Lots of commentary out there this past couple of weeks revolving loosely around RMT (from Scott Jennings, Brian Green, Matt Mihaly, and Ryan Shwayder (Nerfbat), amongst others.   For my part, I’m just wishy-washy on the whole topic.  While I have no love for gold farmers, and personally think spending RL money on something as transient as virtual gold pieces in a MMO is often inadvisable, I also understand and sympathize with the motivations of some of the purchasers, and think that RMT controlled by the developer would actually be a very reasonable business model to pursue.

Virtual strip-mining

My problem with gold farmers and the outfits that employ them, for example, isn’t that they are selling game assets (they are really just sub-leasing them, as the situation sits today, but that’s beside the point).  My issue with them is that they are often some of the most rapacious, destructive examples of “capitalism gone wild” since strip-mining for coal went out of fashion. 

In the neverending quest to gain the most resources with the least time and effort, they have shown every willingness to damage or destroy the game experience for the majority if it means production of a few more virtual coins per hour.  This would seem, upon reflection, to potentially be a bit self-defeating in the long run. 

Why someone would wish to buy coin or equipment in a game that they choose not play because of the actions of the very people gathering that coin or those items for sale, is a question which apparently doesn’t impact the strategic considerations of the management of such enterprises… possibly because the “long view” isn’t all that crucial to their decision making process?  After all, if they can just make a big enough score now, who cares about the “long view”… right?

Ocean-view property in Arizona, anyone?

The accountant in me views RMT sales with a delicious mixture of awe and horror.  Awe in that someone is not only selling ice to Eskimos, but has even convinced them to rent the refrigerator to store it in; and horror that people are apparently that desperate for these smoke-and-mirrors resources to begin with.

After all, as things stand right now, RMT purchasers are largely paying for access to virtual resources that they are only allowed to hold onto as long as they continue to pay the access fees to the service itself… effectively equating to a larger cost per unit time over the useful life of the service to the buyer.  And that is without factoring in any of the possible ways in which the purchased resource might be lost prior to the end of the useful life of the service (i.e. the “uber-weapon” breaks, becomes outmoded, etc.)

And yet, no doubt some of these very same people complain about $10-15 per month for access, which actually does pay for real world items and services like hardware, hosting services, communications and power, and ongoing support, both technical and otherwise?

Memories for Sale

Now, the frustrated gamer in me, he understands the draw of RMT, though he has yet to indulge.  It is rather frustrating to realize that because of the other demands on my time, I am not going to be able to explore all of the options these games have to offer, to anything even close to the depths I would like.  In that respect, RMT offers a ray of hope.

It is somewhat like the trade-off involved in going to see a movie in the theatre, as opposed to waiting for the release to DVD.  The money is being spent on the experience, the memories, as transient as they may be… and most people have some threshhold of interest, in one genre of film or another, at which the theatre experience becomes economically palatable.

Business Model

RMT also obviously works as the foundation for a business model: half the world already uses it, and quite successfully.  The U.S. market pretty much stands as the lone bastion against the “evils of RMT” as far as I can tell, and even there, successful examples are plentiful.

The difference in most of these cases is that the developers are the ones reaping the benefits, and therefore both understand and largely control the connection between the game and any RMT going on.  The proceeds of the RMT essentially go back into maintaining the game, which should be a win-win proposal if the appropriate forethought has been applied to the overall design.

But, enough on that for now.  Some good commentary at all the links above… I highly suggest reviewing all the various viewpoints, if you get the chance.  Til later…