In-game economies, real money transfer and the hidden safeguards

Real money transfer or RMT (or gold-selling, leveling services, ebaying characters or items) is a buzz topic. The New York Times carried a story that got relayed far and wide in the blog space. I remember that the PC Gamer magazine had a story a while back that was far less detailed and certainly less bleak.

Anyway despite all this I can’t quite put my finger on why it is not really a hot topic for me personally. Maybe because until today I cannot honestly say that the practice has majorly impacted my while gaming. Only on very rare occasions has a bot/farmer contested a resource that I wanted, by either ninjaing a ore mine, or by killing my quest mobs.

Once very early on, a farmer trained mobs on me in WoW to get me to leave quest mobs alone but this has not happened in years later.

But of course the real question is, why does it seem alright for me. At some point there were more bots around but at that time Blizzard was already in the business of banning. So maybe the real answer is that gaming companies are already curbing the practice which is why it didn’t really impact me. But how would I know?

On a completely different note, the question of course is, why have in-game money, or in-game economies at all? Aren’t these the source of the problem ultimately. A recent issue of the fairly new MMO Games Magazine featured the whole RMT issue and Raph Koster had an article discussing specifically this question (unfortunately I don’t know of an online version of this article so you may have to try grab a copy of the magazine). Raph’s main argument for the economy is altruism and social factors. He in essence says, that a tradable system allows you to help others with goods and cash. This is an interesting perspective, but is it true? Would a game without trading be anti-social. Or would helping be deligated to in-game actions like grouping or giving advice. Again, I wouldn’t really know.

But certainly even if you agree with Raph’s outlook that you kind of want in-game economies to allow people to help each other, it’s a two-edged sword. In-game economies not only further collaboration, they also further competition for resources. Classical example would be ninjaing of non-instanced resources like mining-nodes. It’s a first-come first-serve, winner takes all system akin to the way non-instanced mobs work in EverQuest. The culture it supported wasn’t really collaborative (outside the guilds that worked together) but rather distinctly anti-collaborative and competitive. How do I prevent access to resources for others?

But lots of people seem to enjoy the trading aspect of MMOs, so I don’t see us getting an honest comparison any time soon, i.e. I don’t see an MMO that tries to go without a trading system to see what the actual implications on the MMO culture would be.

This may indeed be the best safeguard against RMT (beside leveling service) but for now we’ll have the gaming companies continue to duke out how to handle the situation.

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