Monday, January 29, 2007

RMTs and Virtual Economies

Black Markets exist on the Internet for in-game currency, time in the form of leveling services and pre-made characters, and items. The buying and selling of these goods and services is expressly banned by nearly every major MMO studio TOS, and while they seek to halt this illicit activity, it continues to be a growing problem within the industry.

The problems that game worlds face with the introduction of an outside market influence, such as real world currency, are many. Primarily at play, is the basic integrity of the organic in-world economy. Virtual economies are constantly evolving and changing under the press of the distribution and prevalence of game goods. Because virtual worlds do not have finite resource allocations as exist in real world economics, they face unique challenges and their integrity hangs upon a delicate balance. Altering this balance with an exterior factor, not accounted for in the design and development of the economy, can have drastic and dangerous impacts on that system.

Take a farmable game resource such as Iron Ore, for example. In a real world economy, there is only so much ore that exists. The prevalence of that ore is further limited by the processes and expense of mining it, and the distribution channels available to the miners. Now take that same resource under the scope of a virtual economy. The ore veins are spawn timed, with an infinite potential allocation of ore, limited only by the human hours available to harvest it.

In an encapsulated virtual economy, lets assume the player market settles on a 1G per 10 Iron Ore. Gold is earned at a specific time per Gold formula, with some players having more and some less, but the same basic exposure and availability to that currency. Now introduce real currency into the mix. 5% of the population purchase Gold, and are willing to pay 1.5G per stack of 10 Iron Ore, to insure that they get all that they need. Markets shift, and the in game currency is devalued.

Gold Farmers respond to demand, and since in game currency is a basically limitless resource, game economies become burdened with excess currency when farmers introduce the resource into the pool. More Gold in circulation means rising costs, without a compensating rise in 'currency-per-hour' availability for those not purchasing this external resource. Inflation that only effects goods, without effecting income.

There are countless other reasons why RMTs are a bad trend for the game industry, but the bottom line continues to be that they are a violation of the Terms of Service. Some argue that certain policies are overbearing or unnecessary, but when we agree to join a game world of our choosing, we agree also, to abide by the rules of that game's maker, despite how we personally feel about them. Those that bot, hack or cheat in other fashions are no more culpable than those that commit account fraud or participate in RMT activities.

This post began at this Nerfbat discussion thread.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Altering this balance with an exterior factor, not accounted for in the design and development of the economy, can have drastic and dangerous impacts on that system."

Why in the world would any game designed in the last, oh 7 years, not account for it?

JuJutsu

Cyndre said...

JuJutsu,
RMTs are factored into the design of some game titles, and within the framework of that arena, there is nothing wrong with the concept. I don't claim that it is immoral or unjust, simply that some companies, choose not to incorporate it in the design, and thus, it is a TOS violation and causes economic imbalance.

On a personal level, I dislike RMT influenced games, for a mulititue of reasons not expressed here, including immersion, knowing that skill and effort dictates success, rather than financial resources. Personally, I could afford to spend a few hundred dollars to pimp out my wife and I with shiny mounts and houses and gear. However, others can not and even if they could, what level of accomplishment is purchasing the rewards ratehr than questing and earning them?

To each their own I say, but the bottom line remains, that if you buy a specific MMO and it prohibits RMT within the framework of its virtual world, then you are bound by your agreement to their TOS and thus any violation of that is unacceptible. To imply otherwise would be to say something like:

"Oh the poor boters and hackers don't have the same ammount of time as everyone else so they should be allowed to afk bot and speed hack. Its only fair to level the playing field."

JuJutsu said...

"RMTs are factored into the design of some game titles, and within the framework of that arena, there is nothing wrong with the concept. I don't claim that it is immoral or unjust, simply that some companies, choose not to incorporate it in the design, and thus, it is a TOS violation and causes economic imbalance."

We at least agree that the problems [if any] are generated by the design decisions of the development team and publishing company.

In the longer term I think it will be a self-correcting problem. RMT is here to stay. End of story. Some companies and design teams are embracing it and changing their design philosophy and business model; expect to see more micro-transaction games. Games that don't will experience RMT in violation of TOS and EULA until the vast majority of players move on to the other games. Time-sink games will then be in a niche market just like text based MUDs. Everyone will live happily ever after ;)