Tobold's Blog
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Raph not open to new ideas

In a typical example of how little developers are open to new ideas, Raph tries to discredit me by saying that my proposal to remove asymetric trade is equivalent to removing groups and guilds and all forms of cooperation from MMORPGs. Apparently he didn't understand or chose to ignore the important word "asymetric". A group in which one person tanks, another person heals, and other people deal damage is *not* asymetric as long as the characters involved are of roughtly the same level. Each player performs a different role, but each of these roles is equally important. I never proposed removing groups from MMORPGs, Raph did. Nor did I propose to remove all trade from MMORPGs. One person selling a Primal Water to another person for 20 gold is totally fine. One person selling a worthless rock to another person for 1000 gold is not, because nobody would do such an asymetric transaction if there wasn't a real world counterpart to it.

Lets have a look at a real world example: A politician needs his house renovated, and the work to be done has a independantly estimated market value of $50,000. If the builder send the politician a bill for $50,000 and the politician pays it, we have a symmetric trade, and everything is fine. If the builder send the politician a bill for $1,000 and the press gets wind of it, everybody will assume that an illegal counterpart for this asymetric trade occured, like the politician getting a big city contract to the builder. Raph saying that to prevent asymetric trade you have to eliminate all trade and cooperation in the game is like saying that a politician shouldn't be allowed to renovate his house or buy anything at all. It is an invalid extrapolation, trying to make a reasonable request seem crazy by exaggeration.

Yes, removing asymetric trades from MMORPGs would remove *some* forms of non-RMT assistance from these games as well. You couldn't send 1000 gold to your friend or girl friend for example. Sending it to your own twinks could be enabled, for example with a shared bank account. But you don't have to remove guilds and groups from a game to achieve this, although you might want to remove the ability of level 10 characters gaining xp when grouped with level 70 characters to prevent that form of powerleveling as well.

Over at Raph's some commenters propose removing "bind on pickup" and "bind on equip" features altogether. That shows a disturbingly naive view of human behavior. To anyone with half a brain it should be obvious that if you make all items in the game tradeable, you would much increase RMT. Especially in a game like WoW, where raid epics are designed to be accessible only to a small percentage of players. Next thing you'd see would be the "Chinese Raiding Guild", just keeping the most essential epics for themselves and selling the rest for dollars.

The whole discussion started with Raph's blanket statement that "RMT cannot be eradicated" which he used as argument that game companies should get into that business as well. I found his accompanying statement of "Will the gamers like this? Flatly, no. At least not publicly. But a heck of a lot of them will pay up quietly." somewhat insulting to players. My problem here is that players do not even get the choice to prove that they would really prefer a game without RMT, because developers aren't open to new ideas that could actually remove it. Raph having to try to ridicule me and turning my proposal into something monstrous that I never said just shows that he doesn't *want* RMT to be removed. Because he sees it as the revenue model of the games of the future.

As so often, one of the most insightful comments to the whole discussion comes from Darniaq, who said "What is the real problem with RMT? That it exposes the underlying truth of mass acceptance of inequality." There is huge inequality between players of a game like World of Warcraft, from the most casual player who never even reached level 70, to the guy running around in Black Temple epics. Unrestricted RMT where everything is tradeable somewhat levels the playing field, as now some of the players who would never be able to reach top end raid epics otherwise now would be able to buy them for real money. But having played Magic the Gathering Online, I have already experienced how such a model can destroy a game and turn it into an ugly bastion of unrestricted greed which would make even Gordon Gecko flinch. I can live with a restricted RMT model, like WoW has it, where gold can only be used to buy things like epic mounts, but not dungeon / raid loot. But if game companies would be running the RMT themselves, simple business logic would encourage them to make larger and larger parts of the game available for money. The moment where the players thoughts go from "Wow, I found the fabled Sword of Uberness" to "Wow, I just earned $50", the game is dead.
Blizzard could go a LONG way if they rewarded work more than luck. Every single quest with only a hand full exceptions out of thousands of quests, will reward you with gear that is sub-par to that found in AH FOR THE SAME LEVEL!

Except for end-game raids, where you need to run the same content over and over and over again for a chance at better gear, you gear up MUCH better from AH than from your quest rewards, therefore rewarding gold over time spent. And since you can buy gold for RL cash, just do the maths...
well in WOW with the leveling zones so empty and every new person being told to solo to end game to be with thier friends I think the biggest problem removing RMT is it would prevent friends from assisting thier buddies and making the now pointless but necessary grind to end game easier.

But removing all restrictions on trade would just be pure stupidity. It would be like doing away with all policemen because people are inherently good and want to follow the law. While people may be inherently good they are genetically wired for selfishness and self preservation. If one person games the system and gets ahead then everyone else will try and the whole house of cards falls down. Thus the need for policemen.

In game is no different.
I still have to read Raph comment.
Anyway just a couple observation on Tobold's post ^_^

1) I agree with your ideas about removing asymetrical trades. Only bad thing (for developers to make it right) is how to give a numerical value in a trade.

If I trade a [Primal Fire] for about 25 gold, is fine. But how we ended with that price? Yes, demand and offer, avaibility among with real or perceived value. Just look at ebay and you could end up with transaction of useless crap for a lot of euros...

I imagine that the server would have to check trade transaction and estimate value of both ends and if value isn't about the same should close trade and not permit it.... not easy to implement

2) you (Tobold) mention about such a system would have issues with RL friends.

I would add that every transaction is always symmetrical at the moment of the trade. Even the 1000gold for 1 rock. Even during a scam, the trade is symmetrical. Let me explain that.... :)

The problem is that not always everything is accomplished inside the same system (inside the game).
And like the politician... you can't know what happened outside the game...

For the friends.... I would envision a system that could track eventually messages and time spent with someone and would consider such time/chat as something of value... value that can be of use in trade (so that I can give a friend 500g without getting a thing back as the game)

oh well... all poorly written, but hope someone will read and understand :P (now time to get back in wow)
As a parent with children and nephews playing the game, not being able to send their alts gold and give them gear would greatly diminish game enjoyment. Just like you mentioned the "haves and have nots" young adults playing don't necessarily have the time or all of the social skills required to get into groups and instances to earn the rewards. However, being young adults they are even more hyped on the phat loot that is paraded in front of them. My nephew and daughter only have mounts because my son and I pay for them.

I say stick with the real problem - reduce game mechanics that entice people to buy gold. Blizzard has done come work in that direction with the daily quests. Then on the other hand, set a price on an epic flying mount to 5K gold why? The original epic mount was high but easily achievable by all players. Even more gold dropping in TBC doesn't easily net 5K gold. Between us we have 7 level 70 characters and no epic flying mounts. We just don't care enough to submit to that price and aren't inclined to farm it. However, players that do care enough about it but and don't have the time to farm it will buy gold. IMO that is the game developer contributing to the problem.
You also have to remember that Raph has argued for the "RMT business models" for some time, so I think he has some sort of evidence to back him up. Obviously enough to get funding for MetaPlace.

To me, MetaPlace is built on the idea of "the more our users interact, the more chances for revenue for us". He is 100% entrenched in the "real world money for the virtual world". Yes, some of the MetaPlace stuff will be free, but the bulk of it will have to make Meta Dollars a feature at some point.

Personally, I hate it. The minute games turn into "virtual worlds with real money", is probably the day I quit all together. Some will argue that we are already at that point, but if you notice, I specifically play games and support companies that fight against RMT.
Whoa, Tobold. I touched a nerve.

I didn't say you advocated removing guilds and removing grouping.

Further response is too long for a comment, and will be on my blog again...
I never understood why RMT was a huge issue. For me the issue is whether or not RMT interferes with player experience and what issue of game design for normal play it implies.

Or rather it isn't a huge issue in WoW currently.

For me dungeon runner failed precicely because i had to buy my in-game experience directly. Real-money for virtual items is a really game-play breaking concept in my book. It may work for some but I cannot ever see myself playing a game like that. But then again I'd never buy virtual furniture :P

For WoW I have actually seen only two types of service: Powerleveling and money selling.

I have never seen group assistance services offered, so I do agree to your reaction that Raph's argument that one had to remove grouping is a tad extreme.

Really the types of RMT indicates what drives and limits WoW character development. One is catching up leveling wise. If someone wants to play endgame (their goal and intend) without RMT this means having to play a character up from 0-cap without a bypass.

The second is gold, there are some things that gold will buy you. In WoW they are fairly specific once one gets to the details. Buy money items are: mounts, maxing a profession, buying very rare BoE gear, buying quality crafted gear.

I actually do believe that you could have a game like WoW that has limited to no trading component to it and still be tons of fun. In fact I only play the trade-skill and the trading part of the game because I have to. It's part of the game design. What I want is spend time with my friends. And yes, I can perfectly well help them by doing a quest with them, grouping for an instance, or giving advice about how to solve an encounter or use a class ability.

Money or tradable good are not needed _per se_ to make a sociable gaming experience.

I'm not sure if I understand Raph correctly but it does sound like he believes that trade is necessary. If that's the case I'd disagree.

However most online games seem to have some economy to it. And as far as I am concerned the real reason for this is that many people actually do enjoy the economic component as a game. For me that's why WoW is designed the way it is: It tries to please as many playing styles as possible, those that like to level, those that like to raid, those that like to trade and craft, those that like lore, those that like exploring and so on.

RMT is in the case of WoW really about time. Money buys you not having to spend the time to get to level cap and it buys you not having to spend the time in game to accumulate the gold yourself.

But this tension is really tricky. Why doesn't blizz simply implement the old MUD God-mode command /level X where X is the desired level? The reason is very very simple: Game longevity. How quickly does a game get stale if you do not have to level your alt to level cap? Too many people simply wouldn't. After /level 70 all classes and playing with them for a bit, you've seen it all and cancel your account. To me the real reason why Blizz does not introduce free respecs is exactly this: Encourage replay and longevity.

I think Blizz could remove stuff that leads to trade but there is a danger that they remove too much of what some players consider desirable in the game design, like that craft skills matter.

Blizz could equally add /level but it would remove incentive for alt play. And they could make equipment catch-up easier by faster mechanisms than they offer now, but they would weaken a main motivator that keeps people playing (collection, progression & achievement through items).

I do see RMT as a side-effect of a necessary condition that MMOs take time to have longevity really and the inequality mentioned earlier is a kind of necessary condition of longevity and motivation.

An issue I find way more interesting that RMT is the related issue of adverserial behavior for reasons of RMT. Stuff like hacking people's account and stripping them to sell the gold. This happens a fair large bit in WoW and in my book is the main real concern. If anything I'd love to read a healthy discussion how to prevent/alleviate etc "cyber-crimes" like account hacking and stripping.
I posted my lengthy rebuttal. :)
Raph, I kinda disagree that the only way to eradicate RMT is by eradicating altruisum. (And that's what I originally disagreed with in your Massive article (I read the print version back when)).

I agree that RMT and altruistic actions are linked, but that's not what you are claiming. Your claim is far stronger.

Why then is there virtually no group-support service in WoW even when grouping is altruistic?

As said above, you can have a game that has 0 trade but plenty of altruism through grouping, sharing of quest information etc.

There is a tank shortage in WoW but no RMT service to provide tanks. Yet ingame players altruistically offer to tank even if they get no benefit from it.

It's a theoretical standpoint that all altruistic actions will be exploited via RMT, while there is no actual evidence for it. It's an extreme position.

There is more to altruism than giving goods: buffing a by-passer, giving directions, etc etc.

There are many actions that are hard to valuate (RMT) and that are altruistic.
Tobold somehow takes everything the wrong way and totally misinterprets other people's comments as personal attacks.

You aren't the center of the universe, dude, and not everyone is out to get you.
Blah blah blah.

The market will decide. Publishers are licking their fingers over the velvet rope business model, and we'll just have to see how it pans out.

BTW, anyone know how well HGL is doing with their subscription numbers?
Meh, I think too much of a big deal is made out of RMT, gold farmers, etc. It's only an issue if you're "Trying to keep up with the Joneses" and be competitive with everyone else.

If you are "casual", then it doesn't really matter. You're not hardcore enough to raid, even if you did buy gold from a gold farmer. And same idea goes with PvP. Even with "bought items", you'll still get pwned by people who are more hardcore.

The biggest problem would be if you couldn't play without spending lots of real world $$. Like if you made having an epic mount a requirement rather than merely an expensive long term goal.
Gold farmers clog up the system.

Publishers grow addicted to the extra cash flow, and developers start introducing more money sinks, which creates a demand for more gold and more farmers and that leads to more subscribers.

This places an even greater burden on players who don't want to buy gold.
Sadly, there's not a softer touch of consumers than geeks, nerds, and gamers. We'll over pay for anything, so I can see why publishers want to vacuum up that extra cash.
"You aren't the center of the universe, dude, and not everyone is out to get you."

Seriously. Read that one again, Tobold, and take a few deep breaths. Raph was not "trying to discredit" you.

I can see your point under all the hyperbole, but frankly I think some of your ideas about a completely RMT-free game world are naive. Your guidelines would certainly hurt honest people who have nothing to do with buying gold from farmers, and everything to do with distributing their own hard-earned gold among their family members, friends, guildmates, and even their own alts.

I'm not saying I think RMT is such a great thing, though it might have its place in certain situations when all users are informed customers. However, I find myself incredibly grateful that you (Tobold) are not a designer on WoW.
I don't think I'd like a game with no trading or money transfers.

But I'd hate a game with no limits either. Trusting in the goodness of people in a video game where there is no real hurt or injury it pure stupidity.

I think its a complicated issue. RMT on small levels, helping friends alts etc actually encourages social play. When it become a big thing and is used to bypass the grind it reduces the need to group and hurts the social aspect of the game.

IMHO anything that reduces the incentive to group is bad for an MMO.
I think Raph is wrong, because he wants to elimitate EVERY possible form of RMT, doing this will in fact stop all grouping and any form of player interaction (because any form of interaction could be sold).

Tobold tries elimitate negative effects of the current incarniation of RMT from WoW for example. This means elimating GOLD transfers - this is possible.

I think the leveling service is not bad for the rest of the community because it takes long and can't be automated (well, not without the risk of that the account is canceled by blizzard - that would immediately destroy the business model).

So with some restrictions you can remove the bad influcence of RMT from (for example) WoW while you are not able to remove every possible method.

so both are wrong or right, depends from where you are looking at it.
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