Friday, March 13, 2009

Vanguard Allows RMT Sales, and Warhammer's Free Retrial Requires a Credit Card

I just learned via MMOQuests that Sony will now be allowing Vanguard players to sell their items, characters, and in-game cash on an official site.

I'm sure many of you have opinions on whether this is selling out, devaluing the legitimacy of player accomplishments, or a win/win in which Sony gets a cut of transactions that were already occuring in exchange for preventing fraud. (To my knowledge, there are no publicly available subscriber numbers for Vanguard - for all we know, the game is losing money and this is a last ditch effort to break even before closing it, which would lead to a very different view of the announcement.) I'm not tremendously interested in wading into that discussion at the moment, though you all can feel free to have at it in the comments if you'd like.

Bringing real world cash into in-game incentives
What I do find interesting is the same question Stargrace raises - what does this mean for people who are playing the game and have no interest in buying or selling stuff? As she points out, anything and everything that players want in-game can be traded for whatever real-world dollar value the market will bear via an officially sanctioned site. That's a real world incentive for all manner of unsavory activity - for example, mining ore while someone else fights the enemy that was guarding it or ninja looting the items that dropped from the boss. People do this stuff anyway when there's just a digital item at stake, so the incentive will be even stronger when there's real money involved.

Normally, games rely on social consequences to keep some of this stuff in check. A player who loots a guild's bank might end up on a server blacklist. Those consequences are irrelevant to a player who has already decided to sell the whole character. Sony will now guarantee that the character you're buying will come with the shiny new sword, just as advertised, but let the buyer beware. It may be you who not only pays a higher price in cash for the newly well-armed character but ALSO deals with the social costs of whatever its former owner did to obtain it.

I hope Vanguard's devs have done a good job with their incentive structures, because this could very well be the first time a change that angry forum posters say will kill a game actually succeeds in doing so.

(There is a second angle to this story in that the entire game is included in the new RMT program. EQ2 has a pair of servers that allow similar transactions, but those were newly created to house RMT characters - i.e. players on those servers knew exactly what they were getting into. Vanguard players who had no intention of ever doing any RMT may now find items they need posted at inflated prices by players hoping to sell the proceeds for cash. SOE's steady introduction of RMT into existing subscription games has been more of a down escalator than a slippery slope, and one wonders whether this trend will harm the studio's brand name at some point.)

A catch to Warhammer Retrials
The Ancient Gaming Noob points out that Warhammer's retrial signup requires that you enter credit card information. Mythic's official position is that this is for verification and convenience, and the cynic in me says that they do indeed want to verify that you have the means to pay and ensure that they have convenient access to your wallet.

In principle, they are not supposed to be charging credit cards until the 10 "free" days expire, but some anonymous (and thus unverifiable) commenters are claiming that they were charged immediately. Maybe they're just trolls, but this is a PR hit that Mythic could have avoided entirely by not requiring billing information for a supposedly free transaction. Requiring billing information to use the "free" 30 days that come with a boxed MMORPG (note: box costs more than 30 days' subscription) is an industry-wide bad practice. Requiring billing information for a re-trial is something that I have never heard before, and really squanders the good will that their creative retrial campaign generated.

If the game has actually improved, players should be lining up to re-enter their billing information the second they run out of free retrial time. To my admittedly over-critical mind, requiring the billing information up front suggests that Mythic does NOT believe free re-trial users will stay, but is hoping that some will forget to cancel and be billed anyway. Does Mythic really want "better re-cancel my re-trial so I don't forget" to be the very first thing I think about when I sign up (just as it was the first thing I had to think about when I bought the game in the first place)?

3 comments:

DeftyJames said...

Never heard of Vanguard but I agree; it would kill the game for me. How does this model now seperate itself from the micro-transaction model. In essence, you have taken a subscription model and exchanged for a micro-transaction model. Not a pure micro, to be sure, but one nonetheless.

arbitrary said...

I agree on almost every level. I was thinking about going back and having another look at Vanguard since I only played it for the free mnonth, but the whole RMT announcement has put me into a funk about it. I don't really want to deal with RMTs until I can't escape them, and currently I can.

I think MYthic's PR is very messed up and I can't think of any real reason to require credit card info before a free period of play. It doesn't make sense and they should be doing everything they can to show off the changes in 1.2, because it is fun at the moment again (until I have to go back to the damn endgame).

mbp said...

Delete Comment From: Player Versus Developer

Blogger mbp said...

I have never played Vanguard but I did play a bit of EVE and they have have allowed this type of legally sanctioned trading of money and characters to happen for quite a while now.

Even uses quite a clever method where players don't give each other cash just game time cards. The only person who gets real money of out the deal is CCP the game developers.

This hasn't spoiled the game one bit. Players just use the system or leave it. Many industrious players use the system to subsidise their play time while others are happy to spend real cash to subsidise their on-line adventures.

Mind you EVE is a hard core pvp game where stuff gets blows up. People don't have the same attachment to their equipment when they know they are probably going to lose it in the next battle.