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Is CCP about to cut out the middleman?

Sure looks like it. For those just joining us:

* CCP (Crowd Control Productions) are the developers of Eve Online.

* Eve Online is one of if not the most popular “niche” MMOs, with hardcore PvP and even more hardcore in-game economy.

* As part of that economy, until recently, there was a thriving grey market trade in RMT for ISK (Eve’s currency). The way it worked was that, in the quest for the One True Perfect Game Economy, CCP allowed players to exchange ISK for in-game subscription time.

This effectively made ISK convertible since, of course, you could purchase in-game subscription time for out-of-game currency (you know, the stuff in your wallet). Apparently, this was an unintended consequence. To quote CCP’S “Kieron”,

We allowed the trade of ISK for Game Time as an extension of the policy allowing the trade of ISK for game related services like TS server rental, forum signatures, etc. When we discussed allowing the trade of ISK for Game Time, the thought that we were inadvertently allowing the ‘sale of ISK for RL cash’ didn’t occur to us. The decision to allow the trade was not profit driven.

When Sony came out with their microcharge servers (sale of game items for RL cash), the internal CCP discussion lasted about 2 minutes. The discussion about Second Life’s business model lasted longer, but the results of the discussions were the same. We do not have, nor do we want to have, the ability to clone Tranquility and start up a microcharge server.

That was two years ago. Then a cryptic in-game message of the day appeared this past week alluding to/threatening bans for RMT trading in ISK. Why? Well, apparently things change.

The recent MotD mentioning the sale or purchase of ISK for real money generated some questions about how Game Time can be traded for ISK, Game Time that was purchased with real world cash. In some of my replies, I was unclear. This wasn’t by intention, but because of the information I am authorized to release at this time.

In the future, CCP will introduce a billing solution replacing the current system that allows the purchase of game time from third parties for in-game ISK. In essence, it will be possible for a time and ISK-rich, but financially challenged player to purchase game time directly from CCP. Game Time codes will still be available for purchase, but the trade of game time codes for ISK will no longer be an approved payment option.

We still have a number of details to work out, as well as implementation and integration, but that will hopefully clear up some of the confusion created earlier.

Well (as this ongoing F13 thread points out), that explains almost nothing. However, whenever your community manager uses the words “authorized to release at this time”? That means the players are about to get. Really. Damned. Pissed.

My theory: if CCP were simply to close the in-game currency for game time cards option, that would not make players Really. Damned. Pissed. Therefore, Occam’s Razor applies. What’s the simplest solution in this case? Simple… CCP cuts out the middleman.

Which will have… reverberations. This will make CCP one of the first, and definitely the largest first-party seller of in-game currency in the Western market.