Monday, March 28, 2011

Trading Time for Money

Brian Green posted an interesting comparison of the online stores of Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online. He also posts a look at the F2P shop of Puzzle Pirates, which he sees as close to the "ideal" cash shop. I just want to examine one element of that shop:
3. A market for exchanging microcurrency and in-game currency. To me, this is the brilliant part. Love playing the game, but don't have cash to fork out? You can go to the market and put an offer in to buy doubloons (the microcurrency) with your pieces o' eight (Po8). Have some disposable income, but not a lot of time to go farm Po8? Go to the market and put in an offer to sell doubloons for a certain amount of Po8. The players set the market so this isn't just about dumping currency into the game, and the doubloons still have to be bought from someone, so this is something more games should pick up on.

I don't think this sort of trade is a good idea. To me, it seems like the people who are "good" at the game will end up playing for free with all the perks, explicitly subsidized by those players who are not good.

Second, from the companies point of view, the people who are "hardcore" about your game are also more likely to spend money on your game. But now they're not spending money on the game, but they are spending more time in the game. It feels like you are unnecessarily cutting yourself off from your greatest source of support.

Like, if you look at WoW, this kind of setup would probably mean that all the raiders would sell gold to the lower-end people. Raiders would be the ones playing for free while the casuals subsidized them to an even greater extent. That doesn't really seem either fair or wise to me.

I think my aversion to these schemes started because I used to play Magic Online. You had to buy packs of cards to enter tournaments. But if you won the tournaments, you won packs of cards. So the good players would "go infinite" where they never actually had to pay for the game, while the losers did all the paying. It struck me as pretty distasteful, and rather disheartening.

Now admittedly, most MMOs don't have that level of competition built in. The competition is more indirect. But it still strikes me as unfair to let the strong get a free ride at the expense of the weak.


  1. > To me, it seems like the people who are "good" at the game will
    > end up playing for free with all the perks, explicitly subsidized
    > by those players who are not good.

    It's only a small step to a situation where everyone pays money to subsidize content that's only played by the few who are "good" at the game.

  2. God, I hated that system in Magic Online. Busting out the wallet and buying the unopened packs was $10-$15 per tournament. You could lose your first match getting paired with the uber-player who was going to win anyway, and basically have spent $15 for 5-10 minutes of gaming; if you think about it, that happened to 50% of the participants every match. I then remember getting to the "finals" in a tournament, nearly 2 hours after I started playing, and almost had to concede right there because it was way later than I had planned on playing for the night.

    I had avoiding MMOs up to that point because I couldn't stand the thought of buying a game but never owning it, and essentially renting it every month. After a night where I pumped $50 in 15 minutes into Magic Online for virtual cards to play 10 minute games, I decided there and then that $15/month was probably not so bad after all.

  3. @Azuriel

    The basic thought comes back to F2P vs Subscription. Both need to make a profit - so it's either F2P but make the game favour those that has lots of time or willing to open the wallet.

    Or it's subcription - where you are paying for a decent experience that applies to everybody. And they have to keep it "fun" for you to keep subscribing.

    Oh, and then there are the unethical companies that charges both a subscription as well as a store - I'm looking at you Cryptic/STO

  4. Nothing is ever really fair in MMOs. Some people have more time and/ or less commitments, some are more easily able to arrange regular schedules, some are elitist micromanagers, others want to chill out, some have more disposable income, some are better players etc etc And some of these categories overlap randomly.

    eg. we assume that people with more time for farming would have less money iRL but that needn't be true, nor the opposite.

    I do think a system like this would flail in a game like WoW where so many people take it so seriously. It's inevitable that (just like the AH in WoW) some people would learn to game the system legitimately and in an environment where gold wasn't just an afterthought, would use this to profit iRL.

    But it's possible that Puzzle Pirates is a more chilled out environment where it could work as intended. (Also I think Puzzle Pirates has a regular sub model on a different server for people who want to do that instead.)

  5. Is it really so wrong for those who are good at something to be rewarded over those who aren't? Especially in a F2P, if you are a poor player (or play very rarely) then there is always the option to purchase something to "catch up". Why does it matter who benefits?

    And in MTGO, if you bought $15 worth of cards to enter a tournament, you still left with $15 of cards. All you lost was your small entrance fee. If you pulled a rare card you could profit anyway, or at least get enough for another tournament. You still have cards worth X amount of dollars, online or not.

    It seems these days that everyone feels entitled to the same rewards as the top players, no matter how little time and effort they put into a game.

  6. Just to add, what I like about this system is that hopefully it should cut out gold farmers.

  7. I like the system.

    I'm a "raider", but that's about the extent of my activity in WoW. I play two times a week, and I raid with my guild. I generally don't login other times. I have very little gold when I am on this schedule, so I'd be a "raider" who would be purchasing gold with real money.

    Other times, when I have more time to play, I am not so gold poor. But for now, it'd be awesome.

  8. Krisps, the issue here isn't "rewarding the good players", but "rewarding the good players with out-of-game assets." This is not the same area of debate as say, people complaining that raiders get better gear than soloists.

  9. @Kring, that may very well be true. But note that you are arguing that the strong players should be paying "more" than the weaker players. Certainly not less.

  10. Yes. I agree with your post.

    And I wonder if WoW should charge more to the "good" players in some way or another. Because the players who are "not good" subsidize the content for the players who are "good".

  11. My biggest concern has very little to do with gameplay or balance. If there can be established a solid exchange rate between virtual and real world currency, sooner or later some enterprising lad in gov't will try and tax it. Right now, getting in game currency is rather like winning poker played for matchsticks. Make so that you can convert in game gold to real world currency and expect to have to declare it as income, at the very least when you do exchange it, and quite possibly when you just have it on some forgotten alt's balance. Might end up in Alternative Minimum Tax at least.

  12. Eve has a system like that, and it would take about 20 hours of effort at a reasonably advanced level to afford a months worth of game time, now if you pay 10 hours a week that might not be too bad, or if you earn $15/hr in the real world you can use 1 hour of your time to pay for a month. If you choose to use the in game money you have to factor in what you will be missing out on that you would be able to use that in game money on.
    It's a rule of thumb in Eve that everything has a cost. Something that is overlooked by most WoW players. Just ask a group if it's cheaper to make your own flasks as a herbi/alchy or to buy them. The secret is, on average, it costs the same.

  13. Great discussion. I'd like to raise the idea that Royalty guilds provide aspiration to lower guilds. You can think "one day, maybe I'll be that good" and that has an economic value in that you're willing to subsidise the better players just for the chance at becoming one of them.

    I like the idea of P2P RMT, at least until tax gets involved. My main concern would be economic control - EG presumably rates would crash before every expansion as everyone tried to ditch their in-game, soon-to-depreciate assets.

    It's also easy to imagine some kid who's just moved out of home blowing his food money on an F2P. I ran up a £500 phone bill for MUDs when I was 16!

    I believe Kring's depiction is economically unrealistic in the presence of competition. The proof is that Blizzard/Activision have taken such steps to open up raiding, while attempting to maintain the prestige of hosting Royalty guilds through hardmodes. They're very good at enlightened self-interest.

    It's great that Azuriel's experience of gaming has made him think more about relative costs. I try to think of nonessentials in terms of entertainment per hour. Beer comes out very badly on that scale.