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Surprisingly, Karl Marx Had Little To Say About RMT

As seen on Zen of Design, the Chinese are seeing the South Korean moves towards RMT legislation and saying “hm, got to get us some of that“. Of course, the stereotype of China is being part of the problem with RMT, to put it mildly, but now that the Chinese have domestic MMOs as well, their own operators are all over having the People’s Republic handle CS issues!

These recommendations made by the Ministry of Culture have gained quite a bit of positive feedback and support from major online game operators. Shanda CEO Jun Tang and Netease Market Director Hua Huang both commented on supporting the ban on private trading among gamers and via online trading platforms. According to Jun Tang, it is currently impossible to execute complete prohibition on such virtual trading at the technological end, but should be feasible with regulative support and actions taken by the police.

China has had no qualms about dictating how games should be run and even designed, insisting on state-mandated time-outs to break unhealthy World of Warcraft raids, making sure all account creation is backed by proper ID (probably to try to police the previous link), and banning strategy games that dared to (correctly) depict Manchuria and Taiwan as Japanese-occupied areas in 1936. Chinese companies are going even further, with one enterprising MMO developer enforcing proper gender selection when you create your character.

Playing female characters is always popular in MMORPGs; the characters have no shortage of gold and always wear armor several levels beyond their status – all gifts from their male admirers. The gift giving phenomenon is not unique to China, only more pronounced due to the mass acceptance of online games by both sexes of China’s younger generations.

Well, that’s certainly one way to describe it

So, what does this all mean?

  • Don’t expect to sell 4 billion copies of your next MMO in China; not only is a home-grown industry far more localized than you could ever hope to be, but they will also be far more adept at dealing with the traditional Chinese bureaucracy (which far, far pre-dates Mao Zedong).
  • Government will continue to intervene in RMT sales as a cheap and easy way to “do something” about those wacky horror stories about online game addiction, backed in many cases by short-sighted gaming companies eager to offload their CS problems onto governmental oversight.
  • It won’t help and will only serve to drive RMT further underground than it already is. It may put companies like IGE out of business (pause for the shedding of a single tear) but companies operated out of a garage or by teens looting the guild treasury will continue to operate as a black market.
  • What *will* solve the RMT problem is when companies finally either incorporate controlled versions of interplayer sales into their own games (the SOE solution). Or design around/for direct gold microsales (as Puzzle Pirates does with their doubloon microtransactions). Or just say “screw it! We’re selling gold! Come get some!” (which seems to work for Project Entropia, despite some dodgy PR). Or, maybe, in some alternate universe, games will have such punishing CS “enforcement” that RMT is stamped out entirely. Call it the China solution. Or, most likely, that RMT is eliminated by simply eliminating, you know, any player economy whatsoever.

I’m starting to come around to the get-your-gold-from-the-company-store viewpoint, even though as a hardcore gamer my inner being recoils at the prospect, simply because it’s going to come from somewhere, and having the game company exert some control over it implies that it’s being handled by people with an enlightened self-interest in maintaining a healthy in-game ecosystem – something which third party gold farmers couldn’t give a rat’s arse about. There will be some significant pushback from users about this, because, especially given the recent trend to slap advertising on everything in online gaming, they may see this as yet another money grab by the MMO developer.

Which, of course, in many ways? It is. I didn’t say it was a *good* solutionl But, as China is discovering, the child-like idealism of socialism tends to melt in the light of day, and the enlightened self-interest of capitalism often tends to be the best solution in an imperfect world.

Considering the last RMT story I posted still has an active discussion, I suspect this will provoke some thoughts as well.