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GDC Panel: MMO Player-to-Player Sales with Sam Lewis

Garrett Fuller reports on this hot-button panel

Sam Lewis ran a seminar at GDC for MMO Player to Player sales. Sam is currently working on a game for Cartoon Network although he could not give us any details. His history stems from Sony Online Entertainment and working on Star Wars Galaxies. Discussing player to player sales in MMOs can get pretty dicey especially when a large room of developers starts pitching out ideas. Everything from gold farming to buying characters or accounts bounced across the room with very strong opinions.

Three main concepts were introduced on how to best control this growing tide of business for MMOs. The first concept was called the “magic circle” which basically means the game does everything in its power to stop the trading and sales of game property. The second was allowing the company to get a piece of the action but not stopping the trading that goes on. Almost like a taxation of business between players or companies. The third concept which basically took over the entire discussion was the company that controls all player to player transactions and reaps all the benefits.

Going back and forth with topics on how best to boost revenue, the “Korean Model” of online game trading was introduced as the mainstay for our concept game. This entails producing a free game and not charging players a monthly fee. However if players want certain small upgrades they are charged a fee. For example, there is a new hat on the market that makes your player look like Robin Hood. Being a huge Robin Hood fan you quickly run over to buy the hat and head off to the woods to fight the corrupt government. By the way, your account was just charged $0.25 for the hat. Many small upgrades like this will charge players throughout the course of a month. The concept of charging for disposable items was also introduced. Potions came up as an example and fear ran down my spine. I did not want to think of my bill if I was buying potions in WoW with real money.

The flaws exposed in this system ran the circuit of possibilities, from legal issues to kids charging way too much on their parents credit cards. In the end the direction of player to player sales was not pinned down. From the mood of the crowd it looks like developers and especially business reps will start to look for ways to control or contain the money that can be made in trading. It was agreed that the real money was impossible to be ignored and it looks like we will be seeing more company involvement in the future. In the end what happened to our concept game we were creating? Everyone stood up and agreed that no one would play it. It was far too money driven. Interesting paradox considering these were the same people who pitched the ideas. Thanks Sam for running a wonderful discussion about a very serious concern in MMOs.

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