All About the Benjamins! How Should MMO Games Handle RMTs?

By Jeff Francis
How should MMO RMTs be handled?

From the dawn of time, man has always been looking how to make a buck. The virtual worlds of online games have provided a new area of opportunity for those seeking to barter virtual services for real life cash, made all the easier by modern technology like the internet. Of course, the exchange of goods and services for money is the foundation of any economy. We all know about mmo rmts (real money transactions) from the long-discussed issue of gold sellers. Every developer has their own opinion on mmorpg real money transactions and players are often split into competing camps on the subject. How should mmo rmts be handled?

The essence of mmo rmts has changed a bit over time. One of the first popular online games of note was EverQuest, which had a staggering playerbase in the hundreds of thousands. (This was before World of Warcraft came along and became the 800 pound gorilla in the room.) Many players were quite ingenious and realized that other players were quite happy to pay real life money for in-game items. People began listing powerful gear on eBay, and a lot of money changed hands as both players would connect within the game to exchange the item after money had changed hands. One of the more lucrative professions was the virtual real estate agent. As EverQuest featured permanent player housing in a non-instanced setting, some plots of land became very desirable, and thus, more valuable. A number of individuals actually quit their real jobs to focus on selling virtual land plots in EverQuest, and one person I came across was grossing over $50,000 a year. SOE saw how much money was being passed and forth as players created a secondary economy away from the game, and SOE decided to lower the boom and end this version of mmo rmts by forbidding the sale of in-game items on eBay and convincing eBay to not allow any such listings. Almost overnight, the underground economy of EverQuest crashed and burned.

Players tend to have two opinions on mmorpg rmts. The first is that such a practice cheapens the experience of the game and causes the in-game economy to be very unstable. They note that inexperienced players are literally buying epic gear to venture into endgame content without the actual knowledge to play their class or understand how to use their gear properly. Then there's the disdain of not having "earned" the items in question. While they grinded for weeks and months to get a specific piece of gear, they decry someone using their parents' credit card to buy the same item without any effort at all. On the other hand, quite a few players have no problem with mmorpg rmts. They note that a lot of people no longer have the time to grind for hours every day to get something. It's argued that it's far better for someone to use an hour's worth of pay to buy something instead of spending a hundred hours in-game. Such players also argue that mmo real money transactions aren't really hurting anyone and such a practice is actually offering a worthwhile service.

Guild Wars 2 gems

So how should mmo real money transactions be handled? To be honest, my opinion has changed over time. I first believed that mmo rmts was really bad and a form of cheating, but my view is different today. I actually stand alongside how developers feel about the issue. Game companies initially hated mmo rmts mainly because it was revenue generated by the game that they were not getting. As such, they viewed gold sellers and eBay sellers as public enemies. While one could argue about the balance of the in-game economy, the reality is that most online games today sanction mmorpg rmts. World of Warcraft sells tokens that players can buy and sell on the auction house. Guild Wars 2 allows players to convert gems and in-game gold back and forth. Neverwinter and Star Trek Online follow a similar method. Such games sell cash shop currency for real world currency, and players can then convert that cash shop currency into in-game gold. The reverse is also true, except that players cannot convert cash shop currency into real world money. (There are a few exceptions to thus: Entropia Universe and Second Life.)

A lot of players view the use of mmo rmts by game companies as a sign of the apocalypse. I don't agree with this view as long as the method of mmorpg real money transactions does not break the game. For example, I am against the game selling powerful gear directly to the player for cold hard cash. But I am for the game selling players currency that they spend in the game to buy such items. If too many players are willing to use real money in this way to buy in-game items, the supply-and-demand nature of the marketplace will dictate that prices will rise for such items. While this may be a blow to players looking to buy such items solely through using in-game currency, the option for striving for it via questing is still available. As I've gotten older, I've realized that my time is pretty valuable, and I have little patience or desire to spend fifty to a hundred hours trying to get a coveted virtual bauble. I am willing to take the wages of an hour or so (depending upon how much I'm earning) to get such items. Older players have jobs and families, and it's not a crime for them to use their real world economic leverage (like having real jobs) to get what they want in-game. On another note, I'm thrilled that game companies are reaping financial benefits from providing mmo rmts instead of having third parties (gold sellers) doing so. These companies created and run the games we enjoy playing, so it makes perfect sense that they're able to financially capitalize upon it in any way possible. I want game companies to make money as it means that the game I love playing will continue to operate.

In the end, mmo rmts should be handled in that players can spend real world cash for in-game currency, whether it's gold in World of Warcraft or cash shop currency in titles like Guild Wars 2. The items offered for sale in cash shops should offer a reasonable value for their cost, and I very much prefer that game companies don't sell powerful items directly to players for cash. No matter what players think about mmorpg rmts, they are here to stay as they represent a valuable revenue stream for the mmo games we play. While I do sometimes lament the Wild West feel of the old days of EverQuest trading, I do not begrudge game companies from wanting to protect their investment and reap all the monetary rewards for themselves. As such, the practice of mmo rmts is perfectly legitimate if it's carried out by the game companies and not by third-party vendors.


Add comments:

comments powered by Disqus