The other day my buddy came by to pick me up for one of our "middle of the night/early morning" supermarket runs. These are the events that happen two or three times a month when he needs to run out of the house after hours for some reason (food, smokes, breakfast for the kids, whatever) and, since I live right around the corner happened to be online at the time, get swindled into going along for the ride.
At the store, after being followed around for half an hour by the night manager whom I am sure was convinced that we were there for some early morning shoplifting, I noted that he made it a point to avoid the automatic checkout when going to pay for his groceries. Now he didn't have a lot of stuff, some bacon and eggs for the breakfast he had planned to make for the family, a can of coffee to sustain the energy levels of late night grinding and daytime employment, and some cat food his wife's cats, which he hates. But in spite of this, and the urging of the checkout lady who I am sure did not want to open her cash register for us at that ungodly time of the morning, he still made it a point to have his items rang up and paid for in the traditional fashion. His reasoning?
In his own words... (Minus the expletives)
"I don't mess with those things because they steal jobs from real people. It's not like my food is getting any cheaper because of it and the store is still saving money big-time on the hours that they don't have to pay a human being to stand here and check out my food."
Now I'm no economist. I also do not, nor have I ever, worked in the supermarket industry. Still, I couldn't help but feel like there was a ring of truth behind his statement. Are we supposed to believe that without the automated checkout machines in the stores, that our food would cost some astronomical price that we would be incapable of paying? And even if that were so, would it not be better to be able to get a job (perhaps at the supermarket) in order to afford it if there were the case? It's a debate but it drives home a point that I want to make about the MMO community and the developers and publishers of MMO games.
We have to stand for something.
For a long time now there has been a heated debate over the effects of gold and character selling on MMO titles and their patrons. The publishers are against it for several good reasons.
A. The process shortens the life cycle of the title, which was created for the sole purpose of generating "long-term" sustained profits through a variety of tactics such as levels and diminishing returns.
B. It can often present a liability (in the case of the unscrupulous dealer who turns around and takes their account back or does not come through with the gold) that the players then expect the parent company to address via their own, paid, customer service representatives.
C. They don't get a cut.
D. It upsets the portion of the player base who has worked very hard to achieve that which another person has purchased with cash.
The community itself is divided against it as well for reasons of their own such as...
A. See reason D. from the previous section.
B. It makes progression at the higher levels much harder when several of your guild members have no idea how to play their characters.
C. Left unchecked it can end up drawing a class line where many who can not afford such activities may end up left out of endgame content simply because they can't keep up.
D. (And don't lie about this Americans) Most of that money is going out of the country.
Fairly good reasons by anyone's standards it is no wonder that the topic is of such a heated debate. At the same time however, I would feel safe in betting that there is not one of us who has not said to their self or to someone else "it would be so cool if I could figure out a way to get paid for the time I waste playing these games". I would even go so far to say that it is exactly because we can't do so, without fear of retribution or punishment, that many of us stop playing altogether. After so many hours sitting in front of a computer paying for the ability to turn algebraic inequality formulas into equality ones using cartoon characters one simply can not justify the time. And what do we do it for anyway? It's surely not so we can log off on that final day wondering where the time, money, and other important things that we might have let lapse in the interim went. We don't play so that we can log off on that final day wondering why we did it either. We play for the fun! The dang experience is supposed to be FUN!
So here's my pitch.
How much more fun would any of you reading this be having right now if, for the players, you could have the possibility of cashing in on the time you spend playing these games once you were finished. And, for the developers, you could capitalize on what is currently an underground market that is possibly affiliating you with any number of unsavory characters?
One possible solution might be insurance. Stay with me now. What if, as a provider of the service, publishers set up systems that supported the open trade of goods and characters for the simple cost of renewing the subscription and any particulars that may be involved with the transaction at the point of sale? What I mean is that instead of setting up your own auctions like EQ2 did and possibly ending up being accused of or held liable for the crooked practices of others, you simply added a feature to your login screens that would allow one player to complete a transaction with another player without you, or your customer service, having to get involved.
I'm thinking that it might go like this. Player A wants to sell their character. They publicize this using whatever channels they choose and work out the details of the transaction on their own. They then enter the login feature and flag their character as being sold for $X amount of dollars which is where it will remain until the paying party enters valid payment information. Upon receipt of this payment information the feature then forces the paying party to...
A. Change the name of the character (as to not allow the new player to sneak into guilds and whatnot in the guise of the other person).
B. Renew their subscription (as your cut) to help pay the cost of development and maintenance of such a feature.
C. Pay a set transaction fee. For the cost of maintaining the "paypal-like" system that would be required to complete the transaction.
D. Send me $1 per transaction for thinking up such a good idea! (come on, it's only a dolla!)
Transactions for gold could be charged a percentage fee not to exceed anything stupid or unreasonable(as these would represent far more transactions) and you, the publisher, could pretty much wash your hands of the whole ugly mess. Hey! If you were feeling really altruistic and really wanted it to work for everyone you could even code in a magelo-like interface that the purchaser could look at so that they could make sure that they were getting what was advertised when they bid on the character.
I'm not saying to try and go all the way and dictate the entire process. I had to say that because I know that there is always some greedy fool who looks at things like this and says something like that out loud without realizing that the more you put your hands in it, the more you will be held accountable for anything that might go wrong. All I am saying is that by facilitating this insurance plan you could not only build more industries out of this one you have going now, but afford many gamers, who otherwise might have to stop playing in order to take care of their real life priorities, the ability to keep on playing and having fun while simultaneously increasing the life cycle of the product by allowing people to enter the game at whatever point they wish instead of asking that age old question "Is it too late for me to catch up?".
Heck, you could even cushion your profits by selling botting programs for those who would want to attempt such a thing full-time. At the end of the day, if you make your games the right way, the real player will always have a higher quality character to sell anyway so, who cares? At the very least you would be giving back to the community that supports you.
Most importantly though, this would allow the locals to do what the foreigners (no offense to you guys, gold farming was probably the best money making idea anyone in the industry had) have been doing for years now without the fear of being criminalized by the makers and often the players of the games that we all love to play.
Check it out. I still use the automated checkout when I go to the supermarket. You have to pick your battles and I am going to leave that particular one up to my boy and whoever else shares his sentiment as it is my belief that they are going to get you one way or another anyway. Maybe I'll mature one day and see that light. But on this topic, I can clearly see the writing that is on the wall and I can say for sure that if we don't get a handle on this issue sooner than later, pretty soon it is going to slide into that category of things that we all know is ultimately going to cause the MMO industry to eat itself. At least, that is how it is in my understanding.