Micro-Transactions, Why All the Fuss?

"I knew there was more to you than money."
- Princess Leia, Star Wars: A New Hope

Over the last few days, I've watched the EVE community contort and writhe with incandescent rage. The EVE forums are a cacophony of indignant doom-mongers, enraged naysayers and contrary smart-arses, but as I understand it that's pretty much business as usual on the forums. However there are some voices that stand out amongst the babbling with some incisive and well-reasoned arguments regarding money matters. I've been trying to step back and gain some overall perspective on the issues.

Two fires burn at the heart of the current eruption, one is the micro-transaction controversy, the other the 'contributor tax' third-party commercial licence charge proposals. I'm pretty sure that CCP realise they dropped a major clanger with the commercial licencing and I'm hopeful that it will eventually evolve into a concept that will be beneficial to and supportive of the community. But it's the fervour surrounding the micro-transaction [MT] proposals that puzzles me.

The general player consensus on MT has always been that it should only involve vanity items (ie. of cosmetic value only) and not allow a player to purchase any kind of in-game advantage.

But doesn't PLEX already do that?

Is PLEX Evil?

Pilot License EXtensions have been neatly sewn into New Eden's economy for some time, providing a system that allows a player can purchase an item with real money that can then be sold for in-game ISK. This creates a mutually beneficial process whereby the player with lots of time can use the fruits of his in-game labour to pay for his subscription by purchasing PLEX. Whilst this PLEX may well be being sold by a player who might not have the time (or the inclination) to perform the in-game tasks required to make ISK, but does have disposable income to spend on his hobbies. Both parties get what they want (and CCP profits).

On the flip-side of this argument, it could be argued that the PLEX system gives a player who is affluent in real-life [RL] a big advantage over the less wealthy player. Whilst this is true, isn't it also the case that a player with more available game time also has an advantage over one who has only one night per week?  It does strike me as odd that the EVE community would cry foul at this particular issue when their beloved world is celebrated for it's unfair aspects; non-consensual combat, asymmetrical warfare, scams, thieves, infiltrators et al.

Devil's Advocate

Before the recent controversy I assumed, without having given it much thought, that I opposed micro-transactions along with the majority of the community. But now I'm not so sure. Part of me considers it cheating, but on the other hand the nature of EVE is that it can easily start to feel like an obligation, with endless administrative tasks and responsibilities eating into limited gameplay time. If a system exists that allows me to bypass that and simply take part in the aspects of EVE that I enjoy, where's the harm?

It was pointed out to me by my corpmates that a PLEX costs less than a round of drinks which would all have been inbibed within an hour. So an exciting evening of spaceship carnage resulting in a personal loss of one-billion ISKs-worth of ships would still cheaper than an evening out.

The Noble Exchange

With Incarna comes a new market for vanity items to enable customisation of the human avatars and their environment. Items on this market are to be purchased with a new currency called Aurum. Aurum is only obtainable by trading in a PLEX. Items purchased with Aurum in the Noble Exchange can subsequently be resold for ISK. For some this is may be an attractive new feature, for others it is irrelevant.

The crux of the recent anti-MT outcry was due to CCP's plans to make a custom-skinned Scorpion battleship available on the Noble Exchange. The issue was that a standard Scorpion was not be required as part of the exchange, meaning that a battleship would be introduced to the world without having been built with in-game materials. Quite what impact this would have on the market I couldn't say, but it does seem to fly in the face of the player-driven economy of which CCP is so proud.

However, I wonder if making ships available via another means could have a place in EVE. Consider the time/convenience factor mentioned earlier, in high-sec space it's taken for granted that everything is available just a few jumps away, but in null-sec the markets often seem to be very limited. There is already a Sovereignty system that enables the development of Strategic, Military and Industry indices. Why not a Trade one, too linked to the Noble Exchange? I'd certainly consider paying RL money to avoid the headache of having to regularly organise the bulk purchase and shipping of hundreds of different items from high-sec. That way I could enjoy the PvP experience that I came to null-sec for without having to spend umpteen man-hours arsing about with spreadsheets and mind-numbing administration.

Fresh Blood

Before the Bitter Old Vets slaughter me for selling my soul, consider how daunting EVE is for the new player. Although Incarna provides a beach-head for new players attracted to the more user-friendly interface, beyond the new and revamped features EVE Online remains bewilderingly complex and impenetrable. Like it or not, the demographic of EVE players is widening and given the possible influx of curious new players from different gaming backgrounds, EVE could stand to benefit from making it's various gameplay aspects more accessible than many parts currently are.

If EVE Online is truly a sandbox with limitless choice, then players should be able to buy things with real money if they so choose, providing it can be achieved without breaking the economy.

I can't help but wonder if some of the protests are less about the principles or the money and more about the fear of losing an advantage.