespread tendency (which I would translate as desire) of mmorpg players to play solo -- see the recent Play On postings.

RMT may well pose a threat to the virtual world barons similar to that of a Peasant’s Revolt, in which case, comparisons are more aptly made using, say, the Statute of Labourers than the Disney FastPass.

42.

Mithra -

I wanted to give you some feedback on your suggestion (since you asked!).

I consider myself a classic example of why WoW has been successful: Never really played online games because they were too time-consuming. Got hooked on WoW. Brought a lot of friends along for the ride. A guild of 30-somethings. Who knew?

Anyway, I'm maybe a medium-core player these days. I finally got a level 60 (after about six months of playing) and play fairly regularly, but am not sufficiently devoted enough to do the raid content.

I would not like your proposed system for a number of reasons. And I'd probably try to break it. And if that is how a noob like me feels, I can only imagine what the veterans would do.

First of all, the cap is already too low for me. A nice guildmate of mine has promised to buy my epic mount for me if I ever get 800 gold. He's a PvPer, so he gets a discount on the price (100 gold less than me!) With your "transfer limit," he wouldn't be able to help me. I recently loaned about 400 gold to a guildie who wanted to bid on a beloved item (something called a Krol blade. Whatever - I'm a caster). With your limit, that would be all the transfers I could do for a month, so I wouldn't have done it. (He lost the bid by the way, so he had to transfer the 400 BACK to me, impossible under your system).

I'm guessing if the transfer limit is so low that someone like me would be affected, the "powergamers" would really notice it.

I also question the whole idea of "quantifying" and restricting the value of items. For me, it is fun to either try to go get valuable stuff to make money, or find ways to earn a living off the auction house. Price spikes are sometimes really random - a new enchantment or quest comes out and something goes through the roof. If you started putting artificial caps on stuff in the name of stopping RMT people, you would also stop me. I basically wouldn't bother using the Auction House anymore. Part of the fun is when Black Pristine Diamonds become outrageously expensive, or oddball items like the Orb of Deception (purely a toy - has no practical worth whatsoever) go for crazy amounts of money, just because people want them.

I would certainly try to break your system. For example, if the auction house told me that I'm not allowed to sell Righteous Orbs for more than five gold (the kind of restriction I'm guessing you are thinking of, price caps), I would just stop using the Auction House entirely, and sell my items using the trade channel. Oh, I would make sure to buy out any Orbs anyone was foolish enough to list, but that wouldn't be hard at all. And once I hit my 400 gold, I would do silly things like make you pay friends or guildies of mine, or send it to alts or whatever.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. Don't mean to sound negative, just thinking how much I would be unhappy about that kind of system. And for someone like me (who really doesn't notice RWT in my little world), you'd really annoy me, since you'd be "solving" a problem I don't see.

43.

I have to agree that this issue is a SEVERE non-starter.

Just sticking to the issue of "rights":

People did not have a right to free speech back in Medieval times either.

Should we start exerting massive control over people being allowed to express opinions about things inside the MMO as well?

People did not have freedom of movement either. Should we let groups of players completely prevent others from accessing parts of the game? Not likely.

44.

I still remember the days, not so long ago, when the industry was holding its breath in anticipation of the first 'professional video gamers.' There they are.

The REAL issue with RMT is 'Who controls what happens during a game, is it the designers/rulemakers, or the players?

Many players no longer consider RMT to be cheating, they say are simply playing in a way that pleases them, instead of instead of conforming to 'what the designers intended.'

Success in a MMORPG requires a tiny investment of money and a huge investment of time. Why not balance those out a little more? There is obviously more money being made from these games, and the designers aren't the ones who are getting it.

People are handing over real cash in order to avoid playing the game. Doesn't that mean that 1) much of the game isn't fun, and 2) if it isn't fun, people must be playing them for some other reason?


The comments to this entry are closed.