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!


Stupid Miner said...

Huh, no comments thus far? You must have stunned them speechless.

Side note: nice job on the new patch, looks very nice from what I can see.

Anonymous said...

While I agree RMT's will increase likelihoods of your points 1-5 occuring, I see detrimental points 1 & 2 more as personal choices along the lines of your tight shoes post. Point 3 will occur with or without RMT's, some folks like to do this stuff for the sheer joy of it - no money needed.

I think 4 is more the result of there really being no balance in a game's economy. With or without RMT's, I don't think UO's economy can ever be called balanced.

UO is a big game with a lot of fun ways to do lots of fun things. And it is constantly being updated to add more fun stuff. This can greatly influence the economy balance and also leads to a very inefficient market. It takes time for information on how to do things efficiently awhile to get out. Eg, relic fragments were always pretty easy to obtain. But until that became common knowledge, they were preceived as rare and priced accordingly. So it goes with most high demand new items. Of course part of this is the player's "I want it now and I"ll pay" attitudes.

I think another major reason the 24/7 MMO's have problems with balancing an economy is that you have players who might play 1 or 2 hrs a week "competing" with those who can play hrs every day. As a designer, what number of hrs/day play can you design for? The way many things are now, there appears to be a balance that certain things must take xxxx number of actions to accomplish, otherwise things become too easy for the enthusiastic players. As a result, there is often too much tedium in the game for my taste. I think this is what also causes the bot/scripting/farming behaviors you see. Again, no RMT needed if the game economy is borked as long as the game is fun to play once you get past the tedious parts. Point 4 will exist as people try to bypass the tedium to get to the fun part (whatever they might perceive that to be).

I don't know if good balance is ever achievable given the wide range of times that players can play. I agree players who play more should get more, but it is skewed too much I think. Maybe something along the quest timer limits of only so many rewards per time periord per char. Or chars aging and perma death :).

GreyPawn said...

I didn't mean to imply that you were sanctioning RMT, but rather had happened upon the direct cause of it - the circumvention of the exchange of time for progression. From a design perspective, I am adamantly opposed to player-controlled RMT. It is the responsibility of quality design to craft a game which is resistant to RMT. The themeparky games you mention like WoW certainly lend towards this, with soulbinding and level-requirements - two major features UO could probably do to employ.

By the way, I'm awfully sorry to hear about your departure from the UO dev team. Truth be told, I know you weren't so much a fan of mine - but I was a big fan of yours.

Regine "Sakkarah" Abel said...

I didn't think you implied I was in favor of RMTs. As you had mentioned, my previous entry could be construed as a such and so I figured I would answer you and clarify my personal position on the topic at the same time!

I was never much in favor of soulbinding. In a theme park game, it makes sense since acquiring gear is one of the main reasons to stick around. UO has always been much more about community and sharing. I like being able to share my phat l3wt with my friends or hooking up a noobie with some uber arties I have no use for. I just don't think there is a simple solution to RMTs. And again, I'm not against them as a whole.

Whatever makes you think I dislike you? You've never wronged me (that I know of!). You have my ICQ, holler! I'm curious as to what prompted that!