At the end of the year, the blogs were alive with the sound of Real Money Transactions. Not that the blogs were charging money, but lots of the game developer blogs were talking about the subject. I’m not going to provide links because it was pretty much all of them to some degree, though Raph and Tobold has the biggest intertwining discussion.

My take on RMT… I don’t like it because of the way it changes player behavior. For an example of what I’m talking about, I’m actually going to step away from games, because the behavior I dislike is not specific to games.

Tickle Me Elmo.

The year that toy came out it carried a manufacturer suggested retail price of $28.99. However, the willingness of people to pay (reportedly) as much as $1500 just to have one of the limited production item in time for Christmas changed the market place. Without the lure of profit, the lines down at the toy store would have been kids and moms and dads, maybe some grandparents. Instead, stores also had to contend with people looking for a quick buck instead of a toy. That year, my roommate was working at Toys R Us. He pulled a few of the Elmos off the truck for himself, bought them, and then sold them for $600 each. All in all he got about a $3400 profit on a $130 initial investment. I would have complained, but it meant he’d start paying his share of the rent and bills.

Now, I realize and understand a parent’s desire to get the “it” toy for their kids. But having an inside man at Toys R Us that year, I later learned that after the holiday season, they had plenty of the Elmos at the regular $28.99, and if your child is going to throw a huge tantrum and hate you forever because they didn’t get a specific toy under the tree, the problem may not be the toy. Maybe.

RMT brings out some of the same behavior from players in video games. A player who would never sit in one area farming gold or potion reagents might do exactly that once they learn they can earn a nice supplementary income from it. I’ve even been tempted by it myself. During periods when my wife has been between jobs, I’ve tried to convince her to spend her days farming money or power leveling characters so that we could sell them. Ultimately, we never did that because I always came to realize I was succumbing to the “Everyone else is doing it, why can’t we?” attitude. I didn’t want to farm gold, but my own game had been affected by gold farmers from time to time that I wanted a piece of the action.

It is, in a way, just like the Elmo toys. Sure, a player could wait, he doesn’t need 100 gold right now, he could adventure around and the money will come, the game is designed that way. But if he’s willing to buy that gold from someone willing to eschew adventuring for farming, RMT is going to exist.

So, if you wanted to, how could you get rid of RMT? Many people have suggested things like limiting trades and making items unable to be traded… but really, even then you can’t entirely stop the RMT. If everything in the game was not dropable and you couldn’t trade anything at all, full account sales would increase. The farmer wouldn’t farm gold or items, he’d just level and outfit characters and sell the whole kit and caboodle. Really, though, seriously, if you wanted to absolutely remove RMT from your game there are only two ways to do it.

  1. Make it a single player game.
  2. Make everything (levels, money, items) available to every player for no effort.

Option 1 defeats the purpose of an MMO, and also doesn’t completely end RMT since someone out there somewhere will be trying to sell his strategy guide and/or walk through. Option 2 puts you on the field with First Person Shooters – there is nothing to gain from play, so the game play itself must be the draw.

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