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GDC 2010: Fighting RMT

Jon Wood Posted:
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The Game Developers Conference always gives reporters like those of us at MMORPG.com the opportunity to meet up with a large number of developers at the same time to conduct interviews and take part in demonstrations. So much so that we occasionally lose scope on the fact that this show is actually about developers getting together to share their successes and failures with one another all in the hopes of making the games industry that much stronger.

It is with that in mind that we sat in on a lecture given by EVE Online’s Lead Economist, affectionately known as Dr. Eyjo. While we’re most used to hearing the good doctor (PhD, not MD) talk directly about the game’s economy, today he was talking about Real Money Traders and the various strategies that CCP has been using to combat them.

The talk began by looking at three basic questions about real money trading:

  1. Why does it exist?
  2. Why go after it?
  3. What is the best way?

The answer to the first question is disturbingly simple. Players want stuff and to get stuff, they need money. Real Money Traders exist within games because of basic supply and demand. When there is a demand for something, there will always be someone that steps up to fill that need.

The answer to the second question is a little bit more complicated, but no less obvious to people who spend a lot of time playing MMOs. First and foremost, it breaks the gameplay. The most popular way for sellers to get their hands on the product that they’re peddling is to use bots to farm or abuse exploits. Neither is a case of the game being played as intended. RMT also hurts the in-game economy. By bringing in extra resources and currency, it simply changes the relative scarcity of items, and thus alters their price. Then there’s the fact that RMT dealers also often engage in illegal activities including credit card fraud and hacking. Finally, and possibly most surprising at least from a player’s point of view is the fact that RMT dealers actually put a noticeable strain on a game’s resources and systems both human (Customer Support) and hardware.

EVE Online, we were told, combats these RMTers in a number of ways. First, by trying to work toward taking the demand away by adding 30 day pilot’s licence extensions, otherwise known as PLEX. PLEX is basically an EVE Online 30 day time card which can be purchased either within the game, or directly from CCP. These PLEX codes can then be bought and sold in-game using in-game currency.

The result is that players who have a lot of time to dedicate to the game and to earning ISK (in game currency) could use their hard earned money to buy more game time, thus essentially playing for free while at the same time, players who might not have as much free time are able to use their real money to earn ISK in a much more structured and sanctioned way. The key point here is that in this way, the players who were creating the demand for the products that are made available by the RMT dealers are able to satisfy their demand and the game’s economy is left unscathed.

EVE Online, as a game that relies incredibly heavily on a player driven economy is especially interested in fighting RMT in their game. To do that, they needed a good battle plan, and the tools to make it work.

In the end, the team at CCP began a program that they called “Unholy Rage,” a campaign designed to take the RMT element out of their game. To do this, they had to dedicate GM, research and software resources to the cause. This allowed them to research and analyze behaviour patterns, create tools to detect and remove RMT elements then to continue to monitor and analyze the data.

In the Fall of 2008, CCP took this program for its first test drive, banning over 3,000 accounts. On June 22nd, after revising their strategies, CCP banned a further 6200 accounts. Since that date, they have handed out over 30,000 bans under this system. It should be noted, however, that many of these 30,000 bannings were repeat offenders who had to be banned multiple times.

In the end, CCP has seen their CPU dropped 30% for the 2% of the population  that was banned, players now have better access to and experiences in systems that may have been completely overrun by farmers and bots, and the economy has been strengthened.

So, the next time you ask yourself if companies are really doing anything to get rid of those pesky bots, know that it effects their bottom lines to have those folks in there and they want them gone just as bad as you do.   


Jon Wood