Monday, March 16

Thoughts on Livegamer.

The Fantasy author Steven Erikson has in his Tales from the Malazan Book of the Fallen an interesting empire. The Malazan empire, when conquering a city-state would contrary to expectations not raise taxes or supplant the local governmental systems or cull the rich to fund the war effort. That's right. A regional governor would be set up but the old governmental bureaucracy would remain in place for the most part and the empire's secret police, the Claw, would take over the local crime syndicates instead.
You see the Emperor reckonned that since there's always going to be self-destructive elements to any society, willing to pay money for controlled substances and other vices, you might just as well have them pay for roads and bridges and other constructive things of benefit to the whole of society.
It's a pragmatic approach to governing that'd have Machiavelli drooling at the corner of his mouth.

In a way, that is exactly what SOE has been doing with Station Cash and Station Exchange servers. That section of the gamer population, and this section has proven to be large enough to sustain a million dollar industry so don't kid yourself by thinking it's anywhere less than one in ten players, is self destructive but also costing companies like SOE a lot of money. The accounts used for farming are generally shut down as they are found, resulting in Professional Gold Farmers inverting their Credit Card payments. This in return puts SOE in bad graces with the Credit Card companies. Sorting all that out along with having to provide Customer Support to people who've been scammed results in RMT mainly being a money drain for SOE. With Station Exchange servers, SOE tries to be your provider of gear for cash.

Livegamer however is different, it allows gamer-to-gamer trading within a game. With SOE getting a piece of the action in the form of a percentage on the transactions. This is a system used elsewhere for Free to Play MMO's as well. I wouldn't be surprised if it's implemented from the start in SOE's Free Realms either. On the whole, I'm not even against either concept. I have no illusions about RMT ever going away. it exists because people want it. And even though I probably fall on the Has Time side of the Has Time to Play vs Has Money to Play divide, I don't begrudge people who have more Money than Time their desire to Play. If people with the time and inclination to grind for rare drops can have their accounts paid for by richer people who have less time to play but would like to have some fun playing with some decent loot, I don't mind that at all.

Of course I'm someone who doesn't give a fig about my own virtual wealth. As a rule over half my kit was given to me by people who wouldn't take no for an answerand stuff I find that a friend can use is sent to them without strings attached. If I really identified with and calculated my self-worth based on my richess in a Virtual World, I might feel different about other people using Real Life Money to purchase Virtual Wealth. Luckily I can see the irony in all that.
I also never bought the Great Equalizer Theory that in MMO's CEO's play elbow to elbow with 14 year old kids. Anyone with that illusion should check all the snobbish elitarian BS going on on every forum or global chat or Guild Application. It may happen, but those are the extreme cases, not the rule at all.

People worry about the extremes. Like the Son of RichGuy who's an arrogant jerk running around with his bought Uber Character with his bought Uber Gear and he still doesn't have friends. Life sorts out the assholes. Or more often it doesn't. Not because they're rich, but because the rest of us wants to get our hands on some of those riches too and will hang out with a Little Prick with Ears just because his da's got money and we hope that Little Prick is generous.
I do believe that the people who buy and sell RMT, in the context of a subscription based game, are the Virtual World equivalents of the self-destructive elements mentioned in the first paragraph. I don't have a problem with them funding my game. In a F2P RMT enabled game, I don't care whether they're self-destructive or not. That's a whole different moral playground.

What I do have a very personal problem with is the idea of Buying or Selling Characters.
I don't have any level 50's in Vanguard but even if I had, not a hair on my head would consider selling one of my characters. I was there when they took their first wobbly steps into the world, I was there when they took down their first mob, looted its corpse and then skinned it. I nurtured them through hardships, PUG's and Guild Drama's. I stood beside them as they gazed upon the beautiful soul-touching vistas that this virtual world has to offer. And I'm going to sell them? No way in Hell! The same as for buying. For some this might be like buying a second hand coat and if so, good on ya. I won't judge (much). But for me personally the idea is just ICK!!! It's been likened to prostitues and such. That's not really it. it'd be playing a lie. As involved as I get with my Characters, it'd be like living a lie. No thanks. The whole idea just gives me the willies.
Selling items? Go ahead. Maybe a different take on the Brotherhood even, some means to collect and gather XP you can sell off might be possible even. Anything but selling off the memories that go with, or buying an empty soulles husk without any, in the form of an actual character.

I wouldn't mind it though if they'd allow us to buy character names.
There's a Character Concept I've had for the longest time, a sister to my Halfling Cleric Kettle.
A Druid named Nettle. Even though they'd never be able to play together I'd get such a kick out of imagining and playing out their different personalities and how they'd quibble. But the name is taken on Seradon by the person who made the first Nettle on some pre-first-merge server and hasn't played that character since 01/30/07...
Anyone belief that this account will get reactivated and that whoever holds the account will pick up this particular toon and go play with it? Me neither. I'd love to pay a full month's subscription fee to have access, to reserve that name for myself. I know, I know there's probably tons of technical, maybe even legal issues involved that'd make this impossible. But I'd still be willing to pay that price for that service.

Silly me.


  1. Oh, in case you're thinking "what the hell is Lani on about?", you might want to check up on this announcement.

  2. I did a bit of thinking whether I would sell my characters, and I think I wouldn't. Mostly because I don't ever want them to meet an in-game friend and spoil my name. I suspect many players think the same way.

    But armor and weaponry is a different story. It has no personality. So if there is a convinient way to sell items I think the majority of players will use it.

    It is a bit along the same lines as an in-game auction house. In games that have them I will try to pawn my unused stuff and crafted gear. But if I have to waste my time going to the trade channel and repeatedly cry 'WTS uber item 1, 2 and 3' I can't be bothered. And I think this applies again to the majority of the players.

    So now that SOE made it a lot easier to convert your ingame items to real money it will happen a lot more. And as soon mainstream players figure out how to sell stuff for $, they will also buy. They could argue that way no real money was made or lost.

    In this scenario the in-game auction house will basically move to the livegamer auction house. And slowly it will really start being a true money making business playing games. Those that have time can make some decent pocket money. And once gaming really work the community will harden up very quickly.

    Of course there are still many people like us that play for the fun of it. But now it is not one in ten players using RMT, but more one in ten that is not.

    You can't stop RMT, but you should not make it easy and mainstream either.

  3. As I understood it, SOE/Livegamer is going to guarantee your privacy, so you won't know whom you bought stuff from. By default this implies (to me anyway) that a character would be transferred sans name.

    That's also where a game that has this integrated from the ground up would be more honest.
    You'd be standing at an Auction house and see Uber Item X listed for 25 Plat, or 500 SOE Tokens (or whatever) which translates to $5,- as you can buy 500 Tokens for $5,-
    Not sure that's the form it'd take, it's more or less what would happen if it were a Wndows/Xbox Live MMO. You can't do that in a protect the privacy of sellers setting that VG is going to get. Unless you'd pay your tokens to SOE and they'd transfer the Plat to the seller's account. But then wouldn't it be less cumbersome to have you just buy Plat off of SOE.

  4. Maybe I should read more about it before babbling. But screw that.

    From your last comment (and the way XBOX points work) you can buy XBOX/SOE points, but never sell them. So the most any player can get out of it all is several months of free play and double uber gear.

    The spoiled rich kid can pump more XBOX/SOE points into the economy, which is not too bad. But the average player will not turn into a money hungry xp slave that is no fun to be around, since he can only make limited profits.

    If it works that way I kind of like it. Although it will probably make everything more expensive. I just don't want an MMO become in any way a source of income for the average player.

  5. What XBOX does is you have to buy Live Points, which are about 2 Eurocents per point and then you can use those to buy stuff on Xbox Live.
    This "bridge currency" allows for parents to give kids an allowance without giving them credit card access.

    A while ago I shared a post about similar concepts being used for F2P games. Since there's no exchange rate from Xbox Live to Euro's, MS doesn't have to pay us.
    Eve Online works that way with Time Cards/Codes which you can sell in-game or as is more often the case, buy things with.

    Personally I'm more in favor of systems that will take in-game money out of the game through player-to-player transactions as taking back huge chunks of money should help lower mudflation.

    Question: is it ok for an MMO to become a source of income for the hardcore player, the ones with 10-16 hours a day to waste? The people with Time now can get Money too while the people with Money get to shell out more Money.

    Because that is what the Livegamer system creates. The average player is more likely to have to put in additional funds above his monthly subscription when all the hardcore players put their kit up for money only. That's an area where buying in-game money would be better. But then you get the goldfarming again.

    There's no easy solution.