Tobold's Blog
Monday, December 24, 2007
A thought experiment on RMT

As part of my ongoing discussion with Raph on RMT, I came up with a thought experiment, based funnily enough on Ultima Online, the game Raph designed. The one design question UO more or less "solved" was whether people wanted unrestricted PvP. It did so by creating two mirror images of the world, one with and one without PvP. Over 90% of the population ended up in the non-PvP half called Trammel, while the PvP half called Felluca ended up pretty much deserted. So although in discussions the PvP lovers were shouting much louder, once people had the chance to vote with their feet it became obvious that unrestricted PvP was not so popular. Now lets apply the same to World of Warcraft and RMT. I'm splitting WoW into two otherwise identical copies, which only differ in their handling of RMT and trades, and you tell me which one you'd like to play.

Tobold's low-RMT WoW

1) Gold can't be sent by mail to characters on other accounts, nor can it be directly traded in a trade window.
2) The auction house is changed into a "blind auction" system like in Pirates of the Burning Sea, that is you see that there are X items for sale and that the average price for them in the last 30 days was Y, but you don't see who sells them, and you don't see exactly what the buyout is. You bid, and if your bid is higher than the lowest buyout, you receive it at the price you bid.
3) As added precaution against "selling worthless rock for 1000 gold", all sales which exceed 5 times the average sales price get flagged for inspection by a GM, who has to approve it before the money arrives.

Note that this still doesn't totally eliminate RMT, nor does it do anything against transfering your UserID and password to a company to have them earn gold / xp / honor for you. That's why this is labeled *low*-RMT, not zero-RMT.

Raph's high-RMT WoW

I'm trying to represent Raph's ideas to the best of my understanding. If I get anything wrong, I'm sure Raph will correct me.

1) RMT is declared legal. Blizzard opens up Blizzard Exchange, which works like Station Exchange in that it is a platform for legal RMT controlled and guaranteed by Blizzard, so you don't have to worry that you never get the virtual currency or item you bought. Blizzard is taking a percentage of each deal.
2) The "bind on pickup" characteristic is replaced by "bind on equip" on all items in the game, including raid items. The level limit is replaced by an effectiveness factor, so if you are level 10 you *can* wear a level 70 raid sword, it just doesn't work quite so good. Quote Raph: "They’d be the classic fantasy hero stripling given the magic sword before they know how to use it."

I didn't add "Blizzard sells gold / items" to the list, because I'm not 100% sure that Raph proposes that. And of course RMT in that world isn't mandatory. Just like there is no zero RMT game, there can't be a 100% RMT game. But as RMT would be save and legal, and you could buy raid epics for cash, it certainly would be much more RMT as the normal or low-RMT version.

So tell me, of the three alternatives Tobold's low-RMT version, Blizzard's existing "RMT is illegal but wide-spread", and Raph's high-RMT version, which one would you prefer to play?
Really you talk two different games here and two different populations. Those that cherish the trading aspects of MMOs will want an open system and like Diablo II may well embrace rampant RMT.

Those that don't like RMT to come to play will like mechanisms that reduce their likelihood.

I personally prefer low-trade impact. I think blind auctionhouse is an innovative idea that would work with WoW quite well.

There are in fact other mechanisms that allow even the gold trading aspect to stay in the game. E.g. introduce "rep" with your friends. If you play with them you gain rep. If you played with them long enough you gain familiarity enough to trade gold (and items). That way you can trade gold with your long-time acqaintences, but can't easily trade gold on demand, which sellers require. Traders would be forced to try to hang out with every potential customer which seems rather impossible to do.

Basically I do believe there are many creative mechanisms that one could cook up (if one cares) that would allow people to play together but make things harder for RM sellers.

But Raph and you seem to actually agree. "It's the game design, stupid" seems to be the agreeable conclusion.
I prefer the current implementation, if for nothing else, two things:

1) You can help out your friends and/or receive financial help from them (say, to buy the first mount);

2) I like seeing what's on the AH and instantly buying it instead of bidding and re-bidding. If nothing else, I'd like a way to not even SHOW those annoying auctions with no Buy-out! :)
Maybe I'm being blind and missing this but how would I pay someone for an enchant (or other service like that) if I can't trade gold directly?

Also are these thought experiments meant to stay within the bounds of realism? :) I'm just wondering whether any company could afford to employ enough people to check AH transactions in a prompt enough manner 24/7 and still stay in business.
I'm just wondering whether any company could afford to employ enough people to check AH transactions in a prompt enough manner 24/7 and still stay in business.

As far as I know, Blizzard already does this. This is why you don't get money from AH sales immediately, but with a 1-hour delay nowadays.

Paying for enchants is a different question, one I planned to write another post about. Short summary: enchanting right now sucks, and would better be changed into something where the enchanter creates some sort of "enchant item" which can then be sold on the auction house.
I don't have a real knowledge about Guild Wars. So I might be wrong.

Anyway as a friend told me...

In GW there is a some kind of limit on gold. Or the equivalent form used in that game. Don't know if that limit is on how much you can have or on how much you can transfer. And I'm pretty sure that that decision by designers had been setup to prevent gold farmers and twinking rampage.

Anyway even with that limit....
As I've been told now players that try to sell or buy very expensive things using WTS/WTB advertises in chat, they don't buy or sell using gold but another commodity. Don't know if are shells or frozen dragon tears....

in the end.. players wanted to trade and found a common and acceptable (for them) way to do that.
Mtg is 100% RMT...
I vote "Neither" for the reasons explained here
As far as I know, Blizzard already does this. This is why you don't get money from AH sales immediately, but with a 1-hour delay nowadays.

Has this been talked about officially anywhere? I've seen lots of people speculating that gold selling is the reason for the delay (fair enough) but via human moderation of transactions?

As to the paying for services angle I was considering something along the same lines you talk about as I wrote the post (turning a service you do face to face into an item which does the same thing but can be sold on the AH). However the removal of the "face to face" part seems like a really high price to pay. Often simple things like enchanting or crafting are one of the few times different groups of players get to meet up and talk to each other. The fact you have to haggle about the price and coordinate somewhere to meet up means a lot more talking than if you just stick something on the AH to be bid upon.

Quite aside from that there are things you legitimately want to give other players for that you can't put on the AH:

- A tip for providing a port (although I suppose you could let players craft an item to provide the port and sell it...)
- A "sorry I got you killed, here is the money for your repair bill" type thing (although some kind of crafted one shot "repair all" item would work...)
- Prizes for player run events (a recent gnome race springs to mind)

Well those aren't terribly good examples but it seems to me you would eliminate a lot of social interaction if you also eliminated trading gold and in any case it still wouldn't get rid of RMT anyway.
This is a good discussion traveling the web, but I wish it was less emotionally charged. There's so many other better things worth to get pissed off about :)

In my view, the actions of RMTers is more of the issue than the practice of RMTing itself. It's really the incessant spamming and competitive spawn farming that grates on the nerves, not whether someone bought their way to l33tdom. Nobody really knows where someone else's stuff comes from anyway. And as you've already noted, the most important game in this discussion has the least you can buy with that thousands of gold you just spent hundreds of (insert currency) to get anyway.

So instead of changing the economy to something even more controlled, I'd recommend going after the actions:

- Reduce the reward from grinding mobs, maybe diminishing returns on gold drops and/or hide all gold rewards behind quests (ala WoW dailies).
- Anyone with a name that has 7 or more consonants in a sequence is automatically on global ignore :)
- I do like your precaution against unnaturally inflated sales.

But I don't think we want to remove trading of gold altogether. This would work fine in a world where everyone can play at the same pace, or in which there was nothing really worth buying. But there's a lot of things people pass around money for, from good to services to gifts, for the same reason it happens in the physical world.
I like WoW the way it is, but I would love a blind auction house. I would take a blind auction house over repeated PvP revamps any day of the week. Maybe we'll get it for WotLK?

I'm not sure what Raph's ideas are and I'm not sure you hit them. I just don't see Raph 100% supporting RMT in a way that would essentially kill most of the achievement based gameplay in an achievement based game.

I think Raph is more leaning towards a micro-transaction model where the players are not the ones making the money.
I'll be honest Tobold, I would not play a game such was what you described. Then again, I don't really take issue with RMT as long as the basic tenets of the game are not violated in generating said currency. I prefer a game where players have the maximum number of options possible in all facets. I do think the "Bind on" option is pretty functional though. I like the idea of paying gold to unbind something though. Perhaps with some limitations however.
I would prefer the game as currently implemented to both of these scenarios.

I don't like yours for the reasons Raph predicted I wouldn't - it cuts out a lot of good(tm) things that I do to help others, especially my guild. Which, btw, like almost every guild is premised on asymmetric trades - I help someone because of their out of game affiliation with a community I'm a part of. Apart from making sure new players are set for cash, bags, etc, I give advice to noobs and group preferentially with guild members. For no good reason that the game could determine. I could just as well have done that because they sent me a check, which is basically the premise of several emerging grey markets.

But I really don't think the other scenario is fair to Raph. Read his last post - the whole point is that you don't combat RMT by restricting interaction, you do it by reexamining your incentive structure. Of all things he's suggesting, WoW + sanctioned RMT is NOT it.
The thing about the system you propose as Raph's design is that it already exists. Station Exchange is real, and the servers where it was enabled are extremely unpopular, last I checked. That information is nowhere near recent, but I do recall the HUGE negative backlash following SoE's announcement that they would be starting their own RMT service.

All in all, the people that use RMT services are few and far between. It's not nearly as rampant as people think. Not everyone selling stuff on the AH for large amounts of money are chinese gold farmers. People are paranoid, and those who are vocal about their concerns take them too far. See John Gabriel's Greater Internet Arsehole theory for more information.
I know it's very much a personal preference, but I'd probably prefer as low a RMT as possible. I could afford to buy stuff with RMT and get very nice items for my character, but for a game I'm already paying $15 a month and that's enough for me. I used to be a raider, cleared BWL before TBC, now I'm not, and to be honest, I don't really miss not having lots of epics. Gear is just a key to access further content as far as I'm concerned, and my part blue part epic gear is good enough for heroic instances, and that's the hardest stuff I do, so why pay for even better items?

The only flaw I see with Tobold's system is not being able to give a friend the materials for crafting so he can craft something for me. If a friend can make the X item for me, I want to farm the items myself so he doesn't have to bother with it, and him make me the item without having to go through the auction house system where someone else could technically snatch the item away. But I'm sure there could be designs that work around that.
3) As added precaution against "selling worthless rock for 1000 gold", all sales which exceed 5 times the average sales price get flagged for inspection by a GM, who has to approve it before the money arrives.

Pretty worthless unless you flag the inverse: selling expensive items for cheap.

Gold farmer buys really expensive item and posts it in auction house at a certain time for really cheap. Or the gold farmers just list expensive items for sale on their site.

Even without that, gold farmer tells player to place x amount of item in auction house at a certain time. Gold farmer then buys all 20 or so of those auctions at that time. Yes, some enterprising players might start placing random items on the auction house to intercept these but it still generally works.
I honestly think choice is the best option. For a long time now I've felt that having RMT and Non-RMT servers within the same game is the best route, but in Blizzard's case they seem determined to mush all of their server communities together into one pile regardless (promiscuous character-transfers, multi-server battlegroups, etc.).

Personally though, I would opt to play in a Non-RMT environment. As would the entirety of my guild (voted as part of our guild charter).

Cheating = cheating. IMHO.

I balk when Raph treats it akin to legalizing pot, making RMT legit would possibly solve some issues with unsavory companies like IGE, but at the end of the day I don't think too many players really want to play with a bunch of cheats that leverage real cash for game progress.
Blind auctions have been tried in FFXI for instance. In my experience that leads to a much higher inflation on items in high demand. FFXI had another added flaw, no bind mechanism. That led to 24/7 bot-camping of rare drops. Coming from there, WoW's BoE / BoP as well as the open auctions are a much better approach.

That being said, I wish Blizzard would take a much more aggressive stance against RMT. Not only are farming bots and their impact on the game economies a major nuisance, moreso when you combine them with adbots. There's also the added effect of what I'll call "RMT-criminality".

Considering all the reports currently posted in the wow blogosphere about account hacking & striping (plus guild banks now, yeah for progress) not just on their servers but in their guilds (so we're no longer in the realm of pure hearsay), legalizing RMT isn't the equivalent of legalizing pot but legalizing burglary. It's a bigger deal than many people make it.

I balk when Raph treats it akin to legalizing pot, making RMT legit would possibly solve some issues with unsavory companies like IGE, but at the end of the day I don't think too many players really want to play with a bunch of cheats that leverage real cash for game progress.

Steroids in sports is a better analogy. If it's legalized, that puts tremendous pressure on athletes to take it just to keep up.
Cheating = cheating. IMHO.

Now I would agree that RMT = cheating. But Raph wrote an excellent article about cheating, where he says that cheating = breaking the rules, so if you change the rules to make RMT allowed, then RMT isn't cheating any more.
I think the interim conclusion here is that it is impossible to "eradicate" RMT. Its about "more" or "less" or a "spectrum" as Raph put it.

Raph pointed out, that a lot of measures are not computer verifiable, e.g. equality of sales. There are, however, some measures, that would be easily verifiable and would hurt the RMT-companie´s business without hindering regular players.

- All rules are relaxed within the same account
- Introduce "friendly" accounts at creation, so that wife & family can share whatever they want. Allow changes to that on a time-limit, e.g. once a month (for new girlfriends, kids, etc.)

- The ability to trade gold and items is limited by account age.
- Items cannot be traded outside their level range.
- You may not hit the same named mob more than 3 times a week and not more than 5 times a month. He will remember your face and autosuspend you.
- You may not farm more than x ressources, y rares and z gold per day per account ! (Less restrictive: time to farm increases with amount farmed, rare-chance decreases)
- An account has to be played (one toon has to gain exp) to be able to send or receive money/items with any toon involved. [the idea is to make a network of accounts that purely trade or launder money more expensive].

- Beyond level 20 you can only level once per RL-day.
- "Mentoring" and other group help from persons more than x levels above can only be received for y hours per day.

There are probably more rules that could be employed. Generally the idea is to find typical behaviours in RMT-Accounts, track them automatically at the server-side and penalize them. It will penalize some regular players that have adopted the same behaviours, thats the trade-off, but at least from my (EQ2) experience none of the above would hurt me at all.
"There are, however, some measures, that would be easily verifiable and would hurt the RMT-companie´s business without hindering regular players."

But HEY! If you hurt gold farmers then you hurt regular players....because they are the ones who buys the gold. Why should people not have the possibility to buy gold if that gives them greater joy in the game??? Just like guild-member enjoys power-leveling and free services from other members. I think this more a moral discussion than a discussion af good gameplay.

Kind Regard


Merry Christmas Tobold :)
Ola: Mtg is 100% RMT...

Yeah, and as an old-school Magic player, I have to say that the high-RMT option sounds interesting, not because I want to buy stuff, but because it might be fun to try selling. Of course one of the immediate effects of legalizing RMT is that it'd draw in a ton of people with dreams of becoming rich playing WoW, which would drastically depress the real-world value of anything that isn't truly rare. But it'd still be a kick to be able to write "Sold virtual dwarf -- $20" on my Schedule B tax form.

Also, Tobold:

Gold can't be sent by mail to characters on other accounts, nor can it be directly traded in a trade window.

Raph already covered this, but if you disable the mailing/trading of gold pieces while still allowing the mailing/trading of other items, all people have to do is switch to an alternate "currency." An obvious one would be gold, silver, and copper ore/bars. Gold-sellers might be the first to make the switch, but they certainly wouldn't be the only ones -- since it's really very convenient to be able to make trades/sales "in the field," without going through the AH, ordinary players would start doing it too...even the ones who'd picked your "low-RMT" server out of a belief that it would have lower levels of RMT.
I am not interested in either of your worlds!

I pay for the game monthly, I am not interested in paying up more just to be able to meet the requirements of guilds and groups in terms of gear and other requirements. That would destroy the game for me.

I am not interested in T's version either... This morning I wanted the Goblin Rocket Launcher and needed to get mats for specialism quest in order to get the plans for this item. There is no way I would bid blindly for these mats... and my game time dictates that I have an hour or two to play. If I was forced to wait 24 hours to log on to see if I won said bid and find out that I didn't and do the whole thing again... to find out that again I failed to win the bid... Grrrrrr!

What you both offer is not viable at all... I'm sticking to the way it is guys.
all people have to do is switch to an alternate "currency." An obvious one would be gold, silver, and copper ore/bars.

Actually, scratch copper -- like the real-world penny, that's too common and too bulky. But the rarer ores, gems, & other crafting components would certainly work as an alt-currency.
I'd play both; they'd each be different games, and I can't predict which would be more fun to play.

Considering how tired I've become of WoW-standard, I'd love to give the RMT version a try.
Simply Put RMT is a way to bypass content.

that being said. A huge draw to any game is friends. people get sucked in even better when thier friends can help them.

Killing trades and money exchanges would hurt socialization.

Unlimited RMT would simply create an even worse class system than the games already create.

I think if blizzard implemented lifetime gold trading amounts on accounts that would help. 10 or 20K cap. Only counting what leaves the actual account.

I'd also add in this "mythical" system a sliding scale tax on AH items based on the base value of the item. The more you sell it for the higher the tax. so if you sold an item for say 4 to 8 times the base value of the item the standard 5% would apply then it would creep up. Say in extreme cases 40 to 50%. As much as it would suck it would be a good money sink.

The only way I could see money trades being completely removed in Wow would be if crafting were actually made a viable proffession and all the gear you made was BOE. I'd love to see all BOE blues and purples become crafting and all the drops become BOP. Then anyone that wanted to "grind" out the proffession could do so. Anyone that wanted to bypass that grind could pay someone to make the gear.
I am still confused as to why you push this topic so much Tobold. Judging from the responses, most of your readers prefer current methods of transaction. This is such a simple topic yet it seems to get blown out of proportion so often. I can sum up the whole debate of gold farming in one sentence:

As long as you have the ability to trade a resource, you will have people trying to make REAL profit from it.

Your sytem fixes nothing, Raph's system fixes nothing. The only "fix" is to take away ALL means of trading resources. If you do that, no Auction Houses, no skill services, no currency.

And even then, you'll still have leveling services. Just let it go. Keeping these things "technically" illegal is the best way to reduce the participation.
Out of those options I'd have to stick with what is currently in existence. The inability to trade gold to other players would utterly obliterate Enchanting as a trade skill, and it's hard enough to make money as an enchanter as it is. Many other tradeskills make money through direct exchanges also. If someone has the materials to craft the epic vest of leetness, under your system what is he supposed to do? If he gives the materials to the crafter the crafter can make it and then give it back to him, but since no money can change hands it's completely free for the purchaser. The auction house is not a viable method for this transaction either. Your low RMT world would cripple tradeskills. The 'no trading of gold' is a deal breaker as far as I'm concerned.

What really is the benefit of this system? Gold selling doesn't have such a severe impact on the player experience that it's worth crippling the player crafting economy to avoid it.

My server is currently experiencing deflation. Except for a few key resources, most things on the AH are slowly becoming cheaper and cheaper as demand decreases due to the aging level 70 population. Case in point, primal airs in the last 2 months have dropped from 30-35g each to 20-24g each.

I don't like the idea of the high RMT wow either, but the low RMT wow seems like cutting off your foot because you have an in-grown toe-nail.
The inability to trade gold to other players would utterly obliterate Enchanting as a trade skill

No, it wouldn't.

All you'd have to do is meet the Enchanter (or the lockpicking Rogue) outside the bank, and ask what commodity they would like to be tipped in. Gems? Cloth? Leather? Once you've settled on a price, you run into the bank and tap the stash of trade goods you've set aside for just this purpose.

Don't have a stash? No sweat -- the AH is right next to the bank. You go in, buy whatever the Enchanter wants in exchange for the enchant, and swap.

Note that the Enchanter doesn't need to be tipped with something they can actually use. As long as it's something that sells well on the AH, they can convert it (back) to gold pieces after you've given it to them.
I would prefer Low-RMT, but I don't believe your proposed mechanism is the only way to accomplish it.

Besides, RMT is a byproduct of boring game play. Fix that first.
Besides, RMT is a byproduct of boring game play. Fix that first.
This is true. I've never purchased gold or used a power leveling service but everytime I've been tempted it's in the middle of some long boring grind.
Anselm Sums this up really, if it isn't broke why fix it?

Is it broke? I don't think it is.

Perhaps you should be looking at why RMT is desired by some folk, and perhaps what camp these players sit in. Only then try and fix it.

From a casual players point of view RMT isn't really a priority. Now it all depends how you define casual of course, and this still needs to be addressed for an argument framework. Why would a casual player need to buy gold?

Me, I'm in that camp. I don't need uber epics to raid because I can't raid, if I did it wouldn't be more than once a week. So I don't need to spend huges amounts on pots etc. In fact I don't think there is anything in the game of WoW that I need to splash out on. Even the epic mount.

In my view casual players are best posistioned to earn gold via established game mechanics. That might be daily quests, mining or producing pots for example.

I made enough gold for my epic mount in 2 weeks and earned half of it back by rep questing for my drake.

I have nothing to spend my gold on now.

Ok I might be at the extreme of casual... but it is a sliding scale I think... if you are slightly less casual you can find slightly less time to make slightly less gold and still buy the things you need.

Where it changes is the other end of the scale as you approach the more hardcore players. Again, not defined but you get where I am coming from.

If you raid at every chance you get and drive on through endgame content I can see where the option of buying gold becomes more attractive.

To buy more epics and raid extras like pots. Then there are the repair bills.

I have no sympathy for the lack of gold at that end of the spectrum.

You make choices in the game, you gain in one area and lose in the other. You raid then expect less time earning gold.

Why should the mechanics change to cater to this type of player?

They got to the end game content somehow... then deal with it! If they feel like they are burning out then they should consider that 1; it is just a game 2; that they could take a slightly more relaxed approach to playing.

Allowing the purchase of gold will destroy the game for the more casual player as a result.

It would create another obstacle for the player to overcome when he/she does get into some endgame content everynow and then.

Raid Leader: "Wanna come to 'X' instance? Be sure you have 'Y' gear and 'Z' consumables."

Player: "But I don't have the high quality gear you require... I am specced and geared to the requirements needed though and have a few consumables."

Raid Leader: "Go RMT some better gear Noob!"

Player: "I already pay a monthly subscription and don't want to pay more to play the game I have already payed for!"

Raid Leader: "Don't pay! Don't play!"

So in short we get a new playing field. Those who will pay to get access to content, and those who won't and will on the whole lag behind.

I certainly won't spend more money on a game via perhaps an official third party vendor to witness game content I have already payed for.

I can safely assume that if this occured the games devs would create content that would be only be reachable by using this sytem. Especially if they make some kinda cut on the RMT transactions.

It is a natural progression, if the game dev's make money somehow from the players want to progress then why not fleece them a second time and make it an unofficial requirement to progress. Say making the epic mount a hard but achievable 5000g to something like 25,000 gold. Maybe an attunement that needs a crazy gold dontation made to gain access. Requirements that could be made without RMT but almost impossible to achieve in a short space of playing time. Thus driving the need of RMT.

I think I am trying to demonstrate that an official RMT would only create a game of 'haves' and 'have nots' and drive the game in the wrong direction.

So how do you eradicate the current unofficial RMT then?

I personally don't think Bliz gives a hoot to be perfectly honest. If only 0.01% of the server population are gold farmers then that is around $1 to $2 million a year in revenue, add game box sales to that too. Why would they want to cut that out of the equation?

If Bliz put their heart into banning illegal RMT then they would have it stopped overnight.

If you think this isn't the case then why are Advert Spammers not IP banned? Why do GM's take so long to remove them from game when they do Advert Spam? Why are script controled hunters allowed to do what they do? When they are so easy to identify by a GM. Having posted a solution on the offical forums to scripted players... it was deleted within minutes whilst lesser ideas were allowed to persist on the forum. I touched a nerve or hit home.

The point is that Bliz have no interest in eradicating illegal RMT. To consider otherwise is naive IMHO.

The account banning so far is a token gesture and nothing more.

So why should we the normal player suffer as a result if Bliz doesn't want to put a stop to it? i.e. Blind Auction Houses as T suggests or preventing altruistic gestures to guild mates by giving them gold, something I do a lot of.

To wrap up... and I apologise for my long post... quiet night at work.

RMT is desired by the more hardcore type of player and less by the casual player.

You two both speak in extremes of fixing this... it isn't perfect at the moment but it isn't broke (in WoW).

If you two were acting for Bliz officially, then I would ask that:

1 - you don't penalise me, the player, in order to make the game easier for idiots that would pay for gold to progress faster or

2 - make it harder for me to make use of current aspects of the game ie AH's or helping out guild mates and friends with donations of gold.

If you got this far and it makes sense thanks.

Merry Xmas all and a Happy New Year.
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