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Aug 08, 2005

Comments

1.

But regardless of income generated, do keep in mind that third-party auctions ARE a significant source of customer service problems. Taking auctions in-house means everything can be tracked and kept secure, while going through eBay leads to impossible he said/she said scenerios any time somebody pays but doesn't have the item delivered. That's half the reason the "no selling anything" rules are there in the first place -- to allow the CS folks an easy out when they get complaints about such scams. The fact it's "in the spirit of the game" is just a bonus.

Given that a fair portion of that monthly fee you pay is going towards an army of CS people, trimming problems like this down is time worth taking. If you can charge an eBay-like fee while you're at it, of course you will.

Whether the existance of this market to begin with is a good or bad thing, I dunno. Obviously the players want it, and want it badly enough to risk being banned when they take part.

2.

Just a though while having my morning coffee. How about implementing a visible tracker for each avatar so everyone can see the amount of money a player put into it. This of course requires that all the money-for-stuff-trading is done in-house. I don't think the real problem is that there are some people who paid a lot for their characters, it's more about that you never know who's been "cheating". This way you could even create servers free from money-avatars and still reap some good income from those who want to level up fast or just wear some fancy dresses. The players and guilds (or whatever) that have non-money-avatars would of course get most kudos.

3.

"But those seeking a level playing field, where success relies purely on skill and dedication, may soon be left high and dry, dreaming of a fantasy world."

This is blown out of proportion. To be successful requires that you simply be sociable more than anything else. Buying gear can put you ahead but not by a significant amount and never to the level of someone who has 50 friends and plays every night.

4.

Several things. First, why is it that game companies continue to get taken to task for...gasp! trying to make money? This has been a consistent fuel for various flamewars on various boards for years. I wouldn't really have expected a post *here* to expect that apparently game companies ought to make decisions based on the "genius of the market" (which, what is that, anyway?)

Second, to expand on Van Mardian, above, I think pretty much any player of pretty much any game would refute this statement, regardless of the presence of RMTs: "success relies purely on skill and dedication" - there is a reason "FTW" is so common it's been acronymed.

Some level of skill, and certainly some level of dedication, but one of the most constant topics of game design debate is the varying levels of skill and varying levels of dedication of various players and how to handle it - it's the ever-present "casual gamers" problem.

Third, I honestly believe that it is a mistake for the developers to get into the RMT business, but not because RMT stifles the "genius of the market." Because while Terazilla is certainly correct about existing costs, what has not yet been calculated is the cost of doing this kind of business as a legitimate, public company. I don't think we'll be ABLE to calculate that until we see the first major security breach in one of the systems. Also, what people don't seem to see is that systems like SOE's will probably ADD value to the black market products because the black market doesn't have the same kind of restrictions as the white market - server limitations being the best current example.

Fourth, as I spoke about on my own site, I don't think players hate gold purchases all that much, actually, especially in extremely resource-strapped games like WoW. I think players hate buying *characters,* which I also don't think is nearly as widespread as some people believe. Gold-for-cash is so acceptable in WoW that players have little to no qualms about stating that they have bought gold, which would certainly not be the case if those players expected an outcry.

There is a MASSIVE lack of differentiation between RMTs of characters and RMTs of other stuff, which I think is a huge problem. They are very different beasts. The game environments and their idiosyncracies are also totally ignored. For example, there is no PvP in EQ2. It is very likely that if there was a PvP "endgame" in EQ2, SOE would not have been able to launch their service, or if they did, it would be very different. Players that will take bought characters for PvE will scream bloody murder about bought characters for PvP.

We have ZERO examination of:

- Contexts in which RMTs are taking place, including sales of high-level characters to gold farms versus "real" players

- Player motivation in different games

- What is being purchased for different games

- Player cultural developments and reactions to RMT in different games

...and many, many other things. All RMTs are not equal, and all contexts for RMTs are not equal. This debate is being held in a very, very noisy vacuum, but the argument is already being played out in a number of venues.

5.

YABBCAARMTOTN

"It's about the c***...um, principle of the thing, or the genius of the market, or something."

So, I have a question. Since when was it immoral for a company to seek profits? Since when did we throw out 200+ years of economics in favor a business equivalent of academic puristic cronyism. Why is it so flippin hard for a company like Sony to justify experimenting with their product offerings? Isn't this what they are suppose to do? Follow economic signals? Seek to build a better product based on those signals? How big do the economic signals have to get before academics and journalists sprinkle their holy water of approval and allow a game company to try to build a better mousetrap? $500M, $1B, $10B. I think everyone already agrees that the signals are at least $200M today.

Let's remember, this was not a universal change, it was on a select number of *new* servers, and as far as I can tell, the hardest part to-date has not been building the better mousetrap, it's been trying to defend the *Right* to build it, in the press and on blogs like TerraNova.

-bruce

6.

I'd say "economic signals" is exactly how I saw this situation too. If you think of the world economy as a complex dialog, when people spend hundreds of millions of dollars on something that is "the public" saying to "the companies", basically, "Hey, we have an unfulfilled desire of some kind and we're willing to spend a bunch money to satisfy it."

The problem arises mainly because there's not a "natural segragation" or customers who have incompatible desires. Country clubs that run a golf course don't have to worry about softball players running out there with bats and balls and irritating the golfers by trying to play softball there. They'll all be on a softball field somewhere instead. But in online games, I remember as far back as 1992 seeing big "culture clash" problems on one of the MUCKs. Many people felt the MUCK was for roleplaying only and no breaking character and talking about real life. Others thought it was a big chat program with costumes and it was ok to talk about movies, what they had for lunch, etc. at any time.

I noticed that themed areas with established cliques and purposes didn't have much of this fighting - it was in the central, default start areas that were the biggest public hangouts, and didn't have any policy or theme clearly established. When we set up Furcadia, we made sure to have areas clearly designated for socializing, for light roleplay, and for serious roleplay. When there got to be a problem with "adult" themed areas & players butting heads with those not interested (or even disgusted), we quickly set up two areas for adult themes. One for sexual ones, and one for violence and gore. At first we had to force a few groups into there, away from our most popular upload map - but once it gained momentum, it quickly became the place every adult themed area wanted to be linked from. (Interestingly, the violence/gore area has stayed mostly empty.)

Anyway Sony has certainly made a clean dividing line for "people that don't mind RMT games" and "people that don't want to be on a game where the publisher is involved in RMT". It will be interesting to see, over time, whether demand from their players will lead most of their servers to support RMT, or not to.

Of course they aren't the "purest" of divisions there, as the existing servers will continue to have a thriving black market, and players can really only choose "black market only" or "black market plus Sony" servers. I think this is really something to blame mainly on the game design itself. Treadmill games demand scarcity of high-level content/items for maximum number of months per player before they unsubscribe, and Everquest goes further with this than most. Artificial ultra-scarcity breeds a market where items will fetch hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars of real world cash. Especially when part of the way you "pay" for items otherwise is through huge, huge numbers of man-hours of play time. Our design on Furcadia, by contrast, leads to almost all transactions between players being in the tens of dollars, there's a lot less of them, and the things gained don't give someone a competitive advantage in "scoring" on any sort of game mechanic. So player complaints that "other people can buy stuff" are comparatively few.

Making a game where buying an advantage is an inherent, predictable result of combining game mechanics (A) with human nature (B), and then getting all upset that people are buying an advantage strikes me as extremely silly. If you don't want games where people will buy an advantage - design and program some that have an entirely different goal structure, reward system, and "nature of reality" going on. Meanwhile, don't yell at a platypus for being platypus-like. It's in its nature.

Our industry's problem is that about the only model it's found for making Big Bucks is the treadmill MMORPG - unless you remember that things like casual card games, word games, etc. are online games and COULD be considered part of our industry and are bringing in a far huger audience than the hardcore games. :) I hear Habbo Hotel has something like four million players now, but you won't often hear it mentioned in the same circles where Everquest and WoW and UO are discussed.

One other point I'd like to mention. On the other end of the spectrum, where "buying an advantage" isn't just an option for some, but the core of the game for most... Magic: The Gathering has done quite well for years now, bringing in enough money for them to even buy the publisher of the venerable old Dungeons and Dragons that all our single player RPGs and MMORPGs trace their roots to. One of my housemates recently got on the online version of Magic, which makes its revenues entirely from selling virtual cards (and some tournament entry fees). I'm really curious whether anyone has recent usage numbers or revenue numbers for Magic Online? Only thing I've found so far is some numbers from 2003 in a Wired article.

-- Dr. Cat

7.

The whole gold medal thing is really bad and doesn't fit. The items they're buying in these games are far more like BMWs or whatever the best performance car is, not special awards for certain tasks. And you can definitely buy cars.

8.

But some people buy cars as medals to show off anyway. SO either way the stupid ass gold medal argument breaks down. How dare you waste my time with that crap. I'm really furious about this.

9.

Richard B. said:

"Most of the players hate this kind of activity, really, really hate it."

Seriously, who are these "most of the players"? The vocal ones?

Has any one done a general survey of player opinion? I don't trust Sony's results either, but all I have is my intuition, and the people I know who are customers of or sellers to IGE or the like. It's not something you commonly discuss, and if so, I'd say it's not most who are opposed.

10.

One thing that is getting to players though is the link between illegal 3rd party programs within a game and currency farmers, I know in Lineage 2 for example the link is a major topic for the North American playerbase, it used to be an enormous problem in EQ, and it is apart of the discussion for RMT and WoW.

I don't think most gamers care whether or not RMT is present within their game, most gamers aren't as idiolistic as is assumed by the original poster, but when there is a relationship between bots/scripters/cheaters and RMT, thats when gamers begin to get emotional.

Oh well, I was the guy who claimed IGE has partnerships established with a major game corporation in North America, and while I still believe it is absolutely true, the announcement I expected to see never happened. So maybe there still are stigma's to the RMT image that go beyond a vocal minority.

11.

Gawd, I spoke to them for over an hour on camera, and my 15 seconds of fame is the tail end of a rant...

Richard

12.

Martin Im wrote:

Just a though while having my morning coffee. How about implementing a visible tracker for each avatar so everyone can see the amount of money a player put into it. This of course requires that all the money-for-stuff-trading is done in-house. I don't think the real problem is that there are some people who paid a lot for their characters, it's more about that you never know who's been "cheating". This way you could even create servers free from money-avatars and still reap some good income from those who want to level up fast or just wear some fancy dresses. The players and guilds (or whatever) that have non-money-avatars would of course get most kudos.

If people actually cared about the distinction, all this would lead to is people going back to the black market since those transactions won't be tracked.

Anyway, as a player, whether someone bought something with money is no more important than whether a friend twinked them with gifts. There's no difference.

--matt

13.

I have a problem with RMT when the server I'm playing on becomes unstable due to it. (For example, exploiters purposefully causing crashes to duplicate items.) While it's true that anyone could use the exploit to enrich their characters, my guess is that it gets taken much further when real money is on the line and the person in question has no emotional attachment to their character.

14.

Dr. Cat>when people spend hundreds of millions of dollars on something that is "the public" saying to "the companies", basically, "Hey, we have an unfulfilled desire of some kind and we're willing to spend a bunch money to satisfy it."

So what would you suggest the people do whose unfulfilled desire is to play a virtual world without RMT?

>It will be interesting to see, over time, whether demand from their players will lead most of their servers to support RMT, or not to.

I agree, but in part the answer lies in how hard they clamp down on RMT in the non-exchange servers. If they make no more effort now than they did before, the players on those servers will be no better off and could eventually decide to give up. This may, of course, be what SOE is hoping for...

>I think this is really something to blame mainly on the game design itself.

I don't. There are plenty of smaller games that people can play which have artificial scarcity, but no-one in Settlers of Catan pays real money for game wood. The problem is that with this number of players, the magic circle is extremely difficult to hold, and people have different ideas of what the game rules are anyway (they might think that RMT is fine, as indeed it is for some games, eg. Furcadia).

You could blame the architecture rather than the design if you wanted. If, instead of having 2,500 simultaneous players per server, EQ had only 250 simultaneous (and 10 times the number of servers), this would make it much harder for RMTers to turn a profit. Transfers across server boundaries can only occur with developer consent, so RMTing can only occur within that much smaller population. It could well be that there isn't enough critical mass to sustain it at that level.

Blaming game design for bad gameplay is fair enough, and there are many charges that virtual world designers have to answer there. I don't think it's fair to say that a game design is wrong if people decide not to play by its rules, though. They must think it's right from a game point of view, otherwise they'd play some other game instead.

>If you don't want games where people will buy an advantage - design and program some that have an entirely different goal structure, reward system, and "nature of reality" going on.

Yes, but what if I don't want that kind of game? What if I want the exact kind of game I already have, except without any of the people who spoil it by RMTing? There are plenty of real-world games in which people can buy an advantage: you can take steroids for sports, or have tendon-moving surgery, or use a weighted bat, or bribe the referee. The difference is, these will get you jailed if you try them, whereas with virtual worlds the game design is criticised.

>unless you remember that things like casual card games, word games, etc. are online games and COULD be considered part of our industry and are bringing in a far huger audience than the hardcore games. :)

They do, but do they make more money?

That's a genuine question, by the way - I don't know if they make more money, except in the case of poker (which makes tons, but will only do so while player confidence remains intact).

>On the other end of the spectrum, where "buying an advantage" isn't just an option for some, but the core of the game for most...

This is fine. Games that are designed for RMT can exist and prosper. The problem is the games not designed for RMT which get it anyway.

Richard

15.

On Matt Mihalys comment:

There might always be a black market but I do think game design and the lower risk in-house trading would mean can minmize the size of it.

I'm not sure how big a problem players see RMT as, I just wanted to spill some thoughts on how easily it would be to satisfy both the puritans and the money spenders. Already having multiple accounts, which is widely accepted, gives you an advantage of course.

I do think, without saying we're in that situation, it could be a problem if RMT created a rift between those who can spend real money and those who can't. In a situation where a lot of people use RMT to climb faster on the game ladder the designers need to make the game more difficult. Reaching the end game too fast and too easy would probably shorten the life span of the game. The players who can't spend good money on having the best equipment and so on could then find the game development curve too steep. And surely there are players who quit games because they tired of people botting or exploiting their way to success, RMT is just another option. Using "economic signals" as Dr. Cat puts it is for me just a possible way to increase the potential of the market. But since it hasn't been tried we can't be sure if it works, maybe the players would hate it.

And sorry for not realizing that SOE already implemented part of this idea, I'm looking forward to see the effects it has.

16.

There is an interesting article related to all of this that I read recently:

http://plaguelands.com/?page_id=172

A player found a way to dupe items in EQ2 and by the end of the story he winds up making a large amount of real world money from selling duped game cash to the companies that deal in this kind of thing. The article ends on a rather telling note:

"P.S. Sorry for ruining the economy and all that."

If there was no way of using RMT to make real money out of this would the player in question have exploited it quite so badly? I suppose this is hard to tell but I'm pretty sure that he wouldn't have spread it over (and thus had a negative impact on) quite so many servers because there would have been no point. The turning point appears to be:

"I checked the prices on PA, they were rediculous. 300 for a platinum. We were pulling platinum out of thin air. We set up some Player auctions and started selling. The first day of sales we made five hundred dollars and I felt that was plenty to cover the emotional damages I might incur if I were to lose my EQ2 character. Little did I know this was pennies compared to what we’d become."

Prior to this the players in question had just been using their duped game cash to purchase expensive items, outfit their characters well and so on. once they started making real money they upped production vastly, spread it over different servers and also went to more lengths to keep the bug secret.

17.

Bruce Boston>So, I have a question. Since when was it immoral for a company to seek profits?

Since they made the refining and sale of heroin illegal.

Richard

18.

Richard Bartle wrote:

Since they made the refining and sale of heroin illegal.

He said immoral, not illegal. The two are barely related.

--matt

19.

Richard Bartle wrote:

Dr. Cat>when people spend hundreds of millions of dollars on something that is "the public" saying to "the companies", basically, "Hey, we have an unfulfilled desire of some kind and we're willing to spend a bunch money to satisfy it."

So what would you suggest the people do whose unfulfilled desire is to play a virtual world without RMT?

I'd suggest they go play on one of the well over a thousand virtual worlds where RMT isn't an issue. If those weren't available, then I'd suggest they either accept that the world doesn't revolve around their individual specific desires and play a game that has RMT or they find a new hobby. Exactly the same as for those players who want serious roleplaying. What do they do? They either go play on small virtual worlds or suck it up and accept that the large virtual worlds aren't going to cater to their every desire.



Transfers across server boundaries can only occur with developer consent, so RMTing can only occur within that much smaller population. It could well be that there isn't enough critical mass to sustain it at that level.

You just said you don't blame the design, but here you're saying that the design is what stops RMT between servers. Letting people trade items on one server is just as much a design decision as letting people trade items between servers.



>If you don't want games where people will buy an advantage - design and program some that have an entirely different goal structure, reward system, and "nature of reality" going on.

Yes, but what if I don't want that kind of game? What if I want the exact kind of game I already have, except without any of the people who spoil it by RMTing?

Then you either find one to play or you don't. What if I want the exact kind of game I already have, except without spoiling it by using dwarves or the color green? Those preferences are no more or less valid than disliking RMT.


There are plenty of real-world games in which people can buy an advantage: you can take steroids for sports, or have tendon-moving surgery, or use a weighted bat, or bribe the referee. The difference is, these will get you jailed if you try them, whereas with virtual worlds the game design is criticised.

Those methods will get you jailed, as would getting caught paying a hacker to break into Sony's computers to credit your account with virtual items. On the other hand, those sports you're referring to already permit and encourage people to spend money to get advantages. Why do you think the Yankees win so often? One reason: they're in the largest baseball market and so have the most money to spend on making their team better (baseball does not do revenue sharing, like football). Funny how the much-more-wealthy Japanese motorcycle companies dominate the Italian motorcycle companies at MotoGP too. Why? More money to spend building better prototypes for their riders to ride. And that's a competition too in which there is a defintive winner.

I enjoy taking my sportbike to the racetrack, for instance, but what does it matter to me if someone has spent the money to buy a more expensive and more powerful bike? I'm not in a race. I'm in an experience. Someone else passing me because they spent more money on a better bike (rider skill being equal) doesn't matter.

Why don't you seem to complain about people's friends giving them things? In both that case and RMT, the "magic circle" is being broken by an out-of-game resource (money or friendship) to twink a character.

--matt

20.

Richard Bartle> So what would you suggest the people do whose unfulfilled desire is to play a virtual world without RMT?

Well some of them would be easier to satisfy than others. For someone who wants a world without RMT, but doesn't happen to also want competition, goals, fighting, being richer than others, etc. I'd send them to a chat-based virtual world. For someone who wants all the classic D&D style goals and advancement, but doesn't feel the need for other players to interact with, single player RPGs work better - there's nobody else to interfere with your process of conquering everything, or to make you look worse by comparison by inconveniently doing better than you're doing. For people who want loot AND other people, but they're comfortable with maybe 3-6 other people, I'd say Diablo or Neverwinter Nights, where they can maintain the "magic circle" as you put it. Especially if they're interested in gaming with existing friends more than making new friends. Maybe Guild Wars is good for this too - haven't tried it yet. The more "instance-oriented" a game gets, the less it's going to be "spoiled" by those thousands of other players doing things that impact your gameplay. The original Phantasy Star Online was all "instanced" except for the initial lobby where you'd hook up to form a party of four, it would be another potential answer.

The big problem lies with the people who DO want a big world with thousands of other people in it, the opportunities to make new friends and have a lot of people to choose them from, to have a lot of people to compete against, to have a complex online economy with many to wheel and deal goods and services in, to join big guilds with dozens or hundreds of members, etc. etc. etc. In a nutshell, the people who want a game like Everquest, but they want it to be better than it is now, in various ways - such as no RMT in this case.

I'd say, ironically, that their best hope is something like the Station Exchange. I note that there's significant numbers of people who want "a game like Everquest, and with RMT allowed". There's also many who want "a game like Everquest, with no RMT allowed". Naturally, both of these types of people will flock to, well, Everquest. (Or maybe WoW these days, but substitute any treadmill game name in you like.)

It reminds me a lot of those in Furcadia that want the game free of any sexually-themed material, and those who want it to have some sexual material in it. We solved the problem by segregating them sufficiently that, for the most part, they can easily avoid each other entirely. Ocassionally someone will still ask us to remove the R-rated area from the game. What I tell them is that it's not a choice between having that place, or having no sex in the game. It's a choice between what we have now, or having the sex scattered all over the most popular PG rated areas we have now, the way it was before. Which is analogous to all the games that currently mix the RMT and anti-RMT players. IF Sony can move most of the RMT activity, especially the high-dollar and high-volume cases, onto the exchange servers, the people on the existing servers might find that RMT activity is reduced to a much lower level, and they may enjoy the game more. I wouldn't expect they could move it ALL off, but if they could move 80% of it, or even 90% or more, I'm sure that'd benefit the players whose desires you're asking after.

I'm not sure this is a viable solution in this case, though. Segregating RPers vs. Socializers, or Perverts vs. Squeaky Clean types, that's fairly easy because they stand out to each other like a sore thumb, and the effects of what they do have immediate impact when they do them, and many/most of them dislike those impacts strongly. When it comes to RMT, it's often not obvious which of the people you see in-game have ever bought or sold anything. The negative effects are less immediate in nature, more subtle, and more a collective result of the actions of many rather than an easily quantifiable result of something you saw happen right in front of you like sex, RPing, or OOC chatting.

In addition, I think that along with those that are strongly anti-RMT (or strongly pro), there are a large number of people who only weakly oppose or support it, and another large number who are mostly indifferent. That makes it harder to segregate the population according to behavior, as someone who makes a one-time $20 purchase of game currency to help them zoom past the lower levels on their new alt may not care enough about the issue to relocate themselves to an "RMT officially ok sever" rather than just purchasing from the black market.

It's only if there's a true feeling amongst a large number of people that "We want a 100% non-RMT Everquest server and we want it yesterday" that it becomes really viable to make that happen. And I'm not sure that's really the case. If there were 100,000 people who signed a huge petition and hand-delivered it to Sony's front door saying "We want you to set up ANOTHER new server and it's focused on non-RMT players", Sony could set up a new server tomorrow. Presumably most RMT-desiring players wouldn't bother to go there, given the choice of staying on the server they're on now, or moving to an "Exchange enabled" server. The problem is, there's what people will TELL you they want, and there's what they'll actually do, buy, or vote for when the time comes. Many people will also say they hate that they have to grind for hundreds of hours to get the ultra-rare magic sword, after trying 8 previous times and failing or seeing someone else snag it. But many of those same people will DO it, spend years and hundreds of dollars on Everquest so they can do it, and will disdain to play rival games that make it easier to get the top loot because THEIR magic sword doesn't seem special enough or boast-worthy enough.

There's also a problem of perception. If you "mostly" solve the problem that might not do, or even if you totally solve it! When people can't and don't know exactly what's going on, if they imagine a problem is there, they can and will complain about it endlessly and be unhappy about it. Even if that's not really what's going on.

To give another example - Furcadia has maybe half a million character names in use, currently. If you try to make a new character and use a common first name or a common single word noun (or adjective), it's probably not going to be available. We also have "Alt hoarders". (See http://designrave.com/alts/ for instance.) Since characters are free to make, some people grab as many as a few hundred names. Some of them like to trade or sell these. Our new account system should reduce this activity some, but over the past couple years we've had numerous complaints from players. Mainly because people think "They're hoarding all the 'good' names and that's why the rest of us can't get them!" Me, I see the real numbers. There's about 250 really hardcore alt hoarders/traders, out of a population of 50,000 or so players. The vast majority of our players have 10 characters or less, and between them all, they have most of the names currently in use. If we were to wipe out all the characters held by "hoarders", I imagine of the 50 people desperately wanting a name like "Harry Potter", we'd get one luckily grabbing it first, and 49 people STILL not getting what they want and muttering that it's because of name hoarders.

Economies fluctuate a lot on their own, without RMT interfering. It's easy for someone trying to make money buying and selling stuff lose their shirt, see the demand (and price) plummet for the goods they craft, or wanting to buy some magic item only to see the in-game price go way up before they get it. Do they know whether the problem they have was due to RMT effects on the economy, or just natural supply and demand and game mechanics? No. But give them a good scapegoat, and everyone's happy to have a "villain" to rant about. Given that the game's "ultimate big boss you kill when you max out your level" has reliable walkthroughs on the web explaining how to kill him, these player-villains can easily become the favored choice of "things to rant about". (The other favored target being the developers of the game, especially right after a nerf.) I sometimes like to imagine that maybe there's only 20 or 30 real asian gold farmers, and about a million players in the USA all ranting "My character's latest economic woes were caused by those guys". I'm sure the actual numbers aren't as skewed as that - but neither do I think the overall impact of asian gold farmers on World of Warcraft, say, is as high as the complaining players assume it is. I also suspect the vast majority of asian gold farmers are farming on asian game servers and selling stuff to other asians in Asia. :)

Anyway, if you did away with most (or all) RMT, players would still complain some amount that the problems in the economy must be due to it. (And keep complaining about the developer nerfs). In a highly competitive, partly greed-fulfillment-based game design like Everquest, you're always going to get some level of complaining that something was unfair or too hard or both. (Unless you gave all players access to all loot and items instantly from moment one, in which case you'd see a mass exoduse of players because the game was too easy, and many complaints about that easiness problem.) I also think that there's another economic problem in most games that've ever been made, which is that the developers aren't able to create a really well balanced economy. Even years after designers recognized the common problem of "mudflation" and gave it a name, almost ALL of the biggest online treadmill type games still have it. The best satisfaction for the anti-RMT type players would come if the underlying economy, once RMT was removed from it, was crafted to be exquisitely balanced and long-term stable. But I think we're a long way from accomplishing that.

I have seen some early indication that Second Life's economy may be more balanced than the treadmill type games. Judging, at least, by the stability of exchange rates between game currencies and real world currency. I do think it's a LOT easier to balance the economy in a game that's fundamentally an attention economy rather than a acquisition based (or call it a "phat loot based") economy. Time will tell. Of course for the niche of a few million people that prefer a combat/treadmill/acquisition based game economy, the question of how to balance that best still remains a quite valuable one. I would love to do some research into an economy like Neopets and see where it fits into the big picture. Or better still, I'd rather see someone like Dr. Castronova or Nick Yee research it, so I could just read the summaries. :) Of course I still want to see numbers on Magic Online, Gaia Online, Habbo Hotel, Runescape, and more on the RMT markets in Korea. "So little time, so much to know". But I think Neopets is an important case study in particular, if we knew more about what's going on in there. And I wonder sometimes if Neopoints don't get traded more often for items in other online games than they do for actual cash! Sure seems that way anecdotally.

21.

Richard Bartle:
Since they made the refining and sale of heroin illegal.

Matt:
He said immoral, not illegal. The two are barely related.

Never thought there was a question as to whether RMTs were legal or not. Do we really have to digress the discussion all the way back to the legality of the issue?

Richard, are you accusing Sony of committing the equivalent of a class D felony by facilitating RMTs? Are you suggesting that federal/state authorities ought to get involved here? Do you really think a 'crime' is being committed?

Aren't you the guy that has repeatedly argued that Developers should be free to create any world/product/service they want? Wasn't it Dr. Bartle that argued last year at State of Play that there was no sort of RL regulation that could be written that he couldn't design a VW with good reason to argue against that very piece of regulation?

Now, what? That argument wasn't applicable to Sony? Because? Are you now arguing that Sony doesn't have the right to build a world facilitated with RMT? And in fact is committing a class D felony equivalent to the refining and sale of heroin (to kids no doubt)? Because?

It's too bad that we can't have a progressive discussion here, and instead we find ourselves on the meandering MMORPG blog treadmill.

Richard Bartle:
So what would you suggest the people do whose unfulfilled desire is to play a virtual world without RMT?

Ask Sony to kindly open a RP server with trades/auctions/(maybe trade skills) disabled? If I could make one suggestion? Maybe retract the felony accusation before you ask?

-bruce

22.

Bruce Boston>Richard, are you accusing Sony of committing the equivalent of a class D felony by facilitating RMTs?

No, but I was saying that there are some thing which it is immoral for a business to do. You asked since when it was immoral for a company to seek profits, and I was just pointing out that it depends where they seek profits as to whether it's immoral or not.

Sony isn't peddling drugs to impressionable teenagers, but if it sought profits doing that would it be immoral? Yes it would.

>Are you suggesting that federal/state authorities ought to get involved here? Do you really think a 'crime' is being committed?

Not at all. I only made that remark as an answer to your apparent suggestion that it never has been and never will be immoral for a company to seek profits.

As to whether allowing RMT is immoral or not, that's a different issue.

Me>So what would you suggest the people do whose unfulfilled desire is to play a virtual world without RMT?

Bruce>Ask Sony to kindly open a RP server with trades/auctions/(maybe trade skills) disabled?

And would that stop the likes of IGE from undertaking RMT for that server? It never has in the past.

If people want an RP server, yes, Sony can give them one. That's not going to make it an RP server, though, unless they crack down on any RMT that occurs in it.

>If I could make one suggestion? Maybe retract the felony accusation before you ask?

I didn't make any felony accusations. I didn't evem mention Sony. You made up all that yourself.

Richard

23.

Matt Mihaly>I'd suggest they go play on one of the well over a thousand virtual worlds where RMT isn't an issue.

But they have social capital involved in the games they play already.

>I'd suggest they either accept that the world doesn't revolve around their individual specific desires and play a game that has RMT or they find a new hobby.

The world doesn't revolve around the individual spoecific desires of the RMTers either, but that doesn't stop them from coming into non-RMT worlds and RMTising them.

>You just said you don't blame the design, but here you're saying that the design is what stops RMT between servers.

I'd call that more implementation than design, but yes, there are design implications for it.

>What if I want the exact kind of game I already have, except without spoiling it by using dwarves or the color green? Those preferences are no more or less valid than disliking RMT.

There's a difference in that if you did find a game without the colour green, you know that no player is going to come along and introduce the colour green to that world. If you don't like RMT, you don't have that luxury: RMTers can come along are introduce it whether you or the rest of the player base like it or not.

>I'm not in a race. I'm in an experience. Someone else passing me because they spent more money on a better bike (rider skill being equal) doesn't matter.

But some people ARE in a race, not in an experience, and they'll get VERY upset if you were to spend more money on a better bike to the extent that it broke the specifications for that race (eg. it was a truck).

>Why don't you seem to complain about people's friends giving them things?

Occasionally I do, but not as much. It really depends on whether the game was designed for twinking or not.

Richard

24.

Dr. Cat>The more "instance-oriented" a game gets, the less it's going to be "spoiled" by those thousands of other players doing things that impact your gameplay.

It's not other people impacting gameplay that's the problem (although sometimes I wonder...), it's people impacting the gameplay with non-gameplay devices such as RMT.

>In a nutshell, the people who want a game like Everquest, but they want it to be better than it is now, in various ways - such as no RMT in this case.

This is the big problem, yes. Many of the new virtual worlds being designed by small operations are in a response to correcting perceived flaws in EQ's design, or making improvements to it. They're not going to have much luck if they try to design out RMT while sticking with the EQ model, though, because RMT subverts that model. They could of course design their game so that RMT is not a problem, but this may mean changes so severe that they wouldn't get any players as a result.

>I'd say, ironically, that their best hope is something like the Station Exchange.

So would I, if SOE made an effort to protect the non-RMT nature of those servers. I suspect, however, that they won't put any more into it than they did before introducing the Station Exchange. After all, a business person might figure that if they can get everyone on a Station Exchange server, they'd make more money.

>We solved the problem by segregating them sufficiently that, for the most part, they can easily avoid each other entirely.

That works in Furcadia because there's no reason why people of either group would want to interfere with one another's play. With RMT in EQ-like games, there is a reason: people on a non-RMT server who buy a character can seek kudos for having worked it up to its current level when they've done no such thing.

>IF Sony can move most of the RMT activity, especially the high-dollar and high-volume cases, onto the exchange servers, the people on the existing servers might find that RMT activity is reduced to a much lower level, and they may enjoy the game more.

This is what I'd hope would happen, but it's not going to stop farmers from monopolising resources and forcing people who want those resources to buy them from the farmers.

>When it comes to RMT, it's often not obvious which of the people you see in-game have ever bought or sold anything.

Yes, which is precisely why some people do it. They can exercise bragging rights they shouldn't have.

>In addition, I think that along with those that are strongly anti-RMT (or strongly pro), there are a large number of people who only weakly oppose or support it, and another large number who are mostly indifferent.

I agree. Furthermore, the longer RMTing goes on, the more likely people are to see it as part and parcel of what virtual worlds are. In the long term, though, this means we're only going to get virtual worlds with RMT elements, which is fine if you want them but not if you don't. I can see 10-15 years from now people are going to look at these games and wonder why anyone ever thought they were in any way special.

>Since characters are free to make, some people grab as many as a few hundred names.

Cybersquatting, eh?

Why did you let people have a hundred names for free in the first place?

>If we were to wipe out all the characters held by "hoarders", I imagine of the 50 people desperately wanting a name like "Harry Potter", we'd get one luckily grabbing it first, and 49 people STILL not getting what they want and muttering that it's because of name hoarders.

I expect they would, yes, even if they could check the stats and see how often it was played.

>Given that the game's "ultimate big boss you kill when you max out your level" has reliable walkthroughs on the web explaining how to kill him, these player-villains can easily become the favored choice of "things to rant about".

Yes, that's another thing I hanker after from the early times that's never going to make a comeback: keeping information secret from players so they can have the fun of finding it out for themselves. Ah, those halcyon days of yore...

>Anyway, if you did away with most (or all) RMT, players would still complain some amount that the problems in the economy must be due to it.

Either that or they'd go back to complaing about dupe bugs, which is what was on their radar before RMT became an issue.

>Unless you gave all players access to all loot and items instantly from moment one, in which case you'd see a mass exoduse of players because the game was too easy, and many complaints about that easiness problem.

Yet this is pretty well what RMT does, only on a longer timescale. You press the button, you get the character you want, you play awhile then quit because it's boring. Same for if you buy the character instead of pressing the button and getting it for free.

>Even years after designers recognized the common problem of "mudflation" and gave it a name, almost ALL of the biggest online treadmill type games still have it.

I deliberately didn't put a currency into MUD1 because I could see there would be inflation. I'm sure there is a solution to it out there, but too many players want things to be "just the way they are now, except without any of the consequences of their being the way they are now" for it to be changed. I guess you could count RMT in there too if you really wanted (grin).

>I do think it's a LOT easier to balance the economy in a game that's fundamentally an attention economy rather than a acquisition based (or call it a "phat loot based") economy.

Is there an economy in SL, or is it an offshoot of RL economy?

Richard

25.

Richard said, If people want an RP server, yes, Sony can give them one. That's not going to make it an RP server, though, unless they crack down on any RMT that occurs in it.

Which once again circles this whole argument back to its beginning. What you seem to want, Richard, is for someone to change human nature. Despite what's said by some of the uber-active on message boards, most players do not "really, really hate" RMT.

If most players hated RMT, games where it is prevalent would shrivel up and die. They don't. If most players wanted RP servers, we'd see more of them. Instead, we see the tiniest fraction of players who truly want RP servers.

So until you change human nature, people (some of them anyway) in MMOGs where object trading is significant are going to continue engaging in RMT. Calling it cheating or immoral or whatever won't change that fact, nor the fact that most of those people will look quizzically at such accusations.

One other item along these lines. You could create a MMOG without trades or trade skills, but possibly at the risk of stunting any sense of emergent community. Jyri Engestrom gave a talk at Reboot in Copenhagen about this: in effect, social networks without 'objects of sociality' (we used to call them 'social referents') tend to fail as compared to those based around such objects.

In other words, social relationships don't just spring up; they have to be about something to succeed and persist.

I suspect that a game without trading would also be a game without social referents/objects of sociality, and would fade quickly from the scene (except perhaps for that fraction of people for whom RP is the object of sociality). The current examples for this are primarily social networking sites like Orkut, Friendster, etc., that rise and fade quickly. Those that manage to hang on, for example Flickr, delicious, and LinkedIn, all have their own particular objects of sociality - photos, URLs, and jobs, respectively. Successful MMOGs have a wealth of social referent objects -- but this same strength that acts as a binder for community also enables RMT.

26.

Spam has yet to cause e-mail to shrivel up and die, but I don't think too many people would say they like spam. And I think it's worth trying to figure out how to get rid of spam, rather than shrug our shoulders and say "it's human nature, what can we do?"

I think the same is true for RMT. I'd like to play in a world where item dupers aren't bringing the server to it's knees. And I think it can be done without getting rid of trading, we just have to be creative in finding a solution. (Bayesian filters anyone?)

27.

Richard wrote:

Matt Mihaly>I'd suggest they go play on one of the well over a thousand virtual worlds where RMT isn't an issue.

But they have social capital involved in the games they play already.

Ahh right. So no game should ever be changed in any way, since every change is going to make someone unhappy and we wouldn't want to cause people to squander their social capital. That is the logical extension of what you're saying.


>I'd suggest they either accept that the world doesn't revolve around their individual specific desires and play a game that has RMT or they find a new hobby.

The world doesn't revolve around the individual spoecific desires of the RMTers either, but that doesn't stop them from coming into non-RMT worlds and RMTising them.

That's right, it doesn't. RMTers don't demand that other people engage in RMT. You want to actively limit the behavior others can engage in. They're not trying to do that.


>What if I want the exact kind of game I already have, except without spoiling it by using dwarves or the color green? Those preferences are no more or less valid than disliking RMT.

There's a difference in that if you did find a game without the colour green, you know that no player is going to come along and introduce the colour green to that world. If you don't like RMT, you don't have that luxury: RMTers can come along are introduce it whether you or the rest of the player base like it or not.

Roleplayers can come along and introduce roleplaying whether the rest of the world wants it or not. Players using the word "apple" can come along and introduce it whether the rest of the world wants it or not. And developers can most certainly introduce green or dwarves whether the rest of the world wants it or not.


>I'm not in a race. I'm in an experience. Someone else passing me because they spent more money on a better bike (rider skill being equal) doesn't matter.

But some people ARE in a race, not in an experience, and they'll get VERY upset if you were to spend more money on a better bike to the extent that it broke the specifications for that race (eg. it was a truck).

You're arguing against RMT, generally, for "magic circle" reasons, but now you're defending an outside-the-magic-circle competition between people as a reason to dislike RMT? Those are pretty incompatible viewpoints it seems to me.

--matt

28.

I'm somewhat disappointed with the lack of analysis in the original post and the conclusory speculation as to SOE's motives -- based so obviously on (i) the snippet of an interview that the BBC elected to use combined with (ii) the apparent predisposition to jump to a predetermined conclusion. I expected better.

SOE has been forthright in describing its "motives" with its game community and the general public since the initial announcement of Station Exchange -- check its press releases and board posts to its community. Station Exchange is all about reducing customer service issues, making transactions more secure for those who choose to engage in them, innovating, and taking the first steps toward building a profitable business within a business.

Those who choose to play the "sinister motive" game can spin this any way they choose. For instance, for those who have decided that profit is everything:, "reducing customer service issues" could mean "reducing the cost of customer service," "transactional security" could mean "minimizing account banning to keep collecting subscription money" and "innovating" could mean "first to implement equates to a continuing competitive cost advantage." Those who give this more than a moment's thought, however, will recognize that SOE is -- in the final analysis -- comprised of its people, and people are motivated by all sorts of things: the people at SOE really DO care about SOE's customers and minimizing them being taken for a ride, the people at SOE really DO strive to design and implement novel programs, the people at SOE really DO get a kick out of being creative, and the people at SOE really DO want to build profitable businesses for Sony.

Ascribing a motivation of "it's all about the cash" does nothing to advance any rational discourse about Station Exchange (other than to, I suppose, slam a bunch of hard working, creative people in order to increase a Terra Nova post count). I expected more.

29.

Richard>Sony isn't peddling drugs to impressionable teenagers, but if it sought profits doing that would it be immoral? Yes it would.

Well, I'm glad we got that settled. Now can we get back to talking about RMTs?

Bruce>Ask Sony to kindly open a RP server with trades/auctions/(maybe trade skills) disabled?
Richard> And would that stop the likes of IGE from undertaking RMT for that server? It never has in the past.

So, which game (or which server on which game) is it (or was it) that has (or had) trades & auctions turned-off that IGE is currently (or was) doing business on? If you can't give stuff, its very hard to sell it.

-bruce

30.

Andrew> I expected more.

As did I.

I think that everyone in this industry understands that the MMORPG market would not be the size it is today, were it not for what Sony and the people that worked there have done over the past many years.

You guys have broken ground more than once, and rarely has it been painless.

Best of luck with SE.

-bruce

31.

mike> Despite what's said by some of the uber-active on message boards, most players do not "really, really hate" RMT.

I would wager that the majority of players would vote against RMT if it were a simple choice though.

matt> You're arguing against RMT, generally, for "magic circle" reasons, but now you're defending an outside-the-magic-circle competition between people as a reason to dislike RMT? Those are pretty incompatible viewpoints it seems to me.

In a game (or sport or race of any kind), there are rules, and the enforcement of those rules is imperative to the integrity of the game. Rules keep the playing field level within a certain set of boundries. In a race, people should rightfully be upset if one participant makes modifications that are against the rules since it gives that person an unfair advantage... same for athelets and steroids, same for practially any game, including RMT and mmo's.

bruce> If you can't give stuff, its very hard to sell it.

You can, however, easily sell accounts and services such as powerleveling, which in some aspects is worse than selling currency.

32.

splok: I would wager that the majority of players would vote against RMT if it were a simple choice though.

Current players? Perhaps. That only about 50% of the subset who post on a lively message board came out against it makes me doubtful.

Moreover, I suspect (as has been said many times in various discussions of this perennial topic) that part of the rise in RMT reflects a change in the demographic of those playing MMOs. People with less time and more money are less likely to object to RMT than are those with more time and less money -- the latter set being those who see hours and hours spent in the game as a badge of honor, while the former just sees it as sort of a waste of time.

As the MMO market continues to broaden and age, more players will have less and less time to devote to these games and will have more disposable income. As that happens we can expect to see variants of RMT become more typical. Those who object to this and long for the days of spending 20-40 hours per week in a game to get the uber-phat lewt will come to be seen as increasingly anachronistic by the new player demographic.

33.

Splok wrote:

In a game (or sport or race of any kind), there are rules, and the enforcement of those rules is imperative to the integrity of the game. Rules keep the playing field level within a certain set of boundries. In a race, people should rightfully be upset if one participant makes modifications that are against the rules since it gives that person an unfair advantage... same for athelets and steroids, same for practially any game, including RMT and mmo's.

If you go above and read the article we're commenting on, there is no breaking of rules going on, so I'm unsure what you're talking about. Sony makes the rules for Sony's games. Nobody else.

--matt

34.

Bruce Boston>So, which game (or which server on which game) is it (or was it) that has (or had) trades & auctions turned-off that IGE is currently (or was) doing business on?

All the EQ servers prior to Station Exchange had RMT trades turned off, but IGE et al still did business on them. Why would they stop doing business on them just because RMT is now legitimate on SE-enabled servers? That's what I was getting at.

Richard

35.

Andrew S. Zaffron>the snippet of an interview that the BBC elected to use

All the BBC were looking for was a sound bite. I spoke to them for well over an hour and they only quoted a section from the end of a long answer to one of their questions, devoid of the preceding context; it seems as if your man had the same happen to him. They line they quoted from me does reflect my position, but not the entirety of it - I'd said lots before about how RMT is fine in games designed for it, and I'd even said nice things about Sony (whom the BBC were trying to get me to say "aren't doing enough" about RMT). None of that made my interview, just as none of all the caveats I imagine your speaker made in his interview. So it goes with the media.

>Station Exchange is all about reducing customer service issues, making transactions more secure for those who choose to engage in them, innovating, and taking the first steps toward building a profitable business within a business.

There is a flip side to this, though, you have to admit: those who don't choose RMT have also made a decision, namely to stay with the non-SE servers. My primary concern with Station Exchange is whether or not Sony will make any effort to stamp out RMT on the non-SE servers. Some of the people who engage in RMT would prefer that their fellow players did not know they had done so, and these would not necessarily switch to a SE server. Will Sony be coming down harder on these people, so as to protect the non-RMT integrity of the server? Or will they be making no more effort than they did in the past, when some of the trade taking place was for more honest reasons that would now occur on the SE-enabled servers?

Richard

36.

matt> If you go above and read the article we're commenting on, there is no breaking of rules going on, so I'm unsure what you're talking about. Sony makes the rules for Sony's games. Nobody else

The article about RMT in general. It does mention SOE, but that's not the focus of the entire article. Other than SOE's RMT approved servers, RMT is breaking the rules in almost all other cases.

Your above post about sports teams winning because they can spend more money is actually a great arguement against RMT. Sure it happens, but I think players in those sports would almost universally agree that they'd rather win based on their own skill and effort than to win based on the bankroll backing the team. Just because money matters in professional sports doesn't mean that it's right or even preferable. Also keep in mind that many sports organizations have rules in place to limit the advantages gained from having a huge bankroll.

37.

Richard>So what would you suggest the people do whose unfulfilled desire is to play a virtual world without RMT?
Bruce>Ask Sony to kindly open a RP server with trades/auctions/(maybe trade skills) disabled?
Richard> And would that stop the likes of IGE from undertaking RMT for that server? It never has in the past.
Bruce> So, which game (or which server on which game) is it (or was it) that has (or had) trades & auctions turned-off that IGE is currently (or was) doing business on? If you can't give stuff, its very hard to sell it.
Richard> All the EQ servers prior to Station Exchange had RMT trades turned off, but IGE et al still did business on them. Why would they stop doing business on them just because RMT is now legitimate on SE-enabled servers? That's what I was getting at.

So, I totally agree. IGE is most likely not going to stop doing business on any server that they are currently doing business on. Not sure if that was an open question.

Maybe my questions aren't specific enough?

Any thoughts on what the effects on the relative volume of RMTs might be on a new EQ server with in-game trades/auctions/(maybe tradeskills) turned off. And, let's remember this is a new server set-up post today (August 11, 2005), in a game, specifically EQII, where currently RMTs through the Station Exchange system are being facilitated on a few new servers, again outside and with no connection in any way to the proposed new RP server that has trades/auctions/(maybe tradeskills) disabled on. Additionally, I'm not interested in the obvious answers/opinions/expertise assumptions as to what effects to gameplay/player experience/world design/developer heartaches or any other tangential information that might also be interesting commentary in any other blog post on a different topic outside RMTs, I think what I'm looking for is a specific opinion as to what you think the effects on RMTs on that particular server might be. In fact, what if we hypothetically limited all possible answers to a set of four choices; if you had to choose the expected effects on the volume of RMTs on a sever that had in-game trades/auctions/(maybe tradeskills) disabled, when compared to other servers that did not have these very same in-world features turned off, would you say that RMTs on this new unique server would be A) Higher B) Lower C) Significantly Higher D) Significantly Lower?

Post script:
I hereby publicly recognize, and acknowledge without guilt or shame that account trades, powerleveling, buying games guides, upgrading your computer, buying new computer equipment like a trackball/zboard/etc, buying multiple accounts, upgrading your internet connection, moving around the world so you live next door to the game servers, bribing friends with ice cream, having a rich uncle that pays the bills while you sit in your dorm-room and play games all summer, winning the lottery and opening your own sweatshop in china, having an advanced degree in computer aided mathematical simulations, plastic surgery that alters your appearance to a remarkable resemblance of Firiona for the next EQ Fan Faire, and the 497 other suggested methods (that are fully described in immaculate detail in 498,765 places on TerraNova.blogs.com) of having real life money (hereto-forth known as RLM) are open loopholes that allow said RLM to continue its often assumed evil influence on the gameplay, the magic circle (including the outer magic circle, inner magic circle, the inner-inner magic circle, and the outer inner magic circle, [note: the effects on the inner outer magic circle will be discussed in full detail in next weeks rant, and should not be considered as part of the loop holes considered here]), a player's opportunity/ability/inclination to role play (both inside and outside the game), a player's guild experience (both inside and outside the virtual world, but excluding a player's practical probability to cyber with the guild leader's girlfriend), as well as, and not exclusive to the above list and any other possibly conceivable, or preconceived, or post-conceived player centric effects that RLM might have on players.

Post, Post Script:
For further information on the above Post script, please call 1-800-CWS-ITNR (Country Western Songs Influenced by TerraNova Rants Inc)

So, hypothetically, if you could win $10M by narrowing your answer to one letter:

A,B,C or D?

-bruce

38.

Splok wrote:

Your above post about sports teams winning because they can spend more money is actually a great arguement against RMT. Sure it happens, but I think players in those sports would almost universally agree that they'd rather win based on their own skill and effort than to win based on the bankroll backing the team.

They are winning on their own skill and effort. The point is that the team, which is the competitive entity, benefits because they can afford to buy players who have greater skill and effort. (Ignoring, of course, the fact that it takes a lot of money to train well.)

Anyway, until, say, baseball and soccer become unpopular due to money being such a huge factor, I think your argument holds little water. The fans, for whom the games are being put on, don't seem to care any more than the players of WoW seem to care about RMT. Or rather, they care so little that they aren't going to stop participating. Actions speak pretty loudly, and if all these anti-RMTers found it REALLY important to them, they'd simply stop playing games where RMT is a factor. Instead, you have a few loud anti-RMT voices, most of whom probably continue to hand over the monthly fee anyway. Just like a soccer fan or a baseball fan.

--matt

39.

If there were a strong market demand for serious RMT-free gaming I think it could be done. As opposed to treating it like one of hundreds of other online ills ranging from lag to griefers that people dislike, but are unlikely to pay large amounts of extra $$ to avoid.

One can certainly imagine a specific anti-RMT EQ2 server where every transaction between players was carefully monitored and reviewed by humans specifically hired to do that job. Players who randomly up and give hundreds of golds to players they have never met before get banned. Even players who "aggressively twink" would probably get heavily reviewed. While not foolproof (for example, money trades could be prefaced by a few adventuring sessions between the seller and buyer) it would begin to approach a point where the difference was largely semantic between RMT and non-RMT motivated behaviors. To be completely extreme and avoid levelling services and character transfers there could be extra authentication required via phone or biometric sensors to be allowed to play, along with random verification.

Would this be ludicrously expensive? Absolutely. But as a gedanken-experiment I think it stands to show that RMT is not some sort of un-eliminatable boogeyman. With no gameplay changes to the game mechanics themselves, I think you could effectively prevent RMT on a server.

I certainly wouldn't want to pay the $50 a month probably required to play on such a server, though. But maybe there would be a hardcore of dedicated anti-RMTers that it could be a valid market niche. My intuition is that there is not enough people who would vote with their dollars (or time, one could imagine a volunteer-driven system to achieve the same policing).

40.

matt> They are winning on their own skill and effort.

Your above arguement equated RMT to sports teams getting a competative edge though spending more money, and somehow the fact that this happens was supposed to be used as a defence of RMT. As inconsistent as this is with the spirit of sports, it is still much better than RMT, because as you point out, the atheletes still must have at least some of their own skill and effort. However, buying in game advancement requires neither skill nor effort. It simply requires an appropriate bankroll.

matt> Actions speak pretty loudly, and if all these anti-RMTers found it REALLY important to them, they'd simply stop playing games where RMT is a factor.

I really can't see how the old "if you don't like it, just leave" arguement is valid. Ok, so if I don't like the fact that a game has RMT, I should simply play one that doesn't have it? Even though RMT is against the rules? So people shouldn't complain when other people break the rules of the game they play? And where exactly are these games that offer a very similar experience that just happen to lack the RMT? Until there are suitable substitutes without RMT, that arguement is clearly invalid on that point alone.

matt> The fans, for whom the games are being put on, don't seem to care any more than the players of WoW seem to care about RMT. Or rather, they care so little that they aren't going to stop participating.

So the baseball of their respective teams in Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Pittsburg, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Toronto don't care that the Yankee's top two players make more than each of their entire rosters? Or at least, until they're unhappy enough to abandon their teams, they don't dislike the imbalance enough to matter?

The percentage of a population that decides to complain about something is not evidence of the complaint's validity.

41.

splok: so if I don't like the fact that a game has RMT, I should simply play one that doesn't have it? Even though RMT is against the rules?

When it comes right down to it, yes.

Look, despite the many, many spurious analogies thrown around about MMOGs and RMT, we're still talking about games. These things are luxury items. They're not sports teams or horse races or academic exams or anything else (no analogy I've seen yet is really all that illuminating). No one is forced or entitled to play a MMOG.

If a lot of people truly don't like RMT and stop playing games in which this is practiced (whether against the rules or not), then the game operators will work to make changes if possible. But just saying "you should all play MY way" is little more than petulance.

In terms of games without significant RMT, I suspect City of Heroes has little if any of this. The game as I understand it doesn't include crafting, clothing, or other worthwhile trade-able objects -- thus not very much RMT (a scan of Ebay shows a few characters for sale and others selling currency -- "Influence" -- but that's it).

OTOH, CoH's subscriber numbers haven't done that well as people don't seem to stick around very long. I'm guessing that in terms of overall enjoyment and retention, the lack of significant social-objects is worse than having them, even with the side effects of RMT. By pursuing the crusade to do away with the (from one POV) utter evil of RMT, you might just be killing off what makes the game hold together too.

42.

Mike Sellers>By pursuing the crusade to do away with the (from one POV) utter evil of RMT, you might just be killing off what makes the game hold together too.

That depends on how you do away with RMT. As you say, doing away with it by removing all the fun parts that give rise to it is probably not a good idea (although this is not always accepted by the "RMT is because of design faults" crowd). I'd much rather see games that don't want RMT pursue with vigour those who nevertheless engage in it, and stamp it out that way. There's a lot more that can be done in this regard than is done at present.

Richard

43.

"I'd much rather see games that don't want RMT pursue with vigour those who nevertheless engage in it, and stamp it out that way. There's a lot more that can be done in this regard than is done at present." Richard Bartle

Agreed. The inaction of Blizzard against explicit Asian farmers in WoW springs to mind.
From a player's perspective,the consequences of this secondary market affect the game play drastically when a party wipe is the direct result of the pre levelled fellow group member's inexperience. The levelled character's lack of geographical knowledge of the virtual world we share is usually a reliable indicator.
These underhand transactions ultimately break the immersiveness of the game world for myself, and other players.
And at the moment within WoW, we don't have any choice but to acknowledge this activity will continue as long as we pay our subscription to log in and watch.

44.

Richard> I'd much rather see games that don't want RMT pursue with vigour those who nevertheless engage in it, and stamp it out that way. There's a lot more that can be done in this regard than is done at present.
Rob> Agreed. The inaction of Blizzard against explicit Asian farmers in WoW springs to mind.

How do you know that there has been 'inaction' on Blizzard's part? Isn't it possible that the problem is bigger than they are able to address at this time?

While I'm all for a vigorous pursuit of undesired activity within a virtual world, I think we should still be smart about answering the question, 'at what financial cost to whom?'.

My bet is that if you asked Blizzard employees individually, two questions; 'Do you know this is happening?' 'Do you think it's good for your game?' You'd get a 99% answer rate of 'yes', and 'no'. Ok, so we all agree, its happening and its not good, now what?

At the end of the day, if players are not willing to pay for this, then who? Clearly Developers, like Blizzard and Sony, are not ignoring these issues. But, what happens when what RMT haters want (a world completely void of RMTs) is beyond the line of practical diminishing returns today? For example, what if, hypothetically, it took $100M a year to hire a full team of international lawyers and lobbyists to even begin to address the many complexities of the issue in the next 6-months, yet, hypothetically, what if that is what it would take. And, what if hypothetically, their best guess was that while sales would go up by ridding the game of RMTs, they would only go up $50M, or half the cost of enforcing the policy to the extent that RMT haters want. Should the developer be asked to cover that extra cost without expectation of compensation from the market?

If no, then who? If yes, why?

-bruce

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