« Are we really ready for a global conversation about virtual worlds? | Main | Smack talking to your base »

Nov 02, 2006



Joshua >But in DDO (which does have soulbinding, but to a lesser degree), the difficulty is that I can't read the life story of a potential groupmate in their equipment. <

There is a much more straightforward solution to this than further protecting items. Add a Server generated, publicly viewable history to each character. Preferably in flowery mock medieval language for a fantasy server. Then you can read the achievements and history of each character directly.

Trademark laws combat a historic problem. We have no All Seeing God we can appeal to who will reliably tell us the history of an item or person. In Virtual Worlds we do, its called the Central Server. Using some of that knowledge to make the life story of characters more explicit would free up weapons from having to carry that burden. Craftsmen could for example make weapons at least as powerful as those dropping from the greatest mobs. A quick check of your character history would reveal is your fancy sword came from the hoard of a dragon, or the hand of a renowned craftsman.


> People who buy accounts are highly skilled players, and are successful enough
> in real life to afford the purchase -- both strong indicators of high quality
> gaming skills

Do you have facts to support that claim?

Some may be, but unless proved wrong by serious statistics, I'll stand by my feeling that most are just spoiled brats (or the equivalent thereof for the older age groups).


I'm a very anti-cheat person and no that really has nothing to do with the reasons. I couldn't tell you if an item came from an uberzone or not. I just want a pleasant game that remains a game.


In older flight sim type games (like X-Wing and Gunship), you'd be awarded various medals upon completing missions. My roommate and I would replay X-Wing missions over and over until we collected the best medals, just to try to out-do one another. I think medals would be a nice reward for fantasy world accomplishments, too. Colorful, collectible, easy to identify, browse, implement, and expand.

The root of the problem with source identification is really that accomplishments belong to the character, not to the player. User name and password are supremely transferrable, making account sales elementary. I suppose you could bind items to a less transferrable token, like SSN or e-mail address. That might dampen account sales, but probably not account sharing. You can't ever really tell who is in the chair.



First, hats off to you for combining DDO with TM law theory. That's wonderful.

But I'm not quite sure I agree with the segue from trademark law, which is about source identification, to dilution theory, which is about -- well, I don't think people know what it is about.

Holding a Gucci bag, for instance, is simply an indicator that you purchased a Gucci bag -- it doesn't mean that you *are* a Gucci bag. Soulbound items on an avatar speak to the avatar's experience, as you say, in ways that the Gucci bag does not. So in one case, we're talking about the quality of certain information signals, in the other case, we're simply talking about the market purchase of a status object.

Confusion as to what Misplaced Server Arm signifies would seem to me more compatible with traditional understandings of trademarks as source identifiers that need to be protected for a variety of reasons, but less compatible with dilution theories, which have nothing to do with confusion over source. And, fwiw, I'm actually not quite sure that dilution has much to do with sustaining markets in certain types of Veblen goods.

That said, I think dilution theory does jibe with virtual property, precisely in that by turning trademark protections related to a word into a property right in gross, you've performed the "if value, then property" equation that one often sees in virtual property moves. I think you and I agree with this on domain names, but I would argue that some cyberproperty theories go too far by being divorced from any clear-headed calculus about social welfare. Dilution, imho, is one of those cases.


The problem with account sales is like prostitution: you can't eliminate it, but regulation can actually turn the problem into a benefit. With regulation, the downsides can be minimized, and solutions can be provided by the game makers to maximize the benefits of such actions. Account sales can easily be logged, changed, tagged, controlled and displayed in a way that is helpful to the gamers.

The real problem is, society does not approve of prostitution because of social values, regardless of whether it can become beneficial or not. And it is my opinion that game makers will continue to disapprove of character sales based on the same social value arguement: you gotta know how to put on the right moves if you wanna 'get some', because some things in life money just shouldn't be able to buy.


Joshua Fairfield>I've talked about the myth of the e-baby before. People who buy accounts are highly skilled players, and are successful enough in real life to afford the purchase -- both strong indicators of high quality gaming skills

The one on the Turalyon server last night asking on the trade channel for the address of a good gold-selling web site so he could use his mother's credit card to buy enough to get his mount at level 40 wasn't.



@Steven, who said: "And it is my opinion that game makers will continue to disapprove of character sales based on the same social value arguement"

Not sure I agree, totally. I'm not a fan of RMT in games where it's not an explicit part of the contract, because it isn't transparent to users to what level other players are engaged in one set of rules vs. another; ie, time and skill vs. monetary involvement.

That being said, in systems where the publisher explicitly disclaims, "You can buy good stuff," I don't think people have any right to have issue with "money = cool." That's the way *the world* and, in those cases, *those worlds* will work.

This thread is crossing in my head with one on Raph's site about WYSIWYG loot. What might be interesting is a system whereby any action or thing is logged in some central database to tell how the user got it. If I want to run as a "natural," and build all my own gear, that might equate to high status for me and my friends, clan, guild, etc. You might not give an orc's arse. So you can go ahead and RMT the same level of stuff... but in the Great Big Book of Things... it shows that you bought 'em at the store. A thief, on the other hand, will, of course, register that he stole all his swag from players A, B, C... heh heh heh. Which he'll love. A fighter will have won his in honest combat. A priest (or a truly nice guy who trains and twinks) may be the recipient of many gifts, also shown as such in The Book.

Play the way you want. Status = what you say it is.

In fact, you could even attach some level of XP modifier to a class structure to this. If you play as a thief, buying your weapons/armor doesn't give you as much XP as stealing it. Fighters get more XP for kills made using stuff they've won in battle. Mages... er... I don't know.

Paladins get more XP for being jerks, pwning noobs and ninja looting

; )

[Thus, I expose my Horde leanings...]


Glad you liked it, Greg. :-)

A few thoughts. I think a lot of people -- myself emphatically included -- baffled about dilution law. Why not permit Gucci pianos?

The argument I've heard is that a person who is buying a Gucci handbag is buying three things: a handbag, information about the quality and source of the handbag, and a social "bump." The question is whether we ought to permit people to pay for a raw social "bump."

This interest in snobbery -- payment for a raw social bump -- is what folks are saying is diluted. And there's at least an argument that says snobbery should be protected: if not permitted to pay for the social bump in terms of a trademark, people would be forced to buy their social bump in terms of consumption. It's a "let's have Gucci handbangs rather than people buying 10 cars" argument. Again, not my idea.

But it does seem to bear on questions of virtual property, as you pointed out. You're absolutely right that I hear this question in connection with virtual property all the time: "If the developers of a game can create all the +5 Swords of Whooping they want, and everyone can have one, then isn't making people slave away from them just deadweight loss?"

Well, no. As Ted has said: the rubber hits the road in economic analysis when we realize that the fight, so to speak, is the fun. Inefficiency equals utility. And, the interest in having stuff that other people *don't* have seems to be what is driving the urge to acquire in virtual worlds.

Small anecdote -- used to be that my Nightslayer Chestpiece (back in WoW, now) was my most prized possession. But the WoW community has now pretty much figured Molten Core out. Now, out of all my gear, which is mostly AQ40 and Naxx stuff, the Nighstlayer is embarrassing. I cover it up with a tabard. Why? 'Cause other people have it.

Should games protect gaming snobs like me?


Joshua, I think this is a very interesting topic you are bringing up. Let me offer a perspective from the sociology of consumption. This is of course a simplified account, although it still turned out pretty long...

In any given pre-modern society where consumer goods were very scarce, there was a strong link between consumption and identity. A person with a sword is certainly a member of the warrior class. The one with the crown is the king. This way, you could read a person's social identity from their possessions.

However, as societies became more affluent, it became possible for masses of people to obtain goods previously available to a few only. For example, you no longer had to be a lord to be able to afford a purple coat. This threatened the ability of goods to establish identity.

The higher classes stood to lose if identities were to be "evened out". As a solution, in many societies (e.g. Romans, Tudor English, Tokugawa Japanese) they tried enact and enforce sumptuary laws, rules that determine what each social class or group is allowed to consume: e.g. color and material of clothes, food served at banquets, neighbourhood to live in.

This story is analogous to the rise of RMT in MMORPGs. Before RMT, you could read something about a player (playtime at the very least) from the possessions of her avatar. But when anyone can obtain anything using RMT, this link breaks down. Players who are afraid of losing the means of establishing their social identity (Joshua's snobs) are thus calling for sumptuary laws (forbidding RMT). Joshua' question is, should we oblige them?

We can try to look for insights from what happened in real Western consumer societies. Sumptuary laws didn't last. Some things remain exclusive (very expensive goods, rare goods, hand-made goods etc), but mass-produced commodities are the norm and choice is almost limitless. So what happens to social identity when anyone can have the purple coat?

One way of putting it is that we move from the possession of scarce goods to the possession of scarce information as the means of establishing identity. You can choose any good you want, but in order to send out the right message, you have to choose the right one. Commodities thus become signs, and fashion is born. Taste classifies the classifier, is Bourdieu's famous quote.

Who determines which goods are the right ones? One way to see it is that it's a postmodern class struggle. Higher classes seek to differentiate themselves from othes by adopting new symbols, and others seek to de-differentiate themselves from the higher classes by imitating them. In order to maintain the distance, higher classes must constantly adopt new symbols and devalue old ones, leading to fashion cycles.

Others may also attempt to subvert the leading position of the higher classes by offering their own set of symbols as a preferred alternative. This leads to fragmentation: there is no single fashion, but multiple fashions. Your social identity is no longer a point in a rather one-dimensional axis, but an area in a multi-dimensional matrix. This corresponds with contemporary notions of egalitarianism as the preferred alternative to class society.

Can we draw some insights from this to MMORPG RMT? Well it's a stretch, but I'll indulge myself for just a little bit. The main point is that identity and status will not disappear even if everything is up for sale. Strong social pecking orders and factions emerge in virtual worlds like Habbo Hotel despite the fact that almost everything can be bought there by anyone. Virtual worlds work much like contemporary consumer society in this sense.

What if you want to play a game that resembles (and I use this word in the loosest possible sense) a pre-modern class society though? What if a simple hierarchy established by material possessions is what you would like?

As Steven Yang pointed out above, even in market capitalism not everything is for sale. Markets are still socially conditioned, just not so much as they used to be. Within a group of six people playing a tabletop RP, it is typical to observe a social norm that forbids the players from engaging in RMT, even if trading would be economically feasible.

But in a MMORPG with thousands of players, I think we all understand that this kind of norms cannot currently be enforced - incentives to get the uber gear are too strong and the norms too weak. Prudent developers design their games in such a way that RMT doesn't destroy them. But I think it's also worth thinking about how you could actually embrace it. Even if purple coats are not privileged in consumer society (at least not this season), contemporary life can still be fun.


Excellent, Vili. In addition to Bourdieu's Distinction and the related literature it spawned, I thought I would also mention Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood's The World of Goods (though Amazon seems to believe it was written by someone named "Profess Douglas", lol).


Thanks Thomas. I enjoyed your Parlaying Value paper, I wonder if it is just us two taking the sociological/anthropological approach to virtual economies?

Anyone else here?


To Vil: Yeah good, nay excellent, post.

“Commodities become signs.”

Well. I would really rather say “signs become commodities.” But the notion of “multiple fashions” did catch my eye.

The premise seems to be that fashion becomes solely situated in a sign-symbol (and the cultural interpretation thereof) context.

I would suggest that fashion (which is actually quite a good flagpole for culturally determined values) must, at some point and/or to some degree, serve function. X laments his nightslayer sword, but he still uses it as necessary. Likewise, I am not really into purple coats, but I will wear one rather than freeze to death. Commodities tend to retain some objective values (or relationships to the real world – you may call these “affordances” if you want to make that particular mixed metaphor leap) apart from those assigned by cultural contexts (ie, social class struggles/competitions).

Now that is a simple point, I think – and really the only one I wanted to make in order to wiggle out from under (once again, sigh) the impending Great Weight of social semiotics.

But, if so…

In the real world, hizzy fits of fashion are bound by function: the emperor’s new clothes. In the virtual world, function loses its real-world groundings and becomes something else, that, potentially, can be endlessly whirled and semiosed and, therein, culturally studied and determined.

Thus, if we really are living in a virtual world (from one of those other many Terra Nova threads that now, unfortunately, seems to have fallen on the wrong side of the egg timer and only resurrected by the occasional grave-robbing spambot) that we are indeed screwed. Virtual world fashion might never get busted by that exceedingly cold day.


@Vili: Thanks for the kind words and the link (I've left a comment on your post there). As for whether others are doing this, I'd love to hear about them, if they're out there. But I think we can also begin to think about whether we're witnessing a synthesis of a number of approaches right now, given that Ted's recent work (such as here) demonstrates a shared treatment of virtual world economies as economies of meaning to a greater extent then ever before (and this connects strongly to dmyers' excellent post as well). This recognition is consonant, then, with TL's and Dmitri's work on social capital and its economy, when seen from a broad perspective. And we must do this if we are to be in a position to recognize how broad the economy (that is, beyond the market) is in these spaces. (Of course, I think it's that broad everywhere -- it's just that virtual worlds transform the dominance of market exchange within the economy more broadly, as Ted's piece explores.)


Thomas: "And we must do this if we are to be in a position to recognize how broad the economy (that is, beyond the market) is in these spaces. (Of course, I think it's that broad everywhere -- it's just that virtual worlds transform the dominance of market exchange within the economy more broadly, as Ted's piece explores."

I agree with the statement that "the economy" is not just "what economics care to provide models for".

Funny thing though is that people who dare to raise this point in public (let alone in a political relevant context) tend to get tarred and feathered these days (being called a something on the order of "crypto-marxist nutter" tends to be the politest way of putting it).

Therefore, I think that it is not "the virtual worlds" *as such* that somehow play an active part in blurring of lines between "the economic" and "the social" you seem to pont to here. After all, it is always human actors -- in the vw as well as in the physical world -- with all sorts of interests, from the "hunger" for social acceptance all the way to the mundane effort to "make a buck or two" while playing anyway...

What is in fact different is the privileged position of the observer -- as an observer in a "god-like" position looking at what's going on inside the game world from above (as well as from within, empirical research is indispensable for sharpening the "theoretical eye") you have a position (as game observing scholar) *nobody* has *ever* had with regard to the workings of the physical world.

The fact, that the game studies community has so far resisted any attempt at narrowing down the range of "acceptable" topics (in fact the range seems to be still increasing :) is one great achievement -- and it is in turn a scathing verdict on the ideological fragmentation and narrow-mindedness of "real-world studies" -- economic, social, or otherwise ... "post-modern holistic word salad" anyone? :)


@Thomas: Nice. I am madly in love with the term "economy of meaning." I've written before, here and elsewhere, that I sometimes refer to our current epoch as "The Age of Content." In such a time, the top of the value-chain is often defined not by what you own, but by your stories (in the absolute broadest sense of that term). Our recent mania over Everything 2.0 is a fascination with sites and software that makes collaboration and social computing more friction-free, and that is simply a way of sharing and crating stories in larger markets. Taking my meaning to town, rather than hiding it under a bushel, if I may mix at least three metaphors.

Part of the power of content that is the value of these markers -- in fashion, entertainment, law, technology, education, marketing, etc. -- is incredibly viral and fluid. That can be a positive, as it allows for quick, interesting, multiple and multi-media permutations. It can be a negative, though, as complex, hard-to-pin-down value (or value that is very different at different points on a chain or to different players) requires various tools to understand, education, lenses, etc.

The fashion example of "The Emperor's New Clothes" is one that always delights me. Partly because I wrote an alternate ending for that tale back in college. In it, the Emperor is striding down the street, buck nekkid, the parade behind him, as in the classic story. Everyone is talking about how splendid his new suit is, fawning and kowtowing as per usual. The child in the crowd cries out, "But he's naked! He hasn't got a stitch of clothes on!" The crowd falls silent. But just before they erupt into laughter, the Emperor shouts out, "Of course I am! Anyone could steal or replicate and wear the emperor's crown and robes and be thought the sovereign. But only I have the emperor's skin! Thus you see the true and glorious, unique and god-given raiment of your lord and master!"

The crowd broke into cheers, and as they passed the child, the Emperor ordered that he be brought up onto the royal carriage. From his underlings and pages, squires and knights he took the richest jewelry and clothes and gave them to the boy and sent him back to his parents with richest that would feed them for ten years.

Naked, proud and vain as ever, he finished the parade. From that day forth, in his kingdom, you could tell how important a personage was by how little they wore. And, since only the wealthiest could afford to heat their homes to a degree which allowed for near nudity in winter, well... it soon became clear that only the truly well-off could "undress for success" to the extent now required by fashion.


I largely agree, ?, although I can't help but think of a (in)famous example of someone speaking publicly about capital (and therefore an economy) in the broader sense.

And about what virtual worlds bring to the table, analytically, to ferret all this out: I agree that the different affordances (in observation, etc) for analysts that these domains provide are key. But I was saying not that they are qualitatively different in the nature of their (broad) economies, but rather that the transformation of the "overhead" of virtual commodity production and distribution makes this broader and interelated economy plainer for anyone to see, most of all the users, who lead the way through practice (all this is in the Parlaying Value article that Vili graciously mentioned).

@Andy: LOL! Very good; and you're telling me you *hadn't* read Bourdieu by that time?! ;-)


Dave -- I think that's a great question, though I think, at the edges, fashion has never been successfully hinged to utility (think foot-binding). Some of these purple coats actually make you freeze.

Josh -- Bordieu's Distinction is a great book, but it can collapse a bookshelf. I started with Veblen, who tells Vili's story above. Also, w/r/t Veblen, legal academy has taken some stabs at him and we have had some discussions here about him here from time.

Let me just tear off the legal portion of this, though, and avoid Bordieu: I did a fairly comprehensive survey of dilution law three years ago, and the argument you're recounting here, Josh, that there is a *consumer-side* demand for dilution, is something that was not prominent then. If you say it's all the rage at the moment, okay, but honestly it doesn't make any sense to me.

I am fully protected in being a snob by standard infringement law -- Gucci has a monopoly on the Gucci bag. Purchasing a Gucci bag lets me stand out as a handbag snob. I don't see who the non-confusing separate source Gucci lawnmower does anything to undercut my interests as a handbag snob. However, I can easily see why Gucci would not object to being able to extract rents from anyone who uses the word "Gucci" for any reason whatsoever (e.g. in a domain name.)

The theory that dilution law is designed to help us be better snobs seems much less plausible than the theory that dilution law is designed to help famous trademark holders extract excess rents. Who is lobbying Congress for dilution laws -- consumers?


dmyers wrote:

In the real world, hizzy fits of fashion are bound by function: the emperor’s new clothes. In the virtual world, function loses its real-world groundings and becomes something else, that, potentially, can be endlessly whirled and semiosed and, therein, culturally studied and determined.

This is an important point. It is tempting to use the use-value vs. symbolic value dichotomy to explain that a +3 Sword of a Thousand Truths in a MMORPG is valued because of its functional qualities, while a purple sofa in Habbo Hotel is valued because of meanings attached to it. But if you then ask to what end is the sword used, the answer is invariably some social construct like status or identity. (This is also why I place virtual property in MMORPGs and services like Habbo Hotel or Cyworld in the same conceptual framework.)

Thomas -- thank you. :)

Greg -- re Veblen: he was one of the first sociologists to analyse the link between consumption and social status (Simmel being the other I can think of), but he is pretty old school now, and no doubt easy to take stabs at. I am still a beginner at this, but in case you are interested, here's some more name dropping.

In the 1980's, Baurdillard theoretised further the concept of a commodity as a sign, and the ever popular Bourdieu introduced individual habitus to the so far very structuralist theory. As you may have noticed, their original works are not that accessible though. Consumer Culture & Postmodernism by the British author Mike Featherstone is a great book that not only summarises the French authors but also describes the cultural processes of symbolic production (the "postmodern class struggle" mentioned above) and aesthetisation. Another British postmodern view is Giddens' Modernity and Self-Identity, describing lifestyles (i.e. consumption patterns) and identity.

The Brits are not exactly light reading either though, and to me the most accessible introduction to the different theories of consumption was Gabriel & Lang's The Unmanageable Consumer. Another textbook style introduction to postmodern theory of consumption is Zygmunt Bauman's Thinking sociologically.

Thomas mentioned Douglas & Isherwood, which is an anthropological look into the role of commodities in contemporary society in 1970's. I haven't read it myself, but it is discussed by all the authors above, so it's certainly relevant.


Many thanks, Vili -- I have Bordieu and Baudrillard on my bookshelf, but I had not seen some of the other references.

Personally, I'm not so much concerned about the semantic difficulty of particular sources as I am about the practical utility of certain sources for law. My hope is that eventually I'll figure out a way to use these theories of consumption and status to say something new and interesting about optimal IP policy. (I'm reminding myself a bit of Randy & Chip here.)


I just wanted to throw in another wrinkle and add something I mentioned here: It may be useful to think of soulbound items as more credentials than commodities, more authorized capacities than objects, at least in part. That is, in addition to their potential to serve as signals of social capital (the guildmates that helped farm the item), material capital (for those few that are BoE, and can be bought in AH), and cultural competence (wow -- she must be the best tank in her guild to have [insert Legendary prot warrior item here]), they are also credentials (another form of cultural capital) from a game architecture point of view. The reason is that by being inalienable, they effectively become like the ability increases one gets from leveling, which are credentials, because they are conferred upon the toon, and therefore distinct from the pointing-clicking-typing-maneuvering competencies of the players. Yes, they are temporary, in that one can give up an item and wear another one, but this is not categorically so different from, say, talent builds. Just a thought.


What is wrong with having a completely unbound item economy?

Most real-economic systems work this way, yes? If I own a Porsche 911 Turbo that I earned and bought, there is nothing that is stopping me from putting that car up on eBay or Craig's List and selling it to someone else.

Now, that car is a very tangible symbol of my status in the world. It is expensive; the capital it was purchased with took me a lot of schooling and work to acquire the skills and money required. It also shows that I have a version of taste, and like the finer things in life. A Honda can get me from point A to point B the same as the Porsche (and probably just as quickly with the traffic in LA these days), but I chose to spend my money on luxury.

But I tire of said vehicle, and in my job I am even more successful this year than last year, so I upgrade to a Bugatti. Now I don't need the Porsche, so I figure I might as well let someone else purchase it from me.

Does it make sense that I wouldn't be able to put it up for auction? Is the world really concerned that Jimbo McGee, the gentleman that bought it from me off eBay, who paid roughly 2/3 its value, did not buy it new?

So Jimbo is driving down the street in his "new" Porsche, and those who view him can think a myriad of thoughts:

Gee, he must be very successful.
I wonder who actually owns the car.
Do valets get to test-drive?
He's kinda cute... Is he single...?

Etc, etc, etc...

No one in life really can be sure just by viewing Jimbo in his car if he really "deserves" it. You can make assumptions that he probably couldn't afford it by his own sweat and tears, but maybe he has a trust-fund that he used to purchase it. Or he stole it. Or maybe even it was gifted to him by a hot, young, Hollywood starlet. Perhaps he can afford it, and isn't bothered by picking up a used vehicle to drive, because, while it is a nice social status symbol, he likes it for what it actually can do (go fast).

But you can't be sure, can you?

Why should the online world be different? Yes, I understand the economic differences when it comes to creation of currency, but as a whole, why can't I sell someone my Earthfury BP when I upgrade to a Ten Storms BP? Sure, that would mean that Unnamed_level_60shaman may not have gone to MC and defeated Golemagg, but it could mean that he spent all his time farming dreamfoil to be able to afford the 1,000g that I am asking for the BP.

Furthermore, what separates him from someone who just happened to get lucky on a Pick-up Group MC run where she out-rolled everyone to get the BP? Does the level of status change because of who is wearing it?

Additionally, at this point in the WoW lifecycle, Earthfury has lost its shine -- it was great once, but compared to Tier 3 gear, isn't that impressive. And everyone and their brother has at least set foot in MC. So the status, and any sort of perceived "skill" has gone out the window. And in a few months, that new T3 BP that I picked up to replace the T2 BP that I looted off Nef in Blackwing Lair isn't going to be as great as it was today, and the cycle continues.

So what harm would unbinding all gear bring? It would give someone the ability to pass on items no long of use, and increase an items' useful life. Sure, it would modify the "power curve" that affects dungeon design, but if the recommended levels stay the same, there isn't a huge change in how fast a geared group can do content under their item level. But it gives players a chance for buying gear through hard work (or a quick eBay quick) that they don't have the playtime to necessarily get.


Now, I know I am wading into a den of wolves by putting up something about in-game economics on a board devoted to MMORPG interactions :) But to me, as a both a player in a Naxx guid, and someone who has a lot of friends who don't have time to play around in Naxx, I would love to see the contrived bind system removed.

Replace it with someone hybrid, or apply a resale penalty on the item durability -- whatever you want, but figure out something more analogous to a real economic system.


Two notes from a dedicated WoW player: Possession of an item does not necessarily translate into skill (much luck goes into acquisition of things in dungeons), but it does at least allow other players to see the particular character has been to a dungeon (which does assume a certain level of skill).

That said, there really ought to be a better way to deal with outdated epics besides vendoring them for less than they cost to repair.


Short answer: badges are better than trophy equipment.

Long answer is on my blog.


Your argument seems to grow out of an apparently simple dislike: you don't like grouping with people who may have purchased their characters? There seem to be several leaps of faith in your opening post.

Neverthess, the concept of "source identifiers" in virtual worlds is an extremely compelling one, and offers an attractive degree of complexity. And yes, I like Raph's idea of badges better than items - simple logistics would argue for that. The problem is, your depiction of virtual demographics is incomplete. What about an avatar maintained by several people at the same time? (Remember the first characters to 99 in D2 were mostly done this way). What if that consortium of people changes over time? Exactly who are you grouping with at that point?

I won't comment on the trademark issue except that we seem to be getting way off track from your original remarks - perhaps you disagree. But if your intent is to "read the life story of a potential groupmate", then the identifiers need to address that not all avatars have just one person behind the curtain. But badges are a nice idea...



When you by a Porsche in RL, you buy it with dollars. Somebody does. Or you can steal one, but let's keep things legal for the nonce. If you buy your Porsche for $30,000 and then it depreciates, and you sell it to me, used, for $20,000 and I drive it around... nobody really gives a rat's ass to figure the diff. As you rightly point out. And if your dad gave you the money, or my mom gave me the money... whatever. The value of the car is represented and transferred in dollars (or Yen, or currency of some kind).

What we're arguing about here, however, is me selling you my degree in Literature and Creative Writing from Cornell University, and then you going around saying you graduated from Cornell, because Andy sold you his degree.

I paid some stoopid amount of dough (well, mostly my parents did, but there you are), and spent 4 years involved in various chicanery to get that degree. It is a representation, as are many pieces of loot in many MMO's, of accomplishment. It is also an "item" that is worth something when dealing with certain foes; e.g., hiring managers and alumni.

Did I pay for my diploma? Hell, yes. In money and time. Did I earn it? My dean and my department chair seemed to think so at the time. Do I own it? Sure 'nuff. It's framed and shit and everything.

Wanna buy it?

Even if it were for sale, it wouldn't do you much good, would it? Because what it *represents* is more important than the thing itself.

In MMOs, since what we are doing is chiefly playing at being other critters, the *representation* of what we are is, in fact, even more important than the "real thing" than is the case in real life. There is some assurance in RL, that your Porsche must have required some level of Porsche-like forbearance to attain. You can't just walk up to the Porsche Tree, knock three times, and wish for a Porsche. You can't paint a picture of a Porsche on top of your Impala and call yourself a Porsche owner. You can, of course, but you'll be condemned as quite mad.

In a virtual world, however, representation is all. I (my character) am (is) the sum of my representations. Therefore, there is no way for you to know me except by how I present myself. By, in effect, the aggregate of my "diplomas." If I obtain them by means other than the expected, those representations are, essentially, non-starters.

Let's use a completely hyperbolic example. What if there was an object (or trait) that was only conferred upon a player/character who had slain 1,000 foes in PvP. You, as a guild leader, make the demand that you will only consider guild members who have this item/trait. You want to be the "Guild of Thousand Slayers."

Except that this item/trait is now being RMT'd on eBay for $12, and a bunch of noobs are applying for guild membership with you, and you have no idea if they're actually any damn good at PvP, or if they just have $12. Oh, well. Time to find a new way to screen.

I don't particularly like "soul binding" as a method for restricting key stuff. Like you, I think that "things" should be, for the most part, transferable. In the real world, yes... you can sell stuff or give it to your buddies. It doesn't work like that in games like WoW, frankly, because the "stuff" is so danged plentiful and related to level. So if you've got 28 Level 9 things, and you're at Level 12, you will probably unload all that swag pretty easy. And if you've got a Level 8 friend? Well, there you go.

There are ways around this. Make loot less of a priority and skills more of a focus. Skills are much harder to transfer. If you must have "stuff," make the stuff upgradeable (essentially giving your weapons and armor their own skills), rather than dumping tons of new stuff on you at every crossroads. Make the reward of a quest a public recognition that is centralized (your name on the Stone of Heroes or something) rather than on something you have to hump around.

Dungeon-crawl mentality writ large on giant MMO social worlds is beginning to get to me. Soul binding is short-termy thinking, imho.


"Dungeon-crawl mentality writ large on giant MMO social worlds is beginning to get to me. Soul binding is short-termy thinking, imho."

I very much agree, it encourages the ridiculous grind. If you want to make your game addictive and life-destroying then it's the way to go.


EVE players have formed guilds that offer training to players. There's in-game support (reputation and trade) for that, but I don't think CCP envisioned training and certification guilds when they programmed that support. However, now that we've seen what happens, why don't all games offer it?

This seems like the most benign and useful player created content that any company could ask for.

The other thing I've wondered is why don't games remember an player's entire history? Guild memberships, chat logs, and even complete grouping records would take only a small amount of low performance storage.


If you make player skills a greater factor in games over the grinding, then you also decrease the 'exposure' to RMT.

See the writeup of the discussion that was had at the last GDC about this: http://www.flyingscythemonkey.com/GDC_2006.htm



You are correct, my example, while similar to what occurs in a virtual world, is flawed exactly because of the diploma argument. I had not considered that variation of a "buy".

As for,

Let's use a completely hyperbolic example. What if there was an object (or trait) that was only conferred upon a player/character who had slain 1,000 foes in PvP. You, as a guild leader, make the demand that you will only consider guild members who have this item/trait. You want to be the "Guild of Thousand Slayers."

Except that this item/trait is now being RMT'd on eBay for $12, and a bunch of noobs are applying for guild membership with you, and you have no idea if they're actually any damn good at PvP, or if they just have $12. Oh, well. Time to find a new way to screen.

Is this different, from say, checking the credentials of someone you are going to hire? As you noted before, the degree may have been obtained in a round-about way from a diploma mill instead of gained over the course of five years and many sleepless nights while paying tuition and attending classes at a recognized university.

In-game, a guild leader worth his or her salt would use the 1,000 kills in PvP as a starting point to determine if the person was a fit for the organization. In fact, that "1,000 kills" requirement would be as arbitrary as a "1 kill" requirement, because it is the actual player skill (probably tested, as any applicant should be) that (should) determine if they are admitted into the guild or not.

For instance, my guild is just about to down the Four Horsemen in Naxx. Now, we have a standing recruitment section on our website that allows anyone from our server who is Horde to post an application. Our requirements are based on play-time (when you can play, not how long you have played), prior rep, and gear level among other things. Anyone that meets those requirements, and has done a good job of presenting the application usually gets in on a few tag-along raids to assess their skill.

Now, the pool at the level we play tends to be quite small, as feeder guilds are well known, and the number of people that would meet our requirements are few. However, on occasion, someone no one in the guild knows applies. We may not know if this person was someone who bought all their items off eBay, or was just a very quiet member of one of the feeder guilds. The process is the same though, if they don't meet the requirements, they are turned away -- if they meet them, they get the same tag-along app period as anyone.

At the end of the day though, skill and "fit" (of which gear is a factor) with the guild is the deciding factor. If they have the skill and the gear/availability/non-drama that we need and respect, they typically are asked to join us.

If they don't the application is closed and we move on, looking for the next prospective member.

So does it really matter what kind of gear or trinkets someone has at the highest-end of game playing? Isn't it a matter of tallying up additional pieces of information to see if someone would be a contributing member of an elite (or any) guild?

If the answer to that is "No, it does not matter", I can't find an argument to the complete ban on RMT action outside a game. This is because like life, you need to do the due diligence in order to make the best choices for who you associate with.

It just feels to me that the argument keeps coming back to a virtual "haves" and "have-nots" conversation with the "haves" disappointed that anyone has access to their special identifiers if RMT is allowed.

"Representation" as you called it, in my world *isn't* everything, because face value is just the start of an appraisal, not the end.

I know this moved a little beyond your rebuttal argument, so I apologize in advance if I was putting words in your mouth. I could also be logically obtuse and a wind-bag, so I give you that as well :)



Don't apologize, you're not being obtuse at all; it's a good argument, and one we have here about every 3 months ; )

If your guild has specific requirements that include the "having of gear" because of the usefulness of the gear itself, and the "how y'all got the gear" isn't an issue, then the question of RMT really doesn't come up. As you say... you're making your specific decision based on what amount to an interview and real, observed, trial-period behavior, rather than symbolic manifestations of prior experience (ie, diplomas, trinkets, etc.) That is always the best way to evaluate complex performance; by direct observation.

When I hire people to work for me, I look at things like where they went to school and what they did at previous jobs (the resume), all of which could be easily faked (analogous to RMT). I also conduct an interview; harder to fake, as I'm directly observing some of the behavior I want to evaluate, and probing for more information in a setting where it's harder to make stuff up on the fly. I also work in an area (creative services marketing) where I can ask for samples of previous "craft" work; writing and design samples. This, again, could also be faked... but that would be pretty dangerous to your career. Still, it could happen. It would be best, obviously, if I could give all candidates a task to complete and evaluate them all on the same job and then compare. Time and resource constraints usually make that impossible. We go with resume, interview and samples... and hope for the best. Usually, they work very well, if you know how to combine them. My point being that all these "symbols" of ability are linked very closely to past performance. They are very hard to fake or purchase in aggregate, and it can be very damaging to one's reputation to be found to have done so. Lie on a resume? Turn in someone else's work as your own? Claim you graduated when you didn't? Put down work experience you haven't had? That crap will come back to bite you in the ass in a big, big way.

In the case of your guild, let me ask you this... If two guys met your criteria, and you did a tag-along with both, and both seemed good players and up to your playing standards... but you knew that one had spent the time to earn his kit, but another had bought it all outright on eBay... which would you rather have as a guild-mate?

Also... you say one of your requirements is "prior rep." Can't that also be bought? Or maybe faked with a couple alts? It may be a bit more rare, but you can sure gift or twink your way to a bit better rep where I come from.

All of this may simply fall under the legitimate social aspects of play. Some grind, some guild, some grovel, some go buy. Thomas Malaby already took me down a peg on the RMT argument from where I started. I used to think it was always and forever "bad and wrong" when not expressly allowed by the EULA.

Now I just think it's bad ; )

[That's a joke aimed at Thomas, not a poke aimed at you, Ben. Actually, I'm almost to the point where I don't give a rat's ass anymore. Any world/country with 7 million people in it is too big not to have an economic underbelly If RMT is the worst that happens there... Rock on.]


"If you make player skills a greater factor in games over the grinding, then you also decrease the 'exposure' to RMT."

Emphasizing player skill has one big problem: mastery. When I log on and play Unreal Tournament, I get frigging wasted in 2 seconds by some guy I can't even see. He's played more, he knows the tricks, and I'm not nearly as good as that. And we're equivalently equipped; I have access to all the gear he does. There's no soulbinding at all.

Grinding creates institutionalized superiority. If you're level 60 and I'm level 30 (or if I'm in Tier 0 and you're in Tier 1), then you're better than me. You may not be a better player, but I'm still compelled to respect (or to envy) you. In grinding systems, you're always superior to someone. They shelter less skilled players from comparison, at least until they get to the top and the only comparison left to make is player skill vs. player skill.

Soulbinding may indeed create snobbery amongst players, but in some sense, it's part of a welfare system that extends well into the highest levels of play.

But maybe I'm just tired of trying to collect my next tier set. ;)

The comments to this entry are closed.