Tobold's Blog
Friday, November 07, 2014
Exclusivity in massively multiplayer games

A new continent opened up in Archeage with lots of housing space. And presumably by hacking all the housing space was sold out within seconds. While there is a certain historical accuracy to having a large number of landless peasants and a tiny number of landed gentry, I think the concept isn't commercially viable. Imagine a player like me who has already played lots of MMORPGs full of mediocre quests, but who would be interested in trying a game like Archeage *because* of having a house and a farm. I'd first be pissed off because the subscription-free part of Archeage doesn't allow me to experience the part of the game I am interested in at all. And then I shell out money for a subscription and find that I still can't get any land? I'd be out of that game again in a heartbeat!

Imagine the same game with a different system: Instead of allowing hackers to grab all land and sell it for their profit, what if the game company sold the land for real money to the highest bidders? I'm pretty sure that would cause howls of outrage, even if the only thing that changes would be who received the money, the game company or the hackers. If we wouldn't be willing to accept a game in which a limited supply is sold for cash by the game company, why would we be willing to accept a game in which the same limited supply is sold for cash by hackers?

Back in the days where people trading virtual items for money was still a subject of intensive discussion on MMORPG blogs, I once pointed out that the problem is that only half of the interaction happens in the game: Player A transfers a virtual property to player B in the game. The other half of the transaction, player B gives money to player A, happens outside the game and is invisible to the game company. The game company can't know whether A gave virtual property to B for money, or because B is his girlfriend, or for some other reason. The only way to stop people from selling virtual property for real money would be to completely disallow the in-game transfer of virtual property.

I am not convinced at all that having virtual property with limited supply in the game is a good idea at all. And I am absolutely certain that if a game has such a feature, it would need to put strong limits on such ownership: Every player being allowed only one plot of land, and no way to transfer that plot of land to another player. But I think it would be even better if for example small plots of land would be available in a quantity that even free players could have one, and only large plots of land would be in somewhat more limited supply. In the end you can't honestly advertise your game as having housing and farming if in practice it is unlikely for the average player to get there without a huge financial investment.

"what if the game company sold the land for real money to the highest bidders? "

What, like Linden labs does with Secondlife?
Seems to work reasonably well for them.
The value of an item comes from its exclusivity. A Ferrari isn't functionally much better than an Opel Corsa (you can save a few minutes per hour if you keep the speed limit), but it's much more expensive, because there aren't many of them out there.

For having valuable items in a game, they must be exclusive (or at least look exclusive).
What about a PvP game in which land is a scarce resource, and people team up to conquer and defend land?
I'm a big fan of exclusivity in MMO's. This was the way it used to work over a decade ago and it pushed players to achieve and get better.

Exclusivity only works if everyone is on the same playing field from the start. Something ArcheAge fails to accomplish.
Housing in MMOs has always been a tricky subject. Ultima Online's housing launch was much like ArcheAge's. Within moments of the servers going live with the patch, all desirable spots had been taken, and available spots were only in the most remote, undesirable corners of the world. Then, even those spots filled up in a couple days.

Dark Age of Camelot was the next major MMO to debut housing, but they did it with dedicated housing zones that purely consisted of endless blocks of player-owned housing. It seemed relatively pointless because it wasn't actually part of the world.

I've always thought some good middle ground would be to have a combination of both in-world and dedicated zone housing. I'm hesitant to be an armchair developer, but my ideal housing situation is below:

In WoW for instance, a guild could build up a large garrison in a phased location, or they could also "claim" a structure in the world. Each house/tower/fort would have weekly rent pegged to the value of the currency on that server (periodically reviewed). A Goldshire house would have a steep rent. Just throwing out a number, but 100k per week seems reasonable for a house in Goldshire. Smaller guilds or very rich individuals can claim structures in more remote areas for lesser amounts. Houses can be customized and upgraded for money or guild achievements. When a structure goes vacant, it stays empty for a week during which time bids can be placed by prospective tenants.

This system would help fight inflation by removing vast amount of currency each week, and would encourage active participation in the game. Best of all, you could choose between an expensive way of making an impact on the world or a cheaper alternative in a private zone that is purely for your own amusement.
"Imagine the same game with a different system: Instead of allowing hackers to grab all land and sell it for their profit, what if the game company sold the land for real money to the highest bidders?"

A simpler suggestion is often made on the AA forums: have unclaimed land be put up for gold auction for 24 hours, highest bid takes it. There's no real need to have this be a real-money purchase, AA already has an above average amount of cash shop options. The difficulty there is that different buildings are different size, and there aren't predefined lots; so the situation isn't as simple as selling predetermined lots of land. The current situation is the worst of all possible worlds, though.
Can you hire the land?

Then it's a lot like real life.

I'm not saying that's good - but farming is like real life in a similar way and that seems to be taken as a feature.

Though hacking to get all the land seems dumb that it could happen.
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