RMTs have always been a very controversial matter in MMO games. They used to be considered as cheating by most of the playerbase. But more recently the free-to-play games using RMTs as payment basis have become more and more popular, and some big names have started to introduce RMTs also, but in a more disguised way.
What does RMT stand for exactly ? Real Money Transactions. It's primarily about buying in-game money, items or any meaningful advantage in a virtual game with real money, other than your monthly subscription fee of course.
Let's face it. For many people who have a job, or some kind of income, 15$/month as a subscription fee is not expensive at all. It's even pretty cheap considering the time you can spend in a MMO game. When you go out for a night, take a few drinks, or even go for a restaurant, it's likely to cost you much more than that. On the other hand if you spend the evening on your favorite MMO, it will cost almost nothing. Even if you figure in the PC cost you have to change once every few years, your internet and electricity bills, MMO games could be one of the cheapest kind of entertainment you might find actually.
But that's counting without the money some are ready to pay to add to their enjoyment. Recently I was reading free-to-play MMOs boards. They're not free of course, everyone knows that those games are designed so that if you get into them you'll have to spend money one day or another, or you'll be put at a serious disadvantage. I was surprised to read in a post a guy saying he had just spent 2000$ the last 4 months on his game, and being angry by the way because he felt the customer service wasn't responsive enough compared to the price their items had cost him. Another post, about an husband and his wife starting a new F2P (or free-to-play), the guy said that prior to even starting playing the game he had already bought for 400$ cash shop currency to be sure they would have enough during their leveling.
Actually I'm pretty sure you and I would be surprised to know exactly how many people do spend $ for in game virtual currencies or advantages, other than the games subscription fees, and how much some of them may spend. And it's certainly nothing new. The account selling business has been available since the very beginning of MMOs, and those can be pretty expensive (200-500$ and sometime more).
In other words, a MMO game has much more potential money to take from its rich and addicted players than a 15$/month sub, that's for sure.
Until recently all this money went to the gold-sellers and farmers companies like IGE, or the people who were quitting a game and selling their accounts. It has been estimated that the global world business of virtual gaming items and currencies had a 9 digit figure, that is several hundred of millions dollars each year. Of course the game companies started to figure how they could get a part of this money for themselves, and even if they're not that sure yet they want it, their shareholders might not be long to convince them.
Let's sum it up :
1. Many players can afford much more than 15$/month for their favorite MMO.
2. This total money represents at least several hundred millions $ per year on a global basis.
3. Game companies logically want a part of this money, if not the totality.
Do you really think Blizzard needs you to transfer to another server, or to change your name ? It's a service they offer that they advertise on their main site. They wouldn't advertise for something they're reluctant to give you, would they ? No of course, they make alot of money from this actually. And think about it : it is extremely helpful for people who buy and trade accounts. They already spent several hundreds $ to buy this new and shiny level 80 character account, they will certainly need to change its appearance, and transfer it to a new server under a new name. Blizzard doesn't mind at all actually, especially as long as they can sell the new account holder expensive services on the way. That's how they cleverly get a part of the global RMT money, favorizing it in a way, but without giving it any form of recognition, and not impacting their game too much either. Of course alot of other players might be tempted to change their name or server also, and for that Blizzard will gladly take the money too.
Recently they added a faction change service, that means you can transfer from alliance to horde or vice versa, and then select the race you want on the other side provided it's compatible with your class. They also announced they plan to add a race change service in the same faction very soon.
Are those really RMTs one could argue ? Sure they are : they offer something meaningful in the game, against real money. But they don't give an unfair advantage compared to those who can't purchase them, right ? That would be really unpopular if it was really the case, and of course it's still not like they're selling you epic items or leveling services, no, not yet.
But you can look at it this way. Imagine for example you and a friend play characters at the max level, and decide to join some other friends who play on a different server different side at max level too. Let's say you have some cash to spend, and your friend can't afford it. You'll be able for 30$ to switch your character to the other side, and then still will need a 25$ transfer (how petty Blizzard !) to join your new server. Your friend will have to relevel 1-80 all the way long, that will take him a few weeks or months according to his play times. He will then just be in greens while you'll have your shiny level 80 character with all its epics for just 55$, a bargain ! Is it not an advantage you got over him ? It certainly is.
I'm not judging Blizzard or anyone here, just stating facts. I used to play WoW alot. It happened once I had friends playing on a different faction and server. I would have been very happy to have this faction transfer service back then, or to be able to change my Troll mage into a Blood Elf on my main server. I would certainly have moaned about the cost, but I would have liked Blizzard for implementing those nethertheless. And I can tell you, Blizzard would have liked me for buying them too.
Blizzard is not alone on this business, and there are several different models that are being tested. SOE tried to get more than server transfers and characters renames by adding cash shops into their games, selling fluff, average stuff and other small advantages. They got alot of bad publicity for that. They obviously went too far, too fast. Players are not ready to accept cash shops in MMOs having already a subscription fee, and certainly for good reasons. We can't be sure however that this won't be standard one day or another. EVE Online went another successful way (yes, these guys seem to do everything right) allowing people to buy and sell the month subscription for in game money, that's another way to sell in game money for cash money while keeping the economy overall balanced.
What would be the limit people would tolerate right now ? Could Blizzard sell you class changing ? Or the possibility to start your character directly at level 55 like the heroic class ? Those look like the next logical steps if they continue to push their RMT model further. Would people really complain, or would they praise Blizz for that ? As someone ironically posted on the mmorpg.com boards recently and he made me laugh, 'Blizzard could add the RMTs they want, people would still defend them and say they're more polished'. Personnally I think those things are meant to come, it's just about time.
One thing is sure however that noone is going to argue about. If for one reason or another, your favorite MMO company could not charge you a cent for any of the extra services or transfers, those would never have been implemented in the first place. Instead they would be giving you very logical and well-thought reasons why they think all of this would be really bad for the game ;)