Lum the Mad wrote over at both MMORPG.com a column about the difficulties of stopping RMT. I think he sidesteps the issue a lot though. He talks about the practical nature of stopping it, but the problem is not that, it’s in the ultimate design of the games in the first place.
The problem is not limited developer resources, the problem is using the economic aspect of an MMO as gating content to keep players playing. When I played FFXI, it wasn’t hard to level at all, even during the hardest periods of the game in the COP era. What was hard was trying to afford necessary gear, due to the scarcity of components or pieces. The best pieces leveling were either buyable, or farmed and bind on pickup to a player. The best gear happened to use components that were rare, and thusly could have a high cost, even when not monopolized.
This was designed to slow leveling down by forcing players to spend time making gil to afford gear. In FFXI very little alternative gear existed that was anything close to your expected loadout in terms of stat boosts. If you went cheap, you went gimp. Very gimp, to the point of being useless in parties. So leveling time slowed down tremendously as players farmed or made money in various ways to outfit their characters with gear, spells, and food. Again, I’m sure this was a conscious design decision, made to slow progress.
RMT quickly stepped in. While they were negative because they tried to monopolize spawns and tried to drive prices to establish a monopoly, the reason why it was so hard to root them out was because players hated the gating system gil provided, and were very willing to spend real life money to shorten it. It’s like hiring a maid to clean your house. You exchange money to shorten time.
I never have used RMT, but a lot of people did. Despite constant bannings, RMT persisted until SE took steps to reduce the impact the economy had on the average player. Rare crafting components dropped more frequently, and in other venues to prevent monopolization. Basic gear was introduced that enabled many players to gear less expensively and still contribute. The focus of the game went more towards bind on pickup gear from endgame instanced events over open-world spawns. In short, they reduced the power of the economy to gate players, and replaced it with other means like time.
While Lum does talk about how hard it is to enforce, he missed the real problem. Players know how hard it is to enforce; I’ve counted hundreds of ISK spammer bots in the newbie channel in under two weeks of play. We know developers resources are limited. But if that is the case why do developers spend so little time in the design phase mitigating the effects that cause RMT? Like:
- Everything buyable with currency: Some things need to be off limits from buying or selling, even using components. The best gear should be obtained through play as a sign of skill, and not be transferrable or sellable.
- Money used as timesinks or gating: If players have to slog through making money to get to the fun stuff, they will subcontract it to RMT if the grind is too great. The particulars of the grind and the RMT point varies by player, but it’s much easier and safer to use time, which cannot be resold.
- Making the game vulnerable to unfair arbitrage: A lot of the grind may be player driven, as they buy and resell goods at markup to make money. This makes a few players rich, while making the economic game a huge grind for others. There always should be an option to obtain specific pieces for a player in a reasonable time, to prevent them from turning to RMT when they realize it takes 3 months to raise crafting high enough to be able make something that sells for multi-millions constantly at AH. If you don’t want to do so with all pieces, include inferior, but still useful. FFXI had assault point gear which enabled people to earn good armor pieces for average players with a decent time investment, and it provided an option against much costlier goods.
- Not making an economic game optional, and high-end. This means make it clear that if you want to be a tycoon and show achievements for it, it has to have a high enough bar to entry that it will be cost-prohibitive for a person to use an RMT Service. We have raids for endgame players, and something like needing billions of gil to make a castle would bar a lot of people tempted from using RMT to fund it. in FFXI relics originally were this, as gil was scarce and the cost to owning one would put buying the gil in the thousands of dollars range.
The practical difficulties of banning it are significant, but shouldn’t that mean that it should be tackled, or at least given more thought at the design stage? I mean, Aion’s use of Kinah to buy back EXP loss they had to have known would have been a sign for RMT, but they went ahead with it anyways. You really need to minimize the power currency has on your players, and I think then the administrative aspect will become much easier.