The Tattered Notebook: Gifting -- 'tis the season?

"Mom! Stop driving through the pink lights! Only go through the green ones!"

I glanced over at my two kids and bit my tongue. I was in the middle of speeder bike racing and was having a little trouble navigating the course. In the split second that I turned away, my bike steered off the course, ran halfway up the snowy embankment, and lodged itself in a campfire. I was already dead last, but now I had the pleasure of watching the other racers lap me, not once, but twice.

I was playing Clone Wars Adventures, the latest free-to-play game from Sony Online Entertainment, and I was experiencing the full effects of the generation gap. I know, you're probably saying, "Wait a second, this is an EverQuest II column!" And you're right, but this week, I'd like to take a look at something that both Clone Wars and EverQuest II now have in common -- gifting. Read on to see why EQII players aren't necessarily viewing this latest game change as much of a gift.

This week, EverQuest II added the ability for players to gift items from the marketplace to each other. Essentially, players can now spend real money on cash-shop items and have them sent to other players through the in-game mail. In theory, it's a nice idea -- players finally have a way to send a little cheer to a favorite friend. But so far, it's been met with mixed reviews. Some players love the idea and have been asking for a change like this for some time. But some have complained that people will take advantage of the system by auctioning marketplace items for in-game coin. Others cynically wondered when we'd start seeing raid loot sold for marketplace items. Personally, I doubt we'll see a lot of that in open channels, but I do think there's a good reason why so many feel uncomfortable with marketplace gifting. To understand why, we need to look at Clone Wars Adventures.

Like EverQuest II, Clone Wars allows players to gift items from the store to other players. But that's where the similarities end. The Clone Wars economy is completely different from EverQuest II's. There is no direct trading between players. The only items available in game are through the shop -- there is no crafting, no loot, no dropped items. And every single item in Clone Wars is cosmetic, whether it's purchased with Station Cash or in-game credits. The entire economy is based on gifting.

Clone Wars is also a very different game from EverQuest II, and I'm not just talking about the target audience. In fact, it's a lot closer to the dreaded Facebook-style game than it is to an MMO. There's no persistent world, no cooperative gameplay, and no system of guilds. Progression is all individual, and your in-game profile has features that allow others to vote on your personality, take your favorite quizzes, rank your house, and see your accomplishments. It's pretty much a lobby with lots of Star Wars games and lots of convenient ways of showing off to your peers.

Don't get me wrong, I have really enjoyed playing Clone Wars Adventures with the kids. Having the opportunity to throw Jar Jar Binks into a pile of dung is worth every single penny of the monthly subscription. And even though my kids are better at it than I am, I really have a lot of fun racing through the streets of Coruscant on my speeder bike. But Clone Wars Adventures is not nearly as compelling or as complex as EverQuest II, and I think this is why the addition of gifting to EverQuest II doesn't sit well with everyone.

Over the years, EQII players have seen a gradual crawl towards RMTs. It started with the Station Exchange servers, which allowed players to buy and sell items and characters for real money. Then came Station Cash and the Marketplace, where players could purchase special currency to use on certain items in the cash shop. Over time, the Marketplace began to include more than just vanity items, including experience potions and mounts. Finally, this past summer, the addition of a free-to-play server brought the appearance of a robust marketplace, which even offered gear and weapons that had actual stats and weren't just appearance items. It's no wonder that some players have exasperatedly posted that SOE should just "rip off the band-aid," move to full RMT on all servers, and be done with it.

I have to admit, I'm of two minds on the issue. I don't really have a problem with RMTs, and I even like the idea of finally being able to surprise my guildmates with a pretty cloak or a nice bed set. I also think the recent change addresses things players have already been doing, like sending a friend a Station Cash card or even trading Legends of Norrath booster packs for in-game plat. But every time EQII moves closer toward full RMTs, the more it feels a little like Clone Wars -- fun, but not compelling. And I think this is why players aren't comfortable with things like the Marketplace and gifting. It puts emphasis on acquiring "stuff" and elbows out the compelling world of Norrath. At its best, EQII rewards risk-taking, persistence, and loyalty. When it emulates the moment-to-moment fun of Clone Wars, it's at its worst.

Looking ahead, the next obvious step would be to allow players to gift game time through the Marketplace. Players can already do that by purchasing game cards and either sending them to friends or mailing them the code, so putting it in the Marketplace just eliminates the footwork. After that, it would be a small step to make game time tradable, similar to EVE Online's PLEX. Would players welcome the idea of being able to earn and trade game time? Or would that dampen the spirits of EQII fans even more?

Whatever the future holds, I do plan to send my friends some frostfell backpacks, and yes, maybe even an experience potion or two. And later, after my kid go to bed, I'm going to add every speeder bike available to my wish list in Clone Wars. They may not give me an advantage in the race, but at least I'll look cool when I smash into a pile of boxes or get stuck inside a railing.

From the snow-capped mountains of New Halas to the mysterious waters of the Vasty Deep, Karen Bryan explores the lands of Norrath to share her tales of adventure. Armed with just a scimitar, a quill, and a dented iron stein, she reports on all the latest news from EverQuest II in her weekly column, The Tattered Notebook. You can send feedback or elven spirits to karen@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.