Friday, April 22, 2005


Much Ado About Nothing

Alternative title: Nerds Gone Aggro.

SOE's latest common-sense addition to the game has riled up a few people.

Bring on the lawsuits. Cancel those accounts, but be sure to give the world your Station account name first so that it can be hacked.

It's even worse than when Adventure Packs were announced (I should post on those next).

So what horrible crime against the player base did SOE commit this time? They've announced that they will be putting up new servers with a secure buy/sell mechanism that allows players to exchange virtual items and real money. There will be no effect on existing servers, except that players there get a small window to move to an "exchange-enabled" server when it goes live.

This idea makes a lot of sense to me, and it is something that I included in a game concept I did two years ago. You make the people who want to advance quickly happy, you make the people who want to sell stuff happy, and you make Sony happy because they get a % of the transaction and have fewer customer service problems.

The argument against it is that it is cheating, illegal, and morally wrong. Well, it was against the rules when there were rules against it, but now it is not, at least on the servers where it is enabled. And even when it was illegal, there was a thriving black market that Sony was essentially helpless to fight. For the player who doesn't like his game "polluted," this change will have practically no effect...aside from shunting away the undesirables to other servers.

I see this issue as being similar to the "War on Drugs." In both cases, you have a group of people who want to legislate moral behavior, even if no one is being hurt. "But this will increase bot farming!" is the equivalent of "But drugs make people do bad things!" If you do something that negatively effects someone else and is against the law, you should be punished for that, not for whatever someone claims led up to that.

The anti-exchange crowd seems to think that your motives for playing a MMO must be "pure" for you to be allowed to play. Even though farming is allowed by the rules, you're WRONG for doing it, according to them. If you decide that the sole reason you want to play is to buy and resell items on the market ("tunnel rat" was the EQ1 term), something that the rules allow, people will whine incessantly that it's WRONG. If I decide that I want to put a group together that spends 24 hours a day hitting all the raid-level monsters in the game and then putting the loot up for sale (or giving it to people who didn't "earn" it), the anti-exchange bunch would rail against me and talk about how I wasn't playing the game right, etc. Or maybe I could charge real money for admission to that guild (which has been done, and is within the rules as well--or more accurately, is outside SOE's domain).

All these actions have the same effect as selling in-game items for money; they let people who "didn't earn it" advance faster than people who put in the requisite time and effort and who formed "legitimate" uber-guilds (i.e., guilds that exist to get loot for themselves only). And all these actions are perfectly legal. And the anti-exchange group hates them all.

Why is their reaction so hostile, escpecially in cases where it does not affect them personally in the least? It's because they play the game primarily for the feeling of accomplishment it gives, not because it is fun to play or because they like roleplaying or whatever. When they see other people with much more virtual wealth/status and putting in far less effort, it doesn't seem fair to them and they get upset. The MMO mentality can be summed up in this equation:

Success = time spent + guild quality

When people see others succeeding without putting in the "work" and/or joining the right guild, it makes them angry...because it cheapens the days upon days of "work" they've done to improve their character and get into/put together that elite guild. You see the same attitude from members of top guilds, who resent "zerg guilds" that can accomplish all the same feats without having the great equipment, superior planning, etc. You can't tell them, "it's just a game" because when people derive feelings of self-worth and accomplishment from anything, it is important to them. (This is another problem that results when you make a game to appeal to hardcore players.)

The item buyers and the anti-item-buyers are the same in this regard; one group buys virtual status/wealth with money, the other with time and effort. Pouring extensive amounts of real resources into playing a game doesn't seem like a healthy or well-adjusted way to live, in the first place...and getting upset because someone has a richer/more powerful character than you (on another server, no less) without "earning" it is going to be an exercise in frustration, because it is going to happen regardless of what SOE does.

If you don't like it, there's another game where success = time spent.

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