Purity is Overrated

There was a bit of back and forth and back and forth recently between Tobold and Raph on the old RMT debate. What it comes down to, for me, is whether real-money trading is ultimately the worst of all possible evils.

Such a question would have seemed absurd to me not so long ago. I have been of the opinion that RMT is a disgraceful de-heroification of the noble MMO, in which achievement should be measured by personal and group effort.

The reality, of course, is far less romantic.

To say that RMT is due to bad design is an oversimplification. RMT is the result of a certain style of design mixed with a successful subscriber base and human nature. That is to say, when advancement is measured by the accumulation of items, levels, or money, a demand for those status symbols is created. And if there are means to exchange those forms of advancement for other things of value (which is typically done through systems intended to encourage socialization and cooperation), you have player-to-player trade, and eventually RMT.

As much as the gaming purist in me wants to join Tobold in giving a middle finger to the old fogeys of game design, I agree with Raph that the desire to eradicate RMT is not worth the hit to the social aspects of the game. His conclusion:

Fix the game design. Trading isn’t broken, your incentive structure is.

I think Raph’s phrasing is deliberately vague for good reason: there are many ways to address this issue. The majority of MMO players, though, probably think along a well-worn line. Find new ways to control trading, or impose other economic restrictions, or take a more active role in banning those who break the spirit of the rules.

None of that is radical enough.

A better solution is to think completely outside the box. You don’t have to take a hammer to the good parts of player trading in order to knock out the bad guys. You need to create a totally different type of incentive that transcends levels or gear or gold.

This can be done while still encouraging the accumulation of all three of those things, as well as a myriad of other MMO staples. But those need to be trumped by something even bigger… something not gated by RMT bait.

Of course you’re not going to completely stomp out the existence of RMT with such a system, but you will achieve the larger goal of rendering such transactions far less meaningful.

We can apply all the game-isms we want, but ultimately RMT exists because MMOs are not just games; they’re hobbies, and people enjoy spending money on their hobbies. That’s true whether you’re a train collector, a golfer, a cooking enthusiast, or an MMO player.

I have been a fairly die hard toy collector, and I’ve been frustrated at how unfair it was that professional toy dealers constantly beat me to the stores to find all the rare figures. The fact that I wanted them for personal enjoyment while they were just trying to make money disgusted me. Of course, they only made money because other people who had the same hobby I did were willing to pay money for someone else to do the legwork for them.

That’s what RMT is: consumers paying someone else to do the legwork for them so that they can enjoy their hobby. Is it “pure”? Who gives a shit? It’s human nature, and you aren’t likely to change it.

Instead, MMOs need to give players something unique to aspire to and enjoy that RMT can’t touch. This is what has to change about game design instead of trying to crush behaviors that encouraged the growth of MMOs in the first place. Let’s not trash the good parts of this burgeoning hobby just because some elements of it can be twisted into something unsavory.

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