Greedy Goblin

Friday, February 22, 2013

What's wrong with RMT?

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Tobold pointed out that developers have lame excuses against real money trading (RMT) of in-game items. Spamming, account theft and credit card issues are all linked to third party RMT that can be easily removed by sanctioned RMT. The game developer has so much control over the game and has so much more credibility than third party sites that it could take decent cut from RMT between players, just like Blizzard does with Diablo III.

Their claims don't answer the fundamental question: what's wrong with RMT?

I can pretty easily answer it, because I'm one of those who would benefit greatly from legal RMT. Both in WoW and EVE I could make significant real life sum selling in-game currency. In EVE, even with calculating with the current PLEX prices ($30/B) and my current income 40B/month, I could earn more money than the median income of my country. What would I do if RMT would be legalized in EVE? Quit my real time job and do EVE-trading instead. My income is limited by my trading time. Even with a very modest 330M/hour income approximation, I could make $10/hour in a country where the minimal hourly wage is $2. So hell with me trading in Jita, I'd hire some unemployed nerds to do the trading for me, according to my instructions and under supervision of course, pay them $6/hour and keep the other $4. With 10 employees working 8 hours per day, 20 days per month, I'd earn $77K/year without actually doing anything but check on my employees.

What effect would it have on the game? Every market fully covered, leaving no trading income to casual/newbie players, only similar professional traders could compete. The simpler income sources, like doing PvE would be covered by real world corporations using minimal wage labor (after all, ratting can be done by half-illiterates), leaving absolutely no in-game income source to the real players. The only way for real players to earn in-game currency would be RMT itself. However if the player can only obtain items by buying from someone, why should the developer give a share to me? They are better off removing farming completely and sell the items in the item shop, keeping the whole money.

The above happened exactly in Diablo III. The real players obtain 99.9% of their gear from the AH and don't farm themselves. It's not a tragedy in a one-time play box-sold game, but obviously a death sentence to any MMO.

To let real players progress, professionals cannot exist, so RMT cannot exist. Of course where is demand, there is supply, so if there is no official RMT, third party RMT emerges. To handle this, EVE is using a pretty good middle way: a limited official RMT. I can and do sell in-game currency for real money in EVE by buying PLEX and consuming it to fund my play. As I wrote on my birthday post, I fund 5 accounts for myself, 3 of it are training capital/supercapital pilots who may never be used. Add one more account for my girlfriend and that's it (supercapital pilots training for the Bazaar don't count, they are income source). 6 accounts, 3B/month ISK RMT-ed. I could sell much more ISK, but I'm limited by the utility of PLEX. What could I do with more PLEX? More accounts that I won't use?

Since I can't use more PLEX, I can't use more ISK, so I cut back on my trading, giving more space to other players to play in Jita. On the other hand that 3B/month I RMT away keeps several players in cheap ships for their $15, therefore stopping them being so broke that they'd turn to illicit RMT sellers.


Unknown said...

That's actually a very good consideration.

Indeed, true RMT invites people to game that want to earn real money, and thus operate on a whole different level of motivation, effort and time investment, compared to normal players.

The interesting bit is how that links into earlier discussion on impact in games.

If i want to design an experience where a player can actually affect the experience of other players in meaningful way, do i want to have RMT, or do i not?
How do i balance RMT-driven impact efficiency with the need of game to be fun?

Ultimately, can i earn more money making fun games than making RMT games?

It should be noted that all business everywhere has the properties of an RMT game.

Anonymous said...

It's an interesting game design problem: can a massive multiplayer game be designed so that ultra hardcore players don't squeeze out the more casual players. (Because even your pro gold makers are going to be paying subscriptions, so are players.)

And the answer might be "only by putting boundaries in to stop them influencing each other too much."

Anonymous said...

I'm suprised you haven't read about this. CCP would then fall under icelandic banking regulation if there is a way to convert in game currentcy to %, and CCP does not want to be a bank.

Thoris said...

Eve is a pvp driven game with stuff like scams, robberies etc. allowed withgin the game rules With RMT you open a can of worms in legal terms. Suddenly someone who loses his bpo filled frig could make a case that he lost real money value and sue CCP or the other player in front of a court (regardless what the TOS says about it). Add to this the multitude of countries and different legal systems that apply wherever people are from and it's pure chaos.

Aleksandr Janich said...

If pixels had real value, pixel money and digital properties would be subject to opens a miriad of nightmarish possibilities, to say the least.

Von Keigai said...

leaving absolutely no in-game income source to the real players

I don't think your economic analysis is entirely correct here.

What is true is many PVE opportunities would be filled by paid grinders. Most particularly, market trading would be utterly dominated. Other forms of grinding take place out of stations, and so are subject to ganking, and need to be carefully considered.

What is the limit on PVE domination by professionals? It is the effective minimum wage, of people with good enough internet connectivity to have jobs playing EVE. Take your country, w/ $2/hour. Currently we have 1 plex == 500m ISK == $17.5; if such prices maintained themselves, then the maximum amount earned per hour in EVE would drop to 57m ISK/hour. If it goes lower, you are paying sub minimum wages. Of course, there are countries with lower minimum wages than yours. China would probably set the standard, so assume $120/month -- $4 a day. Assuming a 10 hour workday, that gives us a min wage that is 40c/hour; so the maximum rate earned in EVE PVE would be 11.4m ISK/hour. This is still more than many highsec miners currently earn.

Also note that I did not account for PLEX costs above. So the actual wage is higher. If we assume PLEX does not change in price, a Chinese peasant working 200 hours per month has to earn an additional 2.5m isk/hour just to pay PLEX. So the actual minimum in EVE would be about 14m ISK/hour.

So that's one reason why in-game income would not collapse. Not completely, anyway.

Another is the possibility of gank. Above I mentioned market-trading as special, exactly because you can't be touched in a station. But as you stated in your last post, miners can be ganked profitably. The figure you give (40m/hour) is well above the minimum for professionalization. As such, there is an interesting race going on between pro gankers and pro miners. One important difference is that ganking is fun enough to be done by players. So perhaps ganking would not be professionalized, but it would be very common.

Extortion rackets (that is, doing what the New Order does except with significant mining fees) would become a viable metagame.

As for why a developer should tolerate professional players: it would be because they create content for paying customers. In the case of EVE, take running freighters as an example. Do I want to run a freighter across 22 jumps to supply a station? No I do not. Freighting may be even more boring than mining. Fortunately, I don't have to. I hire Red Frog instead. (Why Red Frog's pilots are will to freight, I have no idea. But this is immaterial, since evidently they do. I am thankful for that.)

Currently Red Frog charges 500000 isk per jump. If one can jump at least 22 times per hour, then freighting service would become run by professionals. Now, CCP could in theory cut out the pros by implementing new code that does freighter-running. But freighters can get ganked; if you don't actually move a freighter across highsec, ganking cannot happen and you change the economy considerably. To properly simulate running freighters, they'd need to actually run freighters. And this requires a pretty good AI. At minimum it needs to accept contracts, load cargo, undock, pathfind, warp to gate, jump, dock, unload cargo, and complete contract. And it needs built-in algorithms to deal with gank attempts and bumping. They'd need to write it using highly-paid Western professional programmers. They have to maintain it. Why not just offshore this work to China?

We can generalize the limited RMT that PLEX represent. Allow limited RMTing in such as way as to exclude professionals. You just have to set a limit on RMT per unit of time that is lower than the global minimum wage. I.e. limit RMTing to $50/account/month.

Kristophr said...

Anon: 14:30:

Exactly that. Second life had all sorts of problems because RMT made in game currency fungible in real life.

Various country's tax authorities started demanding information on players in their own countries.

When people started using in-game currency to buy contraband and to move cash without various governments permissions, the boom came down on them.