Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fighting RMT with inflation?

SOE CEO John Smedley gave an interview to Massively on SOE's new Station Cash system. On the topic of EQ2's new paid experience potions, Smedley says:
"I also believe firmly that this will eventually get rid of farming and those things. Or at least it will drastically decrease it. Here's a good example why: Instead of paying some power leveler, buying an experience potion lets you do it yourself a lot faster. Where's the harm in that? That's our thought on it."

Now this is certainly about 95% PR statement in defense of a move that has not been entirely popular. Still, let's take a closer look at that for a minute.

Paid exp inflation to combat power leveling
Presuming that you actually use the entire duration of the potions in question gaining exp, and ignore any increased rate of exp gain as a result of leveling up sooner and moving on to more challenging content, the three levels of exp potion in EQ2 are:
- 10% bonus, 4 hours, costs $1 (One bonus hour's worth of exp for 10 hours of play and $2.50, though you'd actually have to buy 3 potions and have half of the last potion still in effect)
- 25% bonus, 4 hours, costs $3 (One bonus hour's worth of exp for 4 hours of play and $3)
- 50% bonus, 2 hours, costs $10 (One bonus hour's worth of exp for 2 hours of play and $10)

It's striking how you can "pay" for your accelerated exp with some combination of cash and time. An extra $7 gets you the bonus exp 2 hours faster with the top end potion, compared to the middle tier, while $7.50 saves you 8 hours over the cheapest potions. I suppose the middle one is, in some ways, the best deal if you're looking to buy your way out of time spent /played.

Then again, for $10, you could probably bribe the neighborhood kids to go grind on your account for two hours, and get double the benefit of even the best potion. Somehow, I don't expect this to make a huge impact in the power leveling market.

Daily Quest Cash to fight Gold Sellers
I don't recall if Blizzard ever said anything quite so directly on the topic, but the thinking is that the massive amounts of money introduced into the game through daily quests are helping to decrease demand for gold bought with real money. At level 70, your daily quests were worth around 100G/hour, and it looks like the level 80 ones are worth double that. This has driven some inflation, but not nearly as much as I would have expected - gems, enchanting materials, etc, are all priced low enough that I don't even consider farming them myself when I can buy them for the gold from 1-2 daily quests.

Maybe the increased ease of obtaining gold is helping, but, overall, I suspect that Blizzard's efforts to combat sellers directly (and the increasingly bad reputation the latter are getting for obtaining all of their product via compromised player accounts) are doing more on this front than any decreased demand driven by daily quest cash. Then again, creating all these daily quests may actually be increasing the extent to which some players feel that earning gold is a grind that they would rather not be doing with their limited in-game time on.

Addressing Demand Is Good
I and others have long maintained that gold sellers, power levelers, etc, cannot be beaten by attacking the supply side alone. Companies that want to stop these transactions have to improve the respective grinds in their games so that players don't feel that they must get to the end of the road BEFORE they can do what they actually want to do in the game. Allowing various forms of inflation to the economy/exp curve is certainly a start, but it's going to take a lot more before the "report spam" button is no longer a mandatory feature for MMORPG clients.


Anonymous said...

The 'report spam' button/command is always going to be a mandatory feature, no matter what you do. =)

The form and content of spam may change, but its existence is, sadly, a given.

Tesh said...

The demand exists as a byproduct of game design. If your game has gold sellers, it's because you designed it in. It may be an unintended consequence, but it's also very predictable.

You can either fight it, design around it, or monetize it in-house via a dual currency model. What's bizarre to me is that companies would rather absorb the diminishing returns of fighting the demand that they created rather than working around it another way.