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.


At 5:31 AM, Blogger Dragon said...

While we're at it, you could let people start to use drugs in sports. It's a problem that's not going to go away and will let those people who don't want to train as hard as others compete on the same level.

This could work elsewhere too. Don't have time to run a marathon? You can always pay to run one but only have to go 10 miles rather than 26 - you might even become world champion! Can't be bothered to spend the time getting better at chess? Buy extra queens and beat everyone.

All it would take is a tweaking of the rules and then some management of public perception.

At 6:29 AM, Blogger Tisirin said...

Interesting take, but something of a strawman.

Believe me, I understand the issues involved when you put the different sides of the RMT debate playing in the same environment.

But if you read the post, you'd see that I made some allowance for it with various suggestions, including separate RMT-enabled servers, for example.

So yeah, the steroid users can run in their own marathon.. but everyone knows about it.

At 7:41 AM, Blogger Cyndre said...


"I think people who don't have time to level on their own should be allowed to speed hack and afk bot, because, hey, they are already doing it so it must be ok..."

You argument is lacking. Just because people do it, does not make it a good concept or something that mmo studios should embrace. Just because MMO studios could make money off of it, should not be a motivation for them to do it. They "could" make more money by just chaging everyone's credit card twice in one month, but that doesn't make it a smart business move or a valid design choice.

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