Greedy Goblin

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Intra-playerbase microtransaction

The Pug update: the post about prizes is updated.

Rohan wrote a post rejecting intra-playerbase microtransactions. In this scheme not the company is selling the items and gold, but players to players. It is better than simple item shop for two reasons: it doesn't cause inflation and doesn't create "pay to get BiS" situation, as you can only buy what others sell (typically second hand stuff and gold).

Practically it's legalizing the goldsellers, however the system can be implemented to completely destroy them: you can't get money for selling gold, you can only get free gaming time. Professional goldsellers want money, but they can't compete with the legitimate player-transactions, since no one would pay to a shady seller if he can buy the same gold via an official interface.

However Rohan's problem is not technical: "this kind of setup would probably mean that all the raiders would sell gold to the lower-end people. Raiders would be the ones playing for free while the casuals subsidized them to an even greater extent. That doesn't really seem either fair or wise to me.".

He seems to be right. Why should the "casuals" subsidize the hardcore? And more importantly, why would the gaming company let it happen if they could just sell the same gold in an item shop keeping the profit. To see that intra-player transaction is good, one must see the what the hardcore is actually selling.

When you buy gold, you are buying pixels. Would you buy top chart place, currency, or power in some flash game? Why would you, it's just paying money to not enjoy the game. Hey, it's a game, if you don't like it, don't play it.

The socials do not buy pixels per se. They buy the social status of good gamer via these items. It is something that only the hardcore can create, not the gaming company. If I would start a hacked WoW server no one would pay to get "epixxx :D" there. It would be just pixels. In the real servers it gives the hope that the buyer will be misidentified to be one of the hardcore.

Lady Gaga merchandize is just some ugly crap on its own. It gains social value by selling the familiarity to a Lady Gaga. If there wouldn't be a hardcore team that creates the show (Stefani, the management, musicians, dancers, staff) there wouldn't be "Lady Gaga" image and no one would buy merchandize. Saying that "hardcore shouldn't be subsidized by casuals" is like saying "Stefani shouldn't get a cent from the Lady Gaga merchandize since she does nothing to craft them".

She gives it the image, the social value. Without her it's just an ugly T-shirt. Without the hardcore the "epixx" or the "cool mount" is just another pixel nobody cares about.

Of course you can say that buying "image" is stupid. It is. Real casual would never buy gold, just play the game for its own. Idiot socials buy gold. But why should we not sell crap for a fortune to idiots?

Intra-playerbase microtransaction is the only way for the company to get more revenues instead of less in a monthly subscription model. Just make sure that the only accepted (non-bannable) transaction is via the company store and get a huge cut, like "buy WoW gold, half of the money goes to Blizzard, the other half to the seller player". This way Blizzard would get more money without the negative effect of the gold-selling: hardcore leaving. Remember, if the hardcore leave, the game won't have social status value and no one would buy items. And besides the true casuals, no one would pay subscription either.


Mikra said...

This would be such a great thing to implement. It's a shame that the technical & legal ramifications are probably far to high for a game to ever go down this path.

Andru said...


It already goes on. Eve online allows players to sell time cards in exchange for in-game ISK (gold).

Squishalot said...

First point on grammar: it's inter-player, not intra-player transaction. "Inter" means 'between', "intra" means 'within'.

Secondly - it would need to be restrictive in your ability to take physical money out of the game. The spectacular collapse of banking in Second Life has enhanced scrutiny of monetary transactions in game, as it gives real-world monetary value to virtual items.

What you could do is create an in-game purchasable currency (e.g. 'WoWPoints') that you could trade gold for, and the 'WoWPoints' could be used to pay for time cards and in-game pets from the Blizzard store. However, being able to convert it to cash it out would be legally difficult, especially across the multiple jurisdictions that WoW operates in.

By limiting the uses of such a system, it limits the supply of gold and therefore, there may still be a market for the goldsellers, despite this.

Jason Starstone said...

It sounds a bit like the EVE Online setup: you can buy game time there (60 day timecards, usually virtual), which can be used for your own subscription OR split into 2 30-day "plex" (pilot licence extension) which can be legitimately traded to other players for in-game cash.

Yaggle said...

When gold is highly difficult to acquire, there is highly elevated status associated with your items even if you are not identified as hardcore raider. That is because, in such an environment, a wealthy player(goblin) is worshipped almost as much as a hardcore raider player. The easier it is to acquire gold, whether from gold-sellers or overpaying questgivers, the more that status from being wealthy is diminished. Personally, I hold players who are shrewd with their gold in a higher bracket than players who get their purple pixels from raids, because it relates to real-life success more. The closest thing to a good businessman in Wow is a good businessman in real life. The closest thing to a successful raider in Wow is a successful mercenary or bank-robber in real life.

Krytus said...

"Personally, I hold players who are shrewd with their gold in a higher bracket than players who get their purple pixels from raids, because it relates to real-life success more"

Do you want to earn some social status for being a goblin? Sorry, but I think you chose the wrong blog.

Mikra said...

@Andru - Is that Player to Player like Gevlon is suggesting or Player to Company, and is it something where the exchange of the money occured in game or through private channels such as Paypal? Maybe I read Gevlon's piece wrongly but I didn't think he was simply suggesting that Blizzard lift the restriction on selling in game gold/items, but actually supporting it in some way and take a cut of the procedings.

Unknown said...

If they can legally sell virtual pets and mounts for real world money in the jursdictions they operate in, there isn't any problem whatsoever to sell an item with "use: extend your game time by X days", which then can be traded for ingame currency just like Spectral Tiger.

Only thing that actually stops them from implementing it is the potential "casual" forum spam rage outburst about how "unfair" such feature is.

Azuriel said...

Remember, if the hardcore leave, the game won't have social status value and no one would buy items.

Not at all. If the "hardcore" leave, the people below them become the new hardcore - there would be world-first guilds even if everyone in Paragon all just ragequit.

Anonymous said...

It sounds quite like the EVE Online system. CCP put it in explicitly to reduce gold sellers.

Even with this, EVE does still have ISK (gold) sellers so the point about "no one would pay to a shady seller" is obviously false.

Almost everything in EVE is player made and available for purchase from another player. Someone spent over $100,000 of his fathers money helping out his company(guild) A ship that would cost $6,000 of real money to purchase can be permanently destroyed in a few minutes of battle.

Also the point that the it is sold by "hard core" is not necessarily correct. A number of people play without any currency cost by mining and selling the virtual minerals for virtual currency which is used to buy a "time card." I think most players initial idea would be to farm elementium, not Lady S.

The current WoW plan outside of Asia (fixed $/month) has the casual subsidizing the hardcore. The hour a week player pays the same as the 200 hr/month hardcore. F2P/microtransactions is the reverse where some can play for free because others who care more will spend more.

But this is such an emotional issue that it will probably be easier for Bliz to not rock the WoW boat and just do things differently for Titan. The trend of F2P/Microtransactions does seem to be growing outside of Blizzard.

Edawan said...

Casuals already pay for the hardcore's game time in a way : their subscriptions cost exactly the same despite one plays 10 times more than the other.

Unknown said...

Yup, one of my first thoughts on reading this was "like in EVE". It's possible for 'hardcore' players (those with lots of in-game currency) to essentially pay for all their game time using in-game rather than real life money. It's an excellent system as it allows new players to quickly bootstrap their income, whilst those established in the game have a real use for the currency other than endless pixel upgrades.

EVE is a game that is well suited to the goblin minded. Cutthroat business tactics are actively encouraged, rather than frowned upon as they are in WoW.

Malthan said...

"If I would start a hacked WoW server no one would pay to get "epixxx :D" there."

I remember reading last year about Blizz suing a private server owner who made a lot of cash selling epics to players on that server, so at least that part of your statement seems to be wrong - people do pay for epixxx even on non-official servers that don't mean anything to most of WoW players.

Unknown said...

EVE Online's Plex system is dual purposed. A lot of people have commented so far about how it's designed to put a hurt on isk sellers. It may be marketed as such but that is at best a secondary reason for the Plex system.

The primary purpose of the Plex system is to subsidize the playtime of the movers and shakers of EVE Online by those who are rich in real money. The guys that run alliances or are megaindustrialists provide most of the key bits of EVE Online's play. The alliance leaders are pretty much the reason for null-sec content and wars. The industrialists are responsible for pretty much every good the players need (since almost everything must be produced by players), both new and those engaged in alliance wars for null-sec space. EVE Online's sandbox would grind to a halt if those two groups of players suddenly stopped playing. You also have to consider that with the Plex system, it's not just cash-strapped new players that would buy Plexes to sell. Large null-sec alliances could and probably do buy Plexes to sell just to add funds to their war chests or to subsidize the playtime of key alliance members in the event of a real life fiscal crisis for that player.

I see problems with implementing it in WoW, mostly that I don't know what purpose it would serve other than to try to cut out the gold sellers. Gevlon, you have shown before that raiders aren't necessarily rich so I'm not sure how one could say that raiders would be subsidized. The one group that reliably has large quantities of gold to sell would be AH goblins and would they really care about the items they can get from selling their gold?

The other key difference between EVE and WoW that makes this idea more conducive to EVE than WoW is the single server architecture that EVE employs. Is the playerbase of each server going to have a similar financial cross-section? What if by some weird stroke of luck everyone on a server is rich in cash but poor in gold. They all buy the microtransaction currency to sell for gold but there's not enough people on the server with gold to generate enough demand to keep the supply price at a decent level. That's going to hurt Blizzard's credibility. While Plexes in EVE Online do have varying prices (300M isk was the last price I remember reading) and those prices can and do fluctuate and vary depending on what region of space. There was a huge deal not to long ago where about 75 Plexes got destroyed because a player decided to try to make some quick cash off arbitrage between regions/stations.

If Blizzard were to implement it, I think they'd be running into highly mixed results and I expect them to be figuring out just how much spare gold they have lying on active characters on servers as well as using their current micro transactions for cash to gauge which servers have players that have cash to spend.

Jumina said...


"If the "hardcore" leave, the people below them become the new hardcore - there would be world-first guilds even if everyone in Paragon all just ragequit."

This did not work for AoC, Warhammer and Aion. If there is no hardcore and sense of achievement the socials lose their interest and all that remains are just a few casuals.

Caramael said...

I don't understand why you keep calling those who buy gold idiots. It's an extremely efficient way to finance your activities in WoW if you don't have the time, or can't be arsed (mostly) working ingame to get the gold.
Also, are you familiar with d2jsp? Check it out. These guys are making money providing (selling) virtual currency to people who wish to trade ingame stuff. It's simply money left on the table by Blizzard et al. CCP is smart enough to try and take a share by competing on that market.

The simple fact that these games require you to do boring stuff to finance the fun stuff, makes for a higly profitable market providing services doing the boring stuff.

The real question is, why do these games require their players doing the boring stuff, if it's such a big problem for them (spammers and bots), which they apparently are utterly incapable of preventing?
Which brings us to your post about Blizzard not *really* stopping bots and spammers. It's probably more profitable to have all those active subscriptions, instead of providing the services themselves. All they have to do is keep up the illusion that players can compete "fairly" (and as you know very well, when someone can buy something someone else cannot, it's unfair boohoohoo).

Anonymous said...

Your statement that people won't pay for "epixx" on private servers is completely wrong. I used to play in such servers before starting to pay to blizzard.

Epic selling is the basis of private servers life. Indeed, if they don't manage to sell things, the servers wind up going down pretty fast thanks to low quality server hardware and lack of interest of the owner.

I played there during late TBC. Just for an idea of what you could get for money, you would be able to pay 20 dollars to get an instant-70 character, 40 dollars for Full Tier 6 set, and, in a pretty extreme case, some moron or 2 paid about 500 dollars (!?) for the Warglaives of Azinoth - In fact, Illidan was bugged on the server and unkillable, with instant-death melee attacks. Other servers would create super-stated versions of the equipments, and charge a lot more for them.

Buying things was very common, and thus a very interesting effect arose: Completely clueless top-tier players. Things such as level 70 mages who had no clue what a "talent" was, warlocks wielding feral druid staffs, and so on. In a pretty extreme case, me and a friend, both at level 30, managed to kill a fully equipped level 70 paladin, who had no idea he had either stuns, judgments, OR healing spells.

Anonymous said...

"Casuals already pay for the hardcore's game time in a way : their subscriptions cost exactly the same despite one plays 10 times more than the other."

I suspect that they are far more likely to be herbalists or miners. So all the raiders who want/need to min/max, can drop gathering materials and allow the casuals to fill that spot for them.

Muron said...

Blizzard by absence of banning has basically already allowed this. Players on my server spam trade selling gold for game cards frequently and never get banned for it.

Simmilar practice happens on our realm forum, though far less frequently because no one actually uses our realm forum.

Anonymous said...

Remember, that was the industry surprise when the first bigger game went free-to-play ( DDO iirc ) - their revenue went up. I.e., $15/month is the minimum that the casuals play but also serves as a maximum for how much the more committed players can pay.

I also think that millions of people spend money to buy pixels in flash/facebook/iPhone games.

I don't see the buy/sell as being about hardcore play skill as about how committed/interested you are in the game and whether you have more time than money.

In a more rational system, thereby doomed to be unpopular with majority of WoW players, a HM raider could log on 12 hours a week and use RL$ to make sure they never had to do any dailies or even rep grinds. Unemployed, students, stay-at-home non-raiders could play for free by mining/grinding.

Selling pixels for game time

Bristal said...

Gevlon: "Remember, if the hardcore leave, the game won't have social status value and no one would buy items."

Azuriel: "Not at all. If the "hardcore" leave, the people below them become the new hardcore - there would be world-first guilds even if everyone in Paragon all just ragequit."

Absolutely disagree, Azuriel. The hardcore raider/PvP players, the bloggers, dataminers and addon creaters ARE the WoW marketing team.

Without that elite class, the mass appeal of WoW would suffer greatly. Similar to what happens to sports industries right down to little kid leagues when the pros go on a strike or do stupid things that impact their social standing.

Another level of "elite" isn't just waiting in the wings to take up all the work they do.

I also have to laugh at Krytus' naivete. What possible other benefit does Gevlon get out of spending hours a day writing this awesome blog other than social?

Doesn't get paid. Probably keeps it a secret at work. But everyone in game knows him. He's famous. He must get whispers and tells incessantly. He used to frequently publish his reader numbers.

And you're going to tell me that the Goblin King hasn't cultivated in amazing social status?

Zekta Chan said...

I have a Summary of EvE's online at my blog regarding "Intra (Inter)-playerbase microtransaction"

Some background information for Wow Player as well.

Link :