Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Live Gamer Will Destroy MMORPGs As We Know Them And Good Riddance

An up and coming company called Live Gamer seeks to provide a secure platform for legitimate real money transfers (RMT) in the MMO space. This would be very similar to Sony Online Entertainment's Station Exchange server platform, though Live Gamer will span multiple publishers and games.

I know its not a popular opinion to have, but I welcome the intrusion of RMT into the MMO space. And I don't even like RMT. I've never bought any in-game gold or items with real money. In fact, I think its rather stupid to pay someone else to play the game for you. But, like anything else that takes time to produce, there's value in these characters and in-game items for those who want them but don't have that time (or talent) to produce one themselves. And people are going to find a way to make a market out of that no matter how hard you try to stop them.

Not all forms of RMT are bad: selling fluff and non-essential items is a good way to monetize things that players frequently ask for that do little to make the game more marketable, such as roleplaying clothes and house items. These kinds of microtransactions aren't any worse than buying a collector's edition or a retail box that comes with exclusive in-game items, and gamers seem comfortable with that already.

As for characters, power leveling, and game-impacting items? RMT ruins the notion of achievement there. New games built around RMT will likely not be based around the traditional achiever-oriented MMO timesinks and treadmill grinds we're accustomed to. Some of them might be (there are, after all, Station Exchange-enabled EverQuest II servers), but I think that those games will be a niche market. There will always be a market for traditional achiever-oriented MMOs that continue to ban RMT, but the mix of the two doesn't work.

Most MMOs today reward players based on time and effort invested. That type of system simply doesn't have the same pull if you can bypass all of that with cash, just as the NFL wouldn't be as interesting if teams could pay extra to reduce the number of players the opposition is allowed to field, or to adjust the height and width of the goal posts. RMT for game-impacting items is fundamentally incompatible with achiever-oriented loot-and-level based EverQuest-type games. But the current subscription-based payment models aren't compatible with plenty of other forms of gameplay.

The intrusion of RMT into the MMO space provides an opportunity for the industry to grow past the rut its in and branch out to embrace additional forms of gameplay besides catering solely to the hardcore gamer with lots of time on his hands to accumulate virtual achievements.

Nobody complains about being able to pay an extra charge to download more levels for an FPS, or more tracks for a racing game. While there is a small market for cheats in those games, such as save games with hidden players or tracks unlocked, its not a huge market, since ultimately the experience is about playing the game itself. Similarly, I doubt anyone would care if people bought their MMO skills and loot if the gameplay was centered around what you did with them; its only an issue since current MMOs are entirely focussed on the acquisition of them.

As RMT becomes more ubiquitous, I am hoping we'll start to see a shift away from the timesinks and achiever-oriented levels and looting towards worlds that cater more to the socializers, the roleplayers, and the explorers. Maybe we'll even see a shift towards gameplay that is fun enough that its not worth it to skip.

1 comment:

wargoo said...

i am actually a little afraid of this company. i wish they could just try it out on a couple little MMO's first before they just dive in with SOE and funcom.