Monday, August 30, 2010

Nothing Comes Amiss; So Money Comes Withal

I was going to write about interstellar mayhem and space battles of epic scale; or perhaps write a bit of EVE telenovella, featuring manly space men and delectable space piratesses twined together in star-shattering coitus.

But no.

In response to my last post about the goings on in nullsec between Atlas, RUS and Pandemic Legion, Mynxee raised a question about the impact of real money trading (RMT) on the politics and events in nullsec. The question struck something of a chord among followers of The Edge. Emails have arrived with some extensive comments and interesting questions. A response if called for. So, once again I am called upon to hold forth on virtual world economics. 

Thanks a lot Mynxee. 

Now, in order to set up a discussion of RMT as an in-game driver of events, I need to preface a bit about RMT as a phenomenon so we're all on the same page.

RMT is, in essence, the exchange of real world currency for virtual in-game assets. Most people involved in playing EVE or any other popular MMORPG with a virtual economy are familiar with RMT in the form of currency trading. This usually takes the form of a player paying real world currency for in-game currency.

In the case of EVE (as with a number of the larger MMORPGs) the sale of in-game currency on the open market has been forbidden for some time. Players caught so doing can be banned for life from the game. In its current effort to combat RMT (Unholy Rage) , CCP has combined enforcement with partial legalization of currency trading  in the form of PLEX sales. As most readers of Fiddler's Edge know, player may purchase PLEX with real world currency. A PLEX  can then be sold in-game for EVE Interstellar Credits (ISK) and used by the buyer to pay for EVE subscription time.

Despite the best efforts of game developers like CCP, RMT outside of officially sanctioned means persists. In fact, RMT is, at present, a multi-billion dollar business in which some participants make six figure incomes. Given that sort of incentive, and with no real-world consequences if caught breaking the rules, RMT is proving exceptionally hard to control.

The currency trading manifestation of RMT drives a lot of activities that make EVE less fun for the recreational player. Macro mining or missioning, running mining or missioning ships 23/7 using programmed routines, generates a lot of isk for the person running the Macros to trade for real-world cash, but depletes in-game resources and depresses the financial rewards for recreational players.    

But, isk is only one in-game asset that can be exchanged for real cash. Characters are routinely bought and sold via a number of outlets. In countries where labor is cheap, character farms, where rooms of players work long hours grinding missions and training up characters for sale, are common. The same is true of of any purchasable asset in game - from spaceships to POS to space stations to systems to entire regions.

Anything that can be possessed by an EVE character, including the EVE character, can be purchased for real money. And all such activities count as RMT. And in this context, RMT can devalue in-game currency and interfere with in-game market mechanics. Scarce items, such as Titans become scarcer still if the preferred buyer is someone paying Euros rather than isk, driving their price in isk upwards, and drawing more players into the RMT black market.

But wait, there's more.

The sale of services is a part of any country's gross domestic product (GDP). In other words, services are an asset that can be bought or sold. As with real economies, so to with virtual economies. In addition to EVE things, an EVE player's services can be bought for real money.

Think about that for a second:

Lets say you're a really, really good fleet commander - a very Napoleon of New Eden.  Everybody wants you to join their nullsec alliance and lead their fleets to victory.  You're getting offers from everywhere offering you all sorts of in-game goodies to get you to join up. And then someone contacts you, offering you $1000 a month to be one of their fleet commanders. $1000, just for playing a game you already love. And if you're the right kind of player, that sort of money might relieve you of the need to keep a real world job. Your job? EVE Fleet Commander. You can stay online all day long, planning and directing operations while your competition, the poor slobs, can't log on until their work day is over.

The same holds true of any profession in EVE (CEO, Directors of Industry, Spy) where a highly skilled player, free to operate on a professional rather than recreational basis, gives his corporation or alliance a profound edge over the non-professional competition.

Finally, lets talk bribery.

Bribery is no stranger to New Eden. Isk and other in-game assets are often used to bribe other players. If I offer an alliance director 10 billion isk to attack my enemy, he might be tempted. However, if I happen to know that the director in question is a 16 year-old with limited access to cash, or forty year-old guy who can't hold down a job, offering five hundred dollars is going to be a lot more tempting.

Unlike isk, or ships or other virtual bribes, that five hundred dollars has instant utility in the real world.  And, while CCP will allow me to change real money into isk, there is no way for me to legitimately transform isk into dollars or Euros without risk of being caught. The offer of real money addresses the bribe target's real life needs of the bribe target without leaving in-game footprints.

Given its advantages, and without an effective means of detection and sanction, real world money must be finding its way to New Eden. Therefore, it's reasonable to assume RMT is influencing EVE to some extent.

The question is, how much?

Is the influence of RMT on EVE marginal - mere playing around the edges? Is RMT a cancer eating away at the game we love? Or, is RMT a tool in the hands of a malevolent group of so-called "players" - a New EVE Order threatening to turn EVE into a money mill for a few at the expense of the EVE community at large.

We'll take that up next time.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, my dear. You hit all the high points that should concern everyone. I look forward to your next post, because the question of "how much" IS the most important question.