One Eye on the RMT Issue

I looked at the StationCash Marketplace last night – existing subscribers got 150 free StationBucks or whatever they’re called. I understand (and mostly agree with) the splippery slope arument against this kind of thing for anything but purely cosmetic items, and some of the stuff available are XP-buffing potion, which have more than a cosmetic effect. Still, given the range of stuff available for RM purchase right now, I see reason for concern, but no reason to start knotting the rope for the hangings just yet. It’s something that could fundamentally shift gameplay in what is, in my judgement, an undesirable direction, so it’s something to keep an eye on.

In similar news, BioWare has announced that Star Wars: The Old Republic will be free-to-play, with microtransactions. On the one hand, free-to-play is a great thing in something like the Guild Wars model, where the revenue stream is supported by a handful of buy-by-microtransaction items and regular exapnsions. On the other, I’m always leery of the microtransaction model, since it can easily degenerate into a system whereby those with more disposable cash have a palpable in-game advantage. See various Asian MMOs for examples of this.

Now, I’m comfortable with a a game that dips a toe in these waters, as EVE and now EQ/EQ2 do. But I’m extremely hesitant to play a game where I will be at a measurable disadvantage beacuse I consider that my monthly subscription fee is investment enough, or that I will be similarly disadvantaged against those who can afford to spend more. My budget for gaming is reasonable but finite, and there will always be some no-life yahoo who’s spending more than I. I will simply not play such games.

I am comfortable (if wary) in the place that SOE is right now on this issue. And I don’t think we know enough about how SW:TOR’s model will be structured to draw any conclusions about it; although I’m not terribly excited about it or interested in it, it’s certainly possible that it will also find a middle ground that I can be okay with.

Everybody regards microtransactions as an inevitability; that may or may not be prescient, but if it is, it may push many titles into territory I’m not willing to bother exploring. If not, good. If so… well, I still have tabletop games.

11 responses to “One Eye on the RMT Issue

  1. It’s interesting that people view it as an inevitability that microtransactions will become commonplace in MMOs. Personally I see it as a response to the WoW behemoth, and how that has skewed people’s expectations in terms of paying subscriptions for games — but surely there are as many risks associated with the micro model for Western gaming markets as there are potential advantages.

    Guild Wars worked well in the West, but to a large degree this was because they pumped out full-blown expansions amazingly quickly when compared with other MMOs.

  2. I have to agree. I’m more than a little leery about the future of microtransactions.

    I don’t have any issue at all with the way it is set up now, or if you could buy even cooler things, similar to LoN loot card rewards, to customize your character.

    What I am worried about is that in a year, it will be a completely different situation and those that have more RL money will be more powerful in game. I’m also worried that it will be something like “New Mythical II weapons! Simply work through the horribly long quest and purchase the ‘Hilt of Supreme Power’ from StationMarketPlace to complete the quest!”

    We shall see…

  3. Pingback: EA Wimps Out « Tish Tosh Tesh

  4. I’d flip this around:

    “My budget for gaming is reasonable but finite, and there will always be some no-life yahoo who’s spending more than I. I will simply not play such games.”

    My time budget for gaming is reasonable but finite, and there will always be some no-life basement dweller who spends more time in-game than I. I will simply not pay to play such games.

    See, in my world, a subscription business model is hugely biased in favor of those yahoos who have an overabundance of time to play. If the system were “pay for the time you play”, rather than access by month, there might be some equity in the system, but as it stands, there’s already a critical imbalance leaning towards those yahoos with more time than money.

    Leaning heavily to those with more money than time isn’t necessarily more palatable, but in a market where high profile subscription games have failed to dent WoW’s numbers and have to suck up financial losses as a result, leaning to those players with money is a smart business move.

  5. Well, the piece is about my own preferences, not about the MT model being unviable; just about everybody agrees that it makes a lot of business sense, and I’m not suggesting that it doesn’t. What I am saying is that the kind of environment we see over in some Asian MMOs (which admittedly takes the concept to an extreme) is one that I’m not comfortable with. Anybody that wants to pay to succeed in an MMO is welcome to do so, but from where I’m sitting that’d kind of suck the fun and acheivement out of the thing.

    None of which should be taken to suggest that I find the subscription model perfect, or even superior. It has obvious issues, some of which are tied as much to game design as to the revenue model directly. Nor is it perfectly fair – but I do think it’s more fair than a pay-to-succeed system, in that time invested reflects some level of actual effort put into the activity. Effort to succeed is acceptable.

    I think there’s a lot of room for both systems to evolve, and I think we’re going to see more of that over the next few years. I also think we’re going to see increasingly common hybridization between the two models in existing games, and I’m OK with that. But there’s a point beyond which I’d rather not play.

  6. Aye, I’d rather not hit either extreme. My ideal of providing a sense of fair play and “effort=success” is to have actual time playing in-game monetized at the same rate for everyone. The subscription “money for a chunk of access” doesn’t do this, and neither does a microtransaction model. Even an hourly rate might be too chunky; a minute tally with a charge per minute, billed monthly with a cap might give me the sort of granular control I’m looking for.

    If MMOs are going to bill as services, in other words, do so, not the “health club” model or “buying power”.

  7. I agree with Tesh that it’s a good business case in theory for this model.

    My main reservation is how the model meshes with Western gamer culture. I mean, for years and years and years most Western games have had TOS rulesets that outlawed the use of RMT for gold, characters, items, powerleveling, etc. Sure, the secondary market for these was significant — but it was a black market, all done “sub rosa”, if you will. The idea behind this, and something that has been drilled into Western gamer heads, is that everyone pays the admission price, and what you do with that is your issue — if you want to spend 24/7 in the game, your issue, if you want to spend 2 hours a week in the game, your issue. But what you couldn’t do was cut corners by buying your way ahead — at least not without using the black market and violating the TOS. I think that while it’s quite understandable to go to this model because of the difficulty in competing with Warcraft on the sub model, nevertheless it’s going to take a substantial change in the attitudes of many gamers toward what is, and what is not, equitable in MMO gaming.

  8. Brendan, that the “black market” exists at all shows a healthy demand for these services and products. This, in spite of the player base and companies roundly condemning such. Someone is buying the farmed gold and powerleveling, and it’s almost certainly not just other pirates.

    In my mind, it’s better to monetize that demand in-house rather than try to fight it like piracy. Fighting it is subject to the law of diminishing returns, since the demand exists. Monetizing it, on the other hand, outflanks the pirates and farmers and allows for a wider player base.

  9. As I said, I know that the secondary market is significant — but people still think (or many do) that it is wrong and unfair. It’s the latter attitudes that will be hard to break, I think.

  10. It will be interesting to see how the new GTC system in EVE plays out. Will making it easier to buy ISK create an unbalance, or just cut down on black market spammers? One nice thing about EVE is that a well piloted frigate can take out a poorly fit/piloted ship that costs 10 times more!

  11. Brendan, those people will continue to play WoW, then. SWTOR and any other new game need to find a new market and business that isn’t dominated by the WoW players. We’ve already seen that competing toe to toe with Blizzard is dangerous.

    As such, they shouldn’t care that WoW and other subscription players think that certain things are taboo. They wouldn’t play the game anyway.

    It’s the Stardock mentality; design the games for the people that will pay for them, not to satisfy everyone. BioWare has a huge following of players that love their single player RPGs. Their game design to date is more Guild Wars than WoW. If anything, they should be competing directly with the GW business model. They can’t fight WoW, and they shouldn’t.