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Premium services and Real Money Trading

January 3, 2008

Discussions about Real Money Trading (RMT) are a pretty much constant topic throughout the blogosphere and there is a lot of talk on how to limit or eliminate RMT in present games – that being illegitimate RMT, i.e. gold selling from 3rd party companies.

Due to these illegitimate activities and some effects seen related to it, e.g. chat channels spammed with gold and power leveling advertisements, people do have a lot of negative attitude towards it. There is of course also the notion that it is bad that people with money can be more competitive and get an advantage compared to other players.

On the other hand, when the concept of premium services has been discussed, there has seldom been negative comments regarding that. When I have seen it discussed it has mainly been positive comments.

But aren’t these two topics really two sides of the same coin? In both cases we are talking about playing real money for some enhancement of the gaming experience. Raph Koster had some blog entries on a similar topic a while ago discussing what was considered cheating. Part of what was discussed as cheating was the usage of various strategy guides and walkthroughs – which is something that sometimes is sold by companies for real money. So in a way this is also another form of RMT, paying real money for valuable knowledge in the game. It is an even more abstract asset than in-game currency or items though and that type of asset can also be found for free.

So assuming that we are looking at legitimate types of RMT (i.e. blessed, allowed, within the spirit of the game), what types would be acceptable? And what are acceptable within each type?

  • Knowledge transfer – strategty guides and walkthroughs – external or accesible from within the game? In-game GM support providing hints and solutions (not just help with bugs/issues etc)?
  • Personalization – more costumes, emotes and other character customisation options? Non-essential pets and decoration items (if housing is available)?
  • Virtual goods exchange – buy/sell usable equipment, consumables, in-game currency and characters between players? Sold by the game company?
  • Advancement support – increased experience gain, added missions/quests possibly with better rewards than regular ones, powerleveling support?
  • Environment – private servers, or restricted based on various critera (e.g. age, membership) and/or more managment tools (e.g. better chat filters)

In general, I think many people to not accept that RMT can provide something for another player if that type of asset is considered a goal or measurement of accomplishment, in particular if the player is an achiever type player. If specific equipment is by some considered an achievement to obtain (e.g. rare drop from some raid boss), being able to buy/sell that equipment is of course going to upset some people. Spending enough time in a game to reach a certain level is considered an achievement by some. So if someone has not spent the same amount of time yourself to reach a certain level and did that through some paid for service, that is upsetting for those that value that time spent.

If a person is not measuring himself/herself against other players in various ways, would they them be upset about RMT being used to accomplish various things related to the game? Probably not. But does that person exist? Again, probably not. While I think there are a number of persons who couldn’t care less about the coolest equipment or how long time someone spent on leveling a character, there will likely always be something.

In order for some types of RMT to be acceptable, there must be something that is exclusive to those that do not choose to use that option. For example, perhaps expanding on the badge/title concept that some games have. You can get titles/badges that is available to you as long as you have not used the RMT option for that specific area. If you pay money, you loose it. For those that take some pride in doing something without the help of some money this option is available to show how they reached or obtained whatever it is. There may be different veteran rewards in a game depending if you have used RMT options advance or not, better/different rewards for those that haven’t.

What is important I think is that it is clear from start when a player starts and creates a character what the rules and conditions are – this is nothing to be introduced in existing environments, if introduced at all. The game environment must be considered to work in line with the spirit of the game by the players according to whatever rules have been set up.

Personally I think I would be ok with many types of RMT, as long as is it legit within the game. I have never used any of the illegitimate RMT services and never bought any strategy guide books. I did buy the City of Heroes/Villains Good vs Evil edition bonus pack – legitimate offering with extra costume sets and powers. If a game had a grindy portion, I might consider if there was a legitimate offering to reduce that. And with grind I mean a boring repetitive activity – if it is reasonably fun and repetitive it is not a grind in my view.

If a game required a constant influx of money in order to play it I would probably skip the game entirely. A little bit of extra money every now and then would be more ok though, I think.

What do you think?

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Categories: MMO Games
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