Lost Rambling

Lost has a lot of potential, but doesn’t apply himself.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Real money transfers (RMT) and game design.

It doesn’t a lot of time or effort to find game items/accounts being sold for money, most notably on Ebay (Ultima Online, Guild Wars, Worlds of Warcraft and Everquest II *despite SOE strong stance on RMTs*). Even Richard “Lord British” Garriott said in an interview with the The Escapist "I buy virtual gold all the time," he says, adding, "I have no problem with it. I'm a supporter." While I am not a supporter of RMT and I could give many reasons and links from others that feel the same. That is not the reason of this post, this post is intended to explore why current MMO design has created the RMT market.

One thing that strikes me when reading the disclaimer in the EQ account sale is that “You are bidding on the time spent playing these accounts only.”, while I full know this is just a way/tactic to try and avoid SOE polices, it does help draw attention to the primary factor of why the RMT is so large: Time.

Looking at the “market” of UO items, mainly because there is such a wide range you can buy materials, gold, housing, accounts, rare items, armor, and weapons can in one way or another be boiled down to an investment of time.

While the argument can be made that without the time investment to acquire resources, items, and levels/skills that players characters will be all the same and boring (a.k.a. if everyone is “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound”, then Clark Kent would be just a man and not Superman. I will just argue that is what RMT is doing that now.)

The current model is to give players goals that require this time investment in order to reach the end game or at least what the player sees as the end game. From Richard Bartle’s paper: The Newbie Induction: How Poor Design Triumphs “If evolution is not the answer, perhaps revolution is? Innovation could be the savior we’re awaiting. If a virtual world appears with a unique selling point that doesn’t map onto any player’s experiences, then perhaps newbies and oldbies alike might chance it?” (I strongly suggest reading the whole paper.)

I believe that designers should be gearing the player’s time in towards entertainment value, not just towards a series of long grinding goals. Also from the Escapist article

Robert Garriott said: "So you play it, you like it, you stay for ten months, and then you leave," he says. Rather than fighting what they saw as an obvious industry trend, NCsoft decided to go a different way and embrace it. "As games become more casual, churn rates go up. So, we knew the churn rates were going up, so we started saying, well, how can we make churn our friend? Because there's nothing we can really do to stop the fact that churn is going up. Interestingly, if you're a single product company, you can never make churn your friend," because people leaving your one cash cow undermines your entire company.

While “embracing” churn might be an overstatement (also given the growing budgets for MMOs leaves me skeptical about “embracing” it), but accepting it as a fact is pretty encouraging and could lead to the innovation we seek. I do not claim to know what “the” innovation is that is need. But I do know that if we aren’t willing to throw out some of the old ideas the innovation may never come or be possible. The player’s time shouldn’t only be seen a means of keeping them paying a subscription, but more as their valuable entertainment time being fulfilled.

*disclaimer Ebay being an auction site, some or all of the above links could be useless in short time. And to the people selling on Ebay, I consider the information on Ebay “public information” that anyone can access and I’m not disclosing anything that could not be easily found by others. Therefore I am not responsible for an actions taken against you or your account by above listed games or their representatives.*


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