Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Rise of Prerequisite Timesinks and Illicit RMT

Last week, Suzina at Kill Ten Rats set off a 100+ comment firestorm with a post admitting that she had purchased gold from a goldseller to to unlock the dual spec feature on her new WoW character.

In the keylogger-infested era that we live in, it is hard to separate the action itself from the social consequences of the illicit RMT trade - consequences that have driven prominent WoW bloggers like Rohan and Big Bear Butt to call for "legalization" of gold sales in the last week.

Setting aside that aspect of the debate, illicit RMT (whether the purchase of gold/items/characters, or services like powerleveling) occurs because of incentive design. Is the increasing rise of illicit RMT - and the outright fraud that makes it possible - really just a sign of a growing market? Or, is there something about the games themselves that is DRIVING the rise of RMT?

One-Track Gaming
Imagine a game in which the only activity is grinding. For the sake of discussion, it doesn't matter if that grinding is solo or group, just chain-pulling mobs or running quests, or even fighting duels against other players, so long as ONLY ONE of the above is supported. Further, assume that the rewards for that one form of grinding, be they random drops, quest rewards, tokens, or whatever, are sufficient for the player to continue to be effective as they advance. What does that environment do to incentives?

In the long run, we can expect that all of the players who continue to pay to play that game are doing so because they like the one form of gameplay. Further, because the activity is self-sufficient - you don't grind for a few hours and then have to go farm gold for repair bills or new gear - all rewards are effectively cosmetic. A sword that does +10% damage is irrelevant if you're able to grind just fine without it. A mount that makes you reach content faster might make the player happier, but they'll ultimately be able to continue their one form of gameplay just fine without it.

In short, this environment makes illicit RMT somewhat pointless. The only thing to be gained by paying a gold farmer or a power leveler is not having to do something that the player enjoys. There would need to be some form of mentoring system to help players catch up with their friends, but other than that the only people who have a reason to want to get an edge are doing so for cosmetic reasons - e.g. "I want to be the top of the damage meter". Players who go that route fit relatively well in the traditional view of "cheating".

Supporting Multiple Playstyles
Of course, the modern MMORPG does not offer merely a single form of gameplay. Instead, major games tend to support all manner of playstyles - solo and group PVE, raiding, PVP, crafting, etc etc. Personally, I think that this is a good thing, because it makes for a richer community and a deeper economy. Unfortunately, the developers making the game get paid based on how much time we spend playing (whether it's by the month, by the hour through some item shop consumable, etc). As a result, they're loathe to allow players to skip anything.

Want to do PVP? You can expect to lose unless you go out and gain dozens of levels in PVE content first. If you want to do arena matches with a pre-made group, you'll then have to farm up the requisite gear in non-premade battlegrounds.

Want to raid with your 25-man guild? Go get those levels first, then break up into five groups and farm single group content for gear and/or literal access quests for content. (Case in point, Ferrel's got a post about how his guild views a certain questline solely as something they must do for access to the zone they actually want.)

Want to craft? Often, this means gaining the levels so you can harvest (if crafting is not outright dependent on adventuring), and then running dungeons for recipes, materials, or both.

In each case, the player is expected to do something that is not what they want to do, as a prerequisite to what they're actually interested in.

In that environment, the portion of the players who have an incentive to cheat is much larger - the thing you'd be paying someone else to do (farm gold, power level your character, farm honor, etc) is something that you actually DO NOT ENJOY doing.

The Prerequisite Timesink Pushes Players Towards RMT
All of which gets us back to the case of Suzina. In modern WoW - post automated group finder - dual talent specialization is no longer a cosmetic upgrade in the manner of excess DPS or non-combat mounts.

Before patch 3.3, the only reason to ever have a low level character specialize in tanking or healing would be if a player was only using that character to run instances with a static group. The cost of not having access to a more solo-friendly DPS spec was simply not worth the low chance of finding a group for dungeons. Everyone just soloed to the current expansion and learned (or attempted to learn) their group roles once they got there.

The random group finder lowered the difficulty of forming groups to the point where it actually makes sense to play as more of a solo/group hybrid. It's actually feasible to swap back and forth on a regular basis now... only the cost of resetting your talents before and after every dungeon run would be prohibitive. Access to dual spec - unless you're all DPS all the time and don't mind the associated lengthy queue times - is actually a prerequisite to the playstyle.

(Aside: A number of commenters at KTR assert that dual spec at 40 is pointless because you have so few talent points at that level. I wonder how many of them would be happy if their PUG healer zoned into the instance in Shadowform and did not have a second spec.)

In the end, buying gold from illicit RMT is still cheating to the extent that the player is refusing to abide by the rules that say you either earn the gold by some "legitimate" method (such as using Auctioneer, which is getting closer and closer to being an unattended AH bot by the day) or you do without. As games add more and more timesinks that serve as prerequisites for things players have to do, however, they shift the motivation for this kind of cheating. Motivation leads to higher demand, and high demand is the reason why this issue is not going away anytime soon.

10 comments:

Kiryn said...

I would be perfectly happy if my healer zoned in as shadow and didn't have a second spec. My last druid healed in boomkin spec all the way to level 80, only respeccing once she started to run heroics.

Leveling instances are extremely forgiving. You can do them with three or four people. I don't care what spec my healer is. They could probably not even spend their talent points at all. As long as they're casting healing spells on the tank, the group will probably do fine.

Inquisitor said...

Priests have so little effective AoE before 75 (mobs die too fast to multidot, Holy Nova spam eats too much mana to be sustainable) that the very fastest runs (BRD, 18 bosses, under 90 minutes, pure PuG, 50 and below) were ones in which I offered to swap with the healer, since my DPS wasn't up to it.

Other than the bumps at 59 and 69, where instances jump a tier of gear, but players haven't quite yet, levelling healing isn't demanding - just take three stacks of the best water you can get at, and hotkey it.

Shintar said...

I also have to disagree with the notion that dual spec is in any way needed while levelling, in fact I made a post about that only a few days ago.

Juzaba said...

I was going to chime in saying that speccing for your tanking/healing isn't super necessary in the leveling game, but I think others have already gotten there.

However, I think the general point still stands. Players are encouraged to get Dual spec to make leveling easy on themselves. Plus, they're directed to get dual spec via in-game mail at level 40. However, the cost is too prohibitive. I agree that the current set-up encourages illicit RMT.

Guin said...

I agree that not having a dedicated healer spec is fine.

I did have one run where the druid "did not train" regrowth or rejuvenation. Or at least the only spell they would use was healing touch. That one was touch and go.

I have been using tanking specs in LFG. Could I tank with non-tank specs, but tank gear? Probably. Do I want to try? No. And especially not when I don't know if the healer is going to be in a healer spec (or be good at their role).

sam said...

what I find so interesting in the flame wars RMT so easily generates is that the same people attacking those who buy gold usually use 3rd party add-ons and think nothing of it.

I suspect the add-ons compromise far more people than the gold selling. That and weak passwords or the affinity to make it easy an used the same password for all accounts.

Gevlon said...

My girlfriend and me 2-manned!!! leveling instances 4-5 levels below!!! the boss. And we were both pure DPS.

Do you really believe that heal/tank spec is mandatory?

I leveled my first char (druid) on 30/0/30 or something like that. Could solo and heal.

Dual spec is need only for serious raiders/PvP-ers. And of course to those socials who want to look like one.

Guin said...

I prefer doing the instances with five people. Steam-roll through them, sloppy play, tanking lots of mobs.

There is usually one good dps and a half decent healer (who probably doesn't have the capability to heal a heroic).

The only way that works (from my perspective) is with a dedicated tank spec.

Having said that, there is no reason you can not also do quests with a tank spec. It is definitely not as bad as trying to quest with healer spec, and I did that on my warrior before LFG came out.

On a side note, I am absolutely tired of questing. Even LK content on the horde side that I haven't seen yet, I am not that interested in. But LFG is still a ton of fun for me.

Tesh said...

When a dev creates demand, the market fills it. It's as simple as that, and stupid timesinks (and gold sinks, which are timesinks) that support the sub model inevitably lead to this sort of demand.

Mari said...

Excuse me late comment, was browsing older posts, and I'd add my cross on the list.

"Aside: A number of commenters at KTR assert that dual spec at 40 is pointless because you have so few talent points at that level. I wonder how many of them would be happy if their PUG healer zoned into the instance in Shadowform and did not have a second spec."

I wouldn't fancy if the healer stayed in shadow or moonkin form and refused to use any abilities except the ones allowed in that form. But if we're talking about allocating talents, not playstyle...

Before dual spec it was a commonly accepted fact that people level in dps specs and your generic shadow priest, balance druid or elemental shaman can heal every levelling instance in old Azeroth and Burning Crusade areas. Many of those people were unwilling to heal, true. But if they agreed to heal, it worked.

What did the dual spec change? That people started to expect their tank and healer to show up in "proper specs". Same as they "expect" their random daily heroic tank and healer show up in tier 9 - 10 gear, because it's accessible. If something is impossible or very hard to get, people don't expect everyone to have it.

Is dual spec commonly accessible? Yes, if you already have a level-capped character, and most players have.

Asking "how can a new player pay for that dual spec" is same as asking "how can a new player pay 40 gold per item for a level 40 plate". Players with "mains" are always at advantage, and in majority.