Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Avoiding the RMT issue

The Nosy Gamer has a post with old quotes from MMORPG developers about the evils of RMT. To give an extremely short summary of the four quotes, the developers hate RMT because of:
  • constant spamming of chat channels
  • use of stolen credit cards
  • credit card chargebacks
  • credit card fraud
In other words, as the second quote from Jagex states: "The biggest concern about real-world trading is - sorry for this example as I know it is not politically correct - it is a bit like prostitution. It's not necessarily the prostitution which is a problem, although you might have moral problems with [real-world trading]. But the real problem is the organised crime that's built around prostitution; the human trafficking, the drugs, etc. And that's the same with illegal real-world trading. The problem comes in when they start doing other illegal activities."

Now I totally agree that stealing and fraud are evil. Just like everybody agrees that human trafficking is evil. But as argument for why RMT / prostitution is bad, I find this extremely weak. Not that I would deny that there is a connection between RMT and credit card fraud, or prostitution and human trafficking. But what if you break that connection? What if you have a game like Diablo III with a legal RMT auction house, or a country like the Netherlands where prostitutes have legal protection? If there is no credit card fraud, is RMT *still* a bad thing? If there is no human trafficking or drugs involved, is prostitution still bad? I feel that the slippery slope argument is just lazy and weak.

So why don't these people argue against RMT itself, disconnected from the crime? Because if they did that, they would have to point the fingers at themselves. Between real money auction houses with fees, PLEX, and various Free2Play shop items in different games, a lot of game developers are now very much in the business of selling virtual currency for real money, or taking a cut from such sales between players. Basically what the devs are saying in the linked-to post is "RMT is evil if somebody other than me is doing it". And that doesn't make for a very morally convincing argument.

I very much believe that buying virtual currency has an *inherent* bad effect on a game, which is independent of whether it is a third party or the game company itself that is making the sale. RMT to me is a sign of a game lacking inherent rewards. We do not want to play because playing is fun, we only play because of some virtual reward at the end. And if there are some means like RMT or botting or cheating which allow us to get to that same virtual reward faster, we take it. Because we aren't enjoying playing for that reward. And that, to me, cries "bad game!". RMT means paying somebody else to play the game for you, and how enjoyable can a game be if you feel the need for that?

Even if you don't mind the Skinner box gameplay without inherent rewards, RMT is self-defeating. It breaks the link between the game activity and the reward. Imagine starting a new Diablo III account with $5 worth of gold: You would play for many hours, at least the first play-through if not several ones, equipped 99% of the time with gear you bought from the AH. Diablo III in your mind would not be a game where you kill monsters to find loot, because the probability of finding something better than what you bought with the RMT gold would be so very remote. That very much kills the "I play for rewards" mindset.

I do think there is a good and intelligent discussion that can be held about whether RMT by itself is bad. By just simply labeling every gold seller as a credit card fraudster, we are just avoiding the real RMT issue.

I still think that, weighing all the disadvantages, that PLEX is the best compromise. It is better, or at least certainly seems more straightforward, than buying gems or lottery packs or dual currencies or other ways that companies both want RMT but are too disingenuous to be explicit.

Without any RMT, I played Diablo that way - you grind mobs, get gold and loot you sell, get 99% of you gear from the AH. It made perfect sense to a MMO player. Once one grasps the concept of currency, then a drop that you can sell to buy your awesome crossbow generates about the same dopamine as if the crossbow itself dropped.

Just a reminder that prostitution, while illegal in much of the US, is legal in some parts.
Yeah, the arguments are rather backward. The creation of a black market creates economic opportunities for criminals, oddly enough. I still think D3 was an experiment in killing the gold trade.

To the degree we aren't just declaring the concept of MMOS to be garbage, there will be wide variance in the amount of time people are willing to expend on the game, and the activities they enjoy when they do spend time. Some people want to spend 5 hours a month, some 160 hours. RMT lets the people avoid the parts of the game they find boring and/or don't have time for, and play the parts they do. So I think non-criminal RMT would be beneficial, even if it seems like cheating to the guys willing to spend 160 hours a month on the game.
It's not the same. When a company sells their own currency, it is a controlled environment where they can mitigate the impact on the economy. Companies engaging in RMT are also not negatively impacting the game world through bots and annoying players with spam.

They're not arguing against RMT because sanctioned and un-sanctioned RMT are two very different things.
@Chris: While that's true, and it's a point I agree with, Tobold was also arguing that any and all RMT is bad, because it's a symptom of bad design. ie: If the game was designed to be fun, you wouldn't feel compelled to spend money.

@Tobold: The only issue I have with your assertion is that this is how monetization strategies and the games around them are being designed. The rise of Free-to-Play means that RMT is being embraced and games designed to encourage that microtransactional spending (hopefully without making it absolutely necessary).

Would you say that the official RMT in World of Tanks means that the gameplay of World of Tanks is bad, or its design lazy? While having a game that isn't inherently fun doesn't help having players turn to RMT shortcuts, it's not the problem itself.

Subscription models aren't as viable or attractive as they used to be, and I'd suggest it's not so much because of value (gameplay) for money they provide, as much as the fact that there is a limit to how much the average customer can or will spend on the commitment of a sub, compared to the veritable explosion of online games that started asking for it.

Something had to give, and the result was pecking away, taking smaller nibbles out of a wider number of wallets, rather than getting to sit down to a hearty meal of a more targeted selection of wallets. The problem with taking old developer quotes from before this paradigm shift is that they don't know to distinguish between types of RMT when saying that RMT is bad. It's not that many years ago that there simply wasn't a good kind for many of these devs.

As it stands now, I think the main difference between sanctioned and unsanctioned RMT is that the former is a monetization strategy, the latter is the result of deficiencies in that strategy.
Ie: Official prices too unreasonable, certain grinds/items desired by the player base (due to poor design) that aren't supported by sanctioned RMT.
Also, while it's true that making something legal reduces the amount of impact the illegal side of that industry can have, it will pretty much still continue to operate due to the restrictions that exist as part and parcel of regulation.

Medicine is legal by prescription, but people will continue to desire medicines that they can't get prescriptions for, because the regulations don't want them to have it. Prostitution is legal, but people who want to fuck children will continue to go to the illegal trade, so the slavery/kidnapping continues...

So it remains necessary to hunt and shut down the bad kind (drug-dealing, slavery, RMT) where it exists, and apply censure and social stigma to it.
RMT is not evil or good

And just because online games have not monetized RMT properly does not mean that RMT is bad or good.

To put a finer point on this. What about Diablo III you don't start with $5 but instead are given the option of attending a webcast Timeshare sales pitch for two hours?

If the people who attend this Timeshare pitch buy timeshares at better than 5%. Then the Timeshare seller will be more than happy to pay 5 or even 50 real crisp dollars for the opportunity to sell in this market.

Now a person could grind for that $5 in the game but what if it takes MORE than 2 hours??? Time is time. Money is money. What is the difference in game purity if someone "plays the win $5" differently than killing mobs?

What I really think the issue with RMT is that some people don't like RMT making it obvious that some are winning the game of life. And that fact is uncomfortable for everyone looking to get away from being reminded about their real life score card.
I agree, but what is the relation between prostitution and drugs? Unless you mean Viagra or birthcontrol pills?
what is the relation between prostitution and drugs?

I'd say the causality there is the other way around: Drug users might turn to prostitution to finance their habit.
Ah yes, since the use of drugs isn't forbidden in the Netherlands I didn't make the connection;)
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