RMT (Real Money Trades) are a big topic in blogs again — as they are every few months, it seems — but I think most people miss the key problem with unregulated RMT.
Not too long ago, EverQuest 2 was overrun by gold spammers, and it was very annoying. Players started hypothesizing that SOE didn’t take extra steps to stop these spammers because it earned SOE money: the spammer buys an account, spams a while, gets banned, and then has to buy another account, which means SOE earns more money each time they ban a spammer. Except players forget that these spammers aren’t nice folks who legitimately buy accounts. In SOE’s case, the most egregious spammers bought all their accounts with stolen credit card information — info taken from people they made real-money trades with.
So here’s what happens: some random stupid player buys $30 worth of gold with his credit card, then one day logs in to find that his account had been banned. And then he gets his credit card bill and sees that all 40 of his accounts have been banned… except he only owned one account. He then calls his credit card company, the charges are reversed, and SOE doesn’t get a dime — in fact, they lose a good bit of money in transaction fees and wasted time spent dealing with the problem.
MMO companies don’t like to talk about how much credit card fraud occurs in the industry, as you can probably understand, but it’s a problem for everybody. Most big-time gold sellers are not in the US, and we don’t have a lot of ways to control them. These people have also shown a propensity to not play nicely. It’s in the game industry’s best interest to wipe out illegitimate gold sellers in every way they can.
For the record, I don’t much care one way or the other whether players can spend money to get gold. Most of the hand-wringing that game designers do about it ruining the challenge of the game is a big load of hooey. Sure, there are some dangers involved if RMT becomes extremely rampant, but a decent design team can keep everything working just fine. However, I have been against RMT in games I’ve been involved with, and for a very practical reason: a large and vocal portion of the player-base hasn’t liked it. And in general, if my players don’t like something, I don’t want it in my game.
But even if my target audience was okay with gold selling, I would still work to stamp out illegitimate gold sellers, and I hope every MMO does, too. Otherwise, MMO’s will earn a reputation as a pit of fraud and larceny.
Whatever your stance on real-money trading is, I hope we can all agree that unregulated RMT’s should be stamped out whenever possible.