14 November, 2006
Over at Broken Toys, Scott rants about the evils of EA and manages to work in a clever denunciation of RMT while he’s at it. You are a sly one, Mr. Jennings. At the center of his arguments against both EA and RMT is his assertion that, “Simply because if someone is paying money – the measure, by almost any criteria, of the value of a person’s time in our society – to avoid part of your game, that part of the game is not fun.”
Time to start the argument!
So, what got Scott in an uproar? Well, the fact that EA wants to make more money; no wonder he’s such a perpetually angry man. Well, okay, it’s the way they want to make money: you can pay to unlock bonuses you might otherwise have to spend hours unlocking in the game. How very capitalist of them!
To put this in perspective, remember that we’re game developers. We’re reading this news on our souped-up gaming rigs (my $500 video card works better than your $150 “budget” offering) or our cutting-edge laptop (it was worth the extra $1000 for a computer under 2 lbs/for the blazing fast mobile processor/etc), and we spit out our ramen (all we can afford to eat after buying our computers) as we read that some people would rather pay a bit of money rather than play 40 hours in a game! Why, this obviously indicates that people hate our games, why else would they pay more (we ask as we wipe the ramen broth off our $800 widescreen monitor)? People never pay extra for something they value, especially not impermanent virtual items (now pardon us while we see how our employers’ stocks are doing)!
The supreme irony here is that we’re talking about a golf computer game in the EA example: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 97. You know, golf: the game where you can always spend more money to try to improve your game. If anything, really, EA is giving you a more authentic golf experience by trying to squeeze a bit more money out of the player. (The other irony here is that later that day Scott posted the Communist Manifesto set to a cartoon backdrop. Does no economic system make you happy, Mr. Jennings?)
So, is the problem that people don’t want to play the game? No, rather, it’s that some people don’t have the time to play the game. It’s easy for us game developers to look down our nose at people who can’t hack it and brag about playing 16 hours per day. We sometimes forget that while we can log onto our games of choice, that gets most people fired at other jobs. Hell, some of us are realizing that we can play as many games as we used to due to limited time.
So, what is happening here? People with more money and limited time are given the opportunity to pay instead of being required to play. Don’t want to dedicate hours of your life to unlocking “big heads mode” in the game? Spend a few Microsoft Points and you’re good to go. Don’t want to spend the money? You can spend 40-50 hours hitting little balls into little holes with bent sticks.
“But, Brian,” you retort, “what happens when they take the next step and make you pay for content that you can’t earn in the game?!” I believe those are called expansion packs and are already pretty common in the industry, or so I’m told.
But, now we get to RMT in online games. Surely that’s the work of the devil! Well, I hate to disappoint some people (I’ve always loved you, Amber, I hope we can at least be friends), but there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with RMT. (OMG, did he just go there? BREAK OUT THE PITCHFORKS AND TORCHES!)
Now before you break out the pitchforks and torches (TOO LATE!), let me clarify: it should be up to the developer if they want RMT in their game or not. For example, we forbid trades in Meridian 59 through the EULA because we believe it is harmful to the game. The game’s design makes it so that gear isn’t worth trading, anyway. But, no, it’s not a design issue here. One of the smartest designers I know tried to develop an eBay-proof economy which is still full of holes. And, I haven’t seen anyone pick up the gauntlet and try to refine this design in the two years since this was published. Maybe that should be a future Weekend Design Challenge. :)
What is happening here is pretty simple. We make these games that require a significant time investment in order to advance. Some developers tell us that’s by design. But, some people have more money than time. So, what do they do in order to keep up with their friends? Well, they buy character advancement. Duh.
The esteemed Mr. Jennings seems to think this is unnatural, and even comes up with a convoluted simile to describe it:
It’s like picking up a DVD of the Lord of the Rings, and then paying an intern/illegal alien/teen runaway/whoever you prefer to exploit to constantly skip straight to the battle of Helms Deep.
The first problem is, of course, that the simile is wrong. It’s better to say that you were running late (long day at the office) when your friend started watching LotR. So, you paid someone a bit of cash to watch the first bit and tell you what you missed when you get in. Okay, still a bit strange, but rich people are different than you and me, okay? They want to hire illegal immigrants to raise their kids then complain when they have to pay employment taxes. But, the point is that the first part of the movie didn’t bore you, you just didn’t have the time to actually watch the movie due to your busy schedule even though you still wanted to watch it with your friends.
The second problem is that this happens all the time. One of my friends is a huge LotR fanatic. He can quote chapter and verse of The Silmarillion and even knows the difference between Finwë, Fëanor, Fingolfin, Finarfin, and Fingon off the top of his head. One time I saw him reading The Fellowship of the Ring and saw him skipping around a bit. I thought this was strange behavior for a fanatic, but he explained that he was skipping around to his favorite parts. Does this mean that ol’ Tolkien wrote a boring book and my friend felt compelled to skip the boring parts? Nope, he had read the book so many times he just wanted to get to his favorite parts. After playing online games for over a decade, I’m sure some people feel the same way about the mundane parts of modern games as well.
Finally, I think that we’ll start seeing more RMT-like business models in the future. I’ve previously posted that the subscription business model is doomed, and that we’ll start seeing more microtransaction type business models. Honestly, it’s the only business model that makes sense for a smaller scale game. It allows people that can’t be happy unless their catassing to play with people that have grown-up jobs.
Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong. Just no death threats. :P