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A Case Study of RMTs In EVE Online 81

Posted by Soulskill
from the to-post-a-comment-please-deposit-eight-cents dept.
Kheldon writes with an article at MMO Gamer which explores how well real money transactions work in online games, using EVE Online as a test case. Quoting: "... My next problem came from trying to sell the [Game Time cards] through the 'Time Code Bazaar' on the forums. While I quickly found buyers, none of them actually went through with the deal. This is the inherent problem with developer sanctioned RMT. Unless true, unfettered, player-to-player transactions are allowed without developer 'regulation,' the market will inevitably be operating inefficiently. Consider gold-farmers for a moment. Setting aside the moral or legal aspects of the trade, and considering from a purely economic standpoint, gold-farmers are the RMT equivalent of large corporations. They operate on the concept of 'economies-of-scale,' which basically means that up to a certain point, the larger a company is, the cheaper they can produce that product. Of course, companies that can produce a product more cheaply can undercut the competition while maintaining the same profit margin; meaning they'll make more sales, giving them more overall profit, and supporting the corporate growth, which furthers the economy of scale. This is the market at its most pure."
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A Case Study of RMTs In EVE Online

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  • boring rant... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @04:16AM (#28262727)

    ISK sellers, however, provide much better exchange rates: one site sells at 25 million ISK per dollar, or better in bulk. Why would players want to wait for their time cards to be shipped (not to mention the international service fees charged by the bank due to CCP being an Icelandic company), and then be hit with a sub-premium exchange rate. For 35 bucks I can get 600 million ISK with a time card, or for 27 bucks I can get 1 billion ISK from a reseller. Of course, there are some sanctioned time card sellers that cut out the shipping process for a faster deal, but that doesnâ(TM)t mitigate the entire problem.

    So, your argument is moot.

    The other major problem is that there is no sanctioned way to convert the ISK back into real world dollars.

    Most would argue that this is the exact mechanism which keeps the gold farmers out of the system, and maintains the stability of the economy. With no way to profit in the real world, there is no incentive for farmers to set up shop.

  • by Jedi Alec (258881) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @04:21AM (#28262747)

    Ehmmm, not really. Let's do a case by case comparison with player A and player B.

    Scenario 1:

    Player A pays his subscription the regular way and spends the month earning 1 billion isk.
    Player B pays his subscription the regular way and spends the month earning 200 million isk.

    Scenario 2:

    Player B pays his own subscription the regular way and buys a gametime card with real life money.
    Player A, being very good at making isk, buys the gametime card from player B for a sum of ingame money.

    End result of both scenarios is the same. CCP has received the real life money for 2 subscriptions, and the actual amount of isk(ingame money) has not changed. Ergo, no inflation has taken place.

  • Bullshit (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @04:21AM (#28262749)

    From a "purely economical" point of view, the best producer of in-game gold is the developer, since they can produce an infinite amount of gold (as well as any in-game item that gold can buy). They don't do it because that would ruin the game.
    In a real world, a pure economic approach is feasible, because we (well, most of us materialistic bastards) agree that maximum production of goods and capital at peak efficiency is beneficial to society, e.g. the more everyone has, the better off we are. That means that in the real-world, accumulation of wealth is a positive-sum game.

    This isn't the case in video games. Had the developers given everyone a zillion gold, it would ruin the game by destroying the fun of making and investing money. In other words, after a certain point, the more money EVERYONE has, the WORSE off everyone is, rather than better. The whole point of "fun" is to be able to earn more gold than your neighbor. In other words, the fun-factor is zero sum, or even-negative sum.

    Therefore, gold farmers, by increasing the volumes of gold they produce and sell, give "fun" to those that buy the gold, AT THE DIRECT EXPENSE of all other players who did not buy the gold. Unless I'm an egoistical bastard, I wouldn't consider myself worse off if my neighbor won the lottery. In a MMORPG, however, the more others are better off than you, the worse your own position is. If that wasn't the case, there would be no need for an in-game economy to begin with, everyone would be just given everything they want for free (which the developers clearly can do from the technical standpoint, but don't do for clear gameplay reasons).

    The bottom line is, that measuring the benefit of "gold farmers" from a purely economical point of view is complete and utter bullshit, because in-game economy has a completely different relationship to in-game enjoyment than a real-world economy has to real-life enjoyment.

  • by Sobrique (543255) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @04:22AM (#28262751) Homepage
    Well, as a long time EVE player, I remember when trading cash for isks was forbidden by the EULA - and it still is, you can just work around it by selling game time codes for in game cash.
    I have to say, the article seems to have missed one of the most effective ways of doing this - PLEXes (Pilot License Extensions) are tradable on the in game market - that's by far the most effective way of trading them these days. Head to Jita, list one for sale, and it'll probably have sold within the week - much less faff than using the forum, which ... well, fundamentally it's a forum, so not that great for trading - particularly items like GTCs which are functionally identical, with a different price tag - the delay on them means that it's easy enough for buyers to request a bunch of buys off a bunch of different people, and only accept the most favourable.
    I'm still in two minds as to whether it's a good thing or not - I don't like the fact that RL cash can have influence on the game, any more than I'd be happy that a chess player could whip out a credit card and buy an extra queen.
    On the other hand, I do like that people on lower incomes can actually play EVE for 'free' (300mil isks/month isn't particularly hard to raise), and I do like the fact that someone with less 'free' time, because of an intensive job, can shortcut the direct 'run missions' or 'mine' to generate isks.
    I think the reason it actually works in EVE, is because of the nature of the game - if you fork out a few billion isks on a really pimp fitted ship, then you'll get a nice ship, sure. If you don't know what you're doing, it'll die shockingly fast. Even if you do know what you're doing, it'll maybe be a match for 2-3 equivalent class ships, but no more. And you'll then provide someone with a juicy killmail, and a nice big pile of loot.
    For PvE usage... yeah, it does skew the economy somewhat, and have some items worth ... disporportionate prices, as people pimp their shiny toy (if it's good for mission running, the price is inflated to the point where it becomes even less viable to use in PvP). But barring that, the isolationist mission runner doesn't actually have much impact on the rest of the game, so whatever.
    And it serves as a control mechanism on 'actual' RMT - by letting people 'trade' via GTCs, the game developer and thus the game itself benefits. Before that, you still had 'isk sellers', that'd elicit a ban if you got caught. Now ... you have probably more 'small time' isk buyers and sellers, as people finance their account through mission running, but the tradeoff is, because they're doing so via GTCs, it means everyone who 'buys isks' also finance an extra player account, meaning more subscribers.
    .... and more targets.
  • by goto begin (1338561) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @04:23AM (#28262759)

    RMT is essentially unfettered inflation. Its printing money.

    By that logic, so is growing apples - so long as there is a market for it and your prices are competitive. The total money supply does not increase, so I think the analogy of 'printing money' doesn't quite fit.

  • Re:Bullshit (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sobrique (543255) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @04:34AM (#28262815) Homepage
    You're quite correct - generating free cash and injecting it into the economy causes a trickledown and inflates prices across the game. But at the same time, since EVE does have a lot of destruction in it's game, that's not as critical as it sounds - the more expensive fits people fly, the more isk is destroyed when it explodes, and the edge advantage granted by pimp fitting a ship is not particularly extreme - you can maybe take on 2-3 people of your sizeclass, but against any more you're still going to die.
  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @04:37AM (#28262829) Homepage

    Ehmmm, not really.

    Player A is doing nothing but generating ISK. Without the market for ISK, he'd normally be spending it on deflating assets (i.e. ships, insurance, munitions). Instead, he's just earning, earning, earning.

    Now, here comes player C. He sees what player A has done, and tries to get in on the act. Next month, they both earn 1.5 billion ISK. Player B is only interested in buying ISK from one of them. Since their choices are to sell, or not sell, how much more ISK will player B get for his RMT next month, and how much more unspent ISK will there be in the game world?

    Perhaps you're unclear on the meaning of "inflationary"?

  • Re:boring rant... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Sobrique (543255) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @04:40AM (#28262839) Homepage
    Indeed. You still get gold farmers selling isks for RL cash, but it's against the EULA and so catches the ban stick when people do it. I wouldn't like to think what would happen if someone could 'cash in' their isks for real money - not least, because it'd mean that the developer would need to be able to 'cover' the size of their economy - but also because it _would_ attract the type of behaviour that would stop the game being a game - when you're talking about places with low hourly wages, comparative to the US (e.g. China) then you'll attract 'professionals' to your game, and that _will_ destroy it, because all the casual players will be shut out.
    It happens, even today, to an extent - some people see the EULA as optional, buy from an isk seller website. But it would be much worse if it didn't have the GM team applying slappings to everyone who got caught doing it.
  • Re:boring rant... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @04:40AM (#28262843)

    "The other major problem is that there is no sanctioned way to convert the ISK back into real world dollars."

    This is important. Very important. This is the only reason why EVEs system is something the players are willing to accept. As soon as you could convert ISK into real USD, the whole game would go down the crapper in record time.

    The current EVE system allows the "high end" players to shift the cost of their subscription to a more casual player while paying in ingame assets. There is little incentive to go all-out mad ISK farm as all you can get with ISK (legimately) is game time and the economy is not harmed. It places a soft cap in what you can get by "selling ISK", yet lets people "buy ISK" legimately. Coupled with CCPs self-interest to ban people who deal illegimately (outside the PLEX/GTC system) it truly helps. Every seller (ISK for real money) CCP bans is their competitor as CCP gets the money from the fees used to buy game time. Makes it also easy to justify the enforcement costs.

    In the end, every EVE account subscription is paid to CCP in real money and the ISK just changes hands in-game without anyone profiting from it out-of-game. The only party that truly gains is CCP in the form of additional subscriptions - mostly high end players subscribing to multiple accounts simply because they can shift the cost to someone else by paying the subscriptions with ingame assets that the high end players can accumulate faster. Free market also keeps everything in check - if too many people want to buy ISK with time, the ISK value of 30 days of gametime plummets. If too many people want to pay their game time with ISK, the ISK value of game time goes up. Recently the ISK value of game time has been going up.

    It truly is the most ingenous way of tackling the problem of RMT I've seen so far. Different from every other system in subtle yet important ways that tie directly to the EVE model where PvP is everywhere and every ship you lose really hurts your bottom line. It truly is the only MMO with a real, working in-game economic system at the moment. The rest are usually inflationary (see: World of Warcraft, even if they have kept the system somewhat sane, there is way too much excess gold floating there)

  • by Jedi Alec (258881) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @04:49AM (#28262893)

    So how is the fact that player A chooses to spend his time making isk in any way, shape or form related to the issue at hand, being RMT?

    What you want to debate is isk sinks and isk faucets, which is a somewhat related subject part of game balancing, but hardly relevant to RMT.

    Anyway, in your example you introduce a new source of demand(player C) without accounting for the fact that a new source of supply is bound to show up soon as well(player D perhaps?)

    EVE truly does have a mostly free market and it regulates itself pretty damn well. Or are you just complaining that plexes are too expensive?

  • by jhcaocf197912 (1430843) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @05:23AM (#28263049)

    I have never played a game like EVE or WoW or any of these. They are complicated and involving. I have personally witnessed one man who had his middle-class lifestyle -- his house, wife and kids, job -- all lost because he couldn't stop playing games like these. I'm not going to suggest that everyone is vulnerable to such demise from gaming addiction but there are unquestionably some that are. But that's not the main reason I don't get involved in that stuff. It's not "fun" when it's a source of additional stress and frustration.

    I play games. Make no mistake about it. I play them and I get locked in and I become like a dog who is busy eating so don't interrupt me when I am into it. But I also feel the difference between the importance of reality and "the here and now" of things.

    When I see serious business, strife and even killing and suicides stem from these types of games, I have to wonder or even worry about what is really going on. If I were one of those anti-game crusaders, I would target these MMORPGs rather than "violent" games. I see a lot more tragedy associated with those types of games rather than those that are based on violent themes. But thankfully, these are "worlds" that are completely opt-in and there are certainly worse worlds to get hooked on -- drugs, sex, gambling -- more examples of "addictive" and obsessive activities that can lead to some serious life consequences. These things will always exist in humanity. Try to control them and they will go underground and form dangerous sub-cultures. Try to legalize and regulate them and you find yourself serving as referee in matters that are best for government not to be involved in.

    It's a part of crazy-town that I am glad I don't live in.

    If you have an addiction, that's your problem. I play EVE and I don't have this addiction.

  • Except it won't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rix (54095) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @05:32AM (#28263105)

    Because you can hire third worlders to farm gold for 15 cents an hour, and thus there is an effectively infinite supply of player Cs.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @06:32AM (#28263371)

    ...and thats why EVE is so great. Only EVE could have war stories like that one.

    You can't really bribe all of EVE to work for you as most of the players play to have fun (= blow stuff up). At best, you can bribe to influence who shoots who today - and you have no guarantee that it'll stay that way tomorrow. No matter how many titans and POSes you obtain via GTC-funded ISK, they can all go boom the next day if enough players decide that it will be so. There are so many factions (and more cropping up as soon as an opening presents itself) that, at best, you might stir the pot a bit (and lose your bribes).

    Personally had I been an alliance leader, I would've taken the bribe (through suitably anonymous channels) and then showed my middle finger at the silly Russian trying to buy his way to victory in EVE. RED.Overlord is still, at best, a minor player in overall EVE Alliance politics.

  • Re:Bullshit (Score:2, Insightful)

    by space_jake (687452) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @09:43AM (#28264815)
    If you bought some of that gear from an NPC the isk is in fact lost.

What this country needs is a good five dollar plasma weapon.

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