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RMT "Inevitable"? Not So Fast…

RedBedlam/Roma Victor founder Kerry Fraser-Robinson, previously best known for crucifying his user base, gives an interview where he makes controversial statements to gain publicity on blogsexhorts game developers who dislike gold farming to suck up and deal with it.

The closer you get to having a virtual world that has any kind of trading, barter or value system you have to take virtual economics very seriously. I strongly recommend that people at least allow for purchase and sale of gold within their game, otherwise third parties will and that will ruin their game. Even if it’s not their central revenue model they’ll still need to do that, if it’s a subscription game, they’ll still need to have at least the awareness and preferably the capacity for people to buy and sell currency in their virtual world.

 

I think part of the resistance to that is the same thing I was alluding to earlier, it’s another discipline and no company really wants to accept that there is a missing area in their knowledge that is required before they can embark upon a project.

I tend to agree with his source assumptions, but not his conclusions – for example a subscription MMO is not compelled to create currency out of the ether and sell it (as Roma Victor, Fraser-Robinson’s title does) simply because gold farmers exist. And Eve Online, which Fraser-Robinson praises effusively, is not the end-all and be-all of virtual economic thought in MMOs. For example, the “grey market” in game time cards for in-game currency, I suspect, is not a savvy co-opting of gold farmers so much as, I suspect, an accidental consequence of an unrelated marketing decision. Of course, accidental design in MMOs has a long and glorious history – raiding is born from Everquest adding monsters effectively impossible to kill and players deciding that no, actually, they’d be killed anyway.

 

I’ve talked before about how MMO companies need to re-examine their business models, and explicitly how gold farming tends to be an inevitability of a free market. To wit:

No reputable subscription-based MMO will sell you gold because, well, you’re already paying them money. Charging for in-game money or items is double dipping, right? No one would stand for that. But clearly the market is there regardless. And as long as that market is not served internally by the game developers themselves, it will be served by people who not only do not act in the best interests of the game as a whole, but have a very real financial incentive to act contrary to the interests of the game as a whole – gold duping, hacking the client, farms of unattended macro bots, whatever. Whereas a game who has gold selling as a revenue model (and it can be done without making a Entropia Universe-esque ponzi scheme of gameplay – dual currency models being IMHO the best way of hitting this from the design standpoint) puts those bad actors elegantly out of business, because no matter how low salaries are in whatever sweatshop, a gold farmer will never be able to compete with a SQL query for the cost of doing business.

But being open to RMT does not equal being compelled to enable RMT. A successful market implies the availability of options; there is a fairly large segment of the market that wants nothing to do with microtransactions. These people should not be told to go hang, any more so than the people who dislike subscription fees and prefer more granular per-access transactions should be told to go hang. A truly free market requires a minimum of managing intervention and the availability of options.

 

And most importantly, the viability of virtual gold sales as a business model does not mean that it should be added to all business models. Players who do not mind microtransaction-level virtual currency transactions in a free to play title would – quite correctly in my view – feel double-dipped if hustled for cash in a title they already paid for, and pay on a monthly basis to access. Virtual gold sales is a business model. It is not all business models. Tossing it in willy nilly, regardless of the impact on the game’s economy, simply will convince your customers that you’re out for short term gain at the long term expense of your game’s health. And they’d be correct.

Simply throwing up your hands and saying “farming happens” is as much an abdication of development responsibility as deciding your customer service staff will just deal with it in their free time. Much as how the great majority of free to play games have been hindered in the Western marketplace not so much due to their business model as to their lack of quality in comparison to better funded and executed traditional games, a solution to gold farming and RMT will require a bit more forethought and design than “screw it, open up a shopping cart on our web site!”

Or, as Linden Lab just announced yesterday, buy shopping carts that other people came up with.