Tuesday, 21 June 2011

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.

11 comments:

  1. I couldn't agree more Seismic.  As life progresses the ability or desire to invest the time that eve requires to setup for the fun stuff is going to mean only the hardcore will continually play it.  So plex is a good idea for me and even made the decision to return to eve a palatable choice.

    As for purchasing vanity items in or out of game (or even items with a superficial advantage) its not a big issue, I won't be doing it, but couldn't care less about those who do.

    I think those who complain too vociferously need a dose of perspective.  Repeat after me "Just a game"....

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  2. Thanks for a very rational post.

    Why all the fuss indeed.

    EVE is a game. I don't own the game. I don't care how CCP makes money. If the game stops being fun I don't complain - I quit. It's as simple as that.

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  3. Hmmm. I'm time poor but earn a reasonable sum, so the plex option is a way for me to get the shinies when RL interferes (haven't used it outside of a gift... yet).

    That said, I'm going to address the unfair advantage comment. We bootstrapped it from utter noobishness to capital ships and a corporation.

    Mistakes where made, absolutely, but we have pride in what we've achieved.

    In fact, achieving the higher threshold skills and item was also the same (before CCP started making things easier).

    Older players will almost always have an advantage, be it in iskies, items or knowledge. But we worked damn hard for it in a lot of cases. Why shouldn't it remain?

    All it is reward for the effort you are putting in... and anyone can put that same effort in.

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  4. What's to stop a nullsec alliance holing up in a station and simply buying spaceships from the Noble Exchange?

    How do you break an alliance who is immune to attrition? There are claims the NC failed because people didn't want to risk their supercaps. What would have happened if those pilots had been happy to lose their supercaps and just buy new ones off the NeX?

    Buying ingame items that weren't manufactured by someone else will break the game. It's not just an internet spaceships PvP game - if you want that, go play a Klingon in Star Treck online. EVE is also an economic simulator and a political simulator.

    If you want to supply yourself with ships using real money, sell PLEX ingame, use the funds to purchase those ships.

    Heck, set up contracts to have certain ships delivered to your base of operations. Establish trade links with industrial corps who can supply you with the ships you want, in the station where you want them, fitted and rigged the way you want them, with all the ammo you need - this is getting what you want the EVE way.

    Buying a new tank and heading off into the field to fight against people who have built their tank ingame is not particularly balanced, but if that's the gameplay you want, try World of Tanks.

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  5. I've played alot of free2play games, and MT's alowing players to buy ingame advantages ruin most of them. I would have argued that buying advantages unobtainable to those who can't afford to buy plex breaks game play in favor of those who invest more money. Then I remember that aura are exchanged for plex, which are earnable with ingame money. So investing more time can match invested money, to a point.

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  6. "Buying ingame items that weren't manufactured by someone else will break the game......"

    Really? For the first couple of years of eve (we were there), most ships were not player manufactured. Didn't feel that different to now. Sure prices fluctuate now and it's nice, but it wasn't broken.

    Pause.... Breathe..... Just a game

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  7. Mara Rinn said it pretty well. You do not need to have MT purchasable ships and modules which bypass the player economy when you can sell a PLEX and buy stuff on the market.

    Perhaps what CCP should add is a tutorial on PLEX, buying and selling on the market, or possibly integrate it into a market tool in the captains quarters so that this option is more obvious and accessible to new players.

    John

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  8. From it's inception PLEX did not cause an uproar in EVE as it would in other games because buying in game currency is not a true advantage in the same way it is an any other MMO. Because EVE is skill based and you can't buy skill points a character that spends a huge amount of money and isk only makes themselves a better target, not a better killer.

    The uproar over the scorpion comes in the form of players that have invested enormous amounts of time and isk into producing ships suddenly finding CCP stepping into the market and placing a cap on prices ... an intervention that has been limited in the past to skillbooks and pos tower/modules/fuels (Although not anymore with PI). I don't think that if CCP wanted to sell the skin graphics effect to an account through the store anyone would complain with nearly the force since that would be an addition to the market instead of an intervention into it.

    Now the overall price levels --- aka spending more for virtual clothes than real life clothing is an entirely new controversy brewing up.

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  9. Heh, now Monocle-gate has kicked off the blogpost title seems a little silly.

    For reference, this article and discussion occurred prior to the Incarna expansion and $80 vanity items.

    Since then it's a little easier to see 'Why All the Fuss'. Even so, I would hope a compromise can be found that can accommodate the needs of time-poor/cash-rich players without breaking the game for others.

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  10. I think that there is a difference between PLEX for various items:
    1. Game time
    2. Vanity items
    3. Game-play changing items

    As you progress from 1 to 3, the potential elasticity of demand for that item grows. In the pure game time case, demand is extremely stable. In the vanity item case, it's more elastic, but it probably doesn't change that much. By the time you arrive at 'anything goes', demand is extremely elastic.

    But the primary issue is that a conversion of PLEX -> ISK -> Game-play changing items is different than and preferred to PLEX -> Aurum -> Game-play changing items, because it actually involved the economy.

    You can think of it as two separate economies that are independant of each other, but people can trade stuff in one economy for something in the other economy with someone else. The supply of ISK is the same, as is the supply of game-play changing items. The only special thing is that sometimes ISK changes hands because of an external factor (much as it would in the case of giving a friend ISK).

    In the MT's for game-play changing items case, you introduce things into the existing economy and change the dynamics. No longer is stuff just moving around due to external forces, but things are introduced due to external forces, which is the difference.

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Lay it on me.