Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I'm Glad I'm Me!

On April 1st, 2004, I started the Community Relations Manager job at NCsoft. Granted that April Fool’s Day is an appropriate time for me to start a new job, the important thing to note is that, at the time, we were less than a month from launching TWO major MMO’s – City of Heroes and Lineage II. Both were launched at midnight on April 28th, 2004.

Between trying to learn the ropes of a brand new job and trying to help out the community teams responsible for CoH and L2, I remember that month as being an extremely hectic one.

However, I think I’ve been utterly trumped.

A friend of mine JUST started her job as the Community Relations Director for Cartoon Network and, right off the bat, she gets to deal with something like this.

No matter how crazy my first month on the job at NCsoft might have been, I never had to worry about very serious men in very dark suits with very conspicuous bulges in the underarm area coming to visit me. For some very serious discussions.

Not to mention the media issues. I have an urge to hide under my desk just thinking about it…

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I'm done with the RMT debate.... but before I go...

I confess. I don’t really understand the RMT debate. I see lots of argument and analysis. There is certainly a lot of emotion wrapped up in the issue. Everything from psychology to sociology to business / financial analysis has been applied to it. God knows, I have been on the front lines of the RMT “war”, dealing with communities that had VERY strong opinions on the subject.

But I still don’t get it.

Behind all the endless blogging and white papers and lectures and roundtables I still just see one simple thing:

There is a substantial subset of players who will spend money to advance more quickly in a game than is intended by the design.

What follows from this is equally obvious:

Let them pay you for the privilege. They’re obviously willing to.

This is not a particularly revolutionary concept. There are a variety of companies that are doing this kind of thing already. Why are the “mainstream” MMO companies so paralyzed into inaction by this idea? And let’s not mince words, that’s exactly what they are. These companies seem caught between rule-breaking RMT companies that cause them no end of support / community headaches and vociferous industry and community partisans that vow to keep the dirty practice of RMT off the pristine shores of whatever fictional realm they happen to inhabit.

I feel like I MUST be missing some important crux of the issue. Game companies have complete control over the virtual items in their products. Gold, ISK, swords, whatever. If it’s in the game, the company can make it. If the company can make it, and there are players that want to buy it… What’s the next logical step, Economics majors?

Yes, it’s pretty simple. I’m talking about companies selling items and currency directly to players who want to buy it. And don’t tell me, “But SOE has TRIED that!” because they haven’t. Not anywhere close.

And yes, I know it’s not THAT simple. There are balance issues to be considered, the public perception to be managed, etc. But no one is even really trying. Wouldn’t it be possible to tweak a system so that rewards you get from actually playing are a tad nicer than what you could buy? Or had cool effects that buyable items didn’t? How hard would it be to set a server aside with an RMT model and let people who want to advance faster in the game pay to do it? They’re doing it already. In droves. And the methods used to get the items/currency that are being sold are a sore spot for a significant number of customers.

I’m not a designer. I’ll never pretend to be one. Well.. maybe pretend.. but I digress. Tell me what the obstacles here are. Is it the legal issues? I can’t imagine there’s not a way around that. Is it Puritanism? I know at least one industry stalwart that doesn’t think that way. Year after year at conferences, I hear that “better design will alleviate this problem” or “it’s a problem of poor design” and yet the same design is churned out over and over and over again.

I guess what I’m saying is that this issue isn’t going away and that I don’t think there are subtle answers.

Cut the Gordian knot.