Friday, January 29, 2010

Money Talks

In my last entry, I was defending the right for people to spend their money however they see fit, especially when it comes to entertainment. It doesn't matter that others find that extravagant or silly. As long as it makes you happy and isn't hurting your budget, why not? To this I received a comment from Greypawn saying that I just made a pretty solid case in favor of RMTs (Real Money Transactions). I was going to post a comment in response but as it would be too long for a mere comment, I decided to make a full entry.

So my short answer is "I am not against some form of RMTs, but..."

RMTs can be extremely detrimental:

1. Newbies bypass the much needed learning curve
2. You have nothing to thrive for: you already bought it
3. It's a breeding ground for scammers, dupers and hackers
4. It attracts bots/scripters, resource farmers, gold spammers
5. It ruins the natural balance of the game's economy

Those are the main points (that I can think of off the top of my head) but each has a slew of other negative consequences attached to them.

A newbie buys a uber account, fully geared, prime real estate and a couple hundred millions. But he gets frustrated that he can't solo the peerless bosses though the seller said he soloed them with those characters. Difference is, the seller had skills. That cannot be bought. It's learned over time. Going back to fight weaker creatures to slowly master your skills when you're already way too powerful makes it very boring.

People usually buy things that are hard to obtain, painful to harvest or highly desirable. If your ultimate goal was to own a castle, you could spend months/years slowly saving your gold to eventually acquire your heart's desire and then a couple more years of saving to buy the rares that will decorate it. Or, you could spent $1500-$2000 real life money on a castle and a few more hundreds on some rares and get it all within a month. The former took maybe a few years to get it all. The latter got everything he wanted within a few weeks. Will he still be playing in 3 months from now?

The minute you involve real cash, the worse always comes out of too many people and greed gets the best of them. Over my 12 years in UO, I've seen people stoop to the lowest of the low just for a few dollars. Betrayed long time friendships (even real life ones), creative scams, hacks and credit card fraud just so they can get their hands on your stuff and make a buck off it.

Then you have those who will not scam or hack, but who will script their little hearts out running bots to farm gold or resources. Those who will convince others to let them dupe their valuables or worse give a cut to hackers who let them dupe their stolen items. Problem is that be it a dupe or a bot, an unnatural amount of items, resources and gold suddenly enter the economy. Way more than the economy was meant to be able to absorb. And once many see how much money can be made, competition kicks in. Price wars soon begin and before long the currency is so devalued that the legit players can't even sell the resources they acquired the proper way because the dupers and bots are underselling at a 10th of their normal value.

But because so much gold is now in the market, everything costs 50 million. It makes a HUGE barrier to entry for newbies and almost forces legit players to buy gold just so they too can afford what they want. It doesn't matter that gold is cheap. Players shouldn't be forced into that situation. And designers spend ridiculous amount of time trying to counter the actions of such dupers, hackers, scammers and bots and trying to fix the ruined economy. All time that could have been spent fixing bugs or developing new content.

In a case of a theme park game (like WoW or most of the other level based games), RMTs are even more damaging that how long you will continue playing their game relies on a thoroughly planned progression. The entire game is leveling and acquiring gear. If you buy an account with all/most characters already at level 80 and fully geared, then there is absolutely no reason for you to play. Unless you want to camp the PvP instances which can actually be a lot of fun.

With all that said, how can I be "somewhat in favor" of RMTs? Until bots and duping can be eradicated, I don't think any game should officially support RMTs. But if that was achieved, then I would encourage the game to provide an official system to complete RMTs to eliminate scams and fraud. I don't have a problem with a newbie buying 5 million to get himself a decent suit, pay for his insurance and even placing a small 7x7 in the woods. It makes the first steps easier. I wouldn't begrudge a crafter, whose life is all about merchanting, spending a thousand or so buying a Luna house so his business can be even more booming.

Basically, as long as it helps you enjoy playing the game more but not bypass the purpose of the game, then as a player (and a fierce advocate of free choice), I say sure! But as a developer, I'm more inclined to say a big fat no!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Tight Shoes

In the world of entertainment, there is no such thing as one size fits all. There's a hat for every head (well ok, most heads) and a shoe for every foot. While everyone needs shoes, not everyone will invest the same amount in the pairs they buy. I love comfy shoes, but I wouldn't sink $500 in a single pair. Yet I know people that do and it makes them happy. Question is, how much do you spend on yours and how much do you think others should spend on theirs?

Why am I talking about shoes? Not because I've got a shoe fetish, hardly. I just love making random comparisons :P

This post is in fact about a conversation I had with a long time friend of mine over the Holidays. When I lived in Montreal, my best friend Claudy and I had made it a tradition to hit up the Casino once in while (usually once every other month) and we played the Roulette. We each had a budget of $150, sometimes $200. We pooled our money together and most of the time we came out on top. Our best winnings actually were of $2800. Over the Holidays, between dinners and get togethers, we managed to squeeze in a visit to the Casino.

We lost...

So I was talking with my friend Caroline and the subject came up. She was flabbergasted that we "blew money at the Casino". I was surprised that she was so shocked. I asked what's the big deal? We lost and we weren't upset. Disappointed because winning is always nice but we didn't dwell on it nor shed a tear over it. But she went on about how silly it is to give away your money at the Casino, you can't win, people lose their houses over it, not to mention their marriage, life, etc.

I'm like woah! Back up! We're not addicts. We went there with an amount that we were comfortable to spend on our entertainment, win or lose. But she was just hung up on the fact that Claudy and I went in with $400 total and came out with $0 after a few hours.

So I told her: last summer, you and your bf spent $500 on a pair of tickets for the Grand Prix. You sat, under the sun on uncomfortable benches, listening to the very loud sound of the cars speeding around the track, and watching most of the race on a giant screen because most of the time the cars were too far or blocked from view. And you paid outrageous prices for watered down beer and popcorn in the stands. Paid overpriced parking spots and had to deal with the painful downtown traffic. Total money spent: about $650. I watched the exact same race, for free, on my giant flat screen, in the comfort of my own home, drinking and eating quality beverages and foods. As much as I enjoy F1 Racing, I would never spend that kind of money on it.

The same is true of people who spend fortunes on collectibles, for certain shows and concerts, games, cars and car enhancements, shopping, decadent restaurants, you name it. I mean, some people spend thousands of dollars on stamps! I don't get it! But the important thing is that I don't need to. It's their shoes. They're the ones walking in it. That shoe wouldn't fit me, but if it fits them, more power to them! Let them enjoy it!

Establishing the cost of the form of entertainment you seek, accepting it and being at peace with it is the most important step to enjoying it. You could spend $6000 on a 2-week trip to Hawaii or hook yourself up with a really nice home theater that will last you for years. Each choice is as valid as the next. While that choice will be easy for some, it will be extremely difficult for others because both shoes fit and both are as appealing to them.

Transpose this to the game world... Why do players spend millions in gold or real life cash purchasing rare virtual items? I don't know. I never spent cash on rares but there was a time I used to spend millions in gold on them. Today, I don't get the people that still do, yet I used to be one of them. But if it's worth it to them, who am I to tell them otherwise? Some people use the game as a chat room. I wouldn't pay money just to sit at a bank typing my little heart out. To each their own. Others will pay just so they can kill (and be killed by) other players. Is that any stranger than someone who pays to tend virtual plants, raise virtual fishes and chickens? Or build and decorate a house they will never be able to physically set foot in?

Why did I pay for five accounts for so many years? Couldn't I fit all my needs into a single one? Maybe, if I had tried hard enough. But I didn't try or want to for that matter. Because those shoes were a perfect fit, incredibly comfy and worth every penny.