Tobold's Blog
Monday, October 01, 2007
Primary and secondary evils of RMT

RMT is bad because it is a form of cheating in a video game. You acquire something in the game the easy way, without having to overcome whatever hurdle or challenge the game put up between you and your goal. This devalues the achievements of others, who got to the same point the legit way. I'm calling this the primary evil of RMT. Primary because there is no way you could think of RMT that doesn't involve this cheating. (How opposed or in favor you are of video game cheating is another question).

RMT is bad because of regular players getting bombarded with spam, and because they are prevented from gathering certain goods in game due to lots of gold farmers camping the spot. RMT is bad because of gold sellers scamming their customers, and because they try to install trojans on your computer to steal your WoW password and sell your gold. And the list goes on and on. All these I call secondary evils of RMT. Secondary because they are clearly a result of RMT, but RMT could exist without them. Take in-game gold spam, that is a relatively new phenomenon. RMT existed for many years before the first guy started spamming gold sales in WoW.

Why would I want to make a distinction between primary and secondary evils of RMT? Because it gives us new ways to solve the problem. If some secondary evil is worse than the primary one of cheating, then legalizing RMT might solve some of the problems. How long would gold spam survive if gold sellers could get a license to sell gold on an official legit market, with a threat of spam revoking their license? Or you can attack the secondary bad effect directly, which is what some games do now with spam filters.

Look at the Ni Hao video I posted on Saturday, which besides the catchy tunes shows you that apparently people are more concerned with the secondary evils than the primary ones. The video complains about not being able to gather primals in Shadowmoon Valley due to the gold farmers. But it is easy to see how you could have exactly the same problem even if there was no RMT and there were just lots of other regular players farming the primals. The Burning Crusade already introduced some areas with dynamic spawns, where the more mobs get killed, the faster they respawn. If primals get farmed 24/7 and prices for them are still high on the AH, there are obviously not enough sources for them. If Blizzard put in dynamic spawns on the mobs that drop them, there would be enough supply for everyone who really needs the primals. And the gold farmers would just ruin themselves if they overfarmed them and crashed their value on the AH. A dynamic economy is less easily abused than a static one.

It is even possible to design games with a high inherent resistance to gold farming. Gold farmers exist because of their comparative advantage of living in a low-income country. The video says "10 cents an hour is good money if you are Chinese", which goes to the heart of the matter, even if it is probably a bit more than 10 cents per hour. By playing the same account 24/7 in shifts or by using bots, the gold farmers make use of the fact that money earning is linear with time spent in game. What if it wasn't? I'm thinking again of the harvesters in SWG, which produce resources in real time. For all we know Pirates of the Burning Sea has similar harvesters and production sites working in real time as the source of their player-based economy. But if you don't need to be online all day to make them run, then a gold farmer isn't producing any more wealth with a harvester than a casual player. If a gold farmer can't make more gold than a casual player, he can't sell that gold very cheap, and the RMT market in such a game never gets going. A game design in which wealth doesn't depend on you playing all the time is not only more fun for casual players, it also solves lots of the secondary evils of RMT.

Unless you remove the ability of players to transfer wealth between them, RMT is never going to go away completely. But if we focus on what is really bothering us about RMT instead of trying to solve a huge and abstract problem, there are solutions available to diminish many of the bad secondary evils of RMT.
I've touched on this topic on some other blogs as well as on my own.

I think the problem is that there are multiple issues tied up in the single basket of RMT and some of those issues may be ones that a provider doesn't necessarily want to address. Mostly because the time and effort required to adequately back up their policies on RMT would cripple their CS departments.

RMT can only be dealt with via intelligent design - either by designing it out through a game economy that doesn't revolve around cash or by designing it in and keeping a vice like hold on it.

There will be a successful Western type MMO (and no EQII on Station Exchange servers doesn't count) where RMT will be seamlessly integrated into the game dynamic. Games that follow the economic models of current games will continue to be plagued by this unwanted and uncontrolled divergent activity.
While I agree on the secondary evils, I don't see it as cheating, per se. This has nothing to do with the fact that I've bought gold in WoW, and gil in FFXI. I freely admit to that. However, in both cases I see it as time shifting. I'm shifting my real world efforts in time spent into WoW or FFXI. Ultimately, that's all making money in an MMO is; time spent = money out.
The reason why cheating isn't commonly mentioned as a reason to oppose RMT is that quite a lot of players view MMOs as competitive, even if it wasn't the intention of the developers. And when there's competition, some people will do anything to get an advantage. So if there was an opportunity to gain an unfair advantage via cheating, they would use it. If you criticize others of cheating and would do the same if the situation was reversed, you would (quite justifiably) be called a hypocrite. So when certain people flame Overrated for wallhacking or Nihilum being sponsored by gold sellers I get a chuckle out of it.

Also, Blizzard is dismantling the time shifting argument for RMT with daily quests. You get a decent income with about an hour of time spent per day and get cheap potions and other consumables as a bonus.
Additionally, RMT is cheating when the rules of the game specifically state it as against the rules.
I hit return too soon, legalized RMT, over time, increases the barrier to entry for a game to many people.

In other words, under the flat subscription is a known quantity, such as a cable bill, that allows an individual to control his entertainment spending. RMT based economies remove that known and introduce an unknown in personal budgets.

The other side effect of RMT based economies is that the game makers themselves may benefit financially from controlling the availability of resources. This is an unhealthy fiscal relationship with entertainment consumers, and can bring out the tinfoil in everyone.

The core issue with the proliferation of RMT is the lack of 'fun' in achieving a particular goal. The majority of MMORPG designers have abdicated the entertainment value for the 'earn your way', and 'invest' in your character model. This results in an emotional disconnect that surfaces as playing the game is work, and therefore should be avoided, even if it means paying for that avoidance.

In other words, if a significant amount of people are engaging in a significant amount of RMT in a game, then the game is broken.
...and so Blizzard updated some old Enchants from Zul Gurub and so on in the 2.2 patch, and changed the mats to, yep, primals. So, even more need for farming primals, even more players overcamping the spawn points.
Blizzard don't seem to understand that they encourage gold farmers every time they do something like this. Stupid.
Guild Wars is a good example of two of your points Tobold.

Firstly "Dynamic Respawns" happen naturally as consequence of the instanced nature of the game. Professional gold farmers don't really inconvenience players because they do not affect drop rates in other players private instances.

Secondly Arena net has implemented an anti farming mechanism. If a player farms the same area too many times in quick succession drop rates fall like a stone. In theory the casual player who visits a zone several times in a row to get a small amount of resources is unaffected but the gold farmer who visits many many times will find their productivity going to zilch.

Despite these mechanisms a quick Google search confirms that there is a thriving RMT business in GW gold.
One of the great mysteries to me is why /tells to, say, players over an early level or use of the mail system to send spam isn't disabled on trial accounts. It's such a simple partial solution and while not solving the problem, it would certainly reduce the irritation factor. If a trial character gets to a certain level then open up the features. Genuine players trying a new game (for free) will undertand the restriction. Farmers who abuse it will have to invest time in a character before being able to abuse it - and when the account is inevitably banned it'll hit them that little bit harder as they'll have to spend, say, another 24 hours of solid levelling to get to the point where they can spam again. Yes - I know it'll still be abused - but it would reduce the problem.
There is one problem legalizing it won't fix, and we see it in WoW now: inflation. When gold sellers farm goods to sell for in-game gold (which they sell for dollars), at least the inflationary effect of all that extra gold going into the economy that wouldn't otherwise, is offset by the extra product available for auction and so those items drop in price. Each time farmers find an item that sells, they all start farming it until the price drops.

But since Blizzard made gold easy to get, what we see is rampant inflation. The 2nd part, gold spam, is being countered and even if it is eliminated, the easy gold provided by Blizzard has a negative effect without any positive effect. I think game companies selling gold would have the same effect.

Unless the company held gold selling like the government sells bonds. Just have auctions of a limited amount of gold each month. They could at least put some control on it that way. Actually I'm surprised games like WoW don't have a global variable that affects the amount of gold dropped or given as quest rewards, that they can keep adjusting to help control the amount of gold flowing into the economy. That is something really necessary I think. It would be sort of like national banks.
I'm still at a loss for how so much time is spent discussing the value or access of an in game resource. Do you really want all things to cost very little? Where is the fun in that? Half the fun of the game for many people is obtaining rare things. If everything is easily obtainalble then where is the reaward system?

Gold farming will never go away Tobold. Only one factor needs to be acknowledged to understand that, tradeable resources. As long as they exist, people will sell them.

The harvesters in SWG is a terrible example of a fix for this. If you reduce how much can be produced of said resource, all you do is drive up demand. All that does is allow gold farmers to sell less for more. In WoW I can spend all my time farming gold, or buy it. On the other hand, if my gold was earned real time, at a fixed rate, I can't make it any faster then the gold farmers. Now my ONLY choice to get more gold is to buy it.

If you really want to fix this, eliminate poverty. Otherwise except the fact that people will always sell things of value, and tradeable resources will always have value.
There's a very simple cure for the RMT in MMORPGs. Remove all the stupid money sinks. Everyone wants the cool stuff like epic flying mounts. Not everyone can afford the ridiculous amount of time it takes to grind that much gold (yes, its a GRIND in a GAME - genius!). Many people who have little free time have more income, thus the concept "I don't have time to grind this gold, but I can afford to buy it instead" is born.

Say what you will about 'accomplishment', the sole purpose of money sinks is to keep people playing the game for more time. Epic flying mounts could be the reward of a heroic quest chain and thus be a sign of accomplishment. But that could be acheived in a fraction of the time.

Remove the money sinks and RMT would shrink to a minor issue.
Well, IMO, eliminating monetary costs from a game won't fix the problem either. It will simply change the RMT gold-farming/selling business model to an epic questing service (akin to the already-existing leveling services). In fact, I expect that it would be easy to find a service to get you a Nether Drake or whatever your desired special epic mount choice might be - right now!
The reason is simple: A money time sink and a questing time sink have the same common denominator -- time sink.
And the bottom line is that with all RMT, people are purchasing the same thing: MMO time.

Think about it: Gold buying, leveling services, hacking down walls -- in the end, all are attempts to save time.

The bottom line is that if a person wants something in an MMO and desires to buy it in defiance of the ULA rather than earn it, ISTM improbable that one who would buy gold will *not* buy a questing service to achieve the same end...
So there were no significant RMT issues in Star Wars Galaxies?
There wouldn't have been if harvesters had been the only source of wealth. But of course in SWG a gold farmer could run random missions all day to make tons of credits, or even just dupe them, the game was so buggy.

It only works if wealth creation is purely tied to real-time production. As long as you can make gold by playing 24/7 the gold farmers have a comparative advantage.
There's a very easy way around this...except I just worked out how to get around my own idea.

I was going to say just don't allow gold transfer between any characters not on the same account. No mailing of gold to other players, no purchasing of items (for Gold) directly from other players, etc. Sure, you can give another player an item for free, or trade one item for another, but you cannot trade gold for items. How do you pay for enchants, then? You buy the mats, you put them in the To Be Trade window, and your item to be enchanted in the Not To Be Trade window. The Enchanter already has the same Mats in his inventory, so he's using his Mats for the Enchant, but when you complete the Trade he gets your Mats, plus another pre-agreed upon item as payment. Remember how Stones of Jordan became the currency of Diablo? I could see Primals (or other items) doing the same under this system.

My work around for not allowing direct trade of gold between characters on separate accounts?
"Thank you for purchasing 1,000gold from Please create an auction on the Khaz'goroth server for a level 10 green dagger with a BuyOut of 1,000g, using the character you named in our transaction, and one of our representatives will purchase your dagger."

Ah ha! The solution to this workaround?
All Auctions run for 24 hours (no 2 or 8 hour auctions). No BuyOuts, and the default minimum bid price is set by the server and cannot be changed. The buyer cannot increase the bid by an amount of his choosing, it increases by a predetermined amount based on the item's value. In order for the Gold Seller to bid 1,000g on your lvl 10 Dagger, he has to tie up two accounts for an hour (or more) outbidding himself until he's finally bid 1,000g on the lvl 10 Green Dagger. Do you really think the farmers are going to do that? Sure, it could be done with bots so there's no humans involved, but it's tying up two accounts that could otherwise be making Gold...but when the process in getting the gold to the Buyer is as long and arduous as farming the gold was, including a 24-hour delay because the Buyer has to wait for his Auction to close before he gets the Gold AND he loses 5% that the Auction House takes. "Hey! I bought 1,000g from your company and only got 950!"

Hmm, it's a crazy idea, but it just might work.
Tradeable resources will be sold by gold farmers. All of this over analyzing will not change that.

And if you reduce how fast things can be traded, you just increase the value of the tradeable resource. Sigh, let the futility of solutions continue...
But Anselm, it's a lot of fun to over analyze the RMT situation. It's what us armchair strategists/philosophers do best! :D
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