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What Lies Beyond the Seventh Seal? RMT

20 Dec

By way of Mrrx and Cyanbane we are informed of Livegamer’s entry into the RMT world as:

“the premier provider of a publisher-supported, secure platform for real money trading of virtual property. Live Gamer is partnering with top massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) publishers and virtual world operators worldwide, including Funcom GMBH, Sony Online Entertainment, 10TACLE STUDIOS, Acclaim, GoPets LTD, and Ping0 Interactive Limited.”

Go them. Just take my messages, I’ll be down in the bunker with the canned goods, visqueen and duct tape making flint arrowheads. Roll file footage of the Monty Python Mr. Neutron episode and world domination by the post office. The sixth rider of the apocalypse has arrived. (Number five was fat free bacon, but that’s another post).

Now RMT is the third rail of MMO politics. FWIW, here’s my $0.02 on the whole thing– RMT as it exists in the primarily publisher UNsanctioned form is Bad. As as student of the dismal science, I know there are plenty of arguments that RMT (or more specifically gold farming) has limited impact since the fundamental input into the game economy is time played and gold farmers have to play in real time to acquire the gold or items they sell. They are really not much different from other “hardcore” forms of play.

I don’t really care about that. Still it has some impact, though only indirectly on a mostly PvE carebear like myself. At best it accelerates mudflation by increasing the rate at which money and nontradeable items flow into the economy. So long as NPC prices are not indexed to the game money supply, then I probably suffer more of a moral injury than a virtual economic one, if any. I don’t really have to participate in the mudflated part of the economy so long as the content doesn’t tune itself to the money supply.

The dirty secret of this inflation in any economy is that all goods sell for more than they would in an uninflated economy. So actually, I should be pro because if I’m a PvE carebear and acquiring all my gear upgrades while adventuring, and I acquire through myself or my guildmates the other materials I need to craft, etc. then I’m actually an arbitrageur selling into an inflated economy (the player economy) and buying only from the static economy (the NPC economy). So, as long as I, or my guild mates can harvest raws and craft consumables, I’m probably a net winner from increasing the inflow rate of money into the virtual economy. It still pisses me off though on a more fundamental level.

Yes, revenue and purchasing models change over time. Was a time when peeps laughed at we chumps paying for the game and THEN paying a subscription to play it. ZOMFGWTF! You bought the game and can’t play it forever for free?!? Will be a time when many games will be based around various incremental revenue models like the current free to play but pay more for gold/items/enhancements or the velvet rope model. Are traditional expansions so different from a velvet rope model? Discuss.

No what alarms me about this rush to RMT by publishers is that it will be inevitably bolted on (poorly) to existing games once legitimized by the publishers. What an epiphany publishers must have had when they realized they can sell both heroin AND the needles (and bleach too, FFS, lets be safe out there)((and rehab too FTW!)). I find it a bit disingenuous to sell me the game that gave me the disease as well as the cure.

My fundamental issue with RMT is that the existence of RMT at all in a game is prima facia evidence of a deep seated disconnect between the game’s design and the market that is actually playing the game. If the game dynamic wasn’t borked in some (or many) ways, folks wouldn’t conceive of parting with hard earned cash to claw their way up to a basic level of “enjoyment” of the game in question. Recall that devs have at best only 1/2 the votes in what kind of game they have created will become. Players have the other half. And Players have a particularly effective form of voting– with their feet. Attention devs: if a significant portion of your player base is buying gold/plat/isk then you might want to rethink the whole money-grind thing…

Yes, there will always be a niche market for peeps that want the giant leap forward (cheating bastards), but when that “niche” market proves to be $1.8 billion dollars (their numbers), we should stop and say “holy fucking shit batman what the fuck is going on with these games?” and why are corpulent puss filled capitalists with pimples on their loathsome spotty behinds extracting cash-money on the barrelhead from hapless chumps to simply reach some ambient level of enjoyment of a game they’ve already paid for and continue to subscribe too. Roll file footage of Viennese psychoanalyst discussing “Battered Game Syndrome.”

The vast majority of current successful(tm) MMOs out there that are not and were not built to be RMT friendly. Name them, at least the western implementations of them aren’t. If the advent of publisher supported RMT means that we will soon be seeing legit RMT soon in existing successful MMOs, I suspect those games will start dying a horrible economic death under a pyroclastic flow of mudflation.

As I mentioned, the very existence of RMT related to existing games is evidence that for many ($1.8 billion worth many) think that the existing game mechanic is borked. I think they are probably right for the most part. RMT isn’t the answer, design is the answer for these games.

For future games built with RMT as part of their revenue model, I can’t really complain. If Funcom has really designed Age of Conan with RMT in mind, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they’ve engineered its effects into the equation. I tend to prefer “earning” to merely “paying” in all the existing MMOs I’ve played, but lets face it we’ve already been doing both to some extent. I earn my progress while I still pay for access (and expansions).

So if RMT showed up on your EQ2 server, or in PotBS or SWG or Planetside (or WoW for that matter) in the near future, what would you do? What do you think will happen to the game on which you may have spent hundreds of hours (and likely hundreds of dollars, yes, hundreds… e.g., $50 box + 24 months@ $15/month = $410)?

My personal jury is out on a game built on micro transactions or RMT because I haven’t played one that was as compelling as anything that is currently subscription based. That doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t work, but it pisses me off that what is tantamount to a design flaw in many games today gets fixed by increasing the amount we pay for these games.

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2 Comments

Posted by on December 20, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

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2 responses to “What Lies Beyond the Seventh Seal? RMT

  1. damianov

    December 20, 2007 at 5:00 am

    Arbitrageur, prima facie, pyroclastic… shooting for doctorate level on that reading level analyzer, eh? (/joke)

    I certainly agree that RMT really can’t be bolted on to many existing designs and expected to work very well, especially current North American MMO models. (Certain EU and Asian models, on the other hand…)

    I would say it’s an open question whether the RMT market is truly a sign of a core design flaw, or more of a marketing flaw, however. The common perspective, which largely tracks with what you’ve presented in the post, somewhat assumes that every player has the same “sweet spot” (for lack of a better term) in terms of both time and money available to partake of the hobby… not that that is necessarily wrong, it’s just not “proven”, if you will. An alternative perspective, where we instead assume a wide variance in individual tolerances for time investment, financial investment, let alone variations in “expected ROI” in “units of fun” (whatever those might be), leads the discussion in a very different direction.

    Under that scenario, the $1.8 billion RMT market could also be said to represent the money the developers are “leaving on the table” by simply not providing multiple options and approaches for investing in the game/experience. Not that I am claiming that MMO gamers represent a set of perfectly rational consumers, to borrow from classical econ… but it is not really a market run rampant with externalities forcing consumption regardless of supply or price, either (ala health care, for example… the “MMO addiction” question notwithstanding).

    People are spending that additional billion and change relatively willingly, afaik… and I’d personally prefer that the game devs got it (hopefully to reinvest in their games?), than some unrelated party leeching it off to purchase small atolls in the South Pacific, or whatever.

    Just a possible alternative perspective that I thought should be brought up. Definitely a case of YMMV.

     
  2. p@tsh@t

    December 20, 2007 at 9:48 am

    What good is a rant if you can’t use a few $2 words? ;)

    You raise a good point that I didn’t expand on but with which I agree– to some extent game companies are leaving this unrequited consumption by players on the table. In theory, that means that in a perfect economically rational world, players who partake in RMT should be indifferent between buying a game, paying the subscription and buying gold on the one hand and paying more for a game that provides the same entertainment experience/satisfaction/utility as the purchased items/gold model.

    And maybe that’s where I’m hoisted by my own petard because either way, the game company’s are trying to capture more of the revenue stream. I too would rather pay the guys that are working to delivery us new and cool experiences.

    Marketing v. Game design– you say tomato… You design for a target market and market your game to its target. Hopefully those are the same things. If not, I think you need to adjust the game mechanic itself rather than bolting on a meta economic fix.

     

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