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Sep 01, 2006



The problem I see with such a mechanism is that if the player base takes a serious disliking to it, they'll create a black-market gold purchasing program that doesn't go through the official front end. This is true of any design that can be bypassed via some other channel.

Related problem: Simple trading of goods w/o payment. That is, a friend gives me 10 gold as "seed money", or I trade 100 gold from my main character to an alt. To solve that, you'd really have to make sure that all trade goes through a central facility and look for any individual trade that is not "equitable".

Having read your post again, I see you are aware of the 'gifting' problem, but basically it at the heart of how you'd bypass any official stigma.


A very interesting idea, Eric. Definitely sparks some thought along the lines of what I talked about here.

Of course, the interesting quasi-reversal in what you’ve proposed here is the way that these class categories are determined by a material capital position—the money players have spent—rather than how the upper class is generated (speaking broadly) in everyday life. There, it is the accumulation (as much as spending) of material capital, but just as much the accumulation of cultural capital (taste, titles), and social capital (connections of reciprocity [or “gonnegtions” for you F Scott Fitzgerald fans]).

Weirdly, one can make the argument that the expansion of industrialization and capitalism led to some of the most extensive possibilities for class mobility (particularly in the United States) in the history of class stratified societies, precisely because one could buy one’s way into influence and status (parlaying material into cultural and social capital). Hence the complaint of old money about the “nouveau riche.” On that account, what you’ve done here is reverse the polarity of that dynamic, in a way, trying to impose the stigmata associated with privilege onto those who can spend the “crudest” form of capital (material), perhaps in the absence of social (guild mates, friends) and cultural (guild knowledge) capital.

Again, I’m speaking very broadly here just to see how interesting the constellation is when we connect these dots. I think that the effects of the system would be volatile and that it wouldn’t work, but it’s a fascinating idea to think about.


I like the idea you've put forward. It allows buyers and non-buyers to play together, but gives some sort of status to those who do the grind to get the items themselves.

In an aside but related story, with a break from law school and a summer law job (and a paycheck, finally!) I started playing Eve Online with the understanding that when the summer was over I'd stop playing and get back to school work. Not interested in the grind of a new player when I knew I only had 3 months to play. My friend and I both turned to buying game currency via IGE. I've played others online games, but this was my first time to buy...

I wanted a battleship, so I ponied up US$ to get the game currency to buy it. Then, new ship in hand (oh, how proud I was), went on cruise with a friend of mine. Met some sketchy raiders and my friend made a HUGE mistake and got me killed...Got my 10 minute old ship killed!

My first thought, "You're stupid move just cost me $38!" Not time on task, not the fun of the game, $38. And have talking about it the following day in person (he just lives down the street), we agreed the fair thing to do was for him to pay me $20 in cash and split the difference on his dumb move.

The next thing I did (I was pod killed after my friends dumb move) was I put a $40 bounty on the person's head from Spain that killed me. Yes, I used IGE again for the conversion to game currency.

Moral of the story, within just 1 day of the first time I bought game money using real money, I was automatically (and have forever sense) considered items in the game in US$ value, not game currency value.

I'll leave all the moral/magic circle/rich american/etc comments for others, just relaying my personal experience and how quickly the game play experience changed.


There are largely unspoken taboos regarding the moral and/or ethical legitimacy of buying game currency. And like most other unspoken taboos, everybody has their own reasoning for or against buying gold.

As happens with nearly every other game mechanic designed to force a particular behavior - for instance forced integration of professions in SWG, players have found loopholes - for instance dual boxing or grinding dance/music bots for guild cantinas. Codras has hit the nail on the head. Players will innovate ways around the system of honor/dishonor if at all possible.

From a business perspective, implementing this strategy in a straightforward manner would seem commercially sound. Casual player buys currency, hardcore player/guild buys a second account AND currency. Game company makes money. This ignores the larger issue, a major reason for a lot of the taboos. The act of one player buying currency throws off a carefully designed game mechanic for countless others.

If nothing else, Warcraft is a balanced game. You don't see a lot of solo master pikemen slaughtering entire teams of jedi. Having Ashkandi will certainly help the ease with which your epic warrior kills stuff in Warcraft, but it stops short of making you invincible. To the contrary, it could seriously lower your life expectancy. Balance is good for the player that wants to enjoy himself despite the fact that he hasn't yet gotten his Ashkandi equivalent.

Economics figure into balance. Taken too far, they destroy it. In addition to not being an economist, I'm not a psychic. I don't know everyone's reason for agreeing or disagreeing with our little taboo here, but I do know that it takes at least 600 dollars to buy a war with Ashkandi on Ebay. I also know that on certain servers 900 gold will buy a trip to Ashkandi for your very own warrior. Sure the sword gets you killed, but doesn't it look like one of the most fun ways to get killed EVER? ...Yes. Max and Masha, I want to play your warrior sometime.

Taboo and Balance. Game companies can make short term money sanctioning currency exchange, but if they don't take these two delicately that money might dissapear faster than their active subscriber base. There are excellent discussions on the 'free to play' business models that figure into this. Good creative suggestion for game design, though.


I never understood why MMORPGs always make me start at the bottom. In PnP games, I roll up whatever character suits my fancy. Why the weird fixation on earning the level in a computer game?

WoW has an interesting PvP class balance -- I like it better than Counter Strike anyways. Why Bliz makes me slog through hours of waste land to do what I want to do is a mystery. Luckily twinks are now playing in lower level brackets and I can play the game I want without getting to the end game (more map diversity would be nice though).

I'd buy a character, but I don't want to break the terms of service or ruin other players' experiences.


Eric --

It's an interesting idea. Two factors you might take into account: to the extent buyers are paying for "false" status, this means they don't get that in your system, so the price they pay should be lowered by however much they value that false status.

Second, while it is true the non-buyers might be bothered by the status gains of buyers, they also might be bothered by the *non-status* gains of buyers (e.g. their ability to use cash to enter areas/instances that are fenced-off by the (theoretical) absence of RMT). So they get disutility from your proposal, though it might be less disutility than if the buyers were unmarked.

What you're left with, possibly, is a condition that, while bringing the two groups together under a uniform rule, might be about the same in terms of net social benefit, and market appeal, and by extension, developer profit. So maybe it's not an improvement vis-a-vis SOE's model.

Of course, what might be a utility wash in theory might be great in practice -- or awful -- you never know this stuff until you try it out. :-)


Eric>Buyers may have a variety of reasons for buying, but one critical one is that they want to play at a certain level of the game, and they don’t want to spend the time they think it would take them in-game to get there without buying gold.

This is roughly like the recent newspaper headline in Japan that said, "Official who took bribe 'did it for the money'".

Well yes OF COURSE that's what happens, but it tells us nothing. What we want to know is WHY they want to "play the game at a certain level". Is it because of the content? Is it because their friends play there? Is it because they want to give the impression that they're better at the game than they really are? These are the underlying reasons, and explain why they "don't have time".

That said, what you're proposing is interesting. You're suggesting that social norms be allowed to moderate the acceptability or otherwise of RMT. This has been proposed before, of course, eg. allowing players to see the "accounts" of other players by examining them. All of a sudden they received 1,000G from someone else? Either they're in a very generous guild, they're a twink, or they bought it.

The positive idea is new, though: try to make out that it's a good thing people buy stuff. This could have an effect - it certainly does in reverse, where players who do bad things get cooler and cooler labels the more they misbehave ("deathknight, yay!").

The thing is, though, if there's social stigma then people will try to avoid it. SOE has its RMT-enabled servers, but business on the non-enabled servers is better than ever. If people want to buy gold and see nothing wrong with it, why don't they go to the RMT-enabled servers? Well, the answer would seem to be that they don't so much want to buy stuff as to have an edge over other players. If most people don't buy gold, then those who do can afford the better items. This puts them at a gameplay advantage (they have gear others can only dream of) and a social advantage (they're of higher status) just so long as no-one knows they do it.



Kolby Granville: "My first thought, "You're stupid move just cost me $38!" Not time on task, not the fun of the game, $38. And have talking about it the following day in person (he just lives down the street), we agreed the fair thing to do was for him to pay me $20 in cash and split the difference on his dumb move.

The next thing I did (I was pod killed after my friends dumb move) was I put a $40 bounty on the person's head from Spain that killed me. Yes, I used IGE again for the conversion to game currency."

That was an interesting post. A totally different way of looking at video games than what I'm used to.

What is Eve's monthly fee? I'm just curios ho much that 60$ was worth in terms of time you could have been playing the game normally.


Stop reproducing class structure. It's boring.


One technological flaw in your "rank" idea. If I want to hide the fact that I buy gold, I open a second account (pay-as-you-go) and use that to purchase gold, and then transfer it to my real account/toons. My real toons have no rank, so they look "clean". If I buy gold regularly, I can keep the other account open - I'm already spending hundreds on gold, what's $15 more?


Being born with a Thorium spoon in your mouth would probably result in death for you and your mother. Not only is it cancerous, but it is also pyrophoric (randomly explodes). I can't imagine why it's used for armour...


To answer your question, I think Eve costs $14.95 a month. Somewhere in that range. As for the economic view of what I did from my persective as I was making the decision.

I had three months to play before school started. I would have needed about 300,000,000ISK (the game currency) to get a battleship I wanted and outfit it right. That kind of ISK runs about $40US. After the payoff and selling drops from low level non-player mission I was making about 100,000ISK per mission. Missions took, on average, 45 minutes. So, a VERY rough math would be that to earn the battleship I wanted I would have to have grinded out 3000 missions. Now, assuming that as I did the missions I got higher ratings and access to better drops etc... let still say that would mean doing, at least, 500 missions. At 45 minutes each... that's something like 375 hours.

Assuming my math is wrong (I'm just eyeballing numbers right now), let go conservative and say it would have taken me 100 hours of game play to "earn" the ship. A typical summer law job at a big firm pays $40 per hour. With $40 I can buy the 300,000,000ISK for the ship. So, the math was simple,

Gameplay time to earn=100hrs
Summer job money to buy=1hr

I knew I was only going to play for three months, so which would I rather do, play as much content as I can in those three months, or grind out the same missions over and over again (and in all fairness, EVE has a million different missions, so it's not fair to call them the same, but they aren't all that different)

Also, so I don't get flamed by EVE players. I could have done mining, trade, or courier runs, which may have paid more (not sure). But as I wanted to spend my three months blowing stuff up and imagining I'm Han Solo, I stuck with the non-player character missions that game me the chance to do so.


Could one not have a system which tracks every time your character recieves anything that wasn't paid for and also everytime your character gives something away and then makes the net result visible to all. Thus if you buy gold or are given gold or items you are visible as a twink. You can, however, buy your way out of this by giving gold away. If we wanted to be really harsh you could scale the effect by level so that giving away or receiving 1 gold as a level 10 has a much higher effect on your reputation than doing the some thing at level 60.

If the system was able to keep a database of the going rate of items on the auction house it would be able to avoid the loophole of people selling stuff for very high prices to transfer gold between characters without being detected.

It also occurs to me that this would make gold farmers very apparent as they would have massively positive reputations.

This would also act as a money sink (which is never a bad thing). Say I gave my character 100 gold at level 10 to get him going and he's now level 60. If I want to erase the stain on his reputation I would have to give away something like 100,000 gold (if we compare the earning power of a level 10 to a level 60) to restore the balance


@Richard: I disagree. There are other reasons I can imagine a player buying gold -- playing a practical joke, customizing a avatar's appearance, etc, come to mind. The reason that is obvious to you and the one I call 'critical' is not the only possible reason. I agree it's worth understanding why the want to sidestep the designers' intent, and the questions you raise are excellent starting points.

Your comment about people buying gold on the non-StationExchange servers is well taken. In the (physical) security field, experts talk about "risk transference" rather than "risk avoidance". Building your fence higher makes you a harder target than your neighbor, and may shift some risk from you to them. Similarly, I think we need to realize that there's a complex interplay between RMT, game design, gifting and twinking, and that while it may be impossible or undesirable to always know when RMT has occurred, providing sanctioned methods may shift some of the RMT that does occur.

I'm not sure that stigma equals avoidance. If the stigma is big, yes, that's true. If it's minor, well, maybe people will put up with it. I certainly can't predict what the outcome of trying something like this would be, which is why it makes a fun TN post. It could be another Meeting Stone that goes into some game and makes no difference, or it might allow more gold buyers to come out of the closet.

@L'Emmerdeur and Tom Wild:
Tom's suggestion is exactly the type of "partial technological solution" that I alluded to in the OP. I say it's only a "partial" attack on the problem L'Emmerdeur raises, because there becomes a design question of whether you want sales in person or sales through an auction house to pass along some of the reputation or not. These quickly become sticky issues tied to gameplay and social networks. My suspicion is that you can get an 80% solution that will encourage many people to pass this reputation around according to the intent of the OP, but that diehards will find ways around it, pretty much in the same way that people with multiple WoW accounts can arbitrage the Ironforge and Orgrimmar auction houses.


*Bonk*. I guess I should fill in contact info before posting.


There are other reasons I can imagine a player buying gold -- playing a practical joke...

Now who in their right mind would play a practical joke by buying gold? I can't imagine anyone who would, say, tell new guild members that they owe a tithe of 50gp to the guild Princess, much less anyone buying that gold (or gold-covered chocolate coins, etc.) to give to the player or her character in mock servility just for the thrill of seeing her swear like a sailor. I mean really, that just stretches credulity, don't you think?


Eric Nickell>I disagree. There are other reasons I can imagine a player buying gold -- playing a practical joke, customizing a avatar's appearance, etc, come to mind.

And they can do that by spending the time to get the gold in-game, they don't have to go buy it. Except, they don't want to spend the time to get it, so they pay for someone else's time.

In other words, they don't buy the gold to play a practical joke or customise an avatar or give a birthday present or whatever. They buy the gold because they aren't prepared to spend the time to play the game to a level where they could do this "naturally".

I suppose you could argue that people might buy gold as a practical joke if the buying of the gold was itself the joke ("ha, now everyone thinks you're a twink!") but that seems a little unlikely.

>The reason that is obvious to you and the one I call 'critical' is not the only possible reason.

It pretty well is. People buy game gold with dollars because they don't want to or don't have the time to acquire it through playing. Now there are myriad reasons as to why they want the gold in the first place, of which avatar customisation, twinking, increase in social standing and altruism towards beggars are but a few. There's only really one reason to buy the gold, though, and that's because you can't/won't get it any other way.

>Similarly, I think we need to realize that there's a complex interplay between RMT, game design, gifting and twinking, and that while it may be impossible or undesirable to always know when RMT has occurred, providing sanctioned methods may shift some of the RMT that does occur.

I agree, yes. If, for example, you don't mind twinking but do mind RMT, there are design mechanisms for allowing the former at the expense of the latter (eg. allow free transfer of goods only between members of the same guild, and only if they've been in the guild for 2 weeks).

I just don't want to see RMT come to dominate all virtual worlds. Developers should be allowed to shut it out if they want (and allow it in if they want that, instead).



Eric's question was theoretical, I believe, and assumes that the technology will/does exist to stop players from getting around his proposal. The question is: what do we think about the idea as it stands, eh? So...

RMT = Some kind of named, noble status. My prediction is that you'd have certain guilds and players and groups that would be all over that like a big dog, probably ones that gravitate towards the most easily tweaked power-classes and PvP-appropriate play. In WoW terms, lottsa Lordship Palladins. If your goal is to game the game and have fun at others' expense rather than play the game... you generally won't give a fat rat's a** about whether or not the 2nd level noobs yer ganking see that you've got some kind of "My Other Toon is Legit" bumper sticker on your armor flaps.

This is one of those disincentives that, I think, would only disincentivize (?) the people who aren't prone to do it in the first place. There are certain classes of people who are proud of bad behavior and, frankly, enjoy the attention even more.

Now... I'm sure there are also people who want a little "buy on the sly" in order to just get that next level doohicky. Well, in the system Ed proposes; A) that would probably be much more tolerated as a low level misdemeanor on par with speeding on the highway (everyone does it), and; B) He says these titles will degrade over time, so if I buy "up" just a wee bit... it'll only suck for a little while.

The folks who buy big, though? Who buy "battleships" as in the example above? Or who buy a Level 60 character with full kit to start out? I'd predict they don't care what "the little folk" do, say, play, think, etc. about that choice.

Now... if you really want, as a game designer, to have a world in which their is no RMT, there's an easy solution: design a game with no money, no items and no trading.

GASP!!! VOTT???!!! No schtuff??? Yes, no schtuff. Think about it for a sec -- in almost all the major MMO's out there today where RMT is an issue, almost all yer schwag has to do with adjusting how well you fight; it's personal stuff. It's not land or vehicles or "secondary items." VW's like Second Life, with explicit economies, have all kinds of "stuff for yer stuff," but WoW? It's all about what you can carry.

And all that stuff exists simply to make you either hit harder, or harder to hit. So... make all that part of YOU, instead of part of your inventory. The rewards for quests would be all XP based and related to skills, abilities, spells, talents, etc. Skip the items, which are, frankly, middle men in the combat process.

Less fun? Sure. Takes a whole chunk out of the game universe? Yeah, maybe. For some people. No mining, farming, crafts, trading, buying or selling or gifting itemss. No quests for the big bad booger or the glaive of glomming. So what? It's about the action, ain't it? The killin' and the maimin' and...

No it ain't. Which is clearly why my idea is somewhat Swiftian. The economic side of most MMO's is part of the FUN for many people. Right? Isn't it? You don't just farm and grind and craft to earn the gold... you do it to participate in the world in yet another way. To play the miner as well as the sorcerer. The aclchemist as well as the tank. There is something fun, hysterical and, from an RP standpoint... strangely "right" about a giant, fearsome Tauren wandering around collecting flowers. La-dee-dah. Tra-la-la. Oh! Look... I need those! Most excellent...

If you want to have an RMT server, great. I think that's fine. Because that signals "Here's a place where people have one attitude about the magic circle, the value of play, the relative value of time and money, etc." Everyone who wants to compare wallets, go there. Whatever your reason for wanting to use RMT... go there. If you want to skip the grind, go there. If you want to lord it over others that you jumped to level 60, go there.

But when you provide a game space where some people can bring "a gun to a knife fight" (yes, an old analogy of mine resurfaces) and other people can't afford the gun... it's not a level playing field. No, Thomas, I'm not saying they're cheating. You won that argument. But I'm still saying it's *bad*. Or that it's absence, at least, would be better.

Let me propose an interesting hypothetical. Suppose I'm playing a particularly tough PvP session. My guild/team/side is getting its a** kicked by a bunch of clever, crafty enemy of roughly equal strength. It's a fair fight... they're just, well... doing better today. We are fighting for control of a highly contested area/ornament/element/geegaw. Whether by the publishers or through some illegal outside agency, a little box pops up and says, "You are apparently getting slaughtered. Click here to debit your Paypal account by US $20 and drop a large fuel-air bomb spell in the midst of the enemy army, guaranteed to wipe them out."

That's RMT at its finest, eh? What is, really, the philosophical or theoretical difference between me "pushing a button" and directly paying to kill one or more characters at a swipe, and the way most RMT works now? It just takes a little longer now, right? But isn't that the argument *FOR* current RMT? That it's quicker? So... can I have my big, red, in-game RMT button, please? My "If I don't like you I can pay $5 at any time and you die instantly" button?

No money, items or trading... or the big, red button. Those are the extremes. If it's a game, it's a game, and if real world money is written into the rules, cool. Make it explicit. If not... any game where different people play by extremely different rules for extremely different reasons is going to be confusing, and that is (I think) generally bad for the game experience.


I don't think the solution space is that extreme Andy. PnP Dungeons and Dragons has a kind of RMT because players who can afford extra source books have more character development options. This doesn't break the game though. (Generally the extra stuff is designed to be weaker than the core.)

Games that are broken with RMT are just plain broken. If itemization trumps skill, players with more time played will beat others. Being able to proxy time played with RMT may help balance these broken games. It doesn't matter to me whether a character becomes a twink honestly by having powerful friends, or dishonestly by having a rich player. His 600 gold weapon enchants will slaughter my character just the same.

I like games based on skill and practice. In golf for example, it helps to have expensive clubs, but a good golfer can compete very well against players with better clubs. Knowing how your clubs perform is more important than having the best clubs.


This proposal, as I read it, is an attempt to create a persistent stigmatizing label for participants which engage in a specific behavior. Ignoring for the moment the motivations for creating such a set of labels, the results must generally fall into three categories:

1. The labels confer a negative stigma upon players that wear them (in general, as a community norm).

2. The labels confer a positive stigma.

3. The labels confer no stigma, either due to lack of effective stigmatization or ambiguity about the meaning of labels in the context of norms.

1 and 2 are logically equivalent in that they will most likely produce the outcomes detailed by others above. Namely, the opportunity for metagaming the labels where none existed before likely increasing disunity of the player base; and increased incentive for black market operators. In fact, incentives for black market operators are directly proportional to the efficacy of the labels.

3 could (in the case of ambiguity) result in a disruption of pre-existing community norms which, while not optimal, were in equilibrium. There is at least an equal probability that any new normative equilibrium is less optimal than the previous one.

So my question is, what is the underlying goal of such a proposal, and is it worth the risk (far greater than .5 in my napkin estimation) of less desirable outcomes within the context of that goal?


Wouldn't it be more like an "I voted Republican" button? Some people find that distasteful, while others are inclined to see it as neutral or even favorable.

The goal is simply to identify the social subgroup who believe game economies operate within the real world instead of isolated from it. Free Traders vs Isolationists.


It's an interesting idea, but I think this becomes another game to be gamed. Giving people badges and labels.

I foresee that most will choose to be Kings and Queens with only a few who want to grind it out as commoner. If this is the case then why not just make everyone start as Kings and Queens and give the few grinders the option to grind as a commoner.

It's just a different perspective to the concept.



This is an interesting discussion. My first mmo was WOW and now I'm playing Eve. I'm completely agnostic when it comes to RMT. I've never bought in-game currency, but I don't consider people who do to be particularly loathsome or problematic.

Making money in-game is what I enjoy most. I always spend a fair amount of time playing the markets, and the profits that I make as a result typically vastly outstrip the amount one could make from a daily grind of quests/missions or farming. My level 4 WOW AH troll had weeks of /played. (I really can't believe I can't remember his name). For me, doing a purchase RMT doesn't make sense because even though I could afford it with no problem, making money in-game is easy and fun.

Recently, I started a 2nd account for Eve. I was looking to double the amount of skill training I could get, plus I wanted to start a pirate. So now I pay $14.95x2 and have 6 character slots and can train two characters at a time. I've got 5 slots filled, and each is developing into a role in building my trading/manufacturing empire.

My question: How is the $14.95x2 that I pay each month for the opportunity to make ISK (in-game Eve currency) through the normal mechanics of the game different than paying $38 to get 300M ISK to buy a battleship. I can *easily* make 300M ISK. (I spent that much to have a 2nd battleship readily available so I wouldn't have to switch between PVP and PVE setups which takes about 3 minutes) Is the fact that I can run 2 clients simultaneously to scout out low-security areas as I'm moving cargo into position an unfair advantage which is brought on by my ability to shell out $30 a month rather than $15?

In general, every participant in commercial online games is spending real-world currency to generate in-game currency. For me, making in-game currency is *fun*. If someone doesn't like to, or isn't able to make ISK/gold/whatever, then by all means spend the $38 and buy your battleship, fly around, and blow people up (or die, as the case may be).

An interesting dynamic in Eve is that CCP (the game company) allows trading for in-game currency of game time codes which are on sale in for RL currency. This means that there is a subset of players who buy the codes for dollars/euros/whatever and sell them for ISK to other players who are ISK wealthy and use their gaming profits to continue playing the game without having to spend 'real' money.

BTW, I find the idea of the RMT nobility barometer proposed by the original post worth consideration. I think it could work and would provide additional depth to RMT dynamics. As others have stated, there clearly would be a group of people who embrace being 'noble' which is ostensibly 'bad', and a thriving black market of RMT for folks who didn't want to be stigmatized as such.



Eric, interesting post that certainly got me thinking about why I buy currency for the games I’m playing. First time here so I hope I don’t break any established etiquette.

I’ll happily accept the label of ‘buyer’ as you propose it, so I apologise for what might be a biased sounding post. What’s more I agree that the underlying principle of my RMT activity is I “don’t want to spend the time (I) think it would take (me) in-game to get there without buying gold”. I could come up with a raft of other reasons but I’m sure Nick Yee will have catalogued them all by now so I’ll not repeat them.

Just to put it in context I have spent $300 on Deepwater Greaves for my Paladin in EQ (Ebay), roughly $100 from mysupersales.com on random ‘twinks’ in EQ, about $30 for DAoC but can’t recall the details and $25 or so for 2k Gold in EQ2 to buy a horse and do trade craft, from trade4game.com this time. This is the total purchases over about 6 years with the last purchase of 1K gold completed yesterday.

So the cost is nothing over the period, a few weekends of beer and one or two big dinners too many, so it’s not that I’m a ‘rich player’. It’s totally about the time it would take me to play and earn enough in game currency to get the items or succeed in tradecrafts. I want to play the game and grind but I want the option to do either.

Your suggestion that there should be some kind of stigma attached to the activity is interesting. However, on reflection your post made me realize there already is a stigma about RMT, in real life. I know that the news of the purchase of the Greaves, about the time RMT was growing on Ebay, had the same affect on my Guildmates as maybe announcing to my wife/parents I was gay/a reformed alcoholic or some such. Polite acceptance because they care for me but a definite wish it wasn’t so.

As Richard asked, the ‘why’ of ‘why I RMT for the money’ isn’t as negative as seems to be being suggested. I’m sure some players wish to Lord it over others, but not all will do. I know many people who RMT to pursue trade crafts. Just look at the RMT websites, trade crafts are often stated as a reason to get the currency in hand. Just the other night I was sent a tell asking if I wanted currency and this was a strap line in the hard sell I was given. This being so, I wonder how much RMT or in game currency is for Trade crafting?

I still need to put in hours clicking recipes, running around buying items, gathering those I can’t buy, communicate with players and Guild mates, make their orders and ship them on somehow. Guild work is usually done for free so I’d need to market to players to make the money back. All I gain is not having to travel around and gather everything.

So now let’s assume I’ve got a high trade craft skill, now what? Now I can make reasonable money from crafting high end items but – I can also now be more useful in the game to the player community and to my Guild. This is the ‘why’, now even with my limited time to acquire the currency needed I can take a place of some reasonable social standing within the game environment and guild, providing useful crafted items that guild members and the player community appreciate.

Maybe I’m experiencing or imagining a kind of social pressure, a sense of feeling inadequate? No one wants to be the perma-noob, never getting on the raids, never building a social network in game due to a lack of social value derived through useful interaction. I have to conform, meet expectations and fit in to enjoy the game and enjoy successful social interactions, I can’t do it by playing-straight but I can if I RMT. In real life maybe this is the same as getting my Credit Card out to afford that item I can’t actually pay for normally? Maybe in game banking systems should have overdrafts and loans accrued when you RMT? Not sure how you’d implement that but take it for the random thought it is.

If a player was ‘forced’ to wear a label it could add social pressure and stigma that may be part of the reason for going RMT. The Guild might not care as they’d know the reasons why and actually see benefit, but other players certainly might do. I would certainly devise ways to avoid the stigma.

Andy I think the ‘large fuel-air bomb’ analogy is a little excessive, I’d like to see the game that had that and survived Players know the limits of what they will and wont accept and I’d suggest as with most things the majority of people sit in the middle with the extreme vies held but many less. I can see hard core gamers / gambler types playing a game like but only if there was some perceived reward.

Players with time will always beat players who RMT, they get the Ubah rare drops that rarely appear as an RMT item, they build amazing teams of players around them and hone their skills no end. According to Nick Yee they also spend an additional 50% of the time on the meta game. Players with time on their hands should be nerfed.

Oh, and have you seen the prices on the Exchange servers? :)



The Eve market is interesting because of the timecard let-out, which is officially supported and grudgingly accepted by players. People won't respect you for the size of your wallet, more for what you have done, and the ease with which your bought goodies can be destroyed and/or stolen acts as a levelling factor.

Also, note that the (official endorsed) market of characters-for-isk works out, when combined with isk-for-gtc and gtc-for-$, that a character is worth roughly the total subscription fees ever spent on it. Which makes sense given the training based on elapsed real time. It's like having a time machine.


Neils said, ' The act of one player buying currency throws off a carefully designed game mechanic for countless others.'

What mechanic is that?

My character reaches level 60 and I'm ready for the next tier of armor. I don't have enough gold in my bank. I buy gold so I can purchase crafted armor from another player. What mechanic has been broken or thrown off?

When people buy gold the transaction occurs in 2 worlds. In the virtual world gold is moved from one account to another.

Now, if you bought gold from the publisher then it would affect the economy greatly as it would be akin to simply publishing more money.


I would categorize myself as a non-buyer. At first blush the whole idea is abhorrent to me. Firstly a behavior I consider negative would be postively reinforced by the titles. Second, just because the intention is to allow discrimination against RMT doesn't mean it won't end up just cutting the other way. I already feel branded enough for playing builds I find interesting instead of being a cookie cutter.. And for have substandard gear because I don't have time for 50 man raids.. Now I get to be labeled a "commoner" because I'm not willing to shell out money to bypass the only part of the game I have time to play??


@Cyreath and others: I enjoy the argument, made several times on this post and many times in the past, that "Players with time have an advantage over those who have less time," and (therefore, in some instances, the argument continues) RMT helps "level the playing field."

Well... no.

What it does is introduce another playing field into the game and overlap the two. Which is fine, if that's what the game is about, in part or in whole, and what players have agreed to, either (thank you Thomas) explicitly or (through the inaction of publishers and the community) implictly.

I like my "Big Red Button of Doom" analogy. I'll whip out another one:

Suppose I want to play chess and win. I define "winning" as the act of my king remaining on the board and yours not being on the board. Rather than spending all that time necessary to become a good player, I simply sit down with you for an agreed upon match, and when I've had enough of that "moving pieces around thing," I simply reach out and nab your king and declare that I've won. Can't argue with that, eh? Your king ain't there, my king is. Hah!

Isn't that *cheating* per se? Well, Thomas Malaby and I went round-and-round on that term for a long time on another RMT thread. And he convinced me that if the "rule keepers" did not do enough to police the playground, and the players didn't really care enough to take their biznezz elsewhere... it wasn't cheating. IE, if enough weight of social authority is behind the infield fly rule... it's legit. RMT ain't cheating even if the EULA says it is, if enough players say it isn't and the comp'ny don't do enough to prove otherwise. I eventually changed my hard-hard haid and agreed. Thomas thereby winning the coveted "Will Somebody Please Make Andy Shut-Up?" Award.

That being said... I'm still free to argue that RMT is simply *bad* if it's not explicitly part of the game and agreed upon by the players and publishers as an intrinsic game mechanic.


I think most folks who buy gold have something specific in mind- a mount, epic or otherwise. At level 40, if you don’t have a mount, it’s suddenly harder to play with similarly levelled players with their fancy new rides…and I think many folks hit this spot, see the huge gaping chasm between them and 90 gold, and just say “Forget it, I’ll buy the gold”. I think this is perfectly reasonable, and something Blizzard should recognize as a point of pain for many players.

So I think Blizzard could sell mounts for a real world fee- they will be unique, different than the current in-game mounts, and not particularly great looking. If this turned out nicely, they could expand the line – a not-so-great tier 0 equivalent gear set, for example (no stat bonuses for the whole collection, just decent pieces someone might slap into their gear to round it out), or perhaps even [Epic One Hander of Decent Damage]. I think as long as Blizzard keeps the finest rewards seperate through the BOP system, not many people would have a problem with this.

As for the royal family system…that would be enough for me to not ever use the service, simply because of what I imagine would be the complete block on getting into PUGs. If the buying of items is that obvious, with Blizzard-approved stigma, I can’t imagine the player-base being sympathetic or understanding about it. I don’t see the same stigma with pre-bought mounts or items, unless of course you’re sporting the whole set…but that’s just me.

One more thing to note: Blizzard is adding “loot” cards to their upcoming trading card game. These cards will have codes on them that will unlock in game rewards…but most sites say these will simply be cosmetic things such as hats and pets.

For now.


Dan said: "I think most folks who buy gold have something specific in mind..." Of course they do.

Question -- what do I do if I both have no time and no money? If I only have 5-10 hours a week to play, and I don't have the extra cash to spend on an epic mount, and the way I want to play the game involves me crossing both an epic chasm of 90 gold and 100 hours of gametime that will grow ever wider between me and my friends who play more often. They want me to play with them, they have the time (but no money, so, alas... can not RMT me the mount), but I... I have a day job. I'm stuck, eh? No time, no money, no way to play the game the exact way I want.

What if they way I want to play the game involves me pressing a big red button that kills your character instantly in a brightly-hued cloud of bubbly red ruin?

I like to speed. I often drive 75mph in a 65mph zone. It is illegal. I freely admit this. I have never been pulled over, because at 10mph over the speed limit the police just don't much feel like giving out tickets in Ohio. At 80mph... it starts to feel "illegal" to me. At 150mph... I have a feeling it would feel "really, really evil."

If a game has got built in RMT, defined by the publisher, and everyone who plays it knows that that is part of the "rules," I got no beef. You can choose to play or not, and base that decision on the rule-set and design choices and features, and the RMT issues are just part of that. But if it's on the side... all of a sudden you're bringing another set of criteria into the game that isn't part of the game. Maybe it's 75mph, maybe it's 100mph, maybe it's 170mph... that's up to the player to decide.

I want my big red button.


Confession: I've bought gold in every game I played, which is UO, EQ, DAOC, EQ2, AO, Eve, JumpGate, E&B, and D&D Online. Yes, I spent alot over time.

Why did I do it? Because it is fun. I advanced fairly high a few times the normal way and I am tired of that. I already know I will have to kill thousands or tens of thousands of repetitive creatures to earn the right to do more interesting things in the game. Usually, for the cost of me going to a nice dinner, I can buy the rewards that potentially come from 6 months of grind. I figure for the amount of time and work that the farmer put into getting that gold, I'm getting a great deal.

Just look at Universal Studios. I can pay more for an A-class ticket and jump to the front of all the lines. Some of those lines are hours long. It's the same thing.

You game designers don't put the really cool stuff in front of me from the beginning of the game. Instead, you flaunt it in front of my when all the level 70's walk by wearing/using/visiting the neat stuff your game offers. Now you wonder why I want to buy gold?

I would add to the discussion that I bet the RMT business is worth more money than the games business. The reason is that when I count all the dollars, I definitely spent more money buying in-game cash than I ever spent on the games and their monthly subscriptions combined.

However, please spare me the moral debate about buying gold. I don't participate in that dead-end thought process anymore. If you want to get technical, you could easily thrash someone for paying for a game at all instead of donating that money to the hungry/homeless.



As the saying goes, "time is money". In the real world, we routinely trade real-world time for real-world money (especially when it comes to delegating "grinding" tasks like housecleaning). On the other hand, there are many real-world accomplishments where spending a lot of time is necessary but not sufficient: playing a musical instrument, excelling at tennis, etc, because they involve development of highly-refined actual skill rather than unskilled or semi-skilled grinding time.

The fundamental problem most online multiplayer games have is that the "in-game" skills they define aren't really skills at all, in the sense of being able to play the violin. As long as games measure skill they way they do, they'll always have this problem. In other words:

A. "in-game skill = real-world time" (as per game design, accumulated grinding time is a proxy for any kind of actual physical skill)
B. "real-world time = real-world money" (as per "time is money", gamers wish to save time)
C. "in-game skill = real-world money"

If "C" is a problem, then what can be done about it? Trying to change "B" is hopeless, since both ends of the equation are aspects of the real world, so there is nothing you can do in-game that can affect how the real world has worked since time immemorial. But trying to change "B" is precisely what futile attempts to ban RMT amount to. The only real solution would be to change "A": break the link between the two sides of that equation by changing what "in-game skill" means.

Under current circumstances it's hard for game companies to break the link in "A" (and not merely because of the financial incentive of "real-world time spent" = "real-world monthly subscription revenue"). The current mouse-and-keyboard interface or game-console controller interface simply don't allow for sharp differences in physical dexterity or virtuosity to develop. Imagine trying to play the violin in real-time using a mouse/keyboard or game console. In the real world, the "interface" for playing a violin brings a very large number of hand and arm muscles into play, finely controlled movements that take years and years to master. Imagine some future online game (some years from now) with a violin-like interface, that players would spend years mastering. Where in-game skill would in fact involve some specific hard-to-master real-world physical skill. It does need to be a "physical" skill, by the way, since combat games are understood to involve this and if people want to, say, play chess online they can already do that.

This could seemingly be a huge risk for the game designer, since the learning curve could be very off-putting, but not really: after all, newbies can have fun playing other newbies in games like tennis. However, the long-term payoff could be enormous, because people who play real-world games of skill tend to do so for their entire lives (as opposed to: I've reached level 60 in WoW and there's nothing left for me to do except the same raids over and over, which leads to boredom and attrition). Even more significantly, very little ongoing game design or maintenance is needed to keep the game interesting and balanced: in tennis, one-on-one basketball, or violin playing, the rules change very seldom (anywhere from "minor tweaks every few years" to "never"). Contrast that to an enormous ongoing software development effort needed to create new levels 61-70 in WoW, introduce new player races, new rules, new loot, new monsters, etc. just to try to keep the game interesting to people who have maxed their level, which also carries the risk of being disruptive, unbalancing the game, some portion of the user base inevitably dislikes the changes, and so on, and then you'd just have to do it all over again for creating levels 71-80 a few years from now. Games like golf and tennis are also "eternal", not fad-driven and replaced by the latest new thing (like Everquest was overtaken by WoW, etc) because you can never exhaust their possibilities, precisely because real physical skill is involved.

Someday I think we'll see genuine online equivalents of real-world games of physical skill: simple rules, genuine physical skills that can you can spend a lifetime improving. The long-term payoff will be beyond any current gaming company's wildest dreams: owning an eternal low-maintenance franchise... imagine literally "owning" tennis as intellectual property. The big issue is that it will take some revolutionary new "violin-like" user interface though, or maybe a power glove or some new development in haptics, to allow a very wide range of finely-controlled muscle-movement skills to be the basis of genuine in-game skill that can ramp up without limitation, as they are for real-world game skills. Network latency and bandwidth QoS also a big issue, though presumably well under control by the "someday" time frame.

This means the barrier to entry would be very high for any company wishing to introduce such a game + dedicated hardware-device (but then again, barriers to entry do protect lucrative franchises from competition), particularly since the hardware would likely have to be sold in large quantities at a loss (as for Xbox). Two obvious companies that could pull off such a thing: Microsoft or Sony. Less obvious: Google? (big buyers of dark fiber, lots of expertise with massive server farms, unparalleled amounts of Internet traffic via homepage and ad network, flush with cash, etc).


SA> In the real world, we routinely trade real-world time for real-world money (especially when it comes to delegating "grinding" tasks like housecleaning). On the other hand, there are many real-world accomplishments where spending a lot of time is necessary but not sufficient...

On the other hand, there are activities that we spend time on that require time but not skill, yet we still disallow money to replace the expenditure of time. Examples: certificates granted for simply attending presentations /the punishment of jail time or community service.


greglas said: "The current mouse-and-keyboard interface or game-console controller interface simply don't allow for sharp differences in physical dexterity or virtuosity to develop."

I disagree. Quite strongly, actually. I have a team of designers and writers who report to me in my day gig. The skills that the writers posess is in no way tied to "mouse-and-keyboard" or anything interface driven. You could take away A___'s PC or C___'s mouse and they'd still be fine writers and I could count on them for their wordsmithing skills. The fact that they are accomplished in various technical disciplines necessary for competing in today's office environment is good... but is not core to their writing competency.

Now... for the designers, much of their inherent talent is the same. S____ is a fantastic artist in many media and M____ has a wonderful eye, period. BUT... if they didn't work on my team, before I would hire them to work for me, I would have to ask them the following questions: How well do you know Photoshop? Do you use Quark or InDesign or (gasp) PageMaker to do layout? How many years of Illustrator experience do you have? Can you animate in Flash? How many print ads and/or collateral pieces have you designed using digital design tools? Etc., etc. These are all craft skills that utilize software tools. And they are all skills that take time to learn.

You can't pay someone $200 or $1000 and immediately be granted the status of "Grand High Photoshop Master." I mean, you can... but I'll fire your ass on day 2. By the same token, there are plenty of ways to enable systems, puzzles, mazes, languages, learned content, social requirements and combinations, vote catching, nuanced play, etc. etc. that aren't repetitive, mindless click-fests. And if they are more related to the world itself -- and, in many cases, generated by player-related circumstance -- they will be much less likely to be "gamed" (cheated), as there will be more stigma attached, and... well... why skip the game part of the game?

I very much agree that much of the grind in many MMOs is simply that; time spent pixel clicking. For many, it in no way enhances play, gives satisfaction, provides fun. The fact that many players opt to go the RMT route in order to avoid grinding/farming or low-level play at all should be a MAJOR CLUE to game designers that there is a gap waiting for them to jump in and suck money out of gamers pockets themselves.

Why there aren't more marketing people in gameland jumping all over this with some higher level of creativity boggles my mind. The linear/direct/obvious answer, "Hey! Let's enable publisher santioned RMT in our own games!" is, frankly, a cop-out (pun intended).

I've mentioned here before the idea of some kind of eBay like voting system, where to advance in your craft, you need to get voted positively by other members of a guild. That's one way to enable a kind of reward system that is not a grind. And that would enable social, ad hoc quests: "Sure son, I'll vote you into Level 10. But I need 10 bolts of silk. That's all. Help me get 'em, and yer in." Or whatever. Hey! That's a quest! And it wasn't generated by the game masters... how... roleplaying-ish. And how friggin' efficient and profitable for the publisher. Imagine that on a system-wide level.

All kinds of things are possible when you think more broadly about "MMO as jointly created space" instead of "jointly played game."


@Adam who said: "...spare me the moral debate about buying gold. I don't participate in that dead-end thought process anymore."

It's not a moral debate, really. It's a gameplay debate. But to make it *feel* moral, because that's fun, let me ask you...

Would you have an objection if I paid the publisher a certain amount of money to keep you and your character out of the game entirely?

OK... that's a bit much.

How about if I pay to max out a bunch of 12-year-olds' characters, keep them logged on all the time and follow your character(s) around and gank you every few minutes?

Hmmm... The metaphor is still a bit heavy handed, I think. And expensive. And managing 12-year-olds is, well, tiresome.

I'll stick with my big, red button. I pay $X, and I get an in-game object that when I activate it blows your character into tiny-tasty-bits whenever I want. Boomlazza! That's fun for me. Because I'm tired of everything else. All the leveling, grinding, guilding, trading, talking, actual fighting, cooperating, real competition, etc. etc. The whole "game" part of the game. All of it. All I want to do is blow toons up. Over and over. When I want to. That's the part of the game I like. I want to skip to that part.

I never said it was a moral debate. I don't think that morals really enter into the world of online, virtual games per se... unless you steal someone's real money or convince them to do something in real life that's harmful. Same as checkers, chess, Scrabble, etc. There's nothing "immoral" (scare quotes on purpose, people) about putting down "farggle" in Scrabble. It's not a word, but if I can convince my idiot friend, Ed, that it is... well, I'm just playing the game wrong. Not by the rules. The accepted term for that is "cheating." We differentiate between cheating and breaking the law and sinning in terms of levels of acceptable behavior and how we feel about it in our own lives.

I make no moral judgement about RMT; I just state that I think it is *bad* for the game when some people can/do play by one set of rules and others play by other rules. There are other examples besides RMT of *bad* play that fall into other categories: the inability of many players on RP servers to stay even marginally close to what we'd call a character. The use of foul, profane and inappropriate language in a game that's being played by a wide range of people. General impoliteness and lack of respect. Poor taste in the choice of character names. Failure to ever stop dancing.

There are all kinds of things that players do that are simply... bad. We can argue about which things are worse than others, and whether or not some things are even bad at all, or how bad or when bad or who they're bad for. Right. Same in any game. Should tennis players curse when they miss a shot? Well... there are kids watching. That's bad. As bad as throwing a racket into the crowd? Probably not. Until it was outlawed in 1920, the spitball was legal in baseball. Then it was "bad." Except for 17 named players who were allowed to continue using the pitch for the rest of their careers.

See? Weird. Games. Rules. Hunh. Go figure.

You want a glaive or a horse or to skip 10 levels. I want a big red button. At some point, the spit ball is illegal... unless you're one of the 17.

It's not a moral issue. It's a gameplay issue. It's about "bad" not "wrong."


Andy Said: greglas said: "The current mouse-and-keyboard interface or game-console controller interface simply don't allow for sharp differences in physical dexterity or virtuosity to develop."

Clarification: I didn't say that, Stanton did!


Grinding in MMOs should be enforced because you can't buy your way out of a jail sentence or buy your way into a job?

What the hell? I thought games were meant to be fun, not punishment or work.

People already use metagame advantages, whether thats more leisure time to progress faster than you, or multiple accounts to harvest assets faster than you, or greater social capital to utilise better allies than you. Picking on RMT strikes me as facile. Lack of time to keep pace with friends was always the reason I gave up on each MMO I tried.


AA> Grinding in MMOs should be enforced because you can't buy your way out of a jail sentence or buy your way into a job? What the hell? I thought games were meant to be fun, not punishment or work.

Whoah, slow down a sec. First of all, you also can't buy the status of an Olympic Medalist or even being the winner of your town pie-eating contest. But those are skill-based activities as Stanton would see it. With the jail time example I was just showing an example of a non-skill, non-meritocratic activity where we didn't allow market exchanges of time for money. If we can structure business and crime that way, we certainly can (and do) structure games that way as well.

But personally, I don't have strong feelings about RMT for the reasons you give -- I think keeping upwith friends is a big reason for RMT and a very sympathetic one. OTOH, Richard and Ted and plenty of other people get very angry about the RMT (at least in cases where the designers or players don't want it). While I don't share the gut-level indignation about RMT, I don't see the simple existence of a time/money relationship and a lack of skill-based merit as a good basis for saying they are wrong. The concept of being obliged to simple "pay your dues" by spending time on something can exist as a value in games, books, and other sorts of leisure pursuits.

That's all I was getting at.


Stanton Anon> The current mouse-and-keyboard interface or game-console controller interface simply don't allow for sharp differences in physical dexterity or virtuosity to develop. Imagine trying to play the violin in real-time using a mouse/keyboard or game console.

Andy Havens> I disagree. Quite strongly, actually. I have a team of designers and writers who report to me in my day gig. The skills that the writers posess is in no way tied to "mouse-and-keyboard" or anything interface driven.


It amuses me that the user interfaces for hulking warriors operate *exactly* the same as the user interfaces for diminutive wizards.

More variety in the input devices would be very useful to differentiate character play.

That said, I do agree with Andy that there may be considerable intellectual skill required to play a game. Choosing the response to best counter an enemy action can be difficult. Managing stress and emotional response can also be difficult, especially if the game has some dexterity or speed requirements like a first person shooter. Coordinating team level tactics is just as hard in a virtual world as it is in any real world activity.


@greglas: Appologies. I have a cold.


Andy Havens wrote> I disagree. Quite strongly, actually. I have a team of designers and writers who report to me in my day gig. The skills that the writers posess is in no way tied to "mouse-and-keyboard" or anything interface driven.

Well, designing or writing are different things entirely. They lack the real-time aspect of tennis or violin-playing or combat. The deadlines for writing or designing tend to be "I need this done by the end of the day" rather than "Do something in the next few seconds or you're toast". Really, no comparison is applicable.

I was merely pointing out that in the real world, games of real-time physical virtuosity (with simple rules) are the most popular (and timelessly popular, over many decades). And the skills required can't be acquired by the mere passage of time, which is equivalent to saying that they can't be bought (in other words, any game that measures skill or level mostly by means of time spent will have an RMT problem, as discussed in my original post).


This is a getting to be a bit of a digression off the topic, but another aspect of "simple rules" is that it's very easy to get back into such a game after being away from it for an extended time. You can put away your golf clubs for the winter and resume next year, whereas most people who leave a game like WoW for several months are gone for good (way too much relearning to do to get back into it). However, "simple rules" is something that "skill=time spent" games can't really do: they all rely on having some very complicated backstory to learn, which is ultimately detrimental to long-term user base retention and franchise lifetime. On the other hand, "skill=physical virtuosity" games are much more conducive to having quite simple rules (consider soccer, for instance).

The current overwhelming dominance of WoW may force would-be competitors to really innovate and rethink. At some point, the next generation will not be "even more WoW than WoW, on steroids", but something else. One candidate for that "something else" is games of real-time physical virtuosity which will be RMT-proof by their very nature.


Great discussion, and I'd add, Stanton, that the game you propose would not be RMT-proof as long as that games' characters or items are both consequential (to success) and alienable. That is, the game would either have to have basically no increase in ability tied to the accumulation of levels, titles, or gear (I take it that this is what you're saying), *or* it would have to perfect a way of keeping all of that stuff tied to one and only one player (not character) for all time. Money (material capital) *tends* to trump everything in online games, even embodied skills (whether learned or innate) and social acumen, because so much of what is constructed via code (toons, items, currency, and, most importantly, accounts themselves) is alienable in one fashion or the other. That is, they can be exchanged -- and the nature of code plays right into that colonization of games by the market.


@Anon: I agree 100% about writing. My point about the designers, though, was that part of their job description requires a particular interface (software) expertise. And while the time coefficient is different than that of violins or violence, I still contend that that is a quantitative measure as opposed to qualitative. If I need a page laid-out in 4-hours, and that's something a top-notch InDesign honcho can do no prob, and something a design noob takes 14 hours to do... the noob is toast. I didn't mean it to be a 1-to-1 analogy... but, then again, playing something on the violin isn't a comat sit either, is it ; )

I agree with you 100% that what we're looking for are ways to simulate situations that are game-reactive rather than simply time-reactive; because RMT can then be subbed for time-reactive measures with no game translation whatsoever. Someone can trade money-for-grind.

The most galling example of a time-reactive situation in a VW is, for my (ahem) money, chair camping in Second Life. The idea that you can park your toons heiney in somebody's disco, casino or club and earn money just by being there because the system rewards social attention is, to me, disgusting. I look at the potential of SL and then cruise through an area and see all these bent-head, absent avatars, essentially drooling into their laps to earn $10LD an hour by just stump-and-grinding... Geez. I know, I know... they're working the system and earning a few bucks. I don't blame them personally, really. It's a problem with the world.

If you can earn any kind of points or score in a game by simply being there or doing something blindly, stupidly repetitive... there is very little value to that action from a game perspective. My point in disagreeing with your contention that the actions must be sports-like was simply that there are -- in addition -- many other appropriate, non-physical ways to adequately reward good game behaviors that are game-reactive as opposed to time-reactive. It doesn't have to be about reflexes. It can be about skills other than my ability to swing a mouse ; )


Actually, Thomas, your description sounds like an FPS-MMORPG hybrid, something we've talked about here before, and something that I think SWG v.2.0 was supposed to be trying to do.

Previous thread by Ren in March 2004:

Greg Costikyan had a good comment:

"[S]uch a game would be an -extremely- minority taste. The problem with player skill games is that newbies get creamed, and the players who hang around most and longest are the best. This is a surefire recipe for turning new players off, and player rank and character matching systems are of limited usefulness in ameliorating the problem, since any such system is "gameable" (and will be gamed)."

I might add, though, that some of the next crop of MMOGs are trying to figure out how to do this right:


And even WoW has those people who prefer Battlegrounds to PvE...


Thanks for the pointer, Greg, that one was before my time, ;-). As always with economies (broadly defined), it boils down to accumulation, and how one manages to calibrate the various things (skill, relations, etc) that accumulate and cultivate avenues for parlaying them into one another. The goal is a workable situation where vast differences in resources (capital) do not derail the opportunities for new actors. If the ethnographic literature is any guide, finding a way for the *giving away* (or destruction) of material resources to *be socially valued* (sort of the antithesis of what Eric is proposing) can at least counter the overriding effects of market exchange (I'm thinking, of course, of the potlatch systems, and of the "big man" system of Papua/New Guinea and other places).


That's an interesting idea -- the potlach MMO. You'd think that, with all the fuss over Second Life as analogous to open source, someone would have talked about an "MMO potlach" before. I guess certain guild behavior is in the nature of a potlach meritocracy -- the concept of good leadership in guilds, I think, is not based on skill in play or in gear, but on how much the leader gives back to the organization in certain forms of value.

Another tweak on the prior arguments: you can break down skill into things other than twitch and virtuosity (which are rewarded in FPS). Much of the skill of MMO play is the skill Mike complains about in his WoW-boredom thread: simply knowledge of complex interfaces, narratives, taxonomies, strategies, and relationships. Mastering this is mostly time based, but it is essentially the dominant "skill" in most MMOGs. The possible lack of that skill is one reason given for opposing the RMT (though I'm not sure I buy that argument, if most of those doing RMT already have that skill).

...how much the leader gives back to the organization in certain forms of value

That's right, although of course part of the point of potlatch systems and similar is that they either destroy wealth, or give it away so widely (far beyond one's close ties of reciprocity), that the material capital *isn't* just circulating within an established class, kin group, etc. It's a removal or wide redistribution of wealth in the system, which frees up (some) space for new actors. This is why the reciprocity within a guild is in fact furthering both the existing set of power relations in that group and increasing its chances of accumulating more resources vis-a-vis others.


Hmm... gotcha. Does everyone read the potlatch economy that way? I was reading CODE (not the Lessig one, the MIT press one "Collaborative Ownership and the Digital Economy / Edited by Rishab Aiyer Ghosh") last year, and essays there seemed to have a more communitarian reading of the practice. It suggested that potlaches were a way to provide gifts to the community in order to obtain status. (Kind of like Veblen as welfare or the cynical homo economicus take on charity and altruism.)

Viewing the potlach as wealth destruction, otoh, is really interesting, and makes me wonder about other similar practices.


To a certain extent I'm extrapolating on the destructive dimension of potlatch, which in truth was probably unique to post-contact potlatch, when there was an enormous increase in the amount of material wealth available. There is no question that, in general, the wealth is redistributed (and power retained or carefully transferred -- through the transfer of ritual names). In fact, the big man system is a better example, not of destruction, but of a very wide distribution of wealth (in most cases, pigs) that acts as a counter to class stratification. It is, of course, always difficult to keep wealth from reproducing itself, primarily in kin lines, because of the vested interest those families have. It's no accident, to me, that Tocqueville pointed to the US's lack of primgeniture (among many other factors) as very important to its civic and economic health and future prospects.


Just to add: So, really, what these examples should get us thinking about is not how we might be able to achieve a perfectly level playing field (whether in a game or a society), but rather pragmatically about how we might build in checks against the over accumulation of resources for particular groups, without of course giving up the social benefits of accumulation (incentives for creativity and the like). For Ongka, who became a big man -- something like a chief without the office, so no transferral quandaries! -- he did it almost solely through the force of his personality and willingness to work hard. That is, it's a system which rewards personal qualities to an enormous degree, mainly because of the ephemerality and inalienability of that influence.


Interesting thoughts. Along those lines, I can't help but think of Bill Gates' transformation from iconic capitalist to iconic philanthropist -- same with the robber barons (Carnegie, Rockefeller), whose names are synonymous now not with aquisitive greed but with civic institutions and charities.

My other thought is actually about Gene Rodenberry's Star Trek. I can presume a familiarity with it here. :-) I was struck by an early episode (I think Season 1, maybe) where Picard patiently explains to a Wall Street Investor who is being brought back from cryogenic freeze how human civilization has moved past monetary wealth and is now structured along more humane principles. Society in Star Trek seems to be an idealized and happy egalitarian meritocracy -- perhaps that's why the show is so appealing to so many people.


Thomas said: "For Ongka, who became a big man...he did it almost solely through the force of his personality and willingness to work hard."

Well, I don't think anyone is ever going to complain that someone does well at a game (or in any field) because they work hard at it or have skill. Games of pure random chance are fun for some people because they eliminate all skill, time involvement, natural ability, etc. And there are, in complex games, often curves of randomness built in at a variety of levels; either real or imagined.

From a rule-design standpoint, though, the 1st part of "what made Ongka a big man" needs to be examined just like any other part of a game; force of personality. In a game with no social interaction -- checkers played over the Internet with no chat, let's say -- force of personality won't make you a winner. Harvey Milquetoast can do as well as Dale Cargegie. Compare that to very social games, like WoW at the higest levels or SL. In those, force of personality is very important. But that's built into the rules and UI along with gravity and the mini-map.

I like the Star Wars analogy, greglas... what happens when we give up (or overemphasize) a particular "rule?" What would an MMO with no wealth look like? Or one where level promotion was based solely on the votes of peers... if I'm in a VW, it's all game and everything I do is based on rules that the Game Gods have laid down.


I take your point about Ongka, Andy, but let's not forget that, even in internet checkers, one is engaging in the act of making guesses about another's point of view and likely actions. Just offhand, I would say that this is a big part of what I rather loosely glossed as "force of personality."


Thomas: Yes, but on the Internet it is very, very hard to tell if I am tapping my ring on the desk (my personal bluffing tell), or if my poor moves are because I'm bad at the game or distracted by my kid screaming or my wife playing with my hair or me being drunk or, or, or...

You can never eliminate the human from the human opponent, no. But you can also design *more* human elements into the rules. That was my main point. If I only have to click on a shiny yellow rock 7,500 times to become a Level 2 miner, that's not a "force of personality" game element in any sense. If I have to get five different Level 3 or higher miners to transform X-amount of raw-ore into refined-ore... that requires some element of personality.


So we agree, really. The point your making here relates, to me, directly to the possibility that there is a particularly good "fit" between code and certain aspects of games and not others. One of them is the "market," as I've argued elsewhere, and another might be (mini)games with a lot of stochastic contingency ("hmmm...I'm at 215 in First Aid, and that bandage is green to make, but I really need to get that Artisan-level quest, and I have 30 raw materials" [/sits in rapt attention as the skill ticks up, but not every time...]).

It's comparatively easy, as you say, to build simple (or distractingly intricate!) layers of stochastic contingency on top of one another (with some "hooks" of cultural contextualization thrown in) than, by contrast, to provide a platform for the subtle social contingencies that can only occur between people in an interaction with wide bandwidth. (Although, in any event, it's not easy to design a good game!)


I'm rather surprised that no one has mentioned what seems to be Blizzard's main strategy for limiting the effectiveness of RMT transactions in WoW: pretty much all of the top tier items in the game are Bind on Pickup, i.e. non-tradable.

The only way to get the best stuff is to suck it up and spend time raiding with 39 other people, or spend months gaining the highest PvP ranks. Granted, this is still vulnerable to multiple players playing the same account round the clock, power leveling services and the like, but it seems to me that the basic idea of Soulbound items was an excellent design decision on Blizzard's part.

Of course the major dowside to this mechanic is that it makes for a loot-centric (as opposed to crafting-centric) game, but my instincts tell me that players actually prefer loot drops to crafting. There seems to be more satisfaction in picking up something off a mob you killed yourself than heading to a top crafter and shelling out virtual currency for an item.


@Thomas: "It's not easy to design a good game!"

I agree! It's devastatingly hard. Which is why they come out so rarely and we are so impressed and amazed when they do. I remember when I first played "Magic: The Gathering" the card game. I went, "Doh! Why didn't I think of that!" Amazed and impressed. Same with "Settlers of Cattan." Great games. Very hard to create.

But one of the reasons it's so hard is that we rely on game designers to come up with fixed rule sets in closed boxes. MMOs offer a chance for designers to provide systems of "rules of rules" where the players themselves can, to a certain degree, design some of the the game and games within the game for themselves. If the vocabulary, grammar and syntax of points, levels, etc. are provided, rather than whole sentences, stories and chapters, there are many more itterative chances for this to happen.


Andy Havens said:
"There's nothing "immoral" (scare quotes on purpose, people) about putting down "farggle" in Scrabble. It's not a word, but if I can convince my idiot friend, Ed, that it is... well, I'm just playing the game wrong. Not by the rules."

I just wanted to point out that there is no rule in Scrabble that says you can't play a fake word, either by mistake or on purpose. If an opponent has enough nerve to challenge it, you lose your turn, though. The people who wrote the rules of Scrabble found a clever way to incorporate mistakes and cheating into the game itself. Would that other game designers be as creative.


CherryBomb: You are correct. My bad. I should have used a better example. Like:

There's nothing "immoral" about a knight moving two squares forward and two squares to the side. It's not a legal move in the game, but there is no moral/ethical reason on earth why a plastic, metal, glass, stone (etc.) image of a horse shouldn't move two-and-two rather than two-and-one.

It's only a moral issue if you have taken the argument one step further and made the declaration that "not following this-and-such set of game rules is immoral."

You can say, for example, that it is *always* immoral to not follow game rules. That would be, I think, somewhat simplistic. For example, following game rules in sports that would lead to a situation of "don't break rule, but injur self severely" would be dumb. It is better, I would argue, to break a rule than break a femur. Usually.


Interesting that you bring up sports rules. Arguments about whether on-line games should allow RMTs remind me strongly of the arguments about doping in sports. The central problem is that doping and buying armor are considered immoral by a lot of people, but not by everybody. In chess, you can make unbreakable rules like how a knight moves because violatons are obvious to all players.

The original poster was suggesting a way to increase this kind of transparency in on-line games, which in my opinion is the only way out of this mess. (And i DO think it is a mess, not because RMTs are inherently immoral, but because unenforceable rules are the worst kind of rules you can have.)


But that (transparency) strikes me as too narrow and formalist a solution. Transparency only has consistent effects if everyone shares the same values/ethics/meanings; the fact that these are all moving targets in the context of MMOs makes this an incredibly complex issue. Governance happens not only through rule systems (like laws, or game rules), but through code (in the Lessig sense), market forces, and social convention. If, as a policy matter, we are troubled by RMT, than it's going to take a set of responses that take into account all of these avenues.



what are "market forces"? something like "natural forces"? Could you be more specific, please?


The market governs through, roughly speaking, the law of supply and demand. That is, among the constraints upon how we act, produced by the things listed above, there are the constraints imposed on us by the the market, which partially governs the conditions under which we can, say, buy an epic mount in WoW, or a private island in Second Life.


Not really in contradistinction to what Thomas said, but the other problem with transparency, as I and others said above, is that part of what is bought with RMT trade is a status that hinges on a lack of social transparency about the buying -- so that gain is lost for them in this model. Also, for some of those opposed to RMT, transparent buying will be just as bad as non-transparent buying -- perhaps worse because it is coded into what is acceptable. In short, the cure Eric is proposing, in terms of its payoff in net social utility (however a good Benthamite would calculate that) might be worse than the disease.

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