Special Debate: The Secondary Market and MMORPGs
Brad McQuaid (CEO of Sigil) and Roger Kipe (formerly of YourVirtualSeller) square off
Editor's Introduction: In this special debate, we secured two people from polar opposite ends of the industry to debate the ethics of the Secondary Market in the MMORPG industry. Brad McQuaid, the CEO of Sigil and Exec. Producer of Vanguard, has been a vocal opponent of the secondary market throughout his career. McQuaid made his legend in the industry by creating EverQuest. Roger Kipe is a long time MMO-player and for a time owned and operated YourVirtualSeller, a secondary market service. The two square off in this special debate.
Brad McQuaid: The secondary market can be good for the average gamer if they want to purchase items or characters as opposed to earning them in-game. Many people want to have these items or characters but either do not have the time to earn them and/or the desire to put the time in necessary to earn them. By using the secondary market, they can get around the otherwise necessary time invested. That said, given that these games are about communities and not single player games, the actions of a single player can and does affect other players - the adage 'no man is an island' applies. Therefore, if the game wasn't designed for purchase of in-game goods or characters via outside means (in other words, buying them from the secondary market), they are doing something that harms that game as a whole. Their action in and of itself may not have immediately apparent negative effects on the game, but over time the more people who take part in the secondary market, the more the game is harmed as a whole.
The secondary market is bad for the industry as a whole unless the game was designed to allow for the secondary market. The majority of MMOGs in their EULAs do not allow players to use the secondary market. Even if a game was designed to allow for using real world money to purchase in-game items or characters, the company or companies responsible for development, maintenance, and hosting of that game typically want to (rightfully) control these real-world transactions. SOE's Station Exchange program is a good example. Quite simply, these other 'companies' who profit from real world transactions are doing so illegally and unethically. They are making a profit that is usually against the wishes and EULA of the game. I have no problem with a game designed for real world transactions (even though Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, our MMOG currently in development and beta is not designed for this). But like I said, if a game is designed for this, the people who own the game should be the ones controlling these transactions and profiting from them if they choose to do so.
Roger Kipe: The Secondary Market is good for the average gamer and is the only way many of the average gamers can participate on an even footing with gamer zealots. It also allows the same zealots to earn some extra cash by selling off the items that they have earned through their time spent in game. The argument that "no man is an island" that some apply to this question is made useless when you take into account that more and more games are adapting themselves into having ways to give their customer bases a safe and secure method of selling or buying the items they have earned in game. If this activity was as harmful to the game or the community then surely the developers of the game would not willing introduce this destructive action into the game themselves?
The secondary market is good for the industry. I believe the growth of the secondary market has made game makers aware of a need the gaming community has had for a long time. Now that need is being addressed and it will likely be the end of the Secondary Market. If the question is "Is the Secondary Market harmful to gaming companies" then I would at least see the point Brad is trying to make.... He seems to be saying that the Secondary Market is harmful to the gaming companies because it takes away their control and income. However I do not believe he is considering the tens of thousands of subscription based accounts that are paid for month in and month out by the companies that work within the Secondary Market or the initial purchase price of the games they buy and re buy after every session of banning.
Brad McQuaid: No, my main point was not that it was bad for the gaming companies, but for the game communities - the players. If you create an MMOG in which earning items in-game is an important part of character advancement such that you feel a sense of accomplishment when you do earn that item, allowing others to simply purchase that same item in the secondary market cheapens the experiences of the person who did earn it in-game. It lessens his feeling of accomplishment and discourages him. This doesn't make many/most players feel very good about the time they then put in, which then leads to being upset with the game itself. No, it might not bother everyone, but I am quite certain it bothers most people.
Like I said, if the game was designed and advertised to be about the secondary market, that's one thing. But if it wasn't, it harms the community and needs to be stopped by those whose responsibility it is for the health of the game. Even when the game is meant for real money transactions, if their EULA and intent is that they, the developers or publishers, control these transactions and not third party entities, then those third party entities are not only in violation of the EULA, they are stealing money from the developer or publisher.
So any way you approach it, if the game is not meant for real money transactions or if it is, but these transactions are meant to be handled by those who own the game, a third party individual or company is both harming the game as well as, in the latter case, stealing money.
Roger Kipe: I will address both of your arguments:
I had a friend that once built a boat. It took him a great deal of time and was all he thought about for as long as some of his friends could remember. He celebrated with all of his friends when he finished the project and took everyone out to see how great the ship performed. He was as proud of himself for the work he had done as for the ability to show it to others. We saw plenty of other boats that day on the lake and some were much more beautiful and clearly worth more money but this did not deter my friend from gleaming like a beacon as he knew it was the work and dedication he had put in that made his special and it did not matter how the others had gotten their boats....
The morale of the story is, that you should derive your since of accomplishment or joy from the work you put into achieving something. If you constantly judge it or yourself against others you will never be satisfied with the results.
As far as companies in the Secondary market stealing money, if that were true then the gaming companies would take them to court to make them stop. You are trying to make a very complicated argument into something that it is not. The bottom line is if the EULA's were enforceable in a court of law to stop companies from buying and selling in game goods, then the gaming companies would take them to court and it would all be over with. I believe the real reasons this never will see the inside of a court room is because the gaming companies have been told by their lawyers that it is very possible that the courts will decide that the player that invests all of the time and effort into a game is in fact the owner of the goods he earns and has every right to do with them as he wishes.
Brad McQuaid: It is true that many people don't care what other people possess, but I would consider them in the minority.
And I also think that you may well see some lawsuits on the horizon.
Roger Kipe: I agree with you Brad, there will be lawsuits in the near future. In fact when I was at E3 in 2006 I talked to many people who were telling me of the lawsuit that was just decided in the Korea. This was a case of a man who bought a sword in game and afterwards it was deleted somehow. He sued NCSoft (as it was Lineage 2) for his sword back. The court decided that he was the one that put all of the time and effort into the game and thus he was the owner of the property. It was the court decision that he would be given back his sword. I would expect that here in the US it will follow suit soon.
In closing it does not matter if a game is designed with RMT in mind or not, the transactions will continue to take place. It is simply a matter of time before the gaming companies choose a RMT company to work with so that they will get the piece of the market they deserve.