Thought/s of the Day: RMT

Surely the easiest way for a MMO to make money out of a cash shop would be to get a gaming licence and open an in-game casino? Why not take a page out of the book of games that were actually designed around players spending real life money as part of the game?

RMT in WoW

Suzina raised a storm on Kill Ten Rats with her account of gold buying in WoW. She started a new character, got to level 40, wanted dual spec and got sticker shock at the cost. But instead of deciding to defer dual spec until she could afford it, she chose to break the rules.

So when I realized that obtaining 1000 gold by level 40 was unrealistic, I made the decision to purchase gold. I bought about 1000 gold for about ten dollars from the Microsoft of gold-farmers. You know, that company that owns Allakhazam, THOTTBOT, WOWhead and a bunch of other fan sites? They got my ten dollars.

As an aside, I think she’s very unaware of what the gold sinks actually are in LOTRO. As a lifetime player, with plenty of time to amass gold, she might not know how punishing the repair bills can be if you’re raiding or instancing regularly. Or how expensive it is to level a crafting skill. Or how expensive those second age weapons on the auction house look to a new player who could use them while levelling. I could easily imagine a new player in LOTRO facing similar temptations if they were in a hurry to do any of those things.

In any case, I wasn’t intending to discuss her choice (which I disagree with). But rather to note that WoW does offer legitimate RMT. If you buy a pet from the virtual store, you can trade it in game (or at least trade the item code). The barriers to doing this are  to do with trust between players, and the fact that not everyone with lots of gold actually wants another virtual pet.

The second factor could easily be overcome using a scheme like EVEs where CCP sell time cards (for cash) with codes that can also be traded in game. Every player in a subscription game will use a month’s sub so there’s a constant demand. And players who have amassed lots of virtual gold might find it attractive to be able to trade some for game time.

So it would be possible to make legitimate gold buying part of the game. However, it will never be possible to take the illegitimate source completely out of the picture. Never. If a game card sells for £10 and is currently trading for 1000g in game, the black market only has to sell 1000g for £9.50 to make themselves more appealing to any player who doesn’t care where the money goes and just wants their gold.

This is why I’m all for the gambling licence. The genius thing about gambling games is that they make the RMT (or the bidding in other words) an actual part of the game.

New betas, and trends in upcoming games

Truly it is the season of the year for game announcements, otherwise known as the convention season. This weekend will see another slew of hype, trailers, interviews, and competitions trailing excitement across the blogosphere like empty beer cans after a rock festival. Imagine the hype-mobile as a shiny tug boat, the initial wave of excitement as its wake, and then the game itself as a heavy old steamer being pulled along behind.

Anyhow, today sees a couple of new MMO beta announcements.

  • Go sign up here for the Star Trek Online beta. For my money, this sounds to be by far the more innovative and interesting game in Cryptic’s current stable, and will have you playing the captain of your own starship with crew of your own to train up as you boldly go where no split infinitive has gone before.
  • Ysharros and Arbitrary point out the intriguing Initiate Quiz for A Secret World, which also invites you to sign up for their beta. Secret societies and cabals, templars, illuminati, modern urban fantasy … a geek would need a heart of stone not to be even a little tempted by that.

LOTRO have also announced their new digital expansion, The Siege of Mirkwood. No prices announced yet but it sounds to be introducing enough new features that a charge would be reasonable.

A few common upcoming features

So here are a few of the upcoming trends:

Companion Characters — LOTRO will let players train up their own soldiers to fight alongside them in Mirkwood. STO also features crew members who the player can train. Guild Wars made great use of companion heroes and they were so popular that GW2 will probably continue along the same lines. And Star Wars: The Old Republic has mentioned in the hype that they consider companions to be very key to their play also. (I am particularly hoping for droids because you can’t really complain if an actual bot acts like a bot.)

Guilds are the new black — Cataclysm features a new guild levelling system. The Final Fantasy XIV developers were keen to show off their Guildleve system at Gamescom this year, which is a set of portals into instanced content that reminds me very much of the trumps in Amber. Now the FFXIV system is likely to be available from NPC-run guilds and WoW is arguably behind the times in allowing guild levelling but I think that guilds in general are going to be more than just a chat channel in future.

More social networking features — Champions Online gives each of your characters its own web page and lets you spam twitter relentlessly from in game, Blizzard is frantically updating battle.net to allow chat across games too, and if anything they are slightly behind the curve (I know SOE has been providing guild websites in EQ2 and Free Realms for awhile). We’re going to see companies exploring more ways to interact with the games when you aren’t logged in, whether it means tweeting your friends from work in character or using iPhone applications to manipulate the auction house.

More dynamic contentGuild Wars 2 will be introducing an Event system in which Public Quests spontaneously erupt in the game world and players are notified in case they want to go and join in. I think this is potentially one of the more exciting upcoming feature in any MMO and I’m curious to see it for myself. LOTRO is bringing in skirmishes with Mirkwood in which you can grab a few friends from anywhere in the world and go run some instanced and randomised PvE content (it sounds like a PvE equivalent of WAR’s scenarios, which I loved). Blizzard have not yet mentioned how they plan to use phasing in Cataclysm but I’d bet that we haven’t heard the last of it yet.

Different charging schemes — I mostly write about subscription based games, but it would be silly to assume that this is the way things will always be. Devs are realising that most people don’t want to play more than one subscription based game at a time and may be willing to pay a premium for permanent access. We’ve seen how popular the Champions Online lifetime offer was, for example. I wish sadly that WAR had a lifetime sub offer, I would have happily taken it at the time and I think it would have worked out well for Mythic.  RMT is another option that is on the table, and we’ve been seeing more and more different variations on how to make that one work (check out Relmstein’s micro-summary of micr0-transactions). I’m also intrigued by the notion that FFXIV may end up using a similar anniversary system to Japan (you pay for 30 days and that’s for actual time played, not calendar months) so let’s hope the EU and US marketing teams don’t talk them out of it.

More hype, prettier trailers. Still waiting for that Vampire trailer … hopefully tomorrow. I’ll look like a twat if I’m wrong though :)

And last but not least — although admittedly this isn’t a trend — Torchlight has an October release date, so is something else to look forwards to for the heartbroken Diablo fans who otherwise need to wait until 2011 for their next fix.

My New Hobby

My new pastime when bored (and online) is typing names of random fictional characters into Twitter.

No really, there’s a surprising amount of roleplaying going on there. People create accounts under the names of their favourite characters and … go ahead and act in character. I remember seeing this on Facebook and MySpace too. And you’d have to be blind not to see the similarities with logging into an MMO, or any virtual world, under a new character name.

It probably was rife in IRC, webmail and just about any online forum that lets you pick your own name and id when you create an account also. I remember there was once a guy on rpg.net who used to RP being Her Majesty the Queen. I don’t know why exactly but it was very entertaining.

I wonder if wanting to roleplay when given the opportunity to pretend to be someone else is a basic (and emergent) part of human nature — it just never surfaced before because we didn’t have the means to easily take on different identities.