EVE Online is dead. It died on June 2011 when CCP introduced their virtual store with the patch for Incarna. Or so some say. RMT for virtual goods of purely cosmetic value. The player base has been ablaze, some proclaiming the end of EVE Online as we know it. Others not so much, as long as the items bought by real money aren’t game-changing, who cares? Well, plenty of people did judging from the controversy this stirred while oddly enough, the new items were not strictly speaking a first in terms of turning real money into potential ingame profits (hello Plex system). But then, EVE is srs bsns, not like the rest of them lowly MMOs out there, EVE players have standards!
I’ve never been a fan of RMT MMOs. I think one big reason for this is that the stereotype there is an FTP game with cheap graphics, horrible controls and dead servers. There are not exactly a lot of positive examples for RMT-based MMOs out there and even less of them manage to include the system in a way that won’t boil down to a divided society of those that choose to buy frequently and those that will not. Many of us feel that they make the better bargain paying subscriptions which ensure complete access to a game. Never mind that over the years we probably payed just as much in terms of fees, collector’s editions, server transfers, mini-pets et cetera. The psychological factor is huge. Also, ingame shops take self-control and we’re already spending enough money on Amazon.
One prime reason why players strongly dislike RMT though is when “game-altering” items come into play: re-sellables that might impact on the server economy, special guild features, raid power-ups or epic gear. We feel this messes up server “harmony”; we want a level ground between players and so do competitive guilds. Not that such harmony were existant in the first place in any MMO; we do never have an equal situation between individual players nor raid guilds, RMT or not. Or would you ever have called a game as merciless and elitist as EVE Online harmonic?
The classist fallacy
I’ve actually heard micro-transactions being called classist, as if virtual goods were somehow representative for the social rifts and injustices on this planet. As if there were truly poor MMO players, as if we were not all of us already among the most privileged, sitting in front of our PCs at night in comfy chairs, with our high-speed internet connections, our active subs and second accounts, enjoying free time in the safety of a warm home. There’s not one single WoW player out there right now who could not just as well afford to play an RMT-based MMO if he so chose. The classist argument is dramatic humbug and frankly offensive to those who are truly socially disadvantaged in this world. If you believe the lack of a shiny pixel horse makes you inferior to other players, you don’t have issues worth mentioning. Let’s forget too, that players who don’t buy pets don’t buy pets because they don’t want to buy pets. Duhh.
MMO “communities” have always been classist, always will be – but RMT has very little to do with it. Top guilds with high reqs are classist; hardmodes are classist; any sort of rare title/gear/achievement is classist. And a great deal of people think they are classist when they’re really just jerks with inferiority issues. As one commenter on an EO board added:
I’m sick of being beaten by people with more time than I have, more people skills than I have, having simply typed “spaced based mmo” into google before I did, or just plain old better game skill than I have.
Let me use my financial superiority to crush some of them into the ground. [*]
And while I don’t exactly agree with him because time spent should still have its place for me in an MMO, I fully understand his perspective. He is being out-classed and there’s little he can do subjectively. So, would the introduction of an item-shop in EVE, even a game-altering one, unhinge social justice? No, it wouldn’t. Would there suddenly be traumatic, social rifts because some can and some cannot afford a 10 dollar rucksack? Hardly. People will pay for these things if they want to.
Let’s be honest, if we don’t spend that money ingame, it means we’re spending it somewhere else like we do every single day. Maybe we’d buy an album less on iTunes in order to get that special armor, maybe we’d skip a cinema visit or buying that 5th pair of shoes. Outrageous? Maybe we’d even cut down to smoking half a pack per day instead of a whole one – you could do worse than that, I think. It’s a matter of perspective, more than competitiveness. You don’t “have to” buy tons and tons of items in an RMT-based game either, just like you don’t “have to” collect 400k gold in WoW in order to partake and compete. Developers want you to play their games long-term, they will always aim at a tolerable balance.
What the current, obvious trend of selling virtual goods in the MMO industry really is doing, is challenging players to deal with a new reality. Not a classist concept, certainly not in the sense of a more or less capitalist one – but a huge shift in paradigm. We used to pay for playtime, or so we thought. The new generation of games makes us pay for goods instead (or additionally), more explicitly than before. The acceptance of this indirect change is difficult to stomach. Really now, how’s 10 dollars spent on a mini-pet you enjoy for months “worse” than spending them on a movie ticket? Have we not continuously fought for the acceptance of our online worlds, adventures and friendships, pointing out how they are just as real as real life experiences because of the way they make us feel? Why wouldn’t / shouldn’t we pay for this more explicitly, when we’re already paying for it indirectly? And why can my co-worker spend a few hundred bucks each month for her horse-riding without wasting similar thoughts?
These are questions I have to face and frankly I’m running out of arguments. Am I a fan of micro-transactions all of a sudden? Hell no, my old-school heart is having troubles adjusting. Do I think that money could be spent much worse than on virtual goods? Absolutely.
Why the narrator in me keeps hyping Guild Wars 2
Blizzard recently dropped their bomb about introducing a real-money AH in Diablo III which, while “optional”, will impact on things like player progress in the game. My initial reaction was negative – that was before I actually pondered all the points listed in the above paragraph. It’s certainly not surprising in terms of where Blizzard has been going for years now and it’s a small step away from their Blizzstore and the virtual goods that already exist for WoW. Even if developers like to point out how items are purely for “vanity”, you could argue that things like a special mount are in fact game-altering. They undermine the achievement that used to be acquiring expensive, fast or rare mounts in the game, y’know back in a time when that was true. Mounts are loot and loot is social prestige. Now that prestige can be achieved by real currency as much as virtual, our two worlds collide.
Sucker for narrative and setting that I am for my MMOs, I actually still have a problem here: real money presents players with short-cuts. I’m not fond of that in the slightest. I would argue though that there’s a big difference between a sub-based MMO that introduces more and more RMT late into the game in order to make extra profits and one that is fundamentally created around that system. The fact that Blizzard promotes the feature as a purely optional yet powerful alternative, makes things worse in my eyes. Either we have an MMO where players are all meant to buy certain goods and that therefore balances content focus around it, or we don’t. To add the feature into a game as loot-/item-centric as WoW is worlds more problematic than for an MMO where the main focus lies on things like cooperative play or narrative for example. If epics are what your world revolves around, you don’t want a shop to sell more and more purples.
This is where my enthusiasm for Guild Wars 2 kicks in again. Already, GW2 has the complete looks, style and package to become the next AAA+ MMORPG and it comes free of subscription. Players will pay for modules/expansions and there will be micro-transactions. From everything I have seen, read and heard so far, NC Soft has every intention to heavily re-focus the game from the current classic MMO course out there. What added fuel to my excitement was a video I recently watched on youtube, summarizing pretty much every single reason why I personally look forward to GW2. I couldn’t agree more with all 10 points presented there, but see for yourself! I am a little weary of just how appealing the game is to me at this stage, I haven’t been excited like that ever since World of Warcraft. Beautiful art and music, dynamic content, no holy trinity, cooperative focus, a vast world with no flying mounts – music to my ears!
And yes, Guild Wars 2 will feature virtual goods. If the final game is nearly as good as it’s promising, I couldn’t care less.