I haven't written one of these in awhile, but I think I'll start with a topic that's been getting a lot of play on the forums and the blogs: item shops. Now I'm not going to get into whether or not game publishers should be running item shops, and I'm not going to tell you to start or stop shopping at the RMT store.
What I will tell you is that I think a lot of us get it wrong when we claim "I have no problem with RMT when it's limited to fluff items, but when it comes to items that give an edge in combat, no way!"
Frankly, publishers are fine with that philosophy. In fact, they love it when you take that stance. They do, because they know that they can make a whole lot more money selling fluff than the gear you prize so highly. They do, because they know that when it's all said and done, the fluff matters, and it matters in a way that combat gear will never match.
In some ways, the difference between "fluff" and "performance enhancing" RMT is a lot less distinct than we make it out to be at times. For example, take CoH. For $10, you can get a bunch of colorful emotes when changing costumes. Is it going to make your character pwn? No, but it makes you feel more like a superhero if you have the lightning-charged costume switch. There's another feature called "fortune" in the pack. It gives your character the ability to give a randomly generated perk to other players. It isn't a performance enhancing perk, because it doesn't enhance your performance. But it sure is a nice thing to be able to give.
Things like costumes, emotes, and fluff powers aren't going to impress the combat engine. They aren't going to make you a heavyweight with the loot tables. But you see, people don't play these games to impress the combat engine and the loot tables. Instead, we play the combat engine and the loot tables to impress people...other people. You know, the ones blasting LFG in the public areas. The ones we group with in PUGs. The ones we want to get into our guilds. The ones we pwn in PvP.
What the publishers know is that the "fluff" is in many ways more important to players than the "performance enhancing" stuff. We don't min/max and stack bonuses so we can look like dorks. We do that stuff so we can get the stuff that looks good. That's because we play in an environment that is very visual, but also, very prone to boredom. The fluff makes the character exciting, immersive, and entertaining. It makes us feel like we are there and that we are unique. It makes us fun and it's fun to have. A good piece of stat-enhancing loot is like a wrench: it's useful, but it's not very fun. A good piece of fluff is like a crown of glory.
I'd argue that the "performance enhancing" stuff is less unbalancing than the "fluff," because you still have to go questing to get the fun stuff. But what's the use of tools when all the fun stuff is available exclusively in the RMT shop?
People who think fluff is fine to sell in the item store, but stat-enhancing gear is not, really need to think about not putting the cart before the horse. If you think about it, we don't play these games to enhance our stats. We enhance our stats to get the fun stuff that makes us stand out and be interesting to see and interact with.
But if all the stuff that makes us special is available in the RMT store, no amount of min/maxing and stacking is going to make us stand out. Maybe to hardcore stat-geeks, but not to the rank and file. All you'll be is just another lam0r alongside xXDEATHDEALERXx, inSaiNE4Life!, and all the other folks who don't seem to be very interesting to play with or be around.
And seeing as how, ultimately, we would prefer to be a player that people want to be around--one who is fun to see and to play around--is it any wonder why RMT is selling "fluff" rather than the sword of pwnage?
The sword of pwnage is only good for pwning the same boring MOBs. The exclusive cool looking helmet that was given out at "Pwnocon 2010" and is available for purchase at the item store for a limited time only? That makes it all worthwhile!