The Horse You Rode In On

Well, other than Michael Jackson, Farrah, Sarah Palin, David Carradine, Ed McMahon, Mark Jacobs, Tobold telling certain readers to fuck off and Syncaine calling him an asshole, I guess its been a relatively slow news cycle of late.  Hence, my lack of posting.  If you don’t have anything nice to say (or at least interesting)…

Which means, of course, its time to return to one of the perennial favorite discussions of the MMO Blogosphere:  RMT.  The latest hobby horse to ride, the RMT mount.

Darren was a bit aghast at the cost of a permanent mount ($10) in the so-called free-to-play-RMT-supported Runes of Magic.  For the record, I haven’t played it, so I can’t comment on the rent versus own or ride versus walk necessity of a mount.  Wil, The Ancient Gaming Noob and WoW groupmate offerred a bit more of a shoulder shrug response.  Having just hit Level 77 in WoW and purchased Cold Weather Flying (and jealously eyeing) Wil’s epic flyer, its a subject near and dear to my heart of late.

Truth be told, while I’m usually more of the mind that RMT is the debbil, I think the RoM mount topic is a decent example of an RMT item and approach that could work in most games.  What the game companies need to keep in mind is that their RMT and game models should deliver value and entertainment to a broad audience with varied time budgets.

Simply put, the most legitimate use for RMT that I see in something of a traditional MMORPG is simply to permit substituting RL time for RL money, with a few caveats.  Coming from the subscription model MMO as a baseline, little violence is done to the business or game progression model by permitting time/dollar substitution.  I think RMT for gold sink items like mounts is probably a non-event.

In our little group, we have 5 dedicated individuals who have committed to playing together as a group from 1 to cap, visiting taking on all the instances we can in the game while level appropriate.  Our play time budgets vary wildly both among each of us and as our individual RL commitments vary.

Getting a mount at Level 40 in Classic WoW back in the day was a big deal for two reasons– its cost was not insubstantial and it greatly shrunk the world because of the increased travel speed.  For anyone on anything like a time budget, increased movement speed equals increased access to content.  If you have 2 hours to play and it takes 1.5 hours to taxi and walk there, it ain’t happening.  If you want to keep the player, you need to figure out a way to take out some of that sting.

Felsteed, Old School Style

Off-taxi travel is a content gate for most players.  Raising that money, or raising the money for an epic mount, or a flyer or an epic flyer for that matter, ultimately required devotion of time and little else to obtain the gold (and/or level) necessary to purchase mount and therefore unlock the content.  Despite having spent more than $800 on WoW over the course of 4.5 years (and having enjoyed it), my subscription longevity doesn’t entitle me to any special access to content (unlike LotRO which handed out bonus Christmas Mounts and which greatly enhanced my LotRO gameplay since travel cost, time and gold was getting hard to manage).

For those of us in our group with more time or inclination, coming up with the cash from mob or resource farming wasn’t too bad, but took time.  For others, that are more time limited, its always been a just in time stretch.

Dude, I'm Epic
Dude, I'm Epic

Using the epic flyer as an example, if I really applied myself, I could probably log on and earn a few hundred gold a day without outlevelling our group too much in a relatively small amount of time each session.  At 200 gold a session, that would take about 25 sessions to yield the 5,000 gold for the skill and the mount.  If I played an average session every other day, that would be about 50 days or almost two months of just casual self-gold farming.  All other things equal, I should be ok with paying the equivalent of about $30 for my epic flyer (or the equivalent in game currency).

In a subscription based game (or hybrid), this kind of RMT is just simply accelerating the the next X subscription payments, where X is determined by each individual’s play budget.  As far as I’m concerned, this is pure win in a PvE game with a subscription component.  Revenue neutral to the company, time agnostic to the player and ideally impact neutral to the game itself.

Gonna Fly Now
Gonna Fly Now

Extension of the same argument would mean that I’d be ok with buying levels as well.  In the abstract dollars versus time exchange, I would be.  However, we don’t play in the abstract, so more care must be devoted to RMT transactions that have a more fundamental impact on the game experience, IMHO.

I’m conflicted on experience/level boosting.  Having alt-itis, I would love to be able to start a level 68 character and just experience Northrend having enjoyed old Azeroth fully and Outland (not so much).  For my play style, the progression is the game.  The journey itself the destination, so completely removing the journey with /level or purchasing experience outright seems to compromise the core gameplay to me too much.

Of course, experience progression is one of the things that keeps players apart.  I’d be much more amenable to buying experience boosting potions or trinkets that would increase the rate of progression for some period of time but still require participation in the progression game.  This is the kind of thing that would partially solve some of our static group’s challenges to “stay together”.  The laggards could simply buy a boost to help catch up.

To sooth my alt-itis, I would probably also be ok with unlocking a new starting level each ten levels of experience gained.  Once you’ve hit 20, you can reroll a level 20 character, same at 30, 40, etc. so as to not completely trivialize original content.

I would also be OK with all the fluff items that many RMT systems provide.  What I would avoid, however, is RMT for item-mall only items that greatly enhance abilities (i.e., Uber Sword of Uberness) that are bind on pickup or items that would have an unduly negative impact on the in-game economy (to the detriment of the non-RMT players).  Selling currency in game that can be used to participate in the in-game economy for both NPC purchases and player-based transactions (auction house sales, enchants, ports, etc.) has the potential to disrupt the economy quite a bit.

For gold sink items like mounts or experience, it doesn’t seem to me to be terribly distorting.  I suspect that the income effect from “liberating” the gold that would have been used to fund the purchase of the mount or other gold sink either finds its way into the player economy in terms of higher auction house prices (likely a boon for the non-RMT player selling on the AH) or negligible since the RMT player may play less since they don’t have to grind for a mount.  Over time, I’m sure inflation will still occur, and perhaps it would occur a bit more quickly, but these kinds of RMT are indirectly and probably wouldn’t significantly impact others game experiences negatively.  On a given server, how much impact does transferring in a level 80 player from another server have by paying Blizzard $25?

What RMT purchases should NOT be used for are the items that are traditionally bind on pickup– rare drops that serve as proxy achievements.  The Uber Sword of Uberness that only drops from downing the Big Boss Ubeross should retain both the value and the meaning it has.  In a PvE world, that would have no significant economic impact, but it certainly dilutes the achievement value and yes, the epeenery which, for good or ill, comes along with it which is part of participating in a massive game.