There have been a couple of comments in the recent RMT discussion that RMT (Real Money Transfer: the practice of purchasing in-game resources, assistance, etc. with real money) is not a question of design, but rather human nature, and therefore, it really is something that cannot be gotten rid of.

While I wouldn’t really argue much with that basic premise given existing MMO designs and influences, I do wonder how much that dynamic can be worked with and “controlled” via design.

As I was running down my dream design, for example, it seemed to me that it was largely immune to the current typical RMT influences, but far more vulnerable in some other, rather exotic ways… some of my musings beneath the fold.

Techniques, Concepts, Profiles and Procedures 

A core tenet of my dream design is the old chestnut “Knowledge is Power”.  In my design, this is actually expressed in the game itself: characters collect and “contemplate” Lessons (game element) to master new Concepts (game element), which in turn combine in various sets to grant access to new Techniques (game element).

Lessons can be generated at will by any character that knows the Concept to be taught, and transferred to other characters with a minor time investment and effort.  Concepts and Techniques cannot be transferred at all, but rather must be “built” by contemplating Lessons. 

The contemplation process is the control factor: some period of time must elapse before a character can achieve mastery of the related Concept.  Contemplation is a background process, not requiring much attention from the player except to determine which lesson is being contemplated at any particular moment, but time must pass for there to be any effect.  Most Lessons will not even be capable of taking a character from complete ignorance to complete mastery… one might take a character only from 0% to 20%, another from 20% to 50%, and so on.  Also, the contemplation process generally requires a reasonable level of skill to have been attained in order to be successful: a novice contemplating expert-level concepts simply doesn’t get very far.

Therefore, there is little to no ability to even transfer a single Concept instantly from one character to another, and even if there were, it requires multiple Concepts to gain access to even a single Technique.

Now, there is a potential RMT angle in Lessons generation and transfer: the player of an expert character could sell Lessons to others for real world cash.  However, any and all of those characters could then turn around and teach the same or similar Lessons to anyone else they chose. 

There is almost no way to effectively “corner the market” for any length of time: achieving control of the market on any specific technique would literally require a campaign of “seek and destroy” on anyone else that was transferring that knowledge, including NPCs that offer to teach it, any books that contain the knowledge, etc.  While I don’t doubt it could be attempted, I do rather doubt a real world business concern would bother to make the effort (they would have to monitor their own customers as well, after all): which means it remains a “game activity” as opposed to a “business activity”.

The same basic logic applies to Profiles and Procedures of all the different kinds I can think of off hand.  Whether it’s a formula, or recipe, or route, or PC/NPC profile, anyone who was sold the knowledge could then turn around and pass it on to as many others as they chose.  While these units of knowledge will generally be passed on in a single effort, they also require knowledge of some number of appropriate techniques to put them to their fullest use, meaning any instantaneous transfer of “power” is still highly constrained.

Skill Development

Skills in Voyages act to measure and limit the chance of success, and thus are another potential RMT vector.

Skill mastery is tied directly to each character, of course, and is generated solely through the character’s activities, similar to XP in other games.  The same basic services that are sold in other games could potentially be used here as well: power leveling expeditions, account/character trades, and so on.  There is actually a potential for significantly greater RMT opportunity here: each character can potentially have dozens, even hundreds of skills, each of which largely needs to be developed separately.

The main constraints on this type of activity are in the form of simple time requirements.  An organized operation could create a network of resources to facilitate skill development: having characters standing by to immediately help teach the next “level” of techniques as soon as they become accessible to the character, having a set course of challenges established that maximizes the skill gain per minute with minimal risk, and so on. 

However, it will still take a significant amount of time to achieve, since skill gain is essentially a “per use” mechanic in Voyages.  Maximum 20-30 tallies per attempt, succeed or fail, no matter what the target, as long as the character is using “bleeding edge” techniques… if they fall back to using simpler techniques instead, they have far fewer failed attampts, but the rate of tally collection also slows dramatically (to as little as 1 per attempt).

There are no bonuses for any specific situation, except in that tougher challenges will take longer to overcome, meaning more attempts made and thus more tallies.  It is a significantly different situation than the usual power-leveling activity.

There is also the fact that even a massive time investment isn’t going to make the character exceptionally strong in general terms, unlike most other games.  Everything is largely situational, and tied to the player’s choices.  The underlying mechanics are different enough that it seems less likely that players would see a major advantage to a power-leveling service: the character they got back after the service was finished would not be super-powered, just more competent, and probably in fairly limited ways, especially since that competence would still require the player to know how and when to use it, to activate it at the proper times.

I’m sure this type of activity would still be offered via RMT in any sizable game/service: however, I don’t think it would be quite as effective or disruptive as it is in other, more strictly level-based games.

Gold and Equipment

When RMT is discussed in general, this is probably the vector that first comes to mind.  The activities of “gold farmers” in particular have created some additional negative connotations to RMT, well beyond the original concerns related to “twinking” and the like.

There is nothing particularly special about Voyages in the abstract that would necessarily eliminate RMT sales of gold or equipment, per se.  However, with some proper preparation of the player base, the draw of such things might be blunted somewhat.

Possibly the biggest drawback of Voyages in terms of RMT sales of gold and equipment is that Voyages makes a significant effort to allow thieving as a style of play.  There are no magical banks, no completely protected and inaccessible storage areas: if it exists as a physical item in the game, it can potentially be stolen.

As part of attempting to enable this, equipment and gold are simply less important, and potentially a little easier to obtain, than in other games of this sort.  I want the design to move the perspective in game a little more toward the stereotypical adventurer’s perspective, which can be summarized pretty completely as “easy come, easy go.”  Hoarding gold or equipment is still an option, of course, but people must apply their own protective measures: traps, alarms, NPC guards, and the like.  No guarantees.

Additionally, equipment in Voyages is mainly implemented as a modifier to the base effects of techniques, as opposed to setting the base itself.  In other words, a tool is only as good as the hand that wields it.  The intent is to tune things such that even an “artifact-level” item, if used in conjunction with novice techniques, will be largely overshadowed by an expert using bleeding edge techniques to wield a mundane version of that item.

I would imagine the above would have a somewhat deleterious effect on RMT sales of such virtual items.  While all game currency is fairly transient, the additional uncertainty and risk of this environment should act to make it an even less palatable option.  Also, since the importance of gold and equipment is largely downplayed, players looking to use RMT as a way to play on “easy mode” will be more likely purchase other elements of the game instead.

Finally, if I were to implement Voyages as a full-fledged game service, I would likely look into the possibility of offering in-game currency as something to be purchased directly from the service, as an additional way of funding the service.  That would depend on how limited such currency was in terms of importance in the game setting: if a large part of the gameplay somehow ended up revolving around in-game currency (despite my efforts to the contrary), I’d be far less amenable overall to selling it on the side.

To be continued…

I’ll have to cut it off here for now: I’ve got a Thanksgiving day extravaganza to get ready for, after all.  More to discuss on this topic, though.  I still have NPC reputation/influence, character and player/account Karma, Guilds and Professions, and character transfers to at least touch on.