The great RMT debate

It's always a pleasure reading up on topics getting bounced around the MMOGblogosphere. One of the recent rigorous back-and-forths centered around the announcement of the Live Gamer service. We discussed the 'legit' RMT outfit and the reluctance of companies like Blizzard to take part, but other folks took the ball and ran with it. Raph Koster, well known designer and the big name behind Metaplace, opined that the announcement made a lot of sense as eradicating Real Money Transfer (RMT) is essentially impossible.

Blogger Tobold's view on the subject was quite different, as he offered that RMT was basically just another design problem to be overcome. His site is often quite World of Warcraft-focused, and he offered several possible solutions Blizzard might adopt such as making gold 'bind on pickup', or by changing the Auction House to a 'blind bid' system like that seen in City of Heroes.

Raph responded by offering that Tobold was essentially asking designers to remove the 'Massive' element from online games. He argued that the only real way to prevent RMT or power-leveling would be to disallow players from conversing, grouping, trading, or interacting in any meaningful way.

That's the point when the fit hit the shan. The back and forth began, and Raph let loose what may be the most comprehensive article on Real Money Transfer I've ever seen. Make sure and read that one, and read on for a breakdown of the blow-by-blow back and forth.

Tobold took some extreme umbrage at Raph's assertions, and states that the designer was trying to 'discredit him' by putting words in his mouth. He clarifies that he believes removing asymmetric trades from a game doesn't require the removal of grouping, guilds, and all of that other stuff we associate with online worlds. He points to the words of veteran MMO commentator Darniaq, who offered that RMT "exposes the underlying truth of mass acceptance of inequality."

Raph responds full-bore, unloading a massive post onto his site in response. If there's one article you read amongst all these it should be this one, which basically describes many of the the reasons that RMT exists. He ends by noting that he basically just doesn't care about the asymmetry of online worlds anymore. Inequalities exist, and that's something to be embraced, not railed against. He notes Cameron's article on the possible spectrum of worlds as a great example of this; all worlds are not either completely free or completely locked down. Moorgard steps into the argument as well, noting that games should be about giving players meaningful experiences - something to strive for despite the inequality.

Tobold responds by offering a thought experiment for his readers. He outlines three possibilities: a 'low-RMT' World of Warcraft, a 'high-RMT' WoW, and the current WoW where RMT is not allowed by the Terms of Service but persists anyway. He asks commenters to weigh in on what they'd like to play. The comments came fast and furious, but don't seem to find some kind of consensus ... other than 'RMT is bad'.

Raph responds with an even more radical idea: removing stats from gear altogether. His view is that RMT exists because game companies require players to rate their effectiveness based on what they're wearing. The most effective method to get rid of RMT would be to make gear a matter of choice, rather than a requirement.

That's essentially where the discussion ended a few days ago, though Craig from the Voyages in Eternity site offers up a post underlining the strong feelings this discussion raises. The issue of cheating, a common charge levled against those who engage in RMT, was also touched on by Common Sense Gamer Darren in sort of an off-shoot to this discussion.

It's a thorny issue, that's certain. On the one hand there's certainly a school of thought that free markets should let themselves play out; players certainly seem to engage in RMT despite their protestations that it's immoral and illegal. If everyone that swore up and down RMT was a bad idea didn't partake in it, there'd be no market. On the other hand, companies very much have a right to decide how their content is used. The legal rights development houses have in these situations aren't yet outlined by a court of law ... but that's just a matter of time. For the time being, then, it's down to individual choice whether or not you engage in gold buying or selling.

So, I put that question to you: Do you think selling or buying gold on the open market for real currency is something that should be allowed?

This article was originally published on Massively.